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A Reply to Kerby Rials

UPDATE 1/25. 

On December 21 of last year, Assemblies of God pastor and missionary Kerby Rials posted a critical response to the article How I Got There: An Evangelical Converts to Anglicanism, to which I will respond here.  (The article was written by a certain “Fr. Doug”, who was the vicar at All Saints Anglican Church in San Antonio at the time of the article’s first publication.  I have yet to find his last name.) Before responding to Pastor Rials, however, I want to extend the right hand of fellowship to him by thanking God for his mission to plant Evangelical churches in Belgium, and for the irenic tone of his response to the article.  Pastor Rials and I have become Facebook friends, though we have as yet to interact there.  I think he will find after reading my reply here that he has more in common with certain Anglicans than he thinks.  In fact, a goodly number of charismatic Evangelicals from AOG and Vineyard ranks have become Anglicans.  Many of them are church planters themselves and seek to perpetuate Three Streams Anglicanism in North America and beyond.

So, now that I’ve offered the rose of friendship to Pastor Rials, I would like to turn his attention to the thorns.  His response begins:

Dear Doug,

I read your story with interest, and felt led to leave you a response. In looking over your account of your conversion, I could not find, what seemed to me, to be a strong justification of Anglican theology as opposed to evangelical protestant theology. As I see it, these are the principal concerns:

You noted, first of all, that "the priest is a father and the parishioners are his children. He is responsible for raising and nuturing (sic) them." This contradicts, it seems to me, the New Testament passages speaking of the priesthood of every believer, and the fact that there are no priests in the New Testament at all. The collegiality and the equality of the believers in the New Testament does not concur with the hierarchical system practiced in Anglicanism. It creates a barrier between the believer and Christ, inserting an hierarchical priesthood.

Classical Anglicanism in fact holds to the priesthood of all believers as one of the key Reformational distinctives that fueled the English Reformation.  However, like so many in the baptistic and free church traditions, Pastor Rials illogically concludes from the few New Testament data which speak to the issue of the priesthood of believers that some form of democratic egalitarianism is implied.  He sees no “hierarchical system” in the New Testament when in fact there is hierarchy to be seen just about anywhere you look.  For example, it was the apostles and the elders who convened the Jerusalem Council, not the “priesthood of believers” at large.  We see hierarchy set forth in the listing of spiritual gifts concerning church leadership seen in I Cor. 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11-16.  Of these leaders, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes, “Obey . . . and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

Though revisionist Anglo-Catholics would demur, we would agree with Pastor Rials that there is no sacerdotal priesthood in the New Testament.  There is, however, a “presbyterate”.  The English word “priest” is etymologically related to the word “presbyter”, so there it is perfectly acceptable to call an elder of the church a “priest”, so long as we stipulate that the “priests” of the New Testament were not sacrificing priests.  That being said, St. Paul was not averse to seeing a priestly aspect of his ministry, for, as he writes in Romans 15: 15-17, “. . . I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God,  to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”  (NASB)  The word there is hierourgounta, literally, “ministering as a priest”, as the NASB literally translates it, and if it is possible for a church leader to do priestly service in one sense, why not more?   I would recommend to Pastor Rials that he read the Conciliar Anglican blog article On the Eucharist: Why We Need a Presbyter at the Altar and that he also lay his hands on Brian Horne’s article Homo Hierarchicus and Ecclesial Order.   We move on:

Secondly, and in a related fashion, Anglicanism's reliance on apostolic succession is faulty, it seems to me, as Christ himself noted that those who were not apostles and had no apostolic succession had a valid ministry: (Luke 9:49) "John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.” Paul had no apostolic succession, but it did not hinder him either: (Gal. 1:12ff) For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ...But when God... was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus."

Classical Anglicans would agree with Pastor Rials that the ministry of the Holy Spirit can’t be confined to the church hierarchy, but to make that acknowledgment is not in any way to gainsay the proposition that Christ, and the apostles after him, DID establish a church order that was not only hierarchical in nature but would need a means of perpetuating itself.  Read any book worth its salt on apostolic succession, and it is certainly evident that church order underwent a process of evolution during the first century.  However, it became clear by the second and third centuries that a mechanism for episcopal succession was in place.  We see it coming into shape as early as the end of the first century, as evidenced in Clement of Rome:

Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.

As the decades and the next few centuries unfolded, patristic testimony to apostolic succession became multiplied.  However, it is not in any way necessary to hold the view, as some high church Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics do, that without an apostolic succession there are no valid sacraments or no valid church.  That certainly was not the view of Anglican divinity from Cranmer through Hooker.  It was only later that this view began to assert itself.  Classical Anglicans do not view the bishop as being necessary to the esse of the church, but they tend rather to sort themselves into plene esse and bene esse camps, all of which is to say that the activity of the Holy Spirit can in no way be bound to the canonical boundaries of the church.

And finally,

Anglicanism's reliance upon the liturgy is also not found in the New Testament, nor is its reliance upon tradition as superior to scripture or its belief in transubstantiation (sic) nor its reliance upon infant baptism, which did not come into the church until 400 years after the apostles.  Anglicanism seems to be drifting doctrinally toward Catholicism and LIberalism at the same time. It is a church without a strong sense of purpose, unable to deal with heretical beliefs like homosexuality in the bishopric. I used to consider it a protestant church but I am not sure anymore!

In this paragraph we find a string of wholly false and misinformed assertions.   If Pastor Rials would simply read some scholarly works on this history of the Christian liturgy, he will be shown all the indications to be found in the New Testament that the apostolic (which is to say Jewish) church most likely inherited a liturgical form of worship based on the Hebraic form of worship.  Classical Anglicanism does not believe in transubstantiation, and nor does Anglo-Catholicism (which tends to gravitate to a more Eastern view of the sacrament).  Infant baptism did not appear 400 years after the apostles.  We have copious evidence from the 2nd century as to its practice, and as the penetrating exegetical and historical work of Joachim Jeremias demonstrates, there is every reason that Christian paedobaptism is related to Jewish proselyte baptism as a child is related to a parent.  Segments of Anglicanism have indeed been drifting toward Catholicism and liberalism ever since the 19th century, but Pastor Rials illogically concludes that what is true of the part must be true of the whole.  It makes me wonder if he’s ever examined Anglicanism’s Formularies or read J.I. Packer or John Stott, who are noted representatives of a huge Evangelical Protestant stream in the Anglican Communion and Realignment Anglicanism.

The sum of the matter here, if I may be blunt, is that Pastor Rials really doesn’t have much of an understanding of what it is he rejects in his response to Fr. Doug, but if he’s game, we would be pleased to disabuse him of any other false notions he has of the Anglican Way, as we have done here with respect to the notions expressed in said response.  I think if he would simply read the 39 Articles, he’d find a document that is thoroughly Protestant and Evangelical, but  he would also find there a document that reflects a catholicity that the AOG simply doesn’t have, and which is why historically-minded Pentecostals have left churches like the AOG and the Vineyard for “Three Stream” Anglican churches, which are aplenty around the world.  I would direct his attention to one Pentecostal theologian in particular, Simon Chan, who in his book Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community in essence forces the question of why Pentecostals shouldn’t become Anglicans.

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Reader Comments (1)

"If Pastor Rials would simply read some scholarly works on this history of the Christian liturgy, he will be shown all the indications to be found in the New Testament that the apostolic (which is to say Jewish) church most likely inherited a liturgical form of worship based on the Hebraic form of worship."

Could you please provide any source material on this or do an article. I'd be super curious to know more.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark

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