Wednesday, May 22, 2002

No longer Bridge Church but Ecumenical Crisis Zone

Until the 1960s, even the 1970s, the Anglican Communion was thought of by many as a bridge Church between the Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic & Orthodox Churches. Because of the ordination of women, especially to the Episcopate, in a minority of the 38 provinces, the Anglican Communion has become an Ecumenical Crisis Zone!

Gone forever is the vocation to be a Bridge Church!

Why? Because She is seeking to contain within herself as a Communion two (hitherto) different and irreconcilable traditions of church order. First of all, that of the so-called traditional historic episcopate that claims to be in genuine apostolic succession of faith and order, and secondly that of the episcopate of men and women “being led by the Spirit” to innovate within new circumstances.

Until the 1970s it was the Anglican claim that each one of the bishops in the Communion was in full communion with all the rest and that each local bishop was a bishop of the one, holy, catholic & apostolic Church as well as of his own diocese. From the time that women were ordained to the episcopate, there was immediate impaired communion within the Anglican Family of Churches. Of no woman bishop can it yet be said that she is accepted by all the other bishops as an authentic bishop in the Church of God. The very fact of having women bishops, however competent and holy they are, means that there can never be a united Episcopate and thus never a united Family of Churches/dioceses.

The ESSE of the Church which is unity cannot be!

Thus instead of being a genuine united Anglican Communion, seeking unity with other Jurisdictions, the Anglican Church in the world exhibits an Ecumenical Crisis Zone, reflecting in herself the tensions of modern Christianity. Her bishops certainly meet but they cannot be said to be united in anything other than general terms.

And this Crisis Zone has grown even wider in recent years as into it has entered the whole question of human sexuality. Thus impaired communion made a necessity by the ordaining of women as bishops has much increased by the choice of some western dioceses and provinces not only to ordain active homosexual persons and bless same-sex partnerships but also to seek to get others to accept this innovation.

Is there an escape from this Crisis Zone? Yes, but only into different forms of ecclesial, moral and doctrinal crisis zones. Roman Catholicism in most parts of the western world is in real crisis as continuing media exposures reveal. It is certainly no safe haven for those who wish a peaceful church environment. Likewise the various jurisdictions of Eastern Orthodoxy are going through very obvious growing and adapting pains and pressures in the USA and these are in their own contexts painful and real crises. Further, the small Continuing Anglican Churches have exhibited since the 1970s a total inability to offer an alternative to the official Anglican Communion as they have multiplied schism and disorder, even if they have not ordained women.

In a local parish, where there is much activism and excitement, it may seem possible to forget the crisis zone but it will sooner or later rear its ugly head and cause us to take note of it! The Christianity we preach and teach and seek to live is deeply affected by the reality of the Crisis Zones and thus we all are affected.

We cannot escape entering Crisis Zones if we wish to be responsibly engaged in the life of the divided and distorted catholic Church of God in the West today. We have to live in these Zones and work through them seeking to be both as charitable and as orthodox, as gentle and as firm, as gracious and as discerning as we possibly can be. It may well be that this form of existence is to last a long time as the Crisis Zones are enlarged by ever more occasions of impaired communion.

Thinking of our own souls, we can only seek to be peacemakers, pray for the Parousia of the Lord Jesus & hope that we do belong to the elect of God and are truly, by grace upon grace, members of the “invisible” Church of God that shall be raised unto everlasting life as the redeemed people of God for the life of the age to come.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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