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HERE COMES THE GLOBAL SOUTH

The Global South primates are coming to the United States, to an unspecified place, to meet with the bishops of dioceses seeking extra-provincial oversight. They are intent on changing the way TEC looks and is viewed by the rest of the world. Our Presiding Bishop, with great graciousness, has invited them to meet with her. We shall see.

What gets into the head of people who feel competent, even impelled to change everything? My mother was a changer. You could see it coming on. Then one day the furniture would be re-arranged after a flurry of activity. One spent some time trying to find where she had “hidden” things. They were hidden in plain sight, but that didn’t matter.

Over the past thirty years, it is the liberals who seem to have been possessed by the urge to move around the furniture. Indeed I’m wondering, historically, whether furniture movement is a sign of radical departures in our Anglican Tradition.

Cranmer and his friends started it. With swinging ax and hammer out went the stone altars; down went the statues, the roods and sometimes their screens, the old stained class windows. Buckets of whitewash covered the old wall paintings. The old church was now chaste enough for Anglicanism’s tamed version of Calvin’s God. It took centuries to recover “the beauty of holiness”, first spiritually through the work and prayer of people like Lancelot Andrewes, Nicholas Ferrar, George Herbert, and Jeremy Taylor. Laud had the altars returned to the east wall, frontals restored, and communion rails placed to stop dogs peeing on the Holy Table.

Two centuries later came the Tractarians. Once they had taught or re-taught that the Church is a Divine Society and not merely an appendage of the State or of polite and influential upper crust morality, liberal or conservative they began moving the furniture and indeed introducing exotic pieces imported from the Continent.

Thirty years ago our liturgical experts, following the lead of the Second Vatican Council, began to teach that the Eucharist, the main service, was for all the people and not just for the clergy. Well we knew that all along. That’s what Cranmer told us. At any rate that issued in another era of furniture moving. As is always the case, many lovely old things were lost, even destroyed. Almy triumphed. Tapestry was in with free standing Tables (shades of 1552 again) and pottery chalices.

Yet in almost all these movements, some clear attempt had been made to spell out a biblical and theological case for what would later be portrayed by the furniture and the use of what moderns term the “worship space.”

From at least the time of St. Augustine of Canterbury, we have believed in a territorial church and episcopate. We did so as an extension of our doctrine of the incarnation, our belief in the essential unity of the Church and our pastoral intent to be a people and place located mission, not of a denomination or sect, but of the Church Catholic. That there are other denominations around is not the point. Even in Established Church England there have been other denominations around since at least 1662. The same holds true for the rest of our Communion. To sense and act as the Church doesn’t mean one has to be anti-ecumenical.

At the Reformation, when people who believed in a “pure church” began to form conventicles filled only with the “saints”, we resisted that change and fought for a continuation of our Incarnational model. We did so because the theology and practice of territorial Christianity was scriptural, of the living tradition, and utterly reasonable.

In reaction, perhaps understandable reaction to the recent decisions undertaken by General Convention, a large constituency within our church is being seduced by the conventicle model. They want as little to do with the people they believe to be heretics as possible. They want pure parishes in pure dioceses or as pure as may be. And mark my words, that ideal with be their undoing.

To achieve this aim, they have suggested to the primates of what is termed the “Global South” that in some foggy manner, their dioceses detach themselves from the Province of the Anglican Communion called the Episcopal Church, and adhere to the Provinces of which the Global South primates are servants and leaders. At the same time, these diocese and their bishops want to affirm that they are loyal Episcopalians within the Episcopal Church. They just don’t want +Katherine our Primate and the General Convention, or even the innocuous provincial system to which they now belong in local areas.

Notice that these proposals haven’t a shred of scripture, tradition, or I would argue reason to back them up. Notice even more that in a politicized TEC, only political ideas obtain. A deeply spiritual problem is having a structural model thrown at it.

Most of the talks between the powers that be in TEC and the Network and its allies have been compounded and confounded by conversations and quarrels about structural models. What traditionalists fail to see is that the destruction of the territorial model, or its modification into something quite different, is an essentially iconoclastic and unAnglican process. It is Puritanism writ large. The purpose of the territorial model is to remind us that as Anglicans, we do not “belong” to a sect or a denomination. It reminds us that our mission is not to ourselves. It reminds us that we are not a gathered church of the saints. The territorial model reminds us that we are Christians, Catholics and Anglicans – reformed yes – who embrace the eternal purpose and mission of the Church expressed locally in place.

But how can we make this work at a moment when heterodoxy seems to triumph, heresy abounds, and the gays are winning? (Not my words) How can we rub shoulders in such a parody of the church? The same way we always have done. Just because we have managed to be called to live in a time of church crisis doesn’t mean that the Church or our church is done for. +Rowan Williams calls us to patience, and that we refuse to be. We lambaste the Left for changing everything, as if this moment gives us the time and the vision to change everything or much at all. In response, traditionalists decide to act as if this moment, this NOW is all that there is, and that change has to be made momentarily and instantly.

In all this we are guilty of practical atheism. We act as if God has gone to sleep on his watch. We act as if we are the ones who must change or rescue the Church and that at this moment, now, before worse happens. And so the Global South bishops and their TEC friends attack the very structures we have inherited and cherish, in the name of another structure, novel and untried and yet firmly described by the Puritan notion that Christian folk should escape a corrupt church and form something safe and pure. Perish the thought.

4 Responses

  1. Preach it Father Tony — Preach it.

  2. Tony,

    This is really quite good. Spot on.

    “The old church was now chaste enough for Anglicanism’s tamed version of Calvin’s God.” — great line (said the former Presbyterian).

  3. I grant that the territorial idea of the church is scriptural, but didn’t this distinctively Anglican territorial idea of a church evolve in a setting where the RC and later the Anglican church were in fact the only local church? It would make it much easier to see the church in territorial and incarnational terms when you’re the only church in your area. But in an American setting where there a dozen denominations in just about any good sized geographical division, how does the TEC escape the charge of being merely one denomination among many? Especially where TEC was preceded by other denominations — wouldn’t it then be more incarnational to join with the pre existing denomination?

    The last question is one I asked myself (said the former cradle Episcopalian) before I joined, horrors, a Presbyterian church. In my part of the world it would’ve been more territorial and incarnational to join the RC Church or the SBC but I just couldn’t that. Instead I settled for a denomination that was safely orthodox, yet had a tradition of moderation and ecumenicalism, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. (It’s a hidden jewel among the mainline churches, if you ask me. It’s basically the same as the PCUSA but without their problems – excepting, alas, declining membership. As a cradle Episcopalian, I feel more or less at home here. For a start, They even have their own via media, or “middle theology” tradition. With the CPC, it’s a via media between Arminianism and Calvinism. Granted this is a little more specialized than the Anglican via media, but like the latter, it helps to produce a moderate and conciliatory ethos – the CPC has only split once since 1810! If you’re disaffected from Canterbury and inclined towards Geneva, I recommend you take a look at Dickson County, TN before you cross the Alps.)

    I suppose you might characterize my motivations as “puritan”, but while I left chiefly because I thought TEC was preparing to throw itself over a theological cliff, I should make it clear that I left an orthodox-friendly diocese in order to join a mainline denomination that, if you go by the formularies and confessions, isn’t appreciably more conservative than TEC (not to mention being at least as, if not more, difficult to spell as TEC.) Indeed, in some ways it’s historically more liberal. However, I don’t think I was seeking purity as much as peace of mind. I’d gotten fed up with attention starved bishops and their implacable agendas. I also didn’t want to bring my children up in a church that Daddy complained about all the time.

    I’m not sure if I’m guilty of practical atheism but I will confess to having lost faith in Article D of the Lambeth Quadrilateral. My objection to this article is practical, however. While theoretically, I remain open to the idea that the historic episcopate is a mark of catholicity — though I doubt this more and more every time I read the latest Anglican Communion news — practically, I wonder why I should bother with the “Historic Episcopate” when it’s the bishops that are leading the charge over the cliff?

    So, while thus doubting Article D, yet retaining a lively faith in Articles A, B, and C, I chose to become a Presbyterian.

  4. Fr. Tony,

    I want you to know that my prayers are with you and your family. I have enjoyed reading your posts… I too loved the line about a “tamed version of Calvin’s God.”

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