In modern times, denominational conventions, synods, commissions and working parties have developed the ecclesiastical art of vagueness, doublespeak and expediency. That is, they seek to avoid public controversy by offering statements and reports that can be read in a variety of ways by people looking for different things. (On how the Church of England has nearly perfected this art see Edward Norman, Anglican Difficulties, 2004.)
The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. is no exception to this culture and also, like the C. of E., excels at it.
Those who have observed TEC in the last two or three decades know that it speaks in two different ways.
(a) To itself, when only the initiated and committed are around, it is clearly, unambiguously and without shame progressively liberal—worshiping the Deity which, in everlasting union with the cosmos, is in the process of change and evolution and, in being so, is revealing Godself to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
(b) To others, when in ecumenical and global Anglican meetings, it speaks the cultivated language of vagueness, doublespeak and expediency so that it may be heard as either semi-traditional or semi-liberal or both.
[Watch for the Statement, due on September 24/25, from the House of Bishops about The Windsor Report and responding to the Archbishop of Canterbury for an example of (b).]
TEC also expresses this twofold character in its use of Liturgy.
(a) When the occasion is public, with ecumenical guests and/or a wide range of Anglicans present, then the form of Liturgy in its 1979 Book is used in a semi-traditional way, with little or no expression of excess. However,
(b) when those present belong to the inner membership of TEC, those committed to progressive liberalism, then the liturgy reflects the commitment to the Deity of change, process and evolution, masculine names and images disappear, Jesus becomes androgynous, salvation is equated with the realization of the millennial goals of the United Nations and the full liberation of human beings to be truly themselves, and unions of same-sex couples are celebrated as signs of the holiness blessed by the Deity of change.
Let us be honest with ourselves. For the foreseeable future TEC is going to remain this way, with two faces and two forms of speech. Therefore a small minority, who claim to be traditional or orthodox (e.g. Bishops Howe and Stanton), will feel wholly justified in staying within the fold, and also those who are publicly committed to progressive liberalism (e.g., the Presiding Bishop and most of the House of Bishops) will also surely believe that they are more than justified in staying where they are, as they are. Yet—let us be clear—the real character of TEC has been, is, and will be progressively liberal.
In terms of constitutional documents, TEC is still generally orthodox in that it accepts the authority of the Bible and the Two Creeds as summaries of basic Christian doctrine. However, in terms of its practical theology (what is set forth by the Executive Council, the General Conventions, the seminaries, most of the House of Bishops, and priests in their pulpits) it has abandoned traditional Faith, Morality and Worship.
This raises an important question which in a different context was faced by the great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, in 1586! What is the foundationof the Church?
Hooker wrote in 1586 a major Tractate on the subject of faith, good works and the foundation of the Church. The latter topic was addressed by him because of difference of opinion in the Church of England about the Church of Rome. Puritans said that Rome has ceased to be a visible Church of God and was wholly apostate. In response, Hooker asked, “What is the basic foundation of the Church”, and came to the position that the foundation is—in one sentence—“Jesus Christ, Son of God, is the only Savior of the world.” So he argued that since Rome obviously held this foundation (despite it many errors concerning faith, works, sacraments, the papacy and so on) it was still in a basic sense a visible Church of God on earth, even though it was necessary to separate from it. (To read this important, 20,000 word Tractate, very recently published in modernized English, go to www.anglicanmarketplace.com or call 1-800-727-1928 and look/ask for Hooker, “Salvation and the Church of Rome.”)
What would Hooker say of TEC, which in its constitution states that Jesus Christ Son of God is the only Savior of the world and then in its widespread, practical theology effectively denies this belief?
My suspicion is that he would say, “If TEC is not reformable and is by common judgment wholly unlikely to recover its original Faith, then for the salvation of your souls, depart from it and seek a safe haven.”
Dr Peter Toon September 23, 2007