Women Bishops are now on the agenda... again. As someone who ditched the Thirty-Nine Articles and embraced the Westminster Confession I can't help but feel a slight bit of concern for my Evangelical bretheren in the old church.
All this may sound strange considering my pedigree - member of St Paul's Carlingford 1988-2000, MTS 1994-95, circumcised on the eighth day, a Hebrew of Hebrews and so on. But moving to Newcastle was good for my soul because there was no way in the world that I would go to a Newcastle Anglican church. So I went to Charlestown Presbyterian - and learned anew the greatness of Reformed theology outside the influence of Sydney Anglicanism.
I honestly think now that Sydney Anglicanism (or, more correctly, the Evangelical faith as expressed generally in the culture of the Sydney Anglican diocese) is not as Reformed as I thought it was. With John Woodhouse at Moore College disagreeing with historical Reformed thinking in regards to the sacraments, something must be up.
It was about a year ago that I discovered that Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology were two different things - albeit related. My problem started at SMBC, where our Old Testament lecturer Stephen Renn taught us a unit entitled "Biblical Theology" which had running through it a continual reference to Covenant theology. I still have Renn's "A Covenantal Framework of Scripture" (parts I & II) within reach and I will read it again one day. I'm sure that Stephen Renn explained things properly at the time - I just probably didn't listen as well as I should.
Covenant Theology gives a wonderful theological explanation to the sacraments - Baptism and the Lord's Supper - that seem to be lacking amongst Sydney Anglicans. As a typical Sydney Anglican, my understanding of the Lord's supper was influenced by the weekly celebration of Pizza and Pepsi at Wednesday Night Church at St Paul's. "Dinner before church" essentially became the Lord's supper - but it was never really explained and so people treated it just like any normal meal and, if they were late to church, they didn't participate in it.
Baptism was the "Sacrament that dare not speak its name". In all my years at St Paul's there was no deep theological explanation of what it meant. Considering the presence of many visiting Baptists or ex-Baptists in the congregation, there was also no attempt to explain why children were baptised. It was simply a matter of "Some people baptise kids, others baptise adults - that's all fine". One meeting at Wednesday night church I found a believer who admitted he was not baptised - but he was a regular member of the church. His attitude was that he didn't care much.
Of course, we aren't saved by being baptised or having the Lord's supper. But I think that these things are results of our faith, and those who ignore them are disobeying Christ's commands.
Covenant Theology explains both Baptism and the Lord's supper. The idea is that, just like the Old Testament people of God, the New Testament community is made up of true believers and unbelievers. Moreover, the community has an outward "sign" that they are members of the community. In the Old Testament, members of the Covenant community were circumcised on the eighth day. In the New Testament, the members of the Covenant community are Baptised. It is a once-off physical event which signifies a deeper spiritual link with God through Christ. So we therefore have a link between Circumcision and Baptism - the former is replaced by the latter (Colossians 2:11-12).
But the Old Testament people of God had an annual meal of rememberence to commemorate their rescue from Egypt during the exodus. This was the Passover meal. Of course this was replaced by the Lord's Supper for the New Covenant people of God.
I am rambling a bit. This is not a post for me to explain in detail why pedobaptism is Biblical!
There is one more thing that Sydney Anglicans have overlooked - the mechanics of Predestination and Election (the two are different, but closely related). This is another reason why I question their Reformed nature. It's not that Predestination is not believed - it is certainly believed by most Sydney Anglicans. The problem is that there is a culture of "don't ask, don't tell" - whereby discussions about the issue are implicitly banned because of the trouble it brings to Christian fellowship (a ban that is not enforced from the top, I might add, but is part of the general church culture).
You see a few years ago I discovered the principle of "Monergistic Regeneration". It wasn't that I disbelieved it beforehand, it's just that I had never understood what it meant. Essentially it is the idea that sin is so powerful that human beings cannot, by their very nature, respond to the Gospel. In order to do so, they have to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit before they repent and have faith. It is this fact that makes Gospel preaching and Scriptural expositions so spiritually powerful, for they are used by the Spirit to change people's lives. When we look at the mechanics of salvation close up, we see that Monergistic Regeneration is the way in which the elect come to faith. When we draw back and look at the whole, then we recognise it as Election and Predestination. Without an understanding of Monergistic Regeneration, Predestination remains a philosophical concept more to do with the nature of God and his relation to time, as well as human freedom. When we understand Monergistic Regeneration, Predestination is given a soteriological side that makes it so much more attractive (because it deals more specifically with Grace) and allows us to understand the philosophical side more easily.
I'm sure that my own Sydney Anglican experiences are coloured by the specific church and culture that I was immersed in, and that there are other similar, but different, cultures within the diocese (eg St. N.T. Wright's at Broadway). Moreover, although I am slightly critical here of Sydney Anglicans, I will always be grateful to God for the great truths that he revealed to me while being a Sydney Anglican. Yes it has its problems, but overall, I honestly believe that the good outweighs the bad - many times over.
Except maybe for MTS - but that's the subject of a future posting.
From the Theosalient Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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