By Robin G. Jordan
In this article we continue our examination of the part of the Initial Report of the Prayerbook and Common Liturgy Taskforce of the Anglican Church in North America titled “An Expanded Explanation of Our Guiding Principles.” As was noted in the previous articles in this series, this part of the report is incorrectly titled as the taskforce does not explain its guiding principles but offers its view of worship. We will be looking at the sections of the report titled “V. The Holy Spirit and the Church” and “VI. The Bible is the authentic transmission of God's Word.”
V. The Holy Spirit and the Church. In this section of the report the taskforce tell us that “the risen Jesus Christ sends the Holy Spirit to create the community of the Church, the new Israel.” It also tell us that “through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Church is united to the risen Christ, and shares in the eternal love of the Holy Trinity.” But consistent with the preceding sections of the report, it does not provide any Scriptural references or annotation. As noted in second article in this series, historic Anglicanism requires that the truth of all doctrine must be tried by the test of Scripture. The taskforce cannot expect readers of the report to accept such assertions without providing the passages of Scripture in which these doctrines may be found or by which they may be proved (Article 6). They must also demonstrate that what they are asserting can be read with certainty out of these Scripture passages, that it is unambiguously expressed by the human writers of the Scripture passages, and is not something that the taskforce is reading into or imposing on the Scripture passages.
In this section of the report the taskforce takes the Roman Catholic position that the Holy Spirit invests human beings with a new and higher spiritual nature through faith and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. It goes on to assert that the Holy Spirit “makes us one body with the risen Christ in His ascended humanity [Emphasis added].” It does not provide the Scriptural basis of this view nor does it provide any references to Patristic writings or other theological works that support the view.
In this section of the report the taskforce defines “grace” as “a shorthand term for God’s entirely gratuitous redemption and reconciliation of humanity through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and His gift of the Holy Spirit to constitute the church.” This definition does not take note of the fact that the Old Testament is full of examples of God’s grace—his favor and his divine regenerating and inspiring influence. One is prompted to ask why the taskforce adopted such a sweeping definition of grace rather than these more precise definitions. The taskforce goes on to link justification and sanctification in a way that is reminiscent of Roman Catholic theology: “God’s gift to sinful humanity is not only forgiveness and pardon (justification), but is also transformation, re-creation and change (sanctification), a new life of participation in the Triune love.”
Note the reference to “a new life of participation in the Triune love.” In Roman Catholic theology the means by which we participate in this love is the Eucharist. While taskforce does not go as far as taking this view, it does not exclude this understanding.
A observation from J. I. Packer’s Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs may be appropriate at this point. Packer notes, “when John says ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), what he means (as he goes on to explain) is that the Father through Christ has actually saved us formerly lost sinners who now believe…” John is not referring to “the endless life of the triune God as one of mutual affection and honor” or to God’s creation of angels and humans “to glorify their Maker in sharing the joyful give-and-take of this divine life, according to their creaturely mode.” Rather God “loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for sins (1 John 4:9-10).” (J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983, p. 45) This is also the Thirty-Nine Articles and The Book of Common Prayer’s understanding of “God is love.” The taskforce at times appears to loose sight of this important fact in its rhapsodizing about the persons of the Trinity’s love for each other. Or perhaps its downplaying of God’s love manifest in the atonement is intentional.
In this section of the report we are told, “Christian ethics and spirituality grow out of the Church’s life as a worshiping community.” This view plays down or ignores the role of the Bible in establishing the moral principles or a moral code by which we live. The members of Christian community can regularly gather together for the celebration of the Eucharist and other forms of worship and not live a life that conforms to the moral standards of the Scriptures, as is the case in The Episcopal Church. A number of factors help to form and shape an individual’s spirituality. They include but are not limited to the Bible, life experiences, and mentors and teachers. Prayer and worship may play a role in the forming and shaping of an individual’s spirituality but they are not the only factors. The taskforce is prone to making generalizations, which, while they may apply in some cases, do not apply in all cases.
The statement that follows suggests the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by infused righteousness: “The Holy Spirit forms and transforms us into the image of Christ as we worship the Triune God.” The Prayer Book Catechism teaches that the Holy Spirit sanctifies all the elect people of God. But this may be done apart from “worship.” What the taskforce appears to have in mind is the worship of the eucharistic celebration, which may involve the priest’s reiteration or representation of Christ’s sacrifice (Trent) or our participation in Christ’s ongoing sacrificial activity in heaven (Lambeth 1958). In both instances Christ is believed to be present under the forms of bread and wine and to be received in or with the sacramental species.
VI. The Bible is the authentic transmission of God's Word. The GAFCON Theological Resource Group in The Way, the Truth, and the Life note that Anglicanism fell prey to moralism in the late seventeenth century. In this section of the report the taskforce in its emphasis upon Jesus’ teaching as a guide for our conduct appears to succumb to the same tendency. There is no mention of the New Testament doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Yet Jesus himself teaches this doctrine.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God….” (John 3:16-18 ESV)
In this section of the report the taskforce makes this rather problematic statement:In recognizing the Scriptures as canon the acknowledges its final and normative authority, distinguishing within it the words of prophets and apostles as eyewitnesses of the crucified and risen Lord, from distinguishing also from all subsequent words of the Church[Emphasis added].
The statement is poorly worded. One is left wondering what exactly is the taskforce trying to say. The statement reflects a tendency of the taskforce at times to use high-sounding words and phrases apparently to impress the reader rather than clear and precise language to make plain what the taskforce means. (A less charitable explanation is that the taskforce is deliberately obfuscating at such points for reasons of its own.) What, for instance, does it mean by the phrase,” from distinguishing also from all subsequent words of the Church.” This phrase is open to more than one interpretation. It suggests that the taskforce is taking the position that the Scriptures are the words of the Church with all the implications of that the position.
The taskforce fails to mention God’s authentication of Scripture by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s witness, not personal experience, human argument, or the Church’s testimony, by which God authenticates his Word to us. This witness produces a state of mind in which we recognize the divinity of Jesus of the gospel and the words of Scripture.
The taskforce concludes this section of the report with the statement, “The Church submits herself to the authority of the Scriptures as ‘containing all things necessary for salvation.’” The Scriptures certainly contain everything that we need to know in order to be saved. However, they are not authoritative for that reason alone. They are “God’s own testimony and teaching in human form” (J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983, p.3) This statement brings to mind one of the questions in the Ordering of Deacons in the 1928 Ordinal and the 2011 ACNA Ordinal.Bishop: Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain all Doctrines required as necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Answer. I am so persuaded.
This question was one of a number of changes that the 1928 revision introduced in the American Prayer Book that reveal the growing influence of Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism upon the Episcopal Church at that time. The 1790 Ordinal, the classical American Ordinal, like the Prayer Book Ordinal, requires blanket belief in the Bible:The Bishop. Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?
Answer. I do believe them.
This statement in the report and the use of the 1928 question in the 2011 ACNA Ordinal are a part of a growing body of evidence that the ACNA “theological lens” along with the ACNA constitution and canons has put the ACNA on the same path as the Episcopal Church in the 1920s, except the ACNA is more liberal than the Episcopal Church at that time, accepting the ordination of women and embracing the charismatic movement. The Episcopal Church in the 1920s was not open to the “enthusiasm” of Pentecostalism. We know where this path led—to the emergence of what Les Fairfield calls “Catholic Modernism.”
J. I. Packer reminds us what should be the place of the Bible in the faith and life of every follower of Jesus Christ:What Scriptures says, God says; for, in a manner comparable only to the deeper mystery of the Incarnation, the Bible is both fully human and fully divine. So all its manifold contents—histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else—should be received as from God, and all that Bible writers teach should be revered as God’s authoritative instruction. Christians should be grateful to God for the gift of his written Word, and conscientious in basing their faith and life entirely and exclusively upon it. Otherwise, we cannot ever honor or please him as he calls us to do. (J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983, p. 5)
Gavin Dunbar: A Critique of ACNA’s Initial Report of the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force
The ACNA Theological Lens: The Guiding Principles Behind the ACNA Prayer Book – Part 1
The ACNA Theological Lens: The Guiding Principles Behind the ACNA Prayer Book – Part 2