Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles

Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

Testamentum Vetus Novo contrarium non est, quandoquidem tam in Veteri quam in Novo per Christum, qui unicus est Mediator Dei et hominum, Deus et Homo, aeterna vita humano generi est proposita. Quare male sentiunt, qui veteres tantum in promissiones temporarias sperasse confingunt. Quanquam lex a Deo data per Mosen, quoad ceremonias et ritus, Christianos non astringat, neque civilia eius praecepta in aliqua republica necessario recipi debeant: nihilominus tamen ab obendientia mandatorum quae moralia vocantur nullus quantumvis Christianus est solutus.
Fr. Laurence Wells

This Article has its own natural division into two parts.

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and the New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises.

From the morning of the first Whitsunday the Christian community was already graced with a body of Holy Scripture. In his powerful sermon that day (Acts 2:16--35), Peter quoted at length from the Prophet Joel and twice from the Psalms. Most of the books of the New Testament, in fact, quote from the Hebrew Scriptures. Not only is this body of sacred literature quoted, but Divine authority is accredited to it. The author of Hebrews quotes the books which we call the Old Testament under the rubric, "God says" (Heb 1:3,6,13, etc). Paul had in mind what we call the Old Testament when he wrote "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable..." (II Tim 3:16).

Considering the exalted status which the New Testament gives to the Old (all the NT writers were what we might call fundamentalists), it is perhaps startling that early in the 2nd century, when the ink of the NT documents was hardly dry, a heretic named Marcion initiated a significant schism from the Church by denying the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. Marcion wished to distinguish between a God of wrath and a God of love. (Does this sound familiar?) Marcion's "God of wrath" was the false god of the Hebrew Scriptures, and his "God of love" was what he claimed to find in ten of Paul's Epistles (all save I and II Timothy and Titus) and an abbreviated form of Luke's Gospel. This may well have been the most serious heresy before the advent of Arianism. At least eight Patristic writers were at pains to refute this error.

The Holy Catholic Church firmly rejected Marcion's proposal. We probably should thank him, however, for pushing the mainstream of Christianity forward in the process of setting the boundaries for the New Testament canon. And he brought up a real and enduring problem for Christian thought. If the Old Testament is included in the Christian Bible, what is the relationship between it and the New Testament? How do we relate "Blessed is he that taketh thy children and throweth them against the stones" (Psalm 137:9) to "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not?"

Rejected by the Fathers, the Marcionite heresy did not disappear simply, but went underground. The lingering virus caused a revival amongst the Anabaptists and radical Protestants in the 16th century. (Our study of the Articles must notice once again that the argument of the Anglican Fathers was as much against the radical extremists--Anabaptists and Socinians--as against Rome.)

We must pay close attention to the language of Article VII. The Old Testament is not only equal in authority to the New; it is equally full of the Gospel of grace. The Article confronts the lingering notion that the Old Testament is somehow inferior, primitive, or less than Christian. The two Testaments are absolutely consistent because they have their unity in Christ and in His good news.

How are the two Testaments to be related as Christian Scripture? It is a serious but common mistake to say, "Why of course, the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is Gospel." That is precisely what Article VII refutes. It is more accurate to understand the two Testaments in terms of promise and fulfillment: what was promised in the Old Testament was fulfilled--made flesh--in the New. Another way to state this relationship is in the categories of shadow and substance. An old jingle, sometimes accredited to Augustine of Hippo, holds that "The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed."

The Gospel was first announced, not in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but in Genesis 3:15, in the form of a curse (!) pronounced over the Serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Nowhere in Sacred Scripture does the glory of Jesus shine more clearly than in Isaiah's Servant Songs, "Behold my servant shall deal wisely; he shall be high, and lifted up, and shall be exalted."

The Church battled Marcion and has continued that battle to the present time against his disciples, who never seem to go away. Ignorance of the Old Testament and general disinterest in its contents is rampant among many who consider themselves to be paragons of orthodoxy. We continue the battle for the sake of Christ Himself, who said, "Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24:44) and, "You search the Scriptures ... it is they that bear witness of me" (Jn 5:39).

Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called moral.

We must sympathize with the reader of the Old Testament who wonders where is Christ, and where is His gospel in large chunks of Old Testament literature. After the excitement of Genesis and the earlier chapters of Exodus, the remainder of Exodus, and all of Leviticus and Numbers is rough sledding. The history of salvation (our salvation!) which began in the Garden of Eden is interrupted and seemingly delayed by a long chunk, tedious to the average reader, of legislation on all manner of topics. This can become manageable if it is broken down into three types of law.

Most conspicuous and most foreign to our culture is the Ceremonial Law, the law of sacrifices and of holiness. This has little relevance to us, for as Hebrews teaches us, it was all fulfilled and set aside in the perfect and final sacrifice of Jesus our Great High Priest. Its lasting value for the Christian is that in the ceremonial law we may learn the seriousness of worship. Worship is not a game for dilettantes; it was and still is the point of contact established by God Himself in His holiness and His otherness for unworthy sinners to have access to Him.

Secondly, we find the civil legislation of God's covenant people living in community in the land of promise. This civil legislation also passed away with the end of the Israelite nation. It remains notable, however, for its note of compassion for the widow, the fatherless, the slave, and the foreigner. The contrast between the law God gave to His covenant people and the law of neighboring kingdoms is frequently remarkable in this regard.

Finally, we have the moral law, summed up in the Ten Commandments and in "the first and great commandment," of love for God and neighbor. Line for line, this moral law is the briefest of the three, but it is the only part of the Torah still in full effect.

The Article is emphatic that "no Christian man whatsoever is free" from this moral law. From the time of Paul himself, a heresy called Antinomianism had developed, alleging that since Christians are no longer under the curse of the law and the law is no means of salvation, we are invited to "continue in sin that grace may abound." The modern form of this error, as we know to our sorrow, is the "situation ethics" popular in the 1960's. But like the error of Marcion, to which it is akin, Antinomianism had re-surfaced in the radical Reformation and to a degree within Lutheranism. In the mainstream of Christianity which we call Catholic tradition, Article VII rules it out of bounds.
* * *

Fr. Robert Hart

St. Augustine, refuting the heresy of Pelagianism, wrote:

This grace hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages, forasmuch as God knew how to dispose all things.

From his words we get the saying, “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.” To a degree this is true, and to a degree misleading. It is true because the glory of God shines brighter with the full revelation of Christ in the New Testament. It can be misleading if we think “concealed” to mean hidden away out of sight. The Old Testament reveals the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it even predicts the establishment of the new Covenant in very direct and explicit language:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31: 31-34)

In that passage we see the greater revelation of grace to be given in the Incarnation of Christ, perfected by His death and resurrection. It is not “concealed” in the sense of hidden. Furthermore, it was concealed for several generations only because it awaited the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4).

Speaking, for example, of the Law and the Gospel, St. Paul wrote:

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. (II Corinthians 3:5-9)

Any genuine contrast between Law and Gospel is not the Old Testament held up against the outworking of God’s plan of redemption. In fact, “the commandments called moral” are just as much “the ministration of death” today as they were in the days of Moses. And, without them we cannot understand the Gospel, inasmuch as we cannot appreciate the Gospel unless and until we know that we have sinned. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 4:24) Therefore, “the ministration of death” is a necessary element of any true presentation of the Gospel in our time also, not only in the time of the Old Testament. Without intelligent appreciation of sin and death, we cannot know what Christ has saved us from.

So, in addition to teaching us how to live, "the commandments called moral” teach us that we need the Savior. Their true meaning is driven home to us with greater severity by the words of Christ in the New Testament than by anything known to Moses and the Prophets. That is what the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5,6, and 7) revealed, a terrifying severity that the Old Testament “concealed” in comparison to the preaching of Christ in the New Testament. But, what the New Testament also reveals, and which it reveals as a historical fact, is God’s establishment of the New Covenant in His Son.

We see clearly the true remedy revealed in its fullness by the bold proclamation that now, by the completed and perfected work of Christ through His cross and through His resurrection, we can point to the greater Passover, effected in real history in and by means of our time and space world of matter. We have been saved from sin and death by what Christ has done. Therefore, our altars have no blood shed on them; and this, altars without bloodshed, makes a stronger statement about the cross than does mere absence of an altar. Our sacrifice is mystical, pointing to the fact already completely accomplished, Christ's once for all offering of Himself fulfilling the typography of the blood-soaked altars of the temple. For, the sight of those altars foretold the salvation that is, on our side of history, fulfilled in Christ, a fact accomplished. They looked ahead to His sacrifice of Himself once offered; we look back to it.

In the Law, and in the Prophets, the Gospel is fully set forth. For example, it is most clearly and thoroughly foretold in the Suffering Servant Passage of Isaiah (52:13-53:12). In that Suffering Servant passage we see the full demands of the Law satisfied, both the justice of that Law (the Torah) by the sentence of death, and the priestly ministry of worship according to the same Law, in the blood of atoning sacrifice to take away the sins of the people. In that passage Christ is the Sacrifice; He is the Sin Offering and the Priest. We see too the resurrection of Christ, for the passage foretells that the one who dies as the true Sacrifice for sin, the One for the many (Isaiah 53:12, Romans 5:15-21), also shall “prolong his days.” (In case anyone misses the point, the New Testament dogmatically applies the Suffering Servant passage to Jesus Christ by consistent and frequent quotations and allusions.)

The Law was not simply about death; rather, the sentence of death, as well as the types and shadows of every sacrifice slain on the altars, was the foretelling of the Gospel. The word “concealed” as Augustine used it, takes on an ironic twist, meaning at once both revelation of truth, but also an enigma, a mystery. That mystery was fully revealed in the Person and work of the Son of God on this Earth, in real history, in our very real world of matter, energy and time.

What Christ taught ever so clearly is that the Scriptures that already had been written, and received by Israel , were all about Him.

And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5:37-39)

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself… And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:25-27, 44-48).

The Apostles, and others among Christ’s Disciples, were witnesses of the things foretold by the Prophets. Notice the wording used by St. Luke, who did not say “he expounded unto them all the scriptures concerning himself”--a dash of Psalm 22, a sprinkling of Isaiah 7:14, and 53, and so on. Rather, St. Luke tells us, “He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” This is a remarkable statement. It means that the whole subject of the Law and the Prophets, as well as the Psalms and Wisdom literature, as well as the Prophetic telling of Israel’s history (including things glorious and things notorious), was written to reveal Jesus Christ Himself. If you can pray the Psalms, and read the Writings, but miss the Subject Himself, you have failed to see.

We do not have two canons of Scripture. We have one Canon of Scripture in two Testaments. We need both of them to see Christ clearly for Who he is, and to appreciate the history of our salvation as revealed and accomplished by Almighty God.


Anonymous said...

I think the lack of comments must be because this is almost too good. There is so much to think about and digest.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article and assisting several concerns while currently looking into the Reformed Episcopal Church. I can now see a greater understanding of the law, however I still do not understand why we must confess (as in absolution in the Book of Prayer) before every Eucharist if Christ has paid for all my sin once for all. I believe 1 John 1:9 is advising (as does Romans 1) that we have to admit we are sinners before properly understanding Christ, but should this not only take place once and not over and over again as our identity is now in Christ? It seems this would bring an unsure state of sin consciousness? I hope that I do not sound disrespectful in any way. I thank you for all you labors in the Lord and for any insight you could provide. An abundance of God’s grace, rest, and peace to you and yours.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Because we continue to commit sin, confession and repentance on our part is a daily need. What Christ did was "once for all," i.e. one time for the whole world. But, our repentance is not done once for all sins past and future. Sinless Perfection is a heresy. - I John 1:8-10.