Monday, August 31, 2009

An Inspired Systematic Theology?


True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the church throughout the whole world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ that is according to the succession of Bishops, by which they have handed down that church which exists in every place and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved (by the Spirit of God), without any forging of scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition or curtailment to that which was handed down. This consists of reading the word of God without falsification, and diligent exposition in harmony with the scriptures, both without danger and without blaspheme; and above all it consists in the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all other gifts. (Against Heresies, Iraneus of Lyons, 200 ad.)


Iranaeus was a leader in the 2nd generation after the death of the apostles, and a student of Polycarp, who was a student of St John the apostle. He was also a staunch defender of the truth which was passed down to him by Polycarp from St John. He explains that the truth which was passed down to him is made up of three parts: “the doctrine of the Apostles (written and spoken), the ancient constitution of the church, and the succession of Bishops.” Then he tells us that to these bishops who were in succession was also given a very complete system of doctrine. In other words a complete systematic theology, one not of their own invention, “without any forging of scriptures,” but rather a system that presented a “diligent exposition in harmony with the scriptures, both without danger and without blaspheme.” If one says that there was no spoken truth given outside the enscripturated truth, then one must conclude that these are lies and fabrications on behalf of Iranaeus, and that was not actually what occurred in the early church, or that he was a lunatic. However, history dictates otherwise regarding Iranaeus. Moreover, this claim is not unique to Iranaeus, but rather the standard testimony of the early church fathers. Hence, in their writings we find an inspired systematic theology, taught by the apostles, and for this reason we give them pre-eminence in all theological matters and in the interpretation of Scripture.

Friday, August 28, 2009

All Saints Margaret Church

On the Feast of Saint Augustine


Because God foresaw all things, and was therefore not ignorant that man also would fall, we ought to consider this holy city in connection with what God foresaw and ordained, and not according to our own ideas, which do not embrace God’s ordination. For man, by his sin, could not disturb the divine counsel, nor compel God to change what He had decreed; for God’s foreknowledge had anticipated both,—that is to say, both how evil the man whom He had created good should become, and what good He Himself should even thus derive from him. For though God is said to change His determinations so that in a tropical sense the Holy Scripture says even that God repented, this is said with reference to man’s expectation, or the order of natural causes, and not with reference to that which the Almighty had foreknown that He would do. Accordingly God, as it is written, made man upright, and consequently with a good will. For if he had not had a good will, he could not have been upright. The good will, then, is the work of God; for God created him with it. But the first evil will, which preceded all man’s evil acts, was rather a kind of falling away from the work of God to its own works than any positive work. (The City of God, St Augustine of Hippo, ca 400 AD)


The theology of Augustine of Hippo would forever shape western thought after his death. Sometimes it would shape it in excellent ways, and other times not. Nevertheless, he was by all accounts a great Saint, and in the above writing we can see why. He had a sharp mind and keen logic shaped by Holy Tradition (Scripture, Councils, Creeds, Canons, Fathers, & c…). This was not always the case for his offspring; many of the seeds planted by Augustine gave birth to rotten trees. When Augustine writes, “Because God foresaw all things, and was therefore not ignorant that man also would fall,” some of his future followers would conclude that God predestined much of mankind unto damnation. For this reason and others like it, many in the east have wrongfully discounted Augustine’s contributions to theology. It must be admitted that these misinterpretations of the holy doctor are not to be equated with his own opinions. The truth of the matter is that for mostly better and a few times for worse, Augustine has shaped western Christian thought, and today we celebrate the good he has left to us in Christ.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

FATHERS: Faith and Reason


It is good for faith to precede reason, lest we seek reason not only from man but from God our Lord as well. For how unworthy would it be that we should believe human testimonies of another, and yet not believe the utterances of God. (On Abraham, St Ambrose of Milan, ca 374-397 AD)


Ambrose is considered one of the doctors of the western church. He was a highly educated and intellectual person, yet when it comes to his understanding of reason and faith he clearly places the two in positions that would shock most contemporary readers. Ambrose does not allow for human reason to interfere with faith, but rather insists that faith lead reason. He writes, “It is good for faith to precede reason,” because he understands that the faith of which he speaks is rooted in the supernatural God; A God that exceeds our natural abilities and limitations. Therefore, he argues that the substance of faith must first be apprehended and entered into before reason can even hope to catch up. The challenge for us who have placed all of our eggs in the basket of reason, is to enter into the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, and then allow our reason to begin to grasp all of the nuances and details. If we fail to first believe then understand, the Christian faith will remain a closed book.

Monday, August 24, 2009

OFFSPRING: Symbols and Passion


With symbols goes controversy. Tease someone about their nationality if you wish, provided that you know them well enough and are tolerant, but do not even think of burning their flag. Church goers are often quite tolerant of strange doctrines and even outlandish behavior from their clergy, but let the clergy try putting the church flowers in a different spot, and they will discover that the power of symbols to arouse passion. Jesus had implicitly and explicitly attacked what had become the symbols of the second temple Jewish worldview; He saw them not as bad in themselves, but as out of date, belonging to the period before the coming of the kingdom and to be jettisoned now that a new day had dawned. The symbols of His own work were deeply provocative. (The Challenge of Jesus, N. T. Wright, 1999)


Symbols are so much a part of humanity that without them we would appear to be something other than human to the observer. Bishop Wright reminds us of the power of symbols, particularly when it comes the emotion that they evoke. It was the destruction of these symbols that caused Jesus to be crucified. We are emotional creatures, and passionate creatures, and rarely are we more emotional and passionate than when it comes to our symbols. Yet, it appears that in many corners of Christianity this reality is either ignored, or worse quashed. The danger of Iconoclasm (the elimination of symbols) in any form is that it strips the human from part of his humanity. Symbols are an essential part of our worship, yet they must be appropriate to the new covenant. For this reason, it is right for us to turn to the early church and its iconography, along with its divine liturgies and their symbols. They faithfully grasp the traditions handed down by the apostles and Jesus himself.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

FATHERS: Living With a Faith That Works


When John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was brought before the empress Eudoxia, she threatened him with banishment if he insisted on his Christian independence as a preacher.

“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.”

“But I will kill you,” said the empress.

“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” said John.

“I will take away your treasures.”

“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”

“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.”

“No, you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me. I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.”


We make a great deal of noise in our day about knowing the truth, and few reasonable people would argue that knowledge is unnecessary. However, since the age of scholasticism, rationalism, and the enlightenment, we are wired from our earliest days to conclude that knowledge is the deciding factor. For this reason, many Christians think that knowledge in their heads and ascent to that knowledge is equal to faith. Yet, what we see in St John Chrysostom is not merely a knowledge that tries to pass for faith, but an application of that knowledge when it counts. In this quote we see that he wears the truth of his faith as if was his own skin, and that enables him to overcome any fear and stand up even to the fiercest of adversaries with unquenchable fire from heaven. Oh, that we learn may learn to walk in his steps, that we might all acquire a faith that works when it counts.

I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe- and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? James 2: 18-20

Monday, August 17, 2009

OFFSPRING: The Sacraments And The Senses


Our Savior Christ has not only set forth these truths most plainly in his word, that we may hear them with our ears; but he has also ordained one visible sacrament of regeneration in water, and another visible sacrament of spiritual nourishment in bread and wine; to the intent that as much as is possible for man that we may see Christ with our eyes, smell him with our nose, taste him with our mouths, grasp him with our hands, and perceive him with all of our senses… In this way our savior Christ, knowing that we in this world are as it were but babes and weaklings in faith, has ordained for our senses these tokens whereby to allure and draw us to more strength and a more constant faith in him. (Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cramner ca. 1550 ad)


Cramner, the author of the Book of Common Prayer, here speaks with the same eloquence that he employs in the prayer book. However, here he uses his gift to speak of the wonder of the sacraments. He points to the inescapable attraction the sacraments of Christ and His church have for the Christian. He identifies their power in their incarnate nature. Because they like we are physical creatures, they convey something to us that non physical things, such as words, cannot convey. Water, bread, and wine convey the physicality of Christ to us by our senses, so that united to the Word of God we receive grace for our non physical as well as physical being. Salvation to the fullest!

Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, Ps 85: 9

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

FATHERS: Mary, you hold him who upholds all


The Annunciation Hymn

of St Romanos the Melodist

Oikos 1

An Archangel was sent from heaven to cry “Rejoice!” to the Theotokos;

and, O Lord, as he saw you taking bodily form

at the sound of his bodiless voice,

he stood still in amazement

and cried out to her this:

Rejoice, through you joy will shine forth,

Rejoice, through you bondage will cease,

Rejoice, arising of fallen Adam,

Rejoice, release of weeping Eve,

Rejoice, height surpassing all human thought,

Rejoice, depth profoundly beyond angels’ sight,

Rejoice, for you furnish a kingly throne,

Rejoice, for you hold him who upholds all,

Rejoice, star from which the sun shines forth,

Rejoice, womb in which God takes on flesh,

Rejoice, through you creation is reborn,

Rejoice, through you we worship the Creator!

Rejoice, O Unmarried Bride!

[St Romanos, Ca 500 ad, translation by Frederica Mathewes-Green]


Few subjects bring about as much discord between pre and post reformation Christians as the subject of Mary. Unfortunately, most post-reformation Christians cannot differentiate between apostolic tradition and medieval tradition. In the hymn above we do not find an invention of the medieval church, such as purgatory, or Papal supremacy, or mandatory celibacy for clergy. Rather we find the piety of the patristic church of the fifth century. We find Christianity in the way of the apostles. These believers felt free to sing to Mary because they did not have a two story universe imposed upon us by the reformation and expanded upon by the enlightenment. A universe wherein those who have died in the Lord are removed from us by a great chasm. In fact, they felt free to sing to Mary because she was central to God’s incarnation and hence to his redemption of the world. To ignore Mary's role in redemption is to to belittle the fact that God saves us through other people giving themselves to God fully.

Rom 13: 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Our heroes in the faith are not exempt from the above imperative, moreover, we should rejoice that can honor them. The only chasm between us and them is our worldview.

Friday, August 7, 2009

OFFSPRING: The New Province in North America


The constitution of the new province states:

As the Anglican Church in North America (the Province), being a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ, we believe and confess Jesus Christ to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no one comes to the Father but by Him. Therefore, we identify the following eight elements as characteristic of the Anglican Way, and essential for membership:

1. We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.

2. We confess Baptism and the Supper of the Lord to be Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself in the Gospel, and thus to be ministered with unfailing use of His words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

3. We confess the godly historic Episcopate as an inherent part of the apostolic faith and practice, and therefore as integral to the fullness and unity of the Body of Christ.

4. We confess as proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture the historic faith of the undivided church as declared in the three Catholic Creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.

5. Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided Church, we affirm the teaching of the first four Councils and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils, in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures.

6. We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.

7. We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1562, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.

8. We affirm the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Statement and Jerusalem Declaration issued 29 June 2008.

In all these things, the Anglican Church in North America is determined by the help of God to hold and maintain, as the Anglican Way has received them, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ and to transmit the same, unimpaired, to our posterity. We seek to be and remain in full communion with all Anglican churches, dioceses and provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.


While the list above is by no means exhaustive, it reveals the Catholic and Evenagelical nature of the new province in North America. May the Lord be pleased to bless it and to grant it His blessing, with the hope that one day he may lead it into unity with all those who hold to the faith of the undivided church.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

OFFSPRING: Seven Sacraments


How many sacraments are there? The number of sacraments is one of those things that theologians argue about, with the best of intentions, but to the confusion of many people in the church. This is unfortunate, because God is a God of order and peace and of confusion.

The word sacrament is a word used to describe God’s work, and not to limit. The Eastern branches of Christ church whose basic theological language is Greek, still mostly use St. Paul’s Greek word mystery, in the old sense of “the revelation of some truth that is unknowable until it is revealed”.

The list of seven sacraments is very useful for studying both the mercy of God and the needs of mankind. We must be careful, however, not to treat the number ‘seven’ as a magical number that limits God’s grace. The seven Sacraments consist of the two “dominical Sacraments” of Baptism and the Holy Communion; and the five “minors sacraments” of confirmation, Penance, matrimony, Holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. (An Outline of an Anglican Life, Louis Tarsitano, 1994)


A major struggle of the western church since the time of the reformation has been the struggle over authority. What and who has authority to determine the church’s doctrine? Is it scripture alone? Is it Holy tradition? Is it Holy tradition informed by scripture? Is it scripture informed by Holy tradition? Depending upon whom we ask we will get different answers. Nevertheless, all catholic traditions such as Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism have a wider view of authority than the post reformation scripture alone that was championed primarily by the Lutherans and the Calvinists. The catholic traditions look back to the early church and accept the teachings practiced by the whole church as authoritative because we believe that they were also given to us by the apostles in their teaching. In other words, the catholic view is that St Paul meant what he said in 2 Thes 2: 15: Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The plain historical fact is that the church has always practiced seven liturgical sacraments. This practice then accounts for the catholic view of the seven sacraments as being brought into the life of the church under the auspices of the apostles. Tarsitano makes three brilliant points in his writing; first, he states that these arguments about end up truly confusing the people of God rather than helping them, and the reason for this is because many have been told that the tradition cannot be trusted. After all look at Rome and all of the tings they place under tradition. Papal infallibility, Papal supremacy, the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, indulgences, mandatory celibacy fro priests, & c… However, the fact is also that these things were not of apostolic origin; they were added much later, mostly in the 12th to 14th centuries. Right from the earliest of days the church had other traditions that preceded these late inventions that we have every reason to believe are apostolic and in no way contradict the scriptures but rather expand and enhance them.

The seven sacraments are such a tradition. As such, Tarsitano secondly points out that they are “the revelation of some truth that is unknowable until it is revealed,” namely the mercy of God and the needs of man. In holy tradition salvation involves the whole person and the whole life. In these seven principle sacraments we see God’s work in physical reality, and experience the word of God explaining and applying it to our lives.

Thirdly, Tarsitano points to the two dominical or commanded sacraments of scripture, and the additional five minor sacraments employed by the church to deliver God's grace as they were taught by the apostles. all put together we find God condescended to meet our physical needs. In these seven sacraments we find the incarnational nature of Christianity at its fullest.