Saturday, November 21, 2020

Some Thoughts On The Church’s Mandate - In Covid Season And Out

A difficult and confusing time for the Church these last 10 months. How to navigate all things Covid-19... What with legitimate health concerns regarding risk for certain demographics, guidelines either recommended or mandated by State authorities, competing views among church members as to risks and what the church should and shouldn’t do. Central to this is: what does Scripture have to say to guide Church leaders in their decisions? Here are some considerations I’m presently thinking through.

It seems to me that many pastors and elders have assumed that it is their responsibility to not only encourage their church members follow these State Covid mandates at worship, but to enforce them. I want to challenge that assumption. But first things first: What kingdom does the Church belong to - 1) the kingdom of this world, 2) the kingdom of heaven, or 3) both? The working answer tends to be #3 based mostly on the Romans 13 passage on obedience to the civil magistrates. I’ll address that in a later paragraph. With the previous question as context another question follows: what is the Church’s duty in relation to the State?

Scripture’s answer as to what kingdom the Church belongs is #2 - the kingdom of heaven. Just like the law is not of faith (Gal 3:12), the Church is not of this world (John 17:14). Though Christians individually are citizens of both kingdoms the Church is not, even as Jesus Christ is not (John 18:36). The Church is the kingdom of heaven on earth. She is the sovereign embassy in this world of a heavenly kingdom under the dominion of Christ Jesus her Lord. She has one allegiance, one charter. From that flows her mandate and calling. And that mandate is to proclaim the gospel message (calling sinners out of sin and death), confess one Lord, one faith, one heavenly birth. And the sole duties of that calling are summed up as the ministry of word and sacrament (the means of grace). These are the ordained or mandated tasks given by Christ to pastors and elders, ambassadors of His local embassies in the world.

On the other hand, believers are citizens of both the civil earthly kingdom and the heavenly spiritual kingdom. The Church is not. She is Christ’s kingdom on earth and as such is not of this world (John 18:36; Heb 12:22, Gal 4:26).

He declared that his kingdom was not of this world. It is not of the same kind with worldly kingdoms; it has different ends to accomplish, and different means for the attainment of those ends. It is spiritual, that is, concerned with the religious or spiritual, as distinguished from the secular interests of men. It moves, therefore, in a different sphere from the State, and the two need never come into collision. (Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge)

The Church in this world is of the heavenly King. Her officers are His envoys. Her expertise is not in the disciplines or politics of this world but in the gospel means of grace, i.e. solely in the the things from above. Further, she is not a citizen nor agent of the State, the civil kingdom. She is an agent of Christ and her charter is to represent Him by preaching the gospel, calling sinners out of this world to salvation in Christ through faith, and to nurture and maintain believers in that faith. When a church loses sight of that unique heavenly calling she is inevitably tempted to wander into areas where angels fear to tread.

Like Augustine, Luther and Calvin defended in theory a two-kingdoms approach that they did not always follow in practice. More clearly than Augustine, Luther and Calvin articulated the distinction between the heavenly and earthly kingdoms. The former proceeds by the Word alone, not by the secular sword, they insisted... Because Christ inaugurated his kingdom and poured out his Spirit as a harbinger of the last days, this reign is partially realized and becomes visible through the gospel ministry. (The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way by Michael Horton, Chapter 28)

As pastors and elders wade into the murky marshes of State mandates they might soon find themselves enforcing those mandates with a sword. No mask? You’re not loving your brother! Sorry, you must leave the worship service. This is the implicit warning put out by church leaders. As a result, many believers are staying home on Sunday. Discouraged by it all they self exile. Discipline according to the State, not discipline according to Scripture.

So what about Romans 13? Well, I don’t think this passage is referring to the Church as an organization visa-vis the State. In Paul’s day the Church had no officially recognized civil standing. Individual Christians did. They were subjects of the State and obliged to submit to civil authority. The Church as a civil organization didn’t exist and thus wasn’t a legally recognized entity in the Roman Empire. Paul was addressing believers. So likewise, shepherds in the church should indeed admonish the saints to submit to civil authorities because, though citizens of heaven, they are also members of the civil kingdom. But it gets murky. The supreme “magistrate” of our day in the U.S. is the written law of the Constitution not a caesar or provincial governor. Not to mention in many locales the guidelines are optional and subject to interpretation. Yet church leaders often decide to make them mandatory. Murkier still. I would argue it is not the place of pastors and elders to require compliance/obedience to State guidelines as a condition of entrance to the worship service.

As a result, many Christians, because of enforced State guidelines have stopped coming to church altogether. It’s a situation that becomes more and more untenable as the weeks and months pass. Sheep are wandering from the fold. Virtual services on computer screens in individual homes fall way short of nourishing the saints before the heavenly throne of grace. Yet the State protocols stay in place! What to do?

Some church members believe it essential for all to wear masks and social distance. Others think it is unnecessary for all demographics. Some think that masks are necessary for all. Some think masks are ineffectual for the asymptomatic and preventing spread of the virus. Both can marshal supporting evidence from authoritative sources. I don’t think church leaders are called to sort out the “science.” What to do? Perhaps allow two or more services? One with masks/social distancing and one that is optional in order that none feel compelled to offend their consciences? The overall mission is: Tend the sheep. Feed the sheep. Caring for the souls of the saints should be the preeminent concern and duty of the church.

But what about those States mandating that churches should enforce the Covid guidelines? Well, what if next the State announces that all churches must worship only online for a period of two years due to the growing number of cases? [Cases - what does that even mean? But that’s for another time] Elders need to consider whether or not they want to be an enforcement arm of the State or ambassadors of the heavenly kingdom. Not an easy path forward given the authoritarian impulses of the State. And that path is all the more difficult because churches by and large have chosen to legally organize under the State as non-profit corporate citizens [501(c)(3)] under existing Federal IRS law. A very modern development.

Prior to 1954, there was no such thing as a 501(c)(3) church. All donations, contributions, gifts, etc. given to churches were automatically tax‑deductible under the old English common law, known as the "Law of Charities." Then in 1954, Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (D‑Texas) sponsored legislation which brought churches under the new 501(c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue code. As a part of this legislation, churches would incorporate, and having that status, they could not be sued in a legal action. (History Of 501c3 Government Licensing Of Churches by David J. Stewart)

The result is that most churches now exist as civil corporate citizens, subject in some sense to the State, if you would. So there could be real negative judicial and financial consequences for any church organized under State law that deviates from State orders. This is another reason why it is essential for elders and leaders to consider the Church’s heavenly calling so that they may chart a faithful course in the face of encroaching Statism. No easy answers. But we look heavenward…

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)


Friday, September 11, 2020

C.S. Lewis - Corporate Guilt, Society, and Comparative Moral Virtues of Present and Past...

"A reaction - in itself wholesome - is now against purely private or domesticconceptions of morality, a re-awakening of the social conscience. We feel ourselves to be involved in an iniquitous social system and to share a corporate guilt. This is very true: but the enemy can exploit even truths to our deception. Beware lest you are making use of the idea of corporate guilt to distract your attention from those hum-drum, old fashioned guilts of your own which have nothing to do with "the system" and which can be dealt with without waiting for the millennium. For corporate guilt perhaps cannot be, and certainly is not, felt with the same force as personal guilt. For most of us, as we now are, this conception is a mere excuse for evading the real issue. When we have really learned to know our individual corruption, then indeed we can go on to think of the corporate guilt and can hardly think of it too much, But we must learn to walk before we run...


"The larger society to which I here contrast the human "pocket" may not exist according to some people, and at any rate we have no experience of it. We do not meet angels, or unfallen races. But we can get some inkling of the truth even inside our own race. Different ages and cultures can be regarded as "pockets" in relation to one another. I said, a few pages back, that different ages excelled in different virtues. If, then, you are ever tempted to think that we modern Western Europeans cannot really be so very bad because we are, comparatively speaking, humane - if, in other words, you think God might be content with us on that ground - ask yourself whether you think God ought to have been content with the cruelty of cruel ages because they excelled in courage or chastity. You will see at once that this is an impossibility. From considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get some inkling how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how both must look to God."

C.S. Lewis - The Problem of Pain




Thursday, August 27, 2020

Calvinism and the Church of England

Bishop J.C. Ryle evaluates Toplady's advocacy of Calvinism thus: 

"I do not hesitate to say that Toplady's controversial works display extraordinary ability. For example, his, "Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England" is a treatise that displays a prodigious amount of research and and reading. It is a book that no one could have written who had not studied much, thought much, and thoroughly investigated an enormous mass of theological literature. You see at once that the author has completely digested what he has read and is able to concentrate all his reading on every point which he handles. The best proof of the book's ability is the simple fact that down to the present day it has never been really answered. It has been reviled, sneered at, and held up to scorn. But abuse is not argument. The book remains to this hour unanswered, and that for the simplest of reasons, that it is unanswerable. It proves irrefragably, whether men like it or not, that Calvinism is the doctrine of the Church of England, and that all her leading divines, until Laud's time, were Calvinists. All this is done logically, clearly, and powerfully. No one, I venture to think, could read this book through, and not feel obliged to admit that the author was an able man (The Christian Leaders of England in the Eighteenth Century (various editions)."

Roger Salter: Cranmerism, Calvinism, and The Church of England

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Thomas Cranmer Unpacks Article 11: Of the Justification of Man

From the Reformed Anglican 39 Articles of Religion -
Article 11: Of the Justification of Man:


We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

According to Article 35: Of Homilies, The Book 1 and Book 2 of Homilies hold confessional stature and many of those homilies further explain many doctrinal statements in the 39 Articles. The excerpt below is from the first homily in Book 1, published in 1547 preceding the Articles of Religion (1553) by six years. Cranmer's first homily is a lengthy exposition on the Reformed doctrine of justification, or salvation, of man briefly put forth in Article 11.

From the Homily:
"Three things must go together in our justification.
"In these foresaid places the apostle toucheth specially three things which must go together in our justification:  upon God’s part, his great mercy and grace; upon Christ’s part, justice, that is, the satisfaction of God’s justice or the price of our redemption by the offering of his body and shedding of his blood with fulfilling of the law perfectly and thoroughly; and upon our part, true and lively faith in the merits of Jesus Christ, which yet is not ours but by God’s working in us.  So that in our justification there is not only God’s mercy and grace, but also his justice which the apostle calleth the righteousness of God and it consisteth in paying our ransom and fulfilling of the law.  And so the grace of God doth not shut out the justice of God in our justification but only shutteth out the righteousness of man, that is to say, the righteousness of our works as to be merits of deserving our justification."


Archbishop Thomas Cranmer - Of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ Our Saviour
from Sin and Death Everlasting. (“Of Justification.”)

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty? (5 Part Series)

The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty? Pt. 1



The topic of this and, hopefully, the next several posts is to take a brief look at the English reformation prior to Queen Mary’s ascension and the period following Queen Elizabeth’s enthronement. The question to be considered is - How deep, thorough, and on-going was the English reformation during this period of time considering the trials that transpired over the next 100 years?

The conventional, yet I would submit questionable, understanding of the years 1547 to 1553 under King Edward is that it was a time of robust and unimpeded advancement in reforming the Church's doctrine and practice. Certainly, to a significant extent, this was indeed the case. Over the course of those years Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had introduced a reformed liturgy of worship in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the subsequent and further reformed 1552 version. 1547 saw the first Book of Homilies published to aid the teaching and preaching of the Gospel doctrines in a country lacking clergy fluent in that very Gospel. A reformed confession of faith, The Forty-Two Articles, was completed in 1552 and issued in 1553. That confession embodied the redemptive teachings of Scripture emphasized by the reformers: Salvation of sinful man was by God’s grace alone, through faith only, in Jesus Christ and his finished work alone.


Yet, those Gospel advancements in England were far from universally accepted within Church and State. There had long been a persistant Roman Catholic party of bishops throughout Cranmer’s service as Archbishop which had resisted the reforms he sought under King Henry (1533-1547).  In his biography of Cranmer, Diarmaid MacCulloch chronicles a see-saw battle which ensued during those years between the Evangelicals under Cranmer and the Conservative Roman Catholic party in which bishop Stephen Gardiner played a prominent role. One could accurately describe the progress of the reformation in England during that time as a repetitive dance of three steps forward and two steps back. And unfortunately that frustrating struggle did not cease during the "golden" years following Henry’s death under the youthful King Edward.

In 1547, Cranmer then invited the influential Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli to England to help further the English reformation. The next year, after accepting the offer, he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.  Over the next five years, Vermigli played a role in which he made significant contributions to the reformation of the Church. Yet interestingly we find that, during his first year at Oxford, he wrote a letter to the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer (December 26, 1548) in which he expresses his concern regarding the "popish party" and their opinion of Archbishop Cranmer:
​“... they till now were wont to traduce [Cranmer] as a man ignorant of theology, and as being only conversant with matters of government; but now, believe me, he has shewn himself so mighty a theologian against them as they would rather not have proof of, and they are compelled, against their inclination, to acknowledge his learning, and power and dexterity in debate.”
​Peter-Martyr, hoping that Bucer would come to England to aid in the reformed cause, continues with his assessment of the situation under Edward visa-vis the reformation, and alludes to what is holding back further reforms:
​“... because the magistracy, like yours, is altogether disposed to the reformation of the church, but with very few exception, does not possess the proper instruments for that object.”
​Two things can be inferred from the above quotes. There was significant Romish opposition among many of the clergy and bishops to the reforms Cranmer sought. And there was a lack of able preachers and teachers to effectively dispose of that opposition by means of magnifying the evangelical truths of the Reformation. Later, in a letter to Henric Bullinger, Vermigli verifies this inference, as well as noting the problem he saw with some in the Church who wanted only partial reform:
​“There are certainly very many obstacles; especially the number of our adversaries, the lack of preachers, and the gross vices of those who profess the gospel; besides the worldly prudence of some parties who think it quite right that religion should be purified, but are willing only to make as few alterations as possible; for feeling as they do, and thinking as civilians, they consider that any great changes would be dangerous to the state.”
​This Erastian mindset, which existed among many of the Civil and Church rulers (i.e. how the reformation of the church posed a potential risk to the State), unfortunately had a dampening effect on reform not only during Henry’s reign but to a significant extent in that of Elizabeth’s.


The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty? Pt. 2

The question posed in the last post was - How deep, thorough, and on-going was the English reformation during the period before and after Queen Mary's reign?  When Queen Mary took the throne in 1553, the English church had been on the path of reform.  Yet that reform was far from over.  The 1552 prayer book had just been issued, eliminating those 1549 prayers and liturgical practices which could still be interpreted as to allow a Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the the Mass, and sacerdotalism.  This was evidence of Thomas Cranmer's commitment to continuing reforms.  At this point, the English reformation, far from complete, was in many ways still in an early stage.  Arguably, Cranmer had envisioned further changes.

The reformation of the church had accelerated under Edward, more so than with King Henry.  No longer was there the religious/political calculations and oversight of King Henry which Cranmer had to contend with and navigate.  Still, there were two situations which existed that especially slowed things down.  One was the lack of able preachers in the church.  This situation would come into play years later resulting in a confrontation between Queen Elizabeth and bishop Edmund Grindal.  The other circumstance was  the existence of a large party, even a majority, of bishops that opposed the reforms being enacted. From Oxford, Peter Vermigli wrote to Rudolph Gualter in a letter dated June 1, 1550:
"There is no lack of preachers in London, but throughout the whole kingdom they are very, very rare...  The sheep of the divine pasture, the sheep of God's hand, the sheep redeemed by the blood of Christ, are defrauded of their proper nourishment of the divine word; unless the people be taught, the change of religion will certainly avail them but little."
Earlier that year in January, he had written of the second concern in a letter to Henric Bullinger:
"... respecting the progress of Christ's kingdom in this country...  The sum however is this, that many things yet remain to be done, which we have in expectation rather than in reality.  The perverseness of the bishops is incredible; they oppose us with all their might:  yet some of that order, though very few, are favorable to the undertaking."
 The same determined resistance of the Roman Catholic leaning bishops that Cranmer had experienced under Henry continued during the Edwardian years despite the Archbishop's faithful labors.  Vermigli continues:
"The labour of the most reverend, the archbishop of Canterbury is not to be expressed.  For whatever has hitherto been wrested from them [i.e. the bishops] we have acquired solely by the industry, and activity of this prelate."
So a picture emerges from these accounts of a church out of balance; an episcopacy very much at odds with itself.  The continued presence of Rome-leaning clergy ensured that once the new Catholic Queen took the throne the Cranmerian reforms would be quickly reversed.  Though significant, the Gospel advances in the church had yet not gone very deep.  This conclusion is all too apparent in comments Vermigli made to Bullinger in a December 15, 1553 letter from Strasbourg, four months after Mary came to power.  He wrote that transubstantiation had been easily reinstated due to the fact that those opposing it were overwhelmed by the number favoring it.  From which we can surmise that much of the hierarchy of the Church had remained untouched by the reformation, or only superficially so.  And under the new Roman Catholic monarch, they had moved quickly to reverse the progress of the previous years.

Additionally, there's a sad irony to the events of 1547-1552.  Cranmer had not been one inclined to use the power of the State to enforce reform.  His attitude to those opposing the Gospel reforms are summed up in these words of his:
"What will ye have man do to him that is not yet come to knowledge of the truth of the Gospel?...  Shall we perhaps, in his journey coming towards us, by severity and cruel behavior overthrow him, and as it were in his visage stop him?  I take not this the way to allure me to embrace the doctrine of the Gospel.  And if it be a true rule of our Savior Christ to do good for evil, then let such as are not yet come to favor our religion learn to follow the doctrine of the Gospel by our example in using them friendly and charitably." (from Ashley Null)
So, had he ignored his own advice, he might have purged the church of his opponents. Indeed some were removed, the most prominent example being bishop Stephen Gardiner who spent over five years in prison and yet reemerged in 1553.  Had Cranmer acted ruthlessly, one possible result might have been a much stronger resistance to Roman Catholicism being reinstated under Mary.  Yet having chosen the better part, Cranmer, by and large, refused to battle according to flesh and blood.  And thus it turned out that some of the very opponents of reform who had been left untouched later led the charge against him at his trial, leading to his death.  And from what I can tell, many of these clergy and bishops remained in their positions even after Elizabeth took the throne, guaranteeing further institutional resistance to the reform efforts that followed.


The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty? Part 3

... a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6b)

Supreme Governor of the Church
Fast forward through the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary to that of her half-sister Elizabeth:  Protestantism has been restored, but what course did the Church of England take once it again embraced the religion of Cranmer? How one answers that question is determined, in part, by whether one sees the restoration of the church under Elizabeth as a glass half-or-more-full or a glass half-empty.  I fall into the latter camp, despite that many of the Edwardian reforms were restored and the gospel was being freely preached and received.  The problem, in my view, was that the Church under Elizabeth ceased being a church that, above all, sought to conform itself to Scripture alone.  The establishment and maintenance of peace, both domestically and internationally, was once again in the mix.  And that ingredient always involved political and pragmatic calculations.

In the previous two posts, I've noted three particular situations that impeded the progress of reform in England - 1) the Monarch as Head or Supreme Governor of the Church, 2) the presence of a large body (possibly majority) of bishops that leaned covertly or overtly towards Rome, and 3) the lack of gospel preaching clergy.  Unlike the period of King Henry's rule, under Boy-King Edward the first circumstance was not much of an issue.  But when Elizabeth took the throne this changed.  Though a confirmed Protestant and now Supreme Governor of the Church, which theoretically bode well for further reforms, Elizabeth was nonetheless queen over the realm of England, responsible for both its domestic and diplomatic well-being.  How she proceeded to rule was to return the state of reform visa-vis the Monarch to that of a mixed bag.  In addition, many of the conservative bishops were also members of the upper house of Parliament.  In these two entities of government, the reformation was thus faced with a mixture of state and church that ensured right doctrine and biblical truth would not always carry the day in ecclesial matters.

The historical record certainly shows that under Queen Elizabeth many strides were taken towards strengthening Protestantism in England.  Those accomplishments are fairly well known, especially among reformed Anglicans.  Rather than focus on those advancements, my concern is with those things that kept the glass half empty, i.e. slowed or detoured reform in England.  For by the time of Archbishop Laud, the Church of England had gone in a direction that Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley would hardly have identified with.  What happened was that the reformation, rather than picking up where it left off under Cranmer, was slowed in its tracks and even diverted by events under Queen Elizabeth and those that followed.  From Diarmaid MacCulloch (article here):
... At home, Elizabeth wanted to conciliate conservatives [i.e. those who preferred a more medieval church practice]; abroad, she wanted to conciliate suspicious Catholic Spain and France, and also to win friends among the Lutheran princes of Germany and Scandinavia, who were increasingly hostile to the Calvinist and other Reformed Churches to their south. At the same time, however, she was identified with the Protestant cause by her birth... Elizabeth herself shows signs of having preferred his discredited first Prayer Book of 1549 to his second of 1552, but virtually no-one at the time agreed with her: to reintroduce 1549 was not practical politics.
Elizabeth's solution to her dilemmas was remarkable: quite deliberately, she established what proved to he a snapshot, frozen in time, of the Church as it had been in September 1552, ignoring the progress made in further changing the Church of England after that date. 
Who were the "conservatives" of which MacCulloch refers, the ones whom Elizabeth wanted to conciliate? According to ecclesiastical historian, Dom Henry Norbert Birt (1861-1919):
After a careful study of all available sources of information he estimates the number of [Catholic] priests holding livings in England at Elizabeth's accession at 7500 (p. 162). A large number, forming the majority of these, accepted, though unwillingly, the new state of things, and according to tradition many of them were in the habit of celebrating Mass early and of reading the Church of England service later on Sunday morning. (citation here)
This gives insight to the concerns regarding the advancement of reform of recently arrived Marian exiles such as John Jewell who wrote, in his first letter upon returning, to Peter Martyr on March 20, 1559:
Reformer John Jewell
The bishops are a great hindrance to us; for being, as you know, among the nobility and leading men in the upper house, and having none there on our side to expose their artifices and falsehoods by word of mouth... The queen, meanwhile, though she openly favours our cause, yet is wonderfully afraid of allowing any innovations:  this is owing partly to the influence of count Feria, a Spaniard, and Philip's ambassador.  She is, however, prudently, and firmly, and piously following up her purpose, though somewhat more slowly than we could wish.
Jewell's last comment can be understood to show that, in his (hopeful?) estimation, Elizabeth was a committed Protestant and yet, due to her responsibilities of State, she was reluctant to allow the progress of reform too quickly and, as later events would show, proceed too far.  In a series of letters to Martyr, he continues with his assessment of the Church's situation:
... yet the people everywhere, and especially the whole of the nobility, are both disgusted with their [bishop's] insolent exultation, and exceedingly thirsting for the gospel.  Hence it has happened that the mass in many places has of itself fallen to the ground, without any laws for its discontinuance.  If the queen herself would but banish is from her private chapel, the whole thing might easily be got rid of.  Of such importance among us are the examples of princes.  For whatever is done after the example of the sovereign, the people, as you well know, suppose to be done rightly. (3rd letter, April 14, 1559)
For our queen is now thinking of the league of Smalcald; but there is one who writes to her from Germany [a former and now exiled bishop], that this can by no means be brought about, if you [Vermigli] should return to us... But however this may be, we have exhibited to the queen all our articles of religion and doctrine, and have not departed in the slightest degree from the confession of Zurich... (4th letter, April 28, 1559)
 For we are all of us hitherto as strangers at home...  As to religion, it has been effected, I hope, under good auspices, that it shall be restored to the same state as it was during your latest residence among us, under Edward.  But, as far as I can perceive at present, there is not the same alacrity among our friends, as there lately was among the papists... and those very things which you and I so often laughed at are now seriously and solemnly entertained by certain persons (for we are not consulted), as if the Christian religion could not exist without something tawdry...  Others are seeking after a golden, or, as it rather seems to me, a leaden mediocrity; and are crying out, that the half is better than the whole. (5th letter, undated)
 As the 5th letter reveals, there were many among the Protestants those who desired only limited reforms to the church.  This was to set the stage, as it seems to me,  for a continued struggle within the Church of England for the next 100 years.

On May 20, 1559 Queen Elizabeth signed the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity.  According to Diarmaid MacCulloch, "One of the most striking features of Elizabeth's 1559 Settlement was that it began the Church of England's long march away from Cranmer's eucharistic theology, if only in small details... The clarity of Cranmer's sacramental intentions was undermined by restoring to the communion service the 1549 formulae of administering bread and wine to communicants which he had replaced in 1552... This, the omission of the 'black rubric', and a baffling instruction that the permissible ornaments and vestments of the Church were those in use in the year before the 1549 Prayer Book was authorised" were the backdrop of several more letters by Jewell to Bullinger and Martyr which highlighted the headwinds that he and the true friends of reform faced:
For we have at this time to contend not only with those of our friends, who of late years have fallen away from us, and gone over to the opposite party; who are now opposing us with a bitterness and obstinacy far exceeding that of any common enemy... (Bullinger-May 22, 1559)
 The bishops, rather than abandon the pope, whom they so often abjured, are willing to submit to everything.  Not, however, that they do so for the sake of religion, of which they have none; but for the sake of consistency, which the miserable knaves now choose to call their consciences. (Martyr-August 1, 1559)
She was altogether desirous that you should be all means be invited to England, that, as you formerly tilled, as it were, the university by your lectures, so again you might water it by the same, now it is in so disordered and wretched a condition.  But since then, the deliberations about Saxony and the embassy from Smalcald have put an end to those counsels. (Martyr-November 5, 1559)
Religion among us is in the same state which I have often described to you before.  The doctrine is everywhere most pure, but, as to ceremonies and maskings, there is a little too much foolerly.  That little silver cross of ill-omen origin, still maintains its place in the queen's chapel.  Wretched me! this thing will soon be drawn into a precedent. (November 16, 1559)
There's more to the story of "that little silver cross" of Queen Elizabeth's, but for now it's worth noting those last words of Jewell were prescient in light of the eventual drift that occurred back toward a medieval high church Eucharistic practice among those such as Laud and the Tractarians of the 1800s who birthed the Anglo-Catholic movement.

[all italics added]


The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty Part 4

It's not that the reformation in England didn't resume under Queen Elizabeth.  The question seems to be what was the nature of that reformation.  Whereas religion under King Edward was moving into closer identification with that of the continental reform churches, after Mary and under Elizabeth there was a stepping back.  This wasn't so much a reversal as a change of course.  The doctrines of the gospel had again been fully embraced after 1558, but the nature of the Church in its worship had become frozen in a 1549/1552 time frame.  And this was no mere chance of fate, but rather the direction Elizabeth chose.  According to historian Diarmaid MacColluch, ... the plain fact was that the Supreme Governor would not allow the Edwardian Reformation to proceed on its path, at least if it meant structural change to her Church (Cranmer's Ambiguous Legacy).

As documented in Parts 1, 2 & 3, frustration with the pace and even the direction of reform is clearly seen in the letters of John Jewell.  Having returned from Zurich and soon appointed bishop of Salisbury (1559), he became the chief apologist of the reformation in England.  His must have been a difficult path, for all was not well within this second reformation.  Indeed, at Anglican Prayerbook Churchmanship, our friend Hudson Barton conjectures about that frustration and the subsequent unfolding of events with the rise of Puritanism in Elizabeth's England:
... the returning [Marian] exiles expected Elizabeth to receive the Reformation not as her father had established it but as it had subsequently evolved [under Edward]. When she didn't, the reactionary movement of Puritanism was born.
One such moment that may have contributed to that course of events is found in one of John Jewell's letters quoted in Part 3, where he mentions "that little crucifix" of Queen Elizabeth's. That crucifix was in Elizabeth's private chapel and became the subject of an official disputation in 1560.  Interestingly, the two selected to defend the use of the crucifix were the moderate reformer and Marian exile Richard Cox (an interesting choice as he later refused to preach in her chapel because of the crucifix) and Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker.  Parker, had managed to stay in England under the Catholic Queen Mary, a fact that aggravated some of the more ardent Protestants. I don't hold that as something that should necessarily call in question his commitment to reform, but nonetheless I do find it interesting path to pursue.  The two individuals who were selected to make the case against the crucifix were the Marian exile reformers Edmund Grindal and John Jewell.  Below is a lengthy quote from a letter that Jewell wrote to Peter Vermigli on February 5, 1560 which highlights the tension of that moment:
This controversy about the crucifix is now at its height.  You would scarcely believe to what a degree of insanity some persons, who once had some shew of common sense, have carried upon so foolish a subject.  There is not one of them, however, with you you are acquainted, excepting Cox.  A disputation upon this subject will take place to-morrow.  The moderators will be persons selected by the council.  The disputants on the one side are the archbishop of Canterbury, and Cox; and on the other, Grindal the bishop of London, and myself.  The decision rests with the judges.  I smile, however, when I think with what grave and solid reasons they will defend their little cross.  Whatever be the result, I will write to you more at length when the disputation is over; for the controversy is as yet undecided; yet, as far as I can conjecture, I shall not again write to you as a bishop.  For matters are come to that pass, that either the crosses of silver and tin, which we have everywhere broken in pieces, must be restore, or our bishopricks be relinquished.
Although the outward vestiges of Roman Catholic worship were, by and large, eradicated throughout the realm during the years that followed, it was not so where Elizabeth worshipped; yet another piece of evidence that leads one to question the Supreme Governor's level of commitment to Protestant reform.  And one wonders what her example communicated to those clergy in the Church who were less than enthralled with further reform according to the standard of Scripture:
Although Elizabeth's actual beliefs elude us, we are able to get an indication of them from her attitudes and gestures. Her chapels were conservative - the crucifix was displayed, and she also liked candles and music. She disliked long Protestant sermons, but also expressed displeasure at some Catholic rituals such as the elevation of the host, which implied that she rejected the Catholic belief of transubstantiation. She also did not really approve of the clergy marrying as she expressed on several occasions, but as this was an integral aspect of Protestantism, she had to accept it.
Clearly Elizabeth was a mixed bag.

The above take is consistent with MacColluch's assessment - that Elizabeth's 1559 Settlement... began the Church of England's long march away from Cranmer's eucharistic theology - and I would also add that it indicated a preference, or at least a tolerance, for retaining some remnants of the Roman religion.

[Update: Additional thoughts below from our friend Hudson Barton of Anglicans in the Wilderness, 12/18/2012] -

"The year before the "little cross" incident (1559), Jewell, believing that he was defending a clearly defined Protestant Church of England, had challenged the Romanists at St. Paul's Cross to prove their case from Scripture. By 1560, in Jewell's letter to Vermigli, it appears that he expected his involvement with the disputation over the "little cross" would result in a victory for either the Reformation or the Romanists. In that he was willing at this point in his life to lose his bishoprick for the cause of the Reformation, it appears that he was not willing to say "my Queen for better or worse". He had seen the enemy within ("that little cross"), and appeared ready to defend the Church against that enemy, to see it removed at any cost. But history went in an unexpected direction. The little cross was not removed but only hidden away, and Jewell kept his bishoprick.

"The genius of Elizabeth was that she was able to turn the argument of the "little cross" on its head, convincing Reformers like Jewell that the purity of the Church was not compromised by so small a matter. I believe this was the advice of Whitgift and Parker, to settle with the Queen, to close their eyes and continue about the Church business as if the problem didn't exist. Two years later, in 1562, Jewell published his "Apologia ecclesiae Anglicanae", and sure enough the "little cross" had been forgotten. Jewell's Apology became the official defense of the CofE because the establishment knew that it was not a defense of a set of principles, but rather of an institution.

"I am reminded of the Danish fairy tale of "The Princess and the Pea", how a real princess will detect the smallest abnormality in her realm and never rest until it is removed."


The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty Part 5

E. Grindal
The thought behind these series of posts, The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty (hereherehere, and here), is that the nature of the reformation in England was quite different under Queen Elizabeth than that which had been taking place under King Edward and Thomas Cranmer.  That isn't a big news scoop for anyone familiar with the history.  And while some consider that change in a negative light (my view), others do view it favorably.  Yet what is interesting to see is the role that Elizabeth played in moving the Church of England from a church that was reforming according to the Word of God (albeit with fits and starts) to that of a formerly reforming church, one that had begun to settle into a kind of compromised Protestantism; at crucial crossroads succumbing to the views of the Supreme Governor of the Church rather than the teachings of Scripture when it came to certain issues. In my view this is nowhere more evident than the reduced emphasis on and, and at times, even outright hostility toward the preaching of the Word of God after 1559.

State of preaching Pre-Marian:

Arguably, the first major reform enacted in the Church of England under Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was to place in every church an English version of the entire Bible.  Without the Scriptures in the language of the people there could be no reforming of the Church. Without the Word of God central in the Church there would be no biblical preaching to build the Church. It was in the year 1538 that Cromwell gave the directive that the clergy provide "one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it."

About nine years later in 1547, Cranmer issued the Book of Homilies entitled "Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches."  The need for biblical teaching and preaching in the formerly Roman Catholic churches was great but the number of clergy familiar with the reformational doctrines of the Christian faith were few.  The Book of Homilies was issued as a stop gap solution to this situation.  By publicly reading these sermons clergy could begin to nourish the faith and practice of God's people with the Word of God.

Over the next few years Archbishop Cranmer would bring several leading reformers such as Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli to England to help train prospective clergy in the biblical doctrines of the Church.  Vermigli was given the position of Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.  Two years after his appointment he writes to Rudolph Gualter (June 1, 1550):
There is no lack of preachers in London, but throughout the whole kingdom they are very rare... The sheep of the divine pasture, the sheep of God's hand, the sheep redeemed by the blood of Christ, are defrauded of the proper nourishment of the divine word; unless the people be taught, the change of religion will certainly avail them but little. [emphasis added]
Vermigli's words were not only an accurate assessment of the situation, but also foreshadowed the years that were to follow Queen Mary's reign.  The purpose of these doctors of doctrine was to train men who would teach and preach from the pulpit the Scriptural truths regarding salvation by the grace of God through faith in Christ alone.  By the proclamation of Christ in the Word the Church is birthed.  And by the Word of God  preached and taught the Church is reformed, nourished, and built.

Cranmer's path was the natural and logical consequence of his embracing the foundational truth of the Reformation - sola scripturathe supremacy and authority of the Word of God in things pertaining to faith and practice in the Church, as later confessed in the Forty-Two Articles of Religion:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation - Holy Scripture 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 the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation...
State of preaching Post-Marian:
Queen Elizabeth I
After the reign of Queen Mary and the restoration of the Protestant Church in England, the need for preachers was indeed dire.  Yet the trajectory of progress going forward in this area was mixed and disappointing. This was in no small part due to the views of the new Supreme Governor of the Church, Queen Elizabeth.  John Jewell expressed his concern (and that of many) in a letter to Vermigli in January 1559:
The queen has forbidden any person, whether papist or gospeller, to preach to the people.  Some think the reason of this to be, that there was at that time only one minister of the word in London, namely, Bentham, whereas the number of papists was very considerable; others, that it was because the people, having heard only one public discourse of Bentham's, began to dispute about ceremonies, some declaring for Geneva, and some for Frankfort.  Whatever it be, I only wish that our party may not act with too much worldly prudence and policy in the cause of God.
And from an April letter of the same year Jewell further highlights the need for preachers of the Word of God:  "... and yet the people everywhere [are]... exceedingly thirsting for the gospel."  He later wrote to Martyr in two letters a year apart of his concern with the state of the schools in which preachers were to be trained and the desperate need for preachers:
Both our universities are now lying in a most wretched state of disorder, without piety, without religion, without a teacher, without any hope of revival.  Many of our leading men... are fixing their thoughts on yourself, and are anxious that you should be invited at the earliest opportunity, in spite of all the German leaguers." (Nov. 16, 1559)
 We are only wanting in preachers; and of these there is a great and alarming scarcity.  The schools are also entirely deserted; so that, unless God look favourably upon us, we cannot hope for any supply in the future.  The existing preachers, who are few in number, those especially who have any ability, are listened to by the people with favour and attention.        (Nov. 6, 1560)
Yet remedying this situation did not necessarily fit comfortably with Queen Elizabeth's vision for the Church.  M. Rosemary O'Day writes,
After Elizabeth's accession the Church in England was in a confused condition. The queen envisaged a politique settlement which, although protestant, was not reformed, thereby enabling her to avoid both international conflict and open internal rebellion. This meant that the established Church must not follow too closely the radical changes in ceremony, doctrine and administration associated with the continental Reformed Churches
Robust biblical preaching under the authority of the Word became a risk to Elizabeth's concept of the Church. Thus preaching, per se, was not desirable in and of itself nor in the best interest of maintaining order and peace in "her" new Church and kingdom.  In fact, her own personal preference regarding a church service was that of infrequent sermons which were to be short and not especially doctrinal.
She herself was accustomed to listen to sermons only in the season of Lent, and on one such occasion had interrupted a sermon of the Dean of St. Paul’s (Nowell), a notable preacher, with the command to desist as the theme was not to her liking. Not surprisingly, the Dean was overwhelmed with confusion. To console him Archbishop Parker took him home to dinner afterwards! (Church Society)
Yet ironically, the pressing need to fill the vast number of vacancies in the office of bishop in 1559 led to the appointment of the only supply available to the new queen - many of the Marian exiles/preachers who had returned from the reformed churches of the continent with a high view of the authority of the Word of God.  Their intention to continue the reforms begun a decade earlier in the Edwardian church was a potential problem to contain.  One of those exiles appointed as a bishop under Queen Elizabeth was Edmund Grindal who would later be selected Archbishop of Canterbury.  Accepting the former office that Cranmer had held, he would clash almost immediately with the Queen over the issue of "prophesyings."  And it was this issue more than any other that revealed the change that had taken place between the Church under Cranmer and that of Elizabeth.
In 1576, Grindal conducted a metropolitan visitation (a sort of survey of standards in the archbishopric) and was shocked by how few ministers preached regularly to their flocks. He decided to try and rectify the problem by encouraging prophesyings. Prophesyings had begun spontaneously in various parts of the South-East c. 1571. They were meetings of clergy in the localities for prayer and sermons followed by mutual criticism and discussions about the state of the church... 
Prophesyings rapidly became very popular, and were often attended by zealous laymen. Elizabeth (who thought that four or five preachers per county were quite enough) saw them as inherently disruptive and a covert attack on royal control of the church...  
Elizabeth wanted prophesyings stopped, but Grindal merely issued orders for regulating their conduct. Elizabeth was furious - particularly when Grindal refused a direct order to suppress them, and wrote her a letter saying that it was his duty to obey God rather than her. She wanted to deprive him immediately of his post as Archbishop but was prevailed on by her Privy Council merely to suspend him until he submitted. He never did. (link here)
To paraphrase a the sixties Dylan song, The times they were a'changing!
To Grindal it seemed natural that the clergy should meet to discuss the scriptures; but with a view of appeasing objections he issued orders that such meetings should be licensed by the bishop and presided over by the archdeacon or his deputy; that only approved persons be permitted to speak, and that all political or personal references be rigidly excluded. This did not satisfy Elizabeth... (Grindal)
The situation had reached a point of crisis for Elizabeth. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes summed up the mindset of Elizabeth this way,
Now, however, matters came to a head. So far from reacting favourably to Grindal’s plan for the regularisation, and thus the retention, of the ‘prophesyings’, Elizabeth gave vent to her displeasure by commanding him to bring about their suppression forthwith. She objected that by attending these gatherings the laity were neglecting their proper affairs and were in danger of having their heads filled with seditious notions. She complained, further, that there were too many preachers, insisting that three or four were sufficient for a county, and that the people needed nothing more than to have the Homilies read to them. The Queen, indeed, laboured under an apparent inability to appreciate the value of biblical preaching not only for the progress of sound religion but also in the interests of promoting good and stable citizenship.
There could be only one ultimate authority in the Church of England and Elizabeth was determined that she would have that final position and not the Word of God as administered by those called and ordained to preach and teach it.  The reformation, at least for the institutional Church of England, was crippled, if not over...

Monday, February 17, 2020

Some random thoughts on Christ, Law, Gospel and Worship...

1. A number a years ago sitting with my wife on a Sunday morning visiting in an evangelical church, I wrote down the following on the bulletin sermon notes insert, concerning modern church services:

When one abandons a reformed Liturgy [referring specifically to Thomas Cranmer's BCP] with its content (which is Christ and Scripture centered), it is difficult, if not impossible to replace it with something that doesn't fall short of a holy worship; a definite problem for the modern Church.

Newer and more relevant is not necessarily more better when it comes to the faith once delivered and to what the Church has been called to as it gathers to worship Christ. One need only read through portions of the Book of Common Prayer (1928 or earlier) to be impressed with this.

Though the old style English is a bit foreign to our modern ear, the weightiness and focus is nonetheless apparent. Here is an excerpt from the Holy Communion (BCP 1662):

O LORD and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

2. William Willimon, a bishop in the United Methodist Church in the U.S., writes concerning the preaching from the pulpit in today's churches:

"Unable to preach Christ and Him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved"

Today, preaching Law and Gospel from Scripture is considered antiquated and something that all too many preachers (and Christians) think only relevant to those congregations of the long forgotten Reformation and not appropriate for our "advanced age." But man's condition hasn't changed. The preaching of Christ and Him crucified has never been fashionable. The Law, rightly presented, diagnoses man as he is - born into Adam's sinful race and willfully alienated from God as an enemy of righteousness... helpless to change or free himself from the bondage of sin. This resonates with the one who hears, as it is consistent with what is the reality within the hearer's conscience. The Gospel presents Christ Jesus as the only propitiation for man's sin and our only means of salvation; a salvation that by God's grace is obtained through faith and repentance in Christ alone; His merit of a holy life lived as man, His loving offering of Himself as the full satisfaction for our sins upon the cross, and His resurrection from the dead being the sole basis of our justification and sanctification before a just God; and that is freely offered to all and received by all who believe in Him. He takes our sin away and then accounts to us His righteousness unto eternal life. This is indeed
good news; and as saints who are yet still sinners we need to hear this constantly.