Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Reformed Episcopalian at the Lord’s Table

“The Reformed Episcopalian at the Lord’s Table” is the third in a series of eight sermons that the Right Rev. Charles Edward Cheney preached on the beliefs of the Reformed Episcopal Church at Christ Church, Chicago. Cheney was the Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Synod of Chicago and was one of the founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church. He was consecrated Bishop by George David Cummins on December 14, 1873. Cheney would succeed Cummins as the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church upon Cummins’ untimely death in 1876 and would serve in that capacity from 1876-1877 and 1877-1889. The Reformed Episcopal Publications Society would publish the sermon series in book form with the title What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? Eight Sermons preached in Christ Church, Chicago in 1888. The sermon series provides insight into what the founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church believed and taught, as opposed to what the Reformed Episcopal Church’s present day leaders believe and teach.

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and gave it to the disciples, and said. Take, eat ; this is My body. And He took the cup,and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying. Drink ye all of it: for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission
of sins.” St. Matt, xxvi : 26-28.

No visible institution of Christianity, so impresses the mind and the imagination, as the supper of the Lord. Its hoary age makes it venerable. It antedates the Christian Church itself.

“Soldiers," cried Napoleon, to his army in Egypt, “behold the Pyramids! Forty centuries  are looking down upon you.”

Yet the passover, out of which the communion sprang, the passover which prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus, as the supper of the Lord recalls it to memory, belongs to the age when the Pyramids were built. The communicant is looked down upon by the witness of four thousand years. And when the Pyramids shall crumble, the Lord's supper shall remain. For, “as oft as ye do eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death until He come.”

Little wonder if superstition has seized upon so venerable an ordinance, and used it as a potent weapon to subvert the freedom of God's children. It is the duty of every Reformed Episcopalian, as of every Christian, to know the exact nature of so conspicuous and solemn an institution of Christ. Let us attempt that duty to-day, with prayer for the Spirit's guidance.

I. What is the Scriptural and Evangelical View of the Holy Communion?

It would seem as if the New Testament had left us without excuse if we blunder as to the true answer to this inquiry. For doubt and controversy generally arise in regard to things concerning whose early origin history has left us in the dark.

The windowless “round towers” upon the rocky coast of Ireland, have given rise to whole volumes of controversial literature. Antiquarians and scholars have debated with each other whether they were places of religious' worship, or fortresses for defence. But the discussion carried on for centuries, is not ended yet. For history contains no line or word to tell the story of their erection.

But the record of the institution of the Lord's supper has been given in the Bible so fully, so clearly, and with such repetition, that error would seem impossible and debate unnecessary. We have four distinct and separate accounts, differing from each other in regard to no material fact. Three out of the four evangelists, viz., St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, have told the story nearly in the same words. It would seem as though these three accounts were sufficient. But when the apostle Paul finds the Church at Corinth perverting this sacrament from its holy purpose, he gives to that Christian community a fourth narrative of the first origin of the Lord's Supper, which he declares he had received by direct inspiration from the Lord Himself. 1 Cor. xi: 23.

Now the first thing which attracts the attention of the Reformed Episcopalian who studies this fourfold record, is the simplicity of the Lord's supper.

Our foreign dispatches tell us that it is not an unlikely event, that the imperial crown of Germany may at any time be set upon the head of a child but five years old. How strangely out of place, upon such an infant — just as simple and childlike by nature as the little one in your home — will be the imperial robes, the glittering orders, the pompous splendors, and the artificial dignity which surrounds a monarch!

Equally unnatural, in the light of the New Testament accounts of the Lord's supper, seem to the Protestant Christian, the pomp and ceremony with which the communion is sometimes celebrated. If the Lord Jesus had tried to choose a method of establishing an institution in his Church, which should be singularly plain, simple, and unencumbered by ritual, He could hardly have selected a different way. That simplicity appears in the place selected for the last supper. No splendid temple, no gorgeous sanctuary, no decorated shrine, witnessed the first eucharist. It was the bare upper chamber of some Jewish house borrowed for the occasion.

The same simplicity is revealed in the total want of any ritual details. Christ wrote out no rubrics of direction how the Church was to perpetuate this feast. The shelves of our ecclesiastical libraries are crowded with “manuals of devotion,” for the use of communicants. They descend to minute directions as to postures, and even how the bread should be taken in the hand, and the chalice lifted to the lips. But Christ did not depart from the simplicity of the sweet yet solemn rite, by even an allusion to these minor matters. Christians have quarrelled whether their attitude around the Lord's table should be standing, as in the Greek Church; sitting, as is the practice of Presbyterians; or kneeling, as with Episcopalians. Yet no one of these postures is that of the apostles, for they reclined on couches, as the old Oriental fashion was at feasts. “The simplicity which is in Christ,” forbade attention to such details. The Reformed Episcopalian kneels, simply because the whole question of attitude is plainly a matter of indifference, in which every Church may exercise its choice.

Observe, too, how this simple and natural idea of the communion is preserved in the symbols employed. Jesus might have chosen some striking, unique, unprecedented emblems of His dying love. Instead of that, He takes the bread and the wine — both of which the Jews used in keeping the passover, and which were therefore right before Him.

He seemed to say, “I make the simplest and most natural act of your daily life a blessed and sacred thing. I hallow with the remembrance of My love to you, even your partaking of food and drink.” It was anticipating St. Paul's language: “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” When St. Paul rebukes the Corinthian Church for its failure to discern the real purpose of this sacrament, he says, “Wherefore brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.” How clear it makes it that the Lord's supper was a simple meal in memory of Christ. Not a word even to indicate that the presence of a minister was necessary to the due celebration of the rite!

The fourfold history of the institution of this sacrament, leads the Reformed Episcopalian, in perfect accord with other evangelical believers, to regard the Lord's supper as a special memorial of Christ's atoning death.

In one of our public parks a statue stands, to keep in memory for all generations a great statesman whom it represents in marble. That commemoration is the one central idea with which it was erected. It doubtless serves other purposes as well. The great pleasure ground is ornamented by its presence. It bears witness to the liberality of the rich, and the self-denying patriotism of the poor. It forms a bond of union between the multitude of contributors to its erection. But these do not constitute the one great end which its erection had in view. If these subsidiary purposes be crowded to the front, and so kept before the public mind that the remembrance of the dead hero shall be lost sight of, better that the sculptor never touched chisel to the stone! A doctrine of the Lord's supper which belittles this memorial feature, has lost the primal end for which the communion was instituted.

Our Lord used language in His gift of this ordinance to His disciples, which can be only reasonably and consistently explained on the basis of its being primarily a memorial rite. He broke the bread, and gave it to them, with the words, “Take, eat, this is My body.” Now, setting aside for the present, the Roman Catholic theory of a miraculous change by which the bread was altered in its substance into the literal body of Christ, what could He have meant by words like these? Precisely what a father would mean, who, when about to cross the sea, gives his picture to his children, and says, “This is myself.” He does not mean that the portrait is actually his own personal being, but that it represents it And the only value of such a representation is that it helps the memory to recall him. So, too, He speaks of the wine, “He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, This is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” The moment that you fall short of the Popish theory of a transubstantiation of the wine, you must of necessity understand Christ to mean that the wine was a representation of that blood which He was to shed for sinners. It was ever afterward to appeal to the memory of the believer.

Nor need we depend on a mere interpretation of His words in giving the emblems. St, Luke distinctly states that Jesus told the disciples what was the purpose of these symbols, and of the Christian's partaking of them. “This do,” He said, “in remembrance of Me.” Besides, when St. Paul received from Christ Himself the account which he gives in his first epistle to the Corinthian believers, he also declares that the very words of Christ were those which St. Luke has recorded. And as if to make it clear that it was a ceremony to be perpetuated in the Church mainly as a memorial rite, St. Paul tells us that Jesus followed the giving of the cup with this still more explicit expression of His will, “This do ye, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Observe, too, the appropriateness of the emblems to bring out in conspicuous relief, the memory of Christ's sacrifice. The bread of which they partook had been before that hour employed by Christ as a type of His body. St. John vi: 35-58. But now it is broken. Each account mentions with particularity this fact of the bread being thus treated in His hands. As if Christ would have the fact of His blessed body being bruised and pierced, the one prominent idea in the recollection of His people. In the City of Boston, thousands daily pass a statue of Abraham Lincoln. But it represents him in the act of taking the fetters from the limbs of a slave. It clearly seems to say that those who put that striking figure there, were not merely anxious to have posterity remember the great president, but remember him in that particular act of his eventful life. So do the broken bread and the flowing wine touch the memory of the Christian with the recollection of a Saviour in the act of giving His life for sinners.

Thus, the Reformed Episcopalian finds no incomprehensible “mystery” in the communion as a means of grace. He does not approach the Lord's table with the feeling that it is some magic charm in which he is to find spiritual help, as the Romanist expects to find it in touching a relic of the saints, or the wood of “the true cross.” Its philosophy is as clear as the noonday.

For what can rekindle in the heart the glow of love, like the stirring of the memory? In days of war, your voluntary substitute took your place in the ranks, and died upon the field of battle. Can you bring out from the place in which you treasure it, the memento which he sent you when he lay dying, and which is stained with his heart's blood, and yet feel no stirring of your soul's deepest love?

But the Reformed Episcopalian does not forget that together with this memorial idea of the communion, another great truth is coupled.

The Lord's supper is a visible Gospel. We cannot see these emblems of the death of Jesus without their preaching to us eloquently and powerfully the doctrine of His atonement. Why, then, do we not satisfy all that this sacrament demands, when we have looked upon the consecrated symbols of His dying love ? Why eat the bread ? Why drink the wine? Will not our love be wakened by the sight of this pictorial representation of His suffering for us ? We have no hesitation in answering. Our bodily life is itself an emblem of our spiritual life. Precisely as we sustain our bodily existence, by partaking of food and drink, so BY FAITH do we feed upon Christ. The Old Testament had foreshadowed it, when the prophet, turning from the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law, cried from his watchtower of vision, “The just shall live by faith.” Habak. ii: 4. Christ Himself echoed the same great truth, when long before the night in which he was betrayed. He solemnly declared,  “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.”

That He did not refer to the communion in these strongly figurative words, is plain. He uttered them at least a year before He instituted the Lord's supper. He spoke to an assemblage of Jews, who could by no possibility know anything of this ordinance to be established in the future. Moreover, when He discovered that they only saw in them a gross and earthly meaning, and wondered how they were to eat His flesh and drink His blood, He corrected their blunder. He told them that in His body He was to ascend to heaven, and that under the figure of His body and blood, He had spoken of His Spirit. “What and if ye shall behold the Son of man ascend up where He was before? It is the Spirit which quickeneth. The flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are life.” “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life." John vi: 62, 63.

If any words could express more clearly than these, that simple trust in Christ and His word, sustains the spiritual life, as eating and drinking sustain the bodily life, it is difficult to imagine what those words could be. What follows? Evidently enough, that when the Saviour established the Lord's supper. He ordained this eating of the bread, this drinking of the wine, to be a symbol of the faith by which we must receive Him into our souls, and live spiritually upon Him.

It maybe added that the Reformed Episcopalian sees one other great truth brought clearly before him in this symbolic rite. In thus entering into fellowship with his suffering Lord, he also becomes a member of the vast brotherhood, whatever be the name they bear, who partake of Christ by faith, “the blessed company of all faithful people.” By trust in Christ, they " all eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink." They symbolize and picture forth that loving fellowship by this visible gathering around the same table, and exhibit their common love and common interest in each other, by calling their memorial feast, “the communion.”

No wonder that basing his view of the Lord's supper upon the teaching of the word of God alone, the Reformed Episcopalian opens wide his arms to welcome to this sweet and precious feast, all who love his “Divine Lord in sincerity and truth.”

II. What has the Reformed Episcopalian Done to Rescue the Lord’s Supper from Unscriptural Perversion?

William of Orange, the leader of Protestant faith and civil liberty, against the Church of Rome and the tyranny of Spain, once placed his young son as a hostage in the hands of Philip II, the Spanish king. When at last restored to his father, the youth had been transformed. He had become a Spaniard in national spirit, a tyrant in political principle, and a bigoted Romanist in religion. Where lay the secret of so vast and complete a change? Simply here. The Spanish teachers began early. The Reformed Episcopalian who reads the history of the visible Church of Christ, discovers a like amazing transformation in the sacrament of the Lord's supper. He sees the simple, natural, logical truth that was embodied in a sacred meal, taken in common by believers, to commemorate the death of Christ, changed into an appalling mystery and gorgeous ceremonial. He sees the bread no longer broken, but in the form of a wafer. He sees the wine, in bold violation of the Saviour's last command, taken from the laity and reserved for the clergy alone. He sees the table which bore witness to the primitive principle of the communion as a solemn, commemorative feast, replaced by a altar, on which a priest offers the consecrated elements as a sacrifice to God. He sees the wafer lifted up like an idol, and the people bowing in prostrate adoration as before God Himself. He sees the universal Church accepting for a thousand years the doctrine that the priest by his consecrating act has transmuted the bread and wine into the literal and actual body and blood of the Redeemer. How came to pass so amazing a revolution? The answer is that the enemy began early. There is no trace of such a ceremony or such a doctrine in the New Testament. We read of “the breaking of bread, and prayer” in apostolic history, and the epistles to the apostolic churches. We see the Christians gather at the simple meal which calls to their memory their suffering Lord. But that is all.

Yet, no sooner do we leave inspired teaching, and open the pages of the writers known as the “early fathers,” than the perversion of the Lord's supper begins to appear. The good seed sown by the Son of Man was not yet grown, when the tares sprang up also.

No heresy of the Roman Church so directly led to the Reformation, as that of transubstantiation — the doctrine that what had been up to their consecration, bread and wine, became by miraculous change the actual flesh and blood of the Redeemer. Yet, so deeply rooted was this monstrous theory, that even Luther could not fully rid his own mind of its remnants. Rejecting transubstantiation, he tried to reconcile bis loyalty to God's word with what he called “consubstantiation” — the notion that while the bread and wine did not lose their nature, and were still bread and wine after consecration, yet in union with them was the body and blood of Christ.

But the reformers of the Church of England, on this point gave no uncertain sound. They may have entertained false theories in regard to baptism, but they did not find on that field the battle which they were to fight. The whole struggle of the English reformation raged about the supper of the Lord. And here they drew broad and unmistakable the Scripture line between Christ's truth and Rome's perversion. Let it ever be remembered that of the many hundreds who died amidst the flames of martyrdom, which Bloody Mary lighted, not one who did not give his life rather than accept a false doctrine concerning the communion. From Cranmer, the primate and archbishop, down to the humblest peasant and artisan, the English witnesses for Christ, were witnesses even unto death, against every form of perverting the simplicity of the Lord's supper. (Blakeney's Hist. Prayer Book, pp. 528, 529.)

It would be natural to conclude, that whatever error might find place in the Church of England and her daughter in America, it would be impossible that they should wander from the truth concerning the communion. Here, surely, the principles for which Cranmer and Latimer, Ridley and Hooper died, will be guarded as men guard their homes and the lives of their children.

But the weed of a false doctrine of the eucharist is one which has tough roots, and readily sprouts again. From Reformation days there were those in the English Church who shrank from the strong, clear views of Cranmer, and his companions in martyrdom. They gained the ear of Elizabeth, eager to reconcile her Popish subjects to a Protestant liturgy. They led her to revise the communion service, so as to abolish a rubric denying the so-called “real presence.” (Blakeney's Hist. Prayer Book, p. 449.) The same class of religious teachers still further corrupted the service when the prayer book was revised in the days of that worthless king, Charles II. (Proctor's Hist. Prayer Book, chap. v.) The germs of a doctrine which the reformers died at the stake rather than accept, were sown in' the soil of the service. They sprang up here and there in the Church, but only reached their baleful harvest time when fifty years ago the Oxford Tracts appeared. From that hour no Canada thistles ever spread more rapidly. To-day, the doctrine of the “real presence” pervades our mother Church, and is taught directly or indirectly by the vast majority of her clergy. What is that doctrine? Briefly, it is that while there is no change of substance in the bread and wine, Christ is spiritually present IN THEM after the consecration. Mark the language. Every Protestant believes with Archbishop Cranmer, that Christ is really present in the Lord's supper in the hearts of “all them that worthily receive the same.” (Cranmer's Answer to Gardiner.) But the advocates of the notion of the real presence, mean such presence in the bread and in the wine. The officiating priest by consecration has imparted to the elements themselves the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ. Do not think that I exaggerate. Listen to this language from an accepted advocate of the doctrine: “The body and blood of Christ are sacramentally united to the bread and wine, so that Cbrist is truly given to the faithful.” “His flesh, together with the bread; and His blood, together with the wine.” (Tracts for the Times, N. Y. Edition, 1839, Vol. 1, p. 199.) “The nature of this mystery is such that when we receive the bread and wine, we also together with them, receive the body and blood of Christ.” (Ibid, p. 214.) Dr. Pusey declares in his letter to the Bishop of Oxford, “There is a true, real and spiritual presence of Christ at the holy supper * * * * independently of our faith.”

Dr. Pusey writes of the Lord's supper, “It is truly flesh and blood, and these received into us cause that we are in Christ, and Christ in us.”

Dr. Dix's Trinity Church Catechism says, “The bread and wine become Christ's body and bloody yet remaining true bread and wine.” (p. 51).

Dr. James DeKoven writes, “Believing in the presence of the body and blood of the Lord in the consecrated elements, I believe that presence to be in no sense material or corporal, but spiritual, though none the less real and true.” (Letter to certain Wisconsin clergymen, 1874.)

In Pusey's “Eirenicon,” a work written to prove how slight are the differences between the Church  of England and the Church of Rome, he refers to “Palmer on the Church,” as a book “framed word for word on our formularies, which received the sanction of two archbishops, and which used to be recommended to candidates for holy orders.” From the work referred to he quotes these remarkable words: “She (the Church of England) believes that the eucharist is not the sign of an absent body, and that those who partake of it receive not merely the figure, or shadow, or sign of an absent body, but the reality itself. And as Christ's Divine and human natures are inseparably united, so she believes that we receive in the eucharist, not only, the flesh and blood of Christ, but Christ Himself, both God and man.” (Eirenicon, p. 31.)

Now, observe the exact idea which these quotations give. It is that the real presence of Christ in the holy communion, is not a presence in the hearts of believers. It is “independent of their faith.” But it is in the bread and in the wine. In one word, the Spirit of God is placed, through a man's consecration of the elements, in a piece of bread, and in a cup of wine! Is the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation any more degrading to the Spirit of God than this? Or is it strange that other perversions of the truth should have followed in its train?

If the consecrated bread and wine upon the Lord's table are really the body and blood of Christ, then it logically follows that the table ceases to be such. It has become an “altar,” on which is offered anew the body and blood of Jesus as an oblation to the Father. “It is not,” says Dr. Dis, “a sacrifice by way of a new death, but by way of a standing memorial of His death. It pleads to the Eternal Father, sets forth before the world, and applies to our souls the one sacrifice of Christ.”

Then, too, as we shall see in a later sermon of this course, the minister becomes a sacrificing “priest,” who offers, like the sons of Aaron, the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood. Hence it is that in the old Church, the word  “minister” has come to be superseded by that of “priest.” We no longer hear of a faithful parish minister, but a “parish priest.” Yet we have only to turn to the Epistle to the Hebrews to learn that every trace of a sacrificing priesthood like that of Aaron passed away when Jesus offered His “one sacrifice for sins forever,” and “sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ is the only priest of the Christian, except that every true believer, minister or layman, is one of “a royal priesthood.”

But, above all, the whole system known as "ritualism," by which the public worship of the Church once so dear to us, has been completely disguised, is based on this false theory of the Lord's supper. The vestments which have superseded the simple robes worn formerly by ministers of the Protestant Episcopal Church, are imitations of those which are supposed to have been worn by priests who offered sacrifices. A leader of the Church of England ritualists, in answer to the question, “What meaning do you attach to the vestments?” replied,  “I take them to be a distinctive dress of a priest at the time of celebrating the holy communion.” (Principles at Stake, p. 142.)

In the earlier days of the Church out of which our own sprang, it was sometimes customary to bow the head at the name of Jesus in the Creed, to signify belief in His Divinity. To-day, a far more profound obeisance is made at multiplied points of the service, but — mark it well — always toward the table. Why? Because that table is now “the altar,” with super-altar upon it, and crucifix crowning it. And if this theory of the “real presence,'' and a sacrifice in the Lord's supper, is true, they are right who bow. For, if the awful presence of the Son of God is on that table, then, surely, I cannot prostrate myself in an adoration too profound. But if it be an unscriptural and idolatrous doctrine, then this bowing toward the so-called altar, is as offensive to God as prostration before a Chinese image or an African gree-gree.

Back to the word of God the Reformed Episcopalian has gone. Our Church has planted its feet upon the rock, in restoring the Lord's supper to its primitive simplicity. Open your Book of Common Prayer, and in its fore-front you find a “Declaration of Principles.” In the name of the Reformed Episcopal Church, it condemns as “erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's word,” the theory “that a Christian minister is a priest in any other sense than that in which all believers are a royal priesthood; that the Lord's table is an altar on which the oblation of the body and blood of Christ is offered anew to the Father; and that the presence of Christ in the Lord's supper is a presence in the elements of bread and wine.”

We framed our whole liturgy on the principles laid down in this declaration. From cover to cover, you will nowhere find a minister of the Gospel called a “priest.” We blotted out the dangerous expression which styled the elements of bread and wine, “these holy mysteries.” We saw in them no mysterious nature, but only simple and appropriate emblems. We went back to the reformers of the Church of England, and found that Cranmer and his fellow- martyrs had dropped out from the communion service, as it was first prepared, a Romish prayer, entitled the “oblation.” The influence of the high church Bishop Seabury had prevailed to have it inserted in the American prayer book. We removed it once more, and restored the service for communion to the Protestant form in which the reformers had bequeathed it. We required that the minister in delivering the bread to the communicant, should call it “bread,” and when delivering the cup should call it “wine” — that thus the Church should bear perpetual witness to the fact that no change had taken place in these emblems through the prayer of consecration.

We found that the Protestant Episcopal Church had omitted, under the same inspiration of Bishop Seabury, the rubric of the Church of England positively declaring that the consecration prayer does not change the nature of the elements, and that no worship of those elements is intended by kneeling at the communion. We put it back where Cranmer once had written it.

Then, to crown the work, we graved it upon the very constitution of this Church, that no altar should ever be permitted in any edifice in which Reformed Episcopalians should worship.

In an evil hour Archbishop Cranmer yielded to the Bloody Mary's threats, and signed a paper recanting his own protest against the doctrine of the real presence in the bread and wine of the communion. Bitterly did he repent his cowardly act, and when the flames leaped up around him in the hour of his martyrdom, he thrust his right hand, which had written his recantation, into the hottest fire. “Unworthy hand! unworthy hand!” cried the penitent martyr.

Reformed Episcopalian, remember that for you to yield one hair's breadth to the ritualism which has crept like a mildew over your old Church, is to do before God and angels and men, the very act of which Cranmer's “unworthy hand” was guilty. 

3 Reminders as You Enter the New Year 2016

1. Don’t worry about the year 2016.

Don’t worry about what you will eat, drink, and wear this year. Your Father in heaven knows your needs. Instead of worrying, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and all your new year needs will be given to you according to his will (Matt. 6:33).

After all why worry about the unknown future of 2016 when you can pray. “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Yes, what will take place this year is not known to us, but for us believers in Christ, we know that God is causing all things to happen for his glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28-29). And the word good in this passage ultimately refers to our conformity to the image of Christ. The bitter events of 2016 will only make us better believers. Let us therefore welcome the New Year without fear. Read More

Corrective Church Discipline

One of the most important and difficult tasks a pastor must undertake is leading his congregation to understand and obey what the Bible says about church discipline. The widespread neglect of the practice can cause even faithful Christians to be fearful of the idea. When biblical texts that give instruction on the subject are introduced it is not uncommon to hear responses that border on panic. “This will split the church.” “So then only perfect people can be members?” “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “I’ve been a Christian for ___ (20, 30, 40, etc.) years and have never heard of this, so why are you bringing it up now?”

Such fears can only be overcome by leading people to trust the Lord and His Word. The authority and sufficiency of Scripture are foundational not only to restoring the practice of church discipline but to every matter of faith and work in the Christian life. On that foundation the specific texts on the nature of the church and the steps of discipline must be simply and plainly taught. Read More

Virgin Births Happen All the Time

Birds do it. Bees do it. Snakes, sharks, lizards, and lots of other animals do it solo too.

It was Christmas, the turkey had been eaten, and it was terrible.

“It would be pretty hard for the Department [of Agriculture] to be serious and issue an obituary notice for a turkey,” an unnamed department official told the United Press. Nevertheless, news of the turkey’s death hit front pages around the world.

Because it was Christmas. And Graydon the turkey was no ordinary turkey.

He had no father.

He didn’t have an absentee father. He hadn’t been born through artificial insemination or other technological advances. He literally had no father. His mother—one of dozens of turkey hens in an experiment—had been carefully separated from turkey toms by the government agency at a research facility in Beltsville, Maryland, under the watchful eye of embryologist Marlow W. Olsen.

Graydon’s origin had been, in other words, a kind of virgin birth. Or at least a virgin hatching.

He wasn’t the first fatherless turkey to emerge from the more than 28,000 eggs in Olsen’s experiment. There had been about 20 others. But almost all died within an hour or two. No others had lived longer than 22 days.

But Graydon was 254 days and counting on that unlucky Friday, December 13, 1957. Read More
One of the objections to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is that virgin birth does not occur in nature. As we can see from Ted Olson's article, this is simply not the case. Parthogenesis is a natural phenomenon.

New Year's Eve Roundup: Eight Articles

Hoverboards In Church? 22 Differences Between Gimmicks and Innovations

Gimmicks are like candy. They're fun for a moment. But you can't build a steady diet – or a strong church – on them. Read More

Building a Volunteer Culture in Your Church

It can be difficult, at times, to recruit volunteers at church. How might we create a volunteer culture in our churches? Read More

Affluence and Discontentment

Those of us who live in the developed world today enjoy a measure of wealth that is almost beyond understanding. This is the kind of wealth that billions of the world’s population can only dream of. This is wealth that previous generations could not have imagined. And it is not merely money that we enjoy in such abundance, but also comfort, influence, and so much else. We are incredibly, unbelievably, divinely blessed. And yet, many of us can identify that this wealth brings with it a kind of illness, a spiritual malaise that some have labeled “affluenza.” Are we sick with affluenza? And if so, is there a way that we can use and enjoy our affluence without succumbing to this ugly disease? Read More

How It Became So Easy to Ignore the Poor

Growing income inequality and economic segregation have insulated our privilege. Read More

Ten Check Up Questions for the New Year

Several years ago, in our pastors group, we decided to be more precise in how we want to be held accountable. So we each set off to write a series of questions. My ten questions are below. Though they are six years old by now, I try to come back to them at the start of each year. No doubt, the questions reflect my own weaknesses, temptations, and priorities. There may be better questions for you and your friends. But perhaps these ten questions will be a good place to start. Read More

7 New Year Resolutions Which Could Change Your World

Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life. And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others. In fact, with a whole lot of improving – it might become contagious – and we might just change the world. Read More

The Secret To Actually Crushing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Why is that so many of us set out to accomplish something but fail to do as much as we’d hope? The answer is simpler than you think. It involves a dynamic few people talk about. But once you see it, things can begin to change. Radically.The principle? If you don’t like the results you get, change the pattern the you’ve set. Let me explain. Read More

How I Started Praying the Bible

The entire Bible is a prayer book. Read More
This is an excellent practice which I hope that readers will adopt in the new year. I have personally benefited from it over the years.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Revisionism in the Reformed Episcopal Church—Part 1

By Robin G. Jordan

The introduction to the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Declaration of Principles on its website offers what it describes as “clarifications” which it insists anyone who is attempting to interpret the Declaration of Principles should bear in mind. These “clarifications” are themselves designed to influence how the Declaration of Principles is interpreted and reflect a revisionist reinterpretation of the Declaration of Principles. In this two-part article I examine the Declaration of Principles and how the founders of the Reformed Episcopal Church understood them. I also examine the “clarifications” and how they differ in their understanding of the Declaration of Principles from that of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s founders.

The First Principle
“The Reformed Episcopal Church, holding "the faith once delivered unto the saints," declares its belief in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, as the sole rule of Faith and Practice; in the Creed 'commonly called the Apostles' Creed;' in the Divine institution of the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper; and in the doctrines of grace substantially as they are set forth in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.”
In this Principle the Bishop George David Cummins and the REC founders take the Evangelical Protestant view of the Bible. For them the Bible had plenary authority in matters of faith and practice. The Apostles’ Creed and the doctrines of grace set out in the Thirty-Nine Articles were authoritative because they agreed with the Bible. Their authority was derivative; they had no authority of their own separate from that of the Bible.

The REC founders’ Evangelical Protestant view of the Bible is laid out in the Thirty-Five Articles of Religion, which the Reformed Episcopal Church adopted in 1875. Article V states:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost: Holy Scripture is therefore the Word of God; not only does it contain the Oracles of God, but it is itself the very Oracles of God. And hence it containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand the canonical books of the Old and New Testament, viz….

The Book commonly called "The Apocrypha" is not a portion of God's Word, and is not therefore to be read in churches, nor to be used in establishing any doctrine.
Article XXIII states:
General Councils (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God), may err, and sometimes have erred, not only in worldly matters, but also in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation are not binding, as such, on a Christian man's conscience, unless it may be proved that they be taken out of Holy Scripture. No law or authority can override individual responsibility, and therefore the right of private judgment: For the individual Christian, as Christ distinctly affirms, is to be judged by the Word. The only Rule of faith is God's Word written [emphasis added].
The Reformed Episcopal Church’s 1874 Ordinal requires blanket acceptance of the Bible from candidates for ordination to the diaconate:
“Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?
I do believe them.
The REC founders’ Evangelical Protestant view of the Bible is consistent with that of the English Reformers. They also accepted the plenary authority of the Bible in matters of faith and practice. They tried the truth of all doctrine by the test of the Holy Scriptures. They give consideration to the opinions of the early Church fathers only where the opinions of the Patristic writers were in agreement with the Bible. The REC founders, like the present-day conservative Evangelical wing of the Anglican Church of Australia, the Church of England, and the Church of Ireland, and the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA) stand in the Reformation heritage of the Anglican Church.

The REC founders in the Declaration of Principles recognize only two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as did the English Reformers and as do Biblically faithful Anglicans who stand in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage today. .

The doctrines of grace to which the Declaration of Principles refers are set out in Article 6 through 18 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

In regard to the First Principle the article on the REC website offers this “clarification.”
“The opening principle clearly recognizes Scripture as a primary authoritative document, but not exclusively so. Holy Scripture was not given in a vacuum apart from the Church, and thus, the ancient creeds as interpreted by their English commentary, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, are also authoritative.”
What is notable about the “clarification” is that it does make the meaning of the First Principle more comprehensible. In fact it ignores the plain language of the Principle itself. The views that it present are certainly not those of the REC founders. Indeed the views that it presents are entirely disconnected from the intent of the drafters of the Declaration of Principles and the historical context in which the Declaration of Principles was written. Their treatment of the REC founders’ understanding of the Declaration of Principles is reminiscent of how John Henry Newman tried to reinterpret the Thirty-Nine Articles in a Rome-ward direction in Tract 90. The statement “Holy Scripture was not given in a vacuum apart from the Church” has a decided Anglo-Catholic tone. The Thirty-Nine Articles are also more than an “English commentary” on the “ancient creeds.” They address issues in three key areas—revelation, salvation, and the sacraments—that the Apostles’ Creed, the Nice Creed, and the Athanasian Creed do not address.

The Second Principle
“This Church recognizes and adheres to Episcopacy, not as of Divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of Church polity.”
In this Principle the REC founders take the position of the English Reformers who found no mandate in the Bible for any particular form of church polity. The English Reformers would retain bishops on the basis that they were “ancient and allowable.” As an institution episcopacy could be traced to the early Church. While the Bible did not prescribe episcopacy, the Bible did not prohibit it.

George David Cummins’ own views on episcopacy are found in his sermon, “Primitive Episcopacy: A Return to the ‘Old Paths’ of Scripture and the Early Church,” which Cummins preached at the consecration of Charles Edward Cheney in 1874. Like the English Reformers, Cummins recognizes that no particular form of church polity is mandated in the Bible:
“Our blessed Lord Himself, the Divine Founder of His Church, prescribed no form of Polity under which it should exist, and left no rules for its government or mode of public worship.”
Cummins goes on to note:
“The Apostles of our Lord adopted or promulgated no definite code of ordinances and regulations for the Christian Church. What the Apostles did appoint and sanction in the Church in their own days, we shall presently consider; and when we shall have ascertained from the testimony of the inspired records of the early Church, what was undoubted apostolic practice and custom, we must bow to it as the work of holy men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But these divinely-guided men upon whose foundation the Church is built, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone (Ephesians, ii. 20), have left on record no fixed rules, have handed down to all ages no inflexible order for the government and preservation of the Church.”
Further on in the sermon Cummins makes this important point:
“…there is no evidence from Scripture that the Apostles established the Episcopate as an order in the Ministry distinct from and superior in rank to the Presbyterate. If there is to be found any trace of Episcopacy in the New Testament, it is only as an office exercised by one who was himself a fellow-presbyter, commissioned or set apart for the exercise of such powers as were rendered necessary by the exigencies of the Church, and for the promotion of its well-being by a system of general oversight and superintendence.
Cummins cites J.B. Lightfoot whose dissertation, The Christian Ministry, was published in 1868.
"Therefore, at the close of the New Testament Canon, about A.D. 70, there is no trace of any Episcopate in the Church, except the solitary case of James at Jerusalem, where the character of the man and his relation to our Lord would secure that prominence among his Presbyterial peers, analogous to an Episcopal rank, which was held by him." (Rev. J. B. Lightfoot, D.D., Hulsean Professor of Divinity in Trinity College, Cambridge, England.)
In relation to what he describes as “the true position of the Episcopate, as it is retained in this Reformed Episcopal Church, following Holy Scripture and the practice of the early Church,” Cummins makes the following three statements:
“1. It is not a continuation of the Apostolate. Bishops are not the successors of the Apostles. The Apostles of our Lord could have no successors, as their office was of special appointment by Christ Himself, endowed with miraculous powers by the Holy Ghost, and could be filled only by those who were 'eye-witnesses of the majesty,' and of 'the sufferings of Jesus.' Their office ceased with their lives, and Holy Scripture contains not a suggestion indicating that others could ever perpetuate their office in the Church.

2. The Episcopate is not the depositary of the Faith, the Divinely-constituted body to which are committed all gifts of grace as the sole channel through which they can be dispensed. Holy Scripture warrants us in rejecting such teaching as utterly antagonistic to the very spirit and essence of the Gospel of the Son of God.

3. The Episcopate is not an ordinance of Apostolic institution; but it was adopted by the post-Apostolic Church as the development of the practice or custom first suggested by the Apostles, in delegating to certain of their fellow-laborers among the Presbyters the oversight or superintendence of the Churches in certain districts, temporarily. The authority delegated by St. Paul to Timothy and Titus was doubtless the pattern which was so soon and so universally followed by the primitive Churches in the adoption of Episcopacy after the decease of the Apostles. 'The very name,' says Lightfoot, "suggests the origin of the Episcopate." The term 'Bishop' was first applied to all Presbyters, but afterwards restricted to a higher grade of Ministers. This seems to indicate that the order of Bishops rose upward out of the Presbyterate, and was not developed downward out of the Apostolate; that it came not from localizing Apostles with lessened powers, but from elevating some Presbyters above others, and giving them par excellence, the name of 'Overseers or Bishops.' [Lightfoot,  Commentary on Philippians.] 'The Episcopal office in its original institution was one of simple priority among the other Ministers, rather than a superior order in the Church. Every city had its Bishop, with a body of Presbyters and Deacons under him; the Church often consisting of a single congregation, and the Bishop himself performing all the duties of a Presbyter among them, and having a personal acquaintance with every member of his flock. But as the numbers of Christians increased and were spread abroad more widely, separate congregations were necessarily formed and multiplied, and Bishops appointed Presbyters to take charge of them; until by degrees the Episcopal office was fully occupied with the ordination and general superintendence of the clergy and other special duties.' (JACOB'S Ecclesiastical Polity.)”
It is “this simple primitive Episcopacy of the Second Century of the Christian era” that the Reformed Episcopal Church recognizes and accepts in the Declaration of Principles, not “a Hierarchy, claiming Divine right and the succession to the order and office of the Apostles of our Lord, ‘lords over God's heritage,’ and not fellow-Presbyters with their brethren.”

In order to properly understand what the Second Principle is saying, readers are advised not only to read “Primitive Episcopacy” but also Bishop Cheyene’s “The Reformed Episcopalian and His Bishop” in What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? Eight Sermons Preached in Christ Church, Chicago. Between the two sermons they will have a much better understanding of the REC founders’ views on Episcopacy and Apostolic Succession.

As in the case of REC founders’ Evangelical Protestant views of the Bible, the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Creed, and the doctrines of grace, their view of Episcopacy is consistent with those of the English Reformers and modern-day Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and stand in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage. Reading Mark Burkill’s 2009 Reform article, “Better Bishops” will help readers to see the consistency between the REC founders’ views of Episcopacy and those of modern-day conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England.

In regard to the Second Principle the article on the REC website offers this “clarification.”
Second, the statement on the episcopacy is straight out of Richard Hooker, the late 16th Century Anglican theologian, who wrote the classical defense of Anglicanism, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Hooker endorsed episcopal polity as rooted in Scripture and as historically verified by its universal, uncontested acceptance for the first 1500 years of church history. Nevertheless, this classical Anglican resisted being so exclusive as to unchurch those who did not have bishops (his European Reformed brethren) by denying the validity of their Baptism or Communion. Those who came later in the 19th Century decided to depart from the English Reformation of Hooker and reject the Holy Communion of non-episcopal protestant denominations. As such the second principle embraces the episcopacy for the well-being but not the being of the church.
Here the author of the “clarifications” claims that the Second Principle is derived from the writing of Richard Hooker. However, no evidence is offered from the sermons and writings of the REC founders to support this claim. Cummins’ sermon, “Primitive Episcopacy,” contains one brief reference to Hooker’s views on church order.
It is to this Church the promise is made: "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." (St. Matthew, xxviii. 20.) But for this "blessed company of all faithful people," as they should afterwards be gathered together into particular or national Churches, our Saviour Christ prescribed no Ritual, and defined no order of Church constitution. "All the Church's constitutions," says Hooker, "are of the nature of a human law." (Ecclesiastical Polity, III, 9.)
This brief reference does not support the claim of the author of the “clarifications” nor does it justify his exposition of what is claimed are Hooker’s views on episcopacy that follows. Clearly the author of the “clarifications” is using Hooker’s reputation as a benchmark Anglican divine to give weight to his own views expressed in the second “clarification.”

In the interpretation of the Declaration of Principles primary consideration should always be given to authorial intent and historical context. As we shall see as we further examine the purported “clarifications” of the Declaration of Principles is that their author consistently ignores how the drafters of the Declaration of Principles intended it to be understood and the historical context in which it was written. Rather their author seeks to influence the reader’s interpretation of the Declaration of Principles so that it is understood differently from the way it was originally intended to be understood.

One of the claims that today’s revisionist leaders of the Reformed Episcopal Church are want to make is that when they first took office, they found the REC to insufficiently “Anglican.” Through their efforts the REC has become more “Anglican” in its doctrine and practices. But if one looks at the changes that they have introduced and implemented in the denomination, it is clear that what they mean by “Anglican” is Catholic in the unreformed sense. What they have been promoting in the denomination is a Catholic Revival like the one occurred in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century but on a smaller scale. The Catholic Revival in the Protestant Episcopal Church was major reason why the REC founders seceded from that denomination and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church. Rather than being compatible with the Evangelical Protestant views of the REC founders, the views of these leaders conflicts with the REC founders’ Evangelical Protestantism. They are also at odds with the views of the English Reformers.

In the second-part of this article I will complete my examination of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Declaration of Principles and the four “clarifications” offered in the introduction to the declaration on the REC website.

Photo credit: St. James Church (REC), Memphis, TN

Midweek Roundup: Ten Articles

Why the Church of Tomorrow Starts Today

The future of the church can appear pretty bleak based on some of the studies circulating these days: We’re losing people; we’re not connecting with the next generation; we’re struggling financially. These reports can lead us to question whether it’s even possible for the church to survive. I’m firmly convinced it will. Here are a few of the dimensions I see for the future of the church. Read More

10 Questions to Ask of New Year’s Resolutions

Most of our resolutions are aimed at changing certain things about ourselves. Here are 10 questions to ask of resolutions (whatever time of year they’re made) to ensure we’re being gospel-centered in our approach to change. Read More

Six Simple Ways to Minister to Ministers

Being a pastor is a blessing, but it can be discouraging, too. Here are some ways you can encourage your pastors. Read More

12 Quality Resources to Help You Cultivate a Deeper Devotional Life in 2016

What will you do to get your soul into a happy state each day? Here are 12 resources that Steven Kryger of Communicate Jesus has used and recommends to help you cultivate a deeper devotional life in 2016. Read More

Why I Plan to Read Less of the Bible This Year (2016 Edition)

Thomas Brooks, in his classic work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices gives helpful instruction here, “Remember, it is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower, which gathers honey—but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.” With that in mind, here are a few ideas for your consideration. Read More

A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson--Free eBook

This book contains a series of sermons on the Westminster Catechism, a central catechism in English-speaking Calvinist churches. Watson treats several of the questions and answers from the Catechism in detail, including “What is the chief end of man?” “Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?” and “How does Christ execute the office of a priest?” In covering topics such as these, Watson touches on nearly all of the basics of orthodox Christian theology. Readers still consider the sermons clear and concise, and many consider them classics among 17th century Puritan works. Read Online or Download

How to Answer Objections and Start Gospel Conversations

Imagine the following scenario. You’re teaching a co-ed college Bible study. The group is a diverse mix of Christians and non-Christians, and all seem to be reasonably interested in learning more from Scripture. You’re feeling good about the material and the group’s openness to the gospel. Everything is going smoothly—that is, until one of the students, a quiet, meek sophomore who has attended every session, raises her hand and asks, “I get what you’re saying, and all this Bible stuff sounds great. But how can we really know if it’s all true? How do we know Jesus is alive right now? Why should we trust the Bible more than the Book of Mormon or the Quran?” Read More

God Ranks High in New Year’s Resolutions

In January, Americans resolve to cut the carbs, hit the gym — and get right with God. When Americans make New Year’s resolutions, a better relationship with God ranks almost as high as better health, Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds. And for many groups, faith actually outranks health. Older Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Christians are all more likely to say they’ve made resolutions about God than about health. Read More

Reform Ireland Takes Church of Ireland Bishops to Task over Same Sex Marriage Pastoral Letter

In the past week every presbyter in the Church of Ireland has received a letter from their bishop entitled “Some Frequently Asked Questions and Responses Concerning Same Sex Marriage”. It is a letter agreed in the House of Bishops and each bishop has put their own name to it in their diocese signifying their personal agreement to its contents. We are concerned because what the letter contains is a dangerous departure from confessing Anglicanism. It is dangerous because of its appearance of orthodoxy while undermining the principles of our reformed protestant denomination. What follows is an unpacking of our understanding of the letter. We include a copy of the letter itself below with numbered paragraphs. Read More
Also see
Some Frequently Asked Questions and Responses Concerning Same Sex Marriage
Pakistani Christians Face Eviction from Islamabad Slums

Christians in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, are facing eviction from their homes, after the Capital Development Authority went to the country’s highest court to request the demolition of the slums in which many of them reside. Read More

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Roundup: Twelve Articles and Two Podcasts

Healthy Church Trends: A Look Back – Rainer on Leadership #186 [Podcast]

On today’s episode, Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe take a look back at some healthy church trend predictions mentioned in a 2012 post to see how things have progressed over the past four years. Read More

Joe Sangl on How to Increase Giving At Your Church and Help for Bi-Vocations Pastors [Podcast]

How do you get more money for ministry? Joe Sangl and I have an honest conversation about how to increase givings at your church, why people don’t give and even how bi-vocational pastors can think differently about earning income. Read More

Three Differences Between Busyness and Productivity

Here are 3 ways leaders can spot the difference between busyness and productivity.... Read More

The Pastor’s Third Rail

What pastors in particular may not realize though is the direct correlation between their physical health and their spiritual health, as well as the impact they have on the church they have been called to serve. Pastors, we should be leading the way in caring for our physical health as examples to the flocks we have been called to serve. Not leading the pack toward obesity. Read More

10 Signs You May Need to Take a Day Off

Frankly, this is one blog post I’m writing for myself more than any other reader. Too many people I know—beginning with me—work many days without taking a day off. Based on my own study and conversations with others, here are some signs I need to consider as warnings that it’s time to take a day off. Read More

Plagiarizing and Quoting in Preaching

At the end of the day, we need rules to help guide us through the process of avoiding plagiarism without simply falling into the trap of quoting and citing too much in preaching. Here are four personal rules that help me avoid plagiarism while encouraging me to judiciously and appropriately quote and cite others.... Read More

Reading the Whole Bible in 2016: A FAQ

Justin Taylor put together this list of frequently-asked questions and answers about reading the whole Bible in a year. He has also included a number of helpful resources. Read More

5 Reasons to Read the Entire Bible in 2016

Here are five benefits Jeff Robinson discovered from reading through God’s Word each year. Read More

11 Ways to Write Better

We are all writers now. Whether you write books, blogposts, emails, tweets, or text messages, you are a writer. No matter your preferred medium, here are a few tips to help you write more effectively.... Read More

3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church

What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Read More

The forgotten Christians who faced persecution in 2015

Christian persecution has dominated the news over the past year. From the escalating chaos in the Middle East to the crackdown on churches in China's Zhejiang province, it's been a terrible year for some of the world's most persecuted minorities.Read More

Indonesian churches celebrate Christmas without building - or even tent

Indonesia ranks #47 on Open Doors International’s 2015 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Officially it is a secular country, despite hosting the world’s largest Muslim community. Aceh is the only province given special privileges to enforce sharia and as a result has become one of the toughest places for Indonesian Christians to live and exercise their faith. Read More

ISIS ruling dictates how to treat female slaves

Islamic State theologians have issued an extremely detailed ruling on when "owners" of women enslaved by the extremist group can have sex with them, in an apparent bid to curb what they called violations in the treatment of captured females. Read More

Middle Eastern Christians Speak Out on Wheaton Professor’s Actions do Middle Eastern Christians feel about an American Christian publicly supporting Muslims by wearing a hijab? Read More

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Free Church of England to Join the Unreformed Catholic Union of Scranton?

By Robin G. Jordan

Upon further investigation it appears that the Free Church of England’s ongoing talks with the Nordic Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church are more than a flirtation. In September 2012 the International Catholic Bishops Conference of the Union of Scranton authorized Bishop Roald Nikolai Flemestad of the Nordic Catholic Church “to begin a dialogue with the Free Church of England on behalf of the Union of Scranton based upon the 'Requirements for Communion with the Polish National Catholic Church' (October, 2010) with the eventual goal of membership in the Union of Scranton.”

This description of the Union of Scranton is taken from the preamble of the Statutes of the Union of Scranton:
“The Union of Scranton is a union of Churches – and their bishops governing them – that is determined to maintain and pass on the Catholic faith, worship, and essential structure of the Undivided Church of the first millennium. The Union of Scranton finds its origins in the development of the Union of Utrecht established on September 24, 1889, in Utrecht, Holland There a determination was made and recorded in three documents that formed the Convention of Utrecht: the 'Declaration,' the 'Agreement,' and the 'Regulations' (Statutes).The full communion of the Churches found its expression and was evident in the bishops uniting to form a Bishops’ Conference, which other bishops later joined. Since the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) continues to hold the Declaration of  Utrecht as a normative document of faith, the development of the Union of Scranton follows a similar design.”
In an official statement issued after a February 2013 meeting between bishops of the Polish National Catholic Church, the Nordic Catholic Church, and the Free Church of England the International Catholic Bishops Conference of the Union of Scranton stated:
“In light of this meeting the International Catholic Bishops Conference anticipates being able to work with the Free Church of England to build up a Catholic jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.”
For readers who may not be familiar with the Polish National Catholic Church, the PNCC is an independent Catholic Church that is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church but which seeks full communion with the Holy See. The PNCC was founded in 1897. From 1907 to 2003 the PNCC was a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. In 2003 the PNCC was expelled from the Union of Utrecht due to its opposition to women’s ordination.

According to its website,” the Nordic Catholic Church was established in Norway in 2000 under the auspices of the Polish National Catholic Church.” The NCC was formed from “a group of Catholic-minded people” who left the Lutheran Church of Norway over such issues as ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The NCC describes itself as an Old Catholic Church.  The NCC became a Member Church of the Union of Scranton in June 2011.

In its Statement of Faith the Nordic Catholic Church makes this following declaration:
“In that we worship the one, true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we affirm that in that we hold the orthodox and catholic Faith of the Undivided Church and we adhere to our Lutheran heritage to the extent that it has embraced and transmitted that Faith, therefore we embrace the Catholic Faith of the Polish National Catholic Church and do fully accept without reservation or qualifications all of these doctrines: Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition of the Church; the Catholic Symbols: the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Councils of the Undivided Church; the Fathers of the Church, East and West, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass (messen som eukaristick offer)* and the Seven Sacraments; and the essential praxis of the Catholic Church as affirmed by the Polish National Catholic Church, and the authority of our lawful bishop, and furthermore we will be known as the Nordic Catholic Church.”
According to its website the Nordic Catholic Church has “parishes and communities in Norway, Sweden, Germany and France” and new works in Hungry, Italy, and England.

During the same time period the Free Church of England has also been engaging in talks with the Anglican Association.  According to its website the Anglican Association seeks “to uphold traditional values and, in particular to promote the Catholic Faith as Anglicans have received it and, as loyalists, have cherished it.” It is a supporter of the Church of England’s General Synod’s Catholic Group.

The rot that infects the Reformed Episcopal Church also infects the Free Church of England. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness” (Proverbs 26:11, HCSB). Another name for that rot is faithlessness—faithlessness to the Bible and to the gospel. As the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion remind us, every man “is of his own nature inclined to evil” and “the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit.” Likewise, men are drawn to the errors and superstitions of the past and to unbiblical innovations in doctrine and worship.

Also see
The Free Church of England on the Same Trajectory as the Reformed Episcopal Church?
The Free Church of England Plays with Fire
The photo shows the end of the road at the edge of the abyss.

5 Big Goals for Each New Year of Ministry

For thirty-five years, Saddleback Church has been making disciples through a very intentional, purpose driven process. And we’ve helped train tens of thousands of other churches to do the same. We’ve always been concerned with five big goals, and as we face another new year of ministry, we’re working toward these same five goals again.

As you plan your preaching, prepare your budget, and arrange your calendar, I’m convinced the following questions will help you to make more disciples, more effectively. Read More

Bible Reading Plans for 2016

Many Christians take the beginning of a new year to evaluate their Bible reading habits, and then change or begin a Bible reading plan.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
For your convenience, we’ve compiled a list of Bible reading plans for you to choose from. Maybe in 2016 you will read more of the Bible each day. Perhaps you’ll slow down your reading and instead spend more time considering what you read. Whatever it is you’re looking for in a reading plan, you should find it below.... Read More

Monday Roundup: Six Articles

Do Guns Belong in the Church?

Should churches be equipped with guns to deter or kill potential evil doers? Should church security personnel openly display their weapons–or conceal them? Should parishioners be encouraged–or discouraged–from bringing concealed guns to church functions? Read More

Christian Conflict: Five Ways to Fight It

I wish I never had to deal with conflict. I am a card-carrying conflict avoider. Whatever the reason (character, context, sin, etc). I would rather run away from conflict than take it head on. It wasn’t until I began my training as a counselor at nearly thirty-years-old that someone explained conflict didn’t always have to do damage. In fact, it was possible to have conflict with a person and to feel closer to them in the wake of it. Read More

10 Things I’ve Learned About Gossip – And Why I Hate It So Much

Gossip is destructive and has no part in our lives or in the church. I’ve counseled with families caught in drama after the loss of a loved one and gossip is fueling their division. I have witnessed gossip destroy a healthy work environment. And, I have worked with so many churches where gossip – drama – is a leading cause of why the church isn’t healthy – isn’t growing – isn’t accomplishing all God has for the church. Read More

6 High-Yield New Year’s Resolutions Every Leader Should Make

If you’re like many leaders, you’re busy making resolutions this week. I think that’s a great idea.... You will have some resolutions that are specific and personal to you—which is great. But there are some goals that every leader could benefit from accomplishing. Read More

Modes of Mission: A Missional People

In the first of a series on posts on modes of mission, we look at how Peter modeled mission. Read More

Lordship Is Not Legalism

What does countercultural Christianity look like in America today? Read More

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Free Church of England on the Same Trajectory as the Reformed Episcopal Church?

By Robin G. Jordan

In his article, “The Roman and the Anglican Way Contrasted,” the late Peter Toon draws attention to one of the dangers of liturgical revision, the temptation to use such revision to introduce changes in doctrine and practice. New doctrines and new practices are introduced in the guise of enrichments to the liturgy. Toon notes that Anglicans are particularly susceptible to this temptation. A study of the history of liturgical revision in the Anglican Church beginning with the retrograde 1637 Scottish Prayer Book, the infamous Laudian liturgy, supports the accuracy of this observation.

Among the latest self-identified Anglican entities to use liturgical revision to introduce such changes are the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America. The 2005 REC Prayer Book incorporates material from the 1928 Prayer Book and with that material the doctrine of that Prayer Book. The 1928 Prayer Book was compiled when Anglo-Catholicism and Broad Church latitudinarianism were the two dominant schools of thought in the Episcopal Church. Both schools of thought had been influenced by theological liberalism. All three influences are evident in the 1928 Prayer Book. For an in-depth examination of the defects of the 1928 Prayer Book, readers are referred to my article, “What Is Wrong with the 1928 Prayer Book?” The REC also permits the use of the services of the 1928 Prayer Book as an alternative to those of its 2005 book. 

The Anglican Church in North America has gone even further than the Episcopal Church in the early twentieth century and Reformed Episcopal Church in this century in its introduction of changes in doctrine and practice through the process of liturgical revision.

In its Ordinal the ACNA has altered the historic Preface to the 1662 Ordinal so that it is open only to an Anglo-Catholic interpretation. It has introduced into the Ordinal such practices as prostration of the candidate for ordination before the altar, the presentation of the new priest with a chalice, the anointing of the new priest’s hands, and the anointing of a new bishop’s forehead, practices that are associated with ordination in the Roman Catholic Church and which were rejected by the Anglican Reformers on firm Biblical grounds.

The Anglican Church in North America has replaced the formula spoken at the impositions of hands in the ordination of deacons with one similar to the imperative formula used at the same point in the service in the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops. In The Anglican Ordinal: Its History and Development from the Reformation to the Present Day, Paul F. Bradshaw makes this important point:
"In spite of the importance attached by many Anglicans to the imperative formulas at the imposition of the hands in the Anglican rites, particularly that in the rite for the priesthood, their continued use can no longer be defended. They have no place in the primitive pattern of ordination, and they only serve to detract from the ordination prayers and induce erroneous ideas about ordination.; they suggest, for example, that the grace of Order can be bestowed by command rather than sought in prayer (p. 209)."
This particular interpretation of the imperative formula is shared by Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics who believe that with the imposition of hands the bishop imparts a special gift or grace of the Holy Spirit.

The alteration of the Preface, the introduction of Roman Catholic ordination practices, and the use of the imperative formula in all three ordination rites have been used along with the incorporation into the ACNA canons of language from the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law describing the ministry of bishops, and the ACNA’s catechism’s adoption of the Roman Catholic Church’s sacramental system to replace the Biblical, Protestant, and Reformed theology of the historic Anglican formularies with unreformed Catholic theology in the Anglican Church in North America.

The ACNA ordination rites are not the only rites in which liturgical revision have been used to make unreformed Catholic teaching and practices the official doctrine and practices of the Anglican Church in North America. Unreformed Catholic theology underpins the proposed rites of the Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. The two forms of the Holy Eucharist is modeled upon the Roman Catholic Mass. While the language is more muted, the Eucharistic Prayers are modeled upon the Roman Canon. Both forms of the Holy Eucharist also incorporate other material from the Roman Mass, for example, the second formula for the invitation to Communion, “Behold the Lamb of God....”

At the Free Church of England’s Convocation this past May, the delegates gave final approval to the use of the services of the Prayer Book of the Reformed Episcopal Church as an alternative to the services of the denomination’s own Prayer Book. The previous May the FCE Convocation had approved “the use of new ordination services for bishops, presbyters and deacons, reflecting a greater range of Scriptural and traditional imagery.” I have not examined these services but their description suggests that they may depart from the 1956 ordination services.

Among the unique features of the 1956 FCE ordination services is a formula at the imposition of hands, which does not suggest that the bishop in laying his hands upon the ordinand is imparting a special gift or grace of the Holy Spirit. A number of presbyters join the bishops in laying hands on the candidate at the consecration of a new bishop. Otherwise, the 1956 FCE ordination services are basically the 1662 ordination services.

The adoption of new ordination services and the approval of the use of the services of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book do not bode well for the future of the historic Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Free Church of England. When one considers these two developments in the light of the FCE’s flirtations with the ACNA, the Nordic Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, and the Traditional Anglican Communion the future of these principles looks grim in the FCE. The FCE  is clearly on the same trajectory as the Reformed Episcopal Church—away from the bright light of the Protestant Reformed faith into the pitch darkness of unreformed Catholicism.

Also see
The Free Church of England Plays with Fire