Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Priestesses in Plano (Part I)

Just when it seemed a safe bet that the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) had made a final decision about priestesses in the Church, and one that took the right decision even if for incomplete reasons, along comes Fr. David Roseberry, Rector of Christ Church Plano, Texas, to make you hold on to your money. The message is, do not bet on that horse after all. Along with one Fr. Clint Kerley and one Toby Eisenberg, Fr. Roseberry and Christ Church have presented a position paper in favor of women “priests.” The paper is far too long to post here, but can be read in PDF format here. It is worth taking the time, however, to read some of their paper interspersed with commentary by Fr. John Hollister, Priest Associate at Christ Anglican Catholic Church, Metairie (New Orleans), Louisiana. Because of length, we will present Part I now, and follow up with Part II in a few days. Also, please note that we do not hold the AMiA accountable for the error and poor reasoning expressed by a mere handful of individuals.

Do you know this riddle? A father and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed instantly but the son is only injured and is taken to the hospital. He is rushed to the operating room, the doctor comes in, looks at the patient on the operating table, and says, “I can't operate on him, he's my son.” How can this be? If you are stumped on this, you are not alone. It is not easy to figure out. But did you get it? It is deceptively simple: the doctor is the boy’s mother.

Comment: This opening is a disingenuous attempt to start the discussion off with the acceptance of false assumptions and invalid analogies. Medicine is (a) a secular occupation and (b) a form of “employment”, as secular society understands that term, while the ordained ministry is neither of those things. Thus what may or may not be true of secular callings in our society is utterly irrelevant to the Church’s consideration of who may or may not be admitted to its formal ministry. Thus to begin this discussion with an example that is so inapposite to the issue at hand is to set a completely inappropriate tone and frame of reference.

It goes without saying that the times are changing rapidly... It would seem only natural that the church would not escape the relentless wave of change.

Comment: Socially-assigned sex rôles may be changing but divinely-created ontological differences between men and women are not. Thus, for example, we live in a society in which some pretend that men may marry men and women may marry women but their erroneous belief in that, and even their success in persuading almost all of the chattering classes and many legislators and jurists to accept their opinion, does not make that opinion any less absurd.

Further, to say that changes in the secular culture must necessarily change the Church is to place the Church in a subsidiary rôle vis-à-vis that culture. The essential mission of the Church, as handed over to it by Our Lord, is to transform the world into a Christian society, not to be transformed by the world into a pagan religion. This initial assumption of society’s supremacy over revealed Faith operates to delimit in inappropriate ways the discussion that is to come and is, in and of itself, a non sequitur. Those who believe the Church is a voluntary human association created by its members to promote their own interests may find this line of argument persuasive. Those who believe that the Church is a divine institution, created by God and handed over to us for our temporary stewardship, into which we are called by God’s initiative rather than our own, will find this entire proposition nonsense and will likely lay this paper down at this point, finding that it comes from such an alien world view that it has nothing to offer them.

Any change we make to tradition or roles or common understanding should have a clear biblical rationale…

Comment: “Any change we make to tradition or roles or common understanding should have a clear biblical rationale and should, in the end, be either allow[ed] or proscribed by our Scriptures…” If the authors really believe this, then they should simply begin with 1 Timothy 3:2-5 and Titus 1:6 and explain how Scripture either allows or prescribes that a female may be an “husband” or “a man”.

As to how we can reach this world with the hope and power of the Gospel, we should begin by attending to the canonical Scriptures that accompany that Gospel and to the universal Tradition of the Church that is
both author and custodian of those Scriptures.

As an Anglican church, we are not left to interpret Scripture by ourselves but are part of a worldwide communion that helps us understand God’s word and our particular belief in how we live out our faith together.

Comment: One assumes the “worldwide communion” referred to here is the Lambeth association of churches. Historically, that association and its progenitor, the Church of England, always defended Anglicanism from attacks both from extreme Protestants and from Rome by arguing that it held no unique doctrines of its own but only held, taught, and practiced the universal Faith of the Undivided Church of the Apostles. It was only late in the 20th Century that some member Provinces of the Lambeth Communion began to develop idiosyncratic doctrines that are at odds with the otherwise universal consensus of the Catholic Church in all of its branches. It is this late-developing faith, a sort of congregationalism writ large in defiance of all previous Anglican understandings of the nature of the Church, that is being described here. Just look at that key admission, and likely Freudian slip, “our particular belief”.

Yet, after more than thirty years spent studying the issue of women’s ordination, a consensus in the Anglican communion still has not been reached.

Comment: Prior to the 1960s, the Lambeth Communion did share a consensus on this issue. Over 25 years the Lambeth Communion may have managed to undermine that consensus to which it theretofore always adhered but the entire Church Catholic still adheres to the consensus on this issue that it has maintained for 2,000 years. So there is a fundamental lack of perspective, if not an outright intellectual dishonesty, inherent in the suggestion that somehow this is an open question which the wider Church has been unable to resolve and on which, therefore, one parish in one place has been called to lead billions of Christians to enlightenment.

This reveals quite starkly one of the fundamental problems of this approach. Anglicanism, if it has any reality or value as a unique way of “doing Church”, is and must remain, at bottom, the branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that is native to the English-speaking peoples and that has been adopted by others who were introduced to Christianity by those peoples. As such, Anglicanism in the days of its health claimed vociferously that it had no doctrines that were its alone but only the doctrines that it shared with the rest of the Catholic Church.

From this perspective, what may or may not be done in the various Dioceses and Provinces that call themselves “Anglican” is irrelevant; all that counts is what the rest of the Catholic Church does as authorized by the immemorial organs of Catholicity, the Œcumenical Councils. Thus also from this perspective, there is no discussion of women’s ordination that may legitimately be had until the other three-quarters of the Catholic Church – the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Communions – have joined Anglicanism in a new Œcumenical Council to discuss and authorize the innovation.

While we wait for that consensus, our call to mission requires us to take a position on the matter.

Comment: This is a non sequitur. Please explain precisely why a “call to mission”, that presumably is a mission to spread the Gospel, requires the instant adoption of a new way of viewing and interpreting that very Gospel, and the abandonment of the entire Church’s immemorial methods of Scriptural exegesis and application.

To be frank, there is just a touch of narcissism in the proposition that one parish in Plano, TX, at a time 2,000 years after the Church began evangelizing the world, is somehow uniquely called to develop and show that Church a new approach to that Gospel. Either the message revealed in Scripture is ours or it is God’s. If it be ours, it is scarcely worth listening to. If it be God’s, then we have no power to alter either it or its fundamental presentation, yet that is precisely what the attempt to change the application of St. Paul’s clear words amounts to.

Our goal in this paper is to explain our position on women’s ordination and why we think it is the most faithful position Christ Church can take as it seeks to live out the Christian mission in Plano, Texas. Our position is that women can serve as deacons and priests (including as rectors), though the office of bishop must be reserved for men.

Comment: That is rank and opportunistic sexism. St. Paul makes clear, in his Epistles to Timothy and to Titus, that the ontological requirements for the lower clergy and for the episcopate are identical. Thus if a woman could be either a deacon or a priest, then she could likewise be a bishop. There is no principled way to create a new ministry into which women may be installed and then to impose a “stained glass ceiling” on their advancement through the ranks of that new ministry.

Of course, this is not only another non sequitur but it rejects, without any discussion or explanation, St. Paul’s directive, contained in what we are taught is canonical, i.e., inspired Scripture, that the qualifications for the lower clergy and for the episcopate are identical. And as admitted here, the deacons and priests are simply the bishop’s delegates for carrying on portions of the bishop’s ministry in a particular location, so on what basis can one conclude from that that the qualifications for the delegate are fundamentally different from those for the delegator?

It would seem much more logical to conclude that, where the most characteristic function of the bishop’s ministry has always been the celebration of the Eucharist for his diocese, then each person to whom he delegates part of his rôle in that celebration should meet the same ontological qualifications as he himself does.

Yet we are here given absolutely no justification for this, only the vague and unsupported assertion that violating this principle somehow furthers some undefined “mission”.

Our approach to the issue of women’s ordination is perhaps best described as a “mission-oriented” approach because it attempts to bring Scriptural teaching on how to carry out the call to mission into the discussion on women’s ordination….

Comment: Curiously, nowhere in this paper is this “mission-oriented approach” defined or explained. “Reverse engineering” of the arguments here, however, shows that this approach consists of essentially these elements:

1. An unsupported but not unlikely assumption that elements in the society around us are made uncomfortable by some of the Church’s teachings and practices; and

2. The inference that these dissatisfied elements have declared that this discomfort is the reason they do not attend church and have rejected the Church’s attempts to reach them; coupled with

3. A determination to change the Church’s teachings and practices in order to conform to the prejudices and preferences of those dissatisfied elements.

Quite apart from the complete misunderstanding of the Church’s rôle in mission that this displays, it has practical implications as well. It offers us no reliable guidance as to which of the Church’s beliefs and practices are so essential that we dare not think of altering them and which are so temporary and merely instrumental that we can amend them at will. As a result, any group in society may demand changes to suit itself just as legitimately as any other group already has. Thus, for example, many feel the Church is not as successful as it should be in reaching adolescents and young adults. Those efforts would certainly be facilitated if only the Church would stop insisting that these potential targets of evangelism maintain chastity, and in particular that they postpone sexual activity until marriage. These young people live in a culture that has decided free and unfettered sexual expression is a basic human right, as well as an element of good health; “the best scholarship” of Margaret Mead and her disciples supports this ethic of hedonism; these youngsters are not going to church because there they will be told things they do not want to hear; so, according to the logic of this paper, there clearly is a “missional” imperative for the Church to “get with it” and “loosen up”.

Nor need we be stayed from making these essential changes just because Scripture is quite clear on what sexual conduct is demanded of Christians, for we are shown here how, once something is argued to comport with the “missional approach”, that deconstructs Scripture and replaces it with whatever is seen to be the need of the moment.

Then there are the sexual deviates and their fellow-travelers who tell us that “the best scholarship” holds that sexual perversions result from organic predispositions, etc., etc., etc. ….

There is also the small matter of who it is for whom the Church’s practices are an obstacle to the faith. What Christ Church, Plano TX is doing may well garner the approval of the world around it, but what about the fact that, just by introducing these innovations in its ministry, it has severed communion with large parts of the Christian world and has utterly destroyed any possibility of communion with three-quarters of Christianity. This is in clear defiance of Our Lord’s command that we “be one”, so what is it that privileges the hedonistic Western society so that its wishes are followed and deprives all of traditional Christianity so that it is thrown under the missional bus?

In considering this, remember these facts:

a. From 1930 until 1976, the Lambeth Communion and the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht were partners in communion under the “Bonn Concordat”.

b. In 1976, the Eastern Orthodox Communion was preparing to enter into mutual recognition of the Lambeth Communion, very much along the lines of that “Bonn Concordat”. (“Preparing to enter into” means the documents were already drawn up, the decision to sign them had been made, and all that remained was for the formal meeting at which they would be signed.)

c. Also in 1976, prior to the scheduled Eastern Orthodox/Anglican meeting (which was to have been in Moscow), the DFMSPECUSA (
The Domestic and Foreign Mission Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, i.e. the full legal name of the Episcopal Church) held its General Convention at which it passed, on first reading, the canonical amendments that would formally approve the concept of women’s ordination d. Still in 1976, after that General Convention and after seeing that the Lambeth Communion was taking no action to reign in or discipline the DFMSPECUSA, the Union of Utrecht unilaterally withdrew from the Bonn Concordat and, at the same time, the Eastern Orthodox cancelled their meeting and tore up the documents that would have recognized Anglicanism. Note, too, that this destroyed the Bonn Concordat not just for DFMSPECUSA but for the entire Lambeth Communion; this denied Eastern Orthodox recognition not just to DFMSPECUSA but to all of Anglicanism worldwide.

Therefore the question now remains to be answered, just in the light of these ruptures in inter-Communion relationships, what “missional” opportunities were lost, what united Christian witness to the unchurched of the world was foregone, solely by DFMSPECUSA’s smug unilateral “prophetic” act?

If the “mission” in question is to bring the world to a knowledge and acceptance of the Faith set forth in the canonical Scriptures, and if those same Scriptures set forth specific requirements for how that mission is to be carried on, and by whom specific parts of it are to be performed, why are those Scriptural prescriptions not the beginning and the end of the inquiry? When some people are dissatisfied with the results of that determination, what legitimately authorizes agents of the Church to depart from those conclusions in order to search for alternative principles that might yield answers more in keeping with their own personal predispositions?

There are a great many things about Christianity that some of us might wish were easier, more socially acceptable, less onerous, less demanding on us, or simply had been arranged differently. Unfortunately, if we are to be faithful Christians, we do not have the option of changing those things. The only choice before us is to accept what the Church teaches and does or to reject it but it is not an option for us to change it.

While few people would disagree with our view that God’s mission to redeem humanity stands as the central theme in Scripture, many do make the mistake of attempting to address women’s ordination without reference to whether mission has any relevance to the issue. Our approach sees mission as of great relevance to the issue of women’s ordination and attempts to orient the discussion in terms of Scriptural teaching on mission.

Comment: The implicit assumption here is that somehow the Church’s historic male ministry is an obstacle to its spreading of the Gospel, at least in the parochial and highly-secularized context of the U.S.A. The facts, however, do not bear this assumption out. In the 30 years since the DFMSPECUSA adopted women’s ordination, its membership has fallen by half. The “mainline” Protestant denominations that followed DFMSPECUSA’s lead have likewise experienced shrinkage in membership. In that same period, other church groups with somewhat similar liturgical traditions, but which do not ordain women, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in America, have experienced growth in absolute terms. So, too, have other nonliturgical bodies which do not ordain women, such as the Southern Baptists and most Pentecostals. What evidence is there, then, that the traditional male ministry is hindering the growth of the Church?

Christ Church’s reasoning on women’s ordination can be summarized as follows: Scripture clearly teaches that we ought to take a mission-oriented approach when determining what teachings and practices we adopt as we proclaim the gospel to a particular culture.

Comment: Scripture nowhere says that we can develop valid principles by which we may disregard the plain and prescriptive words of Scripture itself. The implication is quite to the contrary: we are commanded to carry out the Church’s mission only by adhering to the Church’s characteristic teachings and practices.

Traditional teachings and practices should be presumed correct unless a culture has changed so much that it is at odds with those teachings.

Comment: Once again, we see the concept entering in, that the secular culture may, under the right conditions, trump the plain words of Scripture and the universal Tradition of the Church as it has interpreted and applied those words. To the contrary, the authentic Christian position has always been that the Church exists to transform the culture, not the culture to transform the Church.

As to “necessity”, it is the Church that is empowered to determine what is adiaphora (“things indifferent”) and what is essential. Here “the Church” means the entire Church of the Creeds and the Œcumenical Councils, not one parish in one U.S. state...If something was done in the days of Our Lord and those who were personally taught by Him, then we should probably do that same thing today and certainly should do it until we are presented with the strongest evidence that it was not in fact His will for us. In other words, a very high burden of proof rests squarely on the proponents of change, not on the proponents of Tradition.

The best understanding of Scripture’s teaching on male headship in marriage is that it is rooted in God’s different ordering of men and women (i.e., innate gender differences). While the scriptural teaching on male headship in ministry is perhaps less certain, a strong enough parallel between headship in ministry and headship in marriage appears to exist so that we are not prepared to part with the traditional teaching of male headship in ministry.

Comment: One has already departed from it if one is not following the clear commands of canonical Scripture: the ordained ministry is restricted to males who are eligible to be “husbands”. The connection between male headship in the family and male headship in the ministry is a close and essential one, each of which illuminates the other. Thus Our Lord’s own chosen metaphor to describe His relationship to His Church is “the bridegroom” (e.g., St. Matthew 25:1-13) and a bridegroom must be male. If we were in any doubt that the rule implied in this metaphor applies to the parochial clergy, St. Paul removes that doubt when he declares that an Apostle or Bishop is to choose the ordained leaders of local congregations by examining their performance as actual husbands and fathers.

Instead, we will wait for this issue to be resolved through the process of reception.

Comment: Just what is meant by this concept of “reception”? It sounds remarkably like, “Our Lord didn’t do it, His Apostles didn’t do it, but if all of us now decide to do it, our consensus trumps His example.” Like erring children, “it’s O.K. so long as we all do it.” To the contrary, if something is wrong, it remains wrong regardless of how many join in doing it.

Jesus reached out to the Samaritan woman at the well. It was rare that a Jewish man would engage in a conversation with a strange woman, but to talk to a Samaritan was especially unbelievable because Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds and unclean. Not only was she a woman and a Samaritan, she was also notoriously sinful. Jesus broke through all of these barriers to bring the gospel to her (John 4). Examples like these are numerous throughout the New Testament.

Comment: And His Apostles certainly understood what He was about when He broke those “rules” of Palestinian society and themselves had no hesitation in following His example. Thus St. Peter accepted and confirmed Gentile converts, in clear contravention of all prevailing Jewish social principles and thereby moving the nascent Christianity away from being merely a Jewish sect. Thus St. Paul, at need, appointed Lydia of Thyatira as what we would call the “Senior Warden” of one of his new missionary congregations, which would have been unthinkable to both the Jews and Greeks of his day, but he never ordained her to preside at the altar.

[Editorial addition: The actual text makes it clear that the only surprising thing Jesus did was to talk to a Samaritan (John 4:9 being the key to unlock this aspect of the text); the fact that she was also a woman is much overblown in our own time, and not supported by any honest translation of the text or known facts of history.]

Our mission-oriented approach attempts to follow Paul’s own missionary mindset and example as we seek to understand what he taught about women in ministry and how we are to engage our culture with the gospel.

Comment: It was precisely his mission in which St. Paul was engaged when, in order to provide for the local Sacramental leadership of his new missionary congregations, he told two of his immediate followers (perhaps the very first “missionary bishops”) that they were to appoint – in our terms, select and ordain – men to serve those local groups. And, in doing so, he told those followers that they were to select these local leaders from among the husbands and fathers of those communities. Had he intended this local ministry to have a unisex character, he could easily have written “spouses” and “parents” but he did not. The Church, consistently and for two millennia, has followed what he actually said and did, not what 1960s and ‘70s social activists wished he had said and done. Recall in this connection that it is an article of Christian belief that when the Church consistently does something intimately related to its nature and function, it is doing so under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who is after all also the Third Person of the Trinity and, thus, God.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sixteenth Sunday afterTrinity

Eph. 3:13-21
Luke 7:11-17

Anyone can speak death, and anyone can inflict death; but, only the word of God has the power to give life. Among the many things we see in today’s Gospel, we see life being given to the dead, and we see compassion. What a stark contrast we see between true and false religion. In Christ we see compassion and the giving of life. We see the opposite, the spirit of Antichrist, in Islamist terrorists who think that by killing us, they do God service. It is fitting to remember, as we again marked recently the anniversary of that painful day when over three thousand people were killed in New York, and several more at the Pentagon; and more died heroically by making sure their plane crashed in Pennsylvania instead of hitting its target. It is fitting to remember them in our prayers.
We need to know that a false concept of God has terrible consequences. No wonder, in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul told his children in the faith that anyone who would preach to them a false gospel is under a curse. And, such a one has no true power. For true power is not the ability to curse, to inflict death and suffering; and we need not fear those who can do these things. Neither is true power the ability to deceive. If we grant power to such people, we are joining them in a cursed and barren existence. False ideas about God are fatal. Just ask anyone who has seen a Jehovah’s Witness die an unnecessary death rather than receive something as simple and available as a blood transfusion.
We need to know why the first commandment forbids worship of any god other than the true God. In the long history of false religion, everything from paganism to pseudo-Christian cults, the terrible reality is that cruelty has been quite the normal thing. The ancient idols, spoken of in the Bible, were served through such things as human sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of children. When people shun the story of Abraham offering Isaac, and speak about how terrible the story is, they miss the whole point. We see the obvious theology of the story, in which Isaac, by carrying the wood up the hill and then lying down on the altar in obedience to his father, represents the Lord Jesus who offered himself for our sins on the cross. Nonetheless, we ought to see a practical point as well. When God put Abraham through that ordeal, and then told him not to harm Isaac, it was a dramatic illustration so that the people of Israel would know from that time on that the true God does not want the blood of children to be offered to Him; that such tragic sacrifices as were made to Molech of the people’s infants, and that are made today whenever children are murdered by abortion, are an abomination to God. It never entered His mind. He has never wanted any such thing to be done. And, since suicide and mass murder are a kind of sacrifice offered by Islamist terrorists to their god, these violent acts belong to the same category of religious abomination.
False religion brings death. And, strongly contrasted against the spirit of error and violence, in today’s Gospel Christ acts from his divine compassion to give life. The difference between true religion and false religion is the difference between revelation and error. The ultimate revelation is the Incarnation; the Person of the Son of God among us as a human being- a Man whom we can see, hear and touch. If I may digress, the entire message of Mohamed was a rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, coming along in the 7th Century with a new religion in which God has no Son. It rejects the truth (as St. John warns about the spirit of Antichrist) that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, that is, that He is both fully God of one substance with His Father, and fully man, taking human nature from His blessed Virgin Mother (I John 4:1-3).
They call us idolaters, because we worship Christ. But, the difference between true religion and false religion is the difference of revelation- that is, what God has revealed. And, the greatest revelation is Jesus Christ, God with us, the Word made flesh. So, you see, now that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and we have come to know the truth of His two natures in one Person, what we embrace in Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. Once we know that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, it would be idolatry to worship only a god that cannot be seen, heard and touched. Let me quote to you the opening of Saint John’s First Epistle:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
When God took Abraham up the mountain and taught against human sacrifice (while foreshadowing the crucifixion of His own Son), and later, when He told the people, through His prophet Moses, that they were to worship no other god, these things were done out of compassion for mankind. That compassion reached its highest expression when God the Son appeared in human form. It continues to this day through the Church, which continues the same mission given to Saint Paul, the mission to bring people out of darkness and ignorance into the light of the Gospel. That is your mission and mine. When the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and began to transform him into Saint Paul the Apostle, He called him to take his part in this mission of compassion. The Lord spoke to him about “the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26: 17, 18).”
Because Jesus showed His compassion for a grieving mother by restoring her dead son to life, we see in this story what the Incarnation means. It means that Christ is, as the Orthodox Church has always put it, “the Lover of mankind.” God is among us in his love and compassion. To see Christ in his presence among us today, to see him fully, we must free our minds of petty things that reduce our religion into something small. This very day, when you come to the altar rail for the sacrament, you will be touching and tasting Jesus Christ. This is not idolatry; it is the revelation of God. He is among us as the One Who has power to give life while others seek to give only death. He gives us His own life, for His flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed. The Word, the Life manifested, whom our eyes will see, and our hands will handle, has come and will come to do what only God can do. He gives life to the dead.

Bonus: The Trinity XVI sermon from 2007 re-posted:

“…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…”

Eph. 3:13-21

Luke 7:11-17

A few days ago I was asked by a member of our church about a few words in our liturgy, namely from the Prayer of Humble Access, that beautiful prayer that begins with the words, “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O Merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies…” The specific words that I was asked about are these: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” It is significant that these words were removed from the version of this prayer that is found in the 1979 Book of many services that replaced the Book of Common Prayer in that ever decreasing denomination called the Episcopal Church. They were cut out, as were the words “miserable offenders” from the daily Morning and Evening Prayer, despite the excellent apologetic for them provided by C.S. Lewis many years earlier. Those words were removed because modern people are offended by them. A well known priest in the Episcopal Church, Terry Fullam, once related (about twenty years ago or so) the story of a woman who said to him, “I may be a sinner, but I am not a miserable offender.” I remember a man who derided us by claiming that all our religion could produce was “miserable offenders” unlike his Pentecostal church that produced “saints.”

People are offended by the term “miserable offenders” because it tells the truth. We are miserable offenders, and without the grace of God in Jesus Christ we would all be sent to the Hell we so richly deserve. But, this other part they cut out, “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” offends the modern mind, because the modern mind cannot comprehend- as well I understand and sympathize- how the body could possibly be sinful. After all, the body is just a house, and it is the mind that can reason and incur guilt, so we think. I understand only too well why modern people need to have this part of our prayer explained. Instead of explaining it the Episcopal Church removed it. But, if we do explain these words, these words that we shall be praying within only a few minutes, we will have a new and stronger appreciation for the Gospel, for the Incarnation and for the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion which is “generally necessary for salvation.”

First of all, let us consider today’s Gospel. In this Gospel reading we are given a clue about how the body is sinful. We see the Lord raising a dead man to life. Before we go any further, we ought to grasp a very important fact of Christian doctrine. When I was very young, and had only begun to read the Bible as a teen aged Christian (many years ago, somewhere between thirty some years and one hundred years ago), I was struck by the part of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians in which he says: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept (I Cor. 15:20).” I was wondering how Christ could be “the first fruits of them that slept” because he had on at least three occasions restored dead people to life. He had called Lazarus, the twelve year-old daughter of the synagogue ruler, and this man we read about today, back from death. And, in the Old Testament we read of the one child brought back from the dead by Elijah the prophet, and the child brought back by Elisha the prophet, and the young man restored to life by the bones of Elisha (which provides the biblical justification for relics). So, what did Paul mean by calling our Lord Jesus Christ “the first fruits of them that slept?” Simply this: All of those people who had been brought back from death were brought back into this world that has been contaminated by sin and death, and they had been restored to a life that must end in mortality. They were not risen as creatures who were no longer fallen into sin, and no longer subject to death. All of them did, eventually, find their way back to the grave where they must wait, with us, for “the manifestation of the sons of God.” But “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God (Romans 6: 9, 10).” The Lord Jesus Christ, after dying for the sins of the whole world- for the sins of each of us, your sins and mine- became the first to enter into the immortal state and the glorified state that awaits us when he comes again in glory. Christ is the first fruits, and when he comes again we shall be the harvest: The general resurrection of the dead on the last day will destroy that last enemy to be destroyed, death. So says the Bible, as we find in St. Paul’s first letter to those in Corinth.

The Law of Moses teaches us that if a man so much as touched the dead body of any person, he was unclean and had to bring his sin offering to be cleansed. But, in the New Covenant that has been established in the blood of Jesus Christ, we see the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that even in death the body of a Christian is the dead body of a living person, a seed to be planted that will spring up as a glorified and eternal, indeed, a spiritual body. You can imagine that the soul and spirit of man might be liberated from the body of death to enter into a spiritual existence. But today’s Epistle tells you that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” And so it is that even the body will be granted immortality and glorification. Our hope and eternal destiny is the sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the last day. You will never be reincarnated, and you will not remain forever a bodiless spirit either. Your eternal hope is to be raised from the dead by the power of God when our Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory, to be patterned forever according to his immortality that he apprehended for us on that first Easter.

The body, as it is now, however, is affected by sin because it will die, and death itself is unclean. Death is not natural at all in the philosophical and theological sense. Death is the consequence of sin, not a good and natural part of God’s creation, but the last enemy of God and man that will be destroyed at Christ’s coming. So, how do we understand those words from our Prayer of Humble Access? “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” We must think about what we are about to do. After the sermon you will confess that you are a sinner like everybody else. The General Confession is the opposite of the proud Pharisee’s prayer. He thanked God that he was not like other men, like the sinners; that is because he deceived himself. But we will confess the very opposite: We will confess the truth, seeking to be cleansed by God through the Absolution (if we speak with “hearty repentance and true faith”), and so will approach, will draw near to take into ourselves the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember his words:

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever (John 6: 54-58).”

By eating this bread and drinking this cup our sinful bodies are made clean by his body, and our souls are washed through his most precious blood of the New Covenant. Springing from his Incarnation, from the Word made flesh, is this sacrament by which we feed on Christ, the Bread of Life, the food of eternal life.

Today’s Gospel demonstrates his power over death, his power to give life, and to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or even think, according to power that worketh in us. When you approach today to receive the Bread of life, to eat his flesh and drink his blood, come with faith that your sinful body of death will be made clean by his risen body of life giving eternal life, and that your soul will be washed through his most precious blood of the new and eternal covenant.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anglican identity

The following is a paper I wrote for the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen and Anglican Guild of Scholars conference that took place in Delaware (Friday Sept. 19).

In what follows, I will use the word “Anglican” for the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion that grew out of it, concerning the Reformation and post-Reformation periods even when writing of the times before that word came into use. This is for convenience and simplicity. My paper addresses the topic of “Anglicanism: Orthodoxy in the West, Lost Child of Rome, or Via Media?”

Inasmuch as a good many arguments have been made for all three options, it may seem bold that I prefer to approach the subject by way of Anglican identity on Anglican terms. My friend and fellow Touchstone editor, Dr. William Tighe, Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has stated that, in his view, Anglicanism is so weak and insubstantial that without stronger influences, it is void of theological content. Very possibly, if several Anglicans, including many the Continuing churches, were asked to refute Dr. Tighe’s remark, they could not. Indeed, it is likely that many would agree with him. I, however, do refute his statement. Anglicanism, as it developed throughout the later half of the sixteenth century, and into the seventeenth century, was in reality as muscular as the very strongest and toughest theological systems in history. To defend their beliefs, the English Reformers and Anglican Divines, had to develop a usable and practical set of Formularies and to produce hearty and robust apologetics. The very reason why so many people have a difficult time perceiving Anglicanism as having fiercely resisted outside pressures to conform, is because of the success of the Church of England in maintaining a balance between them all.

Dr. Tighe’s view, that Anglicanism depends on stronger and more aggressive theological systems in order to have any substance, makes our patrimony seem like an ecclesiastical chameleon, taking on the features of stronger systems the way that that little lizard disappears into the background, whatever background that may be at the moment. However, we do not deny that, in modern times, among Anglicans of the official Anglican Communion who are still anchored more or less in the See of Canterbury, it is a useful comparison, and quite accurate; that is, insofar as they have turned their backs on Anglican patrimony. The modern Anglican Communion is made up of people who cannot recite Anglican Formularies except to subject them to outside influences. This is especially true of modern Anglicans who call themselves Evangelicals (or, in a new phrase, Reasserters) on one hand, and of Anglicans who weigh everything by the standards of the See of Rome, on the other.

So it is that in a typical parish of Reasserter Anglicans, material for serious study about the Reformation period, or generations following, have nothing to do with Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes, Laud, Ken, or any Anglican; Rather they are rooted in Luther or Calvin almost exclusively. Any portions of Anglican Formularies used, are carefully selected and studied only through those foreign lenses. Of course, because theological discussions had gone on for centuries, often in academic settings or in an academic context, the use of terminology overlapped. The unfortunate result, for various modern Anglicans, is that they confuse the less significant overlapping of terminology with what would amount to a more significant agreement on all points.

No more useful book has been produced for modern Anglicans than E.J. Bicknell’s work on the Thirty-Nine Articles.1 A good reading of this book should dispel any notion that Anglicanism was a gutless compromise meant to appease everybody. If the facts are brought out into the light of day, we will see the very opposite: Anglicanism was a brave endeavor to stand for truth against pressure from all sides. For example, Bicknell uses a line from Article XVI to demonstrate that the Church of England refused to teach a doctrine that gave in to outside pressure, in this case to a precept of Calvinism. The Anglican Article says: “After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives.” Bicknell points out that the Calvinists insisted on a stronger teaching, namely that everyone who is among the elect will, unavoidably, arise again and amend his life; to say they “may arise”-which means also that they may not- flatly contradicts what Calvinists believed about election. This is not merely theoretical, for Bicknell points out that English Calvinists resisted the publication of this Article, and failed.

On the other hand, the opening sentence of Article XIX “Of the Church,” is lifted practically verbatim from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 In other words, the English were willing to borrow from Calvin and Luther, but only to a point. According to Bicknell, it is significant that they stopped short of Calvinist extremes and of Lutheran extremes, even when making use of work put forth by these foreign Reformers. It demonstrates independence, and a firm understanding that the Scriptures, as read with the aid of the earliest Catholic doctors and bishops, presented the standard of doctrine rather than their contemporaries, with whom their agreement was limited. The fact that the Articles followed a Lutheran format only makes this all the more significant; for, whereas they followed the Evangelical German format, they produced their own content. The fact that they stopped short of full agreement, even with a borrowed format, is very significant. This is true of the Ordinal also; for whereas the English Ordinal was, in its format, based on the German Ordinal produced by Philip Melancthon, the content of the English Ordinal was not Lutheran. The divergence in the Ordinal, as in the Articles, is very signficant, and would be less significant if there was no similarity, no use of these other formats, and no overlapping of terminology. It is their selected use of formats and models by the Continental Reformers that makes the English divergence from those models highly significant, and so too the overlapping of terminology. It may get close, but never simply mimics or parrots the teachings and practices of the Continental Reformers. They remained independent, even when most closely approximating outside influences.

The English Church established a carefully maintained balance between Rome, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Zwinglianism, criticizing and rejecting various ideas in each of these systems. This in turn kept the Anglicans in a state of at least some amount of opposition to everybody all the time. Each of these camps saw the Church of England as accepting error by adopting or maintaining some of the ideas and practices of Rome, or some of those belonging to Calvin, or some of those belonging to Luther, but never to the satisfaction of loyalists in any of those parties. At one point, the most extreme group of the Calvinist camp, Cromwell’s Puritans, made war on the Church of England as well as on the Crown; executing the king, finally, for refusing to abolish episcopacy, before turning their wrath on the Archbishop of Canterbury. William Laud was executed by means of a Bill passed by Parliament, for they had nothing, in the way of a criminal charge, of which to convict him. The King and the Archbishop suffered religious persecution because they were loyal Anglicans.

To call Anglicanism a “lost child of Rome” might seem convincing to a loyal Papist (to employ the terminology of the times). But, to the Puritans and to the Calvinists in Scotland, the teaching and practice of the Church of England was unacceptable and was called, by Knox, “Papism without the Pope.” It seems that one man’s Protestantism is another man’s Roman Catholicism. Richard Hooker, writing very late in the sixteenth century, in Book IV of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, defended the rites and ceremonies of the English Church against the charge that they were too Roman: Book IV begins with the heading: “CONCERNING THEIR THIRD ASSERTION, THAT OUR FORM OF CHURCH POLITY IS CORRUPTED WITH POPISH ORDERS, RITES, AND CEREMONIES, BANISHED OUT OF CERTAIN REFORMED CHURCHES, WHOSE EXAMPLE THEREIN WE OUGHT TO HAVE FOLLOWED.” At times, throughout the first four books of Hooker’s Laws, it is evident that some of his arguments weigh as much against a group of Anabaptists as against Puritans; nonetheless, what remains obvious is that the Church of England was perceived, by radical elements, as being far too “popish.” The very structure and the Orders of the English Church offended the most radical Protestants. Hooker, again, in Book VII of his Laws, defended the episcopacy, and in doing so defended not only a polity in structure, but a doctrine: That doctrine is the Apostolic Succession as following the pattern taught in Scripture, and having been known to the Church always and everywhere since Antiquity.3

“The first Bishops in the Church of Christ were his blessed Apostles, for the Office whereunto Matthias was chosen the sacred History doth term episkopen, an Episcopal Office.” (VII.4.1)

”And yet the Apostles have now their successors upon earth, their true successors, if not in the largeness, surely in the kind of that Episcopal function, whereby they had power to sit as spiritual ordinary Judges, both over Laity and over Clergy where Churches Christian were established.” (VII.4.3)

”...Presbyters must not grudge to continue subject unto their Bishops, unless they will proudly oppose themselves against that which God himself ordained by his Apostles, and the whole Church of Christ approveth and judgeth most convenient.”(VII.5.8)

“And what need we to seek far for proofs that the Apostles who began this order of Regiment by Bishops, did it not but by divine instinct, when without such direction things of far less weight and moment they attempted not?…Wherefore let us not fear to be herein bold and peremptory, that if any thing in the Church’s government, surely the first institution of bishops was from heaven, was even of God, the Holy Ghost was the author of it.” (VII.5.10)

Hooker went on to describe the ways in which the episcopal order is superior to the presbytery, declaring “what principal duties belonging unto that kind of power a bishop might perform, and not a presbyter.” (VII.6.1) This he did in terms acknowledged by the Church in every age, and in perfect accord with the only practice and teaching we have ever known to this day. What could be clearer than this? Hooker saw the episcopacy as coming from Christ through the Apostles, and he saw the origin of this office recorded in the Scriptures. True to form, as a son of the Church of England, he never once presumed to supply some new definition to the three Orders of ministry, but rather simply affirmed an unbroken line, not only historically, but doctrinally as well. The Continental Reformers, however, set aside episcopacy, and the radical elements in England sought to uproot it altogether. The Church of England, however, maintained it, guarded it, and by law insisted on it, allowing no man to presume to act as a presbyter or deacon without episcopal ordination. As we see in Hooker, this was no mere political formality, but a matter of doctrine in which they resisted outside influences from other Reformed churches and from radicals at home.

A lost child of Rome? It is more accurate to say that the Church of England kept its Catholic heritage, sharing some common ground with Rome that other Reformed Churches did not, but not as a spineless compromise: Rather, the Anglicans were as deliberate and discriminating in what they refused to part with, as they were with what they did throw away. What appears to be inconsistency to so many people, even to this day, is more accurately the result of honesty and of genuine conviction. So, we may indeed use the term via media, the middle way that avoids the unreasonable demands, and even dictatorships, of extremism. But, first we must look at how that term has been used, and what serves as a more enlightening definition as we apply the term to the Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Hooker’s apologetics for English polity were directed at the most radical extremes of Protestantism, which indicates how we ought to apply the term via media to his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. This work represented a via media, not between Rome at that time and Continental Reformations; but between the past and the most extreme departures from tradition in his own day. This helps us in our own time to answer the question of Anglicanism as the via media. If we endeavor, in our own time, to walk a via media between Rome (both in regard to its adherence to tradition and in regard to its own particular innovations) and extreme Protestant departures from tradition, we are allowing others to define us even to ourselves. If our road is chosen for the sake of truth, what others do must be as immaterial as necessity demands. Where Rome has created innovations (and what Anglican would say they have none?), and where various Protestant bodies have also created innovations, whether we walk a middle way, a contrary way, or simply a different way altogether, depends largely on our concern for the unchanging truth of God’s revelation against the specific teaching and practice that is in question. We cannot define ourselves by the via media, but must, when appropriate, walk a via media, and that not for the sake of the road itself, but for the sake of the truth.

Were I to be asked who first conceived of via media, I would answer St. John Chrysostom. In his Six Little Books on the Priesthood, 4 the saint gives advice about preaching. He advises that, when refuting error, it is necessary to refute the error most opposite as well. Otherwise, we appear to endorse that opposite error by refuting its opposite. Translating his work into the language of our own time, if we refute a harsh and demanding legalism, we must refute the libertine error also, or we may appear to endorse the doctrine that we ought to continue in sin that grace may abound. It is necessary, according to St. John Chrysostom, always to attack both extremes if we are to denounce either. This is exactly the spirit of via media, of refusing to turn to the right hand or to the left, maintaining balance between extremes.

In our age we must not try to be identified as the people of a via media between modern teachings of Rome and modern forms of Protestantism, but as walking a road that runs between all extremes. Simply by standing for truth, we can maintain the same independence of mind that earlier Anglicans did maintain; to know the truth according to Scripture as interpreted by universal consensus and antiquity, the Vincentian Canon. The real via media in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was not between Rome and the Continental Reformers, or even between Rome and the radical Protestants (Anabaptists, extreme Puritans, etc.), but between what was the recent past and the ancient past; also between the past and the innovations of their own times. To narrow our options as “lost child of Rome or via media,” is to put everyone else, all those outside influences, in the driver’s seat. That is precisely what the English Reformers and Anglican Divines resisted, holding out in more than a zweifrontenkrieg; they held out against war from all sides.

They were not weak and lacking in substance, needing to draw strength from the outside. Rather, they were strong enough to deal honestly and seriously with outside influences, all the while resisting the pressure to conform. The strength of Anglicanism, as it emerged, was in its strength to be both Catholic and Evangelical in a way that was entirely unique. And that is Anglican Identity. For this reason I have, with some measure of humor, proposed on the blog, The Continuum, that we adopt a mascot for genuine Anglicanism. That mascot is not the chameleon, but the Duck-billed Platypus. About the example set by this brave little nonconformist animal, I have written on our blog: “He bravely defies all simplistic categories, such as mammal or bird, Catholic or Protestant. He just is.”

After much learning, what emerges crystal clear is that one thing makes Anglican theology distinctive: It has ‘no distinctive theology of its own, but only that of the Catholic Church,’ quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (or translate). Scripture and Tradition inform the mind's Right Reason, along with its understanding. These also form the conscience, for it is the duty of every believer to have the conscience so formed. Rome and most kinds of Protestantism are built partly on the Catholic Faith, but partly on innovations that have no basis in Scripture and Tradition. The reason to be Anglican is to be free from innovations.

Is Anglicanism Orthodoxy in the West? It is time now to consider this question. Certainly, from the time of Lancelot Andrewes, in the early seventeenth century, the English Church enjoyed a growing friendship with the Orthodox Church. Study of the Greek Fathers in English scholarship quickly became unparalleled in the West. The Orthodox Church (especially the Greek Orthodox Church) enjoyed a closer relationship with the Church of England than with any other church of the West, certainly more cordial and friendly than the relationship they had with Rome.

Nonetheless, it would be more than a mere overstatement to argue that Anglicanism is Orthodoxy in the West: Rather, we may consider the features it has in common with Orthodoxy, and the reason for common ground to such a degree that it produced a larger degree of cooperation with Orthodoxy in the years between 1922 and 1976, then any other Western church body can claim to have enjoyed. However, in 1978, after it became clear that churches within the Anglican Communion were “ordaining” women and intent on spreading this heretical innovation, Orthodox Archbishop Athenagoras remarked: “…the theological dialogue [between the Orthodox and the Anglicans] will continue, although now simply as an academic and informative exercise, and no longer as an ecclesial endeavor aiming at the union of the two churches.” 5

Looking back at this, in the context of many theological discussions, what comes as a surprise to many is the fact that the leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Patriarchs and other chief Bishops of the Orthodox Church had been discussing the prospect of joining into one church at all. It would be an understatement to say that reference to this historical fact often meets with incredulity. Nonetheless, the serious discussion of combining the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion of Churches as one Church began in earnest at least as early as 1922. Just how much hope one should have had in that endeavor, either in how practical it was or how long it would have taken in the most promising of circumstances, seems less important than the fact of the effort itself. What does it tell us that for decades the hope of union between Orthodoxy and Anglicanism was pursued, not by well-meaning people on the fringes, but by the highest levels of leadership in both communions? And, why did it take only one issue, women’s “ordination,” to bring it to an end, so that only a mere “academic exercise” could remain as a sort of fossil that testifies to this extinct animal?

In some places where Orthodox churches could not be found, with special letters of permission, the laity of the Orthodox Church were allowed to receive sacraments from Anglican clergy. This is due to common ground between the Anglicans and the Orthodox (and maybe to some degree that common ground had everything to do with the official relations both communions had with the See of Rome. It does make sense to ask, might the Orthodox Patriarchs and Archbishops have recognized Anglican Orders, at least in part, because Rome would not?). Here is another via media that Anglicanism once provided, and that we should try to restore whenever and however it may be possible: A via media between East and West. We are not Orthodoxy in the West, just as we are neither Roman nor Continental Protestant (be it of Geneva, Germany, etc.). But, we do have common ground with the Orthodox, and historically have had even better relations with them than with Rome.

The work of one Orthodox bishop, a man canonized relatively soon after his death in the twentieth century, demonstrates a serious approach to Anglican doctrine and liturgy as a model for Orthodoxy in the West. Much was owed in those days to the relationship that Archbishop Tikhon had with Episcopalians, such as Bishop Charles Grafton, and the effort to create a kind of Western Orthodoxy after an Anglican model. The Liturgy of St. Tikhon, also known as the Orthodox Western Rite, is officially approved by the Archdiocese of Antioch, and is used in some Antiochene Orthodox churches in the United States. It is largely the service of Holy Communion from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (by way of the American Book of Common Prayer arranged according to the 1928 edition), and conforming quite a lot to the Missal with its extended ceremonial. The rite contains a few predictable and obvious changes; the epiclesis has been worded specifically to emphasize the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and, of course,6 the Filioque clause is deleted from the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed, and the word “holy” is restored for the Church.7

A big Difference

It is worth noting that the Liturgy of St. Tikhon and the so-called Anglican Use approved by Rome, have a very noticeable difference, one which shows a different approach to Anglicans and a different attitude about our patrimony. The Anglican Use Rite approved by Rome has nothing that approximates the perfectly sound theology, drawn clearly and obviously from the Epistle to the Hebrews, expressed so powerfully in these words: “O God heavenly father, which of thy tender mercie diddest geve thine only sonne Jesu Christ to suffre death upon the crosse for our redempcion, who made there (by his one oblacion once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifyce, oblacion, and satysfaccyon, for the sinnes of the whole worlde…” (1549 BCP) But, the Liturgy of St. Tikhon contains the American version of this part of the Canon. 8

To whatever degree we may have common ground with Rome, and aside from other differences, any real union with them would make it necessary that they receive from us a good healthy dose of this Biblical Doctrine: Christ’s sacrifice full, perfect and sufficient. This does not take away from the sacrifice of the Church on its many altars; rather it gives it its context and meaning. This example demonstrates that our Faith is Biblical, Patristic and thoroughly Catholic in ways that can enrich Rome, and that has been affirmed within Orthodoxy. In a rite designed to attract Anglicans, the removal of this irrefutably true doctrine, as though it needed to be subjected to some correction, shows that we have further cause, at present, to maintain our distinct identity. The line that provides the context of the sacrifice, the meaning of it and the joining of our own worship to the actual sacrifice of the cross on Calvary, indicates that we are better able than Rome, at this time, to declare the Gospel in its fullness with the power of directness and simplicity.

Anglican identity

We are not Western Orthodoxy, we are not a lost child of Rome, and we are only on any given via media relative to religious and theological extremes that reveal, above all, the reasonable independence and strength of Anglican identity. Let us be as non-conformist as the truth requires, just like the brave little platypus of song and legend.

1. E.J. Bicknell, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 1919, Lowe and Brydone (Printers), Ltd., London

2. The first of the two sentences of Article XIX says: “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”

3. In recent years I have read over and over that “Hooker did not believe the episcopacy to be of Divine origin.” Whoever invented this mantra, and all those who fall for it, must not have read Book VII.

4. Available in English from St. Vladimir’s seminary Press.

5. As quoted in Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue: The Dublin Agreed Statement, (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), p.3

6. The words used in the Liturgy are: “And we beseech thee, O Lord, to send down thy Holy Spirit upon these offerings, that he would make this bread the precious Body of thy Christ, and that which is in this Cup the precious Blood of thy Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, transmuting them by thy Holy Spirit. AMEN, AMEN, AMEN.”

7. Correcting nothing more significant than an old copyist error, nothing doctrinal, as “the holy Catholic Church” in the Apostle’s Creed demonstrates.

8. "ALL glory be to Thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that Thou, of Thy tender mercy, didst give Thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by His own oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world." That this gives sacrificial context and evangelistic meaning to the celebration, is further indicated by the words that follow: "... and did institute, and in His holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that His precious death and sacrifice, until His coming again."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Strengthen the weak knees

I hesitated to report about St. Benedict's for fear it would seem to others that I am boasting, as if I believed that the good things happening here were somehow due to my abilities. The truth is, I feel very much like a man who is merely holding the door for Jesus Christ, and watching Him work. Some of you need encouragement, and, furthermore, it is right to give glory to God. The myth that our churches cannot grow, or that they can attract only disgruntled Episcopalians (or other Canterbury Anglicans, for those of you outside the United States), or that everybody in them is past the age of-whatever age you may consider to be old-needs to be dispelled.

On Saturday September 5, Archbishop Mark Haverland arrived here in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. That afternoon I drove him to the home of a shut-in, an elderly man who was then Confirmed in his living room. The next morning the Archbishop Confirmed eleven more people, four children and seven adults. Of these seven adults, six are people who have been coming here only since after my arrival in March of this year, three of whom were Lutherans, one of whom had been unchurched. The unchurched man, who is thirty years old, was baptized by me only the prevuious Sunday, truly a convert in the strongest sense of the word. Counting some who were Confirmed that day, and others who have joined us, I count twelve people who are new members already since my arrival, and others in addition who are here more often than not, who seem ready to join officially fairly soon.

Preach the Gospel and mean it, and growth can happen in your church too. Also, do not apologize for being Anglican; rather show confidence in what has been handed down to you, and communicate that confidence.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A fine paper on Eucharistic Theology

Sandwiched between a beginning and conclusion that do not necessarily reflect the views of the owners of this blog, are many details and facts well worth presenting. Although I have unanswered and serious questions about the Reformed Episcopal Church and do not endorse the new Anglican Church in North America (and believe our energies are better spent by investing them in our Anglican Continuum than in trying to "restore" the Anglican Communion), I recommend reading the following paper for its scholarship and educational value. I think we can overlook differences of opinion about which jurisdiction best continues Classic Anglican teaching and practice, and simply learn from the details and overall content of this well organized and very informative piece. I am sorry that our St. Louis Continuing Churches have lost so fine a scholar. His paper is here posted in its entirety with permission of the author.-Fr. Hart


by Rev. Victor E. Novak

There is a great deal of confusion among Anglicans today regarding the Anglican teaching on the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Some believe in the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation or something very similar; while others are almost Zwinglian, holding a view that differs little from the Baptists, Methodists or Presbyterians. There is a lot of talk today about “Real Presence,” “Receptionism” and “Calvinism,” without much understanding of what these terms really mean. Many who think they are orthodox Anglicans are unfamiliar with their own Anglican formularies: the historic Book of Common Prayer and its Ordinal and Catechism, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and the two books of Homilies, and what they teach.

On July 29, 2007, I was received as a priest into the Reformed Episcopal Church. Previous to my reception, I had been a priest in the Anglican Province of Christ the King where I served as Ecumenical Officer and editor of The Province, the official publication of the APCK, as well as a pastor. I was a classical Anglican while serving in the Anglican Province of Christ the King, and I believe, teach and confess the same classical Anglicanism in the Reformed Episcopal Church. I joined the Reformed Episcopal Church because it is neither high nor low church today, but is a classical Anglican Church, and is perhaps the only truly classical Anglican jurisdiction in North America. The REC not only professes belief in the historic Anglican formularies, but studies, uses and teaches them as well. After the Reformed Episcopal Church became a founding jurisdiction of the newly gathered Anglican Church in North America, I found myself having discussions with Anglican colleagues outside of the REC regarding ACNA, and whether or not continuing Anglicans should work with it or remain outside. Many of these colleagues knew me while I was Ecumenical Officer of the APCK, and were genuinely interested in ACNA, but some seemed somewhat puzzled that my parish and I had entered the Reformed Episcopal Church. A few have even said to me, “But the REC doesnʼt believe in the Real Presence.” Comments like that have led me to write this paper in an effort to clear the air.

The Real Presence and the REC Declaration of Principles

In the Declaration of Principles of the Reformed Episcopal Church, adopted on December 2, 1873, the same day that the Thirty-nine Articles were reaffirmed without alteration, under “erroneous and strange doctrines as contrary to Godʼs Word”, the REC condemns the notion “That the Presence of Christ in the Lordʼs Supper is a presence in the elements of Bread and Wine.” It is from this principle that some of my colleagues have assumed that “the REC doesnʼt believe in the Real Presence.” However, nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth is that this Principle does not address either the medieval, scholastic doctrine of Transubstantiation or the Biblical and patristic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but something altogether different. Transubstantiation is already rejected in Article XXVIII of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.”

The Reformed Episcopal Church does not condemn “the Presence of Christ in the Lordʼs Supper,” - rather it affirms it. What it does condemn is the teaching “That the Presence of Christ in the Lordʼs Supper is a presence in the elements of Bread and Wine.” It is not the doctrine of the “Real Presence” that is being condemned, but an error that is centuries old and goes back at least as far as John of Paris (d. 1306), and perhaps as far as the disciples of Berengarius of Tours at the end of the eleventh century. It had already been officially condemned by Rome, and by both the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in the 16th century; and had become popularized again in the 19th century. In fact, the Vatican condemned a Roman Catholic theologian, Bayma, in 1875, for teaching it; and some High Church Anglicans caused serious controversy in the United Kingdom and the United States by teaching what sounded very much like it in an effort to profess something close to Transubstantiation without technically violating Article XXVIII. Theologians call this error “Impanation.”

Impanation is a theological term used for the teaching that the Body and Blood of Christ are mingled with the elements of bread and wine in the Eucharist. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about Impanation: “An heretical doctrine according to which Christ in the Eucharist through His human body substantially united with the substances of bread and wine, and thus really present as God, made bread: Deus panis factus...The doctrine of impanation agrees with the doctrine of consubstantiation [a term rejected by Lutherans] as it was taught by Luther, in these two essential points: it denies on the one hand the Transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and on the other professes nevertheless the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Yet the doctrines differ essentially in so far as Luther asserted that the Body of Christ penetrated the unchanged substance of the bread but denied a hypostatic union. Orthodox Lutheranism expressed this so-called sacramental union between the Body of Christ and the substance of bread in the well known formula: The Body of Christ is ʻin, with and under the breadʼ - in, cum et sub pane...”

The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910 says, “The doctrine of also against reason, since a hypostatic union between the Word of God Incarnate, or the God-man Christ, and the dead substances of bread and wine is inconceivable” (Vol. 7, p. 695). Impanation has been condemned by Rome, the Lutheran Church in the Formula of Concord, and by the Reformed Episcopal Church in its Declaration of Principles, but all three of these Churches believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

The Classical Anglican Teaching

Anglicanism rejected transubstantiation for three reasons: 1). it “cannot be proven by Holy Writ,” 2). it “overthroweth the nature of a sacrament,” and 3). it “hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Transubstantiation clearly is not provable by Holy Writ, and “is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture.” It is really a medieval, scholastic explanation without Scriptural or patristic support; and no impartial student of history can doubt that it “hath given occasion to many superstitions.”

How does it overthrow the nature of a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. A sacrament consists of both the outward sign and the thing signified. In transubstantiation the outward sign is eliminated because the whole substance of the bread and wine are said to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Only the accidents, the appearance of the bread and wine, remain. This overthrows the nature of a sacrament. Zwingli erred in that he separated the sign, the consecrated Bread and Wine, from what it signified, the Body and Blood of Christ; while transubstantiation made the same mistake in the theologically opposite direction. It can be said that Zwingli taught the “real absence” of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. According to Zwingli, communicants receive only bread and wine as a memorial of Christʼs sacrifice.

Transubstantiation teaches that communicants receive only the Body and Blood of Christ as the whole substance of the Bread and Wine have been transubstantiated into the Body and blood of Christ, leaving only the appearance, the accidents, of Bread and Wine. But Anglicanism has always taught with the Scriptures and the Fathers that the Sacrament of Holy Communion consists of both the outward and visible sign, the consecrated Bread and Wine, and the inward and spiritual grace, the Body and Blood of Christ, as the Catechism makes clear.

In the Catechism of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer we read:

What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?

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.

How many parts are there in a Sacrament?

Two; the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace.

Why was the Sacrament of the Lordʼs Supper ordained?

For the continual remembrance of the death of Christ, and of the benefits we receive thereby.

What is the outward part or sign of the Lordʼs Supper?

Bread and Wine which the Lord commanded to be received.

What is the inward part, or thing signified?

The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lordʼs Supper.

What are the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby?

The strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the Body and Blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the Bread and Wine.

If our bodies are strengthened and refreshed by the Bread and Wine, the substance of the Bread and Wine must remain. This is classical Anglican Sacramental Theology. The Holy Scriptures teach that communicants receive the Body and Blood of Christ and Bread and Wine in the Sacrament (I Cor. 10:16; & 11:23-29), and so does Anglican theology.

The Body and Blood of Christ is not mingled with the Bread and Wine and there is no hypostatic union (Impanation), but are Really and Truly Present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, like all Sacraments, consists of both an outward and visible sign, the Bread and Wine, and an inward spiritual grace - the thing signified - the Body and Blood of Christ. Article XXVIII says, “the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.” The kneeling rubric at the end of the Eucharistic liturgy in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer makes it clear that Anglican theology rejects the scholastic notion that the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The rubric says, “the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances...” And should anyone doubt the Catholicity of the 1662 Prayer Book, let me remind the reader that it was adopted after the Restoration and the final defeat of puritanism in England, is the product of the triumph of Caroline divinity, and marks the completion of the English Reformation that was begun in 1534.

No less an Anglican authority than the great Rev. Francis J. Hall, D.D., writes, “The assertion, that the consecrated elements have become the body and blood of Christ, is so frequently made by the ancients that it may be reckoned as a patristic commonplace. But...they perhaps represent nothing more than rhetorical emphasis upon the doctrine that the elements become the body and blood of Christ... There may be set against such language a number of clear assertions that the bread and wine continue in their proper nature after they have become the body and blood of Christ; and this appears to have been the ordinary patristic view.

“But the middle ages saw a widespread shifting of emphasis from the mystery of identification to that of conversion... In the West this development terminated in the scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation” (Dogmatic Theology, Vol. IX, originally published 1921, pp. 129-130).

Hall continues, “If the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ, can they rightly be said to retain their former nature and still be bread and wine?...the ancients clearly took for granted an affirmative answer; and with a few exceptions they held, without being conscious of inconsistency, the doctrine that the consecrated elements are and have become the body and blood of Christ without ceasing to be real bread and wine. There were giants in those days, and we are not justified in explaining their position as either careless or stupid. They were, however, more alive to the supernatural aspects of the mystery than are the majority of those who deny that such things can be...We are taught that the divine logos became flesh; but that in becoming what He was not, He remained what He was, truly divine, is also taught in Scripture, and constitutes a stereotyped formula of catholic theology” (ibid, Hall, pp. 134-135).

“The Eucharistic sacrament is said to consist of two parts; but the phrase ought not to be taken as meaning that the inward res is separate or separable from the outward elements. A distinction of aspects and relations is involved, rather than a demarkation between mutually discrete substances. The sacrament is one and indivisible, although substantially representative of two worlds. From the standpoint of this world, it is natural bread and wine to which an extraordinary thing has happened, insusceptible of verification by our senses. From the standpoint of the spiritual world, the self-same thing is the body and blood of Christ, marvelously accommodated to, and identified with, the forms and figures of bread and wine” (ibid, Hall, p. 136).

In his classic work, A Theological Introduction to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, E. J. Bicknell, D.D., writes, “The Real Presence. On this view we hold that we receive through the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ, because in answer to the prayers of His Church and in fulfillment of His own promise, He has brought the elements into a mysterious union with Himself. He has, at it were, taken them up into the fulness of His ascended life and made them the vehicle of imparting that life to His members. Thus He is in a real sense present not only in the devout communicant but in the consecrated elements. Of the manner of this union we affirm nothing. The Presence is spiritual, not material.

“This in some form, is the teaching of the Roman and Eastern Churches, of Luther, of the Fathers and early liturgies... It would appear to be the most consistent with Scripture and the tradition of the Church, and also to be a safeguard of certain great Christian principles” (p. 492, first published 1919, quoted from the 1936 edition). Bicknell continues, “Again, if we turn to the Church as the interpreter of Scripture, the main stream of Christian teaching is quite clear. We find a singular absence of theological controversy about the Eucharist, but the general line of thought may be exemplified by these words of Irenaeus, ʻThe bread which is of the earth receiving the invocation of God is no longer common bread but Eucharist, made up of two things, an earthly and a heavenlyʼ” (Bicknell, ibid, p. 493).

The Protestant Reformation of which classical Anglicanism is an heir, was a movement to reform the Church and to return it to its primitive Catholic faith and practice. Dr. Martin Luther described the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament “in, with and under” the consecrated Bread and Wine as a “Sacramental union” (Latin: unio sacramentalis). John Calvin, who did not believe in the “real absence” of Christ like Zwingli or in Receptionism like Bullinger, said the Body and Blood of Christ was “conjoined” with the Bread and Wine in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

In his 1528, Confession Concerning Christʼs Supper, Martin Luther said, “Why then should we not much more say in the Supper, ʻThis is my body,ʼ even though bread and body are two distinct substances, and the word ʻthisʼ indicates the bread? Here, too, out of two kinds of objects a union has taken place, which I shall call a ʻsacramental union,ʼ because Christʼs body and the bread are given to us as a sacrament.”

According to the Formula of Concord, the Consecration brings about this sacramental union whenever the Eucharist is celebrated. “Thus it is not our word or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ that, from the beginning of the first Communion until the end of the world, make the bread the body and the wine the blood that are daily distributed through our ministry and office. Again, [Luther says] ʻHere, too, if I were to to say over all the bread there is, “This is the body of Christ,” nothing would happen, but when we follow his institution and command in the Lordʼs Supper and say, “This is my body,” then it is his body; not because of our speaking or of our efficacious word, but because of his command in which he has told us so to speak and to do and has attached his own command and deed to our speaking.ʼ”

In his mature doctrinal view, John Calvin also believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because few contemporary Anglicans are really familiar with John Calvin or have studied his works, most Anglicans are completely unaware that much of what is called “Calvinist” sacramental theology by them is, in fact, Zwingliʼs sacramental theology rather than Calvinʼs. Indeed, much of what is called “Reformed” or “Calvinist” theology today really comes from Calvinʼs successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, and from the Synod of Dort and the Westminister Assembly later still. The truth is that the mature John Calvin did not teach the “real absence” of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion like Zwingli, or Receptionism like Bullinger. Leanne Van Dyk, Academic Dean and Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, writes, “He [Calvin] engaged in vigorous conversation with both Lutheran and Reformed leaders over the Lordʼs Supper, and in these polemical exchanges he developed his mature doctrine. There is discernible development in Calvinʼs understanding of the Lordʼs Supper from early to late in his ministry. One Calvin scholar [Thomas J. Davis] summarizes, ʻWe will see Calvin move from denying the Eucharist as an instrument of grace to affirming it as such. We will see Calvin develop a notion of substantial partaking of the true body and blood of Christ over his career; an emphasis that is practically absent, even denied, in his earliest teachingʼ” (The Lordʼs Supper, Five Views, edited by Gordon T. Smith, c. 2008, Intervarsity Press, pp. 74-75).

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin writes [T]he Lordʼs Table should have been spread at least once a week for the Assembly of Christians,... All, like hungry men, should flock to such a bounteous repast.” And what is that “bounteous repast”? In his 1540, Short Treatise on the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, Calvin writes, “It is a spiritual mystery which can neither be seen by the eye nor comprehended by the human understanding. It is therefore figured to us by visible signs, according as our weakness requires, in such manner, nevertheless, that it is not a bare figure but is combined with the reality and substance. It is with good reason then that the bread is called the body, since it not only represents it but also presents it to us. Hence we indeed infer that the name of the body of Jesus Christ is transferred to the bread, inasmuch as it is the sacrament and figure of it. But we likewise add, that the sacraments of the Lord should not and cannot be at all separated from their reality and substance. To distinguish, in order to guard against confounding them, is not only good and reasonable, but altogether necessary; but to divide them, so as to make them exist without the other, is absurd.”

In the same treatise Calvin continues, “We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gave us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be partakers of it. Though there should be nothing more, we have good cause to be satisfied, when we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the supper the proper substance of his body and blood, in order that we may possess it fully, and possessing it have part in all blessings.”

Calvin signed the Augsburg Confession in 1539, and “Luther himself appreciated his theology even on his jealously guarded theory of the Sacrament of the Holy Supper” (A History of the Reformation, by Thomas M. Lindsay, D.D., LL.D.; Charles Scribnerʼs Sons; 1914; p. 112). There was, of course, disagreements among the great Reformers regarding the Eucharist, but the disagreements were primarily over how the bread and the wine became the Body and Blood of Christ. Luther emphasized ubiquity; Calvin, basing his views on the sanctus in the liturgy and the so-called “ascending epiclesis” at the end of the canon in the Roman Rite, believed that we were caught up into heaven with Christ in the Eucharistic Liturgy. Others believed that the consecration was effected by the power of the Holy Ghost descending on the elements; or by the authority and power of Christʼs Words and command in the Words of Institution. All of these theories are helpful but not fully provable by Scripture, and should not divide Christians.

Regarding the Anglican view, Bicknell has written, “Of the manner of this union we [Anglicans] affirm nothing.” Had the leaders of the Reformation from across Europe been able to freely meet in synod to discuss these issues, as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had hoped, unity and a unified teaching may have resulted, but because of the political turmoil and Roman Catholic persecution of the time, no such synod could be held. Unfortunately, as Anglican bishop Michael Marshall has said, while Luther won the battle against Zwingli at Marburg, Zwingliism went on to win the war. The Rev. John R. Stephenson, Professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catherines, Ontario, laments, “As painful though it is to concede this point, beginning in the seventeenth century, Luther increasingly lost the war for the real presence even in the Communion named after him” (ibid, The Lordʼs Supper, Five Views, p. 46).

Today, the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches do not hold Calvinist views regarding the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Like the Baptists, Methodists and other modern evangelicals, they have become completely Zwinglian in their approach, and believe that the Lordʼs Supper is a mere memorial of Christʼs sacrificial death. As Anglicans we must be careful not to describe these Zwinglian views as “Calvinism,” which thy are not. Professor Van Dyk writes, “There is little doubt that the approach to the Lordʼs Supper expressed by Ulrich Zwingli was taken up in large part by the subsequent Reformed tradition. Many generations of Reformed believers have assumed that the Lordʼs Supper is a memorial act, a way to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, an encouragement to gratitude and service” (ibid, The Lordʼs Supper, Five Views, p. 72).

In the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Anglican theology rejects both the errors of Transubstantiation and Zwinglian mere memorialism. Zwingliʼs ideas are rejected in Article XXV, “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian menʼs profession, but rather they be certain sure witness, and effectual signs of grace. And Article XXVIII says, “The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign but rather it is a Sacrament...a partaking of the Body of Christ.” The Articles of Religion also reject the notion of “Receptionism.” Like “Calvinism” which is often confused with Zwingliism, Receptionism is often misunderstood. The doctrine of Receptionism comes not from John Calvin, but from Heinrich Bullinger. Bullinger was Zwingliʼs successor in Zurich, and served there for forty-four years, from 1531 to 1575. Bullingerʼs sacramental views matured over time, leaving behind Zwingliʼs teaching, but stopping short of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. For Bullinger, like his predecessor Ulrich Zwingli, the sacramental signs, the bread and the wine, are not connected to the thing signified, the Body and Blood of Christ. Heinrich Bullinger taught a sort of parallelism. The sacramental signs are not merely signs, but rather are analogies of Godʼs gracious actions. They do not confer grace. The sacramental action and the divine action are separate, but parallel. As the believer receives the bread and wine with his mouth, he receives Christ in his heart by faith. This view is called “Receptionism”, and it is rejected in the Thirty-nine Articles. Article XXVIII teaches: “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper.”

Despite the teachings of Scripture and of Article XXVIII, Receptionism historically has had influence among Anglicans. This is for three reasons. First, many have mistakenly believed that Richard Hooker, one of Anglicanism's greatest theologians, believed in it. Second, because Anglicanism teaches that the Body and Blood of Christ are received “only after an heavenly and spiritual manner” (Article XXVIII). And finally, because of a misunderstanding of Article XXIX, Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lordʼs Supper. Richard Hooker is sometimes described as a Receptionist because he wrote in his famous Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, “The real presence of Christ is not therefore to be sought for in the Sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the Sacrament.” But Hooker was only echoing the important point made in Article XXV, “The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon,...but we should duly use them.” The sacraments are not an end in themselves to be lifted up, carried about, and gazed upon, but a means to an end: the union of the believer with Christ, that as the Apostle Peter says, we may be partakers of the divine nature. Elsewhere, Hooker makes it very clear that he sees the sacraments as means, or vehicles, of grace. Hooker writes, “This bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold”; and “The power of the ministry of blessing visible elements...maketh them invisible grace.” Likewise, some have misunderstood the words “only after an heavenly and spiritual manner” (Article XXVIII) regarding how the Body and Blood of Christ are received in Communion. “Spiritual” does not mean symbolic or representative; but rather not in a materialistic, carnal, corporeal way. This language is taken from John 6:63, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” The spiritual is anything but figurative.

Spiritual things are as real, or more so, than physical or material things. In the Catechism of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer the question is asked, “What is the inward part, or thing signified [in the Sacrament of Holy Communion]?” And answered, “The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lordʼs Supper.” Where it says “spiritually taken and received” in the 1928 Prayer Book, it says “The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily [truly] and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lordʼs Supper” in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. “Spiritually taken and received” and “verily [truly] taken and received” mean the same thing. It should also be noted that the words “taken and received” echo Article XXVIII, “The Body of Christ is “given [by the priest], taken [by the communicant], and eaten [by the communicant]”, thus ruling out Bullingerʼs Receptionism.

Finally, some Anglicans have been influenced historically by Receptionism because of a misunderstanding of Article XXIX, Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lordʼs Supper. Receptionism teaches that unbelievers receive only bread and wine, but not its parallel, the Body and Blood of Christ, which are only received into the heart by faith; and that Christ is present at the Table rather than on the Table. But that is not what the Article is teaching. Bicknell writes, “This Article does not in any way deny the ʻreal presence,ʼ it only rules out any carnal view of it. To give an illustration: when our Lord was on earth He possessed healing power quite independently of the faith of men: but only those who possessed faith could get into touch with it. Many touched His garments, but only the woman who had faith was healed (Mk. 5:30). The healing power was there: the touch of faith did not create it, but faith as it were, opened the channel to the appropriate blessing. So in the Eucharist, Christ in all His saving power is present. The wicked are only capable of receiving the visible and material signs of His presence. But those who approach with faith can receive the inward grace and become partakers of Christ by feeding on His Body and Blood” (ibid, Bicknell, p. 503).

Unfortunately, in the middle to late 19th century, many Anglicans were driven toward Receptionism in reaction to the excesses of the so-called Ritualists that had grown out of, and separated from, the Oxford Movement led by Pusey and Keble, and had increasingly adopted Roman ceremonial, doctrine and devotions. But the Tractarians of the Oxford Movement were loyal churchmen devoted to the Catholic faith according to the Anglican tradition. They were classical Anglicans. Regarding the Eucharist, they held to classical Anglican theology as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Rev. Francis J. Hall writes, “Even the Tractarians of Oxford, while seeking to take our Lordʼs words literally, usually contended themselves with the affirmation of a real presence of the body and blood of Christ in, with and under the consecrated bread and wine” (ibid, Hall, p. 112).

The influence of Receptionism seems to be a thing of the past in Anglicanism as there are no well known theologians or schools of thought within the Church that teach it today. The same cannot be said of Transubstantiation and Impanation. Those under the influence of Tridentine Roman Catholicism still hold to these unscriptural teachings or to something like them, despite the fact that Rome has been moving in the direction of Anglican Sacramental Theology in recent years. In his book, God Is Near Us (Ignatius Press, 2003), in his chapter entitled “The Presence of the Lord in the Sacrament”, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) writes, “Whenever the Body of Christ, that is the risen and bodily Christ, comes, he is greater than the bread, other, not of the same order. The transformation happens, which affects the gifts we bring by taking them up into a higher order and changes them, even if we cannot measure what happens...The Lord takes possession of the bread and wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.”

In the opposite extreme there are some Anglican neo-evangelicals, late of the Episcopal Church, that have been heavily influenced by contemporary “evangelicalism” and the church growth movement, and who hold to a memorialism hardly distinguishable from that of Zwingli and of today's Baptists and Assemblies of God. God raised up Anglicanism for a purpose, has used it powerfully, and has preserved it through a generation of heresy and apostasy. Anglicanism is the one branch of the historic Church that is both thoroughly Evangelical and fully Catholic. Anglicanism confesses, as our forefathers use to say, “Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order.”
Anglicanism is not three parallel but increasingly divergent “streams” - Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic - flowing from the same original source; but a Church that is thoroughly Evangelical, fully Catholic and called to minister in the power of Pentecost. Anglicanism has so much to offer to the wider Church and to a lost and hurting world. It is to this classical and confessional Anglicanism that we must return if we are to be what God has called us to be; and to do what He has called us to do - raise up authentic disciples of Christ; reform, restore and renew the Anglican Communion; and effectively advance the work of the Great Commission.

C. 2009, by Rev. Victor E. Novak (used with permission)

The Reverend Victor E. Novak is a priest of the Diocese of Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church, a jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America, and the rector of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Omaha, Nebraska.