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UNEQUALLY YOKED

My friend and Bishop, Daniel Martins has penned a lucid justification for his remaining within the Episcopal Church. http://www.cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com.

He notes that there are many friends who suggest that such accommodation – we used to call it comprehension – is impossible when the issues are not adiaphora, “matters indifferent”, areas where Christians may disagree, but touch on core beliefs. Such people talk about the Pauline injunction forbidding Christians being yoked together with non-believers. (2 Cor 6:14.)

 

Bishop Martins replies to his concerned friends by saying:

 

“Reconciliation is a non-negotiable gospel imperative. It’s not just “nice if you can get it.” It’s not adiaphora; it is essential. I am not suggesting that light should or can be reconciled with darkness, or death with life. What I am contending is that those who have been clothed with Christ in the waters of baptism, those who name Jesus as Lord, are constitutionally and irrevocably of one blood, one family. And in a family, you don’t get to choose your siblings. You may not like them. You make think they’re off the rails. You may find them insufferably boorish and be embarrassed by them. But you don’t get to deny them. When they knock on your door, you suck it up and invite them in and fix them something to eat and drink.”

 

St. Paul (or a writer clearly in the Pauline tradition) doesn’t address the matter of the relationship Christians have with erring companions in the verse quoted from Corinthians. He is clearly talking about those who adhere to the religions of the Gentiles, those who worship idols in their temples and follow such cults. Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians not to hang out with those who practice non Christian rituals, or conform to their moral standards.  Christians, now and then, live in the world and are perhaps naturally drawn to fit in, not to make a fuss about unchristian practices espoused by “culture” and thus to compromise in a manner which confuses and confounds. However, St. Paul has just urged Christians to reconcile with one another. (2 Corinthians 5: 11-6:1.) The Corinthian church was beset by divisions and remained so. Some years later St. Clement scolded them for the same sin. It seems that there was such a thing as parochial DNA even then. “We implore you”, says Paul,  “be reconciled with God.”  Division, to the Apostle, was not just a matter of local disagreements between people, for as he asserts in this passage, one cannot regard fellow Christians as merely human beings, but as human beings who through baptism, through faith, have an indelible relationship with God.

 

That those made Christian through baptism and baptismal faith, can err is a given. St. Paul would have little to write about if that were not so. Just work through any of his letters noting which error he was addressing and one comes up with a formidable list. Yes, St. Paul, on occasion, urges the local church to discipline individuals whose behavior is openly and notoriously sinful in a manner which offends the local assembly, and of course destroys their intimate relationship with God. However the purpose of discipline and punishment in an ecclesial sense is always reconciliation.

 

Apart from brief references to “Judaisers”, and some other obscure appellations, we have little guidance in the New Testament about how erring “particular churches” are to be treated, for the simple reason that, although the local churches SS.Peter and Paul founded were subject to error and internal division, none were unchurched. The writer of the Book of Revelation has some trenchant words to say about the errors of the seven churches, but they remain seven churches. Of course there was no such thing as a “particular church” then. There was one Church.

 

I do not seek to trivialize the issue of “particular churches” which officially espouse teachings and practices in conflict with the received teachings of the historic church. However I would argue that the decisions of local synods, as those of General Councils, may be and have been in error. Anglicans said so in the Articles of Religion. Yet when that Article was written the bogey was Rome. Unlike the radical Protestants, Anglicans never unchurched the Roman Catholic Church and always received priests ordained by that church without re-ordination, even though most Anglicans at that time thought Rome was in severe error on matters relating to personal salvation.

 

One sympathizes with those who have found it necessary to separate from us. Many of them are friends and colleagues. I regard them as fellow Anglicans, whatever their formal relationship with the See of Canterbury. I hate the expression, “I feel your pain”, but pain there is and unfortunately there is bitterness and anger too. I understand what it must be like for most of the GAFCON members, to whom Christianity was brought by Western missionaries from England, Wales, Ireland and North America. To be impacted by the recent policies of the very churches through whom they received Christ, impacted often by being taunted and persecuted by rival religions, is a bitter experience indeed.Christians are being killed by people who use the decisions of our church as an excuse for fanaticism.

 

Yet throughout the history of Christianity there have been divisions, Christians have sought to labor on in errant jurisdictions, and to rub shoulders with those they believe to be plainly wrong. The hope of the Cross, the hope of the baptismal community, is that even in the midst of error, Christ seeks to reconcile, to redeem, to unite. His Kingdom comes in his time, not ours, is established by his will and not by synodical resolutions and as Bishop Martins remind us, grace is mediated through Baptism, through hearing the Bible read, through the other sacraments. We are not called to judge. We are called to be instruments of grace. God judges.

 

In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul puts us all in our place:  “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” In short, through baptism, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper, fellow sinners, fallible, in error in faith and habit, called to live in an often-fraught relationship with each other, called to care and love and accompany each other into faith and right living. Each Sunday we kneel together with people about whose orthodoxy or private behavior we know little or nothing. That basic witness of our unity through baptism should inform our whole Christian experience. Separation may make one feel safe and uncontaminated, but it also cuts off relationships and the ability and opportunity to love-in-action. Separation breeds self-justification and polemic. No, we do not stay to fight. We stay to be faithful to our calling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response

  1. […] Read it all. We note that Tony Clavier offers a slightly different perspective on reconciliation and division at Shreds and Patches. […]

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