By Robin G Jordan
With the Prayer Book in preparation the Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops is putting the perpetuation of a particular cultus—“a set of religious beliefs and ritual”—before fidelity to the gospel and its propagation. At the heart of the Reformation, in England as well as on the Continent, was the recovery of the gospel, which had become lost during the period between the apostolic times and the sixteenth century. This cultus was the main reason that the gospel was forgotten, having first obscured and hidden it and then replaced it with a different gospel—a gospel of sacraments and good works.
Among the reasons the English Reformers drew up the Articles of Religion was to safeguard the truth of the gospel. Having recovered the gospel, they did not wish to see it lost again. The principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Articles have this common purpose.
While what is happening in the Anglican Church in North America involves the occupation of the place of power by those wed to this cultus and their entrenchment of the cultus in the denomination, it goes beyond that. It is not simply a matter of one group in the denomination imposing its convictions and preferences upon the other groups in the denomination. It is actually a matter of life and death. Hearing the gospel, experiencing God’s effectual calling, and repenting of sin and trusting in Christ are essential to salvation (Romans 10: 13-14). Receiving the sacraments and performing good works will not save those alienated from God by sin. It may soothe their consciences but it will leave them dead in their sins.
Where this cultus has flourished in the North American Anglican Church, it has overshadowed the gospel rather than served it. It has subverted the gospel rather uplifted it. It provided the Episcopal Church with an ambience which, while it drew a wide variety of people through its doors, has been “a shield against the encroachment of the presence of God.” It has produced “a wide variety of resistances to the proclamation of a gospel that calls people to a personal faith.” It has also been a major contributing factor to the introduction of liberal theology and its spread in that denomination.
The central task of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. By disciples the New Testament means followers of Jesus Christ—those who have accepted him as not only their savior but also their lord. It does not mean adherents of a particular cultus. This was the position that Council of Jerusalem took when it ruled that Gentiles need not adopt the ceremonial law of the Jews in order to be followers of Jesus Christ.
The normal way of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is to first hear the gospel. The Holy Spirit works through the gospel and in the hearts of sinners to bring about their rebirth in Jesus Christ. Only those who have been born again, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, can turn from sin to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works in them to will and do what is pleasing to God.
Having come to faith in Jesus Christ, they make a public declaration of their faith in him, undergoing baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism points to their receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit and new birth and their death to sin and resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. Having received the gift of Holy Spirit and the new birth, they have become members of the Body of Christ, his Church. It is the sign of God’s good will and mercy toward them in having called them to himself and given them the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new birth and grafted them like young vine branches into the rootstock of Jesus Christ the Vine. Through baptism God enlivens, confirms, and strengthens their faith in Jesus Christ. It is not the beginning of their faith journey but it is an important milestone along the way. Their faith journey began the moment they experienced the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit.
The next step after their baptism is to receive instruction in the “commandments” of Jesus Christ, his teaching, as attested by the New Testament. This instruction may have begun before their baptism and will continue throughout their earthly lives. It is through hearing, reading, and studying God’s Word that their minds will be renewed and they will be more closely conformed in character to Jesus Christ their Head. A disciple, after all, is someone who always learning even when he himself is a teacher.
We find nothing in the New Testament about making adherents to a particular cultus, particularly a cultus that teaches that priests are intermediaries between human beings and God, offering the sacrifice of the Mass on their behalf, when the New Testament itself tells us that we have direct access to God through Jesus Christ and have no need of such priestly intermediaries. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross on Galgotha was sufficient for the sins of the world for all time. There is no need for Christ to keep offering himself through a priest on the altar at Mass.
If the Anglican Church in North America is to serve God in the twenty-first century, it must proclaim the unadulterated message of the gospel. It must plant churches that are centered on the gospel. It must produce liturgies that are shaped by the gospel. It must train clergy and other gospel workers to spread the gospel and to lead local congregations in making the gospel know to all people groups in their communities and beyond.
If the Anglican Church in North America is to serve God in the twenty-first century, it is going to need a Prayer Book that is shaped by the gospel and embodies the teaching of the Scriptures. Only with such a Prayer Book will it be able to follow the example of its Lord and seek and save the lost. What it does not need is a Prayer Book that is nothing more than a manual for a cultus that fundamentally teaches a different gospel from the New Testament gospel and wherever it flourishes overshadows and subverts the true gospel.