A short essay to assist meditation and inform attitude
What I am going to cite below can only be fully appreciated if one (a) first recalls the content of Jesus’ last Discourse and Prayer in the upper room (John 14-17) for the oneness of his disciples; (b) then reads The Letter to the Ephesians and gains a sense of the unity in truth and truth in unity presented therein as inextricably belonging to the nature of the Church in its relation to Jesus Christ, the exalted Head; and (c) really appreciates the divine requirement for Christians to live together “maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” Here is the quotation.
“Truth and unity are twins that cannot be placed in lexical order. They have been joined at conception. One does not precede the other. For this reason, space must be created [in the contemporary Church situation] in which both these twins can survive and flourish. Two things are necessary for the creation of this space. One focuses on what Victor Turner once described as communitas, those beliefs, practices, gifts and powers of soul that give sweetness to common life and allow the participants to live peacefully with their neighbors’ idiosyncrasies and rough edges. The other focuses on what Turner called “structure” – those political mechanisms that help us to order life together so that our gifts are fully realized and our aggressions peacefully contained.” [E. Radner & P. Turner, The Fate of Communion, The Agony of Anglicanism…, Eerdmans 2006]
There is no doubt that while we may agree in the abstract, and in theory, with the substantial point being made here, in practice we Anglicans do not usually walk in this way – at least not in recent times. What we often manage to get involved in, when there are real problems and crises in our own church or denomination, is either (i) the pursuit of what think is propositional truth, to the abandonment or loss of practical unity, or (ii) pursuit of formal unity, to the loss of common truth. It seems that we lack patience (usually thinking that we have waited long enough for what we think is right) and that we cannot bear the thought of living alongside others whom we find it hard, or even impossible, to affirm as fellow travelers to the heavenly City. Thus we rush into (what may be with hindsight called) precipitate action. One only has to open the Phone Book and go to “Churches” in the Yellow Pages to see the very long List of the ecclesiastical results of the rush to separate (and the lack of patience to negotiate and find common ground in former united denominations).
Over the last thirty years, the List in the Yellow Pages has been accumulating a growing number of varied and diverse “Episcopalian” and “Anglican” titles and names. The ultimate reason (but not the presenting reasons) for this is the failure of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA from the 1960s to believe, teach and confess, as well as practically to know, that
“truth and unity are twins that have been joined since birth” and that this is how the Lord of the Church would have it. The way in which the leadership of The Episcopal Church introduced liturgical change, the ordination of women, and other innovations from the late 1960s lacked all sense of a concern for truth with unity and unity with truth. Prominent was the passion to get done what the elite wanted done and which they believed was credible and relevant to the new age. There was little sense of getting everyone on board in cooperation and making genuine space for all churchmanships and valid theologies. There was also little sense of waiting for fellow Provinces in the Anglican Communion to catch up with the advanced thinking within the PECUSA.
But, if we are honest, we must also be aware that the exit of those who did not accept the innovations, first in the late 1970s, and then sporadically since then right up to yesterday, may be described as a passionate pursuit of truth (of one kind or another), usually with a significant failure to recognize that truth (as it is in Jesus, the Lord) can only exist where there is unity (in the Spirit of the same exalted Lord). As may be noted by study of the various groups of Anglicans and Episcopalians now outside The Episcopal Church, once they had left The Episcopal Church they found it very difficult indeed to maintain unity amongst themselves, for they were subject to continuing centrifugal powers and processes both from within their own persons and units and from the general culture.
Experience teaches that when truth is pursued alone then the opposite of unity usually accompanies it, sooner or later. Thus, regrettably and sadly, there is not one Continuing Anglican Church now in North America but several, indeed many, and few of them are even in active cooperation with each other.
Truth in Christianity may be reduced to propositions that are true – such as “Jesus is One Person, made known in two natures, divine and human”. Such forms of truth are necessary and often good. Yet Truth is first and foremost dynamic, that is, it is the living Lord Jesus Christ himself. Did he not say, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life?” Truth from God to man is contained in one Lord Jesus Christ and everything in him and about him. Thus all who are truly united to Him by the Holy Spirit, and through Him to the Father, and are thereby really in His mystical Body, are united as members one of another both now and for evermore. They know the Truth and by the Truth they are set free from the guilt and power of sin into new and abundant everlasting life. Truth and Unity are as one before God, and in His Revelation and Gift, because they are perfectly and inextricably united in the Person of the Incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified and exalted Saviour – who shall come again in glory to consummate the Father’s purpose for the unity of the human race, after he has exercised the divine judgment.
The Anglican Way is of course only that of a global “denomination,” a named part of the One Church of God. Yet what God intends for the whole Church, he must surely intend for each part. So Truth with Unity and Unity with Truth in the One Lord Jesus Christ belong together throughout the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and those who claim to be members of His Body and walking in the Anglican Way ought to be more than ready and willing to seek on earth Truth with Unity within their denomination, in their pilgrimage to the heavenly City, where everlastingly the Two (Truth and Unity) will be luminously visible and gloriously joined.
Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
September 17, 2006. Peter Toon.