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SCHISM

Schism is a nasty sounding word, particularly when it is pronounced SKism. It’s an ugly word for an ugly action. It matters not whether it is used to describe those who set up a rival church or those expelled from the church. The result is tragic. We crucify Christ again. Of course if one believes in the church merely as a discrete political entity, schism seems less dreadful or even a form of blissful liberation.

Whatever one thinks about the Windsor Report, its section on ecclesiology is hard to assail. Yet almost daily it is assailed by proponents of ecclesiastical nationalism who seem to place notions about the revolutionary origins of TEC above Scripture, Tradition and Reason. How anyone may look at the composition and mind set of those patricians who, in the days before the present American Constitution, created General Convention as a paragon of republican democracy and swoon with admiration is beyond me. Of course I may be wrong, but since when has secular rationalistic political theory been the entire well-spring of ecclesiastical polity?

It is oft stated, without any evidence that I have seen, that our church is superior because abroad Provinces are ruled as dictatorships at worst, or “papal” like prelates, who have no business in the affairs of the American church. This sounds like a political ploy to lessen the impact of that which the rest of the Communion asks of us.

Many writers, among them not a few of our bishops now argue that bishops can’t speak for TEC when they meet as a House. The Ordinal seems to think otherwise. In any case, if our House of Bishops can’t speak what it was doing when it issued what we call the “Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral?” If bishops can’t speak in matters of faith and order, then what have they become? Bishops who deny Episcopal authority sound much like the French aristocrats who joined ranks with the Revolutionaries on the tennis court at Versailles.

Mind you our revolutionary bishops don’t act in a particularly egalitarian manner when in their dioceses, nor did they get synodical approval before writing their letters advocating defiance towards the Primates. Some openly defy the Presiding Bishop’s call for patience. Other writers seem to relish the idea of schism.

When it comes to their theology of the Church, many are to the right of those who organized American Anglicans after the Revolution and hold hands with those who opposed the calling of the first Lambeth Conference, despite the fact that it was a plan of the American and Canadian bishops who wanted a more beefed up Communion than Archbishop Longley was prepared to grant. Irony.

Those on the right have no more theology to rest on. Anglicans are not in the schism business. How ever bad things may be, there’s no reformation if there’s no church to reform. If the church is merely invisible, as some reformers taught; if it’s just every person with a Bible, and no outward and visible entity with authority to teach that which the Bible “proves”, then there is no Incarnation in any practical form. While our first Reformers agreed with Luther about the personal perspicuity of Scripture they soon had to modify such a position faced with sectarians whose interpretation was aimed at unchurching the Church.

Because post-Reformation Protestantism became denominational its only means of settling problems was schism. Having no real manner to test private judgment, the only final resource was for a party to gain control of a Council and for others to leave or be expelled. This was the democratic way. What would St. Paul think of our church page in the local newspaper? Schism is a constitutional right. Is that why so many of us seem to take the prospect of schism lightly? It seems that TEC with its new emphasis on General Convention being our “papacy” is becoming ironically thoroughly Protestant. (see my essay entitled The General Convention Church, at Anglicans Online.

The questions facing TEC are not basically about sex. We seem obsessed with the subject. In a nation beset by institutional corruption, abuse of power, millions without basic medical health, many living in sub standard housing on minimum wages, a probably unjust war, we are seen to think of nothing but with whom God wants Episcopalians to have sex and where. The basic questions we need to ask ourselves are about the nature of authority, the nature of the Church and the churches, Law and Gospel, the possible need to reform our institutions, the devolution of authority to our internal provinces, the nature of Anglican Comprehension, the adequate training of clergy for varied ministries, and our real ministry for justice. Why are we content to be a largely white, wealthy, liberal association? Just how “catholic” is that?

The news now in about the South Carolina consents is heart-breaking. It sends a chilling message to the rest of the Communion and to ourselves. It demonstrates the level of intolerance we have reached in the name of liberality. If it hastens schism those who rejected Mark Lawrence will be guilty of aiding and abetting schism. It used to be strict Protestant groups or the papacy who dealt thus. Isn’t that the irony? The more we shift to the ends of our narrowing spectrum the less loving we become. I hope and pray that those bishops committed to the real Via Media (not the organization!!) will have the courage to speak for Anglicanism this weekend. The far left will accuse such bishops of aiding the right. Doing the right thing is far more important.

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