Tuesday, September 28, 2021

MORE FROM FORT WORTH - Fr Lee M. Nelson SSC on why ordination is a 'salvation issue'


Father Lee Nelson is a priest of the Society of the Holy Cross and the Diocese of Fort Worth. For the last seven years, he has been engaged in planting Christ Church, Waco, a thriving and catholic parish that strives to excel in building up the Church. With his wife, Ela, they are raising seven children.

This article appeared in The North American Anglican on 27th September.

In this article, I thought I would take the prerogative of a catechist for a moment. Even good bishops need to be catechized. After all, they are the chief catechists of the Church. For the past several years, I have served the Anglican Church in North America as the chair of the Committee for Catechesis. Sadly, that role has often meant correcting bishops on occasion. I find it all the more necessary today, especially when it comes to their particular calling as bishops: the diligent preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the Sacraments, and the provision of godly discipline, so that “all may receive the crown of everlasting glory.” (BCP 2019, 500) 

My chief concern in this brief catechesis is to address the language of the following resolution by the Primates from their September 2021 meeting: 

the Primates acknowledged that while there is disagreement and ongoing discussion on the issues of the ordination of women as deacons or priests, and the consecration of women as Bishops, we are agreed that these are not salvation issues and are not issues that will disrupt our mission: to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations. 

The rhetoric employed is rather simple: nothing to see here, the only real thing we have to consider is salvation issues, right? Can’t we just move on from this horrid albatross? 

But, the usage of this term “salvation issue” begs a serious question. What, pray tell, are salvation issues? You’d think we’d want to know what those things are, right? Would the good Primates of GAFCON provide us with a handy list? 

But, there is a more serious question I would ask today. Is this true? Do issues of ordination touch on salvation or not? What is salvation? 

Let’s start with the basics. What is salvation? Or, perhaps more clearly, how does God save us? 

To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism answers this question in the very opening section on salvation: 

#6 How does God save you? 

God forgives my sins and reconciles me to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he has given to the world as an undeserved gift of love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

The Catechism states later (Q 15) that this reconciliation to God in Christ includes forgiveness of sins, union with him in Christ, adoption into his family, citizenship in his Kingdom, and new life in the Holy Spirit. And just how does this happen? Through the Sacrament of Baptism, which is considered in the Articles of Religion (XXV) as “generally necessary for salvation.” In other words, unlike many evangelicals today, for whom salvation is solely about an affirmation of a number of propositions, it is about being joined to Christ by being joined to his death in a sacramental manner. Of course, creedal faith cannot be divorced from this new identity. In fact, it is the identity of the Christian. This is the reason that baptismal rites have always included the Rule of Faith, specifically the Apostles’ Creed. 

Another way of putting this is that for Anglicans, salvation is participation in the life of God, granted through the great gift of Jesus Christ. Why do we believe this? Because it is the teaching of Holy Scripture. 

Furthermore, the Anglican formularies (Including the Catechism, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles) do not stop by saying that Baptism and the living faith of the Christian are the only things necessary for salvation. To these, another is added: the Lord’s Supper. The Articles declare that Baptism and the Eucharist are not merely marks of profession, but “certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” (Article XXV) This is to say that if it is grace which is given in the Sacraments, it is certainly true that they are generally necessary to salvation. Why? Because it is first and foremost grace that is necessary to salvation. 

So, is grace a salvation issue? You bet it is. Is sacramental grace a salvation issue? Of course! 

Keep in mind also that the visible Church herself is defined as “a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” (Article XIX) That is, the Church is most herself in the proclamation of the Word and administration of the Sacraments, by which she receives the implanted word and the gift of participation in the person of Jesus. Thus, the article makes clear that there are things which are requisite to these two fundamental actions: not just clarity concerning Holy Scripture and the Gospel, but also Bishops that are real bishops and priests who are real priests. 

Thus, neither the ordinal nor the sacramental rites of the Book of Common Prayer allow for monkey business when administering these sacraments. Anglicans are free to charitably hold that other ministers of the Gospel might be equally able to administer the sacraments, but canonically, there is no wiggle room. The Ordinal must be followed. The rites must be observed. Not only does this quell the doubt of the scrupulous, it ensures that the Church is most fully herself. 

My point is that none of this is superfluous to salvation. Saint Paul calls the bread which we break and the cup of blessing “a participation” in Christ. While it is emphatically true that participation in the Eucharist does not effect our justification, it is very true that it imparts the grace of sanctification, and this being so is very much a salvation issue. 

The problem which is presenting itself in the Primates' resolution is that such a definition is anything but an Anglican statement. Anglicans are not interested in the lowest common denominator. This is a phenomenon of American revivalism more than anything else, and I suspect, therefore, a phenomenon of the East African Revival all the more. These revivals specifically avoided any sacramental content whatsoever, primarily because they were not the working of one church or another, but an extra-denominational movement. This meant historically that the doctrinal definitions of such movements were, of necessity, sparse. 

The Primates' exaltation of the mission to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations as some higher-ordered good than sacramental conformity is mystifying. If I can put the issue simply: the sacraments are the mission. The Church is not herself merely because of the faithful proclamation of the Word, but because of the faithful administration of the sacraments as well. Ersatz sacraments at the hands of ersatz bishops simply won’t do, no matter how faithfully the Gospel is preached. In fact, we should be willing to say that a proclamation of the Gospel sans the sacraments is no Gospel at all. It is a disembodied Gospel. It is more gnostic than Christian. And we should say so. 

One more thing should be added to this, that the current controversy illumines the manifold difficulties of re-casting Anglicanism as a confessional Church. Even the Jerusalem Declaration does not presume to be a confession. In 2008, confessionalism was not the only solution on offer. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and others articulated the need for a renewal of conciliarism. The need is rather acute: bishops need to meet and decide on critical issues. A simple statement is insufficient. They cannot punt the ball downfield. Yet, this is the very thing that happened in Nairobi, introducing a somewhat magisterial statement as to the severity of the issue of women in the episcopate. We were told, let’s just move on. This is unimportant. Get over it. 

Trouble is, for those who hold Anglican identity as a thing worth preserving, there is no getting over it. These issues are issues of salvation. And we will continue to say so.


One of the great blessings for me of my long time involvement in Forward in Faith at the (Australian) national level and internationally, was the development of a range of enduring friendships straddling the catholic-evangelical divide as we learned to support each other in the struggle for orthodoxy in churches of the Anglican Communion. In those days, visits to the USA revealed the Diocese of Fort Worth to be a veritable epicentre of faithful evangelical catholicism. Led by Bishop Jack Iker - and now continued by his successor - Fort Worth has faithfully upheld the catholic integrity of the Anglican way.

I had sincerely hoped that GAFCON would be a coalition - a koinonia - of the truly catholic and the truly evangelical, and therefore a real force for renewal throughout the Anglican Communion. 

I had always noticed hints among GAFCON supporters of a traditional protestant antipathy towards anglo-catholics (or even towards Anglicans of a 'middling' churchmanship). But it now seems to me that the real problem is the purported ordination of women in some dioceses of ACNA, as well as in parts of Africa, and now the 'consecration' of women 'bishops' in Africa. People like me believe it is a tragedy that left unchecked will undo any good that the GAFCON movement has achieved to this point. It is a matter of faithfulness to the Word of God and the discernment of the Catholic Church. (Indeed, it seems that the kind of evangelicals who effortlessly manage the hermeneutical gymnastics required for the ordination of women have the upper hand in GAFCON Australia where they have fallen for the idea that the true sacramentality of Holy Order is not a 'salvation issue'.)

How refreshing, then, to read this characteristically orthodox and classically Anglican resolution from the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. In contrast to some commentators who have tried to water down its meaning, when the President of the Standing Committee - The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin - posted it on the Diocese's Facebook Page he gave it the headline, ORDINATION IS ALWAYS A SALVATION ISSUE. Here it is:

21 September 2021 Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist 

“Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). 

In a 2017 communique from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCon), the Primates noted: “It is our prime recommendation that the provinces of GAFCon should retain the historic practice of the consecration only of men as bishops until and unless a strong consensus to change emerges after prayer, consultation and continued study of Scripture among the GAFCon fellowship.” In 2021, the Chairman of GAFCon, Archbishop Foley Beach, noted: “At our meeting, the GAFCon Primates agreed we have not come to a consensus on the issue of women in holy orders, and specifically women in the episcopate.” And yet, three women have been consecrated in the GAFCon provinces of Sudan and Kenya since the moratorium on such consecrations went into effect, despite the lack of consensus. 

We enthusiastically support the statement of our own Primate, Archbishop Beach, that “we will continue to stand with these brothers and sisters [of GAFCon] to the greatest extent possible to maintain the Biblical Faith in the Anglican Communion and proclaim the saving Good News of Jesus Christ.” And we enthusiastically celebrate the rich contribution of women vitally engaged with significant impact in the ministry of the church throughout her long history. In an effort to strengthen and not to whither our bonds of affection, we also wish to record our strong objection to the recent consecrations of women in provinces of the Global Anglican Future Conference and to the classification of the action as a “secondary issue.”

Primary and Secondary Issues 

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ . . . Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:15,25). 

In their recent meeting, the primates of GAFCon passed a resolution which noted: “In our discussion, the Primates acknowledged that while there is disagreement and ongoing discussion on the issues of the ordination of women as deacons or priests, and the consecration of women as Bishops, we are agreed that these are not salvation issues and are not issues that will disrupt our mission: to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations.” 

Issues that touch upon the salvation of souls are always primary issues, and certainly not to be considered adiaphora (“things indifferent”). The catechism of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer describes the sacraments of Baptism and the Supper of the Lord as “generally necessary to salvation.” The Jerusalem Declaration affirms as a tenet of orthodoxy (#6), that “we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer.” The validity of the sacrament of the Supper of the Lord is contingent upon the minister being a valid priest or bishop in Holy Orders. The validity of a sacrament that is generally necessary to salvation is, by definition, a salvation issue.

The Jerusalem Declaration affirms as a tenet of orthodoxy (#2), “The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” The innovation of the ordination of women is not respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading of scripture. 

Bishops for the Whole Church 

“The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
Bishops are consecrated not just to serve a local diocese, but are consecrated for the whole church. What one province does in this matter affects all. 

We recognize that the ordination of women has been a contentious and divisive issue. We urge our brethren and spiritual fathers to move away from divisiveness, not toward it. We affirm the unanimous statement of the ACNA College of Bishops about the subject on 7 September 2017. While acknowledging that the ordination of women is practiced within some dioceses of the Anglican Church in North America, it stated: “we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order” and “we agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.” This standing committee, together with our bishop, believes that the same principle of restraint should be applied locally as well as in the global church. 

In our view, the way forward toward our global Anglican future lies in faithfulness to the Holy Scriptures and the received tradition, not in a theological innovation which would seek to overturn created order by attempting to consecrate women as spiritual fathers. The sacred trust placed in the episcopal office, as successors to the apostles, is to hand on the historic Christian faith and practice to a new generation of believers. 

Adopted unanimously at the 21 September 2021 regular meeting. 
The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin, President of the Standing Committee

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

From the Office of Readings for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


The old has passed away: all things are made new

From a discourse by Saint Andrew of Crete

S. Andrew of Crete was from Damascus. After ordination he became secretary of Theodore, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and was thus called ‘the Jerusalemite.’ He was present at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (680). He became deacon of the Great church in Constantinople, that is, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and then Archbishop of Crete. He died in 720 or 723 on the island of Mytilene. Beside his other sacred writings, he also composed various hymns, among which is the famous Great Canon, which is chanted in the Orthodox tradition during Lent (see the Thursday of the Fifth Week of the Fast).

‘The fulfilment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive not what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.

This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.

Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and men on earth. Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.