Friday, October 22, 2010

Restoration and the Word...

The question, “what is necessary for reforming or restoring the Anglican faith and practice?”, has take up a number of posts here, as well as my commenting on other blogs discussing the same issue.  It is very much on the minds of Christians who have an affinity or identification with the church of Cranmer.  There are a number of blogs/organizations that are dedicated to getting back to first principles as taught and understood by the English reformers of the 1500’ and 1600’s.  Yet that task runs into the problem of how to agree on “divining” the positives and negatives of the various English Divines' teachings.  The result of that difficulty is a seemingly endless ‘back and forth’ between various camps, be they Anglo-Catholic, Reformed/Puritan, Evangelical, high church, low church, etc... I have no idea how to navigate these discussions with others except to continue to put out my own thoughts and listen and learn where I can.  As I have written earlier, I'm pessimistic about any meaningful restoration of Anglicanism that (in my understanding of things) reflects the theological intent of the early reformers (English and non-English) and some of those who followed.  

The list I would draw up of those to be consulted in order for us to lay hold of the theological development of the English reformation would include some who would be accepted by most... and some not.  But here are several:  Cranmer, Luther, Hooper, Bucer, Knox, Calvin, Jewell, Grindal, Bullinger, Whitgift, Hooker, Ussher, Davenant.  I include some non-English, as their theology had a more or less significant impact on that of the English church.  I leave out those following the 1500’s because the above reformers were more diligent and equipped than most today in understanding and weighing the teachings of those that went before.  This list comprises men who would by and large support a Protestant/Reformed position, as I think that is a fair reading of the direction of the English Reformation.  Some might ask, why not include Queen Elizabeth?  She was protestant, and as monarch played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the establishing the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  Yet I see her impact as mixed, given the differing priorities that flowed from her position as both head of the civil realm and the “Supreme Governor” of the Church.  

A final thought... on what I see as maybe the greatest lack in today’s Anglican churches.  That is an under-valuing of Scripture, God’s Word, as our ultimate guide in doctrine.  Everything in faith and practice ultimately flows from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as God’s sovereign and gracious redemption of sinful man.  All doctrine has to do with this glorious Word whose story is revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus himself drew the attention of his disciples to this very thing after his resurrection.  And that is why various churches have instituted confessions - to clearly put forth the essential doctrines of this great salvation.  And to the degree they agree with Scripture they are dependable guides for the ministry of the Word and the life of the church.  

Some words of Martin Luther from his “Treatise Concerning Christian Liberty”:

“Christ was sent for no other office than that of the word; and the order of the Apostles, that of bishops, and that of the whole body of the clergy, have been called and instituted for no object but the ministry of the word...
“But you will ask, What is this word, and by what means is it to be used, since there are so many words of God? I answer, The Apostle Paul (Rom. i.) explains what it is, namely the Gospel of God, concerning His Son, incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified, through the Spirit, the Sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation.”

This Word is the message, the doctrine, the gospel... the teaching of Christ’s church.  And as Luther wrote, it is the food of the soul unto justification and sanctification.  The food of this Word is ministered through preaching and received as eternal life by hearing with faith.  The food of this Word is ministered through the sacraments and received as grace unto salvation by faith.  The food of this Word is ministered through the shepherding of the flock and received as guidance for the soul through faith.  Everything in the church flows from this Word, Christ crucified and risen, given to his people. And for this spiritual food to benefit the Lord's people it must be faithfully and regularly communicated and fed to them by those called and ordained by the church as ministers of the Word.

XIX. Of the Church.
THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

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