Thursday, February 18, 2016

More Empty Rhetoric from GAFCON's Chairman

By Robin G. Jordan

To my mind Archbishop Iliud Wabukala’s February 2016 pastoral letter lacks meaningful content. He focuses upon the Episcopal Church’s departure from biblical teaching as he has in the past and ignores the Anglican Church in North America’s departure from the same teaching. Liberalism is not the only ideology that the GAFCON Theological Resource Group has identified as presenting a major challenge to the authority of the Bible and the Anglican Formularies in the Anglican Communion in the twenty-first century.

The Episcopal Church is not the only self-identified Anglican entity that is denying a home to orthodox Anglicans, to convictional Anglicans who are faithful to the Bible and the Anglican Formularies and stand in the heritage of the English Reformation and the Protestant Elizabethan Settlement. So does the Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA has yet to make room in its formularies for the doctrines and practices of convictional Anglicans and to extend to them and their doctrines and practices official standing in the ACNA. Like the Episcopal Church, the ACNA has evidenced no change of direction in its movement away from biblical Anglicanism.

To see that movement one has only to look at the Anglican Church in North America’s own formularies—its Constitution, its Canons, its Catechism, and its proposed Prayer Book.

Recently I reread Dr. Ashley Null’s article on Thomas Cranmer posted on the Anglican Church League website. Dr. Null is an authority on the English Reformation, in particular the theology of Thomas Cranmer. In that article Dr. Null explains Cranmer’s mature understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  
Cranmer rejected the medieval understanding of the priesthood. He did not believe that a priest, by virtue of his ordination, was made a special link between God and his people, so that the Holy Spirit worked through him during a sacrament as the principal means of dispensing divine grace to the people.

 In Cranmer’s understanding, the Holy Spirit came directly to God’s people through his Word. As Scripture was proclaimed, the Holy Spirit wrote his promises on the hearts of believers, thereby nurturing in them a living, personal faith which alone united them to God. That is the reason why Cranmer urged the English people to feed on Christ continually, because they could strengthen their union with Christ at any time simply by meditating on God’s Word in their own hearts.

 Therefore, in Cranmer’s mature understanding, the sacraments were not the principal means of grace. Nor were they a second, separate channel on par with Scripture, as if the Spirit worked supernaturally through two different, but parallel, means, i.e., the sacramental ministry of an apostolically ordained priesthood and biblical preaching. Cranmer’s final view was far simpler. Since the Holy Spirit came to God’s people through the Scriptures, the sacraments were effectual means of grace precisely because of their unique capacity for proclaiming the promises of God’s Word.
 Dr. Null goes on to explain:
In the sacraments God has accommodated himself to the creatureliness of our nature. We have keen physical senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. But our spiritual senses are dim at best, so that we can struggle to perceive the Spirit’s working within us.

 Consequently, Christ has commanded that the visible elements of water, bread, and wine be joined to the proclamation of his promises to save us and sustain us. As a result, in the sacraments we can encounter him with all our physical senses.

 When we see, smell, touch, and taste the bread and wine in Holy Communion, the Spirit witnesses to us that Christ is at that very moment feeding our souls with the benefits of his passion, just as the elements are feeding our bodies.

 Naturally, the awareness that Christ is tending to our spiritual needs strengthens our faith in him. And, of course, true faith in God’s goodness towards us always engenders a hearty thankfulness in us which, in turn, goes forth from us as a renewed love for him and others. Indeed, the miracle of Communion isn’t the supernatural changing of bread and wine, it is the supernatural redirecting of our wills, away from a self-centred love of self towards a true love for God and others.

 In short, according to Cranmer, the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is both as an expression of a believer’s living faith and as a unique means of strengthening it. In obedience to Christ’s explicit command, the Church celebrates this sacrament until he comes again. During its ministration, those with living faith ascend in heart and mind to Christ’s presence at the right hand of God. Seated with him in heavenly places, they are spiritually nourished with the full power and benefit of Christ’s body and blood by Christ himself. With their faith strengthened, they continue to dwell in him and he in them, thereby enabling believers to love their neighbour as themselves.
This understanding of the Lord’s Supper is embodied in the Holy Communion service of the 1552 Prayer Book and that of the 1662 Prayer Book. It is reflected in the 1552 Ordinal and the 1662 Ordinal and their ceremonial—particularly the presentation of the newly-ordained minister of the Word with a Bible. The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and the Ordinal of 1662 form together with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion the longstanding standard of doctrine and worship of historic Anglicanism.

The Anglican Church in North America in its Ordinal and its proposed forms of Holy Communion adopts an entirely different understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, an unbiblical medieval understanding that it shares with the Roman Catholic Church, the same understanding that was rejected by Archbishop Cranmer and is rejected by the 1552 Prayer Book and the 1662 Prayer Book.

The ACNA’s official teaching on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper expressed in its Ordinal and its proposed Eucharistic rites is just one of a number of ways that the jurisdiction deviates from the Bible and the Anglican Formularies in its teaching.

If the GAFCON Primates and the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans have a duty to reject churches and leaders who espouse false teaching, as Archbishop Wabukala maintains, why do they continue to support the Anglican Church in North America and its leaders? What one understands to take place in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is not a matter indifferent to one’s salvation. It does not fall into the category of adiaphora—a matter on which Anglicans can agree to disagree.

As long as the GAFCON Primates and the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans shrink from dealing with the departures from the teaching of the Bible and the principles of the Anglican Formularies in their own ranks, they have little credibility as a movement for the renewal of biblical Anglicanism in or outside of the Anglican Communion. 

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