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JUSTIFICATION OF SCHISM

I suppose that if one looks at Church history from this perch, at this particular moment, it seems inevitably to be a story of division upon division and some have read this to mean that there is an inevitability about the process or even that this is obviously God’s will. “If they could do it then, surely we can do it now?”

However two other realities factor in here. The first is that we have now the experience of nearly one hundred years of intentional ecumenism. In this process a number of documents have been received by participating churches which commit us to visions of the Church in unity and call us to repent that our forefathers and mothers lost sight of the vision as they pressed their own agenda, an agenda which was usually less in worth than the vision they abandoned for the sake of “truth”. It has also to be said that the political nature of the united church from which they split – Medieval “Roman” Catholicism was often as adept in obscuring the vision as those who went off on their own. Perhaps we may simplify both th Great Schism and the Reformation by saying they were revolts against the outward and visible sign obscuring the inward and visible grace by the inappropriate use of secular style power.

We are heirs of those who went off on their own for nationalistic, dynastic and incidentally theological reasons and yet, very early on in the process began to grieve for the loss of the “catholic” in much more than sacramental and ritualistic terms. Perhaps providentially long before the Ecumenical Movement emerged, our Communion and particular church therein were putting in place and offering to others elements of “catholicity” which have come to be believed as important building blocks for a united Church. The Lambeth Quadrilateral is one example of such offerings.

Secondly not all incidents of disunity and quarrels cited to justify contemporary disunity resulted in schism. Of course there are levels of disagreement. Our first “Anglican” Divines after the Reformation sought to distinguish between what Archbishop McAdoo termed the “Hapex”, things necessary to salvation which all should accept even if they debate about or express doubts about them, and “matter indifferent” which are not core doctrine, but may be doctrine or tradition of a lesser nature established often by particular churches and perhaps by authority. About these things there may be a certain compulsion, as in Canons or official Liturgy, but no absolute necessity to conform, although there may be consequences for nonconformity!!! Nowadays in our church offense against adiaphora may have much greater personal consequence than denying core doctrines!!

Nevertheless as the Church worldwide for the most part is committed to the vision of unity -may this not be “development” – contemplation of formal structural schism may be an offense against both core doctrine “that they may be one” and adiaphoric teaching expressed in such concepts as an acknowledgement that baptism, the eucharist and ordination belong to the whole church and in a real sense effect communion, structural and “spiritual” with the whole Church in heaven and on earth. I term the latter adiaphoric because there has always been place among us for those who could not embrace such a “catholic” vision of church and sacraments.

Seeking to spiritualise baptism and the eucharist and engaging in activity which denies that which these sacraments actualize is a denial of the Incarnation. To claim the unity vouchsafed by the Trinity through these sacraments and then to justify schism and active hostile disunity is surely sinful? To engage in controversy in a hostile and belligerent manner is unchristian. To take seriously our unhappy divisions and the current manifestations thereof and to engage in serious discussions in an attempt to find a way in which all may move forward is a vocation: I suggest, a painful vocation particularly if one acknowledges the personal investment one may have in the issue at hand, one way or another.

This is why I firmly believe that all of us have to embrace Calvary at this present time and accept the pain involved in offering our thoughts and issues, campaigns and plans together as we nail them on the Cross. If we are prepared to die and offer up our most cherished desires and convictions, trusting our Lord to kill them that they may rise again in a glorious manner and stun us in their beauty then we shall move forward in God’s will.. Unhappily most of us want to justify, to cling to and to idolize the very things which lead from peace to terror, the terror of a divided, bloodied Church.

4 Responses

  1. Fr. Clavier–

    We’ve been reading Romans 14 and 15 lately in the Office Lectionary, and I can’t say that I haven’t been cut to the quick by Paul’s injunctions to live strictly for the sake of the weaker brethren.

    That’s not anything I can choose with respect to the presenting issue. I’m not gay or lesbian. I perhaps can say that matters are well enough in this country and we can have a few quiet gay clergy, but then I would have to look to the Global South or outside the Western world, where arresting, assaulting, and even murdering gays and lesbians are normative. While I have confidence in the resurrection of the body and judgment for their blood, I wonder whether I can crucify an agenda that gives suffering brethren elsewhere in the world hope. My baptismal and eucharistic unity is with +Peter J. Akinola as much as it is with Davis Mac-Iyalla after all.

    Yes, you’re right, of course, I’m just defending my agenda, but I think there is a subtle difference between defense of abstract controversial principle and genuine concern for the integrity of flesh and blood.

  2. Caelius, would it make a difference if Archbishop Akinola’s agenda had to be crucified as well?

    Jon

  3. That might just work. Lambeth I.10 of 1998 is a mess, but it really challenges both sets of agendas.

  4. I don’t know–Caelius, I saw Romans 14-15 differently. I thought in Paul’s context the very belief of the weaker brethren was at stake. The weaker are weaker in the sense that they may–being scandalized–leave Christian faith altogether and become submerged in non-Christian Judaism, the imperial cult or some other form of paganism.

    In the US it might be that denominational identity, not Christian faith, is at stake, Those scandalized would not become submerged in paganism, but would swim the Tiber or go eastern orthodox or….

    Likewise in the Global South, one is left to wonder about the extent to which interdenominational competition drives showmanship on gay issues, such that the danger to the scandalized is really not a matter about holding to the faith.

    Moreover, it may well be that schism and hatred within the Anglican Communion do more to push one away from or preclude one from entering into the faith altogether.

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