Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The ACNA Catechism: A Tool for Instruction? Or a Tool for Indoctrination?

A Survey of the ACNA Doctrinal Statements and Their Theological Leanings: The Catechism

By Robin G. Jordan

As we have seen so far, the Ordinal, Daily Offices, and Eucharistic Rites in the Anglican Church in North America’s Texts for Common Prayer are decidedly unreformed Catholic in their theological leanings. Our survey of the ACNA’s doctrinal statements and their theological leanings now brings us to the much-touted To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism. ACNA leaders have been promoting the adoption of this catechism throughout the Anglican Communion. To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism may be described as a linchpin of the “new settlement” that former ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan champions – a “new settlement” to replace the Elizabethan Settlement which has shaped historic Anglicanism since the sixteenth century.

In the Introduction to To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism J. I. Packer who initially served on the Catechism Task Force and is the general editor of To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism claims that the contents of the document are acceptable to all legitimate schools of Anglican thought. An examination of the document suggests that Packer did not read the final product or he no longer views the English Reformers and classical Anglicanism as a legitimate school of Anglican thought. The document contains much that would have definitely not been acceptable to the English Reformers and is far from acceptable to Anglicans who are evangelical in tradition and committed to the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies, the modern-day school of Anglican thought that stands the most in continuity with the English Reformers.

The catechism is excessively wordy and unnecessarily long and gives the impression of having been designed to impress inquirers and new and immature Christians with its length and verbosity. It contains a number of sections that could have been omitted. Tucked away in the midst of the verbiage are clues to the catechism’s theological bias—a sentence or phrase often in an unexpected place or a particular word order, as well as entire sections of the catechism.

Rather than examining the catechism section by section, which I have done in the past, I will be focusing on the positions that the catechism takes on key issues over which Anglicans have historically been divided.

The College of Bishops’ Letter of Commendation.  The letter contains problematic references to the Articles of Religion of 1563 and The Book of Common Prayer of 1549. See The New ACNA Catechism: A Closer Look.” For Anglicans the Articles of 1571 and the Prayer Book of 1662, together with its Ordinal, however, historically form the authoritative standard of doctrine and worship, second only to the Holy Scriptures. The problematic nature of these references points to the revisionist tendencies in the College of Bishops. The College of Bishops includes in its ranks bishops who do not believe that historic Anglicanism is fully “Catholic” and who aspire to reshape the Anglican Church along more “Catholic” lines. Whatever they may believe privately, the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America as a body have shown resistance to accepting the authority of the classical Anglican formularies and willingness to substitute other doctrinal and worship standards in the place of such formularies. These inclinations must be considered in understanding their endorsement of To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism for trial use in the Anglican Church in North America.

The Ordo Salutis – the Order of Salvation. The ordo salutis inferred in the catechism is that faith precedes regeneration, a view held by Anglo-Catholics and Arminians but not by Reformed. See the discussion of the order of salvation in the catechism in “Does the New ACNA Catechism Teach a Synergistic Arminian View of God and Salvation?” From the outset the catechism does not live up to Packer’s claim that its contents are acceptable to all legitimate schools of Anglican thought.

The Interpretation of Holy Scripture. In his evaluation of the Jerusalem Declaration on his blog Anglican Down Under New Zealand evangelical Peter Carrell draws attention to the problematic nature of the answer to Q 34, which is for a large part taken from that declaration.
What does 'plain and canonical sense' mean? What is 'the church's historic and consensual reading?' Given that the JD brought together both anglo-catholics and evangelicals, this is a surprising sentence because what is 'plain' to evangelicals and 'plain' to anglo-catholics are quite different understandings of the eucharist. 'Canonical' sense to anglo-catholics includes giving more weight to the Apocrypha than evangelicals give (and thus greater anglo-catholic openness to praying for the dead)' As for 'historic' reading, how far back does history reach? The English Reformers understood the Bible differently to (say) St Augustine and St Anselm of Canterbury. 'Consensual' begs a lot of questions, including why evangelicals do not read the Bible 'consensually' with Roman Catholics (who have a strong argument in favour of their readings being the oldest and most widely subscribed to in the history of Christianity). Better by far are the careful and more elaborate statements about Scripture and its interpretation in the Anglican Covenant(S1).
When the opening phrase of the answer to Q 34 is factored into the equation, it is clear that the catechism’ position on the interpretation of Holy Scripture has more in common with that of the Roman Catholicism than it does Protestantism, and reflects an Anglo-Catholic revisionist reinterpretation of how Anglicans have historically interpreted Holy Scripture. Here again the catechism takes a position on a key issue over which Anglicans are historically divided.

The Procession of the Holy Spirit. In the answer to Q 67 the catechism looks at the relationship of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the way some Eastern Orthodox theologians look at that relationship. Gerald Bray, Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson College, discusses this approach in his article, “The Double Procession of the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Theology Today: Do We Still Need It?”
From the Western point of view the great weakness of the Eastern position is that without a doctrine of the double procession it is hard to say what the relationship between the Son and the Holy Spirit is. The Eastern churches have never denied this relationship dogmatically, but their theologians have developed two possible ways of looking at it. The first way is to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This approach safeguards the special position of the Father as the source of deity but gives the Son the important role of mediator in the divine procession of the Spirit, so that it is not possible to say that the Spirit derives his being from the Father independently of the Son. In 1439 the Western theologians at the Council of Florence agreed that this doctrine could be harmonized with that of the double procession, because the essential point was that the Holy Spirit derives his divinity from each of the other two persons according to their respective being. In other words the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in his capacity as Father, which presupposes the existence of the Son, and he proceeds from the Son on the understanding that the Son derives his divinity from the Father. Thus they concluded that through the Son and from the Son amounted to the same thing in the end.
Bray goes on to discuss the second Eastern Orthodox approach and Western difficulties with that approach. After examining the essential context for an evangelical discussion of the double procession of the Holy Spirit, including evangelical discomfort with the Council of Florence’s position on “single spiration,” he articulates what is the main question for evangelicals:
Does the Holy Spirit work in our hearts on Christ’s authority as well as on that of the Father, or is he sent by the Father to show us Christ? At first sight it may seem that there is little practical difference between these alternatives. The Eastern position does not bypass the Son in the way that some Western charismatics have a tendency to do. It is quite clear that the work of the Spirit is to point us to Christ and to illuminate what he means for us. The Western churches of course agree with this, as far as it goes. We would hardly wish to deny that the Holy Spirit teaches us about Christ or that he draws us into a closer union with him. The real question is one of authority. Does Christ have all power in heaven and earth, or is he dependent on the Father in some way? If the Holy Spirit does not proceed from him, does this mean that he must rely on the Father to send the Spirit? Of course we understand that the Father would never refuse to do such a thing, and we know that all three persons work together for the salvation of believers. But still we must ask whether Christ sends the Spirit by divine right or only by divine permission. This ultimately takes us back to the whole question of Arianism, which is where the debate originally began. If Christ sends the Spirit only by permission, then there is a sense in which he is not fully and ultimately God.
Bray further notes:
The Eastern churches do not draw this conclusion, of course, but here we must ask them whether their concept of “derived divinity” really makes sense. If divinity is absolute being, how can it depend on something (or someone) else? Either a being is divine and therefore absolute, or it is not. By regarding the Father as the “source of divinity” in an exclusive way, have the Eastern churches not exposed themselves to the charge of Arianism? I am not saying this in order to try to score points against another tradition of Christian theology but in order to point out that both the Eastern and the medieval Western Trinitarian traditions have not absorbed the full implications of what it means to say that each person of the Godhead is autotheos, a statement that was first clarified by John Calvin but that is surely latent in the entire theological tradition of both East and West. The formulation of the doctrine of the double procession adopted at Florence is inadequate to do justice to the complexity of Trinitarian relationships, but abandoning the doctrine altogether is not the right way forward. What we must do is express our belief in a way that does justice to the distinctiveness of both the Father and the Son without compromising the full authority of Christ. When we talk about the double procession of the Spirit we mean that the Father and the Son relate to him in common, even though they are distinct persons. The Father and the Son share everything with each other, and this must include their relationship with the Holy Spirit if we are to be certain that there is no discrepancy between them.
On this basis the position that the catechism takes on the procession of the Holy Spirit is also inadequate. It suggests that the Catechesis Task Force has not really thought through the implications of that position and the difficulties that it presents for evangelicals.

Absolution. The second part of the answer to Q 88 takes the Roman Catholic position that Christ gave the apostles authority to forgive sins. He made them judges and vested in them “power to pass judiciary sentence, granting or withholding divine pardon.” To priests at their ordination is given “authority to grant absolution.” This position is held by Anglo-Catholics but it is not viewed by evangelicals as scriptural.  Evangelicals hold that sinners may receive forgiveness directly from God though repentance and faith. They do not need a priest to mediate between God and them. What a minister does is proclaim that God forgive those who truly repent and believe. The minister does not function as a judge but as an ambassador. This is the view articulated in the First Exhortation in the 1662 Communion Service: To those whose conscience troubles them the minister shows them from God’s Word that God forgives them if they humbly repent and believe. The absolution those with a troubled conscience receive is not a priestly absolution but the forgiveness promised to the repentant believer in the Holy Scriptures.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit. The answer to Q 85 ties the imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit to water baptism. This represents a major break with a key principle articulated in the Thirty-Nine Articles. This principle is that it is unlawful for the Church to expound one passage of Scripture in such a way that disagrees with another. While we read in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove at his baptism in the river Jordan and after the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascent to the right hand of the Father, Peter called upon the multitude to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit, we also read in the New Testament that Cornelius and his household received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, and the Samaritans and Simon Magus were baptized but did not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at their baptism. The gift of the Holy Spirit was imparted to the Samaritans some time after their baptism and the New Testament is silent on whether Simon Magus ever received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The plain teaching of Scripture is that while the gift of the Holy Spirit may be imparted at baptism, it may also be conferred apart from baptism or not conferred at all. In such matters God is sovereign. As the benchmark Anglican divine Richard Hooker observed, “for all receive not the grace of God, which receive the sacraments of His grace.”

Essentially the catechism takes the Roman Catholic position that the work of the Holy Spirit is“mediated through the Church, the priesthood, and the sacraments,” rather the Protestant position that the Holy Spirit operates directly in the heart of believers.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The catechism takes a continualist position on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to a cessionist position (Q 87 – Q 88).  Anglicans are not only divided over this issue but also Christians generally. A Homily Concerning the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts of the Same appears to favor the continualist position. The Books of Homilies are two books of thirty-three sermons that set out the Protestant and Reformed doctrine and principles of the Church of England in more depth and detail than the Articles of Religion of 1571. The first Book of Homilies was published in 1547; the second Book of Homilies partially in 1563 and fully in 1571.

The Sacraments. The catechism clearly shows its unreformed Catholic leanings in categorizing confirmation, absolution, ordination, marriage, and anointing of the sick as sacraments. In taking this position the catechism comes into conflict with both the teaching of the Scriptures and the doctrine and principles of the Thirty-Nine Articles. In Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, Packer himself describes the categorization of these rites as sacraments as “a medieval mistake.” It is noteworthy that the catechism refers to them as “the sacraments of the Church,” a view articulated in The Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church and The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Grace. The catechism takes the unreformed Catholic position that grace is something that is given (Q 137 – Q 141). Evangelicals hold that grace is not given but shown. It not dispensed by priests but shown directly by God to those upon God has chosen to have mercy.  

Liturgy. It is a bit of a stretch to claim as the catechism does that “a structured liturgy is a biblical pattern displayed in both Testaments” (Q 243). The New Testament lays out certain guiding principles for Christian gatherings: they should be edifying and orderly. It also contains references to various activities that might occur in the course of such gatherings—the exercise of the prophetic gifts, exhortation, the reading and exposition of the Scriptures, the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs, prayer, and the observance of the Lord’s Supper. There is also our Lord’s warning against “vain repetitions.” But it does not prescribe any particular form of service.

Carved Images.  The catechism infers that because God gave specific instructions for the decoration of the Tabernacle that it is acceptable to decorate churches with carvings and pictures. The English Reformers certainly did not concur with this view as may be seen in the Homilies, Archbishop Matthew Parker’s Advertisements, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the proposed canons of 1571. Here again the catechism shows its unreformed Catholic leanings.

The Pattern of Christian Worship. The catechism takes the position that the liturgy of the Church is patterned on the worship of the Temple (Q 289). Medieval Catholicism equated the daily celebration of Mass with the daily animal sacrifices in the Temple—a daily offering of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world. Medieval Catholic priests saw themselves as the successors to the priests of the Temple. This view conflicts with the teaching of Scripture and the doctrine and principles of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Here too the catechism shows its unreformed Catholic leanings.

Sanctification. The catechism gives the Church the primary role in the sanctification of the believer. It links sanctification to the sacraments and infers that they are a principle means by sanctification is effected (Q 343), ranking them only second to the Church’s teaching.  Here again we encounter the Roman Catholic position that the work of the Holy Spirit is “mediated through the Church, the priesthood, and the sacraments.” What is conspicuously absent is any reference to the Holy Scriptures which the English Reformers and their modern-day evangelical successors understand to be the chief means by which God effects sanctification. In this understanding the sacrament or ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is a visual proclamation of God’s Word. The teaching of the Church and the teaching of the Holy Scriptures are not the same thing.

The catechism also contains a reference to the “beatific vision,” for which it states that sanctification is the preparation (Q 344 ). The belief in the “beatific vision” is related to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief in theosis, deification, or divinization as the transforming affect of divine grace. It is one strand of thought in the Anglican tradition. It is found in the writings of Lancelot Andrewes, C. S.Lewis, and A. M. Allchin. The answers to the questions in the section on sanctification are worded in such a way that they do not exclude this doctrine.

Among the weaknesses of this particular theology is “a heavier than necessary emphasis upon the sacraments as a principal means of theosis.” Rather than experiencing moral renovation through the agency of the Holy Spirit, in which the Christian grows more Christ-like in character—what may be characterized as the classical Anglican view of sanctification, theosis teaching posits that the Christian increasingly participates in Christ’s divine nature through the process of infusion, through the agency of the sacraments, particularly Holy Communion. It generally associated with the belief that Christ is substantively present in the consecrated bread and wine. Those who consume the elements receive in or under this form Christ’s divine nature. The reference to the “beatific vision” is further evidence of the theological leanings of the catechism.

The appendices to the catechism contain a selection of prayers from various sources for use with the catechism. Two of these prayers—For Preparation for Baptism and For Preparation for Confirmation –reflect doctrine that is not at first glance consistent with the doctrine of the catechism. The first prayer teaches baptismal regeneration, a doctrine over which Anglicans have historically been divided. The catechism appears to tie regeneration to faith and not to baptism, connecting the imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit to baptism. If the compilers of the catechism believed that this prayer was indeed consistent in its doctrine with the catechism’s doctrine, it suggests that what the catechism teaches about the imparting of the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism is an evasive way of teaching baptismal regeneration. The second prayer infers that the gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred at confirmation through the imposition of episcopal hands. The catechism, on the other hand, takes the position that the sacramental grace that is given at confirmation is the strengthening of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Both views are at odds with the classical Anglican view of confirmation as a catechical rite articulated in the Homilies and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. In this view confirmation provides an opportunity for those baptized in infancy to make their own Christian profession before the gathered Church and to receive the prayers of the Church. It is not considered a biblical ordinance, much less a sacrament, but, like the office of bishop, “ancient and allowable.”

The appendices also contain a proposed rite for admission of catechumens. This rite infers that Christians are saved by baptism. It incorporates the practice of anointing those enrolling in the catechumenate with the oil of exorcism-a practice also found in the Rites for the Christian Initiation of Adults in the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the previous doctrinal statements that we have examined, To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism as we have seen has a definite theological bias toward unreformed Catholicism, thereby limiting its usefulness. Congregations and clergy who are evangelical in tradition and committed to the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies would be well-advised to form their own catechism task force and put together their own catechism. This is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity that is frequently cited as the basis for how things are done in the Anglican Church in North America (albeit this principle is to a large extent ignored in actual practice.) The churches that will be using a tool for the instruction of inquirers and new believers are most appropriate ones to develop that tool. They can ensure that it reflects what they themselves believe and not what one faction in the denomination wishes to indoctrinate newcomers to the denomination in. Developing their own rites and services and publishing them in a service book for their own use would also be a wise move. Congregations and clergy who are evangelical in tradition and committed to the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies gain nothing from passively accepting whatever is dished out to them.

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