Articles in church magazines and journals, blogs and the chatter on email lists are full of talk about leaving the church, or leaving the Communion, or being expelled from the Communion. Liberals emulating Patrick Henry suggest that being expelled from the Anglican Communion may be a very good thing. North American Anglicanism would be free to follow the Holy Spirit, whom, it seems, now speaks through majority votes in church synods. Mind you, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to speak through majority votes in African church synods.

Conservatives, with Cranmerian flair, dream of a reformed Episcopal Church, separated from the corrupt old ECUSA. They dream not only of a new church here, but a new Anglican Communion, in which the Articles of Religion set the pace, and the Word of God is rightly preached.

Polls suggest that most Episcopalians have some sympathy with those who think that our last General Convention went off track. But most Episcopalians aren’t organized and aren’t represented in either House of General Convention. They love and support their local parishes, think of the diocese as “them” and have no interest in the National Church.

Those who are activists take their model from secular political institutions, with their parties, lobbies, funding groups, and alas, dirty tricks. Viewing the church largely as a political animal, it becomes possible to think in terms of separation. The language of schism becomes acceptable, because it is no longer invested in doctrine. “Communion” now means merely an association, and “Church” an institution. If either seems to fail us, we can do without them, or start something new.

Anglicans used to believe that the church was indefectible. C.B. Moss wrote “The Church is indefectible – that is she cannot wholly fail, or fall permanently into error which would destroy the foundations of the Christian religion; but she is not infallible, or secure from making mistakes. No one can be sure, before a Council is summoned, however fully representative that Council may be, that what it will say will be true. Councils, as experience has often shown, may easily be led astray by expert politicians: their members do not always listen to the voice of God. No human being, or assembly of human beings, is free from all possibility of error; even when they are completely sincere they are subject to the limitations of the age in which they live.”[1]

With this in mind, it was once possible for us to take our part of the Church with a grain of salt, while holding it in deepest reverence. Its human nature, its eccentricity and untidiness, its attempt to hold together the mutually exclusive, far from driving us away, claimed our tolerance and our affection. For despite its history of error, corruption, and faintheartedness, it remained the church; part of the Church, the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. We found assurance of that Sunday by Sunday. In corporate worship, we heard the Word of God in accordance with the Calendar, kept the Christian Year and celebrated the sacraments. We were served by authentic bishops, priests and deacons. We were the Church in microcosm in our diocesan and parochial units. Our Prayer Book contained not only liturgy but a liturgy which celebrated and prayed that which we believe. Anglicans, it might be said, loved the church despite itself, and loved the Church because of itself. We didn’t leave, for the most part, even when the church seemed at its worst. We joined because we grew to love her and found in fellowship and worship the gate of Heaven.

Now there’s talk among liberals and conservatives of “leaving” the church to be a part of something purer. Some say that if the Anglican Communion makes us reverse course, or demands that we act as if we were really“in communion” we go our merry way in an institution where we may do as we please. Others say that if the General Convention fails to abjure its recent decisions we should go our merry way. At the center of all this is General Convention. Do we base our faith on the decisions of General Convention? Should the Anglican Communion judge us on the basis of decisions made in General Convention? When clergy solemnly swear to abide by the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church does that mean we are in duty bound to believe that decisions of General Convention or even the Canons carry the weight and authority of that doctrine, discipline and worship discovered in the Book of Common Prayer including the Catechism? Certainly the concept that local synods have the Divine Mandate to issue decrees binding the consciences of believers, in other areas than liturgy, ceremonies and non-essential discipline, is a departure from the Anglican Way and smacks of a belief in corporate infallibility.

If the Church is indefectible, then should we not, in patience remain faithful to her, despite her blemishes and imperfections? If our church continues week by week to do that which the church does, should not member Provinces of the Anglican Communion take note of that fact? For surely God is not frustrated by our good-intentioned errors. The church is not defined by its members, individually or corporately in governing boards, but by its faithfulness demonstrated day by day and week by week in its parishes.

The problem for many of us, as I see it, is that if we are set adrift by the Anglican Communion, and if some of us opt for a new Anglican Church in America, where shall the rest of us go? Perhaps like faithful laity and clergy in Cromwell’s day, we’ll do what we can where we are to preserve the church until in good time, God’s purposes become clearer.

[1] C.B. Moss, The Christian Faith, SPCK, 1957

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