Ask an Anglican: Why trust the Fathers?

trust-me-im-the-doctor-royal-brosIan, who writes from Australia, says that he has a lot of difficulty talking to other young Christians about why the historic teaching of the Church ought to carry any weight. Here’s part of his letter:

…If I make the point that something is what the Church for over 1,500 years universally taught, their immediate response without the slightest degree of hesitation is usually, “they could have been [and probably were] wrong”, and, “we simply have to figure out things ourselves as best we can”.  And what I find perhaps most intolerable is that I can’t use The Book of Common Prayer to prove things to people either because their immediate response is, “but what does the Bible say?”, followed by, “the Prayer Book must be wrong”, or, “we’re not interested in what the Prayer Book says, only in what the Bible says”… Another question relating to this that I’m not sure how to answer is why our appeal should be to Scripture as interpreted by the Fathers and the Primitive Church, as this is a point I sometimes make but then aren’t sure how to respond when I’m asked why?…

One question worth posing to anyone who says that they trust the Scriptures but not the teaching of the Church is to ask them on what grounds they trust the Scriptures. They may give a vague answer like, I just believe they are God’s Word, which is a nice way of saying they have no basis at all for trusting in them. Or they may point to something like Paul’s admonition in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” But that is simply circular. Saying that we trust Scripture because Scripture says to trust Scripture is a tautology. Besides which, when Paul made that statement in 2 Timothy, most of the New Testament had yet to be written. He was talking about the Old Testament. So why believe that Paul’s letters are anything special? Or the Gospels? Why trust any of it at all?

Why We Should Trust the Bible

The reason to believe in the books of the Old Testament is because Jesus believed in them, quoted from them, and taught from them. After He rose from the dead, the Lord Jesus came to His apostles and taught them to understand how the Scriptures pointed to Him and His work. Prior to that time, though the Old Testament was held to be God’s Word, the people did not understand the great mystery to which it was pointing:

[Jesus] said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)

Jesus teaches His apostles what the Scriptures mean and then He sends them out to be His witnesses to the world. As part of that witness, they began to write letters, histories, and other documents that were meant to let the world know who Jesus is and what He did for us. Local churches in various places revered these words from the apostles because they knew that such words carried the teaching of Jesus. Over time, the Church as a whole authenticated certain writings as being truly apostolic in origin and excluded others as not. This became the New Testament. This is why we should trust it, because the Church authenticated it, because it is apostolic in origin.

My Bible Can Beat Up Your Bible

So we trust the Scriptures because they come from the apostles. If we want to know whether something is a part of the apostolic faith or not, we can look to the Scriptures to guide us. But what happens when both sides in a given argument claim the Scriptures support their point of view? “There are no controversies of faith but what are grounded upon the Scriptures,” wrote the seventeenth century bishop William Beveridge in his Ecclesia Anglicana Ecclesia Catholica. Beveridge says that when Christians disagree, they always point to the Scripture to make their case:

 The Scripture itself cannot decide the controversy, for the controversy is concerning itself: the parties engaged in the controversy cannot decide it, for either of them thinks his own opinion to be grounded upon Scripture. Now how can this question be decided better or other ways, than by the whole Church’s exposition of the Scripture, which side of the controversy it is for, and which side it is against?

In making the case for the Church’s role in determining controversies, Beveridge turns to Acts 15. There we see the early Church dealing with the controversy of whether or not Gentile converts must be circumcised in order to become Christians. Beveridge points out that the method they employed to decide the question was to gather all the living “apostles and elders (presbyters),” with the apostles taking precedence as those sent and taught by Christ Himself. They invoked the Scriptures, but they also invoked their personal knowledge of Christ (See especially Peter’s speech in verses 7 through 11). In the end, they reached a decision and appointed others to carry that decision to the far reaches of the Church. We trust the decisions of the apostles for the same reason that we trust the Scriptures, because the apostles were taught by Jesus and given the Holy Spirit so that they could protect and hand on the faith. Their successors are who we today call bishops. They have been sealed by the same Holy Spirit and given the same teaching to protect, proclaim, and preserve. The decrees of councils must be received by the whole Church, including the laity, in order to truly be binding. There have been councils led by bishops that have come up with things that have not stuck once they reached the people. Yet bishops are the ones who lead councils and who make the decisions therein because of their apostolic calling.

The Formularies and the Fathers Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Chocolate

So the bishops, as the successors of the apostles, are chiefly given the responsibility for deciding controversies of faith, and yet in our own time there are many different Christian leaders who claim for themselves the authority of bishops and who claim to teach nothing but what is contained in Holy Scripture, yet who teach things that differ dramatically from one another. Moreover, there have been competing councils. Christ wants us to be united as one Church, and yet for the moment we are divided, so how are those of us who are not bishops to know whose teaching we can actually trust?

According to Beveridge, “Whatsoever doctrine you find to be clearly propounded, asserted, or suggested, either in our Articles or Common-Prayer Book, you may and ought to rest fully satisfied in your minds that that is the true doctrine of the Apostles, which you ought to continue firm and steadfast in.” He says this because the prayer book and the articles are founded upon the Scripture, not just as one person or one group has read it, but as “the Church of Christ in all ages hath believed to be consonant with [the apostles’] writings.” The standard that Beveridge reaches for here is the same as found in the fourth century maxim of Saint Vincent of Lerins who said that what we ought to believe as the true apostolic doctrine of the Church is that which “has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells us that He is building His Church upon the faith of Peter “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If what Jesus said is true then there is a true Church which has endured in every age, even when false churches and pretenders that have crowded up around her. So if the Church we are a part of is the true one, it must be grounded in a teaching from the Scriptures that has consistently existed, going all the way back to the beginning. The Early Church Fathers are our most reliable witnesses then for helping us to know how to truly understand the Scriptures as the apostles taught. The earliest of the Fathers were taught by the apostles themselves. If what we are teaching in our age as being from the Scriptures was unknown to the Fathers or contradicts them, then we contradict Jesus by suggesting that there is somehow a gap between His giving of the apostolic teaching, which He promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to protect, and our own more enlightened time.

That does not make the Fathers infallible. They were sinners just like us and they were shaped by their own eras just as we have been shaped by ours. Plus, the Fathers did not always agree with one another. Yet there are a surprising number of things which they agree on quite consistently. These things are not over and above Scripture but flow from it. When we read Scripture with the Fathers, we are far less likely to innovate and far more likely to understand the apostles on their own terms. This is why the bishops of the true Church in every age have looked back to the Fathers to guide their understanding of the Scripture. It is why, as Beveridge says, we can trust in the Anglican formularies, because they not only reflect back to us the teaching of Scripture but the teaching of Scripture as it has been consistently received in the Church throughout the centuries. It is why, when we are trying to discern which Church is true and which is false, we ought to ask which Church the Fathers would be able to recognize as their own. Saint Athanasius may not have worshipped from a Book of Common Prayer, but he would recognize in our liturgy the same faith that he defended against the Arians in the fourth century (who also claimed the Scriptures for their own); the same faith handed on by Peter, James, John, and the other apostles; the same faith which was given by Jesus Himself.

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29 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Why trust the Fathers?

  1. Reblogged this on Dover Beach and commented:
    “When we read Scripture with the Fathers, we are far less likely to innovate and far more likely to understand the apostles on their own terms. This is why the bishops of the true Church in every age have looked back to the Fathers to guide their understanding of the Scripture. It is why, as Beveridge says, we can trust in the Anglican formularies, because they not only reflect back to us the teaching of Scripture but the teaching of Scripture as it has been consistently received in the Church throughout the centuries. It is why, when we are trying to discern which Church is true and which is false, we ought to ask which Church the Fathers would be able to recognize as their own. Saint Athanasius may not have worshipped from a Book of Common Prayer, but he would recognize in our liturgy the same faith that he defended against the Arians in the fourth century (who also claimed the Scriptures for their own); the same faith handed on by Peter, James, John, and the other apostles; the same faith which was given by Jesus Himself.”

  2. Joshua says:

    Lutheran here. I guess I believe that you should be able to come pretty close to what the Fathers teach by reading the Bible alone. Not because the Fathers said it, but because the Fathers are simply confessing what the Bible confesses. The only thing that I would add is that it is God the Holy Spirit who creates saving faith. From what I can tell the vast majority of the BCP is simply the Bible put to prayer. The fathers can certainly help us understand things, but scripture is not all that hard to understand and put into context. At least I don’t think. I believe in the Holy Bible because the Holy Spirit has given me the gift of faith when I was Baptized. The ECF’s are awesome witnesses but they did not do that, nor do I trust the scriptures simply because the Fathers trusted them. God the Holy Spirit opened my heart to the scriptures as He did for the Fathers.

    • Joshua says:

      If we go to the Scriptures and try to prove doctrines like double predestination, limited atonement, Baptism or the Lords supper as symbolic remembrances, or faith being a decision that we make when we turn 8; we can’t actually find those things in the Bible. I find that many of those who claim to believe in the bible alone don’t actually confess what the bible is confessing. I can prove the Apostles, Nicean, and Athanasian creeds from the Bible. I can do this without the witness of the Fathers. Believing in the Bible because the Bible says so is not really accurate. Believing in the Bible because the Holy Spirit has given you the free gift of faith through the gospel read/preached is accurate.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Joshua,

        I don’t think you should believe in the Scriptures because the Fathers believed in them. Nevertheless, the reason that any of us believe in the Scriptures at all is because we believe they are apostolic.

        It is certainly true that the Holy Spirit gives us faith and eyes to see and read the Scriptures correctly. But if the only grounding of our understanding is some vague sense of the Spirit, then there is no objective ground to stand on, no way of differentiating between claims about the text. You may say that things like double predestination and a symbolic view of the Lord’s Supper are not in Scripture, but other Christians disagree and they would point to the same Scriptures to make their case. Anglicanism does not elevate the Fathers over the Scriptures, as if the Fathers could give us a life giving word that the Scriptures do not. But what Anglicanism does teach is that the Holy Spirit’s work of guiding us to understand what the Scriptures are saying is not spotty. It doesn’t happen in one era but not in another. Rather, the truth has been proclaimed by the true Church in every era as part of a living and ongoing witness. The Holy Spirit is promised to the Church, to maintain her and keep her from destruction. What the Early Church Fathers provide us with is a sure witness to the apostolic proclamation in the first centuries after the apostles died. If we cannot find our understanding of the Scriptures in them, we are no different from the restorationist movements who say that the truth of the Gospel died out until whenever their founder happened to come onto the scene. If it’s just me, my Bible, and the Holy Spirit, then Mormonism is as plausible as anything else.

  3. ianwetmore says:

    Great to see you back on line, Father! Hallelujah! Xristos anesti!

  4. Michael says:

    Fr. Jonathan, thanks for your blog and commments. I was raised a Mormon but left the movement in 2012. I found my place in the Anglican Church. The congregation I worship in is very high church and so is quite different to what I was used to. However it was that liturgy, the corporate worship that brought me to the conclusion and satisfaction that in worshipping I was in continuity with the early church. This observation is in continuity too with what you have written here. What is true is what has always been true in the church through the ages protected by the Holy Spirit.

    Your comment on restorationist movement such as Mormonism is very true. Mormonism requires both institutionally and individually that one completely ignore facts, accept the founders claims and seek out feelings that they are true. Feeling trump facts and those feelings are attributed to the Holy Spirit. However, such feelings must not be the guarantor of truth since the vast majority of Mormon converts discontinue activity in the church after baptism.

  5. Ian says:

    Thanks for this Fr. Jonathan. Just to pick up on what you mention Saint Vincent of Lerins having said about the truth being that which “has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”, if we want to be able to say this I’m wondering how we are to define ‘everywhere’ and ‘all’? There would be a lot of people who I imagine we would happily call Christians who nevertheless do not believe the whole Catholic faith, without adding anything to it or subtracting anything from it, for example those who take a purely symbolic view of the sacraments, as mentioned above, or those who believe that the definition of the church is “God’s people gathering around God’s Word” (I hear this a lot), assuming this is a bad definition, which I get the feeling it is. Even the Church itself is, and has been for quite sometime, in a divided state, disagreeing on some key things. Say to the mere memorialist people that the truth of the matter is that which “has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”, they’ll respond that they don’t believe, or their church or denomination doesn’t believe, that the sacraments actually do anything, for example, so therefore the alternative position cannot be said to have been believed everywhere and by all. Does this mean that we should simply focus on the ‘always’ part of the statement because even if all Christians don’t believe that the sacraments are more than symbols, you will be able to find Christians in every age that have believed otherwise? If not, does this mean the point at which we begin excluding people and places from the definitions of everywhere and all is different to the point at which we cease to recognise them as Christians?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Ian,

      You point to some real difficulties with the Vincentian canon. You’re not the first to note them. I think that everything, including the Vincentian canon, has to be taken within its context. The fact of the matter is that there is always a minority report. But the “always” in the canon is, as you point out, the critical factor. In other words, what goes back to the beginning? What has always been a part of the Church’s teaching? I do not think this means that we must articulate everything exactly the same way in every generation, but if what we say in our generation is so manifestly different from what was said in the first generations of Christians that there is absolutely nothing in common, it stands to reason that we probably are not reading the Scripture as clearly as we think we are.

  6. Saladin says:

    Hello!
    I am a newcomer to anglican theology and your post provides some very interesting insights. However, frankly speaking, I feel you do not really answer the question. Now, you say about Scripture: “This is why we should trust it, because the Church authenticated it, because it is apostolic in origin.” I 100 % agree with this. The construction of the biblical canon was a messy process, with all the false scriptures and apocrapha widespread in the Christian community. There were plenty of Christian writings competing one with another. Synods and Councils of the Early Church did a great job in choosing the ones that were truly God-inspired. I am ok with it.

    But your question was “Why trust the Fathers?”. And your answer is more or less: we have to trust the Fathers, because they authentify Scripture. And since the Bible is true, the Fathers must have been right. This is a logical fallacy as well.

    My question is still “Why trust the Fathers?”. Why the Fathers of the third and fourth century, choosing what writings to include in Scripture had authority to do so? It was hundreds years after Christ! Were Christian leaders from the 15th century any less competent than those from the 4th one? Did Christian councils loose their authority between 300 AD and 1000 AD? In other words: is there any reason to trust more the Early church (how Early? 100AD is ok? 200AD still fine?) than to trust the contemporary church?

    I agree so much with many Anglican and Episcopal theologians. And yet, I feel that only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, by accepting the authority of Sacred Tradition, provide a full fledged intellectual framework allowing us to understand the revelation of Christ. They simply believe that Holy Spirit is still in place and that it still inspires, and that there no a priori reason to assume that the older the writing is, the more truth it conveys. Fathers can be an inspiration, but the choice on whether someone is a “Church Father” and someone else a heretic, requires an external frame of reference. In order to trust the Church Fathers, we need to trust the Church today in the first place.

    I am wondering what Anglicans think about it, or perhaps if there are any classical theological positions you could recommend me on this subject.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Saladin,

      You said:

      But your question was “Why trust the Fathers?”. And your answer is more or less: we have to trust the Fathers, because they authentify Scripture. And since the Bible is true, the Fathers must have been right. This is a logical fallacy as well.

      You misunderstand me. The Scriptures are the apostolic witness. The Church authenticated the Scriptures by selecting, over a long period of time, those writings which could be shown to be authentically apostolic. The Church did not, however, give the Scriptures their authority. God did that when He inspired their writing.

      There is no logical fallacy. Ian’s question was about how to make the case to those who say they trust in the Bible alone and do not need the Fathers. My point was that they cannot actually say that since they need at least some of the Fathers in order to have the Bible in the first place. It would be like someone saying they have no need of a farmer to grow oranges so long as they have orange juice already. While they are not the same thing, they are intimately connected.

      You said:

      Why the Fathers of the third and fourth century, choosing what writings to include in Scripture had authority to do so? It was hundreds years after Christ!

      You make it sound as if a bunch of guys just woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s make a Bible!” As I pointed out, it was a long process of sifting that took place over centuries, starting in the years when there were still actual apostles alive and only coming to a conclusion in the years before Nicaea. This, in fact, is part of why the New Testament is so historically reliable, because it was painstakingly tested by the Church for accuracy against the apostolic witness, not just by one person or by one time period but by many people in many places over a long period of time.

      You said:

      Were Christian leaders from the 15th century any less competent than those from the 4th one?

      No, but by then the canon was long closed. And as I said, even in the fourth century, they were not attempting to make up something new but merely to preserve what had been passed down. That is the Church’s responsibility in every age.

      You said:

      Did Christian councils loose their authority between 300 AD and 1000 AD?

      No.

      You said:

      In other words: is there any reason to trust more the Early church (how Early? 100AD is ok? 200AD still fine?) than to trust the contemporary church?

      Yes, in as much as the early Church was closer to the apostolic witness. Saint Polycarp was taught by Saint John. That gives him an authority that a contemporary writer is not going to have, in the same way that we would trust the details given in a book by George Washington’s son more than we would the details given in a book by someone a couple hundred years later who never knew Washington at all.

      But neither I nor Anglican divines like Beveridge were trying to draw such a sharp distinction between the Church now and the Church then that we have to second guess every action. The point is not for the Church today to be gazing at its own past, stuck in time and unable to do anything but be a museum. There have been Church Fathers (and Mothers) in every generation. The point of looking back is to make sure that the Church today is not some completely different entity from the Church then, that we are all still in communion with one another and with Christ. What the Anglican Reformers and Divines were saying is that in the Church of England, the same Church that existed in those early centuries was still present, but she had taken on some extra freight that was weighing her down. The Reformation then was not the start of something new but the washing and refitting of something old, something ongoing, something with life and vitality.

      You said:

      I agree so much with many Anglican and Episcopal theologians. And yet, I feel that only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, by accepting the authority of Sacred Tradition, provide a full fledged intellectual framework allowing us to understand the revelation of Christ. They simply believe that Holy Spirit is still in place and that it still inspires, and that there no a priori reason to assume that the older the writing is, the more truth it conveys.

      What I have been talking about this whole time is sacred tradition, albeit without a mystical framework. Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholics would say that the Fathers provide us with a base point for consistency between the early Church and the Church today. The Orthodox in particular see appeals to the Fathers as essential. They absolutely privilege older writings. The difference between Anglicans and the Orthodox on this is really a matter of how Scripture’s authority fits into the framework. Anglicans believe that Scripture sits at the top of the pyramid, while the Roman Catholics and Orthodox see it as sitting alongside other streams of authority.

      Finally, you said:

      Fathers can be an inspiration, but the choice on whether someone is a “Church Father” and someone else a heretic, requires an external frame of reference. In order to trust the Church Fathers, we need to trust the Church today in the first place.

      The Church today is the Church of the Fathers. That is my point. All that we have is inherited. There are new ways of articulating the faith, but never a new faith. What we proclaim today, if we are the true Church, is the same faith that was proclaimed in the sixteenth century, and the sixth century, and the second century. On what grounds should we trust the Church today? Intuition? Experience? Those are fleeting at best. What makes the Church today worthy of our trust is that we know the Church of today is also the Church of yesterday, that we never started over from scratch. The only way to know that is to look back through history and follow the thread back to its source.

      • Saladin says:

        Fr Jonathan,
        Thank you for your clear answer. I seem to better grasp the Anglican approach now. And yet I am just wondering on one thing you said:
        “The Church today is the Church of the Fathers. That is my point. All that we have is inherited. There are new ways of articulating the faith, but never a new faith. What we proclaim today, if we are the true Church, is the same faith that was proclaimed in the sixteenth century, and the sixth century, and the second century.”
        But is it really the same faith? I just feel that there is a substantial difference between the faith in the 1st century and in the 21st century. Simply because our cultural and metaphysical frame of reference is radically different. Scientific discoveries such as the theory of evolution *had* an impact on the way we understand the Original Sin. Human psychology and sociology explain many religious-related phenomena. Not to mention all the sexual/cultural revolution-related consequences for the understanding of morality.
        Our faith ‘software’ might be still the same, but when we change the environment it needs ‘updates’. Not substantial changes, but ‘evolutionary adaptations’ that make it viable. To make it clear: no matter what our thoughts on same-sex unions are, we have to take a stance on them, to confront the arguments of the others, and by that we somehow ‘expand’ the moral consequences of our faith. I am just not sure whether we can make a clear distinction between what you call “ways of articulating the faith” and the faith itself. Doesn’t our faith live through the articulation of it?
        Coming from a lapsed catholic background, in my understanding the Roman Catholic Magisterium fulfills this updating function explaining how the faith should be articulated. I just feel sometimes, though I might be wrong, that Angicans, but EOs as well, treat the Early Church as an ahistorical point of reference, a lost ideal. But perhaps the experience of the Early Church is no better thant the one of the Church today? Or even more, perhaps the contemporary Church, aware of the challenges of the modernity, is even in a fuller communion with the words of Christ than the Early One. Do we really believe that, for example in terms of interreligious dialogue, we are not closer to the original message of Christ than we were 200, 1000 or 1700 years ago?
        I just struggle over this kind of questions and, I am wondering how Anglicans deal with them. Perhaps there is some litterature or theologians you could recommend me?

      • Danny Watt says:

        Actually the faith is still the same. We believe and confess the nicene creed. All orthodox Christian denominations more or less confess the same thing. Holy Trinity. Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Christ died for our sins and rose again on the 3rd day. The importance of baptism & holy communion Etc. Our expression of faith is indeed diverse though.

      • Danny Watt says:

        What I got from all this is. Scripture needs to be understood through the lense of tradition. Tradition needs to be understood through the lense of scripture & should be formed with grounding in scripture. If tradition & Scripture disagrees, Scripture takes primacy. Am I correct?

  7. Danny Watt says:

    Fr Jonathan, thanks for your blog. I found it helpful when I came into the Anglican Communion and was trying to reconcile my evangelical charismatic protestant background with catholic practices. It hasn’t been easy. A lot of what you said seems to make the case that the Roman Catholics were right all along. But it can’t be right, or else the Anglican Church wouldn’t see the need for reforming itself. Right?

    The Anglican Church in Singapore is I guess considered low church, so they do frown on certain things like crucifixes and rosaries, yet this is seen in high Anglican churches else where.

    Any advise on this?

    • Brian says:

      Hi Danny. This is a great site isn’t it. I was exactly where you describe several years ago. Fr Jonathan and this site did more to get me solidly settled into Anglicanism than anything else. His posts and videos will address many of your questions. Plan on lots of reading thinking and praying. And quite a few hours over a period of weeks or months on this site. You will be richly blessed.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Danny,

      I’m glad to hear that the blog has been helpful to you. I am not sure exactly what you mean about making the case that Roman Catholics “were right all along.” There is a great deal, of course, that Rome does get right, but there are obviously areas where we would disagree. I recommend clicking on the tag for “Roman Catholicism” and looking through some of those articles to see what I mean.

      I do not know much about the Anglican Church in Singapore, but it is true that there are parts of the Anglican Communion today where a higher or lower churchmanship has left people uneasy with the devotions of their counterparts. To a certain degree, this is adiaphora. I find the rosary to be a beautiful and very useful tool for prayer, but if you do not find it to be so, there is no need for us to be at enmity. What matters is whether we share the same core faith. All the rest flows from that.

      • Danny Watt says:

        Hi Fr Jonathan, any way I can reach out to you on a personal level? I do have some enquiries for advise

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        An email to contact me at is on the About page above. Feel free to shoot me a message, though I confess I am not the world’s fastest responder.

  8. Stephen says:

    In my personal opinion, this is one of your best pieces since I first began visiting the site!
    I will be rereading this to make sure I haven’t overlooked any little gems of thought.
    If we are not Apostolic, we are like a ship without an anchor.
    A hearty WELL DONE and three HUZZAHS from this old Roman Catholic!

    • Danny Watt says:

      That’s refreshing. Most Catholics don’t really consider Anglicans as apostolic.

      • Stephen says:

        Well, don’t get over ‘refreshed’, Danny…. ; )
        I still struggle with the break in Ordination practices established by Cranmer and what has gone on since, but I am was genuinely taken by how Fr. Jonathan answered Ian so fully and completely.
        It wasn’t just a quick paragraph and on to the next thing.
        He was thorough, thoughtful and explained his answer with an evident Faith that I appreciated very much.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thank you, Stephen. I greatly appreciate the compliment.

  9. Jereme says:

    Hello Father Jonathan,

    I must begin with a hearty thank you for all your sound and solid work on your blog. I have been blessed by it and if I make the transition to The Anglican Way your posts will have been the lightning rod that started my journey (a little nod to Luther’s journey there).

    I’ve been Reforming for the last couple of years now and have basically come to the point that I no longer want to refer to my beliefs as Evangelical (unless that term can be reclaimed) or even Protestant anymore. I would prefer the term Catholic, but would need an asterisks added to the tune of Reformed, Biblical, etc.

    I had found that belonging to a confessional community (Presbyterian) helped to guard against many of the errors of modern Evangelicalism. I’ve since been convinced that the confessional heritage of Lutheranism is vastly superior to any sort of Calvinism. Still, I’ve had concerns that any form of confessionalism, no matter how faithful to Holy Scripture, tend to elevate their confessions to a status approaching that of the authority of the Bible itself. I suppose this is mostly true in certain circles or individuals that gravitate towards a more fanatical approach to their denomination, but the proclivity for this error seems to be built into the very nature of the necessity for a quia (because they agree with Scripture) subscription to said confessions. This is particularly noticeable regarding The Book of Concord and it’s rather hefty amalgamation of articles. I’ve read most of the BOC and find that what I don’t agree with (which isn’t much) I simply don’t have the understanding of the particular issue to have an opinion on the matter as some of the issues require significant knowledge of the Bible to form any opinion, let alone a proper one. The issue of Apostolic succession is one such issue (any recommendation for a good Anglican book on this issue would be appreciated) and I find I’m warming to the idea as it is at least Catholic and if so, likely Apostolic in nature. Regarding this issue, as well as others, it just seems to me that the Anglican tradition takes the writings of the early Fathers more seriously than any other protestant tradition.

    My current conclusion is that where other protestant groups place their confessions in the role of secondary standards or authorities the Anglican Church places the Fathers in this role and the Anglican formularies follow as a third level of authority. Perhaps there is no “perfect” way to prioritize the relevance and authority we place into sources for doing theology but The Anglican Way seems as good as any I’ve yet come across. It also seems that adhering so strictly to one’s confession of faith can actually stifle real and ongoing reformation. It might just be possible that a great admirer of Luther and his contemporaries might just find Anglicanism a more suitable home.

    Anglicanism seems to more fully embody what it means to be Catholic, Reformed, or ecumenical (gasp!) in a Biblical sense. My concern is that the apparent strength of the big tent of Anglicanism might actually be it’s Achilles’ heel. If so, than perhaps Anglicans might need to add Kevlar boots to Paul’s list of armor in Ephesians.

    I have two major objections to going the Lutheran route. I have grown weary of congregational polity (of which Lutheranism is sort of a mish mash of congregational, synodical and episcopal polity) and want to belong to a body that stays true to the Church’s liturgical heritage (which also seems to be a benefit of Anglicanism as Lutheranism is a mixed bag in this regard). So, if you could shed a little light on the actual workings of the Episcopal/Anglican polity I would be grateful. Secondly, and this might be beyond your purview, but I have been wondering how faithful the ACNA is to the liturgical worship of Classical Anglicanism. I abhor contemporary (sometimes referred to as contemporvant) worship. I look forward to experiencing an Anglican worship service for the first time and hope that I will be able to do so soon, hopefully sans Chris Tomlin tunes praise bands.

    P.S. Sorry for the length of this reply…

    • Danny Watt says:

      Heya. I know what you mean. When I first joined the Anglican church, I was so confused due to my evangelical background. Everything felt so foreign & this blog really helped me a lot. I’m just curious though. If you’re so concerned about church lineage (I confess I’m not too uptight about it), would you ever consider being Roman Catholic? after all they are the ones who keep claiming they are the one true church, which Anglicans don’t deny that Rome is part of this one true church.

      What I liked about the Anglican communion is the flexibility, yet I admit that it’s strength is also it’s weakness. Example: I don’t agree with women ordination as biblically sound. The C of E as the spiritual head of the Anglican communion has done it, but this doesn’t affect the other dioceses. But for Rome if the Vatican passes a bad doctrine, the entire denomination accepts it. But this division means it’s very confusing compared to Rome clean & clear teachings.

      I’ve read a critique on this issue by an Anglican pastor converted Catholic priest on this issue. And I agree. His observation was that the Anglican communion do not respect the movement of the Holy Spirit. When the initial vote for female ordination did not pass, they didn’t see it as a decision from the Holy Spirit, but saw it as a matter of not having votes. So they went ahead to get more votes which then affected the 2nd vote. And now they are pushing to address God as feminine & address God as mother.

      This I am worried for the Anglican communion. Any comments?

      • Jereme says:

        Hello Danny and thank you for your thoughts.

        I confess that I’ve never seriously considered the Church of Rome as an alternative and doubt that I ever could. It seems to me that the perception of unity of the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome is just that, a simplistic unity grounded upon the teaching Magisterium most publicly embodied by the Pope. From my own perspective the RCC has innovated, most noticeably with the doctrines of The Immaculate Conception, The Primacy of Rome in any sense other than as a respectful nod to the Capitol of The Empire, and that of Transubstantiation. If some teachings are sub-apostolic than the current teachings of the RCC would, in my opinion, be extra-apostolic. Thankfully though, I’ve grown out of my Romaphobia so embedded within certain Protestant strains.

        I did seriously consider going East, though ultimately I find the Orthodox position on the veneration of icons as one of necessity to be a bridge too far. One writer (I forget whom) noted that the veneration of icons is part and parcel to Orthodox teaching and you can’t have one without the other. I am thankful that I studied the issue and what I see as problematic is more the requirement for the veneration of icons rather than an acceptance of the same. The conscious ought not be bound to accept any teaching as authoritative or necessary if not clear teaching from Scripture. My opinion is that the 2nd council of Nicaea ought to be seen as corrective rather than authoritative. The iconoclasms of its times as well as those within The Reformation are deeply saddening, but the 7th ecumenical council over corrected if you ask me. The Anglican tradition seems to provide a healthy alternative. The other deal breaker over Orthodoxy is the issue of Sola Fide (or faith alone). I really only see either Anglicanism or Lutheranism as viable approaches to express the faith I confess.

        I agree with you sentiments regarding the ordination of women to be pastors/priests, although the I’m open to the ordination of women deacons. I do not support women’s ordination but if someday the Church Catholic could somehow come together for another ecumenical council than we could by all means debate it. The Catholic Priest you mention has the right idea in that The Holy Spirit can work through councils. The great creeds of the church are a testament to this. But until worldwide ecumenical triumph ensues I’d say the issue is settled as being one of apostolic origin and consensus. The problems within Anglicanism seem to be none too few, but the same can be said for any strand of Christianity. The question is how to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of one branch of Christianity with another. One will eventually win out over the other (in my own case anyway) but it will likely take time, prayer, and plenty of God given grace.

        I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church but I do not believe in one true church. I have problems with the idea of the invisible church though so that is one area where I lean towards Anglicanism. There is certainly a strength imbued within the confessional unity of Lutheranism and I see their teachings to be largely apostolic but I have to wonder if their claim to Catholicity lacks the Catholic spirit of diversity (to a reasonable degree) than one sees within the first millennia of the undivided church.

        I’d be right along with you in regards to your laxity regarding church lineage (as you put it aptly) but I have ideas of seminary and possibly ordination in my sights. As teachers in the church are to be judged more severely I owe it to myself (and to any I might teach) that I wrestle with these theological issues thoroughly. If I didn’t have these goals, I’d just go ahead and be Lutheran and be done with it! Probably…

  10. Jereme says:

    Regarding confessionalism:

    One commenter on this blog (although another post) commented something to the extent of questioning the intellectual honesty of anyone who subscribes whole heartily to something as long as the Westminster Confessions. I’ve wrestled with the same idea and have postulated that the unity of confessional bodies is rather a forced and faux unity rather than a true unity. Then one get’s into the issue of how to interpret said confessions…

    I must admit to seeing the value of creedalism (supplemented with the writings of the early Fathers) over confessionalism based on the above example, particularly since my copy of the Westminster Confession could be used as a book mark for my Book of Concord!

  11. Stephen says:

    Jereme, You posted: “I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church but I do not believe in one true church.”
    If you remove any one of those four markings, how can you have the ‘true church’?

    • Jereme says:

      Ooh…I weren’t so clear, were I…Thank you Stephen for pointing out my lack of clarity. We may disagree, but:

      One true church: A church were “only” the elements of Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic apply to a particular branch of Christendom to the exclusion of any other communion of churches.

      This I cannot confess. My confession would instead be that the sense of a “true” church is to be found amongst the gathering of believers where word and sacrament are faithfully delivered to Christ’s people. Unfortunately, truth always has an element of error mixed in with any group of people as sin remains while Christ tarries. I do not find the idea of “true church” to be particularly helpful. Nor do I particularly find the idea of “visible church vs. invisible church” to be useful except in certain contexts. The whole (or catholic with a lower case “c”) church belongs to Christ, and some are more faithful to Him than others. Obviously there is a point reached where a church is no longer a part of Christ’s flock, but agreement of this mark would be hard to reach. Is it those who have broken away from (either by choice or expulsion) the Catholic Church of the west? Those who deny the creeds? Those who do not follow Apostolic doctrine except in only a cursory manner? Or only those who blatantly confess a false Jesus (LDS, JW’s, etc.)? For myself, this is a difficult question, but denial of the creeds (notably the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds) would seem to be a good place to start the conversation. The idea of a true church, apart from a visible communion (as in The Roman Catholic Church and those in communion with her) would be impossible to define by my way of reckoning. I suppose the issue is how to append the word “true” to the churches in discussion. I find that the issue of ecclesiology is sooooo much more of a broader and important doctrine than I ever thought before!

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