Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Article 7

We are up to 7 on the Anglican Articles of Religion. We are finally getting to some of the gummy stuff where you can clearly see two different theological schools of thought beginning to play against each other in the wording. Today's language in Article 7 is very subtle but see if you can catch the anti-Roman drift but also the anti-Protestant (Particularly Anti-Lutheran) doctrinal language:

VII. Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

Lutherans have a big thing about Law versus Grace. I run into this frequently in our local Lectionary Bible Study which is mostly Lutherans and myself. I call the group the "Several Lutherans and a Token" Bible Study. This inherent Lutheran theme of Law versus Grace comes up over and over, and frankly usually drives me batty. 

I am unsure how much of this is classic Luther himself and how much of it is Luther's theological successors speaking for him, but the basic premise is that Jesus came to free us from the Law because the Law is dead and man made, etc., but we have new life in Jesus apart from the Law because we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ. So, therefore, when reading a scripture, one has to ascertain whether it is "Law" or "Gospel," wherein Law is a bad as it leads us to false assurances that if we just follow the Law(s) then we are saved by our works, and the Gospel of Grace is good wherein everything is given as God's free gift of undeserved grace. 

Now, I certainly believe in unmerited grace, but I have trouble divorcing works from faith. To me, they are two sides of the same coin. If you have faith, your works will also be evident. But this is a discussion for another article. My point is for purposes of this Article 7 is to look at what we do with the Old Testament in the Anglican Tradition. The knee jerk Lutheran "Law vs. Gospel" reaction is to view the Old Testament as inherently suspect, leading people into a "If I just follow the Laws and rules, I will be saved" mentality. While I agree that works by themselves cannot save a person, the issue I have with Lutheran interpretation of this manner is that it leads very quickly into a quasi-Marcionism (see my previous post here) where the Old Testamest (and by logical extention its God) is bad and evil but the New Testament, Jesus, and his Loving Father are good. Therefore, the Old Testament is something inherently bad, or at best a shadowy foretaste of the New Testament. Article 7 clearly rejects this kind of thinking, with the Old Testament not being contrary to the new, as both offer life to mankind, albeit through Christ. 

One would note that the Article politely thumbs its nose at the Patristic fathers of Catholic and Orthodox theology and Holy Tradition, as they apparently only looked for "transitory promises" found in the Old Testament. To this, I disagree with Article 7, as the Patristic fathers saw Jesus or prophecies about him everywhere in the Old Testament. Just look at Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana if you believe the early Church Fathers only saw "transitory promises" in the Old Testament. 

One also would note however, that Article 7 chooses moderation in applying the Old Testament to Christian life in the then present age. They take a jab at some of the excesses of the Protestants on the continent who viewed themselves as the 'New Israel' and tried at various times to set up a largely Old Testament style oligarchy or theocracy premised on the civic code found in the Law. 

The article is clear that this is to be avoided (Take that, Calvin!), and yet closes with saying that 'no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.' In other words, there is moral guidance to be followed from the Law. In other words, we as Christians cannot divorce ourselves from the moral commandments, as they are life giving and not dead Law as opposed to New Testament grace (That that, Luther!). 

We are as Christians still called to obedience to the moral commandments found in the Old Testament, no exceptions. We cannot "sin all the more so that grace may abound," as Saint Paul says. 

Methinks some modern Episcopalians whose theology is "God is Love and nothing beside" and who would certainly not condemn anyone for anything might take heed of this article. 

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