The Need for Doctrinal Standards and Church Discipline


I am part of group on Facebook that discusses Anglicanism. I am not Anglican, but have an appreciation for old school Anglicanism as in Richard Hooker, Jewell, Ryle, etc. I am not fond of much (not all, of course) of what passes for Anglicanism today, which is really a mash up of Roman Catholicism, contemporary evangelicalism, and personal preference. One person asked the question: “Can Anglicans be Charismatic?” Rev. Richard Lepage, an Anglican pastor in Maine, gave this reply.

No. And the fact that Anglicans have different opinions is irrelevant. Just because an Anglican believes X, Y or Z does not make the belief “Anglican” or consistent with Anglicanism as established in her formularies. The myriad of foolishness & error that we see in Anglicanism is the result of the failure of men, specifically bishops (not all of course) to enforce the third mark of the church which is discipline. The fact that people have escaped being disciplined and have successfully promoted foolishness or error and have persuaded people that the foolishness or error is part of Anglicanism does not make it so. It merely means that there are con-men and dupes in the the church and that it is high time for the church to be cleansed and a few tables overturned.

The Word of God is our authority (Article VI), not the new or old additions or subtractions of men which cannot be proven by it and indeed may incur God’s judgement for such sinful presumption on the part of man… and it is presumption to suggest that truth & spirituality is some sort of a buffet menu “I will pick or follow a little bit of this and a little bit of that, garnished with some of that over there” or that some individuals have the Holy Spirit and others do not because they exercise “special gifts” through the ability to mumble incoherently. In Anglicanism the true perfectly sufficient gift to man that we are to live by (Matthew 4:4) is the gift of God’s Word which is to be taught, prayed and exercised in the common tongue that people understand plainly (Article XXIV – It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people.). This is what permeates our liturgy, our prayers, confessions, songs and spirituality… the Word of God plainly spoken to be “commonly” understood by all.

Rev. Lepage’s first paragraph is one that all denominations would be wise to listen. He is talking about his own denomination, but I am going to apply it to the Reformed world in general. Too many of us approach our heritage as if it is a buffet menu. I am Reformed, but I reject this and that and that other thing, but hey I am still Reformed. I know a Reformed pastor who advocates speaking in tongues. Therefore speaking in tongues is Reformed. I know a Reformed scholar who prays to Mary therefore praying to Mary must be Reformed. We think like this. But Rev. Lepage’s point is that just because a person, even a pastor or teacher,  in a denomination holds to a particular idea or practice does not make it consistent with that denomination’s tradition or heritage.

Here is why we need creeds, catechisms, and confessions. They explain what it means to be Reformed. And as Rev. Lepage says that is why we need church discipline. Pastors who claim to be Reformed, but teach that which is not Reformed need to be removed from office.

None of this is meant to argue that the standards we hold are equal to the Bible. As the standards themselves say the only final and authoritative standard is Scripture. Nor is it meant to imply that the standards could not be added to or amended with due process and appeal to the final standard, Scripture. Nor does this mean that one cannot disagree with the standards. The point is we cannot deviate from the Reformed standards in significant ways and still claim to be Reformed. We cannot take a doctrine or teaching which is contrary to the standards or not taught in the standards and then teach that doctrine as if it is part of the standards. If you are going to deviate from the Reformed standards at least be honest about it.