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The Bible or the Church: Chapter 6

By Robert Anderson

      THE great religions of the world appeal to sacred writings for their sanction. But the religion of Christendom differs in this respect from the religions of the East, that its pretended appeal to Scripture is but a juggler's trick. It claims our acceptance of doctrines which none but the credulous would believe on mere human testimony; and when we demand to know when and where has God revealed them, the answer given us is that "He has founded a Church, and in and through the Church He speaks to us." When we seek authority for this we are referred back to Holy Scripture; but when in turn we claim to be allowed access to Scripture, human tradition is foisted upon us instead. This sort of thing is well known in another sphere: "ringing the changes," I again repeat, is what the vulgar call it!

      How different, this, from the attitude and language of the great men who, in the sixteenth century, sought to free England from the toil and tricks of priestcraft. Here are their words:-

      "It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written; neither may it expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so, besides the same, ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation."(Art.20)

      This was precisely the question at issue in the sixteenth century. Obviously so; for the Reformation was essentially a revolt against the pretensions of "the Church," and an appeal to the supreme authority of Holy Scripture. Different sorts of men of course were moved by different motives. With the devout, the ruling influence was love of truth: with others, it was detestation of the Church's immoralities and tyrannies. As for Henry VIII, he cared little for either piety or morals. What he wanted was to be master in his own realm. Roman Catholics seek to discredit the movement in England by representing Henry as its leader. But they are on dangerous ground. They forget that it was from the Pope that Henry obtained the title of "Defender of the Faith." Immorality and hypocrisy were no bar to Papal favour. Let them paint the King as black as they can, and brand him as hypocrite and scoundrel, the fact remains that he was no worse than the man who then sat in "the chair of St. Peter." The vices of Henry VIII. were of a kind that the Church habitually condoned. But what shall be said of Paul III.? This "Vicar of Christ on earth," so far from being ashamed of his immoralities, flaunted them in the face of the world. The Duchies of Parma and Piacenza he conferred upon his illegitimate son Lewis, and he made provision for two of his schoolboy grandsons, by appointing them Cardinals. These things need to be remembered in these days when the salaried servants of the Church of the Reformation are trying to undermine the work of the Reformation.

      Nothing is more unfair in controversy than to state in our own words the tenets of others from whom we differ. And to many the discussion of principles, apart from the men who champion them, seems too academic to be interesting. Let us then select an exponent of the views it is here desired to challenge. Dr. Gore, now Bishop of Birmingham, who was Dr. Pusey's immediate successor, as head of the House which bears his name, will serve the purpose admirably. All the more so because of his high personal character and his Christian spirit. His personal contribution to Lux Mundi gave prominent expression to certain of the errors here assailed, and The Ministry of the Christian Church was written in defence of them.

      "How irrational it is," he says, "considering the intimate links by which the New Testament canon is bound up with the historic Church, not to accept the mind of that Church as interpreting the mind of the apostolic writers." The logic of this is charming. Let us test it by a parallel case. "How irrational it is, considering the intimate links by which the Old Testament canon is bound up with the Jews (and they, moreover, were the divinely appointed custodians of them), not to accept the mind of the Jews as interpreting the Messianic prophecies." The glaring fallacy of this argument lies in confounding questions of fact with interpretations of doctrine. The question of the genuineness of the books of the New Testament is of the same character as issues of fact such as are dealt with every day in our courts of justice. We owe our obligations to the historic Church in early times for settling and preserving the sacred canon. But this does not blind us to the fact that the hatred of the Scriptures which it displayed in later times was the natural fruit of the false teaching of the Fathers.

      But the statement above cited calls for further criticism. First, it raises the whole question whether we possess a Divine revelation at all. Secondly, the question again presents itself, What is the Church? The argument assumes that it means the clergy - a figment which no one accepts who has not already given up his Bible. And, thirdly, waiving that point, how is the mind of the Church to be ascertained? If by the decrees of Councils, then we are met by the fact that the mind of the Church was not declared until after the epoch when "the mind of the apostolic writers" would, by lapse of time, have been lost. If by the writings of the Fathers, then the fact obtrudes itself that the Councils were convened to detect and expose their heresies, and, therefore, they cannot be safe guides to the "apostolic mind."

      But our author is logical enough to see that this position is untenable, so he abandons it for another. Pusey reverenced the Bible as supreme, but his disciple is unembarrassed by any enthusiasm of faith in Holy Scripture. In his opinion "the Scriptures have suffered greatly from being isolated." "Nor can a hard-and-fast line be drawn between what lies within, and what lies without, the canon." And lest any one should miss the meaning of these monstrous statements, he explains them by an illustration. "The Epistle to the Hebrews and St. Clement's letter are closely linked together." And, he adds, "How impossible to tear the one from the other." Suffice it to say that in the letter referred to, appeal is made to the Pagan myth of the Pheonix, not incidentally, nor as an, allegory or illustration, but gravely and as a fact, to establish the truth of the resurrection. Impossible to tear apart the Scriptures from puerilities and blunders like these! Could any one have written the sentence above quoted who believed the New Testament to be a Divine revelation?

      (Footnote - And yet the letter which is traditionally attributed to Clement of Rome is in some respects vastly superior to the writings of the later Fathers. Suffice it here to say that while expressly connected with the apostolic Epistles to the Corinthians, it has nothing whatever in common with the Epistle to the Hebrews. Why then bracket them thus together? The answer to this question may be gleaned from the following sentence: "For Clement interprets the high-priesthood of Christ in a sense which, instead of excluding, makes it the basis of, the ministerial hierarchy of the Church." Now, first, this appeal to Clement is an admission that Scripture will not support what is pleaded for. And, secondly, the view here attributed to Clement the ordinary reader will search for in vain. In the clause referred to he enforces the maxim of 1 Cor. xiv. 40 (that "let all things be done in order ") by referring to the Jewish orders of chief priest, priest, levite, and layman, each having his fitting duties; but in the next clause but one he gives clear proof (as has been noticed by numberless writers) that he knew nothing of a "ministerial hierarchy.")

      Having thus undermined confidence in Holy Scripture, the writer goes on to set up the authority of "the Church" in its place. In a word, he falls back upon the position of medial superstition which was repudiated at the Reformation by the Church of which he is a minister. The immense importance of the subject must be my apology for pursuing it; for this is the teaching by which the people of this nation are being insidiously drawn back to the darkness, the intellectual and spiritual degradation, from which the Reformation delivered our forefathers.

      Proceeding with his argument upon inspiration, he says:- "Let us bear carefully in mind the place which the doctrine holds in the building up of a Christian faith. It is, in fact, an important part of the superstructure, but it is not among the bases of the Christian belief. The Christian creed asserts the reality of certain historical facts. To these facts, in the Church's name, we claim assent; but we do so on grounds which, so far, are quite independent of the inspiration of the evangelic records. All that we claim to show at this stage is that they are historical; not historical so as to be absolutely without error, but historical in the general sense, so as to be trustworthy. All that is necessary for faith in Christ is to be found in the moral dispositions which predispose to belief, and make intelligible and credible the thing to be believed; coupled with such acceptance of the generally historical character of the Gospels, and of the trustworthiness of the other apostolic documents, as justifies belief that our Lord was actually born of the Virgin Mary. . . ." (p. 340). Here in a single clause - and it is the climax of an argument - we have the root error of the apostasy, as definitely formulated by Augustine. As Professor Harnack expresses it,

      "The Church guaranteed the truth of the faith, when the individual could not perceive it."' "To these facts, in the Church's name, we claim assent." If ever there was an appeal to ignorance and superstition it is here. Having regard to the Church's history the effrontery of it is amazing. Its folly will be apparent to any one who brings reason and common sense to bear upon the question at issue.

      (Footnote - In the same connection he says, "When he (Augustine) threw himself into the arms of the Catholic Church he was perfectly conscious that he needed its authority not to sink in scepticism or nihilism" (History of Dogma, vol. v. ch. iii.). We are asked to follow the teaching of Augustine, and yet he himself was simply following the crowd - superstition calls it "the Church "- because, like a timid man in the dark, he could not trust himself to be alone!)

      The first of "these facts," upon which all the rest depend, is that the Nazarene was the Son of God. The founder of Rome was believed to be the divinely begotten child of a vestal virgin. And in the old Babylonian mysteries a similar parentage was ascribed to the martyred son of Semiramis, Queen of Heaven. What reason have we, then, for distinguishing the birth at Bethlehem from these and other kindred legends of the ancient world? These men disparage the Scriptures, and, though yielding a conventional assent to their claim to inspiration, they refuse even to pledge themselves to their truth; and yet in the Church's name "they claim assent" to that to which no consensus of mere human testimony could lend even an a priori probability.

      All we need for faith is to be found, forsooth, in "the moral dispositions which predispose to belief." When the weak-nerved guest who has been plied with tales about the haunted room, retires to rest with "the moral dispositions which predispose to belief" in ghosts, the ghost is certain to appear! And so also here: if we will but allow our minds to be hypnotised by priests, we shall be prepared to believe in the Incarnation, the sacrifice of Calvary, the sacrifice of the Mass, apostolic succession, and the mystic efficacy of the sacraments. And we shall swallow all these doctrines without any exercise of mind or heart or conscience, and without any capacity to distinguish between Divine truth and human error and superstition.

      If, on the other hand, the New Testament is a Divine revelation; if "the evangelic records" are, in the language of the Apostle Paul, "God-breathed Scriptures," then indeed the Christian can face his fellow-men with the confession of his faith that the crucified Jew was the Son of God. But, apart from such a revelation, faith in anything which is outside the sphere of reason and the senses is mere superstition. The foundation fact of Christianity is of that character; and those who accept it on the authority of "the Church" are poor superstitious creatures who would believe anything.

      And such these men prove themselves to be. They believe that the Nazarene was the Son of God; they believe the same, and on the same authority, of a piece of bread from the baker's oven. They are like the schoolboy who answers that six and seven are thirteen, and later on, in reply to a further question, says that six and eight are thirteen. The wrong answer destroys the value of the right one, by showing that it rests on no intelligent basis. And so here. Faith in that which is true is not necessarily true faith. In this instance it would seem to be sheer credulity. One quotation more to make clearer still the anti-Christian character of this system :-

      "If we believe . . . that our Lord founded a visible Church, and that this Church with her creed and Scriptures, ministry and sacraments, is the instrument which He has given us to use, our course is clear. We must devote our energies to making the Church adequate to the Divine intention - as strong in principle, as broad in spirit, as our Lord intended her to be; trusting that, in proportion as her true motherhood is realised, her children will find their peace within her bosom. We cannot believe that there is any religious need which at the last resort the resources of the Church are inadequate to meet."

      What does a man need in the spiritual sphere? Forgiveness of sins ?-the Church will grant him absolution. Peace with God? -he will find it in the Church's "bosom." "Grace to help in time of need"? Comfort in sorrow? Strength for the struggles of life, and support in the solemn hour of death? The whole burden of his need "the resources of the Church" are adequate to meet.

      The Lord Jesus Christ is all in all in Christianity. But the Christ of this religion holds a position akin to that of the Sovereign in the British Constitution. Supreme in a sense, of course, the King must be regarded; but the King never touches the life of the ordinary citizen. And so here. Professor Harnack describes it admirably in a single sentence: "Christ as a person is forgotten. The fundamental questions of salvation are not answered by reference to Him; and in life the baptized has to depend on means which exist partly alongside, partly independent of Him, or merely bear His badge."

      These words, descriptive of the Romish system under Gregory the Great, might be fitly placed upon the title-page of The Church and The Ministry. Witness the prevalence of such language as "salvation through the Church," "grace communicated from without"- expressions and ideas wholly foreign to Scripture, but well known in Romish theology. The work opens, of course, with an appeal to tradition. As soon as the writer comes to Scripture he at once betrays hopeless confusion between the kingdom of heaven and the Church of God. The kingdom was the burden of Hebrew prophecy; the Church was a "mystery" revealed after Israel's rejection of Messiah. He goes on to confound the Church regarded as "the body of Christ," with the Church as an organised society on earth. The former is the whole company of the redeemed of the Christian dispensation; the latter consists of the professing body upon earth at any particular time. Distinctions of this kind, so clear upon the open page of Scripture, a false theology ignores; and ignorance of them makes the New Testament seem a maze of inconsistencies and contradictions.

      (Footnote - Such distinctions explain, ex. gr., how the Lord could say, "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" ; "Go not into the way of the Gentiles," &c.; and yet how He could speak of I_ivine love to the world, and eternal life for "whosoever believeth .. in Him." And as regards the twofold aspect of the Church, we find in Eph. iv. Ix, the ministry designed to fulfil the Diiiie pur-pose for the one, and in r Cor. xii. 28, we have the provision for the needs of the other. "For the building up of the body Of Christ" (Eph. iv. 12) we have (in addition to apostles, prophets, and teachers, which are common to both) evangelists or preachers of the gospel. In the Church as organised on earth we have no evangelists (for the Church is supposed to be composed of those who have been brought in by the gospel), but we have "helps, governments," &c. The sphere of government is the Church on earth; the sphere of the ministry of the gospel is the world. The Apostle Paul had this double ministry. "The gospel . . whereof I am made a minister"; and "the Church whereof I am made a minister" (Col. 1. 23-25).

      Apostolic Succession, which is the burden of the book, is the special subject of the second chapter. The pundits of the Council of Trent had to face the fact that the Papal system rested upon a single text; the figment of Apostolic Succession has not even one perverted text to support it. It is not a question whether provision has been made for a true ministry in the Church until the end; that is assured by Divine faithfulness and power. But what we are here asked to believe is that Christ set in motion a mechanical system which, by a process of finger-tip touches, to be repeated generation after generation, would transmit to all posterity certain mystical influences, for the maintenance of what is called "grace."

      Now this may be considered from the standpoint either of Christianity or of reason. As regards the latter, suffice it here to ask, Is it any wonder that in view of such teaching, so many intelligent and honest-minded men of the world should come to look upon religion as a jumble of silly fables and shameful frauds? And as regards the former, it would be idle to expect that the ordinary reader would follow an exhaustive exegesis of Scripture on the subject; but perhaps a clear statement of the error will render unnecessary an elaborate exposition of the truth.

      The case stands thus. In the Apostolic Church there were apostles, bishops (or elders), and ministers. The apostles held a unique position. They admittedly had to do with the foundation of the Church. That they have successors is a mere inference. To establish that inference is the object of the treatise here under notice. A perusal of it will suggest to the intelligent reader a juggler's attempt to place a ball at rest half way down an inclined plane. Ordinary folk would place it either at the top or at the bottom. The Christian takes his stand upon Scripture; the Romanist falls back upon tradition; but these Romanising Anglicans are the advocates of an unintelligent and impossible compromise. It is a clever piece of casuistry, nothing more.

      Not "deacons." There was no word in the Greek language for steam-engine when the New Testament was written; neither was there for deacon; and for the same reason! See Appendix IV., Note II.

      No one can fail to mark the contrast between the tone of this book and that of the volume cited on p. 46, ante. As we read Canon Bernard's Lectures we seem to be breathing the pure air of heaven; when we turn to Canon Gore's treatise we are oppressed by the atmosphere of the crypt and the cloister. In the one we have Christian theology; in the other the theology of Christendom.

      Here is the scheme: As there were three orders at the first, there must be three orders now. But as we no longer have apostles, the "bishops" of the New Testament are moved up to fill their place; and the position thus vacated by the promoted bishops is occupied by "priests" -not "presbyters writ large," but priests. The Romanist, more intelligent and more consistent than his imitators, recognises that above the apostles there was Christ, and so he sets up a Vicar of Christ, the Pope.

      In the sublime arrogance of Rome there is something which almost commands an unwilling admiration; but this halting imitation of Rome evokes feelings of a very different kind. And there is nothing more pitiable about these men than their repudiation of the name of "Protestant." If their position be not a protest against Rome, it must be designed as a half-way house to Rome. If they are not Protestants they must be Jesuits. But whatever their intention, the tendency and results of their teaching are clear. Cardinal Vaughan writes: "The recent revival of Catholic doctrines and practices in the Church of England is very wonderful. It is a hopeful sign. It exhibits a yearning and a turning of the mind and heart towards the Catholic Church. It is a national clearing the way for something more."'

      This religion bears a relation to Christ, akin to that which the Buddhism of to-day bears to Gautama. Nineteen centuries ago, as already explained, its Founder injected into His apostles the "grace" upon which our salvation depends; and the stock of the commodity now available has come down to us on the finger-tip touch system through a long succession. Salvation is thus "through the Church," by means of the sacraments; and therefore, apart from Apostolic Succession in an episcopacy, there can be no "Church," no valid sacraments, and of course no salvation. No, not quite that; for, we are told, "God's love is not limited by His covenant"; He is not bound to His sacraments. Which suggests that, considering the long ages during which the "sacramental grace" was flowing through the filthiest channels, sensible people will do well to distrust the orthodox "grace," and to cast themselves upon the "uncovenanted mercy" of God.

      The Christian of course takes higher ground and denounces the whole system as both false and profane. It is false; for this theory of salvation "through the covenant" by "sacramental grace" denies the great characteristic truth of Christianity. This shall be demonstrated in the sequel. And it is profane, for it assumes that a "holy, holy, holy God" can recognise immoral and wicked men as His specially accredited ministers. What would be thought of the army - what would be thought of the Sovereign - if men convicted of crime, or disgraced by flagrant and notorious acts of immorality, were allowed to hold the King's commission? The only Scripture that can be cited in support of the profanity refutes it. For it was not the death of Judas which determined his apostleship, but his sin. All the apostles died; but Judas "by transgression fell." The man who stands upon Apostolic Succession may be indeed a minister of "the Christians' religion," but he has no valid claim to be acknowleged as a minister of Christ. He is separated from Christ by nineteen centuries of time,, and by an impassable slough of moral filth and spiritual apostasy.

      To the superficial the grossness of the imposture is not apparent in the case of those whose life and character give them personal claims to respect and veneration. But if the position be tenable at all, such men are "in the same boat" with the vilest of the miscreants who disgraced the clerical office during the centuries before the Reformation shamed "the historic Church" into a show of outward decency, and compelled it to set its house in order. They moreover were "nearer to the fountain" than are their successors of to-day. And they, forsooth: were pillars of the Church, and custodians' of "grace," while men like a Chalmers or a Spurgeon are mere interlopers, whose deliverance from the doom of Uzzah is due to the uncovenanted mercy of God! That educated men can be deluded by such a system is proof of the baneful influence of human religion upon the mind.

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