Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

So, back on the blog just in time to remember that on this day in 1517 Martin Luther kicked off the movement that would become the Protestant Reformation. And more importantly, our gracious God caused the light of the gospel to shine brightly again in Europe.

The question on my mind is: what is the best way to honour our Reformers?

For some, the answer will be that we must return to their teaching, reorganise our churches along their principles, reaffirm their confessions. Well, I'm somewhat in favour of some of those things. We could honour the Reformers by preserving their Reformation.

But I think they might prefer us to continue that Reformation. Not to hallow it, not to see it as completed, but to push forward the work of Reform. The Church is to be always reforming. That surely doesn't mean always returning to the Reformers; it means always returning to the Scriptures. And there are a number of areas in which I think the Magisterial Reformation of the sixteenth century was really only a half-Reformation. We need to carry on reforming in those areas. There are other areas on which the Reformers never passed comment, because the issues never arose in their day. We need to begin the process of reform in those areas.

To that end, if I were to nail any Theses to any doors today (don't worry, I won't), they would probably cover the following:
  1. The Church is the assembled people of God, bound together by their profession of faith in Christ. She owes her alleigance to Christ alone, and cannot ever be a state church or a church allied to any particular interest. But she does owe all her alleigance to Christ, and so she must as far as she is able ensure that she has a believing membership.
  2. The separation of Church and state is vital to the health of both. The duty of the Church is not to reform society but be in herself a Reformed society, to witness to the gospel of Christ and its power to change lives.
  3. Infant baptism, as it tends towards lending people false security and is incompatible with a sound doctrine of the Sacraments (which requires those who receive them to exercise faith), should be discontinued as a practice.
  4. The Scriptures must be recognised as the instrument by which the Church is governed by her Lord, Christ Jesus. Any form of Church government that does not place authority solely in the Scriptures is to be repudiated - this would include episcopacy and any but the most mild form of presbyterianism.
  5. The gifts of the Spirit initially bestowed on the Church are still available to her today, but must be exercised in line with Scriptural teaching and in such a way that the normative word of God in Scripture remains central to the life of the Church.

There would certainly be more, but that's enough controversy for one day, don't you think?

12 comments:

  1. Didn't they drown or burn the Anabaptist heretics?

    I'm sure the Reformers would have agreed that the church is to be always Reforming, but I am sure they would have been cross at the particular areas to which you point as being in need of further reformation.

    An established church is not incompatible with allegiance to Christ alone: the Prayer Book and Articles make it quite clear that the Queen is God's minister, and she herself is subject to the word of God. The Reformers and sensible Puritans had no problem with this at all. As for ensuring a believing membership, we must remember that 'the secret things belong to the Lord' - we do not know his eternal decrees nor can we see inside people's hearts. If they're baptised, profess faith and they haven't been excommunicated (by the church, and not by individual Christians), then we must say that they are believers and that they're in. I cannot see how further removing the influence of the church on the decisions of the state could possibly lead to the health of the state. Yes, the church is a Reformed society, but it is meant to fill the world. Infant baptism does not tend to false security, and it most certainly does require its recipients to exercise faith. You create a false dichotomy between episcopacy and placing authority in Scripture alone. All authority in the church is mediated: if your argument holds true, then we should get rid of presbyters too and just read the Bible ourselves. And with the completion of the canon of Scripture, to claim that the gifts that the Spirit gave to the church when she came of age to complete the revelation and to authenticate it actually undermines the Scriptures whose supreme authority you wish to defend.

    Always reforming - yes! But the way does not lie herein.

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  2. I pretty much agree with Daniel (as may be expected!), although I might express myself less cogently and less vigorously.

    I really wanted to express complete and utter surprise at the notion that the Church is not called to be the agent of God in the reformation of society. A Church which is as committed to justice as the prophets were, believes in Christ's lordship over the whole creation, and regards itself as the steward of God's creation, must surely be involved in the transformation of human society, while looking forward to the return of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom?

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  3. I also note the following from the website of the established Church:

    In 1984 the Anglican Consultative Council (www.anglicancommunion.org) began to develop a “mission statement” for the worldwide Anglican communion, and the bishops of the Lambeth Conference adopted these “Five Marks Of Mission” in 1988. They were then adopted by the General Synod of the Church of England in 1996.

    - To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
    - To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
    - To respond to human need by loving service
    - To seek to transform unjust structures of society
    - To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain the life of the earth

    The Anglican Consultative Council notes,

    “The first mark of mission… is really a summary of what all mission is about, because it is based on Jesus' own summary of his mission (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22; cf. John 3:14-17). Instead of being just one of five distinct activities, this should be the key statement about everything we do in mission.”

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  4. Well, it wasn't to be expected that there would be cries of agreement from you two gentlemen... ;o)

    Of course the Reformers would not have liked my theses - I was deliberately picking the things where I thought they were wrong or simply didn't go far enough. Although I have huge respect for the Reformed tradition, I do find myself more and more anabaptist-y as time goes on. As far as I am aware of myself, this only comes from trying to follow the Scriptures to the places they lead, and at the same time trying to steer clear of trendy theories and theologies. I have to say also, for the benefit of Mr Beadle, that Uncle Karl has pointed me in these directions more than any non-inspired author!

    As it is, whilst respecting the convictions you have both expressed, I find them to be at variance with the vision for Church life given in the gospel.

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  5. Steve Palmer5:56 pm

    Hi Daniel,

    A quick question: what do you mean by 'anabaptist-y'? I largely agree with your theses (except the last), being a Baptist who struggles with the "Reformed" idea of the church, and would follow a more Indepedent/Congregational idea of government. But I still would consider myself far more Reformed than anabaptist, given the wacky ideas many of them seem to have had.

    Also, if I may put a question for Daniel Newman:

    You say, "Infant baptism does not tend to false security, and it most certainly does require its recipients to exercise faith." But my understanding is that it requires those who HAVE BEEN baptized to exercise it. But surely Biblically, faith must be exerted IN ORDER FOR baptism to happen, as in Colossians 2:11-12?

    "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."

    People who are baptised are those who are raised through faith, which isn't the same as simply saying that those who are baptized should have faith. Or is it?

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  6. 4 out of 5 really isn't bad at all Steve ;o)

    You're correct in pointing out that many of the Anabaptists were way off beam on some pretty important issues. But not all of them. Many, if they were around today, we would just recognise as Reformed Baptists. They get a worse press than they deserves because a) they did harbour some wackos and b) the Reformed wrote the history books.

    The church/state thing is the main reason I'm calling myself anabaptist-y. As far as I know, between Constantine and the Anabaptists nobody really questioned that the church and society were co-extensive, and the state had a significant role to play in the government of the church. The Anabaptists, to a man, argued for voluntarism: the church is a voluntary association of believers. When you've said that, and only then in my opinion, you can start to exercise church discipline rightly etc. (Otherwise church discipline so easily becomes civil punishment).

    But fear not: I am still very much Reformed in terms of soteriology etc.

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  7. Daniel

    Ditch the 'sacraments'. Ordinances, PLEASE!!

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  8. Anonymous11:06 pm

    Bleurgh. They were right to burn the anabaptists. You judge the faith of most of history's Christians (baptised as infants) in a very ugly fashion; you disunite scripture from authority (when surely the Trinity itself shows us they can work beautifully together for righteousness); and you desert the frontlines of the war for the souls and lives of mankind, and the greater glory of God in our world.

    You can nail away, but it is rather the coffin nail in your denomination than anything else, sadly.

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  9. So, thus far two people have said or implied that anabaptist-burning is a legitimate hobby of churches and governments within 'Christendom'. Oddly enough, that just leaves me feeling more certain that I'm right on this one...

    Vis a vis other comments from our anonymous caller, I'm guessing they said similar things about Luther, so I won't worry about it too much. Suffice it to say I find your statements odd (esp. the one about Scripture - not sure I know what you mean). I trust also that I have not expressed any desire to reduce the evangelistic zeal of the Church, which is precisely the frontline in the war for souls etc.

    By the way, you can put your name to any future comments: *I'm* not going to hunt you down and burn *you* for heresy... ;o)

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  10. Anonymous2:07 am

    I regret the anabaptist remark. I don't think they deserved burning or anything else (though some of their views were and are wicked). Indeed I have been in extreme haste to retract the remark as not only unchristian and intemperate (owing more to a bad stomach than actual opinion), but also because it remains the perfect excuse for you to dismiss the rest of my post, or similar opinions, and happily rhetorically martyr yourself for views which really aren't worth it.

    I don't think Daniel Newman's was uttered in quite the despicable spirit as mine. I think he was smiling as he said it.

    But anabaptism remains wicked nonsense, and it would be a shame if my sin confirmed you in your sin of believing it.

    Anabaptism is sinfully judgemental of nearly every Christian's baptism and thereby the efficacy of one of the chief sacraments, upon very, very little evidence or proper basis; but indeed largely on doubt. Yet whatever is done of doubt is a sin.

    (And btw I'd like to know how impressed the majority of the students you work with would be if they knew you thought so contemptuously of their infant baptism... a commitment they faithfully keep, even if others don't).

    Your idea of throwing out all hierarchy and having only the Bible as our rule in church governance is excellently terrible, too: because the first thing we would have to do would be to reintroduce those hierarchies, given that we constantly see them alluded to in the NT epistles.

    Etc, etc.

    This post is a recipe for disaster.

    But the rest of your blog is excellent. I loved the post about the love in the Trinity. I am a babe, still on milk, next to you and your steak.

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  11. Anon: please note that I do not despise anyone's baptism - except perhaps that of the complete pagan who never understood it and has no interest in finding out about it. For anyone who trusts Christ and views their baptism as valid, it is valid and real and accomplishes all that baptism is said to accomplish in the NT. I wouldn't rebaptize someone in that situation, or offer any bar to their full church membership, office-holding etc. (Except possibly the lead teaching elder's role, for obvious reasons). As for the students, I'm incapable of concealing my opinions, so I guess many of them know what I think ;o)

    You've possibly not quite grasped my views on church govt, which are simply conregational/independent. It's a long tradition, having worked for hundreds of years, and I think it's Scriptural. My comments about hierarchy vs. Scripture don't rule out a local church eldership.

    I've commented on all these things before. See here for church govt and here for the conclusion to a series of posts on baptism.

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  12. Anonymous10:03 pm

    "I wouldn't rebaptize someone in that situation, or offer any bar to their full church membership, office-holding etc."

    How kind of you.

    Anyway, I at least still regret the burning remark. It was struck home to me today on a house visit, and then when flicking through tonight's television, that we have not only the most important thing in common, but the only important thing in common; and for me to (even rhetorically) wish anabaptists burned, when Britain is now populated by genuine witches who really must be burned, is terrible.

    I still think them very wrong, but hey.

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