Latitudinarianism

keep your feet in the narrow way, and your heart as large as you can. It is of no use trying to make fellowship if it is not real; you can’t shake oil and water together: they will soon separate again

 

I must apologise for the lack of activity on ADOSS during the past few weeks.  Many readers will know the reason for this.  I now have a backlog of articles and subjects, and a desire to catch up if the Lord allows me to.

Latitudinarianism is a word which has popped up recently among the Christians with whom I break bread. When I saw the word, I had to look it up in the dictionary.  Wikipedia[1] describes Latitudinarian as ‘a pejorative (contemptible) term applied to a group of 16th-century English theologians who believed in conforming to official Church of England practices but who felt that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, and ecclesiastical organization were of relatively little importance’.  That is what they claimed.  However, Richard Hooker, one of the main 16th century latitudinarians taught[2]

  • Our conduct ought to be governed by scripture
  • Scripture shows how leadership should operate in the church
  • English Church is corrupted by Roman Catholic orders, rites etc.
  • A law which does not allow lay elders is corrupt
  • There should be no such position as a bishop

None of us should have any problems here.  There may be some things that this man held that we might not agree with now, but it seems as if the accusation was used by the church leadership to challenge anybody who did not accede implicitly to their authority.

 

I decided to look it up in J N Darby’s writings.  It is referred to extensively in one part of Darby’s long letter to James Kelley (1839), who criticised Darby’s schismatic action in leaving the Established Church.  Kelley accused Darby[3] of latitudinarianism because of his refusal to embrace an organised church into which one could be baptised, and the lack of outward unity in accepting persons from Anglican, Baptist and even Quaker backgrounds.

Mr Darby contested that from whatever background persons had come from, they should not be excluded if they accepted the gospel fully, and were desirous of leaving organised sectarian religion.  He quoted the scripture ‘Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Phil 3:15-16).

Darby then criticised the Established Church itself of latitudinarianism in its association with the world in relation to the then modern thinking.  He cited supporting atheism and infidelity in schools as well as the careless admission of many unconverted persons to communion.  We could add many other things to the list now.  At the same time, there were narrow sectarianism of rules and forms, persecuting persons who do not conform – accusing them of, yes, latitudinarianism.

What was needed was balance.  Elsewhere, I found a reading in Edinburgh, J N Darby on The Camp and the Body of Christ (Notes and Jottings p 37).

A person who was seeking fellowship should have the Spirit of Christ and be walking according to it.  There is liberty to meet outside of the recognised denominations (the worldly camp[4]).  For true Christian fellowship we need to lay hold of the fact that we have a heavenly calling, and cannot have part with clerical systems.

When we meet people we go as far as we can with them, but we cannot have part in their system.  If we meet a clergyman we converse with him as a Christian, not as a clergyman. In short, keep your feet in the narrow way, and your heart as large as you can.  It is of no use trying to make fellowship if it is not real; you can’t shake oil and water together: they will soon separate again.

I recommend your reading the whole note of the reading – it is not long.

Greetings in our Lord

Sosthenes

 

 

 

[1] See Wikipedia article on ‘Latitudinarian’

[2] Hooker – Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie 1594

[3] The claims of the Church of England considered; being the close of a correspondence between the Rev. James Kelly, of Stillogan, Ireland, and J. N. Darby.  Collected Writings Vol 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) pp 176-242

[4] Technically the camp refers to Israel.  We can apply it to professing earthly Christendom.

Confusion as to the Church – – The House and the Body

People confuse what Christ builds with what man builds, physically and metaphorically. Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He would build the Church and that the gates of hell (Satan’s deadly power) would not prevail against it. Resurrection was the proof of that. Peter’s confession, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (v. 16), was the rock on which Christ would build his church. Peter was the first stone in importance, but he was not the builder.

 

Based J. N. Darby: The Church – the House and the Body – Collected Writings Volume 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) p 91

 

JohnNelsonDarbyThe word ‘church’ means different things to different people:

  1. The Established Church (in Britain the Church of England)
  2. Those who are enrolled members by baptism etc.
  3. The buildings
  4. What is being built spiritually
  5. The clergy
  6. The congregation
  7. Christendom in general
  8. The body of Christ here
  9. What the Lord will present to Himself without spot or blemish

 

Baptism and the Church

No 2, above (enrolled members), is at the base of Romanism and much of Protestantism.  A person becomes a Christian by being baptised into the church, whether as an adult or a young child.  It is taught that one is saved because one is a member of the church, not that one is a member of the church because one is saved.   Immediately after Pentecost, of course, everybody in the church were true believers.  But soon the likes of Simon Magus got in, and introduced formality and other Jewish sacraments.  They may have been baptised and enjoyed the privileges of the church.  But they did not have eternal life, and were not members of the body of Christ.  As described in the epistle of Jude, they were ‘ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Jude v 4).

To say we are members of Christ by baptism is a falsification of the truth of God.   Alas, many of the early Church fathers, such Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement and later Augustine, espoused this heresy.  They may have been clear as to the Person and divinity of Christ, but they regarded the outward body as the Church, and its privileges was attributed to all who were baptised.  This has continued.  The (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer says ‘baptism wherein I was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven’.

Much of this confusion comes about by taking what the Lord said literally when in fact He was talking figuratively.  He could say, ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1), ‘I am the door’ (John 10:7), etc.  He is not a vine nor a door.  The outward act is confused with true life from God.  Life and membership of Christ are by the Holy Spirit.  We are born of the Spirit, and by one Spirit baptised into one body (see 1 Cor 12:13).

Man fell and was driven away from God.  If there is to be a remedy, there must be new birth.   We are born of God and receive the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.   As we become conscious of the sinfulness of the flesh, and say ‘O wretched man that I am!’ (Rom 7:24),   we need a change of place, position or standing – reconciled to God.  Baptism is that change of place.

We are baptised to His death, buried with Him unto death.  Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, therefore we are alive, risen and quickened together with Him.  Death has totally taken us out of our old place; we have died out of it, as Christ died out of the world  we are alive with Him –   walking in newness of life (see Romans 8).

The Lord’s Supper

There were many sacraments in Judaism.  Some have been carried over into the public church, whereas only two are scriptural.  We have looked at baptism.  The other scriptural sacrament, the supper, demonstrates the unity of the body.  The Lord’s supper is received in common – the assembly or Church participate.  Hence we have (Eph. 4:4-5), ‘one Spirit, one body, one hope of your calling’ (belonging to the Spirit and spiritual persons, and), ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (the outward profession of faith and the recognition of Christ as Lord).  Again there is a misinterpretation here: partaking of the Lord’s supper involves eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ’s blood.  The true meaning of that is lost.  (I hope to address this in a later article – see Address to his Roman Catholic brethren by a minister of the Gospel. and Second Address to his Roman Catholic brethren).

 

What is being Built

See Nos 3 & 4, above.   People confuse what Christ builds with what man builds, physically and metaphorically.   Christ said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that He would build the Church and that the gates of hell (Satan’s deadly power) would not prevail against it.  Resurrection was the proof of that.  Peter’s confession, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’  (v. 16), was the rock on which Christ would build his church.  Peter was the first stone in importance, but he was not the builder.  In his epistle Peter addresses other stones coming to Jesus, ‘To whom coming, a living stone disallowed indeed of men but chosen of God and precious, ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:4).  They come by faith and are built up.  There are no human rules or ordinances; there is no literal building, only faith.  Man’s building has no part in this.  And nothing prevails against it.

Paul amplifies this, developing the doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ.   But Paul does not build either.   He says, ‘Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord’ (Eph 2:21-22).  Only in Corinthians, where it is a matter of responsibility, does he write about our building.   ‘Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon’ (1 Cor 3:10).  Wood, hay and stubble are not compatible with gold, silver and precious stones.  Man’s work will be burned up; Christ’s work never will.

Puseyism, the high church movement, does not distinguish between the perfect building which Christ builds, where living stones grow to a holy temple in the Lord, and what man has built and continues to build.  The professing church may have a good foundation, but its superstructure is questionable.  It has been built of wood and stubble, which will be burned up in the day of judgment.  Those who corrupt the temple of God dishonour Him by assuming that what they build has His seal of approval – in effect that God sanctions evil – what wickedness!   That is why Paul writes, ‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Cor 3:17).

Paul tells us in 2 Tim 2 what our path should be.  But that is another subject[*].   May we distinguish between those admitted by baptism and the body, and between the Church which Christ builds, and the sham that man builds.   All man has put his hand to has failed.  But God has put His hand in first, by the Man who never fails.

 

 

[*] See:

Simplified Darby – Separation from Evil and Christian Unity – Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity

Knowing where we are, and what God wants us to do, in the Confused State of Christendom – The Faith once delivered to the Saints

Praying for our Leaders – Mrs Theresa May as new British Prime Minister

, ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:1-4).

In July 2016 our country, the United Kingdom, had a new government.  There were also terrorist atrocities in France and Germany, and an attempted coup in Turkey. With the Islamist president and government there, things do not bode well for Christians in that country.  But this we can leave with God.  There was also a political party conference in the USA with the Christian runner-up, clearly out-of-tune with the powerful billionaire who is bidding to be the next president.

There were also meetings of the Church of England Synod, the Canadian church, the Methodists and the United Reformed Church, all of which have been pointing towards rejection of the Word of God and accepting of ‘same-sex’ marriage.

Indeed as lovers of the Lord Jesus, who will yet reign in righteousness, we can be restful.  I was talking to a brother the other day.  He has a high powered job bringing him into contact with chief executives of leading companies.  He told me that there was a state of panic amongst many top people on 24 June, the day after the Brexit referendum.  As the result was not what they were expecting: it seemed as if they were anchorless and rudderless.  It gave him opportunity to witness that God was in control.  So if in the next few lines I cite some areas of concern, we can be restful that for Christians there is always a way through.  ‘Seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up’ (1 Cor 4:8 Darby), or ‘perplexed, but not in despair’ (1 Cor 4:8 KJV).

Theresa_MayAs to the United Kingdom, Mrs Theresa May is now in charge.  On the face of it she should be a practical leader, supported by some good ministers and civil servants.  She should do well for the country, especially with all the ramifications of leaving the European Union.  We need to pray for her in this regard.

Is she a true Christian?  We would hope so.  Certainly she goes to church, and is the daughter of a Church of England vicar.  She admits that her Christian faith has influenced her politics and one of her favourite hymns is ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’.  However, she supported David Cameron in the introduction of same sex marriage, something abhorrent to any bible-loving believer.

Her rival in the race to become prime minister was far more open about her love for the Lord Jesus, as was another contender who withdrew earlier.  Both Andrea Leadsom and Stephen Crabb opposed this and other ‘liberal’ moves.  Thankfully Mrs Leadsom is still in the government as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

There is, however an area of concern, for which we need to pray.  The Cameron government had been working on measures to curb extremism, especially in Islam.  Radical teachers have infiltrated schools and universities, with dire consequences.  This would appear to be a wise move.  However some secularists, especially in the judiciary, have regarded adherence to the gospel as being extreme.  As is the case in English law, wording is often deliberately vague, it being left to the courts to interpret it, and sadly many judges would appear to be set against the gospel and true Christian teaching.  Christians are under pressure, with threats of losing their employment and worse.  There is a danger that ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ could be used to silence preachers, constrain Christian youth groups and even close churches.

Why I highlight this, is that as Home Secretary, Mrs May would have been the architect of this policy.  We must pray that she modifies and clarifies her intentions as Prime Minister, protecting normal Christian activities.  Significantly earlier in her political career (2000-2002) she voted against the promotion of homosexual practices and opposed children being placed for adoption by same-sex couples.  Pressure to confirm to this world must have caused her to change her position on these matters.

Another legal attack on our young people is in Scotland.  The nationalist government under Nicola Sturgeon proposed that every child in Scotland was to be assigned a named state guardian to monitor their ‘wellbeing or happiness’.  In this way the rights and responsibilities of parents would be seriously undermined, and the state would have a right to obtain the closest family secrets.  Moreover, these proposals would promote an anit-Christian secularist agenda.  It was opposed by many Christian organisations.  Mercifully the Supreme Court has deemed this unconstitutional and contravening article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Supreme Court justices observed: ‘The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world.’  We can expect the Scottish government to continue is line in a modified form.

Another area of concern is in the area of education.  There is a proposal that Sunday schools and other gatherings where young people are taught need to be registered and may be inspected by the British Government’s agency OFSTED.  ‘Unacceptable’ teaching such as the exclusivity of the gospel, the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, and creation could be attacked.  It could even be envisaged that this could extend to Bible readings too.  But let’s be calm, with God and pray about this.

Our hope is that with the pressure of work caused by Brexit, these measures will not progress.  But there is always the danger of their being quietly slipped through.  Evil workers abound.  As Christians we are to ‘walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man’ (Col 4:5-6).

As Paul wrote, ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim 2:1-4).

 

Note – for much of this I am grateful to Colin Hart of the Christian Institute – Please pray that Theresa May will protect religious liberty and from Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, Theresa May, our new Prime Minister

 

Indeed Christian Concern says, ‘We as believers can draw spiritual encouragement from Psalm 46:10, in the wake of uncertainty following the decision to leave the EU. ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ (Darby and others).

As ever in times of uncertainty and change, the Word of God offers us profound reassurance. In the wake of the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union, let us turn to Psalm 46 and draw encouragement and wisdom from our Lord.’

Darby on the Effects of Democracy in Britain – How Prophetic he was!

J N Darby wrote a short paper ‘Progress of Democratic Power, and its Effects on the Moral State of England*’ sometime after the Reform Act of 1832. It is interesting to look back and to see how perceptive that servant of God was maybe 170 years ago. Some things have certainly come true. Other things he did not directly foresee.

House of commonsJ N Darby wrote a short paper ‘Progress of Democratic Power, and its Effects on the Moral State of England*’ sometime after the Reform Act of 1832.  It is interesting to look back and to see how perceptive that servant of God was maybe 170 years ago.  Some things have certainly come true.  Other things he did not directly foresee.

The Reform Act served to create the democratic structure that we enjoy in Britain now, with the primacy of the House of Commons (in theory anyway), and the weakening of the House of Lords.  It moved voting power from the landed gentry to the cities, evening the voting power.  Universal suffrage and other reforms followed naturally.  Then the two main parties were the Conservatives (or Tories, largely ruled by the upper class and the Church of England) and the Liberals (or Whigs, largely urban, non-conformist and middle class).

 

Here is a short summary of the points he made.

  1. A Christian ought not to meddle in politics.
  2. No political party can be trusted.
  3. Politicians have no idea of principles, but only of existing influences to which they must be subject.
  4. To conform to the politics of the time, the Church (of England) would descend into ritualism on Popish lines, and semi-infidelity.
  5. With universal suffrage the ‘poor’ would cease to be that, and be the masters.
  6. The aristocracy, no longer governing, would lapse into luxurious living and pleasure.
  7. Religious dissenters would have little effect.
  8. Man’s efforts and success would be vaunted. God would be left out.
  9. Violence would not be used to bring these things about.
  10. Power would move to central government.
  11. An unpaid magistracy would have considerable influence.

 

Let us look at these individually.

A Christian ought not to meddle in politics.

This was true in JND’s time; it is true now.  I must confess to an undue amount of interest in politics and if I were not a lover of the Lord, I would probably have become involved in politics.  We must, of course, be politically aware in order to pray righty for those in authority.  It is clear that Darby was.

As we have been taught our citizenship is not here.  We belong to another kingdom and we are waiting for the rightful King to take up His universal rights here.

 

No political party can be trusted.

Few would dispute this.  Indeed we can see how the main political parties have changed their ground over the past few years to appeal to marginal voters in the electorate.  Modern parties with their professional politicians and advisors, all look at the polls and focus groups.

 

Politicians have no idea of principles, but only of existing influences to which they must be subject.

This seems an extreme statement.  But the main bent of politicians is to be elected, or re-elected at the next general election.  The result is a focus on short-term issues and what would appeal to those minority sections of the community whose vote would swing on the basis of their vote.   Politicians have been found to be untrustworthy, witness the expenses scandal.

 

To conform to the politics of the time the Church (of England) would descend into ritualism on Popish lines, and semi-infidelity.

This would appear to be prophetic.  Synods debate issues, seeking to adapt the church to modern ways of thinking.  This includes women priests and bishops, attitudes to homosexuality including the practice of it in the clergy.  Scripture is seldom referred to, and no account is taken of God’s rights.

As to ritualism, there are those who are ‘evangelical’ but most would regard themselves as ‘traditionalists’.  Moves to reconcile the Church of England to Rome are well known, as is the ecumenical movement.

 

With universal suffrage the ‘poor’ would cease to be that, and be the masters.

This is an interesting thought.  Having been brought up in a one-man-one-vote democracy, it is difficult to think of this.  But the effect of it can be appreciated by some of us who are a getting on in years.  We can look back to the 1960’s and 70’s when the trade unions were holding Britain to ransom.  Both main political parties yielded to their demands.

We can be thankful for the welfare state in providing for the basic needs of all, paid for by taxation.  However even this has led to less dependence on God, and a lack of charity on those with means.

 

The aristocracy, no longer governing, would lapse into luxurious living and pleasure.

Maybe it is not just the aristocracy.  We now have this ‘celebrity culture’.  These as well as the high profile aristocrats have become icons leading to the popularity of magazines such as ‘Hello!’  They are pictured in parties, yachts etc.  People like it this way.  Darby noted this trend even in the 19th century.

Religious dissenters would have little effect.

This seems true.  Evangelical Christians are regarded as marginal.  Some showing their faith are taken to court.  Little attention is paid by the unsympathetic media who love to mock Christianity and Christians.

 

Man’s efforts and success would be vaunted.  God would be left out.

Technological advances, for which we are thankful, have served to make people more and more independent of God.  Men (and of course women) regard themselves as master of their own destiny.  They see the results of some of their action in climate change, but think that they can do what they can themselves to avert catastrophes.  The earth is the Lord’s and He will not allow things to become intolerable – that is until the judgments in Revelation.

 

Violence would not be used to bring these things about.

When we look at the earlier part of the 20th century with two world wars things are relatively safe now.   Indeed, there are claims that man has improved himself and such lawlessness is a thing of the past.  Getting people’s hearts and minds is achieved by peaceful means.  This is over against Islamic terrorism.

 

Power would move to central government.

This has been true.  Local authorities are very weak, and much has been taken out of their control.  Health and education are largely national matters.  Currently there is alarm over the amount of control there is from the European Union.

 

An unpaid magistracy would have considerable influence.

Whilst only the lowest level of the judiciary is unpaid, i.e magistrates, the move to see the magistrates and judges playing to the secular agenda is alarming.   Human rights, inclusivism and non-discrimination have been used to outlaw even criticism of evil practices.  Without money the motivation is power.

What did JND miss?

 

Islam – he did not predict the effect of large scale immigration especially from countries like Pakistan,  Bangladesh and the Middle East.  There are only three passing references to Islam in the Collected Writings.

Promotion of Homosexuality  –  I suppose the subject was not even talked about – as it was not when I was a boy.  But its promotion, along with the acceptance of sexual promiscuity and adultery, are just witnesses to the decline of moral standards, even beyond that which Darby had imagined.

 

Nationalism – There is no reference to independence movements such as Ireland (in the early 20th century) and Scottish (currently).  However I am sure Darby would have recognised this, especially with his Anglo-Irish background.

 

What is the Antidote?

Darby wrote ‘The Christian may walk in peace through it all, waiting for God’s Son from heaven, and keeping the word of His patience; yea, he may have a specially blessed place of testimony in the midst of it all, but a lowly one, content to be nothing in a world which has rejected Christ and is ripening for His judgment. Our part is to keep His word and not deny His name.’

 

* J N Darby Collected Writings Volume 32 (Miscellaneous 1) – page 333.

See Stem Publishing for on-line version.

Sosthenes

January 2016