Wednesday, 12 October 2016

BOOK Review - Free Grace Theology by Wayne Grudem

“Free Grace" Theology: 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel, Wayne Grudem, 2016, Crossway, 159 pages, £8.59 amazon, ISBN: 978-1-4335-5114-7

I purchased this book thinking that it was addressing the somewhat similar and perhaps adjacent ‘Hyper Grace Gospel.’  I am not convinced it does -  rather it criticises a movement far more insidious, dangerous, and frankly frightening. At times I was baffled by the teaching espoused by the ‘Free Grace Theology’ and saw it as not only biblically untenable but a terrible deceit which, as Grudem points out, threatens the eternal rest of many souls.  

Grudem begins by wanting to state that this book is to be seen as part of a discussion amongst friends.  This is something which he largely manages to maintain and indeed he is careful - and quite right - to hold back from using the term ‘heresy’ to describe what is nonetheless a dangerous teaching and twisting of the Good News.  At the core of this discussion is a disagreement over what is meant in the common Protestant refrain that we are saved by ‘faith alone.

The first chapter addresses the question of what the Reformers meant by this phrase and bluntly puts the case that all the Reformers believed that “we are saved by faith alone, but that faith is never alone.”  Grudem’s formulaic and academic method shines through and he gives extensive references as to why the Reformers did not teach what the Free Grace promoters allege.  His  illustration using a set of keys on page 37 was particular useful for the minister who wishes to explain this to those largely out of the academic loop.  

The following chapters consider why this correct understanding of ‘faith alone’ is so important. This is achieved by looking in consecutive chapters at repentance, assurance, and trust in the person of Christ. In each of these chapters Grudem systematically cuts through the arguments of the Free Grace authors with the efficiency of a world champion food slicer. With repeated and simple strokes he proceeds to undermine each and every point of contention with biblical, theological, and historical evidence.  Whilst impressive, it did actually become rather tiring and almost nauseating; having the same list of biblical passages repeated in full again and again and again - sometimes only pages apart - was perhaps overkill.  Indeed, that word ‘overkill’ came to find when considering the overall character of this book. It reads like Wayne Grudem has brought a Challenger Two Battle Tank to a knife fight.  

Perhaps what made the Free Grace Theology seem so repulsive to me was how the main authors promoting it were deceitful and disingenuous.  Time and again Grudem shows how they have quoted from prominent historic theologians or secular Greek manuals to demonstrate that their view is correct.  Grudem reveals these deceits for what they are - selective quotations ignoring wider context or co-text and clever editing.  I do not know whether these misrepresentations were somehow accidental or purposeful but either way it is deplorable.  As an Anglican I have seen all too well how such selective use of material and ‘clever’ editing can change whole denominations (many of the Ritualists of the 19th century were masters in this art) and I find it rather frightening that it is still occurring today.

One minor issue I had with the book was not with Grudem's work but rather the formatting of the footnotes (which were moderately extensive). This is most unlike Crossway and sadly was rather distracting in the end. Due to there being insufficient gap between the tiny superscript numbers and the actual footnote it became very difficult to quickly identify which note was to which number when dealing with a series of long footnotes.

Ultimately, this is a superb resource which seemingly blows Free Grace Theology not only out of the water but out of planetary orbit.  It is a great example of relentless academic rigour overpowering poor scholarship and emotional appeals.  On the down side it comes across on occasion as somewhat soulless, cold, and hard.  Sadly that is what the truth is like at times.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Missing Comma in your BCP

I have some bad news for you.  Your Book of Common Prayer is, well, illegal.  Something dastardly and manipulative has stolen important punctuation from the middle of your Catechism!  It is high time a commotion was caused over this theft.  Crack open your standard BCP and turn to the question “What meanest thou by this word sacrament” in the catechism and this is what the answer will say:

I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” 

This is what it should say:

I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” 

Spot the difference? The comma has been stolen away after the word grace!  I swear I am not splitting hairs.  This is actually a much more serious issue than it might seem because it is both illegal and it undermines the clear Reformed stance of our Formularies with regard to the Sacraments.  Let us look at these two issues.

Firstly, the missing comma is arguably illegal because it breaches our trust.   The Book of Common Prayer is not an ordinary book.  I don’t just mean that it is extraordinary due to its captivating cadence, decisive doctrine, and soaring sentences (though this is certainly true).  Unlike nearly every other book the BCP is a legal document, it is attached to an Act of Parliament - namely the 1662 Act of Uniformity.  If there is ever a dispute over what the text of the BCP should be we need only recourse to this original document or the copies which were authenticated and signed by the Royal Commissioners and sealed by the Great Seal of England.  In all of these the comma after ‘grace’ is clearly present as this facsimilie of the BCP attached to the Act of Uniformity shows. 

bcp facsimile.jpg

When the comma was removed from printed versions ties very much into the second issue - the theology of the Catechism. The comma was stolen from our Catechism in the midst of the Oxford Movement and the pushing of Ritualism upon our Church in the mid 19th century.  It was first dropped in the prayer books printed by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge - a publisher quickly established as a ritualist stronghold. Around the same time The National Society published a teaching aid based on the Catechism and this contained explicit comment saying that there should be no comma after ‘grace’ and having a pause there obscures the “true sense.”  It is not hard to spot an agenda (and duplicity) at work here!

So why were the Ritualists trying to change the Catechism?  There were two reasons.  Firstly, the Ritualists were firm believers that the sacraments by definition always convey inward and spiritual grace - they work ex opere operato.  You do not need faith, you do not need to receive rightly; the simple act of receiving blessed sacraments will convey their benefits.  Baptism itself is salvific and the Lord’s Supper is always beneficial.  Secondly, the Ritualists wanted to teach that the sacraments - thinking especially of the Lord’s Supper - were actually sacrifices we offer to God.  It is thus important that it is the grace which is given to us and not the actual sign which is what we offer up to God.

None of this is the teaching of the English Reformers nor the official doctrine of the Church of England.  Article 25 teaches that the sacraments are not by definition conveyors of grace but rather it is only in those who “worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation” - only for these does the “sign of grace” become “effectual.”   Article 27 again emphasises that a person must receive baptism “rightly” whilst Article 28 speaks of the Lord’s Supper only benefitting those who “rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive…”.  The whole point of Article 29 is to make utterly indisputable that the Church of England sides with Reformed sacramental theology and not Lutheran sacramental theology by denying that wicked and faithless people do not in any sense receive Christ - let alone grace - when receiving the Lord’s Supper.  

The Reformed sacramentology of our Confession of Faith is fully supported by the correct wording of the Catechism.  Grammatically speaking - and I’m not trying to sound pretentious here - the participial adjective “given” must apply not to the “inward and spiritual grace” from which it has been immediately comma’d off but instead must apply to “outward and visible sign”.  Therefore, what has been given to us are the visible signs, namely bread, wine, and the waters of baptism.  These are not something we give to God - a sacrifice - but clearly something God has given to us - a sacrament.  

Likewise the Catechism does not teach that a Sacrament is “a sign and grace given to us” but rather it is “a sign of grace.”  The giving of grace is signified but is not essential nor intrinsic to there being a sacrament.  This is exactly what the Catechism’s answer goes on to explain - the “outward and visible sign” is “a means whereby we receive [an inward and spiritual grace], and a pledge to assure us thereof.”  It is a means but not a guarantee.  The sign is given as a pledge so that we know that as surely as we get wet in baptism or chew on bread in the Lord’s Supper just so surely has God promised to use these, when received in faith, to give us grace.

It is rather amazing how a single comma can change the entire theology of the Sacraments in the Catechism from a Romanist sacerdotal understanding to a Protestant and Reformed one.  There is no ambiguity though in the textual witness, every BCP should have a comma after ‘grace’ and the absence of it is underhanded.  I do not know if the printers at Cambridge and Oxford are aware of their error  but at the very least I would certainly recommend everyone get out a black pen and correct every BCP they own or their churches use.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Anglicanism and Salvation in Christ Alone.

My second blog post for Church Society - what do the Historic Formularies of the Church of England teach about Salvation in Christ alone and who are the only people they anathematise? Click here to find out!

Friday, 9 September 2016

God and Nature in the Book of Common Prayer

My first guest post on the Church Society blog! What does the Book of Common Prayer say about God and His control of nature? Click here to find out!

(SERMON) Mark 2.23-3.6 The Truest Sabbath

This sermon looks at Jesus and His argument with the Pharisees over the Sabbath.  What was the Sabbath?  Does it still apply today?  How can we truly find the promised rest?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

(SERMON) Mark 1.29-45 Diverse Teachings

Looking at this section of Mark's Gospel we consider a number of important teachings:

1) Head knowledge does not save but only a personal relationship with Jesus
2) The utter necessity of private prayer
3) The priority of preaching in ministry
4) The right way to pray for healing
5) Leprosy of the soul and the only complete cure

Monday, 18 July 2016

(SERMON) Amos 7.7-end The Plumbline and Opposition

In Amos the Lord gives us the image of a divine plumb-line against which all of our life is measured.  It shows us when we go off course and lean away from the truth.  The Good News is that in Jesus we have all we need for a sure foundation and straight alignment.  When Amos spoke of these things he faced opposition and today when we speak the truth we face the same kind of undermining tactics he did - so we must learn from them.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

(SERMON) 2 Kings 2.1-14 Four keys to Personal Revival

Jesus is the true and greater Elijah who we must look to in all things.  From the story of Elijah leaving Elisha we learn four important keys to personal revival:

1) Let nothing take you from Jesus' side
2) Let us ask for the right things (Holy Spirit and adoption)
3) Let us never take our eyes off Jesus and Jesus alone
4) Let us receive our gifts and fulfil our calling

Friday, 15 July 2016

(SERMON) Habakkuk 2.1-5 Watching in Hope

Habakkuk teaches us here how to wait and watch for the Lord when we seek Him in prayer.  He then speaks of the folly of trying finding satisfaction, comfort, and certain security in anything except faith alone.  Faith is the foundation for all growth in the Christian life - the righteous live by faith alone.

Friday, 17 June 2016

A delightful counsellor - Psalm 119.24

Your decrees are my delight and my counsellors. 119.24

There has never been a better time to be a counsellor.  In some parts of the UK one adult in every six is on anti-depressants.  Is this because life is more stressful and there is more anxiety due to societal issues?  Is this because we are simply more willing to give out tablets to fix our problems?  Whatever the cause, the number of people in need of seeing a counsellor or psychiatrist is sky high.

It is foolish to treat depression, anxiety, or other mental distress as not being a real health problem.  You cannot just exercise your way out of depression or decide not to be anxious.  We would never tell someone with a broken arm that they just needed ‘to change their perspective.’  We would never tell someone with cancer they ‘need to make more of an effort.’  Depression and anxiety have real biological causes and there are no simple answers.  

Depression and the like are not just problems ‘out there’ in the world, they are Christian problems.  Many great saints have suffered and wrestled with great bouts of depression - for example Charles Spurgeon the ‘Prince of Preachers’ was plagued throughout his life by horrendous depression.  It is tragic that many Christians feel they have to hide their depression or mental disorders.  The church is a hospital for sick, imperfect, struggling sinners and not a museum for perfected saints.  

One big difference for Christians who wrestle with troubles in life - whether grief over a death, anxiety over work, fear over safety, or a more general depression - is that we have a perfect counsellor.  When we need hope, when we need to be reminded of the truth, when we need to recognise what is reality and what is not, we can come to the perfect word of God.  The Bible lays before us the promises of God, the real truth of our identity in Christ Jesus, the reality of our sins truly forgiven and of our past washed clean.  When we face suffering of any kind it reminds us that we have an eternal Kingdom coming soon where there is no pain or death or sorrow.  When we cannot understand why things keep happening the Bible reminds us that God is 100% sovereign and all things work together for the good of those who believe.  

I don’t believe Christians should never see psychiatrists or counsellors, and I certainly don’t think they should not take medication if it is needed; but I do believe, as the Psalmist does, that the Bible should be our first and last resource in all things.  When we make the Bible and its truths our life coach, our counsellor, we will truly delight in it.

Friday, 10 June 2016

How to act in the face of hate, fear, and opposition - Psalm 119.23, 161

Though princes sit against me, Your servant will think about Your statutes… Princes have persecuted me without cause, but my heart fears only Your word.   119.23, 161

Taking a stand on Biblical truth has always been unpopular with the powers of the world around us.  At times things have been worse than others.  In England we have a rich heritage of persecuting the righteous who believed in the words and statues of God.  From the killing of St. Alban to the persecution of John Wycliffe (and his later exhumation, trial, and burning of bones to ash).  The foundation of what we know today as the Church of England is written in the blood of hundreds martyrs including Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and John Hooper.  Across the world today Christians are the single most persecuted and martyred group of people.  Here in England we may not face being shot or crucified for saying that Jesus is the Son of God and the Bible tells us God’s eternal truths - but we certainly face opposition.

The gospel, as Paul tells us, is by its very nature offensive.  People don’t like it when you try to tell them that they are sinners facing the wrath of a Holy God and they need to believe in Jesus and repent.  People go crazy when you tell them that what the Bible says happened actually did happen in history.  People take you to court and you lose your job when you stand up and act with integrity on issues of morality.  Whether it is abortion, divorce, euthanasia, or issues of sexuality, the clear teaching of the church is unpopular.  Whether it is teaching about  wealth and greed or the error of Eastern Spirituality you can expect opposition.

This should not surprise or phase us!  

Jesus told His disciples “you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered” (Matthew 10.22).   

Read that sentence again.  

"You will be hated by everyone"

Let that really sink in.

"You will 
be hated 
by everyone"
Jesus didn’t tell his followers they ‘might’ get sent to court or be judged by others but rather told them what to do ‘when’ it inevitably happens: “whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don't worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. ” (Luke 12.11).   

If you are not facing opposition or questioning or some form of persecution for being a Christian then the chances are you are doing Christianity wrong!

Whenever we face opposition, and it is often powerful and emotional opposition, we must do two things:  

1) First of all we must think about what God has told us because only His words are truth for all time and His promises form the rock on which we stand.  

2) Secondly, we should remember to fear only God and not what other humans may say or do.  Sticks and stones may break your bones and words may hurt you but what does that matter when eternal life and a resurrection body are yours!?  Jesus told His followers “Don’t fear those who are able to kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is about to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matthew 10.28).  

The Bible repeatedly tells us that "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" - let us be wise by accepting what God tells us and not fearing what others may think or say or do.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Living with eyes wide open - Psalm 119.18

Open my eyes so that I may see wonderful things in Your law.  119.18

As much as we should read the Bible, study the Bible, and meditate upon it we must understand that mere ‘head knowledge’ or ‘academic knowledge’ of the Bible will not bring eternal life, joy, peace, and happiness.  After all didn’t Satan know what God said?  Has not Richard Dawkins read the Bible?  At Oxford I met many people, both students and lecturers, who knew far more of the Bible than I do but who knew nothing of the one true God or of a personal relationship with Jesus.  

This is not something new.  The Pharisees were the academics of their day - they would often memorise the entire Old Testament.  They would spend their lives carefully picking apart every single sentence, phrase, and word of the Bible to better understand it.  Yet when God actually came down to earth and fulfilled literally hundreds of prophecies right before their eyes they failed to recognise that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus was God, and ultimately in the greatest of ironies they had crucified the one they were searching for.

In John chapter 5 Jesus says to them “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me” (John 5.39).  If we don’t see Jesus as the heart of the Scriptures we don’t see anything of eternal consequence.  The problem is that to see Jesus in every chapter, to see the truth of God in a life changing way, we need outside intervention.  We are born blind to these truths, it's like there is a deep and thick mist before our eyes which we cannot see through no matter how much we try.  Saint Paul would talk in 2 Corinthians 3 about how unless we turn to the Lord there is a veil over our faces which prevents us from seeing how wonderful the Bible is.

When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was Peter eventually said “you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matthew 16.16).  What is most remarkable is the reaction of Jesus to this profession of faith:  “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in Heaven” (Matthew 16.17).  It was not human wisdom or human intellect which made Peter understand who Jesus truly was. It was God Himself who by the Holy Spirit opened His eyes to the see the wonderful things of Jesus, who parted the mist, who lifted the veil.  Let each of us pray that God would open our eyes to the wonderful things of His Law - that when we read the Bible we see Jesus on every page and find hope, comfort, and joy in doing so.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

(SERMON) I AM the Vine: John 15.1-17

Are you fruity?  Full of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is!

In this final 'I AM' saying we consider what it means for Jesus to be The Vine.   The focus is on the call to 'remain' in Jesus and in His love.  Fruitfulness is the result of true discipleship; it comes from prayer and points towards the glory of God.

'Pronouncing' the biblical use of spiritual gifts

For those who believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues (and their interpretation), prophecy, and words of knowledge or wisdom continue today the question remains over how and when they should be used during gathered worship.

 Indeed, the misuse and abuse of these gifts does terrible harm to their promotion across the church.  Nothing makes people draw away and even attack these wonderful gifts than their inappropriate use.  This means that we need to be careful and think not only of ourselves but of outsiders and others when encouraging their use - "Therefore, if the whole church assembles together and all are speaking in other languages and people who are uninformed or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?" (1 Corinthians 14.23)

One easy way of ensuring that things are done Biblically and correctly is to use vowels as a mnemonic.  Every use of the gifts must take into account A E I O and U:

Accountable: Our use of gifts must be held accountable to the truth revealed in Scripture.  This is rightly the first and most foundational thing to consider.   Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14.29 "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate." Likewise John tells us in 1 John 4.1 "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world."  We are to evaluate and test what God gives.  What does this evaluation and testing entail?  Obviously prayer is involved as is the keeping of what is good and the rejection of what is evil (1 Thessalonians 5.21-22).  Knowing that the Bible is God's perfect and inspired word to us it should also involve asking if what is given agrees with Scripture and the teaching found there: if it does not it should clearly be rejected.  Part of this testing against Scripture is whether or not it agrees with what follows in our mnemonic.

Edifying: Our use of gifts must be edifying.  If what is given would not encourage or build up or rightly teach then it has no place in our worship.  If sharing something would be more likely to cause pain and suffering than foster love and joy then it is likely not to be shared before the whole congregation - perhaps it is a something for a personal conversation but that is another matter.  Paul says that prophecy is for "edification, encouragement, and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14.3). Our use of gifts should be because we are seeking to "excel in building up the church" (1 Corinthians 14.12) not break down the church!  Ultimately,  Paul makes clear that in church services "All things must be done for edification" (1 Corinthians 14.26b).

Interpreted: Because our use of gifts must be edifying to not only ourselves but to those around us and the church as a whole it follows that our use of tongues or 'other languages' when gathered together must have interpretation.  This is one area where the modern charismatic movement tragically fails. Paul is crystal clear.  There is no 'wiggle room' in what he says. "If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God" (1 Corinthians 14.27-28) Tongues are a wonderful gift that is given for our own edification and for the building up of our own relationship with God (1 Corinthians 14.4) Paul wishes that we would all speak in tongues—so we should all be praying that God would give us this gift—but unless it has an interpretation then it is not for the gathered congregation of the church (1 Corinthians 14.5).

Orderly: Paul would have made a great Anglican because Paul highly valued orderliness in church.  Paul loved the zealousness of the Corinthians but he detested their lack of order. He didn't believe in 'charismatic chaos' and neither should we.  Paul clearly thinks that people should be controlled in worship, he believes that those who have the gift of tongues can also make the decision of when and when not to use this gift in public (1 Corinthians 14.27-28). This same control extends to prophesy in verses 29-31 where we see the command to wait in line and indeed be quiet if it is not your turn or too many speak before you.  Ultimately the person with the gift is in control and this must be so if it is from God because God is a God of order and control: "And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace." (1 Corinthians 14.31-32). Just as everything must be done to edify and build up the church so "everything must be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14.40)

Usual: Finally, the use of the gifts should be something which is not 'unusual' but very much run of the mill and 'usual.'  Paul clearly expects the gifts to be used in pretty much every service.  He sees that when we gather together "each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation" (1 Corinthians 14.26).  Not only does Paul see it as clearly a normal thing for each person to bring such gifts but time and again he calls on people to seek these gifts and be eager for them (1 Corinthians 14.1, 5,12-13, 39).

All of this—these five points for using the gifts of the Spirit today—are the basic and obvious teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14.  They are challenging to all because they touch on many 'sacred shibboleths' we hold.  The final one challenges those who either don't believe in the gifts of the Spirit today or those who don't really want to speak in tongues or prophesy.  Paul's clear words on the absolute necessity of interpretation for tongues in the congregation and his adamant stance on good order in the service challenge and even offend those who like to be 'caught up' in the Spirit and embrace chaos as an expression of their fervour and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  

The problem is that these things must be challenged.  The teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 is basic, foundational, and simple.  If we reject this teaching then we reject the very word of God and what He is doing and prove ourselves to be liars when we claim to be spiritual and prophetic.  Paul bluntly says "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored" (1 Corinthians 14.37-38).  We must humbly recognise what Paul teaches or we should be rightly ignored by the people of God and indeed by God Himself.

(All quotations of the Bible are from the HCSB with any emphasis added being my own.)

Monday, 23 May 2016

(SERMON) Trinity Sunday 2016 - The Athanasian Creed

Though rarely used, the Athanasian Creed is one of the official Creeds of the Church of England, it contains powerful and basic truths about God which we should both love and enjoy.

It teaches 1) The necessity of the Trinity to salvation 2) The  doctrine of the Trinity it utterly foundational 3) The catholic faith is the creedal faith, 4) We are called to believe not understand  5) We are called to not only believe but worship.

Knowing about the Trinity is this way changes our lives because 1) It humbles us completely 2) It reveals and encourages true Love 3) It builds up and makes sense of all human relationships.

Let us not shy away from the fact that the Trinity IS Christianity, the Trinity IS Salvation, and the Trinity IS our only hope and peace,

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Christian Meditation - Psalm 119.15

I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways. 119.15

Meditation is big business these days.  Brought in on a wave of Eastern mysticism in the 60’s the likes of yoga and ‘mindfulness’ are relentlessly pushed upon us. York Minster is even offering zen meditation led by a 'Christian' minister (the thought of which is enough to boil my blood).  Biblical Christians rightly recoil at such practices - they are inherently tainted by the pagan religions which formed them and have as their goal something in opposition to Christian faith.  Christianity teaches boldly that all things are not ‘one’ with each other - rather humans are unique in reflecting the glory of God by being made in His image and likeness.  Again, God is not part of His creation and is certainly not found in uniting with it - no, God is the creator whose essence is utterly apart from creation yet who in love for us became a creature in the person Jesus (but not in a tree or a mountain!).  The idea of emptying your mind and your ‘self’ into the void is a rejection of the gift of the mind and the uniqueness of your ‘self’ which God both made and loves.  Indeed, emptying yourself in such a way is toying with the devil and asking for something more sinister to come in.

Yet, meditation is Biblical.

Not meditation where you empty your thoughts and say mantras whilst you realign your ‘chakras’ or other such pagan pseudo-science.  Instead we are called to “meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.”  Christians are called to meditate on the Bible, spend time reflecting on the words and mighty acts of God, consider His commands and how to live by them.  We are called to seek out Jesus in each story and see how He is at the centre.  We must daily eat, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures as our spiritual food and drink.  If we long to become “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4) we will only do so through knowing Jesus.  Jesus is no longer on earth among us but all we ever need to know for salvation and growth in faith is found in the completely sufficient revelation He has given us and to which nothing more needs to be added - the Bible.  So by all means take up that meditation class, just make sure it is a Bible study and not some Eastern scam.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Reflections on ACNA's 'Ancient Text Lord's Supper'

I am very thankful for ACNA, it is a much needed refuge from the generally apostate Episcopal Church in the United States.  This does not mean I agree with the direction of ACNA nor all it promotes.  This is seen by my previous posts critiquing the ACNA Catechism for deviating from historic Anglican teaching.  Having been asked by a friend for my opinions on the new 'Ancient' liturgy for the celebration of the Lord's Supper I have put together the following comments.  These comments would also largely apply to the Church of England's Common Worship Order One.  The text of the new liturgy can be found here. I have only commented on the parts I have critiques of which is by no means all of it.

The Text:

The Acclamation
The Collect for Purity

The Summary of the Law
The rubrics allow the full use of the Decalogue and this good, but if one is to use a lengthy sermon slot the summary of the Law is not a bad thing so long as the Decalogue is frequently used as well

The use of Greek in Anglican services even if a translation is given is a silly and pointless thing which goes against the principles of Article24 and the whole purpose of the Prayer Book.  Thankfully one can use an English version.  This would only be used if the Decalogue is not because of the refrain calling on God to change our hearts.  The Trisagion is not 'Anglican' but is also completely unobjectionable and very good refrain to memorise.  

Oddly, one must ask, given the Kyrie is used standardly as a confession is this here a confession?  The fact a 'real' confession comes later would say not, but the inclusion of the Gloria immediately following the Kyrie would imply it is (we glorify God for the mercy we have received)

This is not the traditional place for the Gloria.  The rubrics allow it to come after the communion which is right and historic Anglican practice.  We give God glory for the wonders of His mercy shown and revealed in the Lord's Supper and ultimately for the absolution of sins which it reveals - in this sense it is odd to have the Gloria here as stated above.

The Lessons

It is standard practice to now have the creed after the sermon, but this was not the vision of Cranmer.  Cranmer placed it before presumably to hold the minister to account before he even got into the pulpit.  The Creed is not a 'response' to the sermon but rather the sermon should be a Scriptural reflection of the truths set forth in the Creed.  Ultimately, it is a minor thing but the rubrics should allow the creed to come before the sermon.

Prayers of the People
A litany style prayer is very in keeping with patristic practice where litanies crop up multiple times in the service.  Cranmer, however, ditched a litany style intercession during communion in favour of a more theologically robust and thus didactically useful extended prayer.  Whilst litanies are good and not objectionable at all, one would have hoped the rubrics would have allowed a more BCP style prayer and indeed the purpose of the litany seems to be to include the congregation more - could this not be equally achieved by allowing the congregation to say the prayers themselves via a specified member of the laity?

It would be more in keeping with the carefully thought out service of the BCP to have the prayers, exhortation, confession and absolution, after the offertory and this is allowed in the rubrics - I would recommend doing so.

The Exhortation
It is wonderful it is even mentioned and commended by rubric!

The Confession and Absolution of Sin
This is all solid, one would hope the minister would use all of the Comfortable Words.

The Peace
The Peace is a tricky one, the problem is that although it seems natural to have it after the confession, it breaks up the logic of the Prayer Book which goes straight from the joy of the Comfortable Words to lifting up our heart due to them.  This break is lamentable and though not allowed by the rubric is may be better to place the peace elsewhere in the service (or ditch it all together, the church survived without it since the Reformation I am not sure why we need it today in the form it is - surely the very act of sharing communion together from one bread and one cup is  the greatest symbol of sharing the peace!)

The Offertory
Again the placement here really breaks up Cranmer's logic and places the offertory much closer to the Lord's Supper itself, indeed it ties the lifting up of our hearts with the lifting up of our wallets - not a message Cranmer would really want portrayed to my mind.  Much better to place it before the prayers of the people whereby it serves as the break between the ante-communion and the communion proper.  The phrase "the people's offering of bread and wine, and money or other gifts" is rather jarring, the bread and wine are not offerings we give to God (heaven forbid!)  and it would be much better to stick to the BCP which separates the rubrics concerning offerings and the rubric concerning the bread and wine - the bread and wine are not part of the offering and this needs to be made clear. The best way to do this is to either already have the bread and wine on the table or to have it next to the minister and have the minister himself sort out the bread and wine, not have it paraded up from the back of church.

The Sursum Corda

The Sanctus
Ideally the 'blessed is he' part would be in brackets, it was clearly omitted by Cranmer despite patristic witness because of its use historically to refer to the coming of Jesus in to the bread and wine.

The Prayer of Consecration
A thought to start out:
Do we 'become subject to evil' or are we evil?

The introduction of an epiclesis over the bread and wine is clearly patristic but equally clearly unbiblical and not historically Anglican.  The epiclesis over the people is more in line with Cranmer but falls short of the simplicity of the BCP prayer of consecration.  Even more problematic is that the epiclesis comes after the words of institution.  In the Prayer Book it is the words of institution themselves which consecrate/set apart the bread and wine for their holy use. Here the consecration is clearly separated. 

Following the epiclesis we have the prayer of offering our lives as a sacrifice.  Cranmer wisely moved this away from its traditional location as it is here to after the reception because unless this is done the offering of our lives gets tied up with the very act of consecration rather than being a joyful and humble out working of reception through grace and faith.

The Lord's Prayer
Traditionally the Lord's Prayer came here but, once again, Cranmer moved it. Having the Lord's Prayer here is just creating a longer and longer separation between the words of institution and the actual reception - making the consecration the 'high point' rather than the immediate reception and leaving the door open to reverence the consecrated bread and wine.

The Fraction
Again, following the patristic pattern the fraction is separate from the prayer of consecration , BUT Cranmer rightly combined them - what is the purpose and logic of separating the words of Jesus from His actions?   It would be eminently wise to avoid the first response and use the second one which is unambiguously orthodox!!

The Prayer of Humble Access
Again, why is this here!? There is no patristic background for this so it should be a simple matter of following Cranmer who rightly and logically placed it after the Sanctus - When Isaiah beheld the song of heaven how did he respond?  He fell to His knees and prayed a prayer of humble access - this and not 'blessed is he who comes...' is the proper biblical response to the majesty and truth of the Sanctus.

Agnus Dei
No, just no.  

The Ministration of Communion
Best to use the first refrain with the bracketed text included.  Also use the bracketed text in the words of reception perhaps by saying the first half to one person and the next to the other so both can hear it all but time is saved.

The Post Communion Prayer
The Blessing
The Dismissal
Seasonal Greetings
Proper Prefaces
Offertory Sentences
The Exhortation

The Decalogue
"Incline our hearts to keep this law" or in modern terms perhaps "change our hearts so we keep this law" would be better than "and give us grace to keep this law" - just seems like grace is some kind of steroid for holiness in that wording.

General Instruction
Customary to add a little water to the wine - but not historically Anglican nor indeed required so ditch it.

Reservation of the bread and wine is not only pointless given that it is simply bread and wine and it is reception in faith which mediates the benefits of the Lord's Supper, but is clearly in contradiction to Article 28.  If you need to make home communions then the minister should do it themselves as per the BCP.  Communion by extension is effectively, to my mind, lay presidency - nothing more and nothing less.  This all counts for the idea of a deacon doing the whole service in church with reserved sacrament. 

Only the words of institution need to be used to consecrate more bread and wine as per the BCP.  The introduction of further epiclesises and prayers of consecration only muddy the clear teaching of the BCP that is the very words of institution and those alone which consecrate/set apart the bread and wine for their purpose.

Concerning Discipline

General Reflections:

All in all this is OK.  It does not represent historic Anglicanism very well and parts of it could be interpreted in a heterodox sense whilst the most troublesome parts are able to be dropped, replaced, or moved.  It is not ideal but it is workable.  In this sense it is much like Common Worship Order One in the Church of England. As modern liturgies go (ironic given the intention of this) it is well put together and given the inclusive aims of ACNA it is commendable.

But I can't help but ask why this needs to exist.  Clearly it is to fulfil the need some feel to connect Anglicanism more to the patristic churches and their liturgies.  But this is not necessarily a good thing.  Thomas Cranmer was one of the most knowledgeable and notable scholars of patristics throughout the whole Reformation. His vast library and notes on patristic writers was essentially unparalleled in either Protestant or Roman circles.  Anglicans more so than other Protestants, and Cranmer in particular, brought the patristic witness in favour of the doctrines of grace to bear in debates and argumentation.  This is why it is odd in the eyes of many that when it came to setting out the liturgy of the Lord's Supper Cranmer would be so innovative and plainly reject patristic tradition and consensus so completely.  

Cranmer's liturgy does not follow the pattern of patristic liturgies, it rejects the existence of an epiclesis, the separation of the fraction, the possibility of reverence of the host, any insinuation of real presence in the bread and wine, and focuses on reception in faith not the actions of the minister.  Though he did not really understand justification by faith alone, nonetheless, Dom Gregory Dix (whose work much modern liturgy including this one is based) was right in saying that the BCP Lord's Supper was "the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone."  That teaching gospel truths so clearly took the priority over patristic consensus in Anglican liturgy should give us great pause over attempts to change Cranmer's careful decisions and order of service.  It is thus a failure to take a rightful pride in our unique Anglican heritage and to respect the founding fathers that is at the heart of this liturgy, indeed the liturgy exists because of a misunderstanding of both Anglican identity and historical reality. 

So, ultimately, this is to my mind misguided and a failure to value Anglican heritage, but it is not heretical or terrible as a piece of liturgy and whether the use of it is a hill to die upon will be up to the conscience of the minister presiding.  I regularly use Common Worship Order One which is very similar to this, but it would not be my first choice and if possible I would change it for one more reflecting the beautiful logic of Cranmer's liturgy in which the truths of the Bible are so wonderfully not only spoken by acted out.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Word of The Word - Psalm 119.11

I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You. 119.11

Christians often speak of the ‘word of God’ but what does it actually mean?  Is the ‘word of God’ the Bible or is it Jesus?  After all, when we read the start of John’s Gospel we don’t read “in the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God”!  Rather we read that the “Word was God…” and that this Word is the “Light of the world” and that the Light has come into the world and we know Him by the name of Jesus.  So the “Word of God” is Jesus not the Bible, simple, right?


You see in the Greek of John chapter one “Word” translates “logos” which is a deep and rich word.  It means not only ‘a word’ but also ‘reasoning’ or the expression of thinking.  There is another Greek word, namely “rhema”, which is also translated into English as ‘word.’  Rhema means the spoken word.  The Bible is the spoken word of God and in this sense it is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17).  Sometimes logos is also used to refer to the Bible such as Revelation 1.2.  So in Scripture the ‘word of God’ is both the Bible and the person the Bible points us towards - Jesus.

The author of Hebrews plays on this ambiguity when he writes “For the word (logos) of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” Hebrews 4.12

Undoubtedly, reading the Bible, knowing the Scriptures, hearing the voice of God spoken to us in its words, is a powerful thing - something sharp, effective, and penetrating.  Knowing the Bible enables us to judge ideas and thoughts and passions, it cuts us deeply with judgement when we sin and it heals us with promises of mercy when we repent.  The psalmist could rightly say that treasuring up the words of Scripture helps us in our fight against sin.   This is why we must devote ourselves to reading, exploring, understanding, and memorising Scripture - just never lose sight that the Bible is always about Jesus and not about you (John 5.39)

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