• RSS Subscribe to Blog

  • PAGES

  • RECENT PONDERINGS

  • RECENT COMMENTS

    Steve on SAINTLY?
    Paul Nicholson on SAINTLY?
    RGE on Calling the Shots
    Walter J. Tanner on MARRIAGE EXTENSION
    franiel32 on IN THIS COMPANY
  • ARCHIVES

  • BLOG STATS

    • 112,943 hits

A PROPOSAL

I have forwarded this proposal to the Bishops/Deputies list, a web site which invites the Bishops and elected Deputies and Alternates to General Convention to enter into conversation.

<The divisions in our church are, I believe, to be tackled by members of TEC. The basic problem in addressing these issues is one of trust. They have become both issues of principle and issues in which individuals exhibit a lack of trust in each other.

I want to propose that immediately a bishop, a priest and a lay person from each “party” self nominated or proposed by whoever is thought to represent them, spend a week together in seclusion examining these dreadful problems and that at the end of this “retreat” issue a unanimous report to the church. Obviously such conclusions would not be official and perhaps the more important because of such an ad hoc nature.

Around the time of the 2000 GC Louis Crew, Brian Cox and others, of whom I was one, engaged in such discussions in what whas termed the “New Commandment Task Force”.  The manner in which these discussions took place was honest, respectful and fruitful. The initiative died in the politics which subsequently occurred.

Such engaged discussions might well be monitored and enabled by persons trained in a reconciliation process.  While such a process would obviously not change minds, what may result are suggestions pointing towards principles which go deeper and beyond the slogans and “political” rhetoric of our present atmosphere of accusations and of structural positions.

To my mind what may well emerge is not a legislative solution, but an appraisal of the strength or weakness of our determination to live together as a family within TEC. The participants would have to be persons of both clear conviction and also persons with a willingness to listen, learn and contribute in a positive manner. I do not believe that these qualities are mutually exclusive.

Our church mirrors the stark divisions in the country, present since the 60s. We need to bring to these stark divisions a Christian, realistic and compassionate spirit just as our present government is seeking a common will and mind to rescue the country from its grave problems and divisions.

Perhaps this suggestion seems symplistic and utopian, but surely as Christians we are utopians?

Tony>

OR TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY

The season before the Lambeth Conference is now consigned to the “dead” past in many of our memories. Many TEC pundits on the “left” were then insisting that TEC was a unique Province in the Anglican Communion. They contrasted the alleged “prelacy” of overseas Primates and lauded, in contrast with “other” Provinces the essential democracy of the American system. Much of the rhetoric was based on scant information of the sort that suggests that the Queen (of the UK) rules rather than reigns. The very title “Archbishop” raised the hackles of good republicans.

Yesterday some Communion Partner bishops signed a statement which argued that TEC is indeed one of a kind, a confederation of sovereign dioceses which compact to live in unity, but retain essentially sovereignty. Much of the argument was based on examining the Constitution of TEC in the light of the history of its adoption and the opinions of some of the people who were involved in its framing. One is reminded of the squabbles between political Conservatives who insist that the American Constitution must be interpreted in the light of the intent of its framers, and those who believe it must be construed in the light of development and present circumstances. One might deduce that those who have signed the Bishop’s statement on TEC Polity are “strict constructionists.”

As in all such arguments what is afoot at the moment in the Elephant in the room. God help the furniture. Certainly an historic examination of why TEC is as it is: certainly a uniquely structured body among Anglican churches and a church with international pretensions. In that matter no other Anglican Province has its foot in territories apart from itself although the Archbishop of Canterbury (not the CofE) has jurisdiction beyond the boundaries of England. There is something of an irony that TEC claims jurisdiction abroad but objects to the Southern Cone Province in South America now claims jurisdiction in the USA!

The Elephant in the room is named “Identity”. It represents the worry on the part of those Episcopalians who are now on the “far right” of  that the church to which they belong may disassociate itself from the wider Anglican Communion or be “disassociated”. These Episcopalians – and I am one of them – reject the idea that TEC is a discreet “denomination” which at present belongs to a fellowship which is worldwide, but from which they draw no essential authenticity and to which they owe no essential reference.

A second distress is present in all this. The way the polity of TEC actually works at the moment, is a “winner take all” system. It resembles nation states in which one party has such a majority in its governing councils that the opposition is impotent. The elected majority is so formidable that it has become an elected dictatorship and in such a position of power experiences no checks and balances to its power. An example is that mirrored in the present South African elections in which the concern is that the ruling party will receive a sufficient majority to make an opposition virtually powerless and in which the majority party may amend the national Constitution at will.

A third concern has been brought to the fore by the attempts of TEC dioceses to depart and the subsequent intervention of the Presiding Bishop in a manner which does not seem to conform to the actual authority granted to our Primate by the Constitution. While the office of the Presiding Bishop has not articulated “legally” a justification of actions taken, the general argument seems to be that TEC is threatened and therefore the executive must be granted extra constitutional authority to deal with “terrorism”. Herein is another irony. Episcopalians who tend to vote Democrat in national elections and who wish to bring to account those who are deemed to have gone beyond the legal authority of government in the Bush administration are supporting the extra-legal actions of the PB and General Convention while those who may well have lauded the Republican government’s allegedly extra-legal actions after 9/11 attack the actions of the TEC government for its extra Canonical activities. It is a rum old world.

An aside here. When TEC was founded it was largely influenced by the American Revolution. Its founders for me most part were utterly against autocracy, monarchy and what they termed prelacy. This Brit will not attempt to describe what was meant by those first two terms, well at least not today, but it is obvious they were not reacting to monarchy and the parliamentary system as it now obtains in Great Britain. But what did they mean by prelacy then?  In 1789, to pick a date, the constitutional government of the English church was supressed. The ancient Convocations of bishops and clergy had not met for decades. Bishops and archbishops were appointed by the crown upon the advice of its ministers and were more often than not so appointed because they were safe agents of the government. The Church of England was largely a department of state responsible, ineffectively, for the moral improvement of the population. While Evangelicanism was slowly reviving the English church it had yet no bishops and no influence.

Many “original” Episcopalians were suggesting that just as they had managed without bishops since 1607, they might continue so to do. Yet ironically in the North-eastern states a constituency existed, led by Bishop Seabury who were soaked in Patristic and “High Church” theology who believed “no bishop: no Church.”  The English Church couldn’t get its mind around the idea of a bishop who was not appointed by the Crown. Remarkably they were also concerned that the infant PECUSA would be a church weak in Credal orthodoxy with an inadequate liturgy; the draft BCP of the emerging American church was appealing to those who sat lightly on the miraculous, whose God was remote, and whose duty was moral improvement rather than salvation. I find that odd in that so many English Anglicans were similarly “latitudinarian” and yet worried about the orthodxy of American Anglicans. (All the issues about whether the bishop-elect of Northern Michigan is orthodox is very late 18th. Century: there is nothing new under the sun.)

I think its perhaps true that the significance on the American Constitution in advancing the power of the central government over the States was not settled by the Constitution, but by the Civil War and by decisions which have been made during the past fifty years. A concept evolved.

My main quarrel with the Bishop’s Statement is not that it is defective in its assessment of what was envisioned when PECUSA was established but rather its silence about what has evolved subsequently. Like it or not, the powers of the diocese in the matter of church property and the election of rectors has evolved, most particularly in the past 35 years. In part it is framed in the Dennis Canon which seems to claim ownership of church property by the diocese rather than the parish and by the national church over the diocese. It is also suggested by the creation of local diocesan laws which have largely taken away the rights of parishes to call rectors. A miriad of diocesan regulations have emerged, ironically on the grounds that dioceses have the right to establish methods of rectorial election, unsupported by national Canons. In short both the National Church and the dioceses, and diocesan bishops now claim authority far from that claimed by the founders of PECUSA. In some areas this has established laws far beyond those our founders granted to the National Church, and dioceses have established regulations which have limited parochial rights as established by the Canons. In short both the National Church and the Diocese assume to theirselves authority far beyond the intentions of the founders or the text of the Constitution and Canons.

Our founders were persons who believed that rational people could compact a union which permitted each level of organization to function at that level with little coercion. People of good will might be trusted to act as rational human beings. It was perhaps a Utopian ideal but one which inspired the creators of the United States. Subsequently a more cynical/practical view emerged, reacting to what was perceived to be abuse of power at differing levels. Thus, at least to my mind, it is not sufficient to evaluate TEC solely in the light of “original intent.”  Yet I would suggest that a contemporary evaluation cannot lose sight of original intent and in this context the statement of the Communion Partners Bishops is a valuable recall to that intent.

To my mind, the present solutions to the anger of a perpetual and virtually impotent minority in TEC has been thoroughtly and practically eronious. It has attempted to enforce conformity to majoritorian rule by coercion and has created the dictatorship of the majority and overthrown the essentially Christian -non-legalistic – notion which inspired our ancestors to create a church which was closer to the model of the Early Church and unlike the Ersatian model presented by the Church of England as it was then seemed to be.

I would be more inspired by the Idaba model proposed as the pattern for our next Geneal Convention if those of us struggling to be loyal to TEC, yearning to remain part of the Anglican Communion in the fullness of its Compehension, liberal, moderate and traditional were given a voice and potentially an influence based not on electoral tallies, but on our place as a legitimate and equally historical presence in the Anglican spectrum and tradition. We represent nothing new. We represent an authentic presence within Anglicanism, both here and abroad. We are loyal to the formularies of our church, to the Scriptures, Creeds, General Councils and to the clear words enshrined in our Liturgy and the Catechism. Such a claim is a fomidable appeal to respect and incorporation rather than to perpetual and disenfranchised minorititarianism and an  eccentric perceived identity.

Yes, we are a nuisance. But we claim the right not merely to be a scantly tolerated personality rather like a rather daft relation asked to Thanksgiving dinner. Yes some of us are an embarrassment and some of us seem to want to create an alternative “meal”, but most of us are not self-seekers, or destroyers. We claim no individualistic “prophecy” to alter or overthrow the church we love.

When trust dissolves no law may succeed. Only a willingness to walk in each other’s shoes and to examine objectively why we believe what we believe and why we really believe that we are authentic Episcopalians simply because we may accept the words enshrined in the proposed Covenant in their intentional meaning. Like our founders we agree to the Scriptural, Credal, Conciliar, Patristic foundations of Anglicanism without crossing our fingers. And this no longer is about TEC’s majoritarian views about sexual unions and expression. That issue is merely one symptom among many. How that issue is to be resolved is yet to be revealed. What is at stake is the crucial issue centered in what it means to faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church as the Anglican fellowship of churches has received it and to which we have pledged our fidelity as baptised Christians and for some of us by our ordination vows.

JESUS AND THE COVENANT

Facebook has brought me into contact with Claviers around the world. One is names Jesus, and lives in Venezuela. I wrote to him saying that if I told people I was emailing Jesus they would be sure I’d lost my marbles. He replied that they would be even more amazed to discover that Jesus’ last name is Clavier!

The process of electing a Bishop for Northern Michigan more and more centers on the question, “Who is Jesus?”  That question gets muddled with speculation about if or how God works outside the Church, whether non Christians may be “saved” or can we learn from other world religions? These speculations have nothing essentially to do with who we believe Jesus is.

The Creeds, which we all recite at the Eucharist and the Daily Offices clearly state who we, and by we I mean the Church, believe Jesus to be. He is truly God and truly Man, the connection between humanity and the Godhead and thus the gateway to relationship with God. His Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection and Ascension accomplished for the sins of the whole world that which no other religious or human activity may. In this sense Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and in that sense “no one may come to God except through Jesus.”

The sole purpose of the Church is to tell this extraordinary Good News until Jesus comes again and to preview in its being that which will be when all things are gathered into God in a new Heaven and a new Earth. We enter this community of faith and practice through Baptism and we are kept alive and in communion with the Trinity through the Eucharist.

This is the faith of the Church. Now when we get to the questions of how or if God works outside the Church, or whether devout people of faith in other world religion may be called by God through Christ and the Spirit outside the Church, or whether they can teach us important things by their practices and goodness, who will be saved and who will not, the Church has never defined certain belief or knowledge for us. Indeed Jesus seems to say to us that this knowledge is “none of our business.”

The very fact that many non-conservative bishops are voting not to confirm the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan is a signal that when it comes to the heart of the Gospel many whose thoughts on sexuality seem rather odd, have not given up credal orthodoxy.What is troubling is that it appears that the election of the bishop-elect has been met with approval and support by the Presiding Bishop and other national church officials.

And this is a pressing example of why we need a Covenant. When our church was organized -if it has ever been organized – General Convention promised that the American Church would not depart from the essential doctrine espoused by the Church of England. The adoption of an Anglican Covenant by the Episcopal Church would be a similar promise and agreement to be faithful to the essential doctrine and worship the Anglican Communion has received and proclaimed.

I rather fancy from what I have read that the Bishop-elect has come to his opinions not through the employment of intellectual rigor but by emotional sentimentalism. This form of sentimentalism is often confused with the Christian notion of love. Christian love is not primary sentimental and has nothing essentially to do with “feelings” at all. But that is a story for another day.

A WORD TO GENERAL CONVENTION

Some of us who write for the Covenant Communion website have offered a statement to the Deputies and Bishops who will assemble in General Convention later this year. You may read this at: http://covenant-communion.net/index.php/features/reconciliation_in_communion/

No, I was not responsible for using the noun “disciple” as a verb.

EASTER SERMON

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work_106615_ENG_HTM.htm

REMISSION OF SIN

Perhaps it is a very good thing that the Northern Michigan matter is gaining some traction during Holy Week. I want to concentrate on two issues which center around just how the Church with a capital “C” has regarded just what happened on that “green hill far way.” Or rather I want to focus on two misunderstandings surrounding our doctrine of the Cross.

I was informed the other day that a parishioner, or parishioners were troubled that my preaching of late has been “negative”. No I do not ever preach about the conflicts in TEC. I’ve been concentrating on just what was happening as God acted in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, a natural Lenten theme.

American folk religion is wonderfully sentimental. I judge that this sentimentality has two causes. It is a reaction to fundamentalism. It wants to embrace everyone. Neither motive is unholy. There’s a “racism” deep in the psyche of popular fundamentalism. By “racism” I mean a desire to identify people who are “not as I am.” It feels good to discover that one is on the Lord’s side if there are a host of people, from whom I may separate myself, and judge as being hell-bent. There’s a perversion of the Gospel which wants to say that God in Christ only loves the saved and that the “saved” have no need to love “sinners”.  This religion wants to teach that God the Father broke up the Trinity for a moment, as he condemned his Son to a frightful death in order to pluck a few from the jaws of hell.

Those who have escaped from such a religion turn this perversion of the Gospel on its head and adopt a version of Calvary which concentrates on Jesus the good man, showing an example of self-sacrificing love, demonstrating the errors of “fundamentalist” religion and raw political power, to enable us all to follow that example and claim the love of God for everyone.

And if Jesus is supremely a Good Man, adopted, as it were by God, then surely God has acted through other good people, and that therefore one should not make any particular claims for Christ. He is surely reflected in the lives of those revered in all religions and in none?  After all do not particular claims for the uniqueness of Christ lead to to bigotry and the use of religion to justify intolerance:intolerance against other religions and intolerance towards people whose lifestyles or beliefs challenge our own?

No the delicate possibility in all this is that the motive may be good, and the reflections about just how people may use faith as a blugeon to bash other people to the ground is also true.

Reactive faith, or reactive unbelief, does not contribute to a rational faith and Christianity is utterly rational. The Church has never defined what actually Jesus was doing on the Cross. There has never been an official doctrine of the Atonement. It is irrational to define what cannot be defined.Rather like the adoption of exclusive definitions about just how Jesus is present in the Sacrament of the Altar, exclusive speculation leads to error and not to truth.

My guess is that the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan and his supporters are reacting against hostile religion, but in reacting against the perversions of the Gospel, they react against the Gospel itself.

In the mystery of redemption, Christ died for our sins and the sins of the whole world. The Church offers Christ’s sacrifice to draw all from the bondage of sin and death into new life, a new life which heralds the coming of God’s Kingdom and works in Christ for that Kingdom’s effect here and now. It is a Gospel of personal and corporate redemption and restoration. “He died that we may be forgiven: he died to make us good.”  The “we” is not merely a personal transaction, but a cosmic redemption.

Take away this Gospel, offer another Gospel, and the Church is left with nothing to say except “do as you would be done by”. Any self-reflective person knows that is sooner said than done. The reactive Gospel proposed by the Bishop-elect, in its own way is as exclusive as that offered by those who propose a God of vengeance offering his son, as Abraham sought to offer Isaac to appease a blood-thirsty deity. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. If the Church forgets this, it forgets its doctrine and its mission.

Northern Michigan

It is a pity that the Northern Michigan election has become loaded with partisan reflection. Rather like lovers in a deep quarrel, every statement becomes loaded with past hurt and recrimination.

Thus one comments where angels fear to tread.

There seem to me to be two important issues here. First of all does the “functional” approach to ministry, which teaches that in baptism we all individually receive the charism of leadership, and that ordination or setting apart or recognition in what ever form by the local church, conform to the doctrine and discipline of our church as expressed in the Ordinal and the Catechism?

It seems to me that some advocates of the Mutual Ministry theory are setting forth a theory of ordination which was once espoused by “Congregational” or “Independent” churches. Such groups claim the authority to raise up from their own membership those recognized as possessing gifts, seminally present in all Christians in baptism, and yet found particularly useful or graceful in a local setting. In that, to an Anglican, this inevitably assumes that one such person is acclaimed as one who may consecrate and bless the Elements at the Eucharist (or in the diocese perform the sacramental authority of a bishop) while others are recognized to preach, or teach, or perform pastoral ministry, far from taking us away from priestcraft, one elevates sacramental authority in a focused and theroughly “priestly” or “episcopal” manner.

Secondly while the church has never defined a specific doctrine of the Atonement, the words of our liturgy, particularly in Holy Week and Easter, would seem to commit us to a belief in the Atonement, that Jesus in his death and passion has atoned for the sins of the world and that the atonement is at the heart of our dying with Christ in Baptism and rising with him in the Resurrection. May a bishop of this church, in the light of the solemn commitment made in the ordination vows, teach a theory of Christian life which discounts the Atoning death of Christ as the means by which our sins, and the sins of the whole word, and their reward, are set aside?

In what manner are we permitted to construct liturgies of our own construction for public and parochial use, given our promise only to use those usual rites and ceremonies set for by the authority of the church?

A bishop promises to be the center of unity, right belief and Christian practice. He represents the whole Church, as well as the Province and the diocese. May the “local” church, TEC for us, recognize and raise up a person to fulfill these roles who cannot in good faith affirm and protect the faith received by the whole Church?

It seems to me that these are the matters to be considered by bishops and standing committees as they consent or withdraw consent in an election.