Monday, February 15, 2010

Working on the Augsburg Confession Articles VII & VIII: The Church

The church is those people “Scattered throughout the world who agree on the Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit and the same sacraments, whether they have the same human traditions or not.”

The ungodly are associated with the outward practices of the church but only God can truly know the righteousness of a man’s heart. When we talk about distinguishing between the wheat and the weeds The Apology refers to Jesus' story in Mat 13 where we are warned against trying to distinguish wheat from the weeds. This is on the basis that the final judgement is God’s alone and we should not be left to make judgements on others on the basis of our own prejudices and our own sense of who is saved and not saved.

You don’t have to look far to see how this principle has not been followed. In the Anglican Communion at the moment and on a variety of right-wing blogs there are divisions which lead others to make those very same judgements: “Your worldview on women’s ministry or on human sexuality isn’t the same as mine so you are a false Christian.”

This is clearly a lesson that individuals have not learnt.

The Apology uses the Pharisees as an example of the sorts of people who are more concerned with outward ritual than with true spirituality and we can all recognise the Pharisee tendency within the church but that isn’t enough for you or I to make a judgement that such people are not the “true Kingdom of Christ and members of Christ”.

What is a source of encouragement to Christians is the assertion that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend on the spiritual good standing of the person administering them and that even clergy can be numbered amongst those who are hypocrites and open sinners. “They do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ.”

The Apology notes “Just as the Church has the promise that it will always have the Holy Spirit, so it also has the warning that there will be ungodly teachers and wolves.” While I might have grave misgivings about the current Anglican leadership in Nigeria and Uganda and while I might even share those misgivings with others, it is still not for me to question the spiritual credentials of those men in the eyes of God.

It has been personally challenging to me to recognise that I could, seemingly with good conscience, receive the Lord’s Supper from such men and, indeed, to show that I was not making that judgement, perhaps I should if I was given the opportunity. Now that would be a moral dilemma because if I didn’t what would I be saying? I think I’d be saying “It’s not for me to judge you but I’m not receiving Communion from you out of solidarity for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”