I was reading another review of John Armstrong’s book, from a different perspective. The reviewer is an Evangelically-inclined “ordained” Anglican named David, who says of the book, “I have to be honest with you, I really wanted to like this book. Really wanted to. Honestly.” Remember, this book is about mission-ecumenism, which the reviewer presumably knew, and yet his entire post is about how he just can’t stomach considering the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as Christian. He really wanted the book to be just about Evangelicals churches accepting each other as Christian institutions, rather than non-Evangelical churches. And certainly not the Orthodox or Catholic Church. He says:
Now, of course, this is not to say that there are not Christians within both the Roman Catholic church and Orthodoxy – I am utterly convinced that there are – but Armstrong is talking about the institutions themselves. It has long been an evangelical understanding that that is simply not true.
As support, he then quotes Article 19 of the Anglican 39 Articles of Faith for the proposition that: “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” Now let’s assume that this is right, for the sake of argument. Is his position really that any church which has erred is simply not Christian? This is his position… as an ordained Anglican? The Anglican church decided at the Eighth Lambeth Conference in 1948 against women’s ordination as “against tradition and order,” and the Anglican church decided at the Twelfth Lambeth Conference in 1988 that each province had the ability to ordain women if they wanted to, and the other provinces had to accept their decision. It seems to me that this puts the blog’s author, David, in the weird position of arguing either that (a) the Anglican church was right to deny and to permit women’s ordination; (b) that the Anglican church erred, and therefore, he’s ordained in a non-Christian church; or (c) that Protestants and Catholics get held to different standards by Protestants. It’s okay for two Protestant denominations to fiercely disagree and still acknowledge each other as Christians, but to extend this to Catholics would … something.
I asked him about this (see comments), and he claims that the distinction is that Catholics violate “a fundamental issue of the gospel,” which is all he claims that Article XIX really covers. And further, he claims that the ” difference with Rome is that it has redefined the Gospel,” and “on a matter of salvation.” This distinction seems incredibly squishy, even arbitrary. First, a lot of the problems the Anglican church has are because they’ve violated some pretty clear parts of the Gospel on issues of women’s ordination and homosexuality. Second, the issue I think he’s getting to (justification) is sort of a non-starter. The Catholic view isn’t Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. It’s probably even closer to the Reformed position than the Arminian position is. Yet in his post, David explicitly accepts those who hold Arminian view of justification. I’m not saying that there’s no reasonable grounds on which someone can get to the Reformed view of justification. I’m saying that there’s no grounds which I can see upon which both Calvinist and Arminian views on justification are considered “Christian,” while the Catholic view is not only “non-Christian,” but a distortion of the Gospel which discredits every ancient Church from being considered Christian. So it’s not clear to me that the Anglican church doesn’t violate a fundamental issue of the Gospel (fundamental to who?), and it’s not clear to me why the Arminian and Reformed positions are both okay, while the Catholic one is not.