Category Archives: Articles

Articles I have written.

The Anglican Doctrine of Baptism

Lucy's Baptism

THE ANGLICAN DOCTRINE OF BAPTISM

by Lee Gatiss

Foundations 63 (2012): 65-89

Abstract

This article examines the theology of baptism found in the foundational documents of the Church of England. It expounds the Latin and English texts of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, to see what they teach on the subject, noting especially the Protestant and Reformed (but non-Zwinglian) nature of the Anglican doctrine as well as some of its biblical and patristic foundations. A previously unnoticed example of the Articles’ dependence on Calvin’s Institutes is brought out with regard to infant baptism. Through a study of the liturgical expression of this theology in the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer it also highlights the importance of some historic moments of particular controversy, especially regarding the efficacy of baptism. With application throughout for confessional Anglicans today, it also concludes with a brief look at contemporary controversies surrounding the covenantal nature of baptism, and the current downplaying of baptism within Anglican Evangelicalism.

Read the full text article here: http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-63-article-4—the-anglican-doctrine-of-baptism.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Why does the contemporary evangelical church need “reformed” theology?

Why does the contemporary evangelical church need “reformed” theology ?

“Reformed theology” is the romance and poetry at the heart of the gospel.

The gospel is the story of how God in his mercy sent his Son to purify a people for his own possession, to the praise of his glorious grace. It’s a love story, which makes most sense when expressed in the biblical idiom of predestinating love, intentional redemption, effective power, and eternal unbreakable covenant promise. Jesus is a “one woman man” – he loved his bride, his people, his church, and he loves her to the uttermost so that no-one can snatch her away from him.

I think other species of theology tend to dampen down the wonder and stupendousness of this good news because they can’t quite believe it’s so good, and that God would take our salvation entirely upon his own shoulders. Reformed theology at its best seeks to preach this undiluted soul-refreshment and defend it from the adulterating pollution of what the Anglican Homilies call “the stinking puddles of men’s traditions (devised by men’s imagination) for our justification and salvation.”

Again, Reformed theology is what the Reformation was all about. Luther thunderously preached grace, and the later Reformers both here and on the Continent explored the depths of his insights into God’s message. As later generations of Roman Catholics, rationalists, and radicals challenged core Reformation truths, the Reformers worked hard to refute their increasingly sophisticated false teaching, especially in their catechisms and confessions (such as the 39 Articles). They handed on to us a pattern of sound teaching and a system of doctrinal alarm bells, so to speak, designed to ring as loudly as possible when grace is under threat. We neglect their hard work to protect us from spiritual danger to our peril.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Why is it worth fighting to reform the C of E?

Why is it worth fighting to reform the C of E ?

I won’t say “it’s the best boat to fish from.” There are many ways to be “fishers of men” today, and we need more labourers for the harvest regardless of which denomination they serve in.

Yet, the Church of England has an honoured history as an instrument for spiritual conversion and growth in our nation. It was through a Reformed established church that we were saved from superstition and the false doctrines of Roman Catholicism at the Reformation. It was through the national church and the parochial system in the 16th and 17th centuries that the Puritans sought to reach the dark corners of the land for Christ. When we were blessed with revivals in the 18th century it was through the preaching of Anglican clergymen like Wesley, Whitefield, Toplady, Hervey, and Romaine. In the nineteenth century, it was the Anglican expression of Christian faith which we exported to the world through the channels of empire and it was ably defended by men like Shaftesbury and Ryle. In the twentieth century it was the good old C of E which gave us John Stott, Jim Packer, Dick Lucas, and a number of the country’s finest preachers, pastors, and theologians today.

The official doctrinal standards of our denomination remain Reformed and Evangelical to the core, and the Queen swore to maintain “the true profession of the gospel… the Protestant Reformed religion.” What will all these great servants of the word say to us in glory, if our generation fails to fight for what they handed on to us? The Church of England today is a serviceable, if somewhat leaky, vessel, and it would be negligent of us to simply abandon it to the enemies of the gospel which has always been its greatest strength.

There’s nothing wrong with starting new things from scratch, necessarily. But I believe God is greatly glorified through reformation and transformation, and his grace is seen to be at work where this has taken place in the past.

Where there is death and decay, the Father can bring new life.

Where there is corruption, the Lord Jesus can bring health and soundness.

Where there is heresy and apostasy, the Spirit can convict and convert through his powerful word.

They will be glorified should England turn back to the truth and again enjoy his blessing. So for the glory of God and the good of England, it is worth fighting to renew the Church of England as an instrument for God’s purposes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

Grace Tasted Death for All: Thomas Aquinas on Hebrews 2:9

GRACE TASTED DEATH FOR ALL
Thomas Aquinas on Hebrews 2:9

by Lee Gatiss

Tyndale Bulletin 63.2 (2012): 217-236

Abstract

This article examines the biblical interpretation of Thomas Aquinas, which has until recently been relatively neglected amongst the many works of this leading medieval theologian. Looking particularly at ‘by the grace of God Christ tasted death for all’ (Hebrews 2:9), a key phrase which throws up several exegetical and theological puzzles, it concludes that Aquinas’s approach to it is a prime example of medieval commentating both at its best and its worst.

It shows how his lack of knowledge of Greek led Thomas astray, notes his neglect of textual criticism, and examines his reliance on tradition, especially the Hebrews commentary of Peter Lombard. It places his use of the theological formula ‘sufficient for all, efficacious for the elect alone’ when expounding the words ‘for all’ into historical context, surveying exegetical discussion of the extent of the atonement from Origen to Gottschalk to John Owen.

Aquinas’s use of the scholastic ‘division of the text’ methodology to identify a melodic line centring on this verse’s theme of ‘grace’ within both Hebrews and Paul (the assumed author) is uncovered, along with other interpretative tactics and a reflective piety which jar against the presuppositions of modern academic biblical studies.

Read the whole thing here: http://www.tyndalehouse.com/Bulletin/63=2012/04_Gatiss-20.pdf

1 Comment

Filed under Articles

The Great Ejection of the Puritans

Today is the 350th anniversary of the Great Ejection of the Puritans from the Church of England.

1662 may have been a significant year for the Book of Common Prayer. It was not, however, a good year for those to whom the gospel and a good conscience were more precious than the institutional church.

We can rejoice, as we think about the triumph of the Prayer Book and its glorious exposition of the Reformed faith in polished liturgical form. But we also need to remember that 1662 was the year that ‘evangelical’ Puritans were excluded from, and then persecuted by, the established Church of England because they could not accept certain aspects of the new religious settlement.

The main problem in 1662 was not with the Prayer Book as such, but with the terms of subscription to it. That is, the issue was what to do with those who in conscience could not agree to everything contained in that book.

 

Consensus

For a century or more, the Puritans, as they were called, had been calling for further godly reformation of the Church of England.

They were delighted with the Reformation, but they thought the English church ‘but halfly reformed’ compared to many Reformed churches on the Continent. The Elizabethan Settlement had not gone far enough for them in eliminating superstition and Catholicism from the church.

They wanted to push on with further reform, in response to God’s Word in the Bible. Such people were usually able to remain within the Church of England. How? Because there was a theological consensus between the official stance of the national church and these Puritans.

In general terms, they were all agreed on what the Coronation Oath calls ‘the true profession of the gospel … the Protestant Reformed religion’. Historians speak of a ‘Calvinist consensus’ in England, until at least the 1630s. With that general agreement on primary issues of faith and salvation in place, other issues were usually kept in perspective.

Those who did not conform in every detail of clerical vesture or ceremonial and had issues with phrases here and there in the Prayer Book, continued to play an active and prominent role within the Church of England, some of them at the highest levels.

Yet these people had been in charge of the national church during the Commonwealth and Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. They hadn’t all been in favour of chopping Charles I’s head off — many had vigorously protested against it — but they had helped to banish the high church royalist bishops and their prayer book.

Revenge

So when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he brought with him an Anglican episcopal hierarchy thirsting for revenge. They quickly established themselves in the royal court and grabbed hold of the levers of power.

The king wanted peace and toleration, but the bishops were in no mood for compromise. For much of 1661 they pretended to make concessions to the Puritans, but only until they were comfortable enough in their palaces and in Parliament to deal the Puritans a fatal blow.

The tide turned quite quickly. The bishops and their allies now had such strength that there was no longer any question of Puritans attaining a favourable compromise. The issue for the latter had become whether anything could be salvaged from the wreck of their hopes.

Some of our greatest and most internationally famous theologians were from the more evangelical, puritan sections of the church, but the consensus on primary issues was breaking down. And there was less appetite for tolerance on the part of those holding the reins of power.

Without uniformity and theological consensus on what the gospel is, the bishops looked to enforce outward conformity as their way to bring order to chaos. With a more liberal turn in theology at the Restoration, came a more ceremonial, Catholicising style of church.

It was the imposition of this which had helped cause the Civil War in the first place. Most famously, Archbishop Laud, the most prominent and disliked advocate of this anti-Calvinist movement, had been executed on Tower Hill in 1645 to popular applause.

The Puritans could never accept Laudianism. And hitherto had never been forced to, always finding that the Anglican formularies acted as a sufficient guard against the worst excesses of ceremonialism, superstition and persecution.

But now, things were different; the state decided to enforce uniformity across the board.

 

Act of Uniformity

The Act of Uniformity in 1662 required all ministers not merely to use the set forms of prayer — which may have allowed them some leeway in practice — but to swear an oath they could not in good conscience swear. They had to give ‘unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed’ in the new Book of Common Prayer.

This, lamented Richard Baxter, was ‘a weight more grievous than a thousand ceremonies, added to the old conformity, with grievous penalty’.

Furthermore, all ministers, lecturers, and even schoolteachers, had to declare themselves entirely in favour of this new political correctness; they had to swear an oath never to attempt to change anything in church or state!

They had to declare ‘that it is not lawful, upon any pretence whatsoever, to take arms against the king … that I will conform to the liturgy of the church of England as it is now by law established’ and renounce the oaths of the Solemn League and Covenant, swearing not ‘to endeavour any change or alteration of government either in church or state’.

What’s more, those who had taken the ‘Solemn League and Covenant’ oath — that they would work hard to reform the church according to the Bible — had to renounce that oath and declare now that it was an illegal thing to promise in the first place.

All this, they felt they could not do. Why? Because it was saying in effect that the Prayer Book and Church of England were inerrant, whereas they only ever said such things about the unerring Word of God itself.

They did not want to perjure themselves, having made oaths to reform the church in Cromwell’s day; and they could not swear on oath that they agreed with every single word of the liturgy.

 

Great Ejection

Those with the levers of power in their hands sought to impose a new conformity to the Church of England, to which there could be no legally recognised exceptions whatsoever.

All this was to be enacted on St Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August 1662. A significant day, because it was the day that tithes and rents were due, in arrears, to the clergy. So if any clergy did not conform, they did not get paid and were unceremoniously thrown out of their vicarages, often into poverty.

Attempts were made in Parliament and Convocation to water things down — to provide for ejected ministers, perhaps give them more time and soften the terms of conformity. But these votes were all lost by small margins.

The King and the Lord Chancellor claimed to want a more lenient solution. But they were ignored by those voting.

In total, over 1800 ministers — about 20 per cent of the whole clergy — were forced to leave the Church of England in 1662. They were silenced from preaching or teaching by law. They were barred from positions in church or state and forbidden from meeting, even in small groups in their homes.

The penal code against these dissenters was often enforced with unnecessary brutality and malice. They were spied on, taken to court, fined, and sent to plantations in Virginia for hard labour.

Anglican persecutors could now appeal to a formidable legal arsenal which, potentially, made possible a puritan holocaust. Although the worst possibilities were never realised, 1662 began a persecution of Protestants by Protestants without parallel in seventeenth-century Europe. That was the tragedy of 1662.

 

Remembering 1662 today

There was a ‘Service of Reconciliation’ at Westminster Abbey in February to mark this anniversary, with CofE and URC ministers joining together in an attempt to ‘heal the memories’. But the established church still needs to face some big questions about whether this sort of thing could be repeated.

Will the Church of England again force its own members’ consciences to accept things they see as clearly unbiblical (such as women bishops or homosexuality)? Will it make no exceptions and tolerate no diversity from the current political correctness?

Will the Church of England again become an agent of persecution against Reformed and evangelical Christians? Those who dissent from the prevailing scepticism of the powerful few at the heart of church and government may yet find themselves in an unenviable position, similar to that of Restoration-era Puritans.

The ghosts of 1662 may yet return to haunt the Church of England. Please pray for those attempting to push the denomination back into the great central currents of Christian faith, and away from the dangerous rocks of current fads and baptised worldliness.

This is an article I wrote for the Evangelical Times, Britain’s leading non-denominational evangelical Christian newspaper (published earlier this month). It is reprinted here with their permission, to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Ejection today.

See also my little book The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection and Persecution of the Puritans.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Articles

The Book of Common Prayer

This month sees the 350th anniversary of the official adoption of the Book of Common Prayer in 1662.

Last year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. This year the history buffs and antiquarians are in joyful mood because it is the 350th anniversary of that famously Anglican date — 1662.

In these days of spiritual ignorance in the country and doctrinal laxity in the church, many Anglicans look back to former times with a certain degree of wistfulness.

Declining electoral rolls speak of a nation less focused on the things of God than seems to have been the case in centuries gone by when our ancient and airy church buildings must, we imagine, have pulsated with activity and vibrancy.

In a period of liturgical diversity and confusion, other Anglicans feel the disappearance of a uniform standard of worship across the denomination to be an incalculable injury, particularly as it permits both a lack of gravity in church services and the propagation (often) of dubious theology.

In an era of polarisation in ecclesiastical politics, with pressure groups and ‘turbulent priests’ disturbing the peace of the Church, the search for authoritative leadership to impose order on a fractious, wayward communion is an understandable desire.

One date lingers in the collective Anglican memory as suggestive of a golden era: 1662. Weren’t churches full in the seventeenth century? Didn’t the Prayer Book, hallowed by over a century of sacred use, ensure unity and uniformity in the public meetings of every English parish, with a reverent dignity and stylistic polish often wanting in modern expressions of church?

1662 is an emblem of the liturgical good old days.

Reformers

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was not actually invented in 1662. The first such book in English was edited by Archbishop Cranmer in 1549, under good king Edward VI.

It was quickly revised again and re-issued in an even more Protestant and Reformed version in 1552. So this year is the 460th anniversary of that second Edwardian prayer book too.

Playing a key role in the composition of that book was the Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli. As Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Vermigli had a huge influence over Cranmer and Ridley and other English reformers, and was a great link between the English and Continental Reformations.

Vermigli, incidentally, died in 1562. So this year is also the 450th anniversary of this great man going to glory.

What Cranmer and Vermigli did with the Prayer Book was concentrate Reformed Protestant theology into a useable liturgical form. So that, from then on, every day in every parish, and every Sunday morning and evening, the English people (and soon the peoples of their far flung empire) began to pray in a new way.

The new Prayer Book was in English, ‘understanded of the people’, as the 39 Articles put it, not the Latin of the medieval Mass. It took the best of Augustinian medieval piety, translated it, and fed it into the spiritual diet of the English people, strengthened by the renewed emphases of the Reformers on salvation by grace alone, through faith alone.

Not only that, but the Prayer Book prescribed a healthy and robust diet of Bible reading and preaching for every church. If one follows all the set readings laid down in the BCP, one gets through the Bible once a year and the Psalms every month.

True worship

This exceeded the expectations of every other Church, whether in Rome, Wittenberg, or Geneva. So the Anglican Church had, from this moment, an emphasis on Bible reading and preaching par excellence.

This in turn shows us what the authentic Anglican understanding of church is. It is not, as so many would like to make it, merely a religious social club where we gather each week to celebrate ‘community’ — though community is important, and the corporate nature of the church in prayers and responses trumps our more modern individualism and performance mentality.

Church is not all about ‘me and my felt needs’ being met by a distant God, who comes down to give me a particular experience. Vermigli once complained of church services that ‘everything is so noisy with chanting and piping that there is no time left for preaching. So it happens that people depart from church full of music and harmony, yet they are fasting and starving for heavenly doctrine’.

So in the classic Anglican understanding of church as seen in the BCP, church is not to be centred on any earthly mediator, whether that is a celebrity pastor, a mediating priest or a worship band leader.

In 1662, church was about gathering to hear God speak through his Word, confessing our sins and our faith, and responding to the Spirit, in prayer for each other and for the world.

Lord’s Supper

The Reformers Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer all died as martyrs because they refused to submit to the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass.

So-called transubstantiation — the changing of the substance of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper into the body and blood of Christ himself — was the great dividing issue of that era. Our Reformers refused to believe this, to teach this, or to countenance the superstitious practices that had grown up around it.

Why? Because they did not find such a doctrine in the Scriptures that they were now reading afresh. And in every case, it was this very thing which led to these martyrs’ execution. They literally went to the stake and were burned for their view of the Lord’s Supper.

But what did they put in the place of the Mass? What was it that they taught Anglicans to pray and to remember as they gather around the Lord’s Table?

They taught that the Supper is a divine instrument of assurance. There we confess ‘our manifold sins and wickedness’ to God. Then we are assured by the words of Scripture itself, that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ and that ‘he is the propitiation for our sins’.

Grace

We come to the table (not, notice, an altar), ‘not trusting in our own righteousness, but in God’s manifold and great mercies’. We come with nothing in our hands to receive God’s mercy. It’s all about God doing something, not us.

The movement of the action in the BCP liturgy is from God to us — God in his grace reaching down to us in our sinfulness. We simply take and eat, in remembrance of what Jesus has done. Read theologically, the 1662 service shows us that, although we are more wicked than we ever thought, we are also more loved by a merciful God than we ever dreamed.

The result is that, pastorally speaking, our consciences are assured of God’s love towards us in Christ, even when we’ve been most searingly honest about our shortcomings and failures.

We praise God that, ‘by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his Passion’.

1662 makes it very clear that what is going on at the Lord’s Table is not a sacrifice on an altar made by a mediating priest on behalf of the people, which has to be repeated again and again each week to be effective.

Finished work

That was the wrong message you got from the Mass. In the Mass something is offered to God. What the BCP says, however, is that Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross for us was utterly, completely and totally sufficient to pay for our sins. No additional sacrifices are necessary:

‘Almighty God, our heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…’

All the language of us making a sacrifice is kept until after we’ve eaten. Only then do we pray that God would accept from us (to use the language of Hebrews 13) a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

So after we’ve fed on Christ in our hearts by faith, we offer and present to God not the bread and wine but ourselves (to use the language of Romans 12), as a holy and lively (or living) sacrifice.

There is of course more we could say about the BCP as it was definitively ordered in 1662. It was almost the same as Cranmer’s book, with surprisingly few alterations considering all that happened in the interim.

One thing that was specifically added in 1662 was a service for the baptism of adults or ‘those of riper years’, who may not have been baptised as infants during the confusions of the tumultuous Civil War period.

But, generally speaking, the book and liturgy remained unchanged: the same elegant expression of the profoundly liberating gospel. That is something to give thanks for in this 350th anniversary year.

This is an article I wrote for the Evangelical Times, Britain’s leading non-denominational evangelical Christian newspaper (published earlier this month). It is reprinted here with their permission.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

The Unerring Word of God

The Gospel Magazine is, it claims, “the oldest religious periodical still being published.”  As it was once edited by none other than Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), it has a special place in my heart!  In the October 2010 edition they published a short article of mine on the inerrancy of the Bible.  Since that has created a little bit of a stir, after Carl Trueman blogged about it on the excellent Reformation 21 (http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2010/11/anglicanism-and-its-historical.php), I have scanned it in and you can read it here:

Lee Gatiss – The Unerring Word of God (Gospel Magazine article).

May 2014: Rob Bradshaw has now scanned all the Gospel Magazine editions going back decades! The edition to which I contributed can be found in its entirety here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles