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PROPHETS AND PRIESTS

Our bishops are coming together in Canterbury as I write. The ambiance of the modern university buildings may well bring back memories of student days. That isn’t a bad thing. Granted students, and particularly seminarians are given to expressing opinions at will, often culled from the latest set books provided. Yet in a seminary setting, at least once upon a time, the daily round of prayer, Bible study, meditation and reflection and of being taught grounded and formed vocation for better or worse.

For a few short weeks most of the bishops of the Anglican Communion will be plunged into such a routine and in the physical context of a place of learning. Mercifully I believe, they will not be called on to legislate. More than a few times when attending General Conventions or Synods I’ve thought that the “ambiance” has prompted our leaders, clerical and lay -bishops ARE clergy – to imagine themselves as members of congress or parliamentarians rather than called-out members of the Body of Christ. I have a feeling that pretty shortly some or many of our bishops will go through a psychological deprivation as they are pine for lobbies, and rules of order and motions and votes. I do hope that the organizers fail to provide adequate internet access.

As usual in Anglicanism there will be three groups there. No longer are these to be defined as Catholic, Evangelical and Broad. Nowadays the fault lines run through separate and often extraordinarily similar attempts to define what God is saying to the Church and through the Church and how God says things to the Church and through the Church. Hence my title.

There will be bishops at Lambeth who believe passionately that God has called them to prophecy. That mantle has been taken on by “liberal” bishops, mostly from North America but not entirely, and by “conservatives” mostly from Africa and Australia, but not entirely. Of course these bishops are not autonomous. They are influenced by and speak for a wide constituency. In the middle, as usual are a great number of people who perhaps wish both sides would shut up, who worry that the Anglican Communion is being torn apart and put its unity and concord before prophecy. One must then speak a truism. All of these people are fallible human beings, as much swayed by ambition, pride, sloth or any other of the cardinal sins which typify a fallen race as the rest of us.

Not all the prophets on the one hand or the priests on the other in the Old Testament church were good guys. Indeed God has a way of using the bad guys to do his will. In the second lesson at Morning Prayer today St. Paul tells the Romans that only a remnant of Israel enables the world to see and accept the truth in Jesus, and yet God’s will and purpose encompasses all.

So the prophets, at least those who are not staying away, will come to Lambeth eager to prophesy and both sets of prophets proclaim that there is something radically wrong with Anglicanism. Either Anglicanism has failed in its calling to embrace everyone whatever their mode of interpersonal relationship or Anglicanism has failed because it has permitted provinces to embrace, for instance, modes of inter-personal relationships which are prohibited in Scripture and Tradition. Prophets tend to be prickly types. They are not into compromise and they are not noted for liking their opponents. They are often more interested in the group than the individuals who comprise the group and unaware of the variety of human experience an artificial label may encompass.

Those who are more of a priestly bent object to “fanatics” spoiling the unbroken liturgical and pastoral life of parish, diocese, province, national church and the worldwide Communion. They wish such people would tone it down, have some regard for the feelings of others, comprehend what destruction they bring and remind the prophets what the watching world sees. “The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we need to ask,” perhaps is the motto of the priestly or the moderate. Such an attitude brings down the ire of the prophet. Such people, the prophet thinks, are tepid, unprincipled. given to compromise.

Prophets often point to the account of the first Church synod or Council related in Acts, by which the Gentiles were to be admitted to the Church through baptism just as the Jews. The decisions of that Council seem at first to be a triumph for the prophetic until one reads on to see that the rest of the decrees were rather conservative. No rare meat! No meat offered to idols. The Church compromised.

One can’t really hope that our bishops will get to like each other at Lambeth. One can’t even hope that they will learn to respect each other. Certainly the bishops at the Council of Nicaea achieved neither goal. But we can hope and pray that God will use each and every one of them and that these fallible human beings, from differing cultures and places will find a way forward so that this part of God’s Church may find revival in the midst of the years.

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