Sunday, March 27, 2005

For us and for our salvation...

Today, Easter Sunday, of all days, I ran across the following statement in a theological forum:

"Substitutionary sacrifice, however, is neither Catholic nor catholic tradition. It was enshrined in popular piety by a tradition of preachers, long before Mel Gibson, who discovered how easy it was to preach and to use in a manipulative way."

In contrast to this erroneous assertion, The Catholic Encyclopedia, in the article on "Sacrifice" (See Part III, Christian Sacrifice), contains the following statement:

(1) The Dogma of the Sacrifice of the Cross
The universal conviction of Christianity was expressed by the Synod of Ephesus (431), when it declared that the Incarnate Logos "offered Himself to God the Father for us for an odour of sweetness" (in Denzinger-Bannwart, "Enchiridion," n. 122), a dogma explicitly confirmed by the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII. cap. i-ii; can. ii-iv). The dogma is indeed nothing else than a clear echo of Holy Writ and tradition. If all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and especially the bloody sacrifice, were so many types of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross (Cf. Heb., viii-x), and if the idea of vicarious atonement was present in the Mosaic bloody sacrifices, it follows immediately that the death on the Cross, as the antitype, must possess the character of a vicarious sacrifice of atonement. A striking confirmation of this reasoning is found in the pericope of Isaias concerning God's "just servant," wherein three truths are clearly expressed:

(a) the substitution of the innocent Messias for guilty mankind;
(b) the deliverance of the guilty from sin and punishment through the suffering of the Messias;
(c) the manner of this suffering and satisfaction through the bloody death on the Cross (cf. Is., liii, 4 sqq.).

Further, The Catholic Encyclopedia's article on "Atonement" contains this statement:

The Catholic doctrine on this subject [Atonement] is set forth in the sixth Session of the Council of Trent, chapter ii. Having shown the insufficiency of Nature, and of Mosaic Law the Council continues:
"Whence it came to pass, that the Heavenly Father, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (II Cor., 1, 3), when that blessed fullness of the time was come (Gal., iv, 4) sent unto men Jesus Christ, His own Son who had been, both before the Law and during the time of the Law, to many of the holy fathers announced and promised, that He might both redeem the Jews, who were under the Law and that the Gentiles who followed not after justice might attain to justice and that all men might receive the adoption of sons. Him God had proposed as a propitiator, through faith in His blood (Rom., iii, 25), for our sins, and not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world (I John ii, 2)."

More than twelve centuries before this, the same dogma was proclaimed in the words of the Nicene Creed, "who for us men and for our salvation, came down, took flesh, was made man; and suffered."

Thus, according to this statement, the words of the Creed "for us and for our salvation" are implicitly substitutionary.

It is noteworthy that this understanding is entirely consistent with that expressed by evangelical author John Stott who writes:

When we review so much Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of 'sin-bearing', the scapegoat and Isaiah 53), and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice. Christ died for us. Christ died instead of us.

Regarding satisfaction and substitution, Stott writes:

We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at its centre the principle of 'satisfaction through substitution', indeed divine self-satisfaction through divine self-substitution.
The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him; nor an exact equivalent, a *quid pro quo* to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law; nor a compulsory submission by God to some moral authority above him from which he could not otherwise escape; nor a punishment of a meek Christ by a harsh and punitive Father; nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father; nor an action of the Father which bypassed Christ as Mediator.

Instead, the righteous, loving Father humbled himself to become in and through his only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. The theological words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given

--From "The Cross of Christ" (Leicester and Downers Grove: IVP, 1986), p. 159.

Thus, between faithful Catholics and Evangelicals there is substantial agreement, because the doctrine of the Atonement is one on which all orthodox Christians have agreed from antiquity.

Dissent from the idea of substitutionary atonement has come from the Socinians, an anti-Trinitarian, heretical sect, who rejected the notion of vicarious suffering and satisfaction as inconsistent with God's justice and mercy. In their eyes the work of Christ consisted simply in His teaching by word and example.

The Socinians held that:

  • that there was no Trinity,
  • that Christ was not consubstantial with the Father and Holy Spirit,
  • that He was not conceived of the Holy Spirit, but begotten by St. Joseph, and
  • that His Death and Passion were not undergone to bring about our redemption

Views similar to those of the Socinians have been seen also in the work of liberal theologians such as Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), Albrect Ritschl (1822–1889), and their modern-day descendents. Indeed, among liberals there is, at best, a professed agnosticism regarding the effect of Christ's atonement. At worst, there exists an outright denial of the biblical witness to the precious truth that "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit..." (I Peter 3:18). (I'll say more about the Atonement in a future post.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Really Happened at the Anglican Primates Meeting


By Archbishop Gregory Venables

THE ASSUMPTIONS of the natural evolution of society towards liberalism in the West have proceeded for decades relatively unchecked. From the rise of the Enlightenment, when values and beliefs began to be viewed with more skepticism, there have been few challenges to the slide.

The strengths of enlightenment went awry, and were lost, as momentum gathered and influential social and religious philosophers assumed they knew better than previous generations. The result has been moral chaos, and a large portion of the Church that has nothing to offer.

By contrast, the gospel runs counter to the culture. It always has, but something more resonant with the values and assumptions of society has made its way into the halls of influence in Western Churches. The foundational Christian message - "This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be believed, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" - has been replaced by other messages of unchallenging
acceptance and uncritical licence to pursue any lifestyle. Living (yet historic) faith has been on a collision course with the unbounded message of liberalism for more than a century.

Wonderfully, Evangelical and Catholic Christians in the Western industrial nations have been energized by the commitment, zeal and sacrifice of those from the Two-Thirds World, who come from cultures in which evangelism and mission are current passions rather than just historic ones.

So we arrived in Northern Ireland at the Dromantine, a Roman Catholic centre for African mission. The Archbishop of Canterbury set the stage for us to hear from God, instead of just each other, by beginning with spiritual retreat and Bible reflection. In the periods of silence, many of us were keenly aware of God's presence, as well as of the prayers of millions of people around the world.

Dr. Williams also set the stage for us to own and organise our agenda.

The difference from previous meetings was profound. One seasoned non-Western Primate remarked how wonderful it was to meet without "being dominated by Western arrogance."

The atmosphere allowed for respectful forthright discussion, which led to the unmistakable realization by all of us that the Anglican Communion had reached the point of irreconcilable differences. While painful and terrifying, it was an important passage, without which we would probably not have had the will to address the crisis adequately.

Pivotal in the discussion was the fact that those who were pressing the same-sex agenda were willing to speak with a clarity that had not been present at any of our previous deliberations. North American confidence came across to many Primates as presumptuous, and even arrogant.

The dynamic was so powerful that it overcame the cultural reticence of some of the Two-Thirds World Primates to speak clearly.

IN A MOMENT of time, at a pause in the conversation, it became obvious that the overwhelming majority of the Primates (who represent the clear majority of Anglicans around the world) were not willing to assimilate the innovations pressed by the United States and Canada into the teaching of the Communion. On the contrary, historic biblical faith was clearly going to emerge from the meeting as the conviction of the vast majority. The question was whether the Communion would remain intact or shatter.

At that point, two critical pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

First, the suggestion was made for ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw voluntarily, while considering formally whether or not to conform to agreed Anglican teaching, as expressed in the historic interpretation of the scriptures and the Lambeth Conference.

The second piece was the realization by the North Americans of the gravity of the situation. Having ignored every previous voice of disagreement, it was a great mercy that they were able to embrace the clarity of the situation.

One might ask what prompted the last shift. That it was a response to the Holy Spirit is clearly tempting to suggest, but far more so is the undeniable and inescapable reality that there was no other option open.

One indication of this was the refusal of a significant number of our colleagues even to attend the daily celebrations of the Eucharist, a decision that was implemented only after much prayer and pain.

As one brother Primate said to me: "Since we are not in communion as Anglicans, I cannot give those who do not believe the simple truth of the Bible as revealed the impression that all is well, and that it's just a matter of opinion."

THE CLARITY of the communique is undeniable, notwithstanding the graceful terminology and loving restraint evident throughout. Sadly, the revisionist agenda is sufficiently hard-faced to deny it and the atmosphere that accompanied its preparation.

So what will happen? ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada will have to repent and conform their teaching and practice to historic and biblical faith, in order to have the broken relationship restored. If they fail to do so, the separation that is gracefully modeled in the communique will become stark and formal.

Any thought that the passage of time will soften the resolve of the majority is unfounded. To do so would be a rejection of our core values. It would be a rejection of the gospel itself, and a denial of the price that Jesus paid on our behalf.

--The Most Revd is Presiding Bishop (Primate) of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America.