Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bishops, TEC style; Or, How to create a Bishop as CEO via Lex Orandi

A major complaint about many Bishops in The Episcopal Church is that they are more like Chief Executive Officers than Pastors—one could say they are not like "Fathers-in God" but this now has to be made "Parents-in-God" to include the female Bishops.

They have become like CEOs for a variety of reasons, including their own decision to act this way and the growing bureaucracy of modern national denominations. There is, however, a liturgical and theological underpinning of this trend away from the pastoral to the management style, and to this I wish to point in this short essay.

I wish to point to the content of the Ordination Services in the Prayer Book (1979) of TEC and show that on the widely stated "Anglican" principle of lex orandi lex credendi the management or CEO style is suggested, perhaps even required, by these Services, within the context in which they are used. [To appreciate the full force of what I am to argue it will be useful for my kind reader to have before him the 1979 ECUSA Book, the Ordinal in the 1928 American BCP, and, if possible, the Ordination Services within the English ASB (1980) or Common Worship (2000ff.]

The first point to make is that contrary to the tradition in The Ordinal of the classic Book of Common Prayer in its English edition of 1662 and its American editions of 1789, 1892 and 1928, the Ordination Services in the 1979 Prayer Book occur in a different order—a descending order of bishop, priest and deacon, instead of the Anglican tradition of ascending order. Now, it may be argued that there are examples from antiquity of ordinals following the hierarchical model (bishop first), but such is not the point. Why change the order in an Anglican province unless a point is being made? And apparently the point being made was to follow the emphasis of the new Roman Catholic Ordinal, post Vatican II, where the Bishop is portrayed very much as the focus of the diocese and the vital link with the Papacy in Rome. It was to be as much like Rome as possible to be distinguished from the mass of Protestants in the USA. But, as we all know, a theme within a R C document may easily come to have a different meaning and usage within an Episcopal document, especially since in the Episcopal context there is no central Authority like the Pope and the Vatican.

The second point to make is that in order to present Episcopal Church bishops as real bishops—that is bishops who could claim to be just as much so as bishops in the Roman Catholic Church—it was decided to use for the actual Consecration of a Bishop the Prayer for such contained in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. Significantly and importantly, it was then very widely believed (early 1970s) that this Prayer truly represented the form of prayer used in the church in Rome in the early third century, around AD 215. (Apparently Dr Boone Porter translated the original for use in the 1979 book and he truly believed it was certainly to be dated very early in the third century.) Thus to use it was to say that Episcopal Bishops are of the same kind as those ordained in Rome in the third century!

The third point is that in using this Prayer the opportunity was provided to emphasize in religious terms that the presbyter being consecrated Bishop truly became the religious CEO and top Manager of his diocese, assisted by his under-managers the presbyters. In this supposed consecration prayer from the church in Rome, there are phrases which definitely seem to point to the Bishop as both superior to other ministers and in charge of them. The Spirit requested for him from God is "your princely Spirit" and he is said "to exercise…the high priesthood." Nothing like this is found either in the traditional Anglican Ordinal, or in the new Ordination Services from the 1980s in England, New Zealand, Australia and other Provinces. And we may add that no Anglican these days in a right mind wants "prince bishops," and,further, that all devout Christians confess that Jesus Christ alone is the High Priest, as the Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear. No bishop is a high priest!

Now, reflecting upon the second and third points, we need to be aware that there is in 2007—and has been for a few years now--a very different evaluation of the Apostolic Tradition than that held by Boone Porter and the ECUSA Liturgical Commission in the 1970s. Put simply and briefly, it may be said that there is now virtually a scholarly consensus that the Apostolic Tradition does not represent what was the case in the Roman Church in 215 and is certainly not the consecration prayer from that time in that church. Rather, its content was put together later, for defensive or apologetic purposes, and this is why it has such an exaggerated view of the bishop in order to set him fully apart in a distinctive role from the college of presbyters in the city. (For a full explanation of the status of the Apostolic Tradition as an early Church document and its value for today, see The Oxford History of Christian Worship, OUP New York City, 2005, chapter two.) In summary, we now surely know that it was a huge mistake to use the Apostolic Tradition in such a pronounced way both in the Ordinal and for the creating of "The Holy Eucharist" in the 1979 Book.

To move on to the fourth point which is that here and there in the services for the ordaining of Deacons and Priests there are strong hints which point to the Bishop ( i.e. the specific bishop of these ordinands) being a kind of religious CEO. This point actually becomes clearer if the American 1979 Services are compared in detail with the 1980 English Services. The emphasis in the 1979 Book is that ordinands are being promoted by and ordained for a specific bishop and diocese, whereas in other Rites they are being ordained for the Church in general, although they will serve in a particular diocese to start with. In particular, deacons are very much tied to the ordaining Bishop to assist him personally (which rarely happens in practice).

Apparently the liturgists who produced the Ordination Services did not consult with those who produced the Baptismal Service for the latter very much emphasizes the ministry of each and every one of the baptized and does so in a context which is a long way from the authoritarian and hierarchical. Further, in ECUSA propaganda since the 1970s, it has been claimed that the commitment made in "The Baptismal Covenant" leads to the baptized being given in potential every possible ministry within the Church. Thus the work of a bishop or of the presiding bishop (as the last two have made specifically clear at their installations) is a further phase of the baptismal ministry. But this can hardly be a ministry of "high priesthood" and "princely rule."

So there is one doctrine or law of believing in the law of prayer in the Baptism Service and another doctrine or law of believing in the law of prayer in the Ordination Service. And the two are very different from each other.

Probably better to use another Prayer Book. Try an edition of the classic BCP!

[For more on this theme with references to other works, see Professor Bryan D. Spinks in Journal of Anglican Studies, Volume 2 (2), 2004, pp.58-69 under the title, "An Unfortunate Lex Orandi?"]

Peter Toon April 28 2007

Nigerian Anglican Church—an explanation and an apology

Dr Peter Toon

Anglicans within the global Anglican Communion, who are evangelical, traditional and biblically conservative, tend to speak well of The Anglican Church of Nigeria. This is because of its proclamation of Christ as Lord, its clear witness to Muslims and pagans, and its readiness to stand up to Western Anglicanism over such matters as scriptural authority and sexual ethics.

I want to join this chorus and add my sincere thanks to God for the witness of the Church in Nigeria both in its own context and in the global Communion of Anglican provinces.

I want also to express my appreciation for the commitment of the Church in Nigeria in its Constitution (recently amended by Synod) to the basic Formularies of the Anglican Way as expressed in The BCP, The Articles of Religion and The Ordinal as these are bound together in copies of the English BCP (1662).

And here I come to my apology which I offer to all my readers, especially to those in the Nigerian Church through its mission (CANA) in North America.

I have given the impression sometimes—I think---that what is called "The Book of Common Prayer" today, and is used now in Nigeria and by some of the congregations in CANA in the USA., is in fact basically The BCP of 1662 adapted culturally for the varied Nigerian context. This impression is wrong.

In fact, I need to be very clear: what is called The BCP and used now in English or other languages is not the classic, historical BCP ( i.e. not that which is referred to as a formulary in the constitution of the Nigerian Church). What is now called the BCP is that which the Synod of this Church, as an autonomous province, decided to call The BCP and it dates from 1996. (In other words it is a case where, as in the USA and the West Indies—and more recently in Ireland—a General Synod has assumed the right to use the ancient title of The BCP for a new kind of book, a book which certainly draws from the BCP but also used many other sources, and is, therefore best referred to by a title which communicates its varied content and distinction from the historic BCP.)

So there are churches in the USA within CANA, which are using this "BCP" of 1996 for Holy Communion, and the service they are using bears no relation whatsoever to "The Order for Holy Communion" in the historic and classic BCP of 1662. Rather, the service is similar to what can be found in such prayer books as Alternative Service Book, 1980, and Common Worship, 2000, of the Church of England, not to mention the Prayer Book of The Episcopal Church (1979).

I am not here stating that the content of the Nigerian Prayer Book of 1996 is bad or not worthy to be used. What I am saying is that the Nigerian Church, which has recently anathematized The Episcopal Church USA for its rejection of truth, has like the American Church committed a serious error—indeed a serious sin against the communion of saints and historical verity—by calling by the name of "The Book of Common Prayer" that which is better called "A Nigerian Prayer Book, 1996," or "Common Worship for Nigeria" or the like. Anyone who looks through the Prayer Book of 1996 and then looks through the BCP of 1662 will see at once that the former is not a new edition of the latter but is a related but different kind of Prayer Book!

So I thank God for the witness of the Nigerian Church for its commitment to the Gospel and to Jesus the Lord, but I regret deeply that it has committed such a major mistake in terms of its present Prayer Book. My fear is that this decision of 1996 will come back to haunt the Nigerian Church—just as the 1979 one of The Episcopal Church has done and will do for many Episcopalians.

April 27, 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anglican Doctrine in its Clarity & Variety: Thirty-Nine Articles – new CD of 13 commentaries

There was a time when churchmen of all schools took The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion most seriously as the first Formulary of the Church of England (usually listed before the BCP & Ordinal) and as a statement of how the C. of E. came through the sixteenth century upholding the Reformed Catholic Faith, avoiding the excesses of Rome on the one hand and "Anabaptism" (radical reformation) on the other.

This "time" stretched from the sixteenth to the early part of the twentieth century, but then with the onrush of modernity The Articles were seemingly forgotten. However, with the present crisis in Anglicanism, there is a new interest in The Articles of Religion as a kind of signpost as to the real identity of the Anglican Way. Therefore, the Prayer Book Society has placed on one CD in pdf no less than THIRTEEN major expositions. (2nd hand these volumes would cost $300.00 or more)

The Prayer Book Society offers this CD for $20.00 – go to and use your credit card. or send a check to PBS, Box 35220, Philadelphia, PA. 19128-0220.

As an introduction to this topic, you may also wish to read the essay on The Articles by Dr Peter Toon in the book, THE STUDY OF ANGLICANISM, ed. John Booty & Stephen Sykes, revised edition, SPCK & Fortress, 1998. Or, better perhaps, you may choose to read his recent 2006 essay/booklet on The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture, available at for $7.50, postage included.

The PBS thanks Miss Irene C. Teas for her great work in producing this CD of 13 books.

Not all Episcopalians in The Network led by the Bishop of Pittsburgh seem to realize that the Episcopal Church set aside the Articles, along with the other Formularies, in 1979 when it adopted its new Prayer Book, and made that innovative Prayer Book its only Formulary and Standard of Doctrine. Thus part of the coming renewal of the Anglican Way in America will be the re-adoption of the Articles and the embracing of their basic teaching concerning Who is God, Who is Jesus, What is Salvation, How many Sacraments and such like matters..

We invite you to discover the depth of theological thought in the Anglican Way in these expositions from evangelicals, latitudinarians and high churchmen and be refreshed in the teaching of the same Anglican Way.

In looking over The Articles, you will see that they refer to The Homilies as another authoritative source of Anglican doctrine. Edgeways Books of the UK has recently published a new edition of The Homilies, edited by Ian Robinson , a leading expert on the use of English in the period of the Reformation and immediately afterwards. Visit www. to buy in the UK and to buy in the USA. In difficulty call 1-800-PBS-1928

To read the Articles go to the 1662, 1928 (USA) and 1962 (Canadian) editions of the classic BCP, where they are printed at the back. Also, take a magnifying glass to read them as "a historical document" at the back of the American 1979 prayer book.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Predestination in Anglican & Reformed (Calvinist) Formularies

( a short essay addressed to various enquirers concerning the place of Predestination in The Anglican Way, by Peter Toon )

In a period of human history when much is made of the personal autonomy of the human being, his right to choose and his possession of basic human rights, the teaching of predestination unto everlasting life by the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit does not immediately appeal to many western Christians. It seems to exalt God too much as it humbles man excessively.

On the other hand, there are today a few who feel so weak, helpless, alienated and hopeless in the context of modern western life and before God, that for them only the message of sovereign choice and action by the Holy Trinity in mercy on their behalf seem to meet their helpless state and condition.

Looking back through time, one reason why divine predestination seemed to obvious and true to many Christians in the sixteenth century was that they strongly believed that such was the nature of their sinfulness and separation from God the Father, and so powerless were they to do anything in and of themselves to make themselves acceptable to the holy Lord God, that they surely knew that only the sovereign grace of God through Christ and by the Holy Spirit could save them. And to believe this was to believe that God, the eternal and omniscient LORD, must have planned all this before he made the world. As they read the Bible with its narrative of the election of Abraham, Israel, and Jesus, and then meditated upon teaching in places like Romans 8-11 and Ephesians 1 concerning God's eternal purpose in Christ Jesus, they followed Augustine of Hippo and other theologians of the Church in believing that the only real and valid reason that they became recipients of the saving grace of God was that they were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Their choice of God was in fact God's choice of them.

This doctrine of predestination to life is most clearly taught in Article XVII of The Church of England's "Thirty-Nine Articles" of 1571 and it is assumed in various places in The Book of Common Prayer (editions of 1549, 1552, 1559 & 1662). See the end of this piece for Article XVII in a form of modern English.

Within the Anglican Standards of Faith (Formularies) the doctrine of divine election is kept within the context of worship and doctrine, especially as a means of giving all praise for salvation to the Holy Trinity. It is an absolutely necessary doctrine for without it the Church loses the ability to confess in gratitude and awe the relation of God's activity in space and time for our redemption to His eternal being and nature as a Trinity of Persons and the One God who is omnipotent, omniscient, righteous and holy.

However, the human mind possesses by divine creation the capacity of logic and often seeks to be logical in certain areas of thought, action and experience. If logic is applied to the evidence in Scripture of divine election, then it is easily possible to use this logic to deduce that if God chose millions to be the recipients of his saving grace then he also (in his inscrutable sovereign wisdom) also chose millions not to be the recipients of his saving grace. Here the logical emphasis is not upon the failure of the millions to receive the Gospel with obedient faith but on God's sovereign choice not to act in them to cause them to believe.

This negative side to divine election was resisted in the Reformed Catholicism of the Church of England, even though exiles who had been in Switzerland and who returned in the reign of Elizabeth I pressed for double predestination to be included in the Confession of Faith of the reformed Church of England—as also did Puritans in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign and when James I came to the throne in 1604. These exiles and Puritans had been influenced by the Reformed Churches in Switzerland, especially by the teaching of John Calvin and Theodore Beza, major reformers who felt obliged through their scriptural studies to admit to the reality of divine election not only for those who believed the gospel but also for those who did not believe it.

What is called double predestination entered the mind-set of the Reformed (Presbyterian) Churches in the mid-sixteenth century and is found in their Confessions of Faith, although the specific place where it is stated in the Confessions is not uniform. Perhaps the clearest, and the most accessible, logical statement, of the twofold nature of divine predestination is found a century later in The Westminster Confession of Faith and The Larger Catechism (which were put together by English Presbyterian-minded Puritans at Westminster Abbey in the mid 1640s in the period when the Anglican Liturgy and Articles of Religion were prohibited in the English Church; later they became the Standards of the Presbyterian National Church of Scotland). [In the W. Confession, chapter 3 is "Of God's Eternal Decree" (following chapter one on Scripture and two on The Holy Trinity) and in it we read that God "ordained them (those not elected to life) to dishonour and wrath for their sin".

There is no doubt that when held within a warm biblical piety, in awe and reverence before God, and with great humility (as it seems to me it was by Calvin himself) the full doctrine of double predestination has and does make strong Christians, in the sense that they believe that God is everything and they are nothing and what they are is by the grace of God alone. This doctrine has given and can put iron in the blood, as it were—as the history of "Calvinist people" demonstrates. The danger with it—as I demonstrated in my first book, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism (1967)—is that as a doctrine within a logical system it can so easily become cerebral and ideological and thereby take away all desire to proclaim the Gospel, to evangelize and to do good to all men, for in the end, it is held, God will bring his elect to himself in his own sovereign way. (See also my book, Puritans and Calvinism of 1973).

In contrast, the Anglican doctrine as set out in Article XVII recognizes what is abundantly clear in the Scriptures and presents it in a careful, non speculative way, so that the doctrine makes most sense not in rational debate but as we bow before God in worship, thanking him for his saving mercy and grace, and meditating upon the atoning work of Christ for us. So while a good Anglican clergyman is required to believe in Divine election in the sense of election unto everlasting life, he is not required to believe, teach and confess the seeming logical corollary, that God specifically ordained many to wrath and condemnation. In fact, in public teaching he ought to avoid this—even if he may personally believe it. One final word, the supposed excesses of "Calvinism" (by which is usually meant high or hyper Calvinism), of which not a few "anglo-catholic" Anglicans complain, is no excuse for rejecting the important place of Divine Election in the Anglican Formularies and thus in Reformed Catholicism.

17 Predestination and election

Predestination to life belongs to God's everlasting purpose. By this is meant that before the foundation of the world, it is his unchangeable decree, in accordance with his secret counsel to deliver from the curse and damnation those who he has chosen in Christ, and to bring them by him to everlasting salvation, as vessels of his mercy (Rom. 9:21ff). Therefore, those on whom such an excellent blessing of God is bestowed are called according to God's purpose by the Holy Spirit working in them in God's good time; through grace they obey this calling and are freely justified by God; they become the sons of God by adoption (Rom 3:24; 8:15f); they are conformed to the image of his only Son Jesus Christ; they lead holy lives that are given to good works to the glory of God; and at last, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting bliss (Rom. 8:29f; Eph. 2:8-10).

The reverent consideration of our predestination and election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable strength and comfort to godly persons, who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly passions and drawing their thoughts upward to high and heavenly realities. This teaching is welcome to us both because it strongly establishes and confirms our assurance of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ and also because it kindles in us a fervent love to God. For unregenerate persons, however, who are moved by idle curiosity and who do not have the Spirit of Christ, to be constantly confronted with the doctrine of God's predestination is dangerous and disastrous, since the devil uses it to drive them either to despair or to abandon themselves to immoral and ungodly living, which is no less perilous than despair.

Furthermore, we must accept God's promises in the way in which they are ordinarily presented to us in Holy Scripture, and in all that we do the will of God is to be followed precisely as it is revealed to us in the Word of God. April 22, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Robert Gagnon: Rowan Williams' Wrong Reading of Romans (updated 4/23)

(Gagnon is worth reading even if Reuter's in Toronto did not get Rowan William's words absolutely right! Note: this version, updated 4/23, is an update of the version first posted)

Rowan Williams’ Wrong Reading of Romans
(…and John 14:6)

by Robert A. J. Gagnon
Associate Professor of New Testament
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary,
April 21, 2007

For a PDF version with proper pagination and format click here

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of the Anglican Communion, delivered a lecture on Apr. 16, 2007 in which he suggested that the “conservative” case against homosexual practice, based significantly on Romans 1:24-27, has failed to give due weight to the fact that Paul in context is primarily critical of the judgmental attitude of those in the covenant community. Reuters has picked up Williams’ remarks—which constitute only 424 words out of a 6358-word text entitled “The Bible Today: Reading and Hearing”—and has formulated a screaming headline out of it entitled, “Anglican head Williams says anti-gays misread Bible” (

This imbalance is already a distortion of sorts, especially since Williams also once notes that the “‘liberal’ or revisionist case” is not helped by the fact that “everyone in [Paul’s] imagined readership agrees in thinking the same-sex relations of the culture around them to be as obviously immoral as idol-worship or disobedience to parents.” And yet the reporting is not a complete distortion of Williams’ remarks. The dominant point that Williams makes rests with “conservative” misinterpretation of the text’s “movement,” not with the “liberal” reading. Moreover, even when he states that his own reading is “not helpful for a ‘liberal’ or revisionist case,” he carefully couches his language. He does not say that Paul himself fully accepted the view of homosexual practice per se as “immoral” (perhaps, but only perhaps, this can be assumed) but refers instead to what Paul’s readers think and that only with regard to “the same-sex relations of the culture around them,” leaving open the possibility that their opposition to homosexual practice was limited only to common exploitative forms. Then, too, he states that same-sex relations were “as obviously immoral as . . . disobedience to parents,” which is a distortion of Paul’s point in Romans 1:18-32. To indicate, as Paul does, that any form of sin could get one excluded from the kingdom of God if personal merit is the criterion of evaluation is not the same as saying that all forms of sin are equally abhorrent to God (the latter point Paul and Scripture generally deny categorically).

I reproduce below Williams’ remarks on homosexual practice and put in boldface the most relevant portions. A full copy of his address, which he delivered at an event hosted jointly by Wycliffe and Trinity theological colleges in Toronto, can be obtained at the Archbishop’s site at or, for a better format,

My second example [note: the first was John 14:6] is even more contentious in the present climate; and once again I must stress that the point I am making is not that the reading I proposes settles a controversy or changes a substantive interpretation but that many current ways of reading miss the actual direction of the passage and so undermine a proper theological approach to Scripture. Paul in the first chapter of Romans famously uses same-sex relationships as an illustration of human depravity -- along with other 'unnatural' behaviours such as scandal, disobedience to parents and lack of pity. It is, for the majority of modern readers the most important single text in Scripture on the subject of homosexuality, and has understandably been the focus of an enormous amount of exegetical attention.

What is Paul's argument? And, once again, what is the movement that the text seeks to facilitate? The answer is in the opening of chapter 2: we have been listing examples of the barefaced perversity of those who cannot see the requirements of the natural order in front of their noses; well, it is precisely the same perversity that affects those who have received the revelation of God and persist in self-seeking and self-deceit. The change envisaged is from confidence in having received divine revelation to an awareness of universal sinfulness and need. Once again, there is a paradox in reading Romans 1 as a foundation for identifying in others a level of sin that is not found in the chosen community.

Now this gives little comfort to either party in the current culture wars in the Church. It is not helpful for a 'liberal' or revisionist case, since the whole point of Paul's rhetorical gambit is that everyone in his imagined readership agrees in thinking the same-sex relations of the culture around them to be as obviously immoral as idol-worship or disobedience to parents. It is not very helpful to the conservative either, though, because Paul insists on shifting the focus away from the objects of moral disapprobation in chapter 1 to the reading /hearing subject who has been up to this point happily identifying with Paul's castigation of someone else. The complex and interesting argument of chapter 1 about certain forms of sin beginning by the 'exchange' of true for false perception and natural for unnatural desire stands, but now has to be applied not to the pagan world alone but to the 'insiders' of the chosen community. Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding.

As I have said, this does nothing to settle the exegetical questions fiercely debated at the moment. But I want to stress that what I am trying to define as a strictly theological reading of Scripture . . . is bound to give priority to the question that the text specifically puts and to ask how the movement, the transition, worked for within the text is to be realised in the contemporary reading community.

Now I am in full agreement that it is essential to read a specific passage in its broader literary context; that is, to recognize (as Williams’ puts it) that the passage in question is “part of a rhetorical process or argument” and must be read “as a full unit,” giving due attention to “the actual direction of the passage” and its “movement.” In fact, my critique of Williams is precisely that he has not accurately taken into account Paul’s “movement” in Romans and in his letters as a whole, which has led him to a misapplication of the text. He similarly misinterprets “the way, the truth, and the life” text in John 14:6, which I will comment on more briefly at the end of this response.

Before I proceed with my response to Williams, a word needs to be said about what Williams was doing and not doing and what I am doing and not doing in this article. What Williams was not doing in his address was settling the question of whether Rom 1:24-27 condemns homosexual relations absolutely, that is, even when such relations are non-exploitative and loving, and entered into by persons homosexually oriented. This is what Williams apparently means when he says that his reading of Romans 1-2 “does nothing to settle the exegetical questions fiercely debated at the moment.” His remark cannot mean that he has nothing to say about the main question raised by the passage in its context, that is, its “movement” and “direction” of the text as it leads to Romans 2, because Williams’ precise point in these four paragraph is to explain what this movement or direction is and how such a movement or direction constrains the church’s application of Rom 1:24-27. Williams’ point is that Paul’s “primary point [is] not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding” who are “happily identifying with Paul’s castigation of someone else” and oblivious to the fact of “universal sinfulness and need,” including their own. Therefore, Williams suggests, even if homosexual practice were absolutely rejected by Paul in a way that would include committed homosexual unions—a point that Williams begs off debating here—that would still be secondary to Paul’s use of his remarks in Rom 1:24-27, namely, that one ought not to be judging those who engage in such behavior since we are all sinners. He infers that the church should take note of this primary point and not be judging persons who enter into homosexual unions or making too much of an issue of homosexual relations, at least not to a point where it may lead to a rift between ECUSA and the Anglican Communion generally, for we are all sinners anyway.

It is precisely Williams’ contextual use of Rom 1:24-27 that I contest in my article. Because Williams did not address the exegetical question of whether Paul’s indictment of homosexual relations was absolute, I do not address it directly here but presume it on the basis of hundreds of pages of work that I have previously done on the subject.

See especially: The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon, 2001), esp. pp. 229-395; Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Fortress, 2003), esp. pp. 74-88, 101-2, along with online notes at; “Does the Bible Regard Same-Sex Intercourse as Intrinsically Sinful?” in Christian Sexuality (ed. R. E. Saltzman; Kirk House, 2003), 106-55, esp. 128-51; “A Comprehensive and Critical Review Essay of Homosexuality, Science, and the ‘Plain Sense’ of Scripture, Part 2,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 25 (Dec. 2003): 179-275, esp. pp. 206-65 (online at; “Why the Disagreement over the Biblical Witness on Homosexual Practice?” in Reformed Review 59 (2005): 19-130, esp. pp. 62-86, online at:; “Does Jack Rogers’s New Book ‘Explode the Myths’ about the Bible and Homosexuality and ‘Heal the Church?’” Installment 3, pp. 3-15 at; and “How Bad Is Homosexual Practice According to Scripture and Does Scripture’s View Apply to Committed Homosexual Unions?” pp. 17-22, online at

Instead, with Williams, I focus on the literary context for Rom 1:24-27. My own point is that, contrary to what Williams claims, the context for Rom 1:24-27 does not suggest to the Roman Christians (or to us) that we should stop judging sexual immorality in the midst of the community of faith. Now one might argue that contextual analysis of a passage in Scripture is still part of exegesis. I would agree. But the context of Williams’ own remarks makes clear that he means by “not settling the exegetical questions fiercely debated at the moment” only the exegesis proper of the Rom 1:24-27 itself, namely, whether it rejects homosexual unions absolutely.

Let me also say that I respect the Archbishop as a caring person and able theologian (though he is not a biblical scholar). There is much in his address as a whole that is commendable, which makes his misinterpretation in these two specific examples that much more regrettable.

Paul’s own application of Romans 1:24-27 to believers later in Romans

Williams implies in his remarks that leaders of the church err in opposing the affirmation of homosexual practice in the church too strongly, not necessarily because homosexual practice can be a moral act (whether it is or not Williams does not say in this article though in previous work he has said that it can be), but rather because Paul’s primary point at the beginning of Romans 2 was to criticize persons who judge those engaging in the sins cited in Rom 1:18-32. So Williams:

“It is precisely the same perversity that affects those who have received the revelation of God and persist in self-seeking and self-deceit.”

It is a misuse of Rom 1:24-27 to use it as a “foundation for identifying in others a level of sin that is not found in the chosen community.”

“Paul insists on shifting the focus away from the objects of moral disapprobation in chapter 1 to the reading/hearing subject who has been up to this point happily identifying with Paul’s castigation of someone else.”

“Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding.”

In short, Williams appears to be saying that so-called “conservatives”—let it be known that opposing strongly the affirmation of homosexual practice in the church hardly makes one a theological “conservative” (more a centrist)!—should stop making such an issue of homosexual practice and attend to their own sins, which are just as great. Hence, Reuters’ headline, “Anglican head Williams says anti-gays misread Bible,” is not likely to be far off the mark. Indeed, the headline accurately captures the primary substance and focus of his remarks on homosexuality.

Let us begin by affirming what Paul in his letter to the Romans was emphatically not telling believers in Rome. Paul was not telling the Roman Christians to avoid passing judgment on fellow believers who actively engage in sexual immorality of an extreme sort, including homosexual practice. To the contrary: When Paul next used the term “sexual impurity” (akatharsia) in his letter (6:19), a term that he used elsewhere in Romans only in 1:24-27 to describe homosexual practice, he did so in direct address to the Roman believers. He reminded them that believers in Christ are no longer “slaves to sexual impurity,” for to continue in such behavior was to engage in acts of which they should now be “ashamed” (echoing the shame language that dominates Rom 1:24-27 regarding homosexual practice). Such acts, he says, lead to death and the loss of eternal life (6:19-23; compare 1:32). Indeed, Paul’s entire argument around the question “Why not sin?” since we are “under grace and not under the law” (6:15; cf. 6:1) culminates in 8:12-14 with the response:

If you continue to live in conformity to (the sinful desires operating in) the flesh you are going to die. But if by means of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For only those who are being led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

This quotation makes it clear, if it were not already, that mouthing a few words of confession that Christ is Lord does not exempt Christians from leading a life consonant with that confession, nor even from the dire eternal consequences that would arise from failing to do so. For Paul the outcome for a believer who lives under the primary sway of sin in the flesh is no different from the outcome for an unbeliever who so lives. Both alike face the prospect of exclusion from God’s eternal rule.

Again in Romans 13, Paul makes clear that sexual impurity is definitely not one of the matters of ethical indifference, like diet and calendar issues, that later in 14:1-15:13 Paul will warn believers against judging fellow believers for. Paul insists in 13:13-14 that, in view of the coming day of salvation and judgment, believers “lay aside works of darkness” such as “immoral sexual activities and licentious acts” and thereby to “make no provision to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh.” The Greek word for “immoral sexual activities” is koitai, which literally means, “lyings” or “beds,” a term that obviously links up with arsenokoitai, “men lying with a male,” in 1 Cor 6:9 as a particular instance of an immoral “lying.” The Greek word for “licentious acts” is aselgeiai, which refers to a lack of self-restraint with respect to refraining from prohibited sexual behaviors. This takes us back to the discussion in Rom 6:19-22 where Paul insists that believers stop putting their bodily members at the disposal of the kind of “sexual impurity” cited in 1:24-27, which makes them slaves of sin and lacking in sexual self-restraint. If Paul had wanted his converts to stop passing judgment on fellow converts who were engaged in unrepentant sexual immorality then he would have been a monumental hypocrite, inasmuch as he himself regularly made such judgments (we’ll see more in a moment). It is far more likely, though, that Williams has misinterpreted Paul than that Paul was a monumental hypocrite, in my opinion.

The immediate context of Romans 1-2

Indeed, nothing in the immediate context of Romans 1:24-27 suggests that Paul would have been opposed to believers making the judgment that homosexual practice puts the offender at dire risk of facing God’s wrath, warning in the most earnest terms those who engage in such practice, and insisting that a church puts its status as church in jeopardy when it affirms or tolerates such immorality (this last point, incidentally, is not limited to Paul in the New Testament; see, for example, the risen Christ’s warnings to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira in Revelation 2). For Rom 1:24-27 depicts homosexual practice as a particularly egregious instance of “sexual uncleanness,” grossly “contrary to nature,” and an “indecency.” In fact, Paul treats homosexual practice as analogous on the horizontal dimension of life to the vertical offense of idolatry since in both cases humans suppress the truth about God and his will for our lives that ought to have been self-evident in creation structures still intact in nature (1:19-23, 25).

Does Williams think that Paul would have chastised believers as “self-righteous” for speaking vigorously against Christians who worshipped gods other than the God of Jesus Christ? I would hope not since Paul clearly regarded belief in Christ as absolutely antithetical to idol worship. For example, he described the conversion of the Thessalonians as a turning from idols to serve the living God (1 Thess 1:9-10). Moreover, he severely chastised the “strong” among the Corinthian believers just for eating in a idol’s temple, to say nothing of worshipping an idol, because it could provoke God to jealousy and wrath (1 Cor 10:14-22). Yet, if Williams would concur with this point, then he would have to give up his point about Paul being opposed to “judging” persons who engage in unrepentant homosexual practice. For Paul’s remarks in chap. 2, where Paul allegedly says, “don’t judge” (incidentally, he doesn’t say this, as we shall see), as much follow the indictment of idolatry as they do the indictment of homosexual relations.

Since we noted above Paul’s stern opposition to idolatry in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians as illustrations of his opposition to idolatry in all his letters, it bears mentioning that we see in these letters an equally stern opposition to any continuance in sexually immoral behavior. When Paul begins his moral exhortation in his first extant letter, he starts off by warning his converts not to engage any longer in the forms of “sexual impurity” (akatharsia) that once characterized their lives as Gentiles; and that failure to heed such a warning would leave them prey to an avenging God (1 Thess 4:1-8). Similarly, in 1 Corinthians Paul’s couples idolatry and sexual immorality as the two main offenses that led God to wipe out the wilderness generation (10:6-12) and focuses an additional three chapters of his letter (5-7) on the paramount importance of sexual purity for believers. One need only compare Paul’s command to “flee from idolatry” in 1 Cor 10:14 with his equally urgent command to “flee sexual immorality” in 1 Cor 6:18.

Obviously, then, in Romans 1-2 Paul is not telling his readers to stop passing judgment on severe and obvious cases of idolatry and sexual immorality. For Paul states that idolatry and same-sex intercourse, among other offenses, are already and in themselves manifestations of God’s wrath (not grace). The wrath appears initially in the form of God stepping back and not restraining humans from engaging in self-dishonoring behavior that arises from gratifying innate desires to do what God strongly forbids. Such behavior degrades the human being who has received the imprint of God’s image. The continual heaping up of such sins, Paul says, will ultimately lead to cataclysmic judgment on the eschatological Day of Wrath (1:32; 2:3-9). Thus to accept homosexual practice in the church would be to consign persons who engage in such behavior to the ongoing wrath of God with the ultimate prospect of exclusion from God’s kingdom (compare also 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19, 21; Eph 5:3-8). This is not grace but wrath. This is not love but hate. This is not the absence of judgment but the substitution of one’s own verdict of acquittal for God’s verdict of wrath.

Paul in Romans 2 is debating, in the first instance, with a non-Christian, imaginary Jewish dialogue partner or interlocutor. Despite what Williams suggests, Paul does not tell the interlocutor to stop judging pagans for committing idolatry, sexual immorality, and an array of other sins (including murder, 1:29), as if by doing so the interlocutor could escape God’s judgment of his own sins. Rather, Paul maintains both that God’s judgment is indeed coming on those who do such things and that the interlocutor, when he does these or similar things, will likewise face God’s wrath if he does not repent (2:3-4). The interlocutor as a righteous Jew may sin less quantitatively and qualitatively than Gentiles but he knows more about God’s will through Scripture and so the culpability level for suppressing what truth he does suppress rises. Essentially Paul is moving the interlocutor to the view that mere possession of the Jewish law of Moses does not exempt him from responding to the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, an offer equally accessible to sinful Gentiles (3:3-26). Everybody is in want of the atoning, amends-making death of Jesus and the indwelling Spirit of Christ that makes possible a life lived “for God” (compare Gal 2:19-20).

Yes, Paul has laid a trap for the Jewish interlocutor who evaluated God’s judgment against the Gentile world as “just” and “righteous” (3:3-8). However, it is not a trap designed to preclude judgment of immoral behavior within the Christian community. Instead, it is a trap designed to convince moral unbelievers that they too need the grace of God manifested in the atoning death of Christ and the attendant moral transformation that comes with being a recipient of such grace: “For sin shall not exercise lordship over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). There is also a layered trap for Christians at Rome who judge one another over matters of moral indifference such as diet and calendar (14:1-15:13). As we have seen, though, sexual immorality, like idol worship, does not fall for Paul in the category of moral indifference.

Williams thus confuses his own context with the context for Paul’s remarks in Romans. There is a big difference between, on the one hand, Paul chastising a non-believing Jew for using his sense of moral superiority to consign unbelieving Gentiles to hell while exempting himself from the need to receive Jesus as Savior (Rom 2:12-29) and, on the other hand, Williams chastising some in the church today for regarding the institutional affirmation of sexual immorality of an extreme sort among its leaders by some ecclesiastical bodies a problem for ongoing institutional affiliation.

The parallel case of the incestuous man in 1 Corinthians 5

Just how far off the mark Williams’ theological analysis of Paul’s views on the matter is becomes clear when one looks at how Paul deals with the case of the incestuous man in 1 Cor 5-6. There an exasperated Paul asks the Corinthian believers the rhetorical question: “Is it not those inside (the church) that you are to judge?” (5:12). Williams’ address suggests that his response to such a question would be “no,” at least as regards the comparable case of homosexual practice. For a “yes” for Williams would mean that one has not given sufficient attention to “universal sinfulness and need.” But from Paul’s standpoint “no” is the wrong answer. “No” is the answer that the “tolerant” Corinthian believers would give, but not the answer Paul wants them to give. Far from tolerating the case of incest, Paul advocated temporary removal of the offending member from the life of the community and did so not only for the sake of the purity and holiness of the community but also for the sake of the offender who needed to be recovered for the kingdom of God (5:3-11; 6:9-11). Paul did not take the approach adopted by Williams, namely to caution the Corinthians against self-righteously passing judgment on the incestuous man’s behavior. Paul also, in the broader context, explicitly rejected any attempt to view the morally significant issue of sexual immorality as comparable to morally indifferent issues surrounding dietary practices (6:12-20).

Clearly when Paul spoke of judging those “inside” the church he qualified that judgment in many ways. Judgment should be implemented (1) in a spirit of gentleness and an awareness that one’s own self is vulnerable to temptation (Gal 6:1); (2) in a mournful manner (1 Cor 5:2) and with regard for the offender as a brother and not an enemy (2 Thess 3:15); (3) out of a desire to reclaim the offender for God’s kingdom rather than punitively condemn the offender to hell; (4) with a zeal to restore him quickly and enthusiastically to the community following repentance (1 Cor 5:5; 2 Cor 2:5-11; 7:8-13); and (5) in proportion to the recalcitrance of the offender and the severity of the offense (1 Thess 5:14; 1 Cor 5:1-2). Yet, equally as clearly, Paul insisted that the church do its job of judging those within the community of faith who have deviated into serious sexual immorality. Anything less would be unloving.

Perhaps Williams would respond that a loving and consensual relationship between a man and his mother or stepmother is far more serious than a loving and consensual relationship between persons of the same sex. And yet I don’t see how Williams could demonstrate such a point from Paul, taken in his historical context. For all the evidence from ancient Israel and early Judaism, as well as Paul’s own description in Rom 1:24-27, indicates that Paul regarded homosexual practice as comparable to or worse than a case of man-mother incest, even of a consensual and loving sort. There is no evidence that Jesus’ view of the matter would have been any different since Jesus predicated his view on marital ‘twoness’ on the ‘twoness’ of the sexes: “male and female he made them” (Gen 1:27) and “for this reason a man may . . . be joined to his woman and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; both cited in Mark 10:6-8; Matt 19:4-6). Both incest and homosexual practice are instances of immoral sexual relations between persons too much alike on a structural or formal level (one as regards kinship, the other as regards the sex or gender of the participants). The only difference between the two is that a two-sexes prerequisite for sexual relations is more strongly grounded in the creation texts and is more absolutely sustained in Scripture generally and in the traditions of early Judaism (i.e. with no exceptions) than is even a prohibition of incest. Moreover, the issue of too much structural sameness, of a narcissistic arousal for what one already is, is if anything more keenly felt in the case of same-sex intercourse than in the case of consensual, adult incest. Of the two, the prohibition of incest and the prohibition of same-sex intercourse, the prior and more foundational analogue is clearly the prohibition of same-sex intercourse.

Partly what this boils down to is this: Williams does not regard homosexual practice as a particularly significant sexual offense, if even an offense at all. (I have read in the press that he may have moderated or even changed some of his earlier strong support for homosexual practice but the evidence for such a change is at best conflicting.) For I can’t imagine Williams arguing that it would be inappropriate for the church to split over the issue of, say, ordaining bishops who were in committed sexual bonds with a parent, full sibling, or adult child. I suspect that in such a context he would never introduce issues such as ‘judgmentalism’ or self-righteousness or divisiveness on the part of those who opposed ordination of such. Yet neither he nor anyone else who talks in this way has made a convincing case that Paul would have viewed loving and committed same-sex intercourse involving people “oriented” to such behavior as a significantly lesser offense than adult, consensual, and loving incest of the first order. Until he or anyone else makes such a convincing case, no basis exists for arguing that severing ties with a schismatic Episcopal Church of the United States of America would be an unfaithful, self-righteous, and anti-Pauline act. Indeed, the truly anti-Pauline act would be a business-as-usual approach to a renegade body that endorses sexual immorality among its leaders.

To sum it up, then, Williams’ point in his discussion of Romans was to urge “conservatives” who have been staunch in their opposition to homosexual practice to back off in judging those who engage in homosexual behavior, given the immediately ensuing context in Rom 2:1-3. He is not merely suggesting that in the very process of judging—which the church certainly should do in cases where believers are engaged in unrepentant idolatry and sexual immorality—we should be careful not to be self-righteous. There is a difference. The latter is an acceptable read of Paul generally; the former is not. Williams begs off discussing whether Paul’s prohibition is absolute but suggests that even if it is absolute the larger point in the context is “don’t judge.” As I have argued above, Paul never tells the Jewish interlocutor in Romans 2 “don’t judge idolatry and sexual immorality” (can anyone locate for me the text where Paul allegedly says this?). Paul himself judges idolatry and sexual immorality in Rom 1:18-32, where he indicts all Gentiles in preparation for his point that all need Christ. Moreover, Paul himself, as I have shown, repeatedly in his letters, including the letter to the Romans, warns believers against engaging in sexual immorality (which for him included homosexual practice as a particular egregious form of “sexual impurity”) because such will not inherit the kingdom of God. So Paul can hardly be criticizing the Jewish interlocutor here merely for the act of judging Gentiles who engage in such acts. No, the issue here is that the unbelieving Jewish interlocutor is using his sense of moral superiority to exempt himself, ultimately, from the necessity of believing in Christ. The issue is not that of the community of believers warning another offending believer to stop engaging in sexual immorality lest it lead to exclusion from God’s kingdom and the community even going so far as to put such an offender on discipline. Paul affirms, not rejects, precisely this kind of warning and disciplinary action in the case of the unrepentant incestuous man in 1 Cor 5 and 6:9-10. Williams wrongly understands the overarching issue or “movement” of the text of Romans 1:24-27 as denying just such a reaction to homosexual practice. Williams ought to have targeted the bulk of his remarks on the subject against “liberal revisionists” seeking to validate homosexual practice rather than to have aimed his main volley against “conservatives.”

This is not the first time that I have addressed these context issues. Much (though not all) of the material above in a different form can be found in works of mine already published (for full citations see above), such as The Bible and Homosexual Practice, pp. 277-84: “Does Romans 2:1-3:20 Condemn Those Who Condemn Homosexual Practice?” and pp. 240-46: “Romans 1:18-3:20 Within the Sweep of Paul’s Letter and the Situation at Rome”) and a more recent article, “Why the Disagreement over the Biblical Witness on Homosexual Practice?” (Reformed Review 59:1 [2005]: 19-130, esp. pp. 83-90: “Addendum: Does Paul reject judgment of homosexual practice?” and “Is Homosexual Practice the Diet and Circumcision Issue of Today?”). It would be nice in the future if persons making the kinds of claims about Paul that the Archbishop has made could at least acknowledge the counter-arguments already made and attempt to respond to them.

If I have misunderstood the particulars of Archbishop Williams’ remarks in any way, then I would be happy to be corrected. I respect him and nothing said here should be interpreted otherwise. Of course, I would be delighted to discover that the Archbishop actually does not believe, or has now changed his mind, that Paul warned his converts against judging believers who were actively engaged in sexually immoral behavior of a severe sort such as homosexual practice.

Williams’ Misreading of John 14:6: Way, Truth, and Life

A final short word needs to be given about Williams’ other illustration of the need to understand a passage of Scripture in its full literary context. Williams suggests that Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me,” do not mean in context that “salvation depends upon explicit confession of Christ,” nor do they refute “any attempt to create a more ‘inclusive’ theology of interfaith relations.” Rather,

the actual question being asked is not about the fate of non-Christians; it is about how the disciples are to understand the death of Jesus as the necessary clearing of the way which they are to walk. . . . It is about the move from desolation in the face of the cross . . . to confidence that the process is the work of love coming from and leading to the Father.

This is a misreading precisely of the context that Williams wants us all to uphold. This “I am” saying is part of a much broader witness of “I am” sayings and identifications made throughout the Gospel of John. Jesus compares himself to the ladder of Jacob (he is the link between heaven and earth, especially at the moment of the cross), the well of Jacob (with Jesus giving ‘living water,’ the Spirit, after the drinking of which one will never thirst/die), the bronze serpent of Moses (when people ‘look on’ or believe in him they live, eternally), the manna or “bread from heaven” associated with Moses (people must ‘eat’ Jesus or die; that is, they must believe on him, especially as the atonement for their sins on the cross when he offers his flesh for the life of the world), the Passover sacrifice (who alone takes away the sins of the world), not only the Good Shepherd but also the Gate itself (through which the sheep must pass if they are to have eternal life), the vine (people must abide in him and bear fruit or they will be thrown in the fire), and so on.

Moreover, throughout John’s Gospel insistence upon believing in this specific being is mandated in order to receive eternal life (John 3:16 is only the most famous of many examples). There are also various places where those who do not believe in him are said to be facing destruction; for example, John 3:17-19 and 36-37, which states that those who do not believe in him are condemned already, before the Day of Judgment, the wrath of God now remaining on them. The whole point of the Gospel of John, in its context, is that even good Jews who believe in God and follow Moses cannot avert God’s coming wrath apart from believing in Jesus. If Moses doesn’t suffice, what other religious tradition would?

Although Williams states that his analysis of the context for John 14:6 “certainly does not suggest in any direct way a more inclusive approach to other faiths,” the key phrase in Williams’ remark is “in any direct way,” which does not preclude “any indirect way.” Williams is clearly arguing for interpreting the text in such a way that believing in Christ is not necessary for salvation: John 14:6 “is (to say the least) paradoxical if it is used as a simple self-affirmation for the exclusive claim of the Christian institution or the Christian system.” The comfort-factor of the text that Williams cites as the context is not to the exclusion of the affirmation of Jesus as the sole “the Way,” not just “a way” as Williams suggests with his statement that Jesus’ death “is itself the opening of a way” (emphasis added; was this a slip on Williams’ part?). Even Williams admits (paradoxically, to say the least!): “The text in question indeed states that there is no way to the Father except in virtue of what Jesus does and suffers.” Although Thomas’ question is limited to the matter of where Jesus is going, Jesus redirects the question to an affirmation of his unique identity as “the Way.” The way to God, in other words, is not something that Jesus points us to. It is rather something that he embodies uniquely. Thus the immediately ensuing conversation revolves around the importance of recognizing that Jesus is the unique revelation of God (14:7-10). This is the approach of John’s Jesus throughout the Gospel, not just here in the context of 14:6.

Williams’ problem here—as with Rom 1:24-27 where he stops the “movement” of the text at 2:1-3—is that he doesn’t look at the broad movement of the whole of the Gospel of John. The broader context of the Gospel as a whole gives further context for the statement “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Everywhere in John’s Gospel this is elucidated as requiring believing in him and so John 14:6 cannot be interpreted apart from that larger context. If there is eternal life apart from believing in Christ, since the days of Christ’s death and resurrection, God hasn’t told us about it in the pages of the New Testament—and certainly not in the Gospel of John. We cannot assure anyone of salvation apart from explicit confession of Jesus. Perhaps God has something else up the proverbial sleeve that God has chosen not to tell us about for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Yet it would be wholly unwarranted to use such speculation as a substantive basis for interfaith dialogue. When Williams claims that John 14:6 is misused when it is “regularly used to insist that salvation depends upon explicit confession of Christ,” he is wrong. This is not a misuse of John 14:6 but rather a correct use, understood in the broad movement of the Gospel as a whole.

Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. He can be reached at

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Justification by faith alone & the Development of Doctrine

Reflections from Dr Peter Toon

We are all familiar with the expression "development of doctrine" to refer to the emergence of the dogma in the Early Church concerning God as The Trinity and Jesus as One Person made known in Two Natures. Here, "development" does not mean changing the content of the teaching concerning God and Jesus found in the Bible in terms of adding extras to it; but, rather, it is the statement of the biblical doctrine in a new form using non-biblical technical terms (e.g. homoousios) to make clear against errors the very truth of the biblical doctrine.

Perhaps we are not so familiar with the claim that the 16th century doctrine of Justification by faith alone is also a development of doctrine (see further Peter Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church, Eerdmans, 1979 for the discussion of this via Robert Rainy's, The Delivery and Development of Doctrine). Here again in this case the doctrine (as found in the Statements of Faith of the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican Churches of the 16th century—fir which see Schaff, Creeds of Christendom) is seen as a systematic statement of what is already stated in the Bible in a general but non-technical form.

The doctrine of justification by faith alone (both in its initial undeveloped form from Luther in 1520, and then its developed form by Melanchthon and Calvin and in the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican Confessions of Faith) had a tremendous impact upon those national Churches in Europe and in Britain which received it, and the impact was not only in the area of soteriology (i.e., not only in stating what is the Gospel and how may a sinner be saved by grace), but also in the exposition of the doctrines of the Church, Sacraments and vocation of the laity. One easy way to see this impact is carefully to study the content of the services of The Book of Common Prayer, produced for the Church of England between 1549 and 1552 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Put negatively it was the major reason for the rejection of much of the worship and doctrines of the late medieval Church in Europe.

The developed doctrine of Justification is rooted in the content of St Paul's Letters, especially to Galatia and Rome, and through them in the doctrine of Christ and his fulfillment of the O.T., and it brings this content together in a systematic way—against late medieval formulations—to make the following claims:

  1. Justification is first of all acquittal, that is God forgives the sins of the believer for the sake of Christ, who died to make atonement for sins;

  2. Justification is also the imputation or reckoning by God the Father to the sinner of the "human" righteousness of Christ Jesus, who throughout his life and in his death was perfectly obedient to the Father's will.

  3. This non-imputation of sin and imputation of the righteousness of Christ Jesus is provided by God only to the sinner who believes the Gospel, who trusts in the promises of God, and who has living faith in Christ Jesus as the Savior and Lord. And this faith is itself a gift of God in that it is inspired and energized by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel.

  4. God the Father declares the believing sinner righteous in his sight because that sinner is perfectly represented before him by the exalted Lord Jesus, the New Adam, High Priest and Mediator.

  5. God the Father also makes this declaration because it is his definite will—reaching back into his predestination and beginning from the very moment of declaring righteous—to make the believing sinner wholly righteous in fact, by adopting him as his child and giving him the "Spirit of adoption," the Holy Spirit, to enable him truly to be made righteous through faithfulness and obedience as a disciple of Christ, so that at the last, when divine redemption is completed at the last day, he shall be righteous in soul and body, together with the whole elect people of God.

  6. The process of being made righteous and the becoming righteous at the end time may be described through the use of the words "sanctify" and "sanctification" and its beginnings, which occur at Justification and Adoption, may be called "new birth" or "spiritual regeneration." This is undertaken and pursued within the fellowship of the people of the new covenant, within the Body of Christ.

  7. Baptism is the outward and visible sign of God's action in Justification, Adoption and Regeneration, and at the Lord's Supper the believing sinner is continually strengthened by God in his vocation of sanctification, conformity to Christ Jesus, and glorifying God by his good works.

  8. In the true Christian person, the faith, which initially believes the word of the Father through Jesus for forgiveness and acceptance (Justification), matures as faith that is faithful and obedient to the same living God, the God of the new covenant, which is the final phase of the covenant of grace, made originally with Abraham. However, faith always remains and continually believes and trusts in God the Father through Jesus Christ, even as it seeks also to be faithful.

  9. Any teaching that makes human works, deeds or actions a basis or partial basis for Justification, Adoption and Regeneration is false and to be rejected; however, the duty to love God and the neighbor with the love of Christ is a daily privilege and duty of the justified sinner who is being made righteous, as an adopted child of God.

  10. Thus Justification by faith alone lies behind and under-girds the proclamation of the Gospel to sinners, the administration of the Sacraments and the vocation of all baptized Christians to be holy. It is thus "the Article of Faith by which the Church stands or falls."

What seems to be clearly true in 2007 is that the Churches in Europe and in the U.S.A. which descend from the Lutheran Church, Reformed Church and Anglican Church of the sixteenth century have for the most part forgotten, neglected or departed from this dogma of Justification by Faith alone, and thereby appear to have given up their essential or primary reason for existence as Churches separate from the Roman Catholic Church! And when they officially discuss this doctrine with Roman Catholics or the Orthodox, they tend to modify their original dogma so as to make it more conformable to the R. C. doctrine from The Council of Trent via Vatican II.

Faith alone justifies; or, Justification by faith alone – the Anglican position

For consideration… from Peter Toon

While the expression, "by faith alone," is used by some of the Fathers of the early Church, it comes into prominent use in the sixteenth century by those whom later were called "the Protestant Reformers." In Article XI of The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and the Global Anglican Communion, it is stated: "That we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification."

We shall turn to this Homily in The Book of Homilies (1547) below, but first we need to offer a most important interpretative comment. The "alone" and the "only" are not to be seen as belonging to "faith" but rather belonging to "justifies" and "justified" and "justification."
God's justifies the ungodly only and solely by faith that is sure trust in himself; but this faith/trust does not exist alone in the soul of the repentant sinner, for with it are other fruit or virtues of and from the Holy Spirit. Even so these fruit do not function in the act of justification and of divine adoption. This fact is made abundantly clear in the Homily, written by Archbishop Cranmer for use in English parish churches in the Public Service.

After stating that "a true and lively faith," which is itself a gift of God and not a human achievement, is what is required in man for God to justify him, Cranmer goes on to state that other fruit of the Spirit are present:

"And yet that faith doth not shut out repentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God, to be joined with that faith in every man that is justified; but it shutteth them out from the office of justifying. So, that, although they be all present together in him that is justified, yet they justify not all together. Nor that faith also doth not shut out the justice of our good works, necessarily to be done afterward of duty towards God, (for we are most bounden to serve God in doing good deeds commanded by him in his holy Scripture all the days of our life;) but it excludeth them so that we may not do them, to this intent, to be made good by doing of them. For all the good works we can do be imperfect, and therefore not able to deserve our justification; but our justification doth come freely, by the mere mercy of God…"

Later on in the Homily Cranmer writes:

"The true understanding of this doctrine, "We be justified by faith without works," or that "We be justified by faith in Christ only," is not that this our own act to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ, which is within us, doth justify us and deserve our justification unto us; for that were to count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within ourselves. But the true understanding and meaning thereof is, that, although we hear God's word and believe it, although we have faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of God within us, and do never so many good works thereunto, yet we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues of faith, hope and charity, and all our other virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient and imperfect to deserve remission of our sins and our justification; and therefore we must trust only in God's mercy, and in that sacrifice which our High Priest and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, once offered for us upon the cross, to obtain God's grace and remission, as well of our original sin in baptism, as of all actual sin committed by us after our baptism, if we truly repent and turn unfeignedly to him again…."

So faith alone is receiving with open hands what God gives us and recognizing it totally and wholly as gift and by grace and of mercy. Then out of love and gratitude the forgiven and justified believer is to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself, imitating Christ Jesus his Lord. Yet these good works are never of such quality and purity as to justify him.

Justification—the forgiveness of sin and the imputation of the mediatorial righteousness of Christ Jesus—is not by faith and works, but it is by faith, a faith that becomes also faithfulness (in good works) to the God who justifies the person who believes the Gospel.

There is within most [all?] of us a desire, implicit or explicit, to feel and think that somehow at least our "really good deeds" do have some persuasive power with "the God of love." The more we hear the truth of Justification by faith alone, the more we recognize such desire to be sinful and unworthy of Christ Jesus who is our only Righteousness.

[The Book of Homilies of 1547 with the later longer second one from the reign of Elizabeth the first have been republished as One book by The Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society, edited by Ian Robinson of the University of Cambridge – visit or call 1-800-PBS-1928]

Predestination is Anglican; and is essential to Reformed Catholicism

A reflection from Peter Toon

Inextricably bound to the Proclamation of the Gospel as well as to the doctrines of Baptism and the Lord's Supper in The Book of Common Prayer (English editions of 1549, 1552 & 1662; Canadian 1962; USA 1928) is the Pauline (and Augustinian) doctrine of Divine Predestination and Divine Election. It surfaces in various ways and places within the texts of this Prayer Book and is stated with clarity and pastoral sensitivity in Article XVII of The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.

The doctrine was held in varying degrees of development and intensity by all the major Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century from the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican persuasions.

Here is the first part of Article XVII from 1571 in "contemporary" English:

Predestination and election

"Predestination to life belongs to God's everlasting purpose. By this is meant that before the foundation of the world, it is his unchangeable decree, in accordance with his secret counsel, to deliver from the curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ, and to bring them by him to everlasting salvation, as vessels of his mercy). Therefore, those on whom such an excellent blessing of God is bestowed are called according to God's purpose by the Holy Spirit working in them in God's good time; through grace they obey this calling and are freely justified by God; they become the sons of God by adoption); they are conformed to the image of his only Son Jesus Christ; they lead holy lives that are given to good works to the glory of God; and at last, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting bliss."

Here we see that predestination refers to what God as a Trinity of Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thought and planned before he actually created the world out of nothing (see further Ephesians 1 & Romans 8: 28ff.).

As a result of his divine election outside of space and time, God the Holy Trinity acts within space and time and within a sinful world to bring to final and full salvation and redemption those whom he has chosen in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. What happens to the elect is presented here as being a sevenfold process, although one need not think of it as strictly chronological in all aspects (e.g., 3 & 4 are simultaneous in God's sight).

1. Called by the Holy Spirit working in them in God's good time.
Following Pauline usage (see Romans 8:28b), this refers to the inward and secret work of the Holy Spirit upon the mind/heart of those who are hearing (in one way or another) the Gospel of the Father concerning his Son and salvation through him. Thus they are called outwardly and inwardly, via the senses and via mind/heart.
2. Through grace they obey this calling. Though impotent in and of themselves to repent and believe the Gospel, they become obedient to its call through the assistance and inspiration supplied by God's grace, working in their hearts/minds. In obeying they repent of sin and believe the Gospel.
3. They are freely justified by God. Their sins are forgiven and they receive a new status before God, as the righteous elect; to them is reckoned the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus and this costs them nothing for the grace of God in Christ is totally free (Romans 3:21ff; 5:1f.)
4. They become the sons of God by adoption. Within the same moment that the Father declares that they are forgiven and righteous, for the sake of Jesus Christ, he also adopts them into his family so that that henceforth they are his sons/children by grace. And to them he gives the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:12-17; cf. John 3: 6ff.)
5. They are conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. God does not only declare in his heavenly court that they are righteous and his children, he also by his Holy Spirit works within them to make them to become in daily reality what they are as in Christ Jesus. The work within them is to make them like Jesus, the true and real Man, in their character and behavior (Romans 8:29).
6. They lead holy lives that are given to good works to the glory of God. As the children of the Father and disciples of Jesus Christ they are separated from the ways of the world for the service of God, and as such they glorify God by their good works done out of love for God and for the neighbor (Romans 6:15ff; Galatians 5:16-25; Ephesians 2:8-10).
7. At last, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting bliss. God's call to the elect is a call that has in view their full redemption, the seeing and enjoying the glory of God n the face of Jesus Christ with all the elect and in their glorious resurrection bodies in the heavenly Jerusalem in the age to come (Romans 8:31ff., 1 Corinthians 15).

In the light of other Articles of Religion and the content of the Services of The Book of Common Prayer, we need to add that (a) numbers three and four above are given sacramental form through what God the Father does and gives in Holy Baptism (see for details my booklet, Mystical Washing and Spiritual Regeneration, ) and (b) numbers five and six are in part achieved through the blessings given in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and number seven is the fulfillment of the Messianic Banquet of which eating and drinking at the Holy Communion is the foretaste.

This way of looking at the saving work of the Holy Trinity in space and time and within the elect is very different from the accounts given today in popular evangelicalism where there is much emphasis upon "making a decision for Christ," being "born again," and "being converted" (and where biblical images/metaphors/models are used to illustrate these modern themes and where individual experience rather than the fact of Baptism is seen as the pivotal moment). It is also different to views held in some "Catholic" circles where both Baptism and Eucharist are seen as having a kind of magical quality giving by their very existence "salvation."

Of course, teaching the doctrine of predestination has to be undertaken with care and sensitivity and this was very much understood by Archbishop Cranmer, who wrote this Article in its original form in 1552. The second half of Article XVII reads:

"The reverent consideration of our predestination and election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable strength and comfort to godly persons, who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly passions and drawing their thoughts upward to high and heavenly realities.

This teaching is welcome to us both because it strongly establishes and confirms our assurance of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ and also because it kindles in us a fervent love to God. For worldly-minded persons, however, who are moved by idle curiosity and who do not have the Spirit of Christ, to be constantly confronted with the doctrine of God's predestination is dangerous and disastrous, since the devil uses it to drive them either to despair or to abandon themselves to immoral and ungodly living, which is no less perilous than despair.

Furthermore, we must accept God's promises in the way in which they are ordinarily presented to us in Holy Scripture, and in all that we do the will of God is to be followed precisely as it is revealed to us in the Word of God."

As a response to this short reflection, I suggest to my reader that it is now most appropriate to read Romans 8 and Ephesians 1 rather than engaging in thought or talk of a philosophical nature.

April 17, 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Baptism, Sacrament of Christ, the Lord. What is involved for Reformed Catholics, that is Anglicans?

Since the release of my essay/booklet, " Mystical Washing & Spiritual Regeneration," I have been involved in various discussions mostly by e-mail. One of these topics is the relation of this Dominical Sacrament to what Jesus called "the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20). In the essay there is a long section on the theme of covenant, in part required by the centrality in The Episcopal Church's excessive commitment to what it calls "The Baptismal Covenant." Here is a further attempt to make what I think is the Reformed Catholic, that is historic Anglican, teaching, clear.

1. Baptism is the Sacrament by which God places a person in his kingdom and church, as He forgives his sins and gives him the gift of eternal life.
2. What God provides in Baptism requires absolutely no payment by the recipient. The gift is placed in the open hands and receptive heart of a person who receives and believes the Gospel of the Father concerning His Son. The gift has two aspects—a right standing and relation before God the Father and the beginnings of a faithful, obedient and holy life of love for God and neighbor—that is, what has been often called Justification and Sanctification.
3. Baptism is the initiation Sacrament of the New Covenant (which is the final, glorious phase of the covenant of grace given by God, the Lord, to Abraham brought into being by Christ Jesus) and is therefore not to be understood as if it were a modern compact, contract and covenant, involving two or more negotiating partners. It is a covenant in that there are two parties, God and man, but there is no negotiation for God establishes and sets all the conditions of the covenant. So it is more like—in modern terms—a testament (will) where what is given is given is given only according to the will of the giver. Therefore, it is dangerous to speak of "a" or "the baptismal covenant" for this may suggest or contain the idea that human beings have negotiating rights with God, the Lord.
4. Before the actual Baptism there are preparations to be undertaken by the Minister (church) who is to baptize. For example, he has to be satisfied that the candidate (or Godparents of the candidate where an infant is presented) believes the Gospel and is repentant for his sins –thus embraces the Creed, renounces the world, the flesh and the devil, and is obedient to the will of God made known by Christ Jesus. (The Minister or church must not put into the Baptismal Service before the Baptism occurs any conditions other than those set by the Lord of the new covenant and set forth in the traditional services of Baptism.)
5. After the Baptism in water in the Triune Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there may be also the laying on of hands in prayer and blessing and the anointing with consecrated oil; but these two latter are not essential and will not be used where Confirmation occurs later.
6. The saying of the Lord's Prayer by the baptized is the prayer of
one who has been adopted by the Father into his family and the receiving of Holy Communion is the sharing in the fellowship of the Body of Christ and being spiritually strengthened by the Body and Blood of the crucified and now exalted Jesus.
7. After Baptism is completed it is appropriate for the Minister to address the baptized – or the Godparents – concerning the privileges, duties and responsibilities as the baptized child of God the Father.

[Note that all the above elements are present in the Baptismal Services for Infants and Adults in The BCP (1662) and may be clearly seen in the contemporary English version of the Service provided by me in the booklet, "Mystical Washing," available from or 1-800-PBS-1928]

Comments on "The Baptismal Covenant" in the 1979 Prayer Book of The ECUSA

Whatever may be thought about the content of this "Covenant" (my own view is that it is too geared to the ethos of the late 1960s and early 1970s in terms of social change) it is most certainly in the wrong place. Where it is placed, it becomes part of the preliminaries—indeed conditions—which are required before the receipt of the Sacrament and thus it takes away from, in fact denies, the character of the New Covenant as the Covenant of Grace, established only by God in his mercy and justice. Its content—if judged to be truly worthy of being publicly stated—belongs to an exhortation addressed to the baptized after Baptism.

If biblically-based Episcopalians want to use the 1979 service then they ought to leave out "The Baptismal Covenant" before the Baptism, and, possibly, render its content into an exhortation after the Baptism is completed. They will, however, be better served by using another Service – say from the American BCP 1928 or from the 1662 English BCP, either in traditional or contemporary English. The 1979 Service is so much attached to the radical agenda of The ECUSA that it is difficult, maybe now impossible to use it in an orthodox way at all. "Peace and justice" and "human dignity" have been defined clearly by successive General Conventions and Presiding Bishops and their definitions belong wholly to a liberal progressive agenda, which has been rejected by much of the Global Anglican Communion.

Easter 1, 2007

Justification by Faith alone. The doctrine by which the Church stands or falls?

a discussion starter

The national and provincial churches that came into existence in the sixteenth century were not new creations but reformed parts of the old, Western, Latin Church, centered upon Rome.

It is clear that they were not new creations for not only did they occupy the same territory and holy buildings—churches, chapels and cathedrals—but they continued the basic teachings of the traditional Church.

The Lutherans in Germany, the Reformed in Switzerland and the Anglicans in England all confessed the received truths set forth in the Three Creeds (Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian) and in the dogmas of The Holy Trinity and the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as set forth by the Ecumenical Councils of the Early Church. Further, they all accepted the divine inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures and confessed Jesus as the Lord.

With this clearly in mind one can appreciate what was the unique message and doctrine of these churches. It was in the area of what we call soteriology, the doctrine of how God saves sinners—how I as a sinner may be in a right relation to God my Creator and Judge—and it is expressed in a phrase, justification by faith alone. We can extend this phrase in this way: justification by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone, based upon the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. And the teaching is based primarily but not exclusively upon the Epistles of Paul to Galatia and Rome.

The Latin-speaking medieval Church had of course taught justification and there is an exposition of it in the Summa of Thomas Aquinas. However, it was not justification by faith alone but justification by grace infused into the soul and by faith and works. In the Council of Trent of the Roman Catholic Church (1545ff.) the "new" or "recovered" doctrine of justification by faith alone through imputation of the righteousness of Christ was rejected, in favor of justification by infusion of grace which produces righteousness in the faithful slowly over time.

The mature statements of the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican Churches, from the second half of the sixteenth century, on justification by faith make it very clear what it was on which they all agreed and which they taught. The repentant and believing sinner, called by the Gospel, is declared by God the Father, solely for the sake and merits of Jesus Christ, to be forgiven the guilt of sin and to be accounted as righteous in his sight. That is, there are two parts to imputation by God: first there is the non-imputation of sin (which means forgiveness of the guilt of sin), and, secondly, there is the full imputation of the righteousness of Christ (which means that the Father reckons to the believer the fullness of obedience which Christ Jesus as Representative Man offered to the Father in life and in death).

The believing sinner is declared righteous; that is, he is justified before and by God the Father, not for anything he has done, and not even because of his faith/trust (which is itself the gift of God's prevenient grace), but only and solely because of the mediatorial righteousness of Jesus, the Savior.

The Roman Catholic Church wholly rejected this doctrine of imputation and insisted that justification is a process based upon the infusion of grace into the soul, leading to the renewal of the whole person and justification at the end. The Protestant churches claimed that Rome confused justification with sanctification; further, they insisted that each and every believer is called to become righteous, holy and faithful—that is, be sanctified, set apart wholly for God—and that this begins from the moment of justification by imputation and continues throughout life. Indeed, they insisted that those who are truly justified will desire to be conformed in their lives to the purity of the mediatorial righteousness of Christ and will thus long to be made righteous in practical terms.

To understand justification by faith alone, how it is so very different from the doctrine of justification taught in the late medieval Church and by the Council of Trent, and how it speaks powerfully to the human conscience laden with the guilt of sin, is also to see why in the national churches of Europe much of the medieval sacramentalism, ritualism and ceremonialism was removed in the sixteenth century! Of all the reformed churches, the Anglican was the most conservative in terms of what it retained (as not denying justification by faith alone) from the religion and polity received from the medieval Church.

It has been said—and this is worthy of careful reflection—that the mainline Protestant Churches (and all shoots therefrom), which have emerged from the original national, reformed churches of Europe, have little or no reason for existence if they have given up, or do give up, the doctrine of justification by faith alone based upon the imputation (reckoning) to believing sinners of the mediatorial righteousness of the one Lord Jesus Christ.


--The Revd Dr Peter Toon, M.A. M.Th. D.Phil., President of the PBS 2007