A reflection to assist clearer reflection and to promote godly action
“Revisionists” is a charge made daily in the Episcopal Church against those who support and propagate the new sexuality agenda by those who oppose that agenda (the blessing of homosexual partnerships). In the main, those who definitely oppose the revision in sexual practice and ethics by the General Convention represent no more than a tenth of the ECUSA and are connected to The American Anglican Council, The Anglican Communion Network, and The Anglican Communion Institute – with supporters from Anglican provinces overseas.
We need to be clear as to the revision that they oppose.
It is not the major revision in the doctrine and discipline of marriage that occurred in 1973 or the revised doctrine of marriage contained in the 1979 prayer book service of marriage. By this canon of 1973 and this service, the purpose of marriage was made to be primarily the mutual satisfaction of the man and woman; procreation was made an option even for healthy couples, and remarriage after divorce was made very easy. (To see the difference read the Preface to the Marriage Service in the English BCP 1662 and the Canadian BCP1962 and then read the preface to the 1979 prayer book service; also compare the canon as it was in 1946 to 1972 with what it became in 1973.)
It is the revision of the progressive doctrine and practice of marriage in the ECUSA from the 1970s (with a very high divorce and remarriage rate and a full embrace of the artificial birth control and a partial support of abortion [choice for women] ) in terms of making this 1970s doctrine more progressive and radical. That is, the present revision pursued by the General Convention is in the claiming for same-sex couples what is taken for granted by “heterosexual couples” – the right to sexual and personal fulfillment in a blessed relationship with the further right to have or adopt children as desired.
If the above is correct – even nearly correct -- then those who claim to be “orthodox” opposing “revisionism” are themselves “revisionists,” opposing a more radical form of “revisionism” in terms of sexual doctrine and practice.
So, when those who call themselves “orthodox” but are (as noted above) really “revisionist” claim that they stand for the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ, they appear to mean something rather different than what Anglicans previous to the modern divorce and artificial birth-control era meant by this authority. And of course there is a different form of interpretation of Scripture in vogue now than was in place before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Texts then meant one thing and now they appear to mean another!
Now if the matter of sexuality was the only problem area then perhaps what is stated above could be dismissed as exaggerated. However, the “orthodox” unashamedly proclaim their “revisionism” when it comes to other major areas as well. Let us note here prayer book revision, as a potent example. This was pursued by the Episcopal Church in the 1960s and 1970s and led to the 1979 prayer book, which replaced the BCP edition of 1928 (itself a gentle revision of the American BCP of 1789 & 1892).
In revising a prayer book we may think of two types of revision:
What happened in 1789 when the BCP 1662 of England was adapted for use in the new country of the USA; what happened in 1892 when the 1789 edition was gentle revised; and what happened in 1928 when the 1892 edition was gently revised. In all three cases the revision was obviously and clearly the revision of one Book, the inherited Book of Common Prayer (first edition 1549). In publishing we are all familiar with revisions of a text to take care of changing circumstances and needs.
What happened in 1979 when the inherited Book of Common Prayer was actually set aside and put into the archives and a new type of Prayer Book, one with varied services and varied doctrines, was put in its place. [In other countries there were also new books produced like the 1979 American but they were called “A Book of Alternative Services” and the traditional Book of Common Prayer was left in place as the chief formulary of the Church.]
The vast majority of those who call themselves “orthodox” and oppose the progressive “revisionists” within the ECUSA are committed wholly to the 1979 Book as their Formulary and worship book. Thus here again they are “revisionists” in a real and extended sense for they agree with the liberal progressives in the rejection of the classic Anglican Way with its Formularies and they adopt the new Religion of the ECUSA as devised in the 1960s and 1970s where “the [new] law of praying is the law of believing.”
Thus the “orthodox” of the AAC and CAN and the ACI appear to be not merely “gentle revisionists” but actually “radical revisionists”; yet, let us be clear, they are not so progressively radical as are those who develop and support the new sexual agenda, who also often have radical revisionist doctrines of the basic articles of the Creed, including the identity of Jesus and of the Holy Trinity.
If further confirmation of this state of affairs (that the “orthodox” are “revisionist”) be desired, then it can be seen in the virtual wholesale adoption of women’s ordination by the “orthodox” (= radical revisionists). There is no doubt whatsoever that ordaining women was a very major change in the doctrine and practice of the ordained ministry in the Church of God. There is also no doubt that it entered the ECUSA because of the political pressures and activism of feminists, who organized and worked for it to occur. And there is no doubt that it entered on the basis of human rights not on the development by the Church from Holy Scripture alone of a new doctrine of the sacred Ministry. If ordaining women is a massive revision – and surely every sociologist accepts that it is – then here is a further aspect of the “orthodox” stance which makes them clearly to be “revisionists” and at odds with the major part of the Church of God (from RC through Orthodox to Southern Baptist).
I have no doubt but that both the progressively radical revisionists are sincere and also the “orthodox revisionists” are sincere, but, as we all know, we can be sincerely wrong.
I conclude that what the “orthodox” strive for is not “orthodoxy” but that form of revisionism with which they are content and which satisfies their constituency. Further, I conclude that when they speak of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ they mean that it applies to all things, except the revisions they have adopted.
It is also my judgment that the some (perhaps a majority) of those from abroad who support the “orthodox” do not realize just how deeply the same “orthodox” leaders and people are immersed in revisionism – for to mention one thing only, other provinces abroad have retained their orthodox Anglican Formularies as the standard of doctrine; indeed Nigeria has recently publicly gone out of its way to emphasize its commitment to them!
The whole of ECUSA is in a really complicated and messy situation!
Lord have mercy upon us all!
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for more about the revisionism of the ECUSA, read EPSICOPAL INNOVATIONS, 1960-2004, available for download from www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928 and for purchase from www.anglicanmarketplace.com
The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon April 20, 2006