I am grateful to God that I knew Bishop Stanley Atkins. He was Bishop of Eau Claire, a Northumbrian with a taste of his Newcastle accent, who emigrated as a priest to Canada and then came south of the border to Wisconsin where he served as an Archdeacon and then Bishop. He was a wise and holy man.
I remember his remarking that many influential Episcopalians came down “the sawdust trail” from fundamentalist churches and embraced the Episcopal Church as a place to counter their fundamentalist “pasts”. Some became “inverted fundamentalists” whose embrace of “progressive” theology became as “fundamentalist” as in their early years embraced the theology and sociology of biblicism. By “biblicism” Bishop Atkins meant an interpretation of Scripture colored by political conservatism and “Americanism”.
I have found a similar if slightly different propensity among some who have converted from Roman Catholicism. Such people often discover in the doctrine of Synodical government, alleged to eventuate the voice of the people, an infallibility they once afforded to the Bishop of Rome: even if popes are rather more sparing in announcing infallible decrees. I describe Synodical Fundamentalism as the belief that a local church, often described as a “denomination”, has the the ability to announce that the Holy Spirit has guided a church assembly to announce to the whole Church Universal a “doctrine” or discipline amended from a core doctrine which has no significant presence in Holy Scripture of in the Tradition – the life – of the Church through the ages. One notes that in this process the charismatic experience has been neatly institutionalized and captured to validate an essentially secular political process.
Even in the midst of this modern trend to impose upon the Church and a church some collective, corrective mind I am encouraged by the young men and women with whom I have contact who are entering the ministry and the life of the academy, having discovered and submitted themselves to the mind of the Church in history, and who take in utter earnestness Scripture as apprehended by collective godly Reason throughout the life of the historic Church. The Covenant website is just one venue where these people may be found.
I was delighted to participate in an ordination last week, in which the driving force behind the Covenant wensite was deaconed. Dr. Joe Bailey Wells of Duke University urged Craig Uffman to emulate Augustine of Hippo and consecrate his considerable mind to the life and work of the Church within TEC. Dr. Christopher Wells a recent doctoral graduate of Notre Dame University takes up his position as editor of the Living Church this month. His intellect and faith is bound to renew that magazine as a cogent advocate of orthodox Christianity and Anglicanism.
I am encouraged because these young men, of whom I have mentioned just two, are not grumpy young men. They are not separatists. They have good humor and a sense of proportion. They have a vocation to restore the Episcopal Church in the midst of the years, not by political or structural means, but by promoting “sound religion and virtue.” I am encouraged.
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