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WHY "COME HOME"? Anglicans on the Rome-ward Journey - Part 2

WHY "COME HOME"? Anglicans on the Rome-ward Journey(Part 2)
Homing in on the Anglican Migration

By Roger J. Salter
Special to Virtueonline
March 8, 2013

Edward Norman is one of the most distinguished and daunting Christian thinkers in Britain. There is no hesitancy in the proclamation of his convictions, normally orthodox in a creedal sense, and his criticism, usually fair, of that which he deems erroneous or inane is withering.

Following the publication of his book Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors in 2004, Dr. Norman converted to the Roman Catholic Church. It was a surprising development for a man who was considered by himself and others as low church. Such was his dismay with the Church of England.

For Dr. Norman the central issue in his migration to Rome was the perceived lack of authority in Anglicanism. His case seems irrefutable. Contemporary Anglicanism has no doctrinal norms and its "pick and mix" revised liturgy (Common Worship, which, with all its options and alternatives, fails to foster commonness in Anglican worship) offers a diluted presentation of the faith in terms that are banal. Leadership is not bold enough to protect orthodoxy, and he alleges that the drift from historical tradition is not only due to lack of tenacity, but also lack of talent (one believes the talent is there but that persons of ministerial capability in all its aspects simply do not wish to waste time and effort in pointless ecclesiastical bureaucracy, administration, and endless consultations and discussions - the gospel mandate isn't that hard to discern and activate).

It is not as though Anglicanism has forever been bereft of an authority, but that the authority at the center of Anglicanism has been cruelly and foolishly banished from the life of the church. Allowing for "local" exceptions in some parishes and colleges, broadly speaking, Scripture is no longer revered as it ought to be and consequently theological views are too diverse or vague for Anglicanism to find a united voice on any vital matter.

Anglicanism dithers from one dreary decade to the next, increasingly effete and ineffective. Norman's view that the Anglican ship must eventually sink seems all too likely (and that is why so many are bailing out). In Norman's view our former authority was the Book of Common Prayer (one would add, as derived from Scripture); it was, "the only bond of union", that has now faded away. Anglicanism did espouse orthodox doctrines but now it does not teach them: "The foundation theology of the Church of England is definitely Calvinist - compare the Articles of Religion with the Westminster Confession" - an interesting admission from one of England's most learned scholars in history and theology, and one who has now opted for Rome.

Dr. Norman's book (Morehouse Publishing, London and New York) is a "must read" for its honesty and its justified lamentation over the woeful unfaithfulness of Anglicanism's misguided shepherds. [There is no such thing as Calvinism. It is Augustinianism, and Anselmism, with Luther's development taken in. There is no such thing as Calvinism. The teachings of Augustine, Remigius, Anselm and Luther were just pieced together by one remarkable man, and the result baptized in his name. John Duncan. This Remigius was the Archbishop of Lyon and supporter of Gottschalk in his doctrine of predestination in the 9th century].

Anglicanism does not, or should not, exalt any human figure as its founder, but its virtual demolition is due to the brutal gouging-out of our Cranmerian core in liturgy and doctrine. The High Church party virtually erased Cranmer and his colleagues from the record and elevated Richard Hooker to the rank of primary influence and source of authority. The irony is that, from close comparison, Hooker and Cranmer are at one. The Protestant and Reformed character of Anglicanism cannot be denied. In thought and aspiration Cranmer and Calvin were twinned. By Hooker Calvin was highly esteemed. And Carolinian leaders, such as Lancelot Andrewes, respected Monsieur Jean Cauvin even if they dissented from his stronger beliefs. Strong beliefs are what we so sorely need.

It is so sad when former Anglicans deprecate Calvin as a heretic, from little or no acquaintance with him, and those who move to Rome speak of the rebellion rather then the Reformation. It is too swift and superficial a dismissal of a serious, godly, and momentous movement that should never be scorned by the appeal to Patristics.

Our Reformers were experts in that field and justified their catholic orthodoxy by thoroughly researched agreement with the bulk of the early post-apostolic teaching so far as it was Scriptural. John Jewel, John Bradford, Augustus Toplady, and the Baptist John Gill have demonstrated the gospel-centered thought of the fathers and Cranmer mulled over their texts and his own copious marginal notes as he slowly but surely gained his Reformational views.

Rome developed a counter tradition that disagrees with many of the fundamentals that the fathers sought to establish. Original simplicity was supplanted by subtle reasoning and superstitions. The official authority of Rome (for there is some sharp diversity within historic orders on matters salvific i.e. Dominican, Jesuit, Franciscan, etc, and various independent thinkers) has, for certain folk, an impressive appearance, but it is actually a gaudy, and sometimes overbearing, institution much at fault theologically, and oft times behaviourally.

Romanism is a deformed version of Christianity. It affirms the ancient creeds but is deviant in its filling in of the gaps occurring through omission of details of the faith not addressed by them. Within it there is much truth, goodness, heroic ministry, and sincere faith. "You will never find a Roman priest wandering from the catholic faith on the Person of Christ, or in reference to the Trinity" commented John Duncan in the 19th Century; it is of course different now. We find, however, a multitude of brothers and sisters, in the Roman fold, but formally the gospel is blurred and compromised and often hard to find in its main features, the gospel that is, through alien accretions of ideas and observances manufactured over successive centuries and often opposed from within (Origen on the status and prerogatives of bishops; Ratramnus on the error of transubstantiation, etc, etc).

The astute Scottish Presbyterian theologian John Duncan opines: No doubt many a devout soul has found its spiritual nourishment in that church (RCC). Wheat and arsenic, wheat and arsenic; it all depends on proportions. . . . There are magnificent prayers in the Missal. They are chiefly relics of a very early church and much purer age; and many a good Romanist gets on very well in his church by the help of these alone.

The essential elements of the gospel unite Bible believing Protestants in spite of their range of differing emphases and disagreements. Similar differences, and controversies, exist in Rome but are glossed over through deference to the institution and the perceived Petrine authority and possible punitive action of the pope. The institution rules, based on a shaky historical premise and dubious Biblical exegesis (it will be interesting to review the dents already administered by Hans Kung and note the effects of Gary Will's latest book). Rome is not the faith-monolith it pretends to be and its immigrants need to know that its glorious unity and wisdom, as they see it, are viewed by them in a different light, due to previous insights and longings, than those for whom Romanism is familiar and sometimes uncongenial. Fear in falling out of divine favor is not a forgotten hold on the consciences of many devotees.

Increased pomp and ritual practices are not proof of more genuine piety, in fact they may be indicative of the very opposite, and substitute the piety of the heart. Form and essence constitute the major worry about Rome i.e. apostolic succession, which Origen defined as the continuity of the apostolic message; priesthood, which is passé and now passed over from Old Testament representatives of God and the people to the Saviour himself as our sole go-between before God; sacramental efficacy which is attributed automatically to administration and not to grace expressed in the faith of recipients. Baptismal regeneration is a denial of that intimate initiation of union with Christ created by the Spirit the moment a believing soul desires God and leans upon him without any human mediation present.

B.B. Warfield notes, "The sacerdotal system separates the soul from direct contact with and immediate dependence upon God the Holy Spirit as the source of all its gracious activities. It interposes between the soul and the source of all grace a body of instrumentalities, on which it tempts it to depend: and it thus betrays the soul into a mechanical conception of salvation . . . . It makes every difference to the religious life, and every difference to the comfort and assurance of the religious hope, whether we are consciously dependent upon instrumentalities of grace or upon God the Lord himself, experienced as personally present to our souls, working salvation in his loving grace" (The Plan of Salvation, Eerdmans 1984, page 66). Again John Duncan touches on a vital misconception of Rome: The Romish devotee is wrong only in going to the wrong priest.

On Being Re-Born

Above any sacramental observance, before, after, or during enactment, we are given birth through the word of truth (James 1:18). Thomas alleviates extreme sacramentalism by making provision for baptism of desire, and that is a hint that no one paying close heed to Scripture would ever tie regeneration to its sign. Too many recipients of the sign fail to evince any evidence of the grace it represents. This concerned John Wesley as a subscriber to baptismal regeneration, and he had to conclude, as an Arminian, that thousands baptized in the Church of England had become unregenerate some time since infancy. It almost seems to suggest that folk may reverse and renew their regeneration at will. Regeneration is the powerful and exclusive work of the Triune God. Careful consideration of the apostle John's affinity with the language of Ezekiel evident in the book Revelation would readily come to see that being "born of water and the Spirit" (Jn. 3:5), the gift of the cleansed heart, is apostolic repetition of the Prophet's teaching, "I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; . . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you . . . And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees . . ." (Ezek 36:25-27). That is regeneration (cf the apostle Peter on the internal and cleansing effect of Christ's blood sprinkled upon us and symbolized in baptism with water. 1 Peter 1:2 & 3: 20-22. Ponder the conversion of Cornelius, Acts 10, and the apostle's account of it, Acts 15: 6-11).

The Lord's Supper

Figurative language is the stuff of Scripture. Identification of genre is the careful reader's necessary task through contemplation, context, comparison of passages (the analogy of faith), and consultation of qualified help. Transubstantiation has been dropped in the lap of the Roman Catholic Church by the Benedictine monk Radbertus of Corbie in his interpretation of John 6, accompanied by the failure to correctly appreciate the sacramental language of his forebears.

There are contemporary indications that there is Catholic thought that does not want to bear this medieval parcel in the way that Radbertus, and later Aquinas, packaged it. We do not recognize how much ordinary speech employs reference to the material to represent spiritual qualities and action. Such usage does not daunt us or baffle the imagination. A former president is not the only one to pose us with the conundrum, "it depends what is is."

Converts to Rome compare the mystery of transubstantiation to the mystery of the Trinity. There is no comparison. The doctrine of the Trinity is not offensive to reason but above it and delightful to the mind as it explores and experiences the mystery. Catholics, of course, will demure, but transubstantiation is offensive to reason and to Scripture. How would the mastication and digestion of flesh (in any form) nourish the soul? How would the imbibing of blood benefit the human spirit? The fleshly ingredients may circulate with our blood but never enter the spiritual heart to affect character. Soul and spirit are nourished and refreshed by spiritual food and drink by way of information and belief. Our intake of Christ is through faith. The Lord's Supper is the aid to absorbing the virtues and blessings of Christ, the benefits of his slain body, provided for us through his cross. We are given eternal life, and sustained, by the comprehension of and confidence in the sacrifice of Christ which never needs repetition and is efficacious for ever. The fiction of transubstantiation, transignification is a better term, is almost swallowed by force on the part converts. Eventually convinced that it is justified by the supposed assertion of Jesus they accept it on authority of the body they feel compelled, and are now resolved, to join, but it is surrender not to mystery but to myth.

Specific arguments refuting transubstantiation are abundantly available in competent Protestant writings on the subject, but there would be no harm in contemplating the thoughts of that doughty and endearing English martyr John Bradford whose works first published by the Parker Society were reprinted by the Banner of Truth in 1979. Here was a man at the forefront of the debate and who suffered grievously for it. In refusing transubstantiation he was conspicuously reverent in his devotion to his Redeemer through the sacrament. "There are in the perception of the sacrament more windows open for Christ to enter into us, than by his word preached or heard. For there (I mean in the word) he hath an entrance into our hearts, but only by the ears through the voice and the sound of the words; but here in the sacrament he hath an entrance by all our senses, by our eyes, by our nose, by our taste, and by our handling also: and therefore , the sacrament full well may be called seeable, sensible, tasteable, and touchable words. And therefore when many windows are opened in a house, the more light may come in than where there is but one opened; even so by the perception of the sacraments a Christian man's conscience hath more help to receive Christ than simply by the word preached, heard, or meditated" (Sermon on the Lord's Supper). These words echo the sentiments of Cranmer, "For as the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears; so likewise these elements of water, bread, wine, joined to God's word, do, after a sacramental manner, put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses".

Our Reformers were not martyred for being predestinarians or advocates of justification by faith so much, though these convictions, existing in the church from earliest times, were not approved. These men were sent to the tower and to the stake because they repudiated the sacrifice of the altar and this threatened the status and power of the clergy.

The Roman Church as we know it would crumble if even the remaining crumbs on the paten were not the actual flesh of Christ. This belief imperils salvation but for the excessive mercy of God who pities our misunderstandings when they co-exist with faith and an honest heart that reaches out to the Lord (but we must beware of idolatry). "Does it save?" was the maxim of William Cunningham the great Scottish scholar in historical theology of the 19th century. The question sifts out that which is vital in our thoughts and practices, and yet, ultimately every issue has a bearing on our salvation and our wellbeing in the possession of it. Soteriology is germane to our understanding of the sacraments. They are precious but must not be misconstrued or abused. To rely on them and not the One who ordained them and gave them meaning through his cross is dangerous indeed. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are clear and magnified lenses that enable us to see Calvary from the distance of our present to our Lord's propitiatory sacrifice of the past.

Right Thought About Being Right With God

Justification by faith alone is the flagship of the Reformation fleet that metaphorically shook the foundations of the Vatican from its Biblical moorings on the Tiber. Many Catholics were disposed to agree with Lutheran and Calvinistic views on this subject, notably the Italian spirituali, a company of influential clergy and laity who were particularly impressed by the theology of Calvin. This group comprised of folk such as Gasparo Contarini (Cardinal), Reginald Pole, Archbishop of Canterbury during Mary's reign, Countess Vittoria Colonna distinguished poet, and Michelangelo artistic genius, desired evangelical reform within the Roman Church without the necessity of departure and internal division. Their hopes were crushed by the Council of Trent and the personal enmity of Cardinal Carafa and fellow conservatives. Rome placed a construction upon the concept of justification that differs from Scripture and the teaching of the Church of England: We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith and not for own works and 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 (Article X1).

The liturgy of Thomas Cranmer is crafted to high-light this central truth of the gospel so that worship both teaches this cardinal tenet of Holy Scripture and inspires heartfelt praise for the sovereign mercy of God. The view of Rome is markedly different (see Catechism of the Catholic Church). Simply put Rome asserts that justification is received through baptism (see Warfield above), is identified with sanctification, and includes the exercise of both faith and works. The fusion of faith and works is misleading and especially in the terminology employed to describe it. Faith - belief - is attached to works that gain merit, albeit, it is said, works that are enabled by grace. This meritoriousness, Rome holds, is suggested by Jesus in his teaching on the separation of the sheep from goats in Matthew 26:31-46. Furthermore it is alleged that the words of James contradict the notion of justification by faith alone - a word not supplied by Scripture in the context of being right with God. "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (James 2:24).

James himself shows that he is referring to justification in a sense different to Paul. Paul is dealing with the matter of acquittal before the bar of God's justice. James is pointing to the authenticity of the faith that justifies - it produces evidence of genuineness, the theme of Jesus' address in Matthew. Saving faith alone declares that we are just through the obedience of Christ. His work saves us; his merits entirely and exclusively. But deeds, not humanly meritorious, prove that faith professed is real and alive. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). "I will show you my faith, [that it has justified me], by what I do" says James (2:18). Justification declares that we have the righteousness of Christ without any contribution of our own. How comforting are his merits that win our acceptance with God: "We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies" (BCP). We do not mix our qualifications, non-existent, with our Saviour's for pardon and acceptance, but we receive his active virtues in sanctification commencing concurrently with justifying faith which proves to be productive throughout the whole of life. The notion that our works (David Currie: Born Fundamentalist Born Again Catholic) add to, supplement, or complete a required merit before God is a disheartening depletion of the full satisfaction that Christ has already made on our behalf. The believer in the majesty and mercy of our Saviour's salvific action does not want to see the divine achievement of restoration sullied or blemished by any self effort or contribution. "Grace. grace. Dear Sir, what a charming word is that? I am sure I can freely own, that all my salvation is of grace, unmerited, distinguishing, electing grace. If I could be saved by my own righteousness, I had rather be saved by the righteousness of Christ; because that way of salvation brings most glory to our glorious God", exults George Whitefield. No merit is ours.

Christ's qualification in our stead would become tainted if anything from ourselves was attached to his righteousness. Paul took no credit in what the Lord accomplished through him. We are recumbent upon Jesus alone and his praise is not shared with any other. Rome divides our hope between God and ourselves, a division that would separate us from God. Neither the believer's faith nor works can be counted as merits. James deals with abstract, dry, intellectual faith, likened to that of demons, that knows no harmonious relationship with God and produces no fruit. Scripture tells us that salvation is a process but that justification is the opening, once for all, declaration of our pardon and acceptance with God. Justification is instant and absolute. Sanctification increases. G. C. Berkouwer spares us from confusion in this matter of justification by alone in a wonderful chapter entitled Some Objections Considered, Faith and Justification, Eerdmans, 1972.

The quibble that Martin Luther and his followers gratuitously added the word "alone" to the formula of justification is banished by Paul's teaching that we are liberated from the law, not simply the ceremonial law but the moral law, doing what is right, maintaining unimpeachable rectitude, in coming to Christ as penitents. Rome says "do". Luther says "done" The content of the term grace, fully explored and expounded, annihilates the need for works for the approbation of God. Justification is a free gift (to be necessarily tautological for clarity's sake). And like our assent to the doctrine of the Trinity, a term not mentioned in the Biblical texts, we subscribe to Justification by Faith Alone through good and necessary inference from Scripture.

Migration Unnecessary

Orthodox Anglicans adhering to the historic faith expressed in our Articles and liturgy are already well and truly home in terms of allegiance to sacred tradition. They have Holy Scripture as the bedrock of their faith. They have agreement with the fathers and the creeds to support them. They have the Reformation to restore and clarify the doctrines of divine grace and as to how grace is wrought in our lives by the drawing of the Father, our deliverance through the Son, and the indwelling of the Spirit. In God himself is our fullness, accessed through word and sacrament without a surfeit of added and complex tradition and ceremony. Anglicanism could be such a force for good and human salvation if it re-possessed and confessed its heritage. Its current condition is dire but the Lord could and may revive its dynamism if His determinations are favorable toward us and we are caused to earnestly seek him by deep and genuine repentance. "Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing - grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God" - the very means we need to worship and serve him aright, his gifts for our acceptable approach to him (Joel 2:14).

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church.

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