Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"By Schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed"

The Call to Anglican Unity in the USA
A discussion starter


Jesus intended that his Church on earth be unified (unity without uniformity?) and prayed to his Father for this (John 17). His apostle, Paul, gave much teaching on the same duty and goal (see e.g., Romans 12:3-8).

The Anglican Polity (in the context of a divided Church in this world) requires that there be one Province in one geographical area, one National jurisdiction in one Nation, and usually one diocese in one specific area.

BUT in the USA there is not only the spectacle of the Church of God divided into a multitude of jurisdictions, denominations and groups, but also, in terms of Anglican Polity, there is the official Province (ECUSA) and then a great number of Extra-Mural Anglicans, Anglicans in Exile & Potential Anglicans outside the ECUSA in a variety of organized groups. FURTHER, the official Province has substantially departed from the worship, doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Way and has within it a "remnant" which is calling for intervention from outside to rescue it and to make it secure and safe.

There is to put it kindly a Great Mess which does not adorn the Gospel of Christ!

Within this situation there is obviously a divine requirement that those who claim to be of one persuasion - the Anglican Way - immediately find ways to unite in truth within the doctrinal & liturgical parameters of their heritage and vocation. This means that the "remnant" from within ECUSA together with the Extra-Mural Anglicans etc. (Continuing Anglican Churches, Anglican Mission in America, Reformed Episcopal Church and so on) need to form what can become the new Anglican Province for the USA [to replace the present one which has backslidden] so that they are true to Anglican Polity and begin to fulfill the desire of Jesus for unity without uniformity.

Easier said than done! I bring attention here to the seemingly insuperable obstacles in the way of bringing together even into real dialogue the varied groupings who claim to be and aspire to be genuine members of the Anglican Way of biblical & historical Christianity.

1.The context of America is one which encourages individualism, personal autonomy and the exercise of rights and so the cultural forces are always centrifugal, forcing people away from each other and making unity most difficult. Since 1976 the steady stream of people exiting from the ECUSA has led to between 30 & 40 independent groups using the name Anglican/Episcopal[ian]. The centripetal inspiration of the Holy Ghost competes with the centrifugal power of the Zeitgeist and on the surface the latter is winning daily.

2.There is a major division over the ordination of women - some do not allow it; some allow women deacons only; some allow both deacons and presbyters. And there is little knowledge of and appreciation for the Anglican doctrine of reception (publicized by the Eames Commission).

3.There is a major division over Formularies - the remnant from within ECUSA hold to the 1979 prayer book as a formulary whereas to many who have left the ECUSA that book is not a Book of Common Prayer at all; rather it is a book of alternative services and thus not a genuine BCP and so not a genuine Formulary. On the other side, some Continuing Anglicans have added to the traditional Anglican Formularies (classic BCP, Ordinal & Articles) that which was always seen as an option (e.g., mandating belief in the teaching of the Seventh Council in Nicaea which deals with icons).

4.There is a division over sexuality, in particular over marriage discipline and whether or not annulments should be given at all by bishops and whether or not second marriages involving divorcees be allowed in church. Within the "orthodox" constituency of Anglicanism there is a high proportion of divorced and remarried clergy & laity.

5.There is (to develop 1 above) a built-in desire by many of the leaders and supporters of the 30 - 40 groupings to preserve what they have created wherein their have authority, power and personal identity. There are over 100 bishops, with many other clergy claiming special titles and ecclesiastical privileges, and the desire to preserve these and thus the structure ( jurisdiction/denomination) in which they have meaning is very strong indeed.

6.Also there is within the "remnant" inside ECUSA a kind of superior feeling that IT is the real Anglican presence for it is in touch with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Primates, that the Extra Mural Anglicans need to get on board and that all arrangements for unity should be around IT; and there is within the Extra-Mural Anglicans a sense of not trusting those who have remained within ECUSA and accepted most of its innovations since he 1970s.

7.One could continue to list areas of division such as the level of clergy education, the pedigree of the succession claimed by bishops, the overlapping of parishes at the local level, personal rivalries and personality clashes and so on.

8.Surely the CALL and PRAYER of the Lord and of his apostles and surely the reality of the known POLITY of the Anglican Way - the centripetal forces - ought to be of greater concern to biblically-minded Anglicans than the preservation of the status quo of division, confusion and the majoring on minors - the centrifugal forces.

At least there ought to be have begun already sustained and continuing DIALOGUE wherein those of One Name can explore what belonging to One Family is all about and involves in the multicultural and multiethnic reality of modern America.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon November 18, 2003

An anonymous response to the above:

Enough. For Peter+ to make the statement that continuing Anglicans, inter alia, do not “adorn the Gospel of Christ” is presumptuous drivel. From a man remaining in a church with transgendered priestesses comforting himself with the absurd notion of “impaired communion” it is even more outrageous.

On the “unity” theory Peter+ proposes, why are we not in the Roman Church? Indeed, even with its woes, it is far preferable to the Church of England.

Admit it. We appear to be growing and changing. While we have Anglican roots, why do we need a faked-up unity that posits that “the Anglican Way” (whatever that now means) is synonymous with “historical Christianity”.

We continuers have been here for 25 years. We have our divisions, yet we seem to be serving our people in ways Scriptural and Sacramental without need of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his druidical fantasies. It all won’t fit under one umbrella, and we are trusting in the Holy Spirit, and not the dying CofE to show us the direction to take. At least we are beyond questions of homosexual bishops, votes on the Nicene Creed and a claimed membership that never attends church.

Spare us the neo-colonialism and understand that many of us aren’t led to be in the big tent of a re-invented Episcopal Church in the “necessity” of a polity that is defined by Canterbury. Why not the East or Rome? They have a better historical claim.

Finally, statements such as “The context of America is one which encourages individualism, personal autonomy and the exercise of rights and so the cultural forces are always centrifugal, forcing people away from each other and making unity most difficult” really are tiresome Eurospeak. This smacks of a haughtiness that is ludicrous when one considers what is left of any consensus in Europe or England, in particular. It is true that there is denominationalism here, but (for the time being) at least we remain a Christian nation.

Ask the question, “What is unity?” That’s fair. But to define it as “the Anglican Way”, particularly under the notion that all strains of theology can dwell inside it, is nonsensical—that is unless you have an established Church to enforce it. Then, you just have empty churches.

Dr Toon responds:

I do not know who [this] anonymous correspondent is but I do not think it is good for him/her to hide behind anonymity ... This said, let me address a few of the points raised (his or her text is [above]).

I stand by my assertion that the presence of so many small Anglican groups or jurisdictions or denominations in the American supermarket of religions is a scandal and does not adorn the Gospel of redemption & reconciliation. We all know that in the reasons for so many being there in the USA is a lot of majoring on minors and of exalting this or that person(ality). Pragmatism & utilitarianism & capitalism & competition may be able to justify the existence and set up of each group and also of so many competing groups in the one territory, but the Lord of the Church prays that we be one - and Anglican unity is surely a starter towards a greater unity of the Body of Christ, to which we are all committed as believers in the one Lord, One Church, One Faith, One Baptism etc.

I can see NO justification for the existence of any small Anglican denomination/jurisdiction in the USA unless it sees itself as in a holding position and its goal for the immediate future is to unite with others of like mind & practice. To set up shop as though the group/denomination is in this until the Parousia is wholly wrong to my mind and is a denial of the very content of the Prayer Book that is used (the 1928 BCP).

If one or other of these Anglican bodies does not want to be united to the international Anglican family of circa 75 millions then let it/them immediately seek to be taken in by the Church of Rome or the Orthodox Church or whoever. To stand alone as on a desert island and not to want to be in fellowship with the greater part of the Body is unnatural and unacceptable in the realm of grace.

To claim to be Anglican and not to desire the reform of the Anglican Way and its unity is to my mind a strange position which before God & right reason is wholly untenable.

Let the Anglicans in Exile, the Extra Mural Anglicans, come together and let them form a Province and let them then by the grace of God be as the salt of the earth and even the light of the world in the Anglican Communion of Churches, and let this Communion be a means to the greater unity of the Church of God militant here on earth. Let the genuine Anglicans, who have suffered because of the apostasy of the ECUSA, now shine as the stars of heaven in their magnanimity and centripetal activity!

Thank you.

1 comment:

John Savard said...

I would have to agree with the anonymous comment that "the East or Rome" have better historical claims than Canterbury. This is not to say that those groups that have broken away from the Episcopal Church, but which choose to continue to think of themselves as Anglicans, should not work towards unity with one another. But it is not pandering to the "centrifugal forces" of American culture to place fidelity to what one understands to be the truth contained in another Book above the Book of Common Prayer. That is not to say, however, that the Bible comes down wholly on the side of those who brook no compromise on doctrine; the discussion of "food offered to idols" addresses the complexity of this matter.