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MOVEMENTS and REACTIONS

If I remember rightly one of Adrian Nichol’s beefs in his book “The Panther and the Hind” is that Anglicanism has been largely controlled by ascendant parties and has not been able to create a cohesive ‘magisterium’ or collection of precisely defined beliefs.

I am not sure that any branch of the Christian Church may escape the accusation that it has been affected by prominent individuals, groups and movements. Twas ever thus. St Paul led a movement, built on St Peter’s initial experience in reaching out to and including non-Jews. (That in this there is a similarity with present TEC policies ignores the rather basic fact that non-Jews were typified by their race, or perhaps lack of race (!) whereas today the focus is on groups identified by behavior. And of course behavior is not in itself a bar to incorporation. We baptize babies before behavior of any significant form develops. It is what we do about behavior, as best we can, in grace that matters. It is what we do not only as individuals but as corporate entities that matters. I have always thought that a besetting sin of Evangelicals is not their ability to diagnose sin but their real or apparent demonstration that they are above the sinner.)

That Anglicanism has been changed and challenged by persons and movements is a given. The second part of Nichol’s indictment, that we have not been able to assemble a mutually acceptable core doctrinal position is more difficult to answer. But that is not my point this morning.

I seem to remember reading somewhere the startling thought that in the bust up between Arius and Athanasius, Arius was the conservative. I mulled that about a bit when I read it. It hit hard. I certainly believe that St Athanasius was right about the nature and Person of Christ. He was right to defend Nicaea. I can say the Creed attributed to him without crossing my fingers. So what did the comment about Arius being the more conservative of the two mean?

In the first lesson at Mattins this morning, Moses is confronting Dathan and company and as I read the passage from Numbers 16 the thought occurred to me that Dathan was pretty conservative. Wasn’t it Moses (and his Ten Commandements) who was pretty out front there? The Jewish people had managed quite nicely without Commandments and a Tabernacle up until then. They had managed without a formal “Aaronic” priesthood.

Perhaps the pre-Nicaean Church, with its seemingly “broader” spectrum of beliefs about the Nature and Person of Christ had been less divided than that which was emerging in the Conciliar period? I certainly know Episcopalians who suggest that to be the case. I think they are wrong but they make a case. It is a very conservative case.

In the 1870s the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Virginia issued a statement deploring “ritualism” and particularly the use of the Sacrament of Penance. For a few years before that the Evangelical Party had become more and more incensed (pardon the pun) about the Oxford Movement. Indeed the Evangelical party may have become the “Evangelical Reaction”. There’s something extraordinarily stimulating about the Evangelical Revival in Anglicanism in the 18th and early 19th Century on both sides of the Atlantic. I would say the same about the Oxford Movement and gladly claim them both as being part of my spiritual DNA. But when these parties took to confronting each other, and later not only confronting each other but battling the next ascendent party, the Liberals and later what I might call the “1960s Party” what emerges is not so stimulating and often self-destructive and destructive of the church and its unity.

As I write the Evangelical reaction to “Western 1960s religion” in Anglicanism is meeting in Jerusalem of all places, a city whose recent history is one of division and death, of implacable enemies, Jews and Palestinians in mortal combat over a few square miles of territory. The site is not propitious ground for people who talk of being a movement but not a schism. True there are a few rump Anglo-Catholics at the GAFCON meeting yet the manifesto produced as a theological and strategic manual for the GAFCON conference might have been written by 19th Century Virginian Evangelicals or even JC Ryle itself (except for the short passage on Anglo-Catholicism which would have enraged the old Bishop of Liverpool and undone his gaiters.)

Is GAFCON a movement or is it a reaction? Time will tell. However as I have remarked before its reliance on structure, inherited from organizations like the Network and perhaps “Common Cause” would suggest that rather than being a movement, as in going forward, it is a reaction or a retrenchment.

Certainly, at least in my opinion, orthodox Anglicans have monumental excuse to be reactive, to circle the waggons and defend themselves. Particularly in TEC the life of anyone or any institution claiming to live into the Gospel as the Anglican Tradition has received it has been fraught with peril. But have the losses we have sustained been largely the fault of “The 1960s Religious Establishment” or of our own lack of enthusiasm? The Evangelical and Oxford Movements were not activities of the official church or its structures and agencies. Men and women engaged themselves in study, prayer, evangelism and teaching, took incredible risks, bucked the Establishment and under God did marvels. Neither party proposed anything new. They revived things old, but did so in the power of the Trinity. Some people gave up and left Anglicanism but on the whole Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics were passionate about the unity of the Church.

I would also add that as one reads the on-line blogs, the present Establishment in TEC is sounding just as reactive as the GAFCON grouping and some even contemplate a North American or Pan-American post-Anglican Communion, not yet as organized perhaps as GAFCON, but perhaps in the works. Others speak of the Episcopal Church (worldwide) as a communion within the Communion. In that claim there are echoes of GAFCON. What was a movement forty or so years ago is looking more and more like a reaction. The fire has gone out in its belly. So now they use what power they have, invoke the Canons and discipline to silence their critics.

Will the Lambeth bishops, meeting next month, do any better? Certainly a time of Bible Study, reflection, corporate prayer and discussion can do no harm to our bishops, if the demons of structure, process, system and organization, synonyms for placing form instead of content are resisted. Exorcising such demons will be no easy matter for a Communion which has more and more relied on committees and process as its essential Instruments of Unity. Yet I can think of few occasions in the history of the church in which bishops led the revival and restoration of the church.

But what of core doctrine? More later.

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