Friday, February 25, 2011

Three Principles of Practice

By Robin G. Jordan

I have a makeshift bird feeder on my front porch on which I put out wild bird seed for the birds wintering in my area. I have seen slate-colored juncos, house wrens, mourning doves, cardinals, tree sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, mocking birds, robins, and even house finches and rufous-sided towhees. House finches are usually found in the West but the cold weather and the ice and snow must have driven them to the East.

Bird watching is like observing the different groups of Anglicans in and outside of North America. Except for the occasional squirrel all the visitors to my bird feeder can be categorized as birds. If one accepts self-description as a criterion for being an Anglican, all these groups can be broadly categorized as Anglican. Just as the birds that visit my bird feeder belong to different families—warblers, sparrows, etc.—so do these groups. Just as some of the visitors to my bird feeder are difficult to identify and classify, so likewise are these groups. To my knowledge the different species of birds do not interbreed. However, Anglican groups produce all kinds of hybrids.

If one uses doctrine as a criterion, the “true gospel” and the “Protestant Reformed religion” of the 1688 Coronation Oath Act, then the number of groups that can be categorized as Anglican shrinks markedly. If one adds practice as a criterion—the bare unadorned churches, the movable wooden communion tables, and the surpliced clergy of Matthew Parker’s Advertisements and the 1604 Canons, then the number of groups shrinks even further. Of course, the different groups that claim the self-appellation of Anglican at this point will be objecting strenuously to their disqualification as being Anglican. Yet by these standards they are not Anglican—of the Protestant Reformed Church of England and the particular tradition that flows from that Church. They may represent what may have become accepted as Anglican in certain quarters of the worldwide Anglican Church but what they represent is a fiction—a falsehood that has gained tacit acceptance in these quarters.

The Global Anglican Future Conference wrestled with the problem of Anglican identity and produced the Jerusalem Declaration. Anglo-Catholics have not been too happy with the Jerusalem Declaration as it is too Protestant for their liking. Conservative evangelicals have pointed to the attention of GAFCON primates and bishops a number of doctrinal weaknesses in the Jerusalem Declaration from their perspective. The Jerusalem Declaration also does not address the question of practice.

Practice is an important issue for conservative evangelicals. They take seriously the principle “Lex credendi, lex orendi,” literally “the law of belief, the law of prayer.” How we pray expresses what we believe. It also shapes what we believe. It reinforces and strengthens our beliefs. If a minister preaches from the pulpit and teaches in the classroom the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers but wears a chasuble and stole that mark him as the priest then he is contradicting by his ornamentation his preaching and teaching. Things like vestments are considered the ornaments of the clergy. If he teaches and preaches this doctrine but does not discourage parishioners from addressing him as “Father” and signs his letters “Fr. A. B.” with a cross after his surname, he is doing the same thing.

Parishioners will see the inconsistency between what he is saying and what he is doing. It will not be lost on them. The old proverbial saying, “Practice what you preach,” has a long history. It was first written down in Piers Plowman in the late fourteenth century. It recognizes that generations of ministers have not demonstrated what they preached. They have failed to practice their own doctrine.

If a minister preaches and teaches that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice in any sense other than an offering of our praise, thanksgiving, and our selves to God in response to what He has done through Christ but wears a chasuble and stole—the vestments of a sacrificing priest, then he is contradicting by his ornamentation his preaching and teaching. It does not matter that the vestments that he is wearing may no longer have that association in the minds of the congregation. They are the vestments of a sacrificing priest. They may have begun as the ordinary street wear of a presbyter but that is what they became. It is what they signify. They are not consistent with what he is preaching and teaching. The lack of consistency between doctrine and practice has become a serious problem in Anglican churches in the twenty-first century.

One argument that is made in support of questionable ceremonies, customs, and usages is that the congregation is accustomed to them. This is a spurious argument. If the congregation is accustomed to burning incenses before idols and sacrificing chickens and pigs to them do we accommodate these practices because the congregation is accustomed to them? Too often the real explanation for the retention of such ceremonies, customs, and usages is not the pastoral reasons by which the minister justifies their continuation. It is that the minister has developed an attachment to these practices and is reluctant to abandon them. In his essay “Of Ceremonies, Why Some Be Abolished, and Some Retained” in The Book of Common Prayer Archbishop Thomas Cranmer notes how we can become addicted to such practices.

Some clergy insist that what vestments the minister wears, what ceremonial he use, and what other practices he follows is simply a matter of personal taste or preference. This could not be further from the truth. I am not suggesting that they are deliberately trying to mislead people. They may believe what they are saying. They have lost sight of the connection between doctrine and practice.

Other clergy argue that their preaching and teaching blunts the effects of any messages, subtle or otherwise, that the vestments they wear, the ceremonial they use, and the other practices they follow may convey. They are fooling themselves. They are underestimating the influence of these elements. The latter are blunting the effects of their teaching and preaching.

The minister who has lost sight of the connection between doctrine and practice or who minimizes the deleterious effect of practice inconsistent with doctrine fosters a similar way of thinking in his congregation. This can have very harmful consequences for his parishioners. It makes them vulnerable to false doctrine masquerading under the guise of familiar practice.

Robert Webber and other writers have influenced a generation of clergy. They have promoted a number of practices as worship enrichments without giving any thought to the appropriateness of these practices to a particular ecclesiastical tradition or the doctrinal statements that such practices make. They have encouraged the disconnection of practice from doctrine. They have also shown themselves to have a poor understanding of how liturgy works, how the medium is indeed a major part of the message, and have treated these practices merely as embellishments of worship. They have also repeated a Laudian catch phrase, “the beauty of holiness” to justify the use of such practices as adornments of the Sunday service.

“The beauty of holiness,” however, does not refer church decorations, clergy ornaments, ceremonial, or anything of that nature. It is no justification for the beautification of churches and church services. The phrase “the beauty of holiness” comes from 1 Chronicles 16:29 and Psalm 29:2 and 96:9 in the King James Version of the Bible. The American Standard Version renders this phrase as “holy array.” The Bible in Basic English renders the phrase as “holy robes.” The English Standard Version renders it as “splendor of holiness” with the alternative rendering of “holy attire.” The only true holy array, robes, or attire that a Christian might don to worship God is Christ.

The Laudians should have known that the Hebrew did not support their interpretation of the phrase “the beauty of holiness.” If they did, they chose to ignore it. They may have depended upon a Patristic interpretation of the phrase. The Laudians were uncritical in their approach to the early Church Fathers, not submitting their thoughts to Scripture but over-relying upon their writings in the interpretation of Scripture. They gave too much weight to the rule of antiquity and not enough weight to the rule of Scripture.

The seventeenth century Laudians and the twentieth century liturgical and Ancient-Future or Worship Renewal movements are not the only ones guilty of using this phrase to justify the introduction of practices like wearing chasubles and stoles. So is the nineteenth century Ritualist movement. They all use the same language and speak of adorning, beautifying, embellishing, and enriching Christian worship and the liturgy.

Conservative evangelicals also take seriously the principle of “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26) To conservative evangelicals a number of the gestures of the priest in a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic celebration of the Mass—such as making the sign of the cross over everything and multiple signs of the cross over the bread and wine—bring immediately to mind the dark and superstitious ceremonies to which Archbishop Cranmer refers in the essay “Of Ceremonies”. They serve no purpose. They certainly do not serve “a decent Order and godly Discipline” or “stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God.” They are far from edifying. Rather they resemble the kind of gestures one might observe in occult rituals in the drawing of mystical signs in the air or on the ground or the performance of a conjurer in the magical passes of his hands over an object.

Jesus simply took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. He took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them. He drew no mystical signs in the air nor did he make any magical passes of his hands over the bread and cup. The Book of Common Prayer only requires that the minister perform the manual acts—take the paten into his hands, break the bread, lay a hand on the bread, take the cup in his hands, and lay a hand on all of the vessels containing wine.

To the twenty-first century Anglican or Episcopalian time traveler from North America accustomed to the decorations and ornaments that the Ritualists introduced into the Anglican Church of Canada and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century, a typical Church of England parish church in 1904 might seem bare and its services plain. In Anglo-Catholic parishes, however, he would discover that ecclesiastical law was flouted and all kinds of illegal decorations and ornaments might be found. The latter included elaborate ceremonial and the use of incense as well as vestments.

If the time traveler went as far back as 1604, he would find the typical Church of English parish church to be even plainer with white washed walls and no wall decorations except the Ten Commandments and passages of Scripture painted or engraved on wooden boards. The services would be longer. Metrical Psalms would be sung in place of hymns and a homily might be read in place of a sermon. The time traveler, if he crossed the Channel and visited Switzerland, he would find little difference between the Swiss parish church and the English parish church—the same unadorned white washed walls. The service would be different. Continental Reformed services were based on the Medieval prone. He would sing metrical Psalms as he had in the English parish church. He would hear a sermon instead of a homily.

The Protestant Reformation swept away the cultus of the Roman Catholic Church and her innovations in doctrine and worship that had not only defaced and overlaid the primitive and apostolic faith in England and the Swiss cantons by the sixteenth century but also had to a large part replaced it. The English Reformers were guided by a third principle that conservative evangelicals take seriously. This principle is articulated in Article XXXIV.

It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word.
The practice of a church should be consonant with Scripture. This means that while a ceremony, custom, or usage may not be specifically prohibited by Scripture, it may not be agreeable to Scripture. While the wearing of a chasuble and a stole may not be expressly forbidden in the Bible, the doctrine with which these vestments are associated, viz., that the Lord’s Supper is a reiteration or representation of Christ’s or a participation in Christ’s sacrifice is not found in Scripture and indeed it is repugnant to Scripture. On this basis the wearing of such vestments should be avoided. Their wearing may also injure the conscience of a weaker brother or sister.

As may be seen from the following list taken fromA Protestant Dictionary, published in 1904, this principle guided the Church of England as late as the beginning of the twentieth century. This list shows what was legal at that time in the Church of England.

Images and paintings of figures that might become the object of adoration or veneration were prohibited. Paintings of historical scenes were permitted as long as no figure in the scene became the object of adoration or worship. Crucifixes, holy water stoups, processional crosses, and pyxes and other vessels for the exposure or reservation of the Host were prohibited. Wall crosses were permitted but not in close proximity to the communion table. Communion tables were to be wooden and moveable. Stone altars were prohibited. No candles were permitted on the communion table except to provide light. No crosses were permitted on the communion table or just above the communion table. The communion table was to have a cover of the best fabric in any color. The fair linen must be white and with no embroidery or lace. Pulpit and lectern falls were permitted. While gates might be installed to separate the chancel from the nave, they were required to be kept open throughout the service. Flowers might be used as decorations in the church building but not in any way in worship in or outside of church services. As for the ornaments of the clergy ministers in parish churches might wear with the requisite full-sleeved white surplice a silken academic hood and black tippet or preaching scarf that came down to their ankles. There was difference of opinion whether a tippet might be worn indoors as it was historically outdoor wear. A black preaching gown might be worn for the sermon but a surplice was required for the administration of the sacraments. Ministers in cathedrals and college chapels might wear a cope. Bishops were to wear a rochette. Albs, chasubles, and stoles were prohibited, as were crosiers, or pastoral staffs. There was debate over the permissibility of a mitre.

These three principles underlie conservative evangelical thinking on the subject of practice. To summarize them:

1. Practice must be consistent with doctrine.
2. Practice must be edifying.
3. Practice must be consonant with Scripture.

These three principles are not the only ones that underlie conservative evangelical thinking on this subject but they are the three most important. They are also a part of the legacy that the English Reformers bequeathed to posterity—our inheritance from the Protestant Reformed Church of England, our Anglican heritage.

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