Monday, September 4, 2023

Which Scripture, whose church?

Years ago, the Protestant evangelical in me received a helpful jolt, at least in respect of thinking along standard "anti Catholic" lines, as Protestants/evangelicals tend to do, or at least tended to do back in that day.

The jolt went something like this, Catholicism reads Matthew's Gospel while Protestantism reads Romans and Galatians.

As an evangelical I had to take notice because that explanation involved an appeal to Scripture and not to Tradition. I could see then why Matthew as an apt Scripture in respect of Catholic theology: Matthew present Jesus as the new Moses and his teaching as the new law, with an emphasis on obedience (works done in response to the law), accordingly, and somewhat contrastingly with Romans and Galatians. We might simply mention the last part of yesterday's gospel reading, Matthew 16:17, where Jesus speaks of the return of the Son of Man in judgement,

"then he will repay everyone for what has been done."

It is not that Matthew is a gospel of works-salvation but that Matthew's Gospel proposes a subtle mix of faith-and-works attuned to a Catholic soteriology in a way that a Romans-and-Galatians alone approach is not.

Now let's have a bit of serious fun, if you will. And if you won't, stop reading now!

If Matthew is representative of Roman Catholic theology, then, we might say that Pope Francis' version of it adds in the great Lukan parables on mercy to it (Luke 7:36-50; Luke 10:25-37; Luke 15:11-32). Conservative criticism of Francis (currently focused on his proposed Synod on Synodality) is a doubling-down on Matthew, perhaps especially Matthew 16:13-20.

Protestantism generally and evangelicalism within it is very keen on Romans and Galatians - on the soteriology which emphasises the unmediated by the church but solely mediated by Jesus Christ salvation of God based on the unique sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

But Protestantism somewhat cheerfully incorporates other books to major on. The Pastoral Epistles are favourites in some circles with the oddity that they say very little if anything about justification by faith and quite a lot about rules for the church. Revelation (and Daniel) are relished by those with eschatological inquisitiveness (and are crucial for Seventh Day Adventist theology). Ephesians plays an important role when predestination is a focus, or, for that matter, spiritual warfare.

By contrast, Pentecostalism is keen on Acts - the dynamic, miracle working Holy Spirit has lots to offer a new expression of the most primitive church in our modern world.

Perhaps a commenter can help me with the Eastern Orthodox church and its "founding scriptures." I suspect John's Gospel is significant.

Obviously we need to get to Anglicanism. Is there a significant Scripture? To the extent to which Anglicanism is reformed and catholic, evangelical and Anglo-Catholic, as well as broad, we could claim "all the above," but I suggest John's Gospel is important to our self-understanding of what kind of church we became in the 16th century and have become across many countries and cultures since. 

That is, we have cherished the ability to be a distinctive national church - The Church of England ... of Australia ... Kenya ... Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and done so understanding that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" means we feel confident that the one church can be differently expressed in the different forms of "flesh" (human life) found around the world.

This thought about Anglicanism is tentative - I would be interested in responses any readers care to make in comments. 

The obvious deduction, however, is that all the scriptures cited above are included in the one Holy Scripture! Somehow, in our journey towards Christian unity - towards the healing of the pain of our divisions and towards the completion of our witness to Jesus Christ the Reconciler of the world to God - we need to appreciate that most of our differences are differences which flow from the one authoritative Source - God's Word written!


Anonymous said...

Taking a less Victorian view, the infracanon formative for the Church of England etc was I & II Samuel, I & II Kings.

The Reformation was a byproduct of the formation of national states in the West. As in the Eastern process that formed Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, etc, an analogy from emperor to king plausibly warranted the self-rule of each realm and its correlative church.

That analogy rested on the two split books known collectively in the East as Kingdoms. In them, God blessed a national state on its territory, preferred it to multi-national empires, and was somehow both a monarchist and a republican.

In early modern Europe, this resonated wherever states were rising, but in local ways. Muscovy wanted to be a Third Rome to replace both the New Rome of fallen Constantinople and the old Rome of decadent popes. For a time, the kings of France promoted a Gallicanism with its own articles of religion and oath of allegiance to the crown. Monarchs in Scandinavia were as high church as the Tudors but more inclined to the Augsburg Confession. Swiss towns pressed republicanism in state and church to create a new sort of society and citizen. Etc.

Anonymous said...

England? Its state and economy were already more advanced than most; its church was a mess but had been close to the crown for several centuries; its subjects were becoming citizens amid late medieval extremes of piety and skepticism; the realm's interlaced governance by both kings and popes made each ineffective on the ground. Intellectuals everywhere pondered reorganizations of society by their lights, but England was uniquely ripe for modernity.

I & II Samuel and I & II Kings legitimated that transition and thereby became the organic infracanon of the Church of England. The controversies and war that followed in the next century were explicitly about the details of this reforming analogy. Indeed, disputes about them have never ended-- non-juror bishops, the Gorham case, the Anglican see in Jerusalem, Tract 90, the subscriptionist controversies, the English welfare state, etc. To this very day, Gafconian schismatics are rightly charged with transgressing the *national principle* that the reformers found in the four books of Kingdoms.

This points to four literally wholesome inconveniences: the vocation of the Church of England (to say nothing here of The Episcopal Church) is so invested in the material unity of places and realms in Christ that churches like it cannot (a) turn from their civil community to mere quietism, nor (b) expel dissenters who support their canonical order, nor (c) encourage schism over reasonably disputed questions, nor (d) recognize a disapora of like-minded fideists as a whole church. It would be so much easier to be a denomination without churchly scruples.

An Anglican denomination is an oxymoron. To an Anglican, mere sects are more or less blessed instances of St Mark ix 38-39. The Lambeth Quadrilateral requires more of a church, and there again the national principle is invoked in the clause on the historic episcopate.

But the vocation to unity in every place is from the Lord himself. As any sect engages its civil community, contains and resolves its conflicts, and joins its neighbors in common local order, it will be absorbed into the fellowship that began in Galilee with an apostle for each tribe of Israel. Why? Because it will then have become, as Israel sometimes was, an obvious sign to the world of the Son's proper work of reconciling all to all.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman - a lot to ponder! I agree that those OT books were seminal, but above I am focused on the NT influences on churches.

Your very last paragraph raises the question whether churches meet together sufficiently to find out what actions each is doing in its local civil community, etc.

Anonymous said...

"focused... NT..."

Yes, and that's very worthwhile. So...

I II III IV Kingdoms --> Hypothetical Universalism (eg John Davenant at Dort, Post-war CoE social teaching) --> St John's Gospel and Epistles (eg John Wesley, John Keble, J C Ryle, William Temple, Rowan Williams)

Some Protestants have been led by their soteriologies to the infracanons where they find the most support for them. But each of the three main options generates some pastoral problem intolerable in a national church for a Christian realm.

Anabaptism and free church readings of St Matthew deny the premise. Reformed (Beza) readings of Galatians and Romans imply that God deceives in the sacraments and that many churchgoers will discover that they are reprobate. Lutheran preoccupation with the same epistles often fails to deliver a sturdy ethic for society at large (hence Bonhoeffer' s reparative work in ethics).

Most in the CoE have escaped this trilemma by affirming God's intent to save all (contra Beza and most Reformed) and that the gospel sacraments truly communicate this will to each soul that receives them (a Lutheran pastoral use for them, although not the metaphysic of Luther and Brendt), but nevertheless insisting on a godly pattern of life ( eg William Law).

In that framework, what does one seek from the scriptures? Some seek the godly pattern, which is fine (Psalm 119 :-) , but if that is all that they do, then they are liable to backslide into the trilemma, or even by hatred of the world into Anabaptist denial of all that I-IV Kingdoms means for us. When that happens, as we have lately seen, ecclesiology necessarily decays from national church to denominational sect.

So first Evangelicals and then Anglo-Catholics turned to the scriptures to retrieve notes of conversion and unity with Christ. These had been sounded by all the major reformers, but had for various reasons been lost to hearing. They are sounded in an interesting timbre by St Paul, but are often heard first in St John.

So again, I & II Samuel and I & II Kings. They are not in the NT, but if not for them we would not read it as we do. I apologize for not saying so in the first place. Back to the Labor Day cookout...


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
Sacrifices in those four OT books were the Labor Day cookouts of their time :)
Again, I am much helped, and yield to your point that those four books are the starting point and subsequent lens for the reformed CofE reading the NT.

Anonymous said...

David Ford


Anonymous said...

Postscript 1

How is a real church to coexist amid a congeries of sects and ministries that also claim to be Christian? Fear that there is no inoffensive answer to that question drives many into an ecclesiastical relativism, or even nihilism, from which further evil comes.

But St Mark ix 38-39 and its parallels seem clear: the Lord recognizes his own Body and judges individuals beyond it on their ultimate allegiance to him. It is hardly offensive to assure any god-fearing bystanders that, just because Christ is in the midst of them, they can be and do far more for him than an opinion club that exists to be right about some long-forgotten quarrel until the end of time.

Bishops? The timid fear that they will be stuck defending tridentine pipelines of grace to oh Baptists, or quibbling about the finer points of succession with Methodists, or insisting that anarchic Charismatics happy to escape institutions must sign up to join one. Our ecumenical agreements prescribe sedatives for the several anxieties. But surely-- the first conversation today should consider, not the details of unifying episcope, but stimulating an imagination for the local fullness of church.


Anonymous said...

OK, kick off now. Start praying ...

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

OK, now they're playing! Why didn't we see this at Twickers?

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

The king of Israel answered, “Tell him: ‘One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off.’” 1 Kings 20.11.

Ah well, there's still the cricket next week ....

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Cricket is definitely looking a better prospect, William!

Anonymous said...

Well, so much for the cricket. What a demolition job.
Come home, Ben Stokes, Christchurch forgives you!

(Fun fact about Cockermouth in Cumbria: also home to Glyn Christian's ancestor Fletcher, as well as John Dalton and William Wordsworth.)

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh