Cranmer’s Standard Examined (II)   ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Thomas Cranmer called the leaders of the church in his day to faithfulness to the “sacraments of Christ…as this Church has received the same.” The Anglican clergy of the subsequent centuries have all promised fidelity to this statement. What did the archbishop martyr mean?

The first and certain answer is that he meant the sacraments of the gospel, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.” All other “so called sacraments” were not to be accorded the same place in the life of the church as these two dominical ones. They were the sacraments that gave voice to “the truth of the gospel” in an “outward and visible” way. They did not add to the gospel, they reinforced it. One of them, Holy Baptism, enshrined the necessary understanding and faith required to begin the Christian Journey. The other, Holy Communion, enshrined the necessary understanding and faith required to be sustained on that journey. These sacraments gave liturgical clarity to the “doctrine of Christ” which was at the heart of the churches life and witness.

It is an ancient teaching that what is essential to the Christian Faith is that which is required of an adult at baptism. What then did Cranmer understand to be essential? Clearly he meant to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ sufficiently to repent of one’s sins and turn to Christ. This meant to understand the atoning death of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and to yield one’s life to him. There must be clear evidence that this faith has been wrought by the Spirit of God, and is not just a formal action. There must be evidence that he understands the rule of faith as contained in the creed, the commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. This is the school of preparation. Only then was a man to be baptized. It was a step to be taken by faith.

Having been baptized, the new believer was bidden to come to the Table of the Lord, to receive the “bread of angels” given for all who would follow and serve the Lord Jesus. The communion in the body and blood, the bread and the wine, received by faith, was the only once offered, but to be continually received, spiritual sustenance for true believers. It was not magic, but a holy mystery of the first order, that rightly received united the believer to his Risen Lord, and strengthened him for service. Without feeding upon the Lord it was impossible to grow up into maturity. This sacrament was not to be neglected or despised, since the Lord had commanded it to be at the center of the church’s life on the night before he died. To be “his disciple” and abstain from the Holy Table was to risk proving oneself to be outside the covenant of grace. But no one was to come lightly or unadvisedly to that table, for to do so put one’s eternal salvation in jeopardy. It was a step to be taken by faith.

These two sacraments were the only two received by the Church of England in the beginning. The “doctrine of Christ” was contained in them, and the liturgy of the church sought to make that doctrine unmistakably clear.

 

Next Week: Cranmer’s Standard Examined (III)

Cranmer’s Standard Examined (I)  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

How then can we decide what is the “doctrine of Christ” that first came to ancient Britain, and that is the foundation for the faith of all those who call themselves Christians  and have received that faith because it first came there? Two answers, and two only, have been given to that question historically.

The first says we must “listen to the church.” The Church of Rome has codified this answer with a rigidity that excludes nearly all other churches from the name “church”, no matter how ancient, or theologically coherent, their claim. The Bishop of Rome, speaking through “the magisterium” of bishops in communion with him has uttered it. To not be in communion with the Bishop of Rome is to not be a true part of the catholic (universal) church. It is the Roman Catholic Church alone that can tell us what is the “doctrine of Christ.”

This answer was rejected by the Church of England in the16th century, and it must still be rejected today. No specifically Anglican version of this answer may be tolerated either. The church does have authority in matters of faith, but it does not invent that faith.

The second answer, anciently agreed, is that the New Testament is the only sure ground upon which the “doctrine of Christ” can be found. From the earliest surviving records we see all the godly leadership of the church appealing to what Jesus taught and the apostles explicated, as that is contained in the scripture. No holy leader dared to undermine what the apostles taught. There were disputes about details, to be sure, but gradually the whole church agreed that God himself had bequeathed the New Testament writings to the church as the revelation binding all believers in Christ. Rightly expounded these writings delineated the boundaries of true faith. This is what Cranmer meant by “the doctrine of Christ.”

This answer was that of the Church of England in the 16th century, and remains her stated claim, once all the manifold accretions to her faith and practice are stripped away. Every attempt to remove this central truth (and there have been and are many) has been resisted by a faithful remnant. Without this answer articulated, believed, and promulgated, the heritage of the Church of England becomes little more than a “mess of pottage.” The doctrine of the church is the apostolic teaching of Jesus found in the New Testament. Faithful leaders are to expound it and live it.

What then can give us detailed clarity for the new day we are facing? What will we say is the “doctrine” in our own time of trial and challenge? The answer is not simple, for the New Testament is a revelation containing manifold perspectives on the one central truth that the Son of God has come among us, and given his life for the sins of the world. Yet, our fathers dared to suggest what was essential by enunciating it in the baptismal liturgy, and the Eucharistic liturgy, of the church. There is found the “doctrine of Christ.”

 

Next Week: Cranmer’s Standard Examined (II)

Can Cranmer’s Standard Stand?  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

I have been suggesting that the words Thomas Cranmer wrote, and the churches of the Anglican Communion required every man ordained to pledge for nearly five hundred years, are a necessary secondary foundation upon which a new Anglican Reformation must stand. The first foundation being the preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The second being “the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ…as this Church and Realm have received the same….”

I am further arguing that the Anglican Family of churches, a community much wider than the formal communion, must explicitly identify themselves as a Christian community of Jesus Followers, before requiring anything else of her members or leaders. Without this expectation being required there is little hope for Anglicans to play their God given role in the New Reformation that is already spreading throughout the world.

Now, let us look again at Cranmer’s glorious and stirring standard: “the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ…as this Church and Realm has received the same.” Which “Church” and which “Realm”?

The “Church” Cranmer referred to was that planted in ancient Britain, when direct knowledge of the apostolic era was still alive. Historical scholarship has shown that is is not unreasonable to believe the ancient legend that the faith first came in the first century. Archeological evidence has been found in modern England dating to AD 125, which clearly buttresses the ancient tradition.

The “Realm” which Cranmer referred to was that which succeeded the most ancient kingdoms of the Britains, and which was subsequently consolidated into the kingdom which the Magna Carta claimed (along with the Church of the English) was “free.”

These facts point us to the Church which bequeathed to us “the faith once delivered to the saints” by the Lord Jesus and his appointed apostles. This is the Church that received the apostolic faith, “the apostles teaching and fellowship.” This is not simply the Realm of the 16th century, when Cranmer lived, nor of the 6th, when Augustine came from Rome, but the realm whose roots go back into the mists of time in Britain.

There was a Church in Britain, holding fast to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, before there was a General Council in Nicea in AD 325. There was a Church in Britain before there was a Council of Constantinople in AD 381. There was a Church in Britain before there was Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. It was a Church that had received “the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ,” and (as Cranmer went on) “as the Lord had commanded…according to the commandments of God….”

What then are the consequences of these facts for Anglicans? They are monumental. Cranmer’s standard must stand. Reform to this standard will last. Here we must stand.

 

Next Week: Cranmer’s Standard Examined (I).

Rival Opinions.  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Recently the Roman Catholic Church declared a former Anglican clergyman, John Henry Newman, to be a “Saint.” He is considered one of the founders of a nineteenth century movement in the English Church, sometimes called the Anglo Catholic Revival, which gradually altered much of the global community of churches which descended out of the one from which he departed. Another movement, broadly called Evangelical, emerged from the eighteenth century Great Awakening in England and has exerted a strong influence on the Church of England and many of her daughter churches. Similarly, twentieth century changes stemming from the charismatic movement, and the subsequent influence of the teaching of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement, have marked many corners of the Anglican world with a pentecostal stamp. Yet all the while, official statements have continued to be made in many quarters which suggest the doctrines of the sixteenth century English Reformation are still foundational. These rival theological opinions, and others not mentioned, now coexist in a global community so diverse as to be considered, by some, as pathologically dysfunctional.

How then can a new reformation come to any settled resolution without some standard of teaching that is actually embraced by the members of the church? How can an honest appeal be made to the “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ as this church and realm has received the same?” What did Cranmer mean? The bishops and theologians who enshrined the English Reformation in formal doctrinal teaching after Cranmer’s death certainly thought they knew.

Any honest reading of Cranmer’s Ordinal (1550); the Book of Common Prayer (1549/52), and the Articles of Religion (1571) will clearly illuminate the first two of Cranmer’s dicta. The “doctrine” was that of the Early Church as revealed in the New Testament. The “sacraments” were those two evidenced in the gospels: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. To illuminate the third,“discipline,” recourse must be made to English usage of the time. In the sixteenth century discipline implied training, or as we might say today mentoring, not the exercise of punishment. It referred to the pattern by which the church made true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and maintained due order. It referred to the discipling of the young done by parents, the discipling of new ordained leaders by those already ordained, and the discipling of a new generation of scholarly theologians by those who had gone before.

If it is conceded that a historical enquiry reveals a clear answer to the question of what Cranmer meant by Anglican, it is indisputable that Anglican “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline” aligns the Church of England and its claims with the broad sweep of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. It roots everything important in the conviction that Holy Scripture is, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) would later assert, the “rule and standard of the Faith.” And it centers the gospel life of the church in the local congregation. But does this solve the many problems of division and dispute in the early twenty-first century?

 

Next Week: Can Cranmer’s Standard Stand?

Words and Their Meaning.  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Humpty Dumpty is famous for his statement: “When I use a word it means just what I want it to mean.” Such an idea was never a mark of truth in the church of Christ Jesus, nor tolerated by her leaders. Words have meaning, and some of those words and their meanings are inviolable.

The Lord Jesus taught that his words would never pass away, and that he said nothing but what the Father wanted him to say. On these two realities is established, for all his true followers, the central guidance for their faith. The words of Jesus cannot be overturned by someone calling themselves a Christian. They are to be obeyed. The central mark of a disciple of the Lord Jesus is his or her determination to abide in the word of Jesus. Because God has revealed his Word to us, we can have confidence in it. Only because of his Word revealed to us in the flesh of his Son, and in the words of Holy Scripture, can we have life eternal.

To maintain the above assertions has been the central task of the orthodox resistance in the Anglican Family for many generations. As moral and theological error crept in, the faithful rose up to oppose it. And always this opposition was rooted in an assumed, if not explicit, doctrine of Holy Scripture. This doctrine was unashamedly thought to be Anglican, yet in recent decades the unity of this doctrinal stance has been severely compromised, sometimes at the highest levels of the communion. Global divisions are forming with significantly different views.

While these travails have afflicted the health of the church, there has been a countervailing trend in the West. Many have joined the community from other branches of the Christian Church, and they have often brought with them a healthy confidence in the truth of the Scriptures. In many a revitalized congregation a significant proportion of the active people were schooled elsewhere in the truths of the Scriptures. They have been a godly leaven in the lump of Anglicanism. But there is another problem that must be faced. What does it mean to be Anglican?

There can be no doubt that to the fathers of the English Reformation to be an Anglican meant to be a Christian. A Christian who lived in England, no doubt, but a Christian first and foremost. It would have been confusing to them to hear someone say their “identity” was Anglican. The fires of martyrdom – when they came – did not consume Anglicans, but Christians, true followers of the Risen Jesus Christ.

What then did the reformers in England mean to be doing as they reorganized and reformed the English Church? What did they bring forward as the unalterable basis for the churches life and witness? Thomas Cranmer, who surely has pride of place for giving an answer, thought it was to restore “the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ” as that had first been received in England. What did he mean, and what do those words still signify in the 21st century?

 

Next Week: Rival Opinions

Right Doctrine Always Matters ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

When did the Church of England and her progeny first depart from understanding biblical doctrine as the critical foundation of the community of faith?

Many answers could be given, but most of the salient ones would lead back to the radical assault on biblical authority that emerged in the nineteenth century. Gradually that assault made its way into every corner of the academy, and by the 1940s some teachers in the theological world of the Anglican Family were subtly, if not overtly, undermining the authority of Holy Scripture. Though the classic language of the Book of Common Prayer went on shaping the popular faith of most of the members of the Anglican Communion, and the majority of its ordained leaders, many leaders were increasingly swayed by the arguments of German Rationalism. By the 1960s few ordinands emerged from Anglican theological training in the West with a firm and confident trust in the Holy Scriptures as the authoritative basis of all right teaching.

The inevitable outcome of this change was to make the household of God vulnerable to serious error. Without clear biblical presuppositions, all subjects became subject to a variety of interpretations, and the classic authority and clarity of reformed Anglican Doctrine was lost. Though the historic formularies were still printed and occasionally mentioned, they were less and less upheld as binding on the clergy. It was only a matter of time until that led to serious error and outright heresy being tolerated in the church. It was not so at the beginning.

On the day after Pentecost, the apostles dedicated themselves to teaching the new Jerusalem community the things that Jesus had taught. The new believers “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship…” (Acts 2:42), Luke tells us. Here foundational doctrine for the Christian church is defined. The apostles did not teach what they liked, or agreed with, they taught what their Risen Lord had taught them. When in the providence of God the canon of the New Testament was closed, the church universally affirmed that here alone was the substance of what the apostles themselves taught. To rightly handle these writings was the essential teaching task of the church.

Every doctrinal struggle for the next thousand years was resolved by an appeal to the clear teaching of the New Testament. Nothing was to be taught that was not proved by the Scriptures. This was the universal source of all right Christian Doctrine. When in subsequent centuries this doctrine was undermined, the reformers sought to put things right. The leaders of the English Reformation all took their stand on the truth of the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God written, and some paid for that faith with their lives.

No hope of a new reformation can begin any other place than in restoring the primacy and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture to the life of the Anglican Family. No matter requiring reform will be truly reformable without this foundation. Right doctrine always matters, and the central authority of the Word of God is the preeminent one.

 

Next Week: Words and Their Meaning.

The Moment of Truth? ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The Reformation of the 16th Century began when one man reached the end of his capacity to strive. The East African Revival began in 1935 when a black African and an English Missionary knelt and wept before God in one another’s arms. The Great Awakening is counted from the days when George Whitfield and then John Wesley both realized that ordination was not enough, their hearts had to be made new. They were born again of the Spirit of God. The modern movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, in the historic churches, began when one Episcopal parish priest knelt and let two non Anglican lay people pray for him to receive the Holy Spirit in power. When Benedict could no longer see a way to serve the Lord, in the ordinary path of the fifth century Roman Church, he headed to the woods. When God took hold of Francis in the twelfth century his repentance was manifested in the public marketplace. As different as all these cases are, they all presaged a mighty move of God.

So it is whenever God begins again to call his people to return to him. Someone first grieves and repents, and is followed by others who do the same. And it always begins with a man called to lead by doing what others are not doing, or will not do. There is always a moment of truth when the hand of God takes hold of a life, and calls that person to a renewed, sincere, deep, and true faith. It requires a kind of death, and there are always tears. But when it happens change begins. Heaven comes down.

Avoiding such moments is natural, however, because it requires a heart desiring above all else to be in cooperation with the living God. The strange mystery is that until that very God moves the heart of a man there is no willingness to be broken. For a drowning or broken person must cry out for the hand of God to save them. It is an act of submission and helplessness, which usually goes against everything in the very being of a fallen man. Especially an ordained man. A man responsible for a parish or a diocese, or a community. But until there is a soul shattering honesty of confession and repentance, the people a man leads will be led astray.

If a new reformation is to come to the Anglican Family, confused and erring leaders, if they are truly servants of the Lord Jesus, must repent. Leaders who are not true followers must be replaced. The discipline of the Lord and the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures must be restored.

How can this not be known by all who lead in the church of God? The Lord Jesus Christ taught that a man must be born again of the Spirit of God or he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The Apostle taught that the man who is truly God’s is not one who can appeal to an outward sign or action, but one with a changed heart. It is always a work of the Spirit. And when this happens to a man he wants only to be found obedient to his Lord. He wants to walk in the truth, as God has revealed the truth. He can not stand by as untruth spreads, false teaching corrupts, and the body of Christ suffers.

 

Next Week: Right Doctrine Always Matters