Saturday, October 16, 2010
The Keystone of Orthodox Anglican Belief
By Robin G. Jordan
Full acceptance of the doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith, as set forth in Article XI and more fully expounded in the Homily of Salvation, is the sine qua non for orthodox Anglicans. Those who lack this indispensable qualification cannot be regarded as being genuinely Anglican. They may be Anglican in name but they are not Anglican in faith. It is a doctrine of such cardinal importance that even though an individual might hold to the other great doctrines of the Bible as enunciated in the Catholic Creeds, he is not an Anglican Christian. The doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith is the shibboleth by which the real Anglican may be recognized from the pretended Anglican.
The doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith lies at the heart of the English Reformers’ understanding of the New Testament gospel. It is the good news. We are saved by the grace of God. It is not because of any good works or deserving on our part, but only by faith that rests on the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we are accounted righteous before God. The faith by which we justified is not a work but a gift from a merciful God. Our salvation is wholly God’s doing.
The doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith is not the only doctrine that is central to authentic historic Anglicanism but it may be regarded as the most pivotal, especially for our time. It therefore may be considered a principle by which Anglican orthodoxy in a crucial sphere—the message of the gospel—may be tested. The doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith is not the whole gospel but it is the thrust of the gospel. Those who do not hold and maintain this doctrine, as it is enunciated in the historic Anglican formularies, preach it from the pulpit, and teach it in the classroom, cannot be regarded as orthodox from a historic Anglican perspective whatever else they may preach and teach. Those who preach and teach doctrines that are inconsistent with this doctrine also cannot be regarded as orthodox in this sense.
In the past 200 years North Americans who describe themselves as Anglican or Episcopalian have drifted far from the biblical and Reformation teaching of authentic historic Anglicanism. In the twenty-first century a number of groups pretend to the claim of being Anglican and of representing normative Anglicanism. These claimants have their own particular definition of what it means to be Anglican.
I have identified at least three major schools of thought here in North America. The Anglo-Catholic school of thought subscribes to a theory of Anglican identity in which Anglicanism is a via media between the theology of Geneva and the theology of Rome. In reality the path of this school of thought is much closer in doctrine and practice to the Church of Rome than the Church of Geneva. For one segment of this theological affinity group their path is leading to Rome. They have chosen to accept the Pope’s offer of “an apostolic constitution for Anglicans.” This school of thought proclaims a gospel of salvation by sacraments and good works.
The liberal school of thought subscribes to a via media theory of its own. In this theory Anglicanism is constantly changing. It is evolutionary and forward moving and reflects whatever the Anglican Church believes and practices in a particular time and place. Anglicanism in this view has no norms except that of being latitudinarian in its stance, embracing a progressively widening range of diverse and disparate theologies. This school of thought proclaims a gospel of universal salvation and has adopted a pluralistic view of other religions.
The convergence school of thought subscribes to a variant of the via media in which Anglicanism is viewed as evolving and has reached a stage in its evolution in which the forces behind its evolution are bringing three divergent theological streams together in the Anglican Church. The primary force operative in the evolution of Anglicanism is conceived to be the Holy Spirit. This school of thought is uncritical in its reading of the Patristic writers and shows a pronounced tendency toward an unreformed form of Catholicism that incorporates Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic elements. Evangelicalism is separated from its Reformation roots and redefined and reinterpreted in an unreformed Catholic sense. This school of thought is not homogenous in the gospel that it proclaims but shows a decided inclination toward a gospel message strongly influenced by Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic theology.
I have so far said nothing about ceremonial, vestments, the mode of Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist, and a host of other issues that historically divided those who have described themselves as Anglicans or Episcopalians. Differences of opinion on these issues have caused divisions but these divisions are minor in comparison to the division over the doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith. They may attract more attention than this particular one but the amount of attention they receive does not make them more important. This includes the division over homosexual practice. The importance of this particular issue is that it involves not only a rejection of biblical and traditional values but also a denial of the doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith. Those who support a permissive attitude toward homosexual practice and full inclusion of practicing homosexuals in the life and ministry of the church typically but not exclusively subscribe to a variant of the doctrine of universal salvation.
I drew attention to the division over the issue of human sexuality as it has attracted considerable attention in recent years, and those opposed to the normalization of homosexual practice are often dismissed as bigoted, rigid proponents of traditional values. However, underlying this issue are issues related to the economy of salvation as well as the authority and inspiration of Scripture and the manner of its interpretation. Among these issues is the doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith.
While there are other core doctrines to which adherence also distinguish an orthodox Anglican, the doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith is the keystone. A keystone is the central stone of an arch. Remove the keystone and the other stones forming the arch will come tumbling down. If this doctrine is not preached or taught, it does not matter if the other core doctrines are. The central principle of authentic historic Anglicanism is missing. If, on the other hand, a preacher-teacher adheres to the doctrine of salvation by grace and justification by faith, as enunciated in the historic Anglican formularies, then we must examine the preacher-teacher’s adherence to the other core doctrines in determining his orthodoxy. He has passed an important litmus test of Anglican orthodoxy but it is not the sole test of such orthodoxy. His other doctrinal views must also be examined and tried.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 12:44 PM