Saturday, November 24, 2007

Anglicanism in USA – can we learn from the past?

Suggestions for considering benefits arising from secession and schism in the USA scene.

Whether we call what is going on in American Anglicanism or Episcopalianism right now in late 2007 by the name of “renewal” or “dysfunctionality,” we are in a state where, it would appear, examining aspects of, or episodes in the past history of, the Anglican Way may be of help.

For example, before the major secession of the last few years, accompanied by the entry into the American scene of African provinces, there were two secessions that cry out for careful examination—in the hope we can learn from them.

First, there was the secession in 1873 that led to the formation of The Reformed Episcopal Church, which claimed to be what The Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. was failing to be—genuinely Protestant and genuinely Evangelical.

And then there was the secession in 1977 which led to the formation of The Continuing Anglican Church (which soon divided into several distinct parts or jurisdictions). This claimed to be continuing what The Episcopal Church (the new name of The Protestant Episcopal Church) was discarding—the use of the classic Book of Common Prayer and the male-only, threefold Ministry.

In 1873 by far and away the majority of committed Evangelicals—bishops, clergy and laity—stayed in The Protestant Episcopal Church; likewise in 1977 the majority of those who wished to retain the classic Prayer Book and the male-only, threefold Ministry stayed in The Episcopal Church. However, in each case the secessions caused great shock to the “system” of Episcopalianism.

Interestingly in 2007 the present form of The Reformed Episcopal Church (now high-church evangelical!) and one part of the Continuing Anglican Church from 1977 are in Common Cause, sharing a common doctrinal statement.

I suggest that the Common Cause would benefit from a series of regional conferences where the origins and effects of these two Secessions were examined, not in order to learn from history as such but rather to become more aware of the nature of secession and schism and its possible long-term realities. And this with a view to act wisely in the present and near future.

I say this because the continuing secession of the last several years—following the Gene Robinson consecration—has been uniform only in one thing, that they came out of The Episcopal Church. As they headed out, they went into the arms of one of many waiting embraces; thus we have congregations aligned with a great variety of overseas bishops and also others organized as mission stations of overseas provinces. It is an amazing phenomenon and was predicted by no-one.

After the 1873 secession there was virtually no sub-dividing of the movement and the Reformed Episcopal Church has remained generally united; but WHY?: After the 1977 secession there was sub-dividing within a very short tine and this has occurred often since 1978 also; but WHY?

There are competent historians around who could provide the background and basic stories so that there could be useful joint discussion and common learning one with another and from each other. We could get to the bottom of the two WHYs!

Why do we need to learn? The answer is simple. Because the complex secession that is still going on in late 2007 is controlled by powerful centrifugal forces and is experiencing few centripetal ones—and this is as one would expect from the facts of the case, where an apostate Church exists, and souls flee in all directions for their salvation. However, very soon the real work must begin of bringing together those who are right now getting themselves organized into associations that, I fear, will not easily be given up or dismantled. The existence of the Common Cause is good, but it is only a small beginning.

So I propose that there be several regional conferences to explore the facts and reality of secession and to think positively of how secession can be turned to moves to godly unity in truth in the present situation.

Thanksgiving 2007 Peter Toon


1662 BCP said...

I would suggest that if you want to know more about the Reformed Episcopal Church you really need to speak with Dr. Alan Guelzo, who is currently teaching in Gettysburg, PA and is under the diocese of Quincy. If you want to know more about why there were so many splits after 1977 in the Continuing churches I can refer you to several sources who can just give you the facts, without axes to grind.

Kevin said...

This is a thoughtful article, thank you. I do agree, we need to learn from both examples.