January 8, 2014

The New Church of England Baptismal Liturgy

Filed under: Anglicanism — William Witt @ 7:14 pm
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My brief (for me) comments on the new Church of England baptismal liturgy.

Evil is horizontal language. Sin is vertical language. An atheist can reject evil. Sin always has reference primarily to God. Dropping the language of sin is carried through to soteriology. The baptized no longer turn to Christ as “Saviour,” but simply “turn to Christ.” They no longer “submit to Christ as Lord” and Christ is no longer identified as “the way, the truth, and the life.” The extent of Christology is that the baptized “trusts” in Christ and promises to “follow him for ever.”

It is interesting that the baptismal prayer omits all language of sin. The apostles’ creed is dropped in preference to vague promises to trust God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The prayers again omit any reference to sin or forgiveness of sin.

This strikes me as a Nestorian (or adoptionist) Christology an Abelardian soteriology, a Pelagian anthropology and an ethics that has only the second table of the law.

The formula itself does at least contain the traditional trinitarian names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but if we take seriously the principle of lex orandi lex credendi, it is questionable whether this is even a Christian rite of baptism because the content of the faith in to which the person is baptized is not Christian faith.

January 3, 2014

On “Lutheran” Anglicanism

Filed under: Anglicanism,Spiritualty,Theology — William Witt @ 7:56 pm
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Luther"Last summer, my friend David Koyzis started a conversation about why there are so many Baptists who call themselves “Calvinists,” but no “Lutheran” Baptists.

David might be surprised to know that there are Anglicans who call themselves “Lutherans.” They have historical connection with Trinity School for Ministry in connection with a former Dean/President, and every year I discover at least one or two new students in my classes who identify with this “Lutheran” Anglicanism. The recent publication of this book reminded me that “Lutheran” Anglicanism is alive and well, and has prompted me to post my own assessment of “Lutheran” Anglicanism.

Before I give my own assessment of Lutheran Anglicanism, I should perhaps say a little about my own acquaintance with Luther and Lutheranism before I encountered the “Lutheran” Anglicans. During my years at graduate school, I came across Luther as part of my studies, and knew several Lutherans who were fellow students. I studied Luther primarily in courses on Christology and liturgy, and included a chapter on Luther in my dissertation. My assessment of Luther was mixed. I appreciated most Luther’s Christology and his sacramental theology, although I found his theology of the ubiquity of Christ’s ascended human nature problematic. I was less happy with Luther’s Bondage of the Will, where I thought he could have learned a thing or two from Thomas Aquinas or Augustine. Luther’s failure to distinguish adequately between natural and moral freedom combined with a failure to distinguish adequately between foreknowledge and predestination led to a determinist doctrine of human will and divine predetermination that made God responsible for sin. Luther’s way of stating the distinction between the “hidden” and “revealed God” was rightly repudiated by Karl Barth as undermining the fundamental theological thesis that God is in himself who he is in his revelation. I was also less than happy with Luther’s “law/gospel” hermeneutic, which, while it had some validity for interpreting certain passages in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Romans was largely a case of eisegesis if imposed on the Bible as a whole. As a Reformation Christian, I embraced Luther’s doctrines of sola scriptura, and justification by grace alone through faith alone, not because they were Luther’s but because I believe them correct – although I tended to understand the Reformation sola’s through Anglican eyes.

As part of my doctoral research, I read quite a bit in modern secondary literature on Luther. I read not only Luther, but became familiar with some of the key hallmarks of Lutheran theology – the Augsburg Confession, and much of the material in the Book of Concord. I also became familiar with a few modern Lutheran theologians: Soren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Gustaf Aulen, Helmut Thielicke, and contemporary Lutherans such as Wolfhart Pannenberg, Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, Gilbert Meilaender and David Yeago. Overall, my assessment of Luther and Lutheranism was mostly positive.

I discovered a very different “Luther” and approach to “Lutheranism” among the “Lutheran” Anglicans, a kind of Lutheranism I had never encountered before. This “Lutheran” Anglicanism was a variant on a way of reading Luther that Lutheran theologian Gilbert Meilaender calls “dialectical Lutheranism”1

Dialectical Lutheranism is distinguished by the following key characteristics: (more…)

July 13, 2013

New Page on “Hermeneutic of Discontinuity”

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 2:47 am
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I have added a new page entitled “A Hermeneutic of Discontinuity,” a theological discussion of the current ecclesial crisis. Click above or on the link on the left.

January 14, 2013

It’s about communion! But communion with whom??

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Over at Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, South Carolina, Fr. Dow Sanderson speaks about his decision to remain in the Episcopal Church:

I especially urge those of you who feel that you must leave your church home, in these difficult times, and seek another Anglican “safe haven”. Like so many things in this broken and highly polarized world, some would frame this discussion as simply a choice between Biblical, Orthodox Truth on the one hand, and very progressive, liberals on the other.   This simply is not true.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of Anglo-Catholics in the United States remain a part of the Episcopal Church and have absolutely no intention of doing otherwise.  These would include, of course, very famous places like St. Paul’s in Washington, Church of the Advent in Boston, St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue in New York, St. John’s in Savannah, to name just a few.

What is at stake here is Communion. Anglicanism, in all its expressions, has always claimed to be something more than just a church of the Reformation.  Reformed, yes, but through our ties to the ancient See of Canterbury, we have depth of Tradition and continuity with the Apostolic Church that has always been highly valued.

I certainly think that people of good conscience can remain in The Episcopal Church. At the same time, Fr. Sanderson begs a number of questions. Foremost, he states that the question is one of “communion.” But this begs the question, “communion with whom?” The Catholic tradition is quite clear that communion is only possible with those who hold the Catholic faith. One of the better books on this subject is Werner Elert’s Eucharist and Communion in the First Four Centuries (Concordia Publishing House, 2003). St. Athanasius was not in communion with the heretic Arius. St. Cyril of Alexandria was not in communion with Nestorius. St. Augustine was not in communion with the Donatists. After the ecumenical councils of the early centuries, those who refused to subscribe to them were no longer in communion with the Catholic Church. For example, the Copts refused to recognize Chalcedon, and have been out of communion with the Orthodox churches to this day. Rome and Orthodoxy do not agree on the role of the pope, and so they have been out of communion since 1054. And, of course, Anglicans have been out of communion with Rome since Henry VIII.

The second question that Fr. Sanderson fails to address has to do with canon law and the role of the bishop in a diocese. As a priest in a diocese, what is one’s obligation when one’s bishop is deposed for “abandoning the communion” when he has not in fact done so? Bishop Mark Lawrence did not leave the Episcopal Church. He was kicked out. He was kicked out based on the misuse of a canon that was intended to be used for clergy that really had left the Episcopal Church and joined another denomination. But Bishop Mark was actually trying to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in TEC, not leave. In a case of double jeopardy, Bishop Lawrence was re-tried (without a trial or representation) on charges that had already been dismissed a year ago. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated that she had accepted “the renunciation of the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church of Mark Lawrence,” although TEC’s canons state that such renunciation must be received in writing, and Bishop Lawrence has denied that he made such a renunciation.

So the Presiding Bishop’s claim that Bishop Mark had “abandoned the communion,” was, at the least, a very creative interpretation of TEC’s canon law.. To be blunt, Bishop Mark did not abandon communion. TEC broke communion by deposing him. It was only after TEC violated its own canon law by deposing Bishop Mark that South Carolina left TEC. Moreover, the Global South bishops (who represent the majority of bishops in the Anglican Communion) have refused to recognize the deposition of Bishop Lawrence, and they continue to recognize Bishop Lawrence as the legitimate bishop of South Carolina: “We want to assure you that we recognize your Episcopal orders and your legitimate Episcopal oversight of the Diocese of South Carolina within the Anglican Communion.” So the question of “communion” is not a straightforward one.

Given that Bishop Mark’s deposition was contrary to TEC’s own canons, it would seem that Bishop Mark still the legitimate bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, and, as a priest in that diocese, Sanderson either acknowledges the legitimacy of TEC’s deposition, or not. By placing himself under TEC’s authority in South Carolina, Fr. Sanderson is making a choice. He is choosing to be in communion with TEC. But he is also choosing to refuse to be in communion with Bishop Lawrence, who, until TEC wrongfully deposed him, was Fr. Sanderson’s bishop.

When I lived in Boston, I attended Church of the Advent, which Fr. Sanderson mentions, for a year or so. Fr. Sanderson finds it significant that the Church of the Advent remains in TEC. However, I know something of that story. During the time I lived in Boston, Advent survived a near schism when the unique governing board at Advent (a “corporation,” not an elected vestry) attempted to leave TEC (not over doctrine) and take the building with them. But the majority of the congregation did not agree with the corporation, and the matter went to court. The congregation won. The corporation lost. But that set a legal precedent. The building belonged not to the corporation, but to the diocese. The current congregation at Advent has not left, and could not leave, because they would lose their building to the diocese.

When I attended Advent, the average Sunday attendance (ASA) was around 400. TEC’s statistics page indicates that it is now around 250. So the Church of the Advent has not left TEC. But somewhere around a third of its Sunday attendees have. When I attended, Advent had two kinds of members, those who were serious Anglo-Catholics, and those who attended because they liked the beautiful music and liturgy. I cannot be certain, but I would imagine that the vast majority of those who no longer attend Advent on Sunday mornings were the serious Anglo-Catholics. Those ones who still keep coming are likely those who come for the music.

So what’s my point? My point is not to criticize Fr. Sanderson for his decision to remain in the Episcopal Church. For those of us who are committed to orthodox Anglicanism, and have struggled with the Episcopal Church crisis over the last decade or more, where we end up is never simple. People can stay, and they can leave, and both decisions can be made in good conscience.

At the same time, Communion is important. But communion is also a choice, and a necessary choice that we all must make. To choose to be in communion with some is by necessity to choose not to be in communion with others. If one stays in the Episcopal Church, one has not chosen “communion” over non-communion. One has chosen communion with some (such as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori) over others (such as Bishop Mark Lawrence). Unfortunately, it is impossible to choose both, and I would suggest that it is the Episcopal Church that has forced that decision on the orthodox, not the reverse.

January 5, 2013

New Article: What is Anglican Theology?

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 10:06 pm
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After a lengthy absence — Busy semester! Lots of grading! — I’ve posted a new article entitled “What is Anglican Theology?” Because of its length, I have posted it as a “page” rather than a blog post.

It can be found here. Enjoy!

April 15, 2012

Icons of Christ: A Sermon Preached at the Ordination of David Booman to the Priesthood

Filed under: Anglicanism,Sermons — William Witt @ 2:59 am
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Isa. 6:1-8
Psalm 119:33-40
Phil. 4:4-9
John 10:1-16

Sheperd IconDavid,

I want to thank you for asking me to preach at your ordination. I am a layperson, which means that I am a sheep, not a shepherd. It is a great honor for a sheep to address someone who is on the verge of becoming a shepherd. Perhaps when you’ve been a sheep as long as I have, and you’ve had the dubious privilege of observing more shepherds than I can count, you may be able to give some advice to a shepherd who is about to be turned loose on the flock. Of course, not all metaphors hold up completely. I’ve also been a lay person long enough to know how lay people too often treat their priests. A lot of these sheep have teeth. So be forewarned, you’re also a shepherd who is being turned loose in the midst of wolves, some of whom are dressed up just like sheep.

There is another image besides Shepherd that the church applies to those in ordained ministry. You will be ordained this morning to be a priest. What is a priest? If we look to the epistle to the Hebrews, we read: “[W]e have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” (Heb. 8:1) What is a shepherd? In our gospel reading this morning, we read “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) So my first observation is that there is only one. Jesus is the One High Priest, and Jesus is the the One Shepherd.

The Reformation and Catholic traditions divide at this point. The Reformation tradition says that, because Jesus Christ is the one High Priest, the ordained are not priests. The Catholic tradition says that because there is the one High Priest, the ordained are those who share in Christ’s priesthood. I am going to engage in some typical Anglican fudge here by quoting the Anglican Divine George Herbert. In The Country Parson, Herbert writes: “A Pastor is the Deputy of Christ for the reducing of Man to the Obedience of God.” Herbert goes on to say that, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, “Christ being not to continue on earth, but after he had fulfilled the work of Reconciliation, to be received up into heaven, he constituted Deputies in his place, and these are Priests.” Herbert says that the priest does that which Christ did, by Christ’s authority, as his “vice-regent.” Most important, however, the priest also does it “after [Christ’s] manner.”
(more…)

February 7, 2012

I get mail . . .

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I received the following today, which succinctly summarizes questions I have been asked numerous times in recent years:

Dear Sir,
Just curious about how you can be a part of ACNA which endorses and embraces innovations to doctrine and discipline that seem to make the Assumption and IC rather more forgivable- i.e. ordination of women, theology of the 1979 BCP, etc. Thanks for your website.
Sincerely,  Fr. __________

My response follows:

Fr. __________,

Your question is too short to answer without knowing what specific objections you have in mind, and on what basis you object.

I am enough of an Anglican to follow Richard Hooker in his distinction between matters of doctrine and morals (which are unchangeable) and matters of church practice and polity (which, under certain circumstances can be).

So the 1979 BCP is a matter of church practice and polity, a fallible human document, as was the 1549 BCP, the 1552 BCP, the 1559 BCP, the 1662 BCP, the American 1928 BCP,  the Roman Catholic Tridentine rite and the Novus Ordo. Cranmer’s Prayer Book captured well the Reformed Catholic theology of the English Reformation, but, as a document of its time, it shared many of the problematic assumptions of late Medieval spirituality and theology that were common then. The 1979 BCP, whatever its weaknesses, was largely a product of the liturgical renewal movement of the mid-twentieth century, which, as a movement of its time, also shared in many of the problematic assumptions of the mid-twentieth century. Nonetheless, the liturgical renewal movement also got a lot of things right, and the 1979 BCP, while not infallible, was, in some definite ways, an improvement on Cranmer.

The ACNA does not, however, regard the 1979 BCP as without problems. I am a consultant to the Liturgical Taskforce of the ACNA, and the Committee is now working on what will be a long term project of producing a new Prayer Book. The Committee has already produced a new Ordinal, which corrects what we regard as some of the defects of the 1979 Ordinal, and it is now being used exclusively for ordinations in the ACNA. The Committee’s current task is to produce a new baptismal rite, which will, in time, replace the 1979 rite. However, this is going to be a lengthy and piecemeal process. Until the new Prayer Book is produced, congregations are free to use any of the traditional Prayer Books (including the 1979), recognizing that none of them are infallible, but something is better than nothing, and it is impossible to produce a new Prayer Book out of thin air. Neither will the ACNA’s new Prayer Book be without fault.
(more…)

January 31, 2011

Evangelical or Catholic? A Bibliography

Filed under: Anglicanism,Ecumenism — William Witt @ 6:49 am
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I want to thank all those who read my post on “Evangelical or Catholic?” In a month, this has received over 1,100 hits, more than any single blog post I have written. I am usually happy if what I write gets 100 reads. Clearly there is sympathy (or at least interest) in getting beyond the old polemics between Evangelicals and Catholics. At the same time, many of the public comments I have received have been negative, both from Protestants and from Catholics (and some Orthodox), who seem quite happy to keep the old polemics alive. Oh, well. This is discouraging, but I am more heartened by the numbers than discouraged by the occasional sniping.

Anyway, I promised at the end of that post to include a bibliography and here it is. These are books that I have found helpful. Some of them are old, and they influenced me in my own path from free church Evangelical to Anglican.  Some are quite new. All are good.

Readers will notice that the ecclesial identities of the authors cover a lot of ground, including not only Anglicans, but also Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and even the odd Baptist. That is as it should be. Denominational loyalty has never been the primary concern in my own theological studies. Nor should it be, if the choice between Evangelical and Catholic is a false one.

Abraham William, et al. Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

William Abraham is a Methodist theologian whose “canonical theism” project is about moving away from the modern focus on epistemological criteria to a focus on the primacy of ontology, and particularly on the historic doctrines and practices of the undivided church, which he and his group refer to as canons: not only Scripture, but also creeds, doctrine, episcopacy, saints, councils, icons. Canonical theism is thus about embracing this “canonical heritage” of the church. (more…)

January 12, 2011

The Anglican Reformers Were Not Zwinglians! Addendum

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 11:26 pm
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Although I did not make the connection at the time, I later realized that the “former Anglo-Catholic” advocating the Zwinglian reading of the Anglican Reformers is Gary W. Jenkins, author of John Jewel And The English National Church: The Dilemmas Of An Erastian Reformer (Ashgate Publishing, 2006). The blurb at Amazon describes the book as follows:

Gary Jenkins argues that, far from serving as the constructor of a positive Anglican identity, Jewel’s real contribution pertains to the genesis of its divided and schizophrenic nature. . . .[H]e paints a picture not of a theologian and humanist, but an orator and rhetorician, who persistently breached the rules of logic and the canons of Renaissance humanism in an effort to claim polemical victory over his traditionalist opponents such as Thomas Harding. By taking such an iconoclastic approach to Jewel, this work . . . demonstrates how he used his Patristic sources, often uncritically and faultily, as foils against his theological interlocutors, and without the least intention of creating a coherent theological system.

An Amazon reader offers a quote from the text:

When using Erastianism as a prism, Jewel’s lack of theologically precise doctrinal formulations becomes not some complex via media between Rome and Geneva, but a means whereby a political necessity was wedded to an ecclesiastical virtue. Jewel’s works do not present a body of theological literature abundant with insight, but instead give a pedestrian reading of scriptural texts, a prosaic use of the early church, and a banal approach to its theological topics. Jewel’s use of sources is often disingenuous, his logic faulty and his theology in several areas flawed. What Jewel really gives the student of the Reformation is an iconoclast in a prelate’s vestments.

I read this book right after it was published. Needless to say, it is a prime example of what I have called “enclave theology.” Jenkins’ reading is not theological, but political, and, to say the least, polemical. Throughout, he assumes Jewel’s insincerity. Jewel’s theology is portrayed as simply the mask behind which lies an Erastian agenda.

What I found most frustrating about the book was precisely Jenkins’ lack of interest in the actual content of Jewel’s theology. If one assumes that someone like Jewel is simply insincere, there is no reason to take his theology seriously, or to read it carefully. I have read both Cranmer and Jewel at length, including their tedious and voluminous debates with Gardiner and Harding. The rhetoric of the debates is typical of the time, on both sides. But what is clear as one reads them is that Cranmer and Jewel were both sincere, and believed sincerely that their eucharistic theology was in line with patristic eucharistic theology in a way that transubstantiation was not.

How do Jewel and Cranmer differ from Zwingli? (more…)

January 10, 2011

The Anglican Reformers Were Not Zwinglians!

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 7:27 am
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chalice Although I am certain it is a mere coincidence, at Titus19, Kendall Harmon has linked to a blog post by a former Calvinist and former Anglo-Catholic, now (apparently) Roman Catholic, who advocates exactly the kind of old school “clear break” version of Reformation histoiography I had mentioned in my recent post in which I argued that Anglicans did not have to make a choice between being Evangelical or Catholic.

The author makes the usual kinds of arguments one sometimes finds among Catholic converts: that the Anglican Reformation was entirely a Protestant (and basically Calvinist) movement, and a clear break from Medieval Catholicism, that John Jewel was simply an Erastian. The author strangely interprets Jewel to hold the position that there was no Catholic church in the first six centuries after Christ. More to the point, according to the author, for Jewel, “Catholic” simply means “Protestant.” To the contrary, Jewel had argued not only that there was such a Catholic church, but that the late Medieval Church had in many ways departed from it. In his Apology, Jewel identified catholicity with the same marks identified in the 2nd Century over against Gnosticism: Canon of Scripture, Rule of Faith, episcopacy in continuity with the apostolic church, and worship in Word and Sacrament. And Jewel noted correctly that the Church of England had retained all of these.

The author also claims (incorrectly) that the Anglican Reformers were Zwinglian in their eucharistic theology. Once in awhile, one comes across these attempts to interpret the Anglican Reformers as Zwinglian in their eucharistic theology, whether by those of catholic leanings (who are attempting to do demolition work) or by low-church Evangelicals, hoping to score points against Rome. (more…)

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