Monday, June 25, 2007

BISHOPS—"too thick on the ground and causing a big mess"?

Within the claimed territory of The Episcopal Church [TEC], there will be very soon the presence of "missionary bishops" of four Anglican Provinces from Africa—Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda. And their emerging "dioceses" will exist together with (a) former TEC congregations supervised by bishops from outside the USA; and (b) a few dioceses and parishes within TEC claiming to be supportive of the Africans.

Why this invasion from abroad? At one level, it is the rejection of the ancient catholic rule which insists on respecting diocesan boundaries and national church boundaries. At another, it is an assertion of confidence by African Anglican Churches that they know what Christian Orthodoxy is, and that they are more than competent to discern where it is rejected—as they judge it now to be within the TEC. Indeed, they are self-consciously rejecting the historic place of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Family and doing what they think is right—whatever the consequences, it seems.

Now let us go back in American Anglican/Episcopal history just thirty years to see why the total Anglican situation is much more complex than the situation just described.

In 1977 there was an invasion of the territory and claims of TEC not from abroad but from within. There broke away from TEC a large group of members who held that, with its rejection of the classic BCP and by its ordination of women, the same TEC was moving into apostasy, and that the only way to continue the Anglican Way of orthodoxy was to move out and create "the Anglican Church in North America ." And this was done at a Congress in St Louis in 1977. However, for a variety of complex reasons, this movement soon had four bishops (Doren, Mote, Morse and Watterson), and then four separated jurisdictions. Further, around these four separated groups were both independent congregations and very small groups all claiming to continue true Anglicanism. Now the number of related but competitive groups has much increased and there are over 100 bishops in or related to this "continuing Anglican movement" and most of them have very small flocks indeed.

Schism, it seems, is in the very nature and ethos of American Christianity; it is the long established way to begin again and recover what has been lost. All churches have done it and do it still. It is apparently incurable! Anglicans are not exempt from this virus and disease.

Today, one does not need to look very far to see that all these various "invading" dioceses, together with the TEC itself and the many other small groups, present one huge mess, the like of which the Anglican Family has not seen before in its history from the late patristic period. The Anglican Way in North America is totally dysfunctional and conforms perfectly to the image of divided and competitive American Protestantism in its presence in the American supermarket of religions. It is embarrassing to be asked: "What is an Episcopalian/Anglican?" today. And even as there is a vast spectrum of Anglican types—groups, jurisdictions, networks etc.—so there is also a vast spectrum of liturgical uses and theological persuasions. Again, the variety in all areas blows the mind! No wonder there is a constant exodus to Rome, Orthodoxy and other apparently safe havens!

It seems that the Bible of American Anglicanism has, like the Bible of Marcion been edited with a penknife, in order to remove all calls to unity, and unity in truth, of the people of God from it! Rather, the spirit of capitalism and competition seem to have been written into the Bible! On the ground, the number of CEO's (Bishops) increases rapidly in order to rule over the increasing number of administrative units, even as the total number of Anglicans/Episcopalians in the USA actually decreases ( in 1965 it was twice what it is now, and then the population of the USA was much smaller).

The example set by the Continuers since the 1977 of division and dissent, with little active effort to unite, looks like being repeated—but in different ways—by those who are now in the USA gathering around Rwanda or Nigeria or Kenya or Uganda or (? the next Province to announce a missionary outpost in the good old USA). And what this suggests is that TEC will continue effectively to rule the roost, while all its enemies continue to fight amongst themselves, as they major on minors and preserve their small empires to the last ditch, professing belief in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church!

I cannot but believe that the LORD our God is saying something to us through this total mess and that this holy Word is not one that we all want to hear!

I personally hang on for I find the Anglican Way in its classic expression and based on the historic Formularies—Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal and Articles—to be most satisfying as Reformed Catholicism. Yet I hang on expecting deserved and profound chastisement to come our way from heaven very soon.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon

1 comment:

wyclif said...

"Again, the variety in all areas blows the mind! No wonder there is a constant exodus to Rome, Orthodoxy and other apparently safe havens!"

Ah, Dr. Toon! But that assumes that the above-mentioned "safe havens" have also conformed to Catholic orthodoxy. That is a very shaky assumption indeed, as post-Vatican II Catholicism shows us, with her Novus Ordo, female "cantors", no discipline on marriage and procreation (American Catholics notoriously reject the Vatican's proscription of birth control), and horrid Haugen/Hass "music."

So please, Dr. Toon, since we both share the same faith (that of the Holy Bible/1928 BCP/Ordinal) and uphold the teach the faith once delivered, I think what is needed is a bit less guilt-tripping and a bit more cooperation on the ground and real Christian unity in essentials.