Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why is there no agreement amongst well-intentioned, devout Anglicans.

Reflections from Peter Toon

One of the painful realities of the present state of the Anglican Way, not only in the West but also globally, is that people who were generally of a common mind not too long ago are now divided. I have in mind those who genuinely seek both to be orthodox in doctrine and holy in behavior.
That which divides them cannot be reduced simplistically to one side being more biblically or theologically or ethically sound that the other. Nor can it be reduced to one side being more committed to the Great Commission (Matthew 28, Mark 16) than the other. It is much more complex!

I suggest that the differences are generally to be sought in what is often referred to as “mindset,” being the complex foundation in the soul, out of which people think, feel and act.

Another more accurate way of speaking of this unseen reality is that of the cognitive scientists who refer to “frames.” These are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. So they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of actions. Obviously we cannot hear or see “frames.” They are part of the “cognitive unconscious”—structures in our brains/minds that we cannot consciously access, but we know them by their consequences, by the way we reason and by what we call common sense. [How our “frames” are created and develop and may be changed, cannot be discussed here.]

Two Frames illustrated by the understanding of Communion

The two dominant “mindsets” or “frames” of current “orthodox Anglicanism” share much—e.g., a high view of the authority of Scripture, a solid commitment to the dogmas of the Holy Trinity and Person of Christ, a belief that Jesus is the only Savior, the value of the classic tradition of Common Prayer, the duty of Mission, and so on—but they put doctrines and practical considerations together in different ways with different emphases and consequences.

For example, both sides state that they highly value “the Anglican Communion”; however, they do not mean exactly the same thing in the use of this expression.

For one side, it is impossible to think of the Anglican Communion without thinking of the Church of England, ecclesia Anglicana, as the mother Church and the See of Canterbury as the point of unity for all provinces and dioceses. Here there is a strong tendency to accepting comprehensiveness and being patient to see problems resolved eventually. The alleged weaknesses and failings of the current Archbishop do not affect this position for there is a clear distinction made between the See and the Occupant of Canterbury (who is there for a decade or so).

For the other side, it is certainly possible and even a duty to think of the Anglican Communion without the See of Canterbury (especially when the Incumbent is heretical) and to consist only of those Provinces that are distinctly “orthodox,” and have no fellowship with dioceses or provinces that embrace permanently or experimentally novel practices like same-sex blessings.

In terms of the upcoming Lambeth Conference of July 2008, bishops in the first group tend to see attendance as a moral duty, for this Conference, they hold, exists to strengthen the global Communion, whereas bishops in the second see absence from (what is to them) a compromised meeting as a moral duty—and not only absence as a duty, but also attending instead a conference on mission in Jerusalem known as GAFCON.

Two Frames illustrated by Current American Anglicanism

Amongst those who much desire to see the reformation, renewal and regeneration of the Anglican Way in North America, we find again two dominant “frames” and “mindsets.”

One group welcomes with enthusiasm the “invasion” of the U.S.A. and Canada by Primates and Bishops of overseas provinces, their adopting of congregations seceded from The Episcopal Church, and their setting up missionary networks and dioceses to create Anglican congregations outside The Episcopal Church. Here the well-established rules that one province does not enter another without invitation are set aside, because it is maintained by the invaders that the pursuit of truth takes priority over that of seeking unity. Indeed The Episcopal Church is here seen as being so corrupted as not to have a say in the matter of the saving of souls.

Another group recognizes that The Episcopal Church is far from biblical orthodoxy as a national institution, and that to live within it is usually to suffer deprivation or harassment or persecution of some sort. Further, this group believes that the invasion by overseas provinces is unwarranted and premature and that these Provinces should be going instead to Lambeth 08 in order to fight there for their brethren in The Episcopal Church. Also, it is held that this invasion has probably already lead to the setting up of what will inevitably become a variety of Anglican denominations, and thus any chance of the unity of the Anglican Way in North America is probably already lost.

Again, let us not forget that sincere, well-informed, prayerful and enthusiastic believers in the Lord Jesus are found in both these groups and this is because they have these very different frames and mindsets!

In Conclusion

When we think about it, we recognize that we are familiar in the world of politics with this kind of division through people possessing different frames or mindsets. Republicans and Democrats live in the same country, seem to look at the same facts, and then come to very different policies and conclusions. It cannot be the case that one side is always wiser or more discerning than the other; rather, it would seem to be that the reason why each side sees and interprets differently is that it comes from a different frame or mindset.

Finally, in terms of different mindsets in Christian religion, one only has to look at the rich and massive variety of churches/denominations in the U.S.A. to recognize the existence of frames and mindsets, many similar and yet many very different, existing in this multiplicity of religious institutions.

It would seem to be that though we are finite creatures in space and time we want to think and act as though we are all-knowing and all-wise, and this enters into part of the frame and mindset out of which we think, feel and act. Thus we set up a position that makes absolute claims.

I ask in closing:

Is it too late—even with these powerful frames and mindsets in place—for there to be real dialogue and fellowship between the “Lambeth-attending” and the “Gafcon-attending” Bishops; and also, within North America, between those advocating “invasion” and those opposing “invasion” of overseas Bishops?

Dr Peter Toon drpetertoon@yahoo.com www.pbsusa.org February 26 2008

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