ANGLICAN AND CATHOLIC AGREEMENT
One of the burning issues at the time of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century was the question of the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—particularly in the elements of the bread and wine, and the corollary question of the repeated sacrifice of Christ in the mass. As most children of the Reformation know, the Lutherans rejected the doctrine of the mass but retained some elements of Roman Catholic thought in their doctrine of consubstantiation. The Romish Church maintained that, through the activity of the presiding clergy, the bread and wine of the Eucharist were actually changed into the body and blood of Christ; that, therefore, on the altar was offered the sacrifice of Christ once again. Lutheranism, in its doctrine of consubstantiation, taught rather that Christ’s real body and blood were present in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine.
The Reformed and Calvinistic branch of the Reformation repudiated both these positions and maintained that, the presence of Christ in the elements was a spiritual presence; that the believer, by faith, appropriated Christ’s body and blood. The mass was strongly condemned even to the extent that it was called in our Heidelberg Catechism, “an accursed idolatry.” All branches of the Calvinistic Reformation adopted this position and incorporated it into their creeds. The issue was a vital one and a large amount of study was .devoted to the subject. Even between Lutheran and Reformed it was a point of no little dispute, and the issue caused a great deal of trouble even in the days when Luther and Calvin were yet living.
As the present day ecumenical movement grew stronger and more inclusive, various attempts have been made from time to time to include the Roman Catholic Church in Protestant ecumenical organizations. But one of the points of difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics which prevented closer union was the doctrine of the presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. It seemed that this bridge was too difficult to build and the chasm which it had to span too wide. For one thing, the very idea of Roman Catholicism in this question of the presence of Christ was usually abhorrent to Protestantism. For another thing, on this key point Rome seemed immoveable. It could hardly be anything else, because an elaborate structure of doctrine was built around this key point that the bread and wine of the Eucharist very truly became the body and blood of Christ.
Imagine the surprise in the Church world, then, when Anglicans and Roman Catholics did reach such agreement. An official Anglican-Catholic study commission published a report in which a statement of the doctrine was set forth upon which both Arthur Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope Paul placed their seal of approval. The concessions, however, seem to be almost entirely on the side of the Anglicans; and it appears from the report as if the Roman Catholic Church did not budge a fraction. A few quotes from the report will make this plain.
Communion with Christ in the Eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood.
Christ is present and active, in various ways, in the entire Eucharist celebration. It is the same Lord who—through the proclaimed word invites his people to his table, who through his minister presides at that table, and who gives himself sacramentally in body and blood of his paschal sacrifice.
The sacramental body and blood of the Savior are present as, an offering to the believer awaiting his welcome.
The elements are not mere signs; Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given.
The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ by the action of the Holy Spirit, so that in communion we eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood.
On the question of the mass it is perhaps possible that the Romish Church made some slight concession. The statement claims that “Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection took place once and for all in history.” Thus: “There can be no repetition or addition to what was then accomplished once and for all by Christ.”
What strikes us especially about this agreement is the fact that those churches who are pressing forward in the cause of ecumenism are willing to twist themselves into almost any shape in order to attain their goal of unity. If unity demands a total abandonment of doctrine, this is not too great a price to pay for unity. If the requirement is a watering down of doctrine to the point of inane generalities, this too the ecumenists are willing to do. If, on the other hand, the ecumenical leaders come face to face with a church which holds to heresy and if, in the course of the discussion it is found that that church will not budge even a fraction from its heresy, they are willing to swallow the heresy in one huge gulp for the sake of union. No price is too great to pay. No obstacle is too great to surmount. But the truth of Scripture matters not a bit. Union must be attained at all costs. If this is finally adopted by the Anglican Church, this denomination has abandoned its historical heritage and sold its soul to Satan for an ecumenical mess of pottage.
“WORD OF GOD” OR “WORDS OF GOD”
We have, from time to time, referred in these columns to the Association for the Advancement of Christian Studies (AACS). This organization which has its headquarters in Toronto is, under the influence of Neo-Dooyeweerdianism, establishing a new system of thought especially within the Christian Reformed Church—although its influence extends far beyond the bounds of that denomination. We have called attention to the erroneous views of this organization in their doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Christian’s calling in life.
However, we are increasingly convinced that at the very bottom of this whole movement lies an error far more serious and far more basic than any of the above errors. This error has to do with the generally accepted view of this organization of the “Word of God.”
Generally speaking, those who are involved in this movement consider it to be a serious mistake to speak of one Word of God; they prefer to speak of a three-fold Word of God; and, even, of a four-fold Word of God. They insist that God speaks His Word in three or four different ways: 1) in the Scriptures; 2) in the creation, preservation and government of the universe; 3) in Jesus Christ; 4) in the proclamation of the gospel.
Now this may, off-hand, seem to some to be a rather insignificant point of doctrine which really has no important consequences for the faith of the Church. And it may seem to others to be a correct statement of the doctrine of the Word of God. But both conclusions are wrong. This view of the Word of God has had broad and sweeping consequences in the thinking of the AACS. Some of these consequences are these. Those who hold such a position have taken a view of Scripture which in some measure denies its infallibility. Cf. e.g., our last article in the Standard Bearer in which we quoted an article by Dr. Clark who criticizes severely the views of Scripture held by Arnold De Graff, a member of this AACS movement. Generally speaking, the Scriptures are considered to be something different from “propositional revelation”; they are said to contain no objective statements of truth concerning God; they are characterized as being a confession of the early Church concerning its faith in God.
Again, those who adopt this three or four-fold Word of God maintain that the Word of God in creation is revelatory and authoritative for large segments of our life. Some of the consequences of this position are: 1) that the moral and ethical standards of Scripture are relative; 2) that the creeds of the Church which embody the truth of Scripture are limited in their value and use to the life of the believer as member of the church; 3) that the Word of God in creation can be formulated in creeds for other areas of life; 4) that therefore we need a special creed for educational purposes, for political activity, for united Christian labor activity, etc. And all these creeds must contain the Word of God as found in the creation, government, and preservation of the world as distinct from the Word of God in the Scriptures.
Further, this same position has led to an idea which describes revelation as a process, by which is apparently meant that revelation is a dynamic concept which has continuous and real power. However, one wonders whether those who maintain this do not also mean to say that, because revelation is a process, there is continuous revelation in the sense that the content of revelation is constantly being increased.
These are only some of the consequences of this position. But they are sufficient to demonstrate that this whole concept is very broad in scope and far-reaching in its implications.
Increasingly this idea of the Word of God has come under attack in various church periodicals. And this whole concept has been the subject of lengthy discussion and debate. One recent instance of this is a conference which took place in January, 1972 at Trinity College where this whole subject was discussed.
But we get the general feeling from reading all this material that many who are opposed to the three or four-fold concept of the Word of God do not always know just exactly how to attack this error. They seem, in some instances, to be at a loss in their efforts to pinpoint what is really wrong. There has been, so far as we know, no extensive and thorough-going analysis of this position and no sharp and Scriptural critique of the serious error involved.
And this is not good, for the error is very basic and deadly; and if it is not weighed in the balances of Scripture and condemned on Scriptural grounds by means of a thorough analysis of the problem, those who defend this position are going to run away with the field.
We make these comments not because we intend to take up this task in our columns. This rubric is not intended to be a column on Apologetics; nor is there the space to accomplish this here. But we make these remarks to alert our readers to the deadly danger of this position and to stimulate discussion among us on this question.
It seems that if the problem is to be faced four-square and the position properly condemned, the following Scriptural truths will have to be taken into account.
1) It is true that the concept “Word of God” is used in different senses in Scripture. We make a point of this because some critics of the AACS position have denied this. Dr. Norman Shepherd, e.g., is quoted in the Outlook as saying: “there appears to be no place in Scripture where the expression word of Godor something like it is used for the creation.” We wonder what Dr. Shepherd does with a passage such as John 1:1-5.
2) But, while this is true, it is also true that Scripture teaches that the Word of God in creation can no more be heard by the sinful and depraved man. He cannot hear this Word of God both because that Word is, objectively, silenced by the word of the curse; and because, subjectively, the sinner is spiritually, and ethically blind and deaf. While, according to Romans 1, God’s power and divinity may still be known through the things that are made, this is the revelation of God’s wrath upon the heathen and is only for the purpose of leaving the ungodly without excuse.
3) All this brings up the question of revelation. And we think it high time, also for the men of the AACS, to pay some close attention to this very important Scriptural concept. It would be well for them and for all concerned to study carefully the Scriptural teaching on this point and define precisely what Scripture has to say. We believe that, if this is done, it will be proved that also revelation is a particularistic concept in Scripture; i.e., that it too is discussed in Scripture along the lines of election and reprobation.
4) The doctrine of Scripture itself must be maintained in this connection as Scripture sets forth that doctrine. That is, while it is true that Scripture is the record of the revelation of God, nevertheless, Scripture is the infallibly inspired record. And, because it is the record of revelation, it tells us, above all else, Who and What God is and does. It is thus the record of God Himself, It is not a confession of the faith of the early Church. It is not a mere collection of beliefs of former saints. It is not some sort of Gemeindetheologie. It is God’s record of His revelation.
5) Central to that revelation and therefore central to the Scriptures is Christ. For Christ is the fulness of the revelation of God: for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
6) It needs to be proved that Scripture calls the preaching of the Word “revelation.” It is true that this question can only be answered after a careful definition of “revelation.” But the fact remains that it is doubtful whether this is Scriptural terminology. Scripture is intent on pointing out that the preaching is “the power of God unto salvation”; that it is “to them that are called both the power and wisdom of God.” But it must be remembered that this is true only insofar as and because of the fact that the preaching is Scriptural. This is lost sight of constantly by the supporters of the AACS. In fact, these men tend to slight the preaching and consider the preaching as less than of crucial importance. It is only because preaching is the proclamation of an infallibly inspired and written record of the revelation of God that it is the one and only power of God unto salvation, and that it is of absolute importance for the whole of the life of the child of God in the world.
7) Finally, therefore, while we admit that the concept “Word of God” is used in different senses in Scripture, the crucial question is—a question which has not been answered by all who have written on this subject so far as we know—what is the relationship as defined by Scripture between these various uses of the concept? And what is the relation between these various uses of the concept and the concept “revelation”? The thinking of the leaders of the AACS is so fuzzy on this point that we are inclined to believe that they mean to establish no relation at all; that they mean to teach that all are independent of each other.