Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Controversy as necessary and good, even in 2006

Considerations to produce better considerations.

In any kind of debate, from political to theological, the issues ought not to be the characters and personalities of persons involved but their policies, teachings, public statements, and the like.

Regrettably, it is often the case that in politics, both in advertising and in public discussion, it is not policies that are attacked but the persons who hold them. For the general public to know what are the issues and what are the policies, they need to read and hear clear statements from the political parties, both as to what is the policy advocated and how it differs from other possibilities. Simply attacking the character of a person who holds a view that is rejected and opposed does not help the moral ethos of a nation or give to politics a good name. However, it may give what seems a quick victory!

In the Church over the centuries, there have been many controversies with intense theological debate, mostly in writing but also sometimes in synods and councils. And the Church has found that debate and controversy are one major way, used by the Divine Providence, to help the Church as a whole to come to the point of being clear as to its teaching on a given point and then to state it in the best way available. Every dogma and every major doctrine in the Church, including the dogma of the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ, have only been defined and approved after intense debate and often heated controversy. In this dynamic process, the Church has had to pronounce that certain persons holding certain errors are heretics and are to be excluded from the active fellowship of the Church.

Regrettably, there are those today in the Anglican Way today who, while claiming the title of “orthodox”, believe that to engage in controversy is both not necessary and is also uncharitable, especially if it is directed against those who believe themselves to be “the orthodox” by others who also see themselves as “orthodox” but in a slightly different way. To speak and write against the liberal, revisionist, progressive views of the Episcopal humanists, who have dominated the agenda of the General Convention recently ,is deemed acceptable even good, by them; but, to make any criticism of the theological agenda of those who see themselves as “the orthodox,” who believe themselves to be leading the opposition to the “radical revisionists,” is seen as letting the side down.

To be specific, here is an example of the kind of thing being considered. Let us suppose that the “orthodox” in the ECUSA, through their voluntary organizations and networks, proclaim and teach that the specific thing wrong with the ECUSA is its adoption of a major innovation in sexual relations which is totally contrary to scriptural truth. And that if the ECUSA will truly set this aside and return to where it was several years ago, and also do what is necessary to maintain its place within the Anglican Communion, then it can be considered an “orthodox” Church again. Then let us suppose that a minority of “the orthodox” believe that the apostasy of the ECUSA is much deeper and wider than its recent innovation in sexual ethics and practice; indeed, it is something that goes back to the revolutionary 1960s and was put in place during the 1970s – including the abandoning of the historic Anglican standards of worship, doctrine and discipline, together with a major change in the doctrine and purpose of marriage.

Is this minority within the “orthodox” camp to keep quiet, or is it, in a reasonable, careful, and clear way to seek to make known what it believes is the fuller story? Or is it to stand by while the short story is told and thereby the laity especially is left believing that the problem and crisis are not as severe and deeply grounded as they in fact are? Is it to keep quiet and allow what it sees as an imperfect and incomplete diagnosis to be proclaimed as the whole truth? And it if is the Prayer Book Society, which has been consistently stating certain interpretations of the apostasy of ECUSA since 1971 (thirty five years!), and which believes its message needs to be heard especially in 2006, is it to keep quiet?

There are probably several reasons for this belief amongst the “orthodox” that their positions should not be subjected to theological critique by their fellow believers, who like them earnestly wish to see the renewal of the Anglican Way. One may be that an army divided cannot fight well. Another may be that the chosen strategy is to deal with one issue at a time and so first it is homosexuality; then it can perhaps be marriage (dealing with the high divorce and remarriage rate amongst clergy and laity) and then it can be perhaps the creating of an orthodox Prayer Book and Formularies (for the 1979 Prayer Book is a root cause of many of the ills and errors of the ECUSA), and so on. Yet another may be that it is considered as improper and against “love” to criticize the views of friends at all. And no doubt there are other views.

In response, what is worth serious consideration is the following:

(a) theological debate and controversy have been the primary means amongst the orthodox over the centuries of bringing clarity concerning doctrinal and ethical truth, and there is every reason to believe that it is a primary means today even for Anglicans aspiring to be “orthodox.”

(b) Any theological critique to be profitable has to be against doctrines, policies and statements and NOT against persons.

(c) That theological debate and critique are ideally addressed to the mind, that is to persons as if they are only minds, so that the response can be rational and reasonable, and thus from mind to mind. If the debate is engaged in at the emotional level by one side or the other, or by both, where feelings get hurt, then it will be totally unprofitable.

We do need to bear in mind that the most commonly used verb in America is “I feel” and that because of the pervasive influence of the therapeutic view of life, many people find it hard to receive anything in the mind for careful consideration without their emotions getting fired up, for they think through their feelings! But a healthy church and a healthy reform movement is one that is characterized by debate and controversy, based on issues and doctrines, and addressed to Christian minds in the search for common ground and then for truth. We need more healthy debate based on careful study and on a passion for God’s truth and the unity of Christ’s Church.

May 10 2006

No comments: