Sunday, 23 March 2014
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
In our last commentary on the BCP we looked at the start of the services of Morning and Evening Prayer - the Scriptural and Reformed prayers which bring the congregation not only to a true understanding of repentance but also a true understanding of their hope in Christ.
O GOD, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all them that seek thy kingdom, and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance: Send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is in light of this promise that God has made, not because of our own worthiness of His mercy, that the prayer can go on to beseech God to send moderate rain and showers. The rain is needed to receive the fruits of the earth - it is needed to help the crops grow.
3) But there is one final point this prayer makes which is very important. The prayer ends by saying that we need this rain to receive food "to our comfort, and to thy honour." Whenever we pray for something it should not only be that we ourselves should be satisfied but also, and more importantly, that God is glorified and honoured - that God is shown to the world to fulfil His promises, that God's mighty power to affect and change anything and everything, including the weather, is supreme. Not only should we live lives that honour God, but our very prayers and requests to Him should be ones that will bring Him the most and the highest honour.
O ALMIGHTY Lord God, who for the sin of man didst once drown all the world, except eight persons, and afterward of thy great mercy didst promise never to destroy it so again: We humbly beseech thee, that although we for our iniquities have worthily deserved a plague of rain and waters, yet upon our true repentance thou wilt send us such weather, as that we may receive the fruits of the earth in due season; and learn both by thy punishment to amend our lives, and for thy clemency to give thee praise and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1) Rather than starting with an emphasis on God as Father, and thus one who loves us and will provide for us, this prayer takes a different tack. Here the prayer is to the "Almighty Lord God". The God we pray to is not weak or unable to change things, He is not just mighty but He is all-mighty. He is so mighty that He can do anything He chooses, there is no task too small or too large He cannot accomplish. Even where the human mind cannot fathom the awesome power needed to change something - like the weather (think of all the tiny things that create the weather systems we know, think of how they are all interlinked, think how even with all our science we cannot even begin to control weather - and remember God can do it easily.) Not only is God Almighty, but He is also Lord - He is the King, the Emperor, the Tsar, the Ruler of the world, the earth is but His footstool. Not only can He change the weather and whatever He chooses to at a whim, but as Lord of the Universe He has the perfect right to do so. This earth is to God is like a world a child builds from LEGO - the child can do and change whatever he or she pleases in their world they have built and the little plastic men are helpless to change that. God made this world and all that is in it, God sustains this universe and everything that happens - it is His creation and He is the creator, the story of the Universe is His story and as the Author He can write in to the story whatever He likes. As my favourite Bible verse says:
The matter is very different when it comes to non-believers, those who are not part of God's people, not part of the elect, and I would say (with some controversy!) Jesus did not die for in this way. This doctrine is called "definite/particular atonement" or, rather unhelpfully, "limited atonement." Jesus has never taken the punishment that justice demands for their sins and thus God is perfectly just and right to punish them as He sees fit not only in the afterlife but in this life as well. This can be applied to nations even when there is a remnant within the nation who believe. We see this in the history of Israel where God often punishes the whole kingdom for abandoning Him and turning to idolatry, though He always spares a remnant of the elect. If a nation turns its back on God there is no Biblical reason to say that God is not entitled to 'punish it.' That said we should be very cautious about ever ascribing specific natural disasters to specific sins or indeed anything of the sort.
This was obviously an important kind of prayer to Cranmer because the BCP provides two different ones. In an age before machinery and booming international trade fame and times of dearth (that is times of lacking and scarcity of resources) were common and much more problematic than in the Western world today. Let us look at these prayers in turn.
O GOD, heavenly Father, whose gift it is that the rain doth fall, the earth is fruitful, beasts increase, and fishes do multiply: Behold, we beseech thee, the afflictions of thy people; and grant that the scarcity and dearth, which we do now most justly suffer for our iniquity, may through thy goodness be mercifully turned into cheapness and plenty; for the love of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
2) The prayer calls on God to see and behold the pain and need, the afflictions, of His people - a common prayer and call in the book of Psalms. Again the prayer places this all in the correct context - that of sin. The only reason that this world is fallen and groaning to be redeemed is because Adam and Eve sinned and the whole cosmos was thus brought under the curse of death. Sin is at the heart of all that is wrong in the universe, and that sin is not from God but from our foolish use of the blessing of free will He gave to Adam and Eve. Till Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead this world is going to suffer - but His victory and return has been made certain by His death and resurrection, a foretaste of what is to come. We justly suffer need because of our sins.
What does this mean?
In my previous post I said that the earliest commentary on the Articles (and if you look even at the slightly later ones you find the same thing) takes the uncompromising position that those things "commonly called" Sacraments - confirmation, penance/absolution, ordination, marriage, extreme unction/anointing - are simply not Sacraments and should not be called such. I believe this is the position to hold and to call these other five things 'Sacraments' is confusing, unhelpful, and not strictly speaking true. Does the Homily support this idea? Let us have a look.
The Homily from the start points out that, strictly speaking, concerning the exact meaning of the word there are only two Sacraments:
"as for the number of them, if they should be considered according to the exact signification of a Sacrament, namely, for visible signs expressly commanded in the New Testament, whereunto is annexed the promise of free forgiveness of our sin and of our holiness and joining in Christ, there be but two, namely, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord"
There can be no doubt that there are only two real Sacraments. The Homily then goes on to explain why the other five things which are often called Sacraments are not actually Sacraments: namely they are not commanded or given visible order by the New Testament or there is no specific promise attached to them concerning God's conveying grace.
"The earliest commentary on the Articles takes the uncompromising position that those things "commonly called" Sacraments are simply not Sacraments and should not be called such."
The Homily then gets to the most important part for our topic:
What does this tell us? It tells us (again) that no one should take these things as being Sacraments in the same way that Baptism or the Lord's Supper are. Given the number of times this point is repeated in this short section of the Homilies we have been looking at I get the impression that the author is at pains to make this point! Instead these things are either
- Godly states of life which people go through and it is good to proclaim and pray for publicly
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
What makes a theology Anglican? It's agreement with the 39 Articles, the BCP, and the Ordinal. It really is that simple.
Many of the answers given in this first section are top notch stuff. They are short, sound, and helpful. For example:
God saves me by grace, which is his undeserved love given to me in and through Jesus. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
10. Is there any other way of salvation?
No. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the only one who can save me and reconcile me to God. (1 Timothy 2:5)
16. What does God grant in saving you?
117. How do these differ from the sacraments of the Gospel?
They are not commanded by Christ as necessary for salvation, but arise from the practice of the apostles and the early Church, or are states of life blessed by God from creation. God clearly uses them as means of grace.
Firstly, Whilst what 110-115 say concerning the Lord's Supper is carefully worded and correct Anglican teaching, given the broader nature of this catechism compared to that of the BCP I am surprised it does not staunchly defend the position laid out clearly in the Articles - namely the Reformed understanding of the Lord's Supper as opposed to that of transubstantiation or consubstantiation. In leaving open the 'real presence' the Catechism does a disservice to the heritage of faith handed down to us in the Historic Formularies.
Secondly, it over-spiritualises the end times in the Lord's prayer. Whilst indeed the Kingdom is something here and now among us and which grows with the fulfilling of the Great Commission, the Biblical picture is not just that at the end of time Jesus hands it back the Father (179) but that Christ comes as a warrior to smash and crush the opposition and to instigate His earthly reign over a literal Kingdom. As one may gather from what I just said, I hold to a historic pre-millennial position. I do not think the questions of post-mill, a-mill, and pre-mill are something we should divide over, but whilst the Catechism leaves open the possibility of taking a post or a-mill position it is far too prescriptive in seemingly writing against a pre-mill one. In doing so it steps beyond the teaching of Scripture.
Thirdly, the view of why Christians should say morning and evening prayer is also very shallow in number 248. We do not just follow these prayers because it is a sacrifice that pleases God or so we are aware that our "time is sanctified to God." The exhortation to repentance at the start of the BCP services of Morning and Evening prayer make clear why we say the offices and do so ideally as a gathered fellowship "to render thanks for the great benefits we have received at His hands, to set forth His most worthy praise, and to hear His most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul..." We say the offices to praise and thank God, to ask of Him things through prayer, and to learn from and be edified by the reading of the Scriptures. Indeed, the whole bent of this part of the Catechism with its 'rule of life' and what not is pregnant with Tractarian theology and practice. I fail to see how 251-254 is traditional Anglican teaching and is drawn from the Historical Formularies. Whilst the teaching is not unhelpful by any means, I am not convinced its presence in the the Catechism for an organisation such as ACNA is helpful.
Fourthly, number 324 says that for Christians the tithe is 10% and this is a minimum. Really? Where are Christians told to tithe in this legalistic way? We are certainly called to give generously and as the Article 38 says "every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to this ability." but this is a far cry from imposing a legalistic 10%. Is this of pre or post tax deductions? What if you cannot afford 10%? Making such a blanket statement, unsupported by Scripture concerning the New Covenant, is unwise.
Finally, whilst much of what the Catechism says on Scripture is great - it is God inspired, it is vital that we read and learn and memorise it - I was left disappointed that the Catechism failed to say that Scripture is infallible and cannot teach untruth. The infallibility of Scripture is a central doctrine of the Reformation, so much so that it was hardly worth even mentioning it at the time because it was simple assumed by all sides and parties. But to lack clear mention of it in our modern age, especially in light of the fact that ACNA has arisen because The Episcopal Church has abandoned Scripture and no longer sees it as infallible at all, is to my mind a serious mistake.
I want to close this topic by again affirming that there are many great things about the ACNA Catechism, and it has many strengths which will be vital to keeping ACNA healthy. But, regretfully, because of its Arminian leanings and its Tractarian understanding of the Sacraments, it cannot truly be called 'Anglican.' It is my prayer that ACNA will address these issues when they release the final edition of what is largely a superb Catechism.
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