The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


by the Very Rev. Carl Reid

“Our sufficiency is from God, Who hath made us worthy to be ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2Cor. 3, 5b,6).

As I was seeking inspiration for today’s sermon, I was, as usual, distracted with many other things. Happily, this past week, many of those distractions were about the Church and what She believes.

One: there is a small group of suddenly displaced Anglicans seeking possible refuge with us. I have encouraged them to come to meet with us to sit down and review just exactly what our old-fashioned Anglican Catholic Church believes. There have been so many alarming changes to fundamentals in the 30 years since our existence began, that this is a very necessary exercise when we welcome particularly Anglicans into our midst. The source materials that we shall use in our meeting will be the Bible, the Prayer Book, and our foundational document, The Affirmation of St. Louis.

Two: our Wednesday evening study group reconvenes in just 10 days; and, as indicated on the cover of the September issue of The Annunciator, before diving back into the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we shall spend two Wednesday evenings going over the aforementioned foundational document, The Affirmation of St. Louis.

Three: I am just in the process of beginning to do Catechism classes electronically with the two grandsons of Doug and Joan Ellis, who live in New Jersey. The boys’ parents have been unable to find any such instruction locally, so I have readily agreed to undertake this novel approach in preparing the boys for Confirmation.
In reviewing the Catechism in the Prayer Book to decide on how to structure the lessons for the boys, and in conjunction with the quotation from St. Paul with which I began, I was reminded of the following: “Question. What does the Church teach about the Bible? Answer. The Bible records the Word of God as it was given to Israel, and to His Church, at sundry times and in divers manners; and nothing may be taught in the Church as necessary to man’s salvation unless it be concluded or proved therefrom.” First in that, I guess that I’ll have to explain sundry and divers to the boys.

The Affirmation of St. Louis, in recognizing the supremacy of Scripture states in the section Principles of Doctrine, “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God's revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and moral demands -- a revelation valid for all men and all time.” Elsewhere, the Affirmation mentions Scriptural standards as the basis for holding fast to time-tested traditions of the Church.

The sixth of the historic Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England states, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man…” (p. 700 BCP). This of course echoes that which is stated in the Catechism and is also consistent with the references in the Affirmation.

Above, I opened with a quotation from today’s Epistle. From the context, it appears that St. Paul, when he said, “the letter killeth,” was referring to just the Bible - and how alarming that must have been to any good Jew that Paul would utter such a condemnation against the Law engraved on stones on Mt. Sinai - but he may also have been commenting on slavish obedience to a written set of rules, most likely in particular the 613 laws of the Pharisees. Those laws were not directly from Scripture; but an eloquent Pharisee could spin a convincing rationale for how they were derived from Scripture.

And that therefore begs us to consider how we go about judging just exactly what Scripture says, or, as we heard read above, what may be, “concluded or proved therefrom” as says the Catechism; and, what may be, “proved thereby” as states the Thirty-Nine Articles. Are the Catechism and the Thirty-Nine Articles opening a pandora’s box when they include those phrases, inviting Christians to be as clever as Pharisees in extrapolating sometimes quite significantly from the spirit of what Scripture says? That was certainly not their intent when both were written. Even a very cursory and quick study of Church history will reveal that the implied intent in both is that Scriptures are inviolable and only the collective mind of the Church itself, always appealing to the undivided Church of antiquity, is our source for interpreting the meaning of Scripture if it might be unclear to some readers.
Is this really such an important thing to consider? Yes, especially as we anticipate situations such as the group of Anglicans who might join us. Their last 30 years of belonging to a body whose adherence to the mindset of the Church of antiquity has evaporated dictates that we must be able to guide them back. Guide them back not only to the moral standards as contained in Scripture, and to which the Affirmation makes reference, but also to the clear meaning of certain fundamentals of Church practice and belief as articulated in Scripture and as clearly understood by the early Church. The clever Pharisees in their former allegiance may have led them rather far astray indeed.

The ability of each of us to be a well-informed apologist when it comes to defending the consistent belief of the Church, as based on Scripture and the understanding of the early Christians, is going to become increasingly important as time marches on. We live in a time and society where, on the one hand the majority are no longer believers, but many of whom seem bent on bringing as much ruin to the Church as they are able; and, on the other hand, within the context of church-goers, there is an unprecedented proliferation of bodies who feel that they, and they alone, understand the Scriptures - often, and alarmingly, in very novel ways indeed.

Most Christian bodies profess to accept, with a few variations in wording, that the Bible contains all things necessary to salvation; but clearly, and tragically, not all Christian bodies agree on some very fundamental things. Some such items, about which the consensus of the early Church no longer exists, are quite clearly stated right in the pages of Holy Scripture - there is no need to extrapolate, to “conclude or prove therefrom.” Others are simply early Church words that summarize what the Bible undeniably teaches, but because the actual words themselves don’t appear in Scripture then, somehow, that invalidates them, even though they are 100% consistent with the Bible.

Perhaps somewhat in anticipation of our sessions of review of The Affirmation of St. Louis, what might be a few of these? Well, in the case of those words or phrases that don’t appear themselves in the Bible; but are absolutely consistent with it, we have reviewed a few in time gone by, sometimes in great detail.

“Trinity.” A single word that summarizes our Lord’s own teaching about the relationship among The Father, Himself, and the Holy Spirit. The word does not introduce anything whatever that is not already described in the New Testament. Even before the early Councils of the undivided Church were convened to deal with heresies that forced the Church to articulate more deeply Her understanding of the co-eternal, undivided, consubstantiality of the Three Persons in one God, the word Trinity had already been in accepted use within the Church for some 200 years. The doctrine of the Trinity is accepted by most Christian bodies; but there is a growing number who do not accept it, even though they claim to place the teaching of the Bible above all else. In fact, it is such a foundational belief, based on Scripture that, by reasonable definition, groups that do not accept it should not claim to be Christian.
“Real Presence.” Again, the term does not appear in the pages of the New Testament; but it is most certainly described by our Lord, both at the Last Supper - “this is my Body; this is my Blood” - and in John Ch. 6 - “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you … For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed.” Later, St. Paul echoes our Lord’s teaching in Chapters 10 and 11 of his first letter to the Church at Corinth. That the early Church accepted and believed in the mystical real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as our Lord Himself taught, is evidenced by Her earliest preserved writings outside of the New Testament beginning with St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing just after the year 100 AD in letters to the various Churches. Although our Lord’s words and teaching are quite clear, as were St. Paul’s; and although belief in the real presence was universally accepted as a central belief in the undivided Church, a growing number reject it, even though they claim to accept and exalt the teaching of the Bible above all else.

Now, perhaps even more alarmingly, there are some groups that reject words and teaching that do appear in Scripture, none more prominent that the various deviations of the past 450 years that surround Baptism. Some accept that Baptism is a valid concept, after all, the evidence for it in Scripture is overwhelming; but, denying spiritual regeneration, somehow missing St. Paul’s words to Titus, “But according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration,” clearly made in reference to Baptism. Again, St. Paul’s words are consistent with our Lord’s teaching when we think of the episode in John Ch. 3 where Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity for Baptism and the attendant accompanying spiritual regeneration - being born anew from above. Even more alarmingly, while the undeniable teaching of our Lord and the remainder of the New Testament emphasizes the necessity for Baptism, both as the seal of the New Covenant and as essential for salvation, and again that was believed without even a murmur of disagreement by the early Church, some groups insist that Baptism is not even essential, even though they claim to base their beliefs on Scripture.

So, how can others arrive at a completely different position on such important fundamentals, claiming, as we do, to accept that which the Bible teaches? Well, as we may have heard in times gone by, a particular danger in study of the Bible is that of using it to justify a preconceived desire or notion. With an idea already in mind, it is so very easy to find a passage that presents an apparently opposite point of view. That is an exercise clearly fraught with much danger. Consider that, in the cases of the few points presented, it is very easy to find examples in Scripture of converts to belief in Jesus who were not, so far as Scripture records, Baptized; it is all too easy to pick only the words at the Last Supper, “do this in remembrance of me,” to conclude that it is nothing more than a memorial that might be done from time to time, but with no particular importance otherwise.

I think that we all understand that such a granular picking and choosing out of context borders on sacrilege; and why we acknowledge that the study of Scripture must be done, not only within the mindset of the Church - meaning the consensus belief of, if possible, the early, undivided Church, but also considering the overall meaning of all passages within the context of the entirety of the Bible.

Neither the Catechism, nor the Thirty-Nine Articles invite us to such picking and choosing when they state that we might prove or conclude beliefs based on Scripture. Rather, they are inviting us to read the whole of Scripture to understand its truths, and insofar as we might venture to extrapolate outside of the actual words, our extrapolations must remain consistent with the teaching of the Bible.

It is perhaps worth a reminder here that, to the Church of New Testament times, Holy Scripture was that of the Old Testament only. The books in the New Testament were not all written for several decades after the Resurrection and Ascension, which is why we hear the oft made point that it is not reasonable to separate the very early Church from the New Testament, and why we place so much importance on understanding the mind of the early Church. Following the death of those who wrote the books of the New Testament, it was not for many, many years until the New Testament as we have it today was finalized - in fact not until the late 4th century. To be sure, the early Church Fathers, including the aforementioned Ignatius of Antioch quoted from what were to become the canonical Gospels and from St. Paul. However, discussions were to continue for another 275 years after Ignatius before there was agreement on which writings to include and which not.

There were some very good writings in the early Church that eventually were not included in the canon, not because they weren’t fine compositions, entirely consistent with the writings that we know - we might think of the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians - but rather because the final litmus test for canonicity was that the writings must satisfy the appeal to apostolicity and/or doctrinal tradition. From time to time we hear of so-called Gospels that apparently had been lost since their composition: Thomas, Philip, and so on. These were not unknown to the Church; rather, either they were clearly so late in composition that they could not have been written by any of the Apostles or during the time of the Apostles; and, more importantly, they were judged to be spurious not least because they espoused the man-centred gnosticism that has plagued the Church from Her very beginnings. It was entirely right and proper, not only for the Church to exclude these as valid sources of Scripture, but also to discourage the faithful from reading them. After all, human history, in terms of our relationship with God, is one long story of our attempting to find an easier or more man-centred way than that which God teaches us.
“Question. What does the Church teach about the Bible? Answer. The Bible records the Word of God as it was given to Israel, and to His Church, at sundry times and in divers manners; and nothing may be taught in the Church as necessary to man’s salvation unless it be concluded or proved therefrom.” And perhaps now we have a slightly better understanding of how deeply involved Scripture is, and in particular the New Testament, with the life of the undivided catholic and apostolic Church that wrote it.

It is a terrible sadness that those who style themselves to be Christians can find so much to argue about concerning our Holy Book. How must that look to the very wide world of non believers? Perhaps St. Paul’s words that the letter killeth were much more prophetic than he realized.

“Blessed Lord, Who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Thy Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting salvation, which Thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Amen.