Monday, February 13, 2012
LAYMAN'S GUIDE TO THE THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
This Article alludes to words spoken by St. Peter, having stated as fully as possible “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” as his subject: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12 & see v.10).” The universal nature of this message is clear, “under heaven among men.” Put another way, this means on earth for every human being.
This ties in to the fact that the Church is commanded to preach the Gospel to every nation, which phrase is expanded in the Book of Revelation to mean, “Every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (5:9).” A nation is, in the Greek New Testament, is not a nation state but an inherited ethnicity. The word is ἔθνος (ethnos).
preached that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26).” St. Paul
Among other things we must learn from this is one simple fact: Christians have no excuse whatsoever for racism. We are all of one blood, which today is a very basic and well known fact of medical science. This means that the theology of the Incarnation as stated in the words, “And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14),” is deliberately inclusive. By taking human nature, the eternally begotten Son of the Everlasting Father made Himself a relative of the whole human race, everyone everywhere divided as they are in time and place.
One major issue among the Jewish people of the first century was their distinctive place as the people of God; circumcision was the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. As early as the preaching of John the Baptist, it was proclaimed that the Gentiles would become full and equal heirs of the covenant: “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham (Luke 3:8).” In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we see that God revealed, in the manner of His own choosing, the full meaning of revelation that went back to the ancient Prophets of Scripture, that John the Baptist preached, and that our Lord Jesus Christ taught. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, on men who were not circumcised, in exactly the same manner as He had come on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15, “as on us at the beginning”), the “middle wall of partition” between Jew and Gentile was broken down in Christ (Ephesians 2”14). That one and only significant barrier broken down, between people in the covenant and those born outside of the covenant, no other barrier, whether of race or clan, can stand.
There was no controversy about what had happened at the house of Cornelius, or about what it meant, among the Apostles. In sharp contradiction to several modern writers, the Church was not divided on the issue of Gentile inclusion. When we come to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, in which Peter explains what had occurred, we find the matter neatly summed up for us:
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. (vs. 15-18).”
This was the doctrine of the Church. After a few years this Apostolic doctrine was challenged by the first heresy in its history. A party of self-appointed teachers, having no authority, troubled believers among the churches of the Gentiles by teaching them that they had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved. So, we read in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts that their heresy was simply and directly condemned by the first Council of the Church, wherein the Apostles and Elders issued a letter for all to read.
The universal nature of the Gospel and of the Church have been revealed to us by God. To preach the Gospel to all peoples everywhere, to recognize the missionary nature of our faith, to obey the Great Commission, has become controversial in modern times among people who claim to be believing Christians. It is now considered, by these modern critics, an insult to other cultures that we would presume to convert them to our faith and baptize them into the Church. But, our orders have their root in the first commandment, “Thou shalt have none other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3).” Translated literally, the first of the Ten Commandments says, “No other gods may you have for yourselves in my presence (i.e. ‘before me’ or very literally, ‘in front of my face.’).”
The Old Testament command for dealing with the gods of the nations was told in the negative, for example this: “But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire (Deuteronomy 7:5).” The relevant commandments were about the Land given to the people of
, to banish from it the cruel pagan practices that included among their rituals acts of sexual perversion and child sacrifice in the fire. But, in the judgments rendered by God through Moses in the ten plagues, judgments expressly on Egyptian gods, the revelation had been given that YHVH was the only true God in heaven and earth. And, this revelation is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament. The prophets foretold a day when all the nations of the earth would be turned to the one true God, the God of Israel, but never explained exactly how that would come about. Israel
That fullness of revelation has been granted in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:5), and it is He Who issued our orders as His Church. The New Testament commandment is to preach the Gospel in every nation and make disciples:
“And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore, and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20).”
This does not justify the use of arms and force (which cannot convert anyone anyway), but it does command the art of persuasion by preaching the Gospel. The Gospel is briefly summarized in the New Testament (I Corinthians 15:1-11) as the saving acts of our Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of the whole human race scattered, as it is, in time and among the inhabited places of earth. Christ commands, as well, the establishment of His Church among all nations, into which each person is baptized, and in which each person is taught.
In response to the modern attack on our missionary commission, the Church of Rome is to be credited for the document Dominus Iesus which came out under the Imprimatur of Pope John-Paul II in the year 2000. Although we cannot accept the exclusive claims of the Church of Rome that appear in part of that document (all quoted from earlier documents, and which should have come as no surprise), the main point of it was genuinely ecumenical and very true; for its overall message was the same as our own Article XVIII. We do have a missionary commission laid upon us by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how much various individuals may complain, and no matter how much they may present false historical claims about an ideal and peaceful pagan utopia, we are to preach the Gospel to all nations on earth and establish Christ’s Church everywhere for the good of all peoples.
The Article does not give treatment to questions about whether or not people may be saved who have not personally believed in Christ. It does not attempt to answer, “what about the souls of those who have never heard?” What it says is very direct about those who “presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature.” That is, whatever false ideas, and even whatever truth, may be found in various religions, no one is saved by adherence to those beliefs. This truth stated in the negative is then answered by the truth of revelation stated in the positive, “For Holy Scripture doth set out to us only the name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).”
The major two-fold theme of the Gospel According to John is the Trinity and the Incarnation. There is one Son or Logos Who alone provides access to the Father. Christ alone is the salvation of the human race. This fits perfectly with the words of
, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (I Timothy 2:5,6).” St. Paul
Article XVIII is basically saying this same thing in other words. Jesus did not say in this statement anything to the effect that people ignorant of the Gospel, who therefore have no personal faith instructed by clear teaching concerning the Son, cannot be saved. That question is not answered by these words or by our Anglican Article. But, the fact that we are given the Great Commission is enough both to obey it because Christ himself commanded it, and with the understanding that the Gospel is the spiritual medicine needed by the whole world, and the Church is the spiritual hospital needed everywhere.
Fr. Laurence Wells
From Genesis to Revelation, the Biblical Gospel is marked by a tension between the universal and particular. In God’s covenant with Abraham, we hear that in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gn 12: 3), but when Abraham prayed for his son Ishmael, he was told that even if certain blessings would befall Ishmael’s descendants, “I will establish my covenant with Isaac.” (Gn 17:21). At the other end of the Bible, we hear of “a great multitude which no man can number” in heavenly bliss, but also that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” ( Rv 7:9 and 20:15). The Word of God does not encourage any insouciant universalism.
The Biblical hinge for Article XVIII is found in two texts. In John 14:6, from the lips of the Savior Himself, we are taught, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is reinforced by the text which the Article quotes somewhat obliquely: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We cannot talk around the plain meaning of Peter’s exclusive claim. He was addressing “rulers and elders and scribes” under the co-presidency of Annas and Caiaphas, the very group which had tried Jesus in the wee hours of Good Friday, while Peter himself was interrogated by a servant girl. He was telling them in unvarnished language that unless they acknowledge this Jesus as the Christ and embrace Him as Lord and Savior, they will go to hell. The same warning stands for all who hear the Gospel but fail to embrace the One who is proclaimed as “the only Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). This radical exclusivism accounts for the painstaking urgency of New Testament preaching, an urgency missing from the moral lectures which pass for preaching in so many Anglican pulpits. Apart from Christ, we are lost. In Christ we have eternal life.
Now what does all this say to the pastoral problem which a missionary in
Japan or faces when a new convert, with a cultural heritage of ancestral piety, asks, “Are my ancestors in hell?” The missionary, who does not wish to offend with the common evangelical answer, might say: India
1. Oh no, everyone goes to heaven. In spite of our exclusive-sounding texts, we know that God is love, or
2. If they lived a good moral life, doing the best they could, then God will make an exception for them, or again
3. Their religion was a noble tradition and is also a revelation of God’s gift of salvation. Christianity is a new and improved version of their faith but not essentially different.
None of these responses are Biblically faithful. But neither is the standard evangelical answer (even if it was the one Thomas Cranmer might have given in 1553 when he wrote this Article). And before popular evangelicalism is pilloried, we must not forget the Patristic background in “nulla salus extra ecclesiam” or in the stern opening words of the Athanasian Creed. The best response, both pastorally and doctrinally, might be along these lines: “If your ancestors embraced the measure of God’s revelation which He gave to them and loved God in return, then they are not without hope.”
The New Testament itself, in the Parable of the Great Assizes, seems to deal with this problem, which surely must have emerged in the Apostolic era. In Matt 25 we see the eschatological Son of Man seated on His throne of judgment, dividing the world into sheep and goats, eternally destined in opposite directions. But the final reward comes as a great surprise to all. “When did we see thee, Lord?” The sheep are not told, “Even if you did not see me, I am rewarding your good deeds and virtuous lives.” The goats do not hear, “You are eternally lost because you failed to make a decision for Christ.” The eternal destiny of both groups depends absolutely on their relationship to HIM, in whatever way He chose to manifest Himself to them.
Whereas our Article might seem to support the “heaven for born-again Christians only” tenet of popular evangelicalism, it is interesting that the Puritan Westminster Confession of Faith offers a more Biblical view. There it is stated that “all other elect persons [besides elect infants dying in infancy] who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word, … are saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when and where, and how he pleaseth.”
To sum up: Christ, as the unique and exclusive Savior of lost sinners, must be urgently preached and any compromise of His sole unshared authority must be sternly rejected. But that very authority forbids us to assume specific judgment of the eternal state of any. It was concerning the final destiny that He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”