By now I am sure that most people reading this are aware of the controversy surrounding Fr. Calvin Robinson’s dismissal from the Mere Anglicanism conference after criticizing women’s ordination in his talk. Of course, I agree entirely with what Fr. Robinson said about that practice, and was pleased to find him make many of the same arguments I made in my own article against it. However, while I agree with Robinson’s opposition to women’s ordination and critical theory, they were not the only things he criticized in his talk. Robinson also spent some time arguing that liberalism and aspects of Marxism stem from the Protestant Reformation, a movement he has previously claimed was “a mistake.”
I have no doubt that Robinson was disinvited due to his comments on women’s ordination, but attacking the very mindset and movement from which Anglicanism was born, at an Anglican conference, was also a bold move on his part. This is the very thing countless people across the globe love Calvin Robinson for ‒ he does not care about what he is “supposed” to say. However, despite his reputation for being a rebel against the system (whether it be the corporate media, Church of England, or the globalist powers), Robinson’s criticism of the Reformers—particularly Martin Luther—is that they did not assent to authority.
First, Robinson argues that according to Marx—who he craftily uses as a shield though his later comments prove he agrees with him—Luther “shattered faith in authority,” which led to people putting “their faith in their own consciences.” Frustratingly, Robinson does not elaborate or unpack this claim so much as repeat and reword it. He goes on to say that: “Luther liberated people from the body of Christ – His Church – and enchained our hearts by putting all the pressure upon our individual consciences, upon our subjective opinions.” Robinson therefore believes that “the Reformation made the individual the authority.”
The problem with these statements is that for Luther and the other Reformers, the individual very much does assent to authority, and that is the authority of God’s word. In Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms, he did not say “I am bound to my conscience,” he said: “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” The Reformers did not reject Rome’s teaching because they were renegades or individualists, rather, they rejected Rome because of their assent to a higher authority: God himself. In doing this, they were following the example of the Apostles, who demonstrated to us that we must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 cf. 4:19). When Luther came to believe that the Scriptures are utterly opposed to any sort of belief that would lead to the sale of indulgences, and then found that he was unable to maintain this position and remain in the Roman church, the choice was clear. It was not a choice between his conscience and the Church and which one he should follow, instead, the choice was between the Scriptures and the erroneous Roman church, and which one his conscience should be bound to. The Lord Jesus Christ is clear about which of the two you should choose, when He said that you must not “break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matt 15:3).
I would argue that the Reformers’ belief that our consciences must be bound to the Scriptures above all other authorities is in fact one of the greatest bulwarks against Marxism and tyranny. Any attitude that tries—against all sense and logic—to justify the unjustifiable or hold two contradictory things together is the attitude that allows Communism to thrive. The Reformers did not have this attitude. They would sooner have died than attempt to twist the Scriptures into endorsing the egregious teachings and practices of Rome, because they cared more about obeying the Scriptures than obeying the Church. We could do with more people like that. Ironically, Robinson himself played the part of the Luther, when he quoted the Scriptures against the erroneous practices that the Diocese of South Carolina (who ran the conference) is engaged in. Communism can only work if the people see the State as the highest authority, and the liberalism of the modern West can only work if the people reject any objective standard of truth and embrace subjectivism. The Protestant Reformation is antithetical to both of these, because on the one hand it stands for obeying God above all else, and on the other hand it stands for submitting to the standard of the Bible above all else. The reality is that Communism has never sprung up in a Protestant nation and our modern ideas about liberalism and secularism are in large part attributable to Roman Catholic thinkers like Pierre Charron, and the revolutionary thinkers of eighteenth-century France, not the Reformers.
However, it is of course true that if an individual is bound to the Scriptures, they must also interpret those Scriptures themselves. This does not lead to subjectivism any more than us having to interpret the Magisterium does. Everything needs interpreting, and it is impossible to escape our own minds. We are locked inside our own subjective perspective. Thus, whether it be the Scriptures, or the Magisterium, or our Priest’s sermon, we can only perceive them subjectively. Surrendering our understanding of the Scriptures to the Church only moves the problem back a step, because now we need to understand the Church. One only needs to point to the differing interpretations of Fiducia Supplicans by Roman Catholic commentators, or even of our own beloved Articles of Religion, to prove that what the Church teaches is not open and shut. And what happens when what the Church says, and what Scripture says, simply do not match up? We also need to make up our minds about which Church to listen to! Robinson has decided that it is the Old Catholic Church, and I am sure that his own understanding of Scripture and tradition factored into that decision. I am sure that Robinson’s own mind helped him to test and discern the will of God (Rom 12:2).
The Reformers were therefore no more subjectivist than St Paul, who tells us to “test everything” (1 Thess 5:21) and told the Corinthians to “judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Cor 10:15); or our Lord and Savior, Who asked His hearers “why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57). Both our Lord and His Apostle are by no means giving us the license to decide for ourselves what the truth is, or to reject all authority. Instead, we are to obey God as our ultimate authority, and believe His Scriptures as the ultimate standard of truth, and then only obey the other authorities God has put over us—such as the Church and the State (Rom 13:1)—if they are working in line with what God has revealed.
As I have argued before, the perspicuity of Scripture is therefore central to this question. If we believe, as Luther and the English Reformers did, that the Scriptures are clear (Deut 30:11‒14; Ps 19:7; 119:105, 130; 1 Cor 10:15), then a regenerate Christian can have the confidence that they have understood its essentials properly. And if the church body they are a part of has gone against Scripture in their teachings, which they themselves claim are also clear, then the Christian must choose to follow the greater of the two authorities. Scripture is the objective standard that norms everything else and determines what is right and wrong. Scripture cannot therefore be normed by anyone or anything else, even the Church. While the Church does have authority, it cannot change Scripture’s meaning or make unclear what is in fact clear. Thus, whatever the Episcopal Church says, same-sex relationships are sinful (Lev 18:22); whatever the Church of Rome says, salvation is by grace through faith alone and has nothing to do with our works (Rom 3:28; Eph 2:8‒9); and whatever the Diocese of South Carolina says, a woman is not permitted to teach or have authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12). The reason why we are able to so boldly stand against the erroneous teachings of these churches is not because we value our own judgement in isolation, but because we affirm that the Scriptures are in fact clear. It is because the Scriptures are clear, that it is possible for an individual to stand by them and be at odds with their church without therefore being a subjectivist, as there is a right and a wrong way for them to be interpreted, and it is not hard to know which is which.
Thankfully, I should not have to tell Fr. Robinson any of this, because he is doing a fine job already of standing by the Scriptures as he understands them and opposing anyone—no matter how powerful—who rejects what they say. I only wish that he would not point the blame at those who centuries ago took the same stand and thereby reformed the Church for us. Anglicanism has many problems, and women’s ordination is certainly one of them, but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The foundation and core principles of Anglicanism are good and worth celebrating. It is the attitude we find in the Articles of Religion of obeying the Scriptures over everything else—even churches and General Councils—that in fact can help us to finally be rid of the problems that Fr. Robinson and I agree we have.
- The full transcript of Fr. Calvin Robinson’s talk, as well as his own breakdown of what happened, can be found here: https://calvinrobinson.substack.com/p/cancelled-from-mere-anglicanism. All subsequent quotations from Robinson are taken from this source. ↑
- “Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521,” in Luther’s Works, ed. George W. Forell and H.T. Lehmann (Philadelphia, PA: Concordia, 1958), 32:112. ↑
- Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Leicester: Apollos, 1988), 54, 81. Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (New York, NY: Penguin, 2017), 221. ↑
- Thomas Cranmer, “Preface to the Bible, 1540,” in The Work of Thomas Cranmer, ed. G.E. Duffield (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1965), 37. A Fruitful Exhortation to the reading and knowledge of holy Scripture, II. ↑