At Least Newman Had Integrity

“We have a real integrity problem in the Australian church, in the Anglican Church of Australia and within many denominations as well.”

This is the conclusion of an Anglican priest Rev David Ould, when interviewed about another Anglican Priest who in essence preaches and believes a message that is contrary to the plain teaching of Scripture,  the 39 Articles, the BCP, the Ordinal, the Anglican Constitution of Australia or in other words, contrary to the Christian faith.

The purpose of this post is not to outline the heterodoxy of the Anglican Priest in question, but rather highlight the heart of the problem, which is the situation within the Anglican Church of Australia where we have clergy who don’t mean what they say and say what they do not mean.

When I have told Anglican Christians who are faithful Bible believing Christians that there are clergy who don’t believe what they are supposed to believe, the question I am always asked is:

How did this happen?

This is a very good question. After all, one would be right to expect that Anglican Clergy actually believe what they say they do and mean the promises they make at their ordination. However at one level we should not be surprised, in the Holy Scriptures we are warned that there will be false teachers and false teachers are just as much a reality in the 21st century as they were in the 1st century. We are warned again and again, for false teachers never come in saying “I am false teacher”. They infiltrate and destroy, as the Lord Jesus Christ says, in Matt 7:15:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

The Apostle Paul says the same think in Acts 20 when he gives his words of farewell to the Ephesians Bishops. He says in vv:29-30:

29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

 The threat to the church is not going to come from atheists burning Bibles saying “God is dead! God is not real!” It is going to come from our own number who with Bibles in hand, with the letters Rev before their name (and even the title Right Rev before their name), those who have been to Bible college, who will distort the truth. They won’t outwardly deny it. But distort it. I remember years ago going to an Anglican Provincial Conference in Canberra and the guest preacher preached a series of sermons from the Epistle to the Romans. He expounded the Scriptures faithfully and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was proclaimed clearly and yet… afterwards the then director of ordinands of the diocese in which I served in at that time was asked by an ordination candidate what he thought of the sermons and he responded by saying “I have a different understanding of the Gospel”. His different ‘understanding’ was a not a different understanding but a euphemism, for ‘different gospel’ He did not come out and say, “I believe in a different gospel” as that would have been too obvious. False teachers will always infiltrate the church, so there is no reason why us Anglicans will be immune to their infiltration.

However having said this I believe that there are two other factors that have contributed to the integrity problem we have within the Anglican Church of Australia (and through out the world) today.

1. John Henry Newman  (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890)

John Henry Newman was a Anglican Priest who became a Roman Catholic Cardinal, but before doing so worked very hard to try and re-intepret the Anglican Church  formularies, the BCP and the 39 Articles in line with the doctrines of the RCC. His infamous Tract 90, published in 1841, encouraged Anglicans to read the Thirty-nine Articles as a Catholic document.2 Now it must be said Newman was not a theological liberal, he did not deny what liberal theology denies. However what he did do (perhaps without realising it at the time), was to open the door for ordinands to publicly assent to the Articles, and to Anglican Doctrine, (which is Scriptural, Reformed and Protestant) while reinterpreting them to mean what they want them to mean. The problem with this I think is obvious, the theology of the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal is Reformed and Protestant and thus to interpret them as otherwise whilst still signing oaths and making declarations such as:

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;

reduces the oaths and declarations to mere vestigial words and makes the promises made mere perfunctory formality.

One scholar put it in more blunt terms in regards to the legacy of Newman in this regard:

‘Whether he intended to or not, he taught us to lie’.

2. Liberalism

Liberalism sees itself as a reform movement of Christianity. In reality it is a form of extreme theological accommodation. So beliefs about the resurrection, the atonement, the authority of the Bible, the nature of salvation, the need for the response of repentance and faith, even the divinity of Christ are reconstructed to fit the prevailing culture in order to make the Christian faith plausible.

So…if  ordinands can publicly assent to the 39 Articles, and to Anglican Doctrine as outlined in the BCP and the Ordinal and reinterpret all along Roman Catholic lines, (due to the legacy of Newman), what is to stop ordinands reinterpreting them along liberal lines? “After all, it is all about one’s ‘interpretation’, so I will say all that I am required to say, and promise what I have to promise, but I can interpret those doctrines, and oaths and promises the way that suits my “different understanding. I can reinterpret the 39 Articles as the 39 Artefacts”.

The result of the above is that the Anglican Church has clergy whom at their ordinations, did not say what they mean, nor mean what that say when they were ordained.Which in turn has led to these clergy over the subsequent years and decades becoming Bishops, who did not say what they mean nor mean what they say when they were consecrated as Bishops, which in turn has led them to ordain ordinands who also will not say what they mean, nor mean what they say at their ordinations, and the cycle continues.

This is how it happened. This is how it happens. This is how it will continue happening.

However I believe that this must stop happening and what is needed is a call to integrity. If ordained clergy (be they Deacon, Priest, Bishop) do not believe the Catholic Faith, do not agree 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: and do not believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God then they must show integrity and give up Holy Orders.

If a person is considering ordination, or is a candidate for ordination, and do not believe the Catholic Faith, do not agree 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: and do not believe that doctrine to be agreeable to the Word of God then they must show integrity and not proceed with ordination.

I remember some years ago when attending Post Ordination training which was called CME (Continuing Ministry Education) and amazingly the subject of the 39 Articles of Religion came up. One of the Evangelical priests who was part of this group expressed the importance of actually believing what one says they believe and meaning the promises that one makes at their ordination. The director of ordinands (who remember had a “different “understanding of what the gospel is) responded by talking about the importance of not being ‘legalistic’ and ‘pharisaical’ about such things, and this Evangelical Priest who was part of this group responded by saying “I would rather be called a legalist and a pharisee than be an oath-breaker”. At this point the tension in the room rose considerably and the Director changed the subject, but this godly and courageous priest looked at me and the one other Evangelical Priest in the room and said “At least Newman had integrity”. This comment was lost on everyone one else, but it certainly was not lost on me, nor the other Evangelical Priest in the group.

This was the one good thing about John Henry Newman’s legacy.  Eventually he realised he could not reconcile what the Anglican Church believes with what he believed. He realised as an Anglican Priest he was saying what he did not mean, and he did not mean what he said and he could do so no longer. So he left the Anglican Church and became a Roman Catholic Cardinal.

“At least Newman had integrity”.

 

 

Further Reading: A very accurate piece by J.I Packer entitled What is An Anglican?

[1] The Apostle’s Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Athanasian Creed, The Jerusalem Declaration

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