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NEW REVELATIONS

A writer to an email list suggested that Episcopalians view the Anglican Tradition through the lens of American Liberal Protestantism. This is my reply.

I’m not sure Anglican Tradition a la the liberal view has much to do with liberal protestantism. I think it has a lot to do with good old fashioned American patriotism. As a Brit, over here for nearly 40 years on and off, I’m amazed at the strength of the “myth” which tells us from early childhood that America is unique, special, and much more free, democratic and advanced than anyone else. This form of auto-propaganda is meat and drink to everyone and forms a common but unconscious bond between conservatives and liberals.

The religious manifestations of this may be discovered in all the new revelation movements, among Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, right-wing Evangelicals and I fear in the theory that God speaks through “enlightened” movements and majorities in church synods attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.(I’ve expanded this thought lightly in an essay on my blog about Episcopal Elections as you may read below.) The underlying issue is that we form a special and chosen and superior group, the eternal power of Gnosticism..

Now I want to make it clear what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that God does not use people and movements within the church, or nations, peoples and movements in the “world.” The danger lies in the belief that if we do this or that, a captive God does our bidding. There, I think, is our “protest” against papalism, but not against catholicism even of the Roman variety per se. That is our “protest” against Puritanism and the rule of an “elect”, although not against puritans, evangelicals, Bible-people who have been with us since the Reformation and who rescued ECUSA from oblivion after the Revolution.

This is the danger of wrong-headed sacramentalism, or canonical regulation in which we believe that doing this or that ritual affirms authenticity, rather than submitting to God’s untidy grace in charity towards those who don’t use the right words or actions, as if God has a heavenly MC to tell God what can be done and what cannot be done.

The Anglican Tradition requires of us a certain hesitance and tolerance as we evaluate the decisions we attempt to make. Do notice that even when we strode away from Rome, we did not set up an equivelent “competence”. We organized ourselves, in the teeth of an emerging English Nationalism, to be merely competent at our level of subsidiarity. We left ultimate authority in a “holy void”, relying on basic formularies, Scripture, Tradition, sanctified and humble Reason, Prayer Book, Catechism, Ordinal and even Articles to point beyond our local or even collective “communion” to a “something” we termed the one, holy catholic and apostolic church as we affirmed its reality in the Catholic Creeds. Even at our most provincial we yearned for the unity which escaped us. Even when we separated from Canterbury we submitted to Canterbury over Creeds and other lacunae in our first proposed liturgy. The yearning may have been limited. It may have been the union of evangelical churches Cranmer aspired to. It may have been reunion with Rome Anglo-Catholics dreamed of. It may have been faith in the World Council of Churches William Temple and Geoffrey Fisher hoped for.

At its worst our intention has been to visit upon the world our own provincial arrogance that through some nationalistic and patriotic theocratic vision we tell the world and the churches that we have a new revelation to which they should submit. The Church of England succumbed to that in the colonial period. We may be doing that now.

It well may be that we have something to say to ourselves and the wider church about our gay and lesbian etc sisters and brothers, to whom we have rightly affirmed, based on their baptism, and not their sexual expressions, full recognition as beloved children of God and heirs of the kingdom, as called and chosen, equally responsible to be part of the holy priesthood, holy nation: under merciful grace in judgment and affirmation even unto ordination and consecration. Anglican Tradition doesn’t go in for group affirmation, but to incorporation into the Group- the Church of God and not merely a territorial jurisdiction – into which we are all baptized; living the best we can under the Mercy. It does not follow that sacramental rites and other liturgical forms may be widened to accommodate intimate relationships beyond those recognized and blessed in matrimony, as defined in the wedding rites and the Catechism.

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