15.9.09

I don't think this quite works, do you?

Click title.

It does seem rather strange. And how might it end? For example, might it be that one day clergy have only to assent to their belief in some such book, the Bible, existing, without actually having to consent to being bound to what lies therein?

Actually, as I write this, I am hearing the voices of liberal protestants saying, 'exactly' - it exists but we all interpret it differently so we decide for ourselves to what we assent. I know Anglicanism is wonderful because it is 'the via media' par excellence but we need to have some integrity surely?

So, how do we go about this?

Rowan Williams has written about how churches in the West are deeply restless. As a consequence of this, we sometimes rush to positivism, even fundamentalism. We have to express that there is one statement of the truth. Are we doing so for the right reasons, all of the time? If we are overly wary about doing this, we should be equally cautious about swallowing the western liberalist agenda. We have to be critical. We actually need to be modest about claims to be right.

The ethos of classic Anglicanism is a historical spirituality as expressed in the 39 articles and the BCP. It is authoritarian. We have attempted perhaps to make it less so.When we make these changes, it is necessary as we seek to proclaim the message afresh but we still need for that continuity with the past.

Scripture is central. Even reformers like Cranmer preserved the Bishops, Deacons and Priests and reused some medieval liturgy. But he was also sure to communicate the justifying grace of God. Cranmer also had a heart for the equality of the members of the body of Christ. His emphasis lay less on preaching and more on scripture and he dreamed of the whole commonwealth gathering daily around the daily office and around the sacraments on a Sunday.

The via media is about a modesty about human knowing about God. We are limited and sinful and we need to remember that whilst He is certain, we are not. The Church is a fallen and corrupt institution. Accordingly, it must be a modest Church about what it claims to know. Compared with Lutherism or the Reformed Confessions of faith, the 39 articles is thin, it has a flimsiness which is good, it only contains strong statements about the few things that really deserve it.

We need to be modest about what we know about God and the authority of the Church. We are all working it out together. God communicates perfectly but we hear imperfectly.

Hooker believed in the infallibility of the scriptures but he also believed that God has made his ways known to the Church in other ways. And you have to admit that there are a number of things left free to the church to work out. The Bible does not give us a blueprint for organising his church. We have to work it out under the guidance of the Spirit.

Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation but lest we fall into fundamentalism, we must also see that it acts to take us to Christ in whom we have salvation and we have to work out how to be church now, today!

Sola scriptura, perhaps, but it is not simply Bible alone. We refer to the Bible as the word of God but the Word is Christ. His is the authority of the Bible, pointing to a triune God as authority. If you look at the first five articles of the 39, they are about God before they are about the Bible.

Hooker contrasted Moses and Christ. Can we talk of Moses as the law-giver, where Christ was not? The word of the Lord in the Old Testament was temporary but we have the living word – Jesus Christ.

In a sense, the Daily Office helps us to appreciate the Living Word and guards us against a sola scriptura funadamentalism because when we encounter Scripture as Church and not as individual believers it reminds us that we are community. We are accountable to each other and to God. We read the scriptures Christocentrically because Christ is the centre.

In view of this, I am pretty sure I will assent to more than just the existence of the 39 articles. 

Some of what I have written here follows my reflections after a morning spent with Alan Bartlett. Author of 'Humane Christianity' and lecturer at Durham. 

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rachel, I look forward to hearing that you have assented to all of the articles, as plain fact, without any gloss or subtle nuance. Especially: Artcles 17, 18, and 33.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel, I was hoping you would explain how you would assent to Articles 17,18 and 33. Do they have no problems for you?

Rachel Marszalek said...

Article 17--"Of Predestination and Election" --I am wrestling with this clearly Biblical topic and realise that I am not the first for whom this article has given reasons to pause.

What article 17 does do is make us conscious of this all-sovereign God. It forces us to recognise that no part of our salvation is in any way dependent upon us. We are recipients of his grace first and without this we can not turn to him in faith. His is the work, not ours. We can do nothing to bring about our own salvation which has been secured for us by his Son. For those fearing that somehow this doctrine predestines them to Hell, despite what they do or how they live, we emphasise again grace and faith rather than works but also highlight perhaps that on this issue scripture points us to people who perhaps persuaded God to change his mind. Here it all becomes a bit dodgy theologically but it is there in scripture, for Abraham prays for Sodom and Moses for Israel.

Ultimately, how to square these with each other is a little beyond me but then perhaps it is meant to be considering: How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways past finding out! Rom. 11:33.

Article 17 calls for refined thinking and careful teaching with which I hope my theological college and His precious Holy Spirit will help me.

I also think that we need to teach context. That the articles were the product of a deep dis-satisfaction with a Roman Catholic understanding of the faith which was supposed to be very works orientated. The articles were written to protest against this and are hardly subtle.

I'll get back to you on the next two articles. It's good to be made to think and I am in no way satisfied with the answer I have given.

SueM said...

Have to say that I do not believe the bible is inerrant. I believe there it contains divinely revealed truth, but transmitted through the fallible medium of human perception and expression. So, God inspired, but humans expressed and humans, however divinely inspired, remain bound by their place in time and history, their background and knowledge and unique perspectives.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Article 18 concludes those which deal with individual salvation. Again, it emphasises that our salvation is exclusively given on the basis of Christ's work and merits and God's grace. It again needs to be taught in context ie that the reformers wanted to teach that we do good works as a response to god not to somehow win his affections. I would also teach common grace ie that there are many people who do wonderful things and it is to be hoped that God's Holy spirit will make it plain to them that the source of all their goodness is God, that they are compassionate and merciful etc only because god has made people in his own image, capable of such, although imperfectly.

'For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.' (See Acts 4:12). 'Without God', we are spiritually 'dead' (Ephesians 2). We are nothing without God...'by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight' (Romans 9:9, 19f, R.S.V.).


Hi Sue
I believe that the scriptures are inerrant but that our hermeneutics is flawed. The fact that there are so many interpretations proves that whilst God speaks clearly, our fallen ears are unable to hear.

Rachel Marszalek said...

typo: god should have been God in the above

Anonymous said...

Rachel, thank you for the time and the care you have taken in giving answers to my question. However, I asked for a simple response, without gloss or subtle interpretation. If you can manage to submit these Articles to the scrutiny of interpretation, context, political necessity and the rest, why can't you do the same with the ones which conern the Bible? After all, biblical studies have advanced a long way since the Articles were framed. So, perhaps those wicked liberals aren't as bad as you suggest?

Rachel Marszalek said...

'Wicked' - such hyperbole!

Sorry, I haven't yet learned to be more concise. I am working on it, be grateful you don't have to live with me!

You raise some interesting points which I will think about. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Articles 17, 18, and 33 summarize fairly clearly what the Apostles Paul and John taught. 'No one comes to me unless Father draw him' (John 6.44). Predestination to life is the Apostles' doctrine.
Salvation is in Christ alone, by faith alone (Galatians, Ephesians). The Church has the power of discipline (1 Cor 5).
What's the problem?
Anon1

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I am perfectly well aware that many people have no problems with these particular Articles. I don't think Rachel is one of them. I think she will have real problems. So, it is hard for her to chastise those who have similar problems with other of the Articles. See?

Rachel Marszalek said...

Anon who is not anon number one - hey this is getting cofusing - you need to at least give yourselves pseudonyms, explain to me in YOUR own words, not by just re-quoting articles, what problems you think that I shall have - interested.

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