Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Anglicans and Private Judgment

Article 34 of the Anglican Articles of Religion states:

XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church.
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.

Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

Notice the language regarding private judgment. Though the English reformers held to Sola Scriptura (rightly understood), this did not mean they believed opinions and practices in the Church based in scripture were left up to the freedom of individual Christians or congregations. When the common authority of the Church ordains a particular practice or discipline it is the duty of the individual communicant and particular diocese or parish to follow these practices.

This principle is rooted in the catholicity of the Church. If the Church is one, and God has set apart leadership for the Church, then those authorities are ordained by God to set forth how the Church worships and carries out its common life. For Anglicans this means, for example, that we use the Book of Common Prayer. As a parish priest, I am not allowed to make my own liturgy. I must submit to the wisdom of the greater Church.

This principle is also about epistemology. There is prudence in consensus. In the abstract this does not guarantee absolute certainty nor absolute correctness. However, absolute certainty and correctness only exist in theory -- not on the ground. Hence, there is wisdom in the Church coming together in consensus to discern and decide how the Church should structure its common life.


Samuel Lago said...

Really enjoying this stuff, keep it up!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Excellent! Are you sure that you are a Protestant, Peter? You are sounding more and more like an Anglo-Catholic (which is the true nature of Anglicanism, according to Dr. Peter Toon.)

You may enjoy read Luther's 95 Thesis (in English, of course.) Here is an observation about the first seven:

Luther wrote, “Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing."

(Note that Luther acknowledges the authority of the Latin Church to appoint him.)

1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

(This is exactly what TEC seems to have forgotten.)

2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

(The Church has no magical power to dispell sin.)

3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to penitence in one’s heart; for such penitence is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.

(True repentance produces visible signs in the pentitent’s life.)

4. As long as hatred of self abides (i.e. true inward penitence) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.

(There is an eschatalogical and final resolution to human sinfulness.)

5. The Pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.

(The Gospel itself imposes limits to the powers that can be claimed by ecclessial authorities. TEC seems to have forgotten this also.)

6. The Pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.

(Guilt is one of the products of unconfessed sin in our lives. Only the Holy Spirit can bring a soul to true repentance.)

7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making humbly submissive to the priest, His representative.

(God has established the priesthood as the means whereby Chrsitians may confess and receive assurance of forgiveness. TEC has many priests who have forgotten or reject that this is their central work.)