Aberrant Anglicanism & the Death of Doubt

 


I have always held (and still hold) to the view that doubting is something that is a common experience for Christians.  Over the past 30 years, like all other Christians) I have had doubts, what I call the ‘What ifs’

  • What if… the Bible is not true?
  • What if… there is no God?
  • What if… Jesus did not rise from the dead?
  • What if…

I am pleased to say that I am that point in my walk with the Lord Jesus that these doubts are more what I call residual doubts that belong to my Christian life from long ago. However, during my first curacy, I experience a doubt of which I was not prepared for, nor the insidious way it crept up on me.  Let me explain.

My curacy was spent in a diocese and a parish that was/is predominantly like the majority of Anglican dioceses around the world, a diocese that is liberal catholic. Liberal Catholic Anglicanism is an unusual beast in that it has the outward forms of Catholicism with liberal theology. Now in spite of this, there were positive things about my curacy.

It was during my curacy that my quiet times were transformed by being introduced to the Daily Offices. I had not even heard of this practice and at first, I found it to be very dull, repetitive and pedestrian. But after doing it every morning and every evening with my supervising Rector, I realised that my prayer life and Bible reading was changing. No longer was my quiet time dependent on how I felt on any given day when it came to prayer and Bible reading. Time was no longer an issue as it was a scheduled non-negotiable part of my day. When my supervising Rector retired, my new supervisor introduced me to doing Morning and Evening Prayer using the BCP. The theology of the BCP so encapsulated the theology of the Reformation that I was hooked. So now it is my norm to do the daily office using the BCP. I believe the Book of Common Prayer is a wonderful blessing to the English speaking world and that more Anglican Christians will be blessed by using it.

It was during my curacy that I experienced the blessing of taking the Lord’s Supper weekly. Before this, I was more interested in the sermon than the sacrament. I took the Lord’s Supper for granted and deemed it of minor importance. I was encouraged to ask and answer the question, “Have I been shaped more than I know by a superficial and reactionary church culture that says there is wisdom in not making too much of the Lord’s Supper and not taking it too often?”

However, as I reflect on my curacy and in spite of the wonderful highlights I experienced; a doubt crept in.  A doubt that I was totally unprepared for. It was like someone was whispering into my soul, so ever softly, almost imperceptible at first… What if…my sin has not been forgiven?

It was a whisper that slowly over time became a voice. And the doubt led to fear and it became very spiritually immobilising.  At first, I did not know what fed this doubt. But eventually, I put it down to three things: three things that all Anglican clergy face in dioceses where forms and theology exist that are not consistent with Anglicanism as established by the BCP, 39 Articles, and the Ordinal and the Anglican formularies. In other words – Aberrant Anglicanism.

  1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is either denied, minimised or avoided.
  2. Semi-Pelagian theology is practiced
  3. Being in the theological minority

Penal Substitutionary Atonement was either denied, minimised or avoided – The great truth of the gospel is that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. Although I aimed to preach this great truth, I was constantly exposed to a context and culture where penal substitutionary atonement was either denied, minimised or avoided. A result of denying this truth leads to sin also being denied minimised, which abrogates the necessity of assurance for those who did not believe in sin, or that they are sinners. Thus the assurance of sin was declared, but not the basis of it. However, for a newly ordained clergyman who sinned daily and was very aware of their own sin, this lack of assurance over a period of time only fed the doubt.

Semi-Pelagian theology – One of the crown Jewels and strengths of Anglicanism is our liturgy. The prayer book I think is gold. However, there is a practice that is very common amongst liberal Catholic Anglican parishes.  In the parishes I served (before and during my curacy) we had Holy Communion every week (brilliant). However, within Holy Communion was semi-pelagian theology. This was evident by a prayer that was sung entitled the  Agnus Dei.  The Agnus Dei is not in the BCP, it is a prayer where the Priest and congregation pray together. It is said just before the bread is broken and it goes like this:

Priest: Jesus Lamb of God:

All: Have Mercy on Us

Priest: Jesus Bearer of our Sins:

All: Have Mercy on Us.

Priest: Jesus Redeemer of the World

All: Grant us your peace.

I suppose one could pray this prayer during confession of sin, though the Biblical norm is to pray to God the Father. However, this prayer abrogates the true meaning of the sacrament. Instead of the Lord’s supper being a sacrament/sign where we go to the table as Forgiven sinners, who have been redeemed by the once and for all sacrifice of Christ at the cross in our place; we go to the ‘Altar’, praying that the Lord Jesus will have mercy on, bear our sins and grant us his peace when we eat ‘the body of Christ the bread of heaven’ and drink ‘the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.’ So in practice, one gets the sense that by taking the Eucharist we are contributing to our salvation.

It is no wonder that for many laypeople in liberal/catholic Anglican parishes, the Eucharist is the high point of the service and is what they value most about church. What do I have to do to contribute to my salvation? What if I have not done enough? Or my question of doubt:

What if…my sin has not been forgiven?

Answer: Take the Eucharist. For taking the Eucharist solves this…hopefully.  I asked two Priests, one of whom was liberal catholic, the other is less liberal and more catholic, how Christ is present in the Eucharist if not physically, and they both said, “it is a mystery.”  The sad thing is that I suspect that many laypeople, when asked if they are going to heaven when they die, will respond the same way, saying “It’s a mystery”.

This is tragic because the heart of the gospel is not a mystery, in the gospel the mystery has been revealed (i.e Eph. 3:1-6). Furthermore, The Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles make it abundantly clear that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice, that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

Being in the Theological Minority – Reformed-Evangelical Ministers face in liberal catholic diocese/parishes face many difficulties. From my limited experience, each minister had their own way of dealing with them. One of those difficulties was not being in touch with like-minded clergy. It only fed isolation and doubt. Don’t get me wrong, the clergy who I served alongside with were easy to get along with, and were some of the warmest people I had met within the church. But be that is it may be, there were certain subjects that one simply could not bring up. If I had, I would have been simply told most likely that I was wrong, that what I believed to be the gospel was at best a theory of the atonement, or at worst, wrong.  Being one of a small minority who believed in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, who believed that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone; who believe sin is rebellion against God rather than “not living our lives the way in which God would want us to live – “transforming unjust social structures”; there was simply not the voices of encouragement to assuage my fear and the secondary doubt that came from being in the theological minority,  “What if they are right about me being wrong?”

The Death of Doubt

So what did I do? I did what every Christian does when they should fear and doubt. I put on the armour of God. I delved deeply in the reservoir of God’s quenching Word; devoted myself to prayer; spoke with like-minded Christians in other places, whether it be by phone, email or SKYPE. When it came to Holy Communion I reminded myself (and was reminded by like-minded clergy in other dioceses) of the two-fold action of the Lord Supper: firstly, our action – deliberate remembering, calling him to mind, joyfully contemplating him, praising him, praying to him; secondly, God’s action – renewing our gratitude for grace, our confidence in forgiveness by grace, our hope for glory, and our strength for service, all by the Holy Spirit. I was encouraged to think of the bread and wine as coming to us by the hand of Christ himself and His guarantee to us in love, and that He will nourish us spiritually forever.

I kept on preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to myself and  I kept on preaching God’s Word and God’s gospel to others. Remembering verses such as John 3:16; Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians 2:1-10 1 John3:16; Titus 3:5-6 and many others. I actively listened to the right voices – most importantly God’s voice, which is heard when one submits to the Word of God; and secondly, the voices of those who aimed to preach God’s Word and His gospel faithfully.

Thankfully God, through His Word and His people reminded me afresh of the truth and beauty of the Gospel, and the wonderful assurance that goes with it. The doubt died and thus when faced with the liberal and or catholic/semi-pelagian aberrations I could ignore them. It meant when it came to authentic Anglican liturgies, I could embrace them.

Aberrant Anglicanism is spiritually dangerous, and in this piece, I hope to have highlighted one of the more insidious dangers that come with exposure; of how it can lead to erosion of assurance, erosion of confidence in the Scriptures, erosion of confidence in the gospel. It can happen slowly over time, just like erosion. I now serve in a diocese, in a context where our Bishop and every Anglican clergyman believes God’s Word and believes His Gospel wholeheartedly, yet I never ever want to forget what it was like during that first curacy. So how important is it that those of who are in senior leadership do all we can to encourage curates who are serving in hard places.

Which is why movements such as GAFCON are so important.

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Two Different Bishops

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man on the left is Bishop John Parkes of the Diocese of Wangaratta. The man on the right is Bishop Rick Lewers of the Diocese of Armidale (my Bishop).

Both of these men share some things in common. Both these men:

Are Bishops:

Are Bishops of a smaller Rural Diocese:

Made the same vows when they were ordained as Bishops.

Bot these men were exhorted to:

Be faithful in prayer, diligent in the study of the Holy Scriptures so that [they] may be equipped to teach and encourage, and to proclaim to the gospel to all. To correct and set aside teaching that is contrary to the mind of Christ, both privately and publicly, urging all to live according to God’s Word. To put aside all ungodly and worldly behaviour, and live modestly, in justice and godliness, so that by [their lives] and example [they] may commend Christ’s truth.

Bot these men publicly affirmed that they were convinced:

that the Holy Scriptures contain all doctrine necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and that with God’s help you will instruct from them the people committed to your care, teaching nothing as essential to salvation which cannot be demonstrated from the Scriptures.

Both of these men stated:

I firmly and sincerely believe the Catholic Faith and I give my assent to the doctrine of the Anglican Church (insert province) as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons: I believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God;

However…

The Bishop of Wangaratta:

Believes in a different God – a God who is a God of love, and because of this, those living lifestyles that Scripture says are sinful is irrelevant because God is love. So two gay men who are married in the eyes of the law, it is therefore incumbent upon those in the church to bless them because God is love and God’s love overrules God’s other attributes, (i.e Holiness, Righteousness,) and God’s love even overrules what He has said in His own Word.

“This is a long overdue recognition that if God is love, and faithful persons are living together in love, then the church ought to bless those persons in the name of God,” 

Believes in a different Gospel –  A gospel that says “come as you are and stay as you are”;  that consists of a half-truth that is presented as the whole truth. A gospel that has no repentance.

“It’s about inclusivity. It’s about God being God of all people.”

“There are many gay people who are faithful Christians, who are living in the church”.

“I hope that at least in this part of north-east Victoria it will mean that gay and lesbian Christians can be who they are; marry under state law and be blessed and accepted in their church.”

“‘God loves you and we love you and you are who you are, and that’s okay!'”

Submits the Scripture through the lens of culture and subjective human reason

My own view is that there’s nothing in the Bible that understands the sorts of relationships that we are talking about, in this day and age.”

By way of contrast, Bishop Rick Lewers wrote in a recent publication an excellent review of a book entitled Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia: Essays from the Doctrine Commission. 

Understanding the Scriptures requires you to listen to what God has said and to sit under his authority. Where a part of the Bible is unclear we don’t ignore it but we look to the rest of the Bible to offer us further understanding.

By contrast, interpreting the Scriptures makes you the authority over what God has said allowing influences such as tradition, reason, and experience to determine your thoughts.

This is not just semantics. When we seek to understand, understanding submits our reason, tradition and contemporary circumstances to God’s Word. When we seek to interpret, interpreting submits God’s word to our reason, traditions and contemporary circumstances. The outcomes can be significantly different when it comes to faith and practice.

Start with God and you start with the Almighty, the Sovereign, the Holy and Perfect. Start with humanity and every effort is flawed from the start by our creatureliness, weakness and fallen nature. It is hardly surprising that when we get God wrong we get ourselves wrong. It is hardly surprising when we put ourselves in God’s place that we will compromise God’s absolutes.

Given that contrast, it can only be the sin of hubris that would have us pursuing interpretations that offer permissions to things God has spoken against rather than encouraging repentance and faith that comes with understanding God’s Word. Such hubris will heal no ills, trivialise sin, reduce Christ, profit no salvation and consign people to hell.

The book that Bishop Lewers reviews is one that provides a window into the chasm that exists within the Anglican Church and of the two irreconcilable theological tectonic plates that are colliding, both of whom claim the name Anglican.

These two Bishops are but a snapshot of that same chasm.

Both these men have things in common; both these men:

Are Bishops:

Are Bishops of a smaller Rural Diocese:

Made the same vows when they were ordained as Bishops.

but that is where the similarities begin and end.

Smoke… and… Mirrors

 

Smoke and Mirrors – noun 

an explanation or description that is not true or not complete and is used to hide the truth about a situation:

This week the ABC ran a piece highlighting the Bishop of Wangaratta, John Parkes’ enthusiasm in regards to conducting same-sex blessings before he lays down his Bishop’s pastoral staff at the end of the year. I thought this was rather strange as last year the Anglican Bishops (and I assume +Parkes was present) made an historic agreement, an agreement that states (Responding to Recent Changes in the Marriage Act)

We, the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia, affirm the following.

Guiding principles

1. The doctrine of this Church is that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman. If we as a Church are to change this doctrine to permit same-sex marriage, the appropriate mechanism is through the framework of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia. Bishops should give leadership in demonstrating trust in this framework as the way to move forward together, recognising that this will require care, persistence and generosity. The bishops commit to working together to manifest and maintain unity, as we together discern the truth.

Thus the Bishops agree that they will uphold the traditional view of marriage and if any change to this doctrine is to be attempted, due process will be followed.

Thus the Bishop of Wangaratta publicly stating his intention to “bless” homosexual couples who are legally married in the eyes of the Australian marriage act seems to be in breach of this agreement and in fact I would say that it obviously is. Of course, technically speaking he is not in breach of the agreement, technically speaking, he would not be marrying homosexual couples; “blessing the persons and not the relationship”; so technically speaking he is still upholding the doctrine of the Anglican Church which states that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

Smoke… and… Mirrors.

The practice of clergy conducting same-sex blessings are:

Based on a lie – the lie being that God approves of sexual expression couples of the same gender when Scripture is abundantly clear that He does not. In fact, every time homosexual sexual expression is mentioned, the context is always negative. Clergy who conduct such blessings are being false witnesses, they are saying God’s blesses what God’s Word says is sin. Scripture is clear, God will not bless, sustain, and encourage couples in sin.

Based on a false Gospel – a gospel of no repentance. Scripture is clear that homosexual sexual expression is evidential of rebellion against God and sign of God giving people over to judgment as a result of the aforementioned rebellion. Romans 1:18-32 is crystal clear on this. However, by ‘blessings such a union, Anglican clergy, (Bishop or otherwise) ‘blessing’  in essence, are sending a message that says the gospel consists of “come as you are and stay as you are”; which is not the message of the Gospel.

Are deceptive –  Anglican bishops who find it desirous to conduct same-sex blessings of couples who are married in the eyes of the state, know that what they are doing is not conducting a marriage. They know that what the Bible teaches regarding marriage will do all they can to push the boundaries but not technically breach them so that they cannot be held to account. Thus these so-called “blessings” will be treated as a marriage but technically will not be a marriage (because technically, they are already married). By all human appearances the services will appear to be like a wedding, they will be treated as a wedding, but technically will not be a wedding.

Are coercive History has shown us that in every denomination, every issue of a Biblically untenable nature that revisionists have desired and have had granted to them has led to coercion from revisionists towards those who disagree when they are in positions of authority. They use the rhetoric of being “a broad church”, but their diversity and tolerance is only extended to those who agree with them and/or acquiesce to their position.

Example – The Church of Scotland:  Decades ago, the General Assembly of the Kirk passed the ordinance that women could be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The shift went from a woman could be ordained to, a woman should be ordained. When the decision came to pass, the official view in time moved from women should be ordained to women must be ordained.

Notice the progression:

We could… therefore… We should… therefore… We must… therefore… you must.

So in practice, those who in good conscience do not hold to women’s ordination are excluded from the discernment process for ordination within the Church of Scotland.

This revisionist tactic is unstated, yet it is far from subtle, though is not unique to the Scottish Kirk. It occurs within the Anglican Church. When women’s ordination came about there was the same talk from revisionists saying “oh yes, those disagree are free to disagree, etc” and, “It won’t divide the church”, etc. However it has divided the Anglican Church, and women’s ordination is often used by revisionists bishops as a way of preventing orthodox clergy coming into their dioceses, thus in practice, clergy are not free to disagree if they wish to serve in the said dioceses. An orthodox Anglican cleric/candidate approaches a diocese about being licensed/ordained/accepted for discernment. All a revisionist bishop need to do end the process before it begins is to ask them what they think of Women’s ordination.

If they don’t agree with Women’s ordination they are told:

“Sorry, I don’t think it is God’s will for you to serve in our diocese as it would not be a good fit for you”.

It is the same coercive progression:

We could… therefore… We should… therefore… We must… therefore… you must.

Although women’s ordination is in my view, not a first-order issue, there is every reason to believe that if the Anglican Church of Australia goes down the same road with same-sex blessings (which is a gospel issue), the same tactic will be employed. An orthodox Anglican cleric/candidate approaches a diocese about being licensed/  being ordained/accepted for discernment. All a revisionist bishop need to do end the process is to ask them “What is your view of same-sex blessings?” or “Do you think you could work in a diocese that conducts same-sex blessings?” Instead of the onus being on the Bishop for endorsing a view and praxis that is antithetical to Scripture, it is placed on the person being asked the question and if they say they don’t agree, predictably they will be told…(here it comes)

“Sorry, I don’t think it is God’s will for you to serve in our diocese as it would not be a good fit for you”.

We could… therefore… We should… therefore… We must… therefore… you must.

Revisionists bishops who resort to this tactic may say, “technically I have done no wrong”; Bishop Parkes may think or state that he will not be violating the Bishop’s agreement by stating his intention to conduct same-sex blessings, and say “Technically, I have done no wrong”.

Smoke… and… Mirrors.

Remind me of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 30:20

This is the way of an adulteress:
    she eats and wipes her mouth
    and says, “I have done no wrong.”

 

Smoke… and… Mirrors.