Monday, January 07, 2008

The Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion Network and Reform in 2008?

Will TEC ever be able to reform itself or be reformed in 2008? More to the point, will the ACN ever be able to reform itself or be reformed in 2008?

I shall approach these pressing questions for 2008 through two entrances, that is, through reference to two important practical doctrines. I shall show just how far off the traditional track TEC got from the 1970s and then move on to indicate that ACN has always been within that new track because of its membership of TEC and inability to be removed from it, in ethos and in practical matters.

I shall begin with Holy Matrimony and note that what is called Christian Marriage today (within the doctrine and place of the Canons of TEC and its Prayer Book of 1979) is a denial of Holy Matrimony. Then I shall move to the doctrine of the Church and note that alien principles have invaded and become a necessary part of the present way of describing and being the Church.


In the U.S.A. a marriage is now clearly a contract between two persons and it is regulated by the State. This is a minimal definition of marriage and so to this, in a voluntary way, those getting married may add of their own volition such principles as: (a) an institution belonging to the history of mankind before there were states and state law; (b) an institution of creation ordained by God in the time of man’s innocence in the Garden of Eden; and (c) a Sacrament of the Christian Gospel.

Episcopalians in the U.S.A. until modern times may be said to have believed at least one of these and often all three.

What happened in TEC in the 1970s (after the turbulent 1960s) was an official diminution of the principles of divine institution and Gospel sacrament on the one side, and, on the other, an absorbing of principles adopted from the human rights and the therapeutic agendas then prevalent and powerful. So the immediate effects on TEC were (a) to make into acceptable church doctrine the principle that marriage need not include procreation even when the spouses were healthy; and (b) to make the right to remarriage in church after divorce common place, and the presence of divorced and remarried persons as Ministers and leaders acceptable.
It was in this new ethos of sexuality of the 1970s, upheld by canon law and new forms of liturgy, that the homosexual lobby gained strength and momentum. Many saw that it was asking for that which had been granted to heterosexual couples--- the use of marriage for companionship and pleasure only.

It would seem impossible in a Western country for a Church to allow very liberal rules for heterosexual marriage without opening the door sooner or later to the claims of the rights of homosexual couples.

In terms of the doctrine of marriage ACN appears to walk in step with TEC and is therefore only a step behind TEC when it comes to the most advanced part of the modern sexual innovations.
So the question: Will ACN renew its doctrine of marriage or carry on with the common, secular American one of TEC? One may comment that the status quo will probably remain simply because this is what the majority of its membership wants, or feels is the only way to exist in the U.S.A.

The Church

There are of course all kinds of connections between the relation of Church and Christ and that of the Bride and the Bridegroom (see Ephesians 5).

Here, however, I wish to focus attention on the difference between the Church as an institution and the Church as a voluntary society.

The word “Institution,” as used traditionally of the Church, pointed to its origin and ultimate governance and preservation as being of God the Father under Christ the Head and by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was based on all the statements of Jesus and his apostles, which pointed to the Church of God being a divine creation even though composed of imperfect human beings. For example: “I will build my Church,” said Jesus, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” As used in this basic way “institution” does not imply buerocracy but simply that the creator and owner of this people, who exist through space and time, is God and that he has a plan and a purpose for them as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

If one thinks in this mode, then one has a different view of the Church than the common American one of the voluntary society— where individual persons freely consent to assemble and form a group upon which they invoke the blessing of God, even as they may also claim for it a blueprint or organization from the New Testament documents.

It would appear to be the case that within TEC from its origins, as the continuation of the Church of England of the colonies, there was a real and deep sense of the Church as an institution, and this was confessed by all types of churchman consistently.

But, as with Holy Matrimony, the sense of the Church as a divine institution suffered severe blows in the 1960s-1980s. These came from the absorption of secular ideas of human wholeness and purpose and the turning of the Church into a Society in which to achieve these goals. The Church became a religious human institution developing typical secular ways to organize its new mission and itself.

At the same time some of those who believed in the Church as a divine Institution seceded to form the Continuing Anglican Church in 1977. But they too were unable to hold things together and the whole sense of Divine Institution was lost in their internal rivalry and eventual creation of several small “continuing” churches.

In effect, both TEC and the new continuing churches became prey to the endemic American doctrine of the church as a voluntary society. That is, a church based upon individualism and the right to gather together for a purpose that is mutually agreeable and to which are added biblical supports or, in both cases here, claims of an apostolic succession of bishops holding everything together, and giving uniqueness in the USA context.

If we jump now from 1977 to 2008 the triumph of the church as a voluntary society is as clear as day in the tremendous variety and types of U.S.A. Episcopalians or Anglicans (as the seceders like to be called). Each group whether home-grown out of secession from TEC, or implanted from Africa or other places, is arranged on the voluntary principle, cites the Bible in defense, and uses the winning card of apostolic succession of bishops as a kind of guarantee to being of divine institution. But this apostolic succession is of a different kind than was understood in TEC from the 1780s to modern times for it is not anchored in space, in sees, and is by nature parallel and competitive.

So one asks: Is it possible for ACN ever to recover a sense of and participation in the Church as of divine Institution? One may comment that the status quo will probably continue where the voluntary nature of church is the basic, because the task of re-ordering the Anglican Way in the U.S.A. to where it can take on the role of Divine Institution is so massive and difficult. The ecclesiological mess is just impossible to clean up right now!


So it would appear that Episcopalians and Anglicans are facing within the U.S.A. a situation that is not too far away from many in ancient Israel that one encounters in the historical books and prophetic oracles of the Hebrew Bible. Maybe to return there for meditating and praying will be a most beneficial exercise for all of us who call ourselves “Anglicans” or “Episcopalians.”

January 3, 2008

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