Majoring on Minors?
Are all Christian truths equal?
Are all the parts of the whole counsel of God relevant?
Because of the imperfection of man, and specifically because of the presence of inbred sin, one tendency of Christian man -- that is man in the divine process of being sanctified by the Holy Ghost in the church on earth -- is to major on minors, to get things out of perspective in terms of what is Christian truth.
Of this the most glaring examples at present in the North American Anglican scene, are, (a) those evangelicals and charismatics who identify the approval of homosexual partnerships as the major ecclesial sin and the ideal of one man and one woman in matrimony as the major Christian truth in terms of identifying “orthodoxy”; and (b) those anglo-catholics who identify the ordination of women as the major ecclesial sin and an all-male Ministry as the major Christian truth in identifying “orthodoxy”.
Now the truth of Holy Matrimony (see the excellent Preface to the service in the BCP 1662, Canada 1962, but regrettably missing from the BCP 1928 of PECUSA) and the truth of Holy Order (see the Ordinal in the BCP of 1662, 1962 & 1928) are important truths. However, in the hierarchy of truths they are surely not at the top, that is not first. They are subordinate truths (using subordinate in its classic meaning).
To know what is at the top we look at the Three Creeds, identified in The Thirty-Nine Articles (Article VIII), as the Apostles’, The Nicene & The Athanasian (regrettably the latter is not in the 1928 BCP). There we learn that the truth of God as The Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Three Persons one God, a Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity, is primary. And with this primary doctrine goes the truth of the Incarnation, the only-begotten Son of the Father made known in two natures, divine and human. And from these flow the doctrines of Revelation, Creation, Redemption and Judgement, God in action towards his universe and his people.
Out of these truths concerning what is called the Economic Trinity (God-as-he-is-towards us in Revelation, Creation…etc.) come the further truths of Holy Matrimony and Holy Order. In fact, there cannot be the truth of Matrimony until the Truth of the Holy Trinity is known and received, and the same Trinity as the Creator of man in his own image and as male and female is known. And, there cannot be the truth of Order until the Incarnation is known and received, and further the relation of the Incarnate One, the Lord Jesus Christ, to his Bride, the Church, is understood and experienced.
To say that there is an hierarchy of Truth, that is truths in divine order, is not to say that some are less important than others for all truth is inter-related and is of God, who is absolute, eternal and infinite Truth. It is rather to say that there is a first and a second, that is, there is an order, and the second and the third in order cannot be understood without the knowledge of the first, and so on.
So, as the Creeds, and particularly The Athanasian Creed (Quicunque Vult) make clear, what the Church must believe, teach and confess as of first priority is the glorious Reality of the One God who is Three Persons and the further glorious Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity. From these two Truths all other truths follow, and all are important and necessary for the mature Christian to receive, believe and obey.
Therefore, errors, especially deliberate ones, in stating the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation that are regrettably found in modern creeds, liturgies, hymns, choruses prayers and even statements of official Anglican commissions and bodies (as these are composed to be simple or politically correct or even out of ignorance) are a most serious matter, for they undermine the whole hierarchy of truth and affect what is seen as truth lower down the hierarchy. The whole spectrum of Christian truth is affected when there is error in the cardinal statement of the doctrines of the Trinity & The Incarnation (with the related truths of creation, revelation, salvation and judgement). This assertion can be verified by a study of the writings of the leading thinkers in the feminist and lesbigay movements for example for apparently none of them are classically orthodox in their doctrine of God and of Christ Jesus.
In one sentence, Jesus Christ is the TRUTH and he is so because he is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made known in his divine and human natures, for us and for our salvation.
In order to confess God’s truths in the lower part of the hierarchy it is necessary to confess rightly the truths that come first in order!
I strongly recommend a prayerful study of The Athanasian Creed along with a biblical study of the word “truth” as it occurs in the Gospels and Epistles of John.
[for The Athanasian Creed see the articles in The Mandate for September 04 available on line at www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928 and by phone from 1 800 727 1928.]
P.S. I have pointed out the errors concerning the doctrine of the Trinity and the use made of it in recent, oft-quoted official Anglican documents in chapter 4 of my Reforming Forwards, recently published in London and available from www.latimertrust.org
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon August 26 2004