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AN ALTERNATIVE PROVINCE

There’s much in the news about an upcoming meeting in Wheaton, Illinois, at which a Constitution for a proposed “Anglican Church in North America” is scheduled to be revealed. The announcement has been heralded by those who have left TEC, scorned by those whose policies have driven people from TEC, and greeted with understanding but sadness by those who believe themselves called to remain within TEC and witness to the Gospel as the Anglican tradition has received the same.

I hope you will excuse this old codger for revealing that he greets this news with a vivid sense of deja vu. I arrived on these shores at the moment when the first wave of dissenters were leaving, some of whom were sure that the way forward was to create a separate Anglican entity. Their leaders soon got to work on writing Canon Law and on securing episcopal consecration. Ten years later a larger group emerged, this time aided by retired bishops and overseas bishops. They called themselves the Anglican Church in North America and created a corpus of Canon Law only rivalled by Rome. They too sought recognition by obtaining episcopal consecration. I could go on. The list of defunct and emerging ecclesial groups, each one claiming to be the answer to the proverbial maiden’s prayer, is formidable. Their history of binary fission, character assassination and obsession with valid Orders and Canon Law needs no telling here.

Will the latest attempt to create a stable home for those who cannot in good conscience remain within TEC have better success. For the first time exiles are joined by significant parts of four TEC dioceses. For the first time there are realistic prospects that some overseas Provinces will recognize the emerging church, although it is doubtful that Canterbury will assent. One may only pray for the sake of its parishioners that this new ecclesial group will remain together, and devote itself to mission.

One of the more formidable problems such a church will face is a continued obsession with the church they have left. I call it the Lot’s Wife Syndrome. If the preoccupation of this group remains what it perceives to be the ills within TEC, if bitterness and the wounds of divorce remain active in the body, inevitably it will dwindle and be consumed in its own rancor.

If however it sets its sights on evangelism, on living into its Anglican heritage in a positive way, if it in public admits its own faults and failings in charity and compassion, walks the extra mile and seeks to copperate with those it has left where conscience permits, it may become a body raised up by God.

The leaders of the new church, if they have the wisdom and humility so to do, have much to learn both from the Reformed Episcopal Church which will be incorporated in the new body, and from other groups such as the Anglican Province of America who have long experience in the world of extra-mural Anglicanism. If such wisdom prevails it will be for the first time among fragmenting groups which have left TEC.

The bishops and leaders of the new church must learn a simple lesson. The skills and talents employed in standing against the church Establishment in TEC are not the same at all as those needed to inspire, build up and promote the morale of those called to shepherd their people once they are out in the ecclesiastical shopping mall of American religion. Many of the clergy will be wounded, angry and bitter and will inevitably demonstrate these hurts in their pastoral lives. Many of the laity will be similarly hurt, particularly if they lose their buildings and their cash. The task of healing will be enormous and will require enormous patience and skill.

I do not feel called at this time to leave TEC. I still believe that those of us who have a vocation to proclaim aloud the Gospel within TEC, and many of us are young priests and seminarians, must do so. This does not mean that we should not seek to be in love and charity with our extra-mural neighbors. It does mean that we should pray for them and continue to care for them. In the end God will dispose as He sees fit. Our calling is merely to be faithful.

WHERE IS THE CHURCH?

One of the problems of both extreme Anglo Catholicism and extreme Evangelicalism within our tradition is that they constantly make their appeal to an entity which doesn’t exist and which is external.  Granted there exists within “Catholic” Christendom some pretty fundamental agreements on the nature of the sacraments, of Holy Orders, but when one comes to the nature of the Church, there are very strong differences between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and the  minuscule Utrecht Union churches.  Where Anglicans look outside themselves for help in settling questions of authority, there “Catholicism” lets them down, for the reason I’ve stated.

In a sense this was Newman’s undoing. He was attacked for his necessary reliance on discovering true Catholicism in the Undivided Church, a deceased body!  And so he took the step, I believe as much cultural as theological, in locating true Catholic “magisterium” in contemporary Roman Catholicism. Indeed he gifted his new home with his theory of doctrinal development, a theory which swiftly came back to bite him in the Dogma of Papal Infallibility. If it bit Roman Catholicism in modern times it has given Anglicanism rabies!

Our Evangelical friends have an even more difficult task because they locate their authority in something called “Reformed” theology: and for historical reasons are as wont to ignore Lutheranism as Catholics ignore Orthodoxy. That for Anglicans, such a theology only existed in an enfleshed form for barely three years during the reign of Edward VI, fought a losing battle in Elizabeth I’s reign, only to rise from its sectarian grave to devour Anglicanism during the Interregnum, remains a problem. And now our Sydney friends, still smarting that Hooker won the argument for us, want to complete the Reformation Travers, Cartwright and their ilk failed to bring about. Both parties refuse to locate “the True Church” within Anglicanism. Catholicism is not of course as an exclusive possession, but may be claimed by Anglicans in the sense that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church exists in microcosm where the biblical, catholic community gathers.

Yes, Anglican structure is not proving adequate to resist the lawlessness which overtook Western culture in the 60s and thus gives license to the “me” generation in TEC, and it would seem Sydney to do as they please. Whether this structural failure is a fatally practical judgement on “Anglican dispersed authority” is quite another matter. To my mind, in theory, our non-coercive model, which expects Provinces to behave with Christian responsibility towards each other and towards the authority of our formularies is adult and mature. A Covenant which clearly commits our Provinces to the principles and mission of Reformed Catholicism is, I admit, needed, but I would put the stress on recapitulating our ecclesiology and essential matters of doctrine, discipline and worship. If immature Provinces can’t stomach that which we espouse as Anglicans, let them go in the corner until they can behave.

It is for this reason that I hesitate to advocate our saddling ourselves with reformed structures which may well prove unnecessary when this silly generation has passed away and sounder and more reasonable attitudes reappear. Dispersed authority still works pretty well in the Orthodox world in which attempts to behave badly are dealt with sternly with the ecclesiastical version of a smacked bottom.

STAY IN AND REVIVE

(These are some comments I made about the Communion Partners Rectors’ meeting held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston last weekend.)

I was pleased with the tone and content of our meeting. As you now know I have been around the scene for some forty years and have witnessed successive waves of disaffection within TEC in their various manifestations and know most of the leading figures who have popped up during this time. I am not making any claims to special wisdom. While some say “older means wiser” others retort “there’s no fool like an old fool.”

I sounded the warning about the pitfalls of the past not out of pique, but with a concern that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past and that we understand that Anglican leaders abroad, even when sympathetic, do not always hear us without caution. I have said as much to almost every new manifestation of principled dissent which has arisen, usually without much effect!

My main observations concern what one might term the structural and political aspects of principled and loyal dissent. In the mid 70’ies when the first significant opposition to official TEC policies began to emerge, an organization was formed called “Evangelical and Catholic Mission”: FiFNA is its present heir. It was an excellent title. Unfortunately those involved did not live up to the description provided. The emphasis which emerged was not on mission or formation, but all about structure, tactics and obstruction. Anger and resentment were encouraged and justified by the actions of those deemed the enemy. Granted those who held sway in TEC then – and now – replied in kind.

Principled dissent was not viewed as a vocation or a mission to revive and restore, but rather as a mechanism to use overseas Provinces and indeed archbishops of Canterbury as levers to exert pressure on General Convention and its leaders. The emphasis was on tactics and political means. The liberals in General Convention were much better at that game and won. I do not believe that Christ’s truth is usually won in ecclesiastical legislative assemblies.

As membership in dissenting groups dwindled, and groups fragmented, that sort of leverage became less and less effective. By 2003 even granted a new wave of those dissenting from TEC policy, the ability of principled dissenters to influence General Convention or a majority of bishops had diminished significantly. To a majority of Episcopalians dissenters within TEC had all the appearance of grumpy, bigoted and negative old people. Perhaps we have seen a similar dynamic in the recent election?

It therefore became inevitable that the main engines of dissent would become schismatic. Gone was any evidence of the original claim to be an Evangelical and Catholic mission to the church and to the world. Instead the strategy became the creation of a defensive fortress, separated from TEC but acknowledged by overseas Provinces. In a word we exported our divisions to the rest of the Communion and Gafcon is the result.

I have great hope that we will return to the original vocation of principled dissent. I see our vocation, for that I believe it is, to be that of encouragement, a sort of Barnabas mission. We may encourage by fellowship here particularly those who are isolated and young potential leaders and Anglicans abroad, by clearly proclaiming Christ and Him Crucified in a winsome manner, by providing instruction and apologetics using the best and most modern tools at our disposal, and by winning over moderate opinion among bishops and other clergy in our church who have been frightened into reluctant alliance with the left because we have been deemed extreme and rather nasty. In short our mission is of the same order as that which inspired the earlier Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics to win back the church for Christ while speaking in mission to the world: the ordinary mission of every Christian.

HISTORICAL OR PNEUMATIC?

I’m writing this on All Souls’ Day. Later at the Eucharist we’ll remember the loved ones of our parish family, past priests who have served here and all the faithful departed. In a sense it is a time when we look back although that backward looking enables us to enjoy communion with those who now look forward to Jesus, the author and finisher of our Faith.

When we say that Christianity is an historic faith we don’t mean it is what the late beloved +Michael Ramsey termed an archeological faith. The motto of the Christian is not “things aint what they used to be.” Looking back to a golden age and seeking to replicate that age is a self-defeating practice. What results is make believe.

Christianity is an historical faith because it rests its faith in historical happenings. Most of such important events are recorded in the Bible. In addition to and following the biblical record we have centuries of “tradition”. It’s a pity that word now seems to mean old fashioned, out of date or irrelevant. Tradition means the memory of the church through the ages, recorded in buildings, documents, music, books, diaries, and in our own time even email! As we live into the story of our faith, into the real time happenings recorded in Scripture and in the Tradition, we add to the tradition one way or another.

There is positive tradition and negative tradition. Positive tradition is witnessed in the lives of those who have approached the recorded testimony of the Bible and the reflections of great women and men on the Bible with reverence and awe and who have sought faithfully to translate the faith once given into the language and culture of their contemporaries.

Negative tradition is instructive. It tells the tale of those who put their own thoughts, feelings and intellect first and claimed some personal or collective inspiration of the Spirit which in short declares that God’s revelation in Jesus is not final, but changes as culture or mood or circumstance change. Believing that God has new things to tell us, rather than new applications of that which God has revealed, they enter into the excitement of “prophecy” as if “prophecy” is oracular.

Making the past an idol, refusing to speak to one’s culture using that culture’s ways as a vehicle for the timeless Gospel is a subtle form of idolatry. Imposing culture on the Gospel so that what has been given is overthrown in the name of modernity or progression is similarly a form of idolatry, the worship of trends and passions in a desire to be respectable or relevant.

At the Eucharist we proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. These are all historical facts, with at least as much evidence to support them as that which tells us William the Conqueror arrived on the English shore in 1066. In the Gospel records and the wide sweep of biblical evidence is contained all we, personally and collectively need to know for eternal salvation. That Gospel shifts in emphasis, although not in content, as it is applied in different places, using different languages and in different times. Yet always it is the same Christ with the same message and the same offer of forgiveness, restoration until Kingdom come.