Theology

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.

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“There Can Be Only One”

Recently I came across another concerning post on Anglican Pastor entitled “4 Reasons Why I Now Celebrate Communion Facing the Altar, Not the People”

In this piece the author, Rev’d Ben Jefferies give four reasons why he has adopted the practice. However after reading his piece I remain unconvinced by his article for numerous reasons and found his article concerning on several fronts. No doubt there are others who can articulate those concerns better than I can, but here are two reasons that stood out to me.

1. Anglicans do not have altars.

Jefferies insists of using the term altar when even those most cursory glance at the liturgy of the Anglican Church (the Book of Common Prayer) and the history of Classical Cranmerian Anglicanism shows that we have no altars. Whilst some may deem his use of the term to be mere semantics, I believe that Jefferies use is deliberate. It buttresses his notion that although we don’t offer anything pertaining to our salvation, we still offer something; and also supports his notion that the priest’s role is sacerdotal, not in the full Roman sense, but in a way that goes beyond the Scriptures. For example he writes:

The spotlight is no longer on you, as a person, and the experience you are or are not having. Rather, you become subordinate to the role you are there to fulfill: the role of priest…In the pulpit I am to preach God’s Word to the people. But in the Eucharistic prayers, I am to take the people’s spiritual needs to God, as an appointed intercessor. 

Anglican priests/presbyters preside over a memorial meal at the Lord’s table. They do not act as the appointed interccessor at the Altar. God’s people only have one appointed intercessor and that it is the Holy Spirit:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, becausethe Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.(Romans 8:26-27)

God’s people also have only one mediator – the Lord Jesus Christ

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”  (1 Tim 2:5-6)

Know where in the Book of Common Prayer is the Lord’s Table ever referred to as an Altar. The Rubric in the BCP also says:

The Table at the Communion time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel, where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said. And the Priest standing on the north side of the Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling. 

This was ratified in the changes made in the second Prayer Book of Edward VI (1552). Two important changes that are worth noting:

  • The term altar was removed and no loner used to refer to the Holy Table.
  • The officiating clergyman was to stand “at the north side” of the table instead of “afore the midst of the altar”

2. We are not sacrificing or offering anything at the Lord’s Table

Jefferies seems to be struggling to have it both ways. He writes: As the priest, I am presenting things to God, to please him.

But then states: What can we present to [God] that he will find acceptable? Certainly not our merits or works or anything from us, or even, anything in the created world whatsoever. The only offering that is pleasing to God is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross at Golgotha. That was the one pleasing, propitiatory sacrifice. The only acceptable oblation to God the Father.

Yes, as the BCP says:

Almighty God, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death on the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins fo the whole world;

But then again puzzlingly, Jefferies states:

Therefore, how dare we bring before Almighty God anything of less value! Therefore, the best (and only!) thing we can offer is a memorial of that one sacrifice on the cross. A remembrance to God, that we spiritually lift up before him, asking for him to accept in our place. We ask God the Father to accept the oblation of Jesus on our behalf, and in a mysterious way, we make this plea through the celebration of Holy Communion.

The only thing that we can offer to God of ourselves is our gratitude: Our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (to use the words of the Eucharistic prayer). And besides that, our whole selves, which we also offer in the prayer.

But even as we offer ourselves, it is not as ourselves that we render ourselves to the Father. Rather, as the Body of Christ, as part of Christ, we the Church present our lives, body and soul, to God, as part of Christ’s own offering of himself to God.

Some may think we offer something on an Altar, we don’t offer anything on a table. 1 At the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion, we are not presenting anything to God. We are not asking God to accept anything in our place, as Scripture and the BCP already attests, Christ has made the once for all sacrifice in our place. We don’t need to ask God the Father to accept what He has already accepted.

W.H. Griffith Thomas puts it well in his seminal work The Catholic Faith: a Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England:

The truth is that, strictly and accurately, the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice but a sacrament. It has sacrificial aspects and relations because it is so closely associated in thought and purpose with the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and becasue it is the standing testimony to the world and to ourselves of our constant need of and perpetual dependance on that sacrifice in all our approach to God. In a sacrifice we give, we yield up; in a sacrament we receive, we appropriate. The only acts in the Lord’s Supper according to the institution are “take”, “eat”, “drink”, “this do”, and these are not sacrificial. The ideas of a sacrifice and a sacrament are so distinct and different that the Lord’s Supper, unless Scripture warrants it, cannot be both at the same time”.

So for an Anglican priest to adopt a posture that sends the message that we have altars, that Anglican priests are acting as intercessors and mediators, that we are offering anysort of sacrifice, turns the Lord’s Supper into something it is not.

I remember as a teenager watching a movie entitled The Highlander. I don’t remember much of this movie except two things:

  1. The main actor’s Scottish accent has to be the worst version in movie history (even Mel Gibson’s Braveheart version was better).
  2. The line in the movie “there can be only one” (that is, only one immortal).

Thus when it comes to the Altar “there can be only one” – and it was the Cross at Golgotha. When it comes to the sacrifice, there can be only one – and that was the Lord Jesus Christ.  When it comes to our mediator, there can be only one – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. When it comes to the intercessor for God’s people in prayer, – there can be only one – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Footnote:

1. A careful reading of the liturgy of the BCP one can see that the prayer where we offer “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” takes place after the Lord’s Prayer, which is prayed after the Lord’s Supper has completed. Note the rubric:

When all have communicated; the Minster shall return to the Lord’s Table, and reverently place upon it what remaineth of the consecrated Elements, covering the same with a fair linen cloth. Then shall the Priest says the Lord’s Prayer, the people repeateding after him ever petition. 

I believe that Cranmer was intentionally placing this prayer where he does in order to dispell any notion that we are offering anything upon an altar and that our prayers be consistent with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that the sacrifice we offer is our daily lives (Romans 12:1).

Book Review – Ever Ancient Ever New – The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation

Being an Anglican priest who loves the liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, who thinks a traditional prayer book service should not only be found in an early Sunday morning service for people aimed over the age of eighty, I was very interested to read the latest work by a fellow Anglican priest from across the pond Winfield Bevins.

He makes some very salient points. For example, Winfield notes one of the weaknesses of the church growth movement:

“The end result of attempts to “woo” the world with the world’s ways has produced a generation of consumers – individuals who in the driver’s seat and dictate what and how the church should meet their needs – rather than radically comitted disciples of Jesus Christ”. chapter 1 – [the New Search for Liturgy – p.29]

He backs this up in chapter 2 (which I thought was his strongest chapter) writing:

Finally, perhaps the most powerful characteristic of liturgy is its participatory element. Many young adults have shared with me how they are tired of a seeker-friendly, consumerist approaches to the faith in which they observe and absorb the work of others. They no longer want to be etertained; they want to participate. Liturgy ensures that each person has the opportunity to participate in the worship of the church, and it keeps us from being passive spectatotrs who simply observe and consume knowledge. (Liturgy is participatory – p.53).

Winfield unpacks and applies this to families in Chapter 10 – Bringing Liturgy Home, (pp.191-192).

“People today tend to focus on “the now” at the expense of the past, and we invest ourselves in what is temporal rather than what is eternal”.

After reading chapter 2 I was saying aloud “yes!”, “so true”.

Bevins made points which I strongly agree with, how liturgy frees us from ourselves:

“Liturgy is formative…it inoculates us from man-centered worship’. (p.50).

Below are some other helpful tidbits:

“liturgical worship can bring a much-needed focal point for a more disciplined spiritual life”.[Chapter 1 – the New Search for Liturgy – p.37]

“Historical liturgy offers us a way to correct our forgetfulness”. [the New Search for Liturgy – p.39]. ” As such, we as a people should not approach God as individuals, but as a family of God”.

In later chapters, Winfield helpfully elucidates the benefits of using liturgy prayers in one’s prayer life and the daily office (i.e. Chapter 8 – Rhythms of Grace -pp.164-167).

A question that his book raised in my mind as I was reading it pertains to Bevins’ claims that many young people, many young adults in the USA are moving to churches that are liturgical. I wonder if Winfield is over-egging the pudding just a wee bit. I have asked other Anglican priests from the States who are saying that this is not the case, some do, but not on a huge scale.

I believe that the liturgies of the Anglican Church, namely the Book of Common Prayer are a blessing that cannot be overstated. I love being an Anglican Christian and love our Anglican liturgies. I (like Bevins) am also very wary of consumer entertainment based church services where members are spectators rather than participants and so to encounter a book written by not only a  brother in Christ, but a fellow Anglican priest who shares the same love of liturgy, I really wanted to love this book. However, Bevins’book seemed to be theologically confusing. On the one hand, he talks about embracing liturgy “in conjunction with good theology” and the necessity of orthodoxy (right doctrine) and yet through his book he provides anecdotal examples of where one’s experience was the litmus test to discern whether something  (in this case, liturgy) was true, right, brought them to God).  Bevins uses very subjective language. He often uses the words “felt”, ” a sense of”; his term ‘a sense of’.

As I read this book, it became more apparent that Ever Ancient Ever New was not about the merits of Anglican Christianity, or about the blessings of Anglican liturgy and in particular the BCP. It was more about the benefits of being liturgical, and the litmus test of what makes good liturgy is the experience that it engenders in the person using the liturgy, regardless of its source (be it Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic or Anglican). The book lacked theological clarity (which I think was most evident in Chapter 7 – Three Streams, One River. I won’t elucidate my concerns of that in this review as I have already written about the Three Streams in a previous article, sufficed to say that Winfield is a strong proponent of this view and thus, in my opinion, has moved away from Classical Cranmerian Anglicanism and places a dichotomy between Word, Spirit and Sacrament in its very attempt to try to bring together what Cranmerian Anglicanism had never separated.

What makes liturgy good liturgy is not the experience one has when engages in it, but the Word of God that permeates through it, (which is why the BCP is such good liturgy).  But for Bevins, it seems that Scripture (whilst authoritative) it is not the supreme authority.

Australian Anglican priest and former Dean of St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney, the Rev Philip Jensen, writes:

While nearly all Christians uphold the authority of the Scriptures, in reality, there are other authorities which compete with the Bible for supremacy. There are those who regard the teachings of the institution or tradition to which they belong as authoritative for their life. If their church or priest or bishop or pastor (past or present) offers direction for their behaviour or understanding or praxis they will adopt it readily and fall into line. Others wish to be led more by their experience of God. They see their Christian lives in terms of following the movings and promptings of the Spirit. Then there are those who base their understanding of God and what He requires of us on human reason. They will accept and practice whatever can be demonstrated as sensible, rational, and intelligent and discard what they deem to be primitive or irrational. Whilst in the Christian life, the positions that we hold to have a measure of Bible, Experience, Institution, and Reason mixed in, there comes a point where one has to choose between these four competing authorities. What will we do when our experience doesn’t tally with the Scriptures? Or when our reason disagrees with what the Bible says? Or when our practice or tradition does not match with God’s Word? It is at this point that we reveal our true colours. We draw a line and take our stand. 1

Bevins, like us all, has to choose between these four competing authorities. Judging from his book, Bevins has chosen experience. And this is the books greatest weakness and is where it falls down. Cranmer’s goal in putting together the BCP was to point people to Scripture, he did not discount reason, experience or tradition, but for him, these authorities come under the final authority- Holy Scripture. That is the point of authentic Anglican liturgy.

Some years ago a book came out entitled Evangelicals On the Canterbury Trail by the late Robert Webber. Bevins’ book in many ways seems to be a 21st Century version of that book, minus the American Episcopalianism with a strong addition of three streams theology. The result is a theologically confusing book. His quote from Brian Zahnd in his epilogue encapsulates this confusion:

“We need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality – I need it all”

So would I recommend this book? I would have to say that in spite of the strengths of this book (which there are many of which my Subterranean Anglicans could benefit from), I could not recommend this book to anyone other than the Biblically discerning.

Footnote

  1. https://phillipjensen.com/four-ways-to-live/