Monday, October 02, 2006

Yesterday, today...

There's something very refreshing about having a church historian give his perspectives on the church today. He stands a step back, not so much wielding a Bible directly, but saturated with the voice of scripture. Here is Carl Trueman. He gave his perspective on Protestantism. And he said that historically speaking the foundations of Protestantism are about:
  • Authority? Not Rome/Church but The Bible
  • How do we stand before God? Justification by grace through faith
And observed that, historically speaking, if you take away either of these then you need a pretty good reason not to be a Roman Catholic. To an audience of theologians this had most direct concern with the issue of justification. Though, he observed that the New Perspective(s) on Paul are far away from being a real issue for the average church member. Trueman laid out key threats to the church today.

From an Anglican angle his insights helped me to see more clearly the problems we face in the Church of England. Here Authority is very much at stake. Few would defer back to Rome but many have taken authority upon themselves. Liberalism is rife. Few will openly deny the truth of the Bible but they subtly reinterpret it. This allows them to stay within the security and money of Protestantism.

Trueman cited Open Theists as examples of this. They sacrifice God's sovereignty on the altar of their own understanding but want to still be considered mainstream Protestants. The church historian clearly sees them to be Socinians. We don't need a new term. They've been around. But who is going to fund the Socinian Seminary...

So too in the Church of England. On the surface the issue most apparent is human sexuality. We have priests, deans and even bishops who are openly [practicing] homosexual. Such flagrant sexual immorality shoudl disqualify them from ministry. But the issue is much deeper and wider. They stand in a long line of people who have denied scripture by reinterpretting it. They allow it to fit their demands. (Others, like Jeffery John, appear to have taken a Roman line by bowing to church authority ahead of scripture - though I can't see Rome endorsing what Jeffery permits of himself - in the case of Jeffery John it was his liberalism I object to, his practice was celibate).

This is the heart of the issue. Scripture is God's word. And when God speaks we are not at liberty to differ. If we would differ then we must confess our unbelief and supression of the truth. That we can do. We can't simply twist God's word and so maintain an illusion of obedience when the reality is stunning defiance of God.

We must take a stand against this. For too long the Church of England has stood back and let people play fast and loose with its core foundations. The 39 Articles is a document that is thoroughly evangelical, thoroughly Protestant. We need to go back to our history a little. We need to listen to the historians a little. And we need to have the courage of our convictions. The Protestant must stand under the authority of God's word. The liberal should have the guts to admit that they're not a protestant anymore. The anglo-catholic should surely do likewise.

Poles apart it seems difficult to see how we can live under one roof. But why should the Protestant leave? The foundations of the church are protestant - for now. They're evangelical. They leave great scope for diversity on many matters - particularly in form of gatherings, within certain boundaries. Those who seek to conserve the gospel must be wary of being culturally conservative, supressing many expressions of the life of the Spirit is us. Likewise those who seek less formal style must not disregard or dispise humble brethren with whom they differ on such minor matters. The differences are not simply methodological or stylistic. They run much deeper and should be dealt with more deeply and carefully.

Protestants in the Church of England must surely first try to win back the ship. The best way for this to happen is for those in error to be humbled by God's word and repent. It would be wonderful for those who have pursued liberalism to discover the joy and freedom of living under God's word rather than over it. Failing that those who are not qualified to lead should not be able to lead. We must take seriously the demands of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 - leaders must have character (which includes honesty about what we actually believe!) and convictions (the sound doctrine of the apostolic gospel).

Any protestant knows that it is wonderful to live justified by grace through faith and under the authority of God's word. There is no better life. Everything begins with where we stand before God - justfied by grace, under his ruling word. Where we disagree with God's word we're wrong and must be corrected.

How to resolve the Church of England is not a simple matter. It is too big and messy to fix with soundbites. We need to take time to look at God's word. And we need to listen to history. We need to hear the testimony of the martyrs - of Ridley and Latimer who took their stand. We need to hear from the reformers who helped establish protestantism and so restore the church.

Maybe things are too far gone - and if those core foundations are suppressed much further then that might be the case. If so then we should make plans to leave. But as part of the Church of England where the authority lies with God's word, and where we rejoice that we are justified by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus, its hard to see that the ship has sunk. It might be listing badly but the gospel is the power of God to save - change can happen. But change is accomplished by the gospel, first and foremost. With the gospel we must fight.

Lastly, we ought to be slow to speak on matters where out understanding is limited. Possibly I'm out of my league on this one. Carl Trueman manifested such humility very well at TFA, declining to answer some questions - that is at least one sign of humble orthodoxy. We need more honesty. More teachability. Stronger convictions ruled by God's word, and centred upon the gospel. More joy because we're justified by grace and now in Union with Christ - God's church the body of God's Son.

See also: John Piper corrects Mark Driscoll - the loving elder helps the younger generation.

8 comments:

  1. Should say that that's not a transcript of Trueman's teaching - but some ramblings by me sparked by things that Trueman said.

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  2. When I get round to it mine will be closer to a transcription... but that takes time to type.

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  3. "We have priests, deans and even bishops who are openly homosexual. Such flagrant sexual immorality shoudl disqualify them from ministry."

    When was being homosexual sexual immorality? Paul writes 'homosexual offenders', not 'homosexuals'. Be careful not to perpetrate the 'being gay is a sin' thing. Unless you mean to?

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  4. PS, I think you also make a mistake by declaring that all liberals live over Gods word.....they certaintly don't think they do....but I must say a vast number of liberals I've discussed issues with have great respect for the authority of the bible and know it better than I!
    So perhaps they aren't liberals? But that's what they call themselves! I don't know!

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  5. I'll take the corrective that I should have said "practicing".

    If someone lives "under the word" then that's not going to be liberalism - under the definition I'm using here. The question is one of authority and who or what has it.

    Gresham Machen examines Christianity and Liberalism here: Read the book online
    and correctly shows that Liberalism might look Christian but is in fact a different religion. Worth a read.

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  6. Just checking! :-) Thanks for the clarification.

    I'll give the book a read, maybe I'll blog something. Free online books! Amazing.

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  7. Just reading: Wilberforce's book (not particularly recommended as it is not brilliantly written) but it is amazing how so much of it applies today. Because although homosexuality is the hot issue today, the root issues are the same. Minimisation of the horror and power of sin, pushing aside of 'enthusiasm' for the gospel, etc etc. He would agree with Machen too - as his title spells it out '...Prevailing Religious System [not 'Christian tradition'] of Professed Christians...'



    ...anyway, much prayer needed.


    Just one more thought, although the CofE may be far gone, it is not as bad as it was before the evangelical revival. And Athanasius' time was far more worrying. But God is sovereign!

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