Evangelical Theology


In light of the ongoing Anglican Covenant discussions in the blogosphere, just a reminder from someone closer to the original fount of our faith than we are:

He will also judge those who cause schisms, who have no love for God and instead desire their own way more than the unity of the church, who for trifling reasons (or some other reason important to them) cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ and (as far as they can) destroy it–those who speak about peace while causing war, who strain out a gnat but swallow a camel [Matt 23:24].  They can effect no reformation great enough to compensate for the harm their schism causes.

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Fleming Rutledge has an interesting article on hymnody here. She has this to say about the old favorite, ‘Lift High the Cross’:

‘When the Cross is repeatedly praised in the hymnody of relatively comfortable white American churches as a “triumphant sign” of victory, one must seriously question what sort of victory is being envisioned. Neither death, nor sin, nor Satan, nor evil, nor any form of human oppression are mentioned in the text of the hymn. The hymn-singers are free to interpret “victory” any way they like, from victory on the football field to victory in the world economy. This is literally, not merely figuratively true; it is well known that American Christians quite typically learn to associate their faith with various forms of success, and pray far more for personal good fortune than for the sufferings of the poor and disenfranchised of the earth. “Corinthian” hymns that identify the Cross exclusively with triumph and conquest, with no corresponding mention of suffering and shame, subtly undermine the Biblical picture of the meaning of the Crucifixion’.

It’s encouraging to see hymn texts taken this seriously—she is quite right to point out that ‘the words of familiar hymns enter deeply into people’s consciousness whether they are aware of them or not’. I remember Mark Ashton telling an EFAC-USA conference some years ago about his own church’s policy of not singing any text that wasn’t faithful to scripture, and that from time to time when this meant that there was a really popular contemporary hymn that they couldn’t use, they would work out an alternative line and write to the publisher and ask for permission to use it.

One of the joys of having a full-text service leaflet is that minor amendments can easily be made to hymns that can mislead, and I have frequently taken advantage of that over the years. Although I never quite had the nerve to delete the blatant Apollinarianism of ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’ in the Christmas carol…

Most Episcopalians know Isaiah 31.15, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength’ from the healing service in the Book of Occasional Services, where it implies ‘there, there, calm down, everything will be all right’.

Dick Lucas puts the verse back in context and discovers a serious warning to the church in a recent sermon at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, in London. Download and listen to an MP3 of the sermon here, free.

From The Doctrine of the Sacraments in the Thirty-Nine Articles, an article in Churchman, the publication of the Church Society. By Roger Beckwith.

“The real presence is not in the elements, in such a way that those who receive the elements necessarily receive the body and blood of Christ. Rather, the real presence is in the administration of the sacrament, in such a way that those who with faith receive the sacrament receive Christ’s body and blood. Article 28 states it as follows:  ‘The Body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.’ One may compare the language of the [1662] Catechism:  ‘the Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful [Old English for believers] in the Lord’s Supper.’ One may also compare the language of Hooker:  ‘the real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament,’ that is, the one who receives with faith (Ecclesiastical Polity 5:67:6).”

Perhaps one of the key difficulties evangelicals have faced in the Episcopal Church has been ensuring quality theological education for both lay people and those discerning a call to ordained ministry.  I am blessed to have gone to a seminary that neglected neither exposure to the breadth of theological learning nor a commitment to biblical truth.  Nevertheless, Episcopal seminaries have earned a reputation for being either neglectful or hostile to traditional expressions of Anglican faith, while most evangelical seminaries have earned a reputation in the Episcopal world for being somehow inadequate to the task of training good Episcopal clergy.

One way to turn this tide is to raise the bar of Christian formation and education of adults in our congregations.  Many seminaries now have free online programs that can be accessed and utilized on an individual and congregational level.  Two such programs are Dimensions of Faith offered by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the Worldwide Classroom offered by Covenant Theological Seminary.  Many in our pews see this kind of learning as either superfluous or inaccessible.  Programs like these help break down the false idea that such learning is for “experts” only, or that it has little to do with our day-to-day practical life.  We are to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength–so encouraging–at minimum–the lay leadership in our parishes to engage in such opportunities will go a long way to deepen their faith and give them a discerning eye to guard themselves against the errors our churches have been succumbing to over the past decades.

By taking advantage of these wonderful opportunities, more lay people will be able to say, “I have stored up your word in heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11) and become adept at reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting God’s Word.  And as more and more lay persons participate, I suspect we’ll see the seeds of renewal begin to take root and flourish even among the current decaying form of Episcopalianism, like wildflowers among the ruins of an ancient temple whose glory has long since faded.

A dying man writes to dying men

Mark Ashton, whose death we reported last week, wrote a book about life since he was diagnosed with cancer that is a real corker. It’s called On my way to heaven: Facing death with Christ, and costs about $3, depending on the exchange rate the day you buy. Here are some extracts:

‘God has done all things well, and I believe He is doing this thing well too. He is taking me back to Himself when I have all my faculties, when I am still active in ministry, when my family have reached independence with their own spouses and careers, and when my wife still has the energy and vitality to face a new life-stage…

‘I can now see that much of what I have striven for and much of what I have allowed to fill my life these 40 years have been of dubious value. I am not now going to gain any further reputation or achieve anything more of significance, and I realise how little that matters. As I start to clear up my effects, I recognise how I have allowed them to clutter my life and how little I have actually needed them…

‘While physical things spoil and go dim, spiritual things grow brighter and clearer. I see my sin very clearly. I see how much it still controls my life. I think how little time I have got left to make further progress against my pride, my irritability, my grumpiness, my selfishness. I need to keep short accounts now, because I may never have time to make amends or apology in this life…

‘The Bible speaks to me with ever greater authority and relevance. Each day as I open it, God speaks straight into my heart by his Word. And it tells me of what lies beyond this life. I can see the end of life. It looms over the horizon, and I am encouraged to think it will not now be long before I am there.’

Not on Amazon, but you can order a copy here.

What Evangelical Religion is not

According to J. C. Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool 1880–1900

We protest against the idea that in baptism the use of water, in the name of the Trinity, is invariably and necessarily accompanied by regeneration.

Evangelical Religion does not undervalue the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper . It is not true to say that we do. We honour them as holy ordinances appointed by Christ Himself, and as blessed means of grace, which in all who use them rightly, worthily, and with faith, “have a wholesome effect or operation.”

But we steadily refuse to admit that Christ’s Sacraments convey grace ex opere operato, and that in every case where they are administered, good must of necessity be done. We refuse to admit that they are the grand media between Christ and the soul—above faith, above preaching, and above prayer. We protest against the idea that in baptism the use of water, in the name of the Trinity, is invariably and necessarily accompanied by regeneration. We protest against the practice of encouraging any one to come to the Lord’s Table unless he repents truly of sin, has a lively faith in Christ, and is in charity with all men. We protest against the theory that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, as a theory alike contrary to the Bible, Articles, and Prayer-book. And above all, we protest against the notion of any corporal presence of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper, under the forms of bread and wine, as an “idolatry to be abhorred of all faithful Christians.”

Editor’s note: the quote at the end of Bishop Ryle’s remarks is from the 1662 Prayer Book, where this comment is added at the end of the Communion service:

Whereas  it  is  ordained  in  this  Office  for  the  Administration  of  the  Lord’s  Supper,  that  the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our  humble  and  grateful  acknowledgement  of  the  benefits  of  Christ  therein  given  to  all  worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet,  lest  the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of  ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved; It is hereby declared, that thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily  received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still  in  their very natural substances, and  therefore may not be adored;  (for  that were  Idolatry,  to be abhorred of all  faithful Christians;) and  the  natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are  in Heaven, and not here;  it being against  the  truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

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