The boundaries of liberty given in normativist worship have so far been probed (well-summed by the BCP Preface and Hooker’s Four Precepts). However, normativism has yet to answer this quesiton, “Besides general principles of restraint, what elements of worship is specifically required by God; thus, what has no liberty?” I found a ready answer in the 1928 BCP rite for “the Form and Ordering of Priests”:
Bishop. Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same, according to the Commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your Cure and Charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same?
Answer. I will so do, by the help of the Lord.
What God Instituted Be clear. Both Anglicans and Lutherans provide distinction between divinely instituted and man-made worship. Both belong in their own category and are treated differently. Ceremony instituted by God must be performed while those belonging to tradition are conditionally approved. Unlike Presbyterians, Anglicans retained man-made rites that did not diminish the gospel but were good for common peace, order, deference to precedence, and edification of the Church. The very nature of the episcopate compelled both uniformity and continuity in ceremony that other Protestants neglected.
Nonetheless, because certain worship is man-made Article XXXIV says, “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly alike…Every particular or national church hath authority to ordain, change, abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done edifying. The Lutherans (whom Anglicans consulted in the course of our Articles) likewise retained a good amount of catholic ritual given such edifies. The line, however, is drawn where rites and custom pretend to merit grace and forgive sin, elevating ‘custom’ to the status of dominical sacraments. While antique and venerable, they do not have such power. Melanchthon says in the Augsburg Apology:
“We should not add to God’s covenant, for God promises that He will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake…Why do we need a long discussion? No tradition was set up by the Holy Fathers for the purpose of meriting forgiveness of sins, or righteousness. Rather they were instituted for the sake of good order in the Church and for the sake of peace” (Apology, p. 190)
Man cannot change or alter the terms of God’s covenant. The visible marks of covenant principally remit sin. After all what would be the church be without this power? Consequently, the Church is known wherever the forgiveness of sin is administered, “For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments” (AC, Article VII). The Prayer Book tells us the episcopate possesses the Keys which “forgive and retain sin”, and by the laying of hands from Christ, to His episcopate, to their priesthood, these Keys are thereby delegated and used. The 1928 BCP rite, “Ordering and Form of Priesthood”, summarizes the necessary rites of God (hence, His Keys) :
RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
A: What’s instituted, commanded, required by God, suffering no alteration, are the “retention and forgiveness” of man’s sin. God appointed His Word and Sacrament for this expressed purpose (mission), without which the church is mere political society, no different than, say, the Elks or Moose lodge.
How many Sacraments? It is readily apparent the Presbytery is charged not only with the instruction, peace, and otherwise canonical obligations (discipline) of the Church but particularly that which Christ appointed, Word and Sacrament. But what are the Sacraments? The St. Louis Affirmation says there are seven, and each is “His covenanted means for conveying His grace”. The Affirmation does not detail the “kinds” of grace conveyed (sanctifying or justifying), but a distinction is nonetheless acknowledged, differentiating Baptism and the Holy Eucharist from the other seven by calling such “necessary”. The Thirty-nine Articles also seperates the rank and dignity of Baptism and the Supper from the lesser, particular rites:
“There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God” (Art. XXV)
The Elizabethan “Homily on Common Prayer and the Sacraments” (Art. 35) likewise distinguishes Two from Seven:
“But in a generall acception, the mane of a Sacrament may be attributed to any thing whereby an holy thing is signified. In which understanding of the word, the ancient writers have given this name, not only to the other five, commonly of late yeres taken and used for supplying the number of the seven Sacraments: but also to divers and sundry other ceremonies, as to oyle, washing of feete, and such like, not meaning thereby to repute them as Sacraments, in the same signification that the two forenamed Sacraments are” (Homily on Common Prayer, p. 4)
By “corrupt following” perhaps the Articles implicate traditions that have befallen ‘confused usage’? An interesting study would be how the “Mass” is an “uber-liturgy’, broadened by the inclusion of various offeretory elements other than money, bread, and wine. Depending upon occasion, rites like Matrimony and Orders join the presentation alms and bread at the altar, given for God’s blessing. Perhaps the “uber-liturgy’ of Mass (one rite ecnompassing a number of others) is the origin of the confusion? If so, it’s a beautiful one, but confused where the location of confection is mistaken– i.e., A married couple are not Bread and Wine for ‘eating’ . Perhaps I speculate.
Discussing the mystery and mode of sacraments is truly elusive. The Reformation seperated the Supper and Baptism from other rites according to their unique power to “remit or bind” sin. Can we say marriage ‘remits sin’ like Baptism? How about birthday blessings? Obviously palm leaves, paschal candles, and advent wrethes are man-made, albeit revered rites, and as a consequence cannot forgive sin. There must be a criteria, otherwise we become like the Eastern Orthodox who confuse custom with sacraments rendering even style of liturgy ‘essence’. Melanchthon highlights the problem:
“But if marriage has the name ‘sacrament’ because it has God’s command, other states or offices also, which have God’s command, may be called Sacraments, as, for example, the government. Finally, if among the Sacraments everything should be numbered that has God’s command, and to which promises have been added, why do we not add prayer, which most truly can be called a sacrament? For it has both God’s command and very many promises. If numbered along the Sacraments, although in a more prominent plaace, it would encourage people to pray. Alms could alaso be counted here…But let us leave out these things. For no levelheaded person will labor greatly about the number or the term, if only those things are still kept that have God’s commands and promises” (Apology, p. 185-6)
The problem with numbering sacraments is mistaking historical symbols (like crucifixes) and gestures (like the sign of the cross) that perhaps stir and excite faith with covenanted signs instituted by God to forgive sin. Tradition has an allegorical or memorialist signifcance, perhaps preparing us for the greater benefits of Christ, and thus indirectly assist our salvation, but God’s sacraments convey directly divine righteousness. It is not just a matter of ‘scope’, i.e., the universality or general application of the sacraments, but a specific grace which they grant, i.e., justifying grace. Ultimately at stake is the uniqueness and mission of the Church, “Can man institute rites (seperate from Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Preaching of the Word) which bind and loose”? If so, then what is wrong with the blood of goats and bulls? Or Rome?
A matter of Adoration? Reformers revealed their medieval-scholastic colors by their systematic division of faith and love. Perhaps they were guilty of over-definition, but how else are abuses like indulgences addressed except through theology? Behind debates over justification and sanctification is the very nature of grace, “Is grace conditioned upon man’s civil righteousness?” Rome based her economy of merit on pelagian and semi-pelagian concepts. The Reformation attacked Roman soteriology through rather rigid Augustinian categories. In fact, Anglicanism was the most true to Augustinian thought. What Anglican (Tudor) Reformers said about ‘justification’ (how sin is remitted) also pertains to dominical sacraments, i.e., their ex opera operato justifying power, wholly outside man. From the Elizabethan Homily,
“First, you shall understand, that in our justification by Christ, it is not all one thing, the office of GOD unto man, and the office of man unto GOD. Justification is not the office of man, but of GOD” (Homily on Justification, p. 5)
“That we be justified by faith only, freely and without works, is spoken for to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being unable to deserve our justification at GODS hands, and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man, and the goodness of GOD, the great infirmity of our selves, and the might and power of GOD, the imperfectness of our own works, and the most abundant grace of our Savior Christ” (ditto, p. 9)
Hall is rather final on the subject, the matter having resonance with Donatism,
“St. Augustine met this difficulty by enunicating the catholic doctrine that the true minister in every sacrament is Jesus Christ, and that it is because of HIs agency that when the external requirements are rightly and seriously performed the promised operation of the Spirit is pledged. It is the Savior’s institution and promise, rather than the earthly minister’s faith and worthiness, that makes the sacrament valid. This teaching has been determinative, ever since, of catholic thought on the subject” (Hall, Vol. IX, p. 5).
Answering the question against NPW, “What does God command?”. One response might be, “whatever ceremony deserves our adoration”. God commands the cure of souls not by man-made rites (no matter how ancient or edifying) but by the very “hands of God”, which the Homily (above) calls “God’s Office”. Luther says the Gospel (promise of remitted sin) comes by four offices– spoken Word, baptsim, supper, and Absolution (aka. keys). The importance of Justification is to understand there is nothing we add to reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins. We must look outside ourselves for divine righteousness and approval, our eyes fixed upon the peculiar signs God has appointed for His Word to give comfort. Word and Sacrament alone reconcile and ‘prevent’ men from sin and to God. The Ordering of Priests beautifully encapsulates this truth when the Bishop hands the candidate a Bible and/or Chalice whereupon fidelity to “Word and Sacrament” is sworn. Normativism gives no liberty with God’s offices, “The chief point is God’s Word and ordinance or command. For the Sacrament has not been invented nor introduced by any man. Without counsel and deliberation it has been instituted by Christ” (Large Cathechism, Part 5.4), and so this is an answer to Regulativists who believe NPW leaves nothing to obey/duly administer.
I am finally drawing closure in my rants against RPW. NPW differs with Regulativism by insisting some (but not all) worship requires the express command of God. Man has a liberty in our response to grace, but none where sin is forgiven. Puritanical RPW lipsyncs Eastern Orthodoxy (and even Rome) when it raises all worship to the dignity and efficacy of sacrament. This is an abuse and gross error. Down the road I’d like explore the “lesser sacraments”, their correlation to the greater, and their essential relation to good works– i.e., responsive and preparatory to divine grace.