Monday, January 07, 2008

The State of American Anglicanism/Episcopalianism as 2008 begins

a piece written primarily for friends outside the U.S.A. (not the final word but a word to help along the way)

It is widely known that, though The Episcopal Church (TEC) of the U.S.A . remains officially a member of the Global Anglican Communion, some of the Provinces of that Communion are not in any kind of communion with It as a national Body, even though they are in full communion with a few specific dioceses within it. Indeed, a few African Provinces have decided that so advanced is the apostasy within much of TEC that they have established rescue missions within the U.S.A. This state of affairs obviously brings complications into the attempt by people outside the U.S.A. to view as objectively as possible the internal state not only of TEC but also of the various and many extra-mural forms of Anglicanism (including African rescue missions) now in the U.S.A.

In fact, anyone outside the U.S.A., who thinks that in the Anglican Way “the orthodox” in comparison with the “revisionist” or “apostate” are easy to identify, quick to find, and are united, is probably living in a sphere of make-belief.

Before one can even make much progress in understanding the U.S. scene, there are some basic questions to answer. Here are some of the more pertinent:
1. What is the Anglican Way or Anglicanism in the U.S.A.? Is it only The Episcopal Church, and these recent secessions of congregations from it since the late 1990s, together with the planting of missions, networks, dioceses and the like by overseas provinces and dioceses in the last few years? Or does it include also the Anglican Continuing Church of 1977 (now divided into various small denominations and various break-offs from these) and the secessions before this from the 1960s with their churches, and not forgetting the small Reformed EC from 1873—together with new starts from within the U.S.A. by Americans after 1977 and before the mid-1990s (e.g. The Episcopal Missionary Church and the Charismatic Episcopal Church)? Most of those who seceded before the late 1990s believe that they are the true Anglicans for they have not taken on women’s ordination, have not called a Book of Varied Services by the name of The BCP, and so on.

So what there is in the U.S.A. in January 2008 are many types of Anglican denominations, from TEC to the smallest continuing Anglican diocese, and these are existing in parallel with, overlapping, and in competition with each other. Even the missions from overseas (AMIA & CANA) are in competition one with another in a growing number of places, and, also, in competition with others forms of Anglicanism as well, forms that there planted before they arrived. In the main there is little or no relation between the 1977 Continuers and the recent seceders.

2. How much does one have to revise in order to be in truth a revisionist? Usually those who are called “revisionists” are those who use the modern theories of human rights and therapeutic wellness in order to justify and commend partnerships of same-sex persons, and thereby overthrow the received Christian doctrine of the sexual union of two persons, a man and women, in matrimony. Often behind these innovating doctrines of sexuality, there are other doctrines which deny traditional formulations in anthropology, sin, the person of Jesus Christ and so on.
A problem is that the majority of those who oppose this form of modern, secular sexuality are those who sit extremely lightly on the received Christian doctrine of marriage. That is, they embrace the divorce culture, the use of birth-control methods, the seeing of marriage only in terms of companionship and satisfaction with procreation as an option, and so on. Further, they have no problem with divorced and remarried persons being in positions of pastoral ministry as deacons, priests and bishops. And they do not seem to realize or want to admit that it was the major changes in marriage both in canon law and in cultural and parish practice in TEC that provided the context for the persistent claims of the homosexual lobby. Thus there is serious revisionism amongst most, if not all, of those who call themselves “ orthodox.” And this revisionism is as clearly present in the AMIA and CANA as it is in TEC.
3. What is Orthodoxy? Not too long ago the standards of Anglican Orthodoxy were fixed by what are called The Anglican Formularies—the historic BCP, Articles of Religion and Ordinal. However, TEC in 1976 & 1979 took the amazing step of placing all these Formularies in the archives as historical documents and creating one major Formulary, its Prayer Book in which are Ordination Services of 1976/1979. This new Formulary, though a large book of varied services with varying doctrines and deliberating intended to undermine much of the classic BCP, is called The BCP of 1979. Many of the seceders from the late 1990s to the present, including those attached to African and South American provinces, regard the 1979 Book as their Book and their mindset is formed by it. This being so, they are not orthodox in any classic sense but may at best be described as orthodox in intention. (It is true that the Common Cause Partnership has adopted the classic 1662 Formularies in its doctrinal statement, but there is little evidence yet that this has been translated into changed doctrines and liturgy in the secessionist churches.)

From the perspective of the Continuing Churches from the 1977s, TEC and all its seceders since 1979 are revisionist and not orthodox for they have directly or indirectly accepted the ordination of women, the innovatory prayer book and a host of other things. However, the Continuing Churches by the use of “annulments” on a big scale have been able to manage the divorce culture while claiming to be full orthodox in matrimony.

The USA is a big place!

Such is the size of the U.S.A., and such is the ability of the average American religious salesman to commend his product, that it is possible, as an overseas Anglican, to visit the U.S.A., or be told about it, and to come away with the impression that all that really matters is this or that group—as one hears nothing about the rest or only sufficient to discount them immediately. Very rarely is any overseas visitor introduced to the active, complex supermarket of religions in the U.S.A. wherein there is part of an aisle given over to varying Anglican products all vying for attention (alongside are similar Baptist and Presbyterian products).

From the viewpoint of Anglican ecclesiology, all surely agree that the ideal is that there should be one and only one Province in one region and one only diocese in a part of that region. One can think of possible modifications to this in some complex circumstances. However, what we have in the U.S.A. is one Province, TEC, still a Province of the Global Anglican Communion (and in which are still not a few parishes and dioceses seeking to be faithful), and imposed upon it, and all the way around it, and in parallel to it is NOT ONE replacement province being born, but rather many groups, each one claiming the whole of the U.S.A. as its territory and dividing the U.S.A. into dioceses or networks or regions or whatever. There may be a little cooperation here and there by these groups, but the real story is that the pre-1960s seceders, the 1977 seceders and the most recent post 1997 seceders (including the interventions of four African provinces) all claim to be recovering the land for the Gospel and the Anglican Way. The result is with a bird’s eye view chaos, a major religious mess. However, and here is the American reality, the nature of it is fully in accord with the usual principles of church growth and controversy in the U.S.A. that have been in place for 2 centuries or so, and have much speeded up and intensified since World War II.

Much is made by the competing Anglican groupings of their possession of apostolic succession, in that that their bishops in the land can claim a line backwards of laying on of hands to the apostles; but, of course, what they all lack is the apostolic succession through space and time related to Sees and thus grounded in geographical reality. Then, it may also be argued that it is not clearly a succession in all cases in apostolic faith, doctrine and order, but in something less clear.


Please do not misunderstand me. I do not doubt for a moment that there are many good and godly, able and gracious, people of all kinds involved in this Anglican crisis and growing mess. And each of them desires the best. I am blessed by knowing many of them, who work tirelessly for their own group and sometimes for some unity.

I do not doubt also that overseas bishops and primates believe that they have rightly grasped the real situation inside the U.S.A. of the Anglican Way(s) and that their rescue efforts are the best for this time and place. In this case my suspicion is that they did very little homework on the religious and extra-mural Anglican situation before they decided to enter the land. For example, they appear to have overlooked or discounted the bishops of the 1977 continuing churches and insisted on creating their own bishops.

My perspective is different and may be imbalanced. What I seem to see most clearly, and of course I may be misguided, is that the Anglican Way both of the “revisionist” and the “orthodox” has fallen captive to the powerful religious culture of the U.S.A. wherein such American values as pragmatism, individualism, therapeuticism, contractualism, centrifugalism (not centripetalism), capitalism and voluntaryism reign supreme . Thus it is most difficult for Americans to hold certain Christian doctrines with clarity, e.g., either Holy Matrimony or the Church as truly divine Institutions governed wholly by God in origin and purpose, rather than being merely contractual forms of association to modify at will. (It would appear that each of the many expressions of the Anglican Church is based upon individualism and a theory of contract and voluntaryism but is given a kind of divine cement by the inclusion of “Apostolic Succession” of Bishops.)

In my judgment, it will take a miracle like the return of the Exiles from captivity, to bring back the Anglican Way in the U.S.A. into anything like what it was (united and growing and with 4 million members) in the early 1960s before the powerful winds of revolutionary change blew upon it and caused seeds to germinate, grow and bear the fruit that we now reap and eat.—and seem not to be able to do much about it. At best Anglicans number only 2 millions now which is half of what they were in the mid 1960s.

Dr Peter Toon The Epiphany, 2008

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