Some reflections from Dr Peter Toon, on The Nativity of John the Baptist, June 24, 2008
I begin with two assertions.
First of all, there would not have been GAFCON in Jerusalem this week (June 22-28) had not The Episcopal Church in its arrogance, but legalistically following its canon law, consecrated Gene Robinson in 2003 as a bishop, and thereby precipitated an on-going crisis of identity and authority within the Anglican Family of Churches.
And probably somewhat surprising to some, but just as true:
Secondly, there would not have been either GAFCON in June 2008, or even the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, if The Episcopal Church had not in 1973 changed its marriage canon.
In that year, this Church abandoned the basic, common Anglican position on marriage, on its books from its separation from the Church of England in the 1780s, and introduced (what sociologists of the time were calling ) “expressive individualism” into the Church’s law. In real terms, this meant that instead of each person marrying the other into an already existing order of creation and grace ordained by God and blessed by the church, each was free to marry the other into a revised, human order, there to have space to fulfill his and her own self-interests, while receiving – in the spirit of those times -- the blessing of the (revisionist) church at the same time.
In this new order sanctioned by The Episcopal Church procreation was seen as optional even for those in good health, and, further, a second or third marriage in church was deemed acceptable, if required by failure of earlier one. It was, of course, the period when the general availability of “safe” artificial birth control was widespread in the West and when “rights-monism” and the power of therapeutic accounts of life were in much in vogue, each giving strength to the new approach to marriage
In this new ethos and practical theology, there was a major opportunity for those committed to homosexual relations to develop their agenda, claims and make their witness for full acceptance in the churches, and this they did in all kinds of sustained ways. In fact they walked through the doors opened by the new “order of marriage” and even claimed that with a few changes of nouns and pronouns they could use the church marriage service for their blessing of partnerships or even for same-sex marriage.
What all this may suggest to some—as it appears to me—is that from June 2008 onwards the problem faced by the leadership of the successor of GAFCON in the Western Churches is not simply that of opposing same-sex blessings and partnerships and making general assertions about sexual relations within marriage only; but, more broadly and deeply, of making a major effort at restoring initially for the West the biblical, Christian doctrine of marriage as received in the Anglican Way – which is well set out in the Service of Holy Matrimony of the historic Book of Common Prayer in its authentic editions in use in the West (e.g. 1662 England, 1962 Canada, & 1928 PECUSA/TEC).
Here I tread on toes and apologize if it hurts! One pressing reason (and few want to recall this) for this needed, immediate and high vocation of restoration is that the minority in the U.S.A., which supports and is part of GAFCON, and which styles itself “orthodox” in the TEC and in the Anglican movements in the USA generally, is, in fact, in most of its expressions deeply itself affected by expressive individualism in its record of, and witness to, marriage. For its divorce rates and serial monogamy are national average, with a high proportion of its Ministers divorced, remarried and still working in full pastoral settings. Thus—and we mention what we do not normally mention in the U.S.A.--that the tragedy is that both the “orthodox” and “the revisionists” in the American Anglican Way, inside and outside The Episcopal Church with all its innovations and dyfsunctionality, reap the fruit of the revolutionary early innovations of the 1970s in The Episcopal Church—because (1) all have drunk deeply of the Liturgy found in the the Episcopal Prayer Book of 1979, and/or of its various additions and extensions since; (2) all have continued in strong or weak form of “expressive individualism in life style and worship; and (3) all have continued to drink deeply of rights-monism as a major for of moral guidance and self-direction.
On the Back Burner for Lambeth, July 2008
When you open the classic Book of Common Prayer in any of its authentic editions, the first service to leap from the page is not usually “The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony” even though in terms of the amount of pages in the Book it is somewhere near the center! After all this is the Book of Common Prayer—prayer for morning and evening daily, weekly Litany and Holy Communion, followed by Baptism and Confirmation. Marriage one of the “Rites and Ceremonies,” which include the Visitation of the Sick and the Burial of the Dead, provided in the Prayer Book for important but occasional use.
In the ups and downs of the life of the Church in history, and within the providence of Almighty God, sometimes what is “an occasional office” assumes a critical and outstanding role, symbolism and doctrine. I suggest that “The Form of the Solemnization of Matrimony” in The BCP (1662) is there on the back burner of the Anglican, Lambeth stove, ready to be placed at the front, and allowed to boil.
What is it is about this short Service (only eleven pages in the pew edition) which makes it so important and deserving of full visibility and tasting at this time of crisis of Anglican identify and of teaching on sexual relations?
Negatively, it was written before and therefore avoids both the dominant expressive individualism of the post 1960s and the extreme rights-monism of the same period, not to mention the strong therapeutic presentations of human relationships much in vogue also. In other words, it presents marriage in a perspective and in a way that it is difficult to see it in the West at this time, except through this kind of mirror, as it were.
Positively, it presents—howbeit in classic prose of the seventeenth century—a fully biblical and traditional Rite and Ceremony for the joining of a man and woman in holy matrimony, according to the laws of human society and to the eternal law of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Holy Trinity, and receiving his Blessing.
Comment on the BCP 1662 Rite of Holy Matrimony
What causes this Rite to stand out so clearly, over and above all other more recent forms of marriage in Anglican Prayer Books, is its clear doctrine in specific areas—the very areas which first the “Enlightenment” world of the eighteenth and beyond, and then in the human rights world of the twentieth century and beyond, have been attacked and often eclipsed. In fact Anglicans have usually been the ones to attack and remove them!
First of all, in the Preface to the Service, the clear relation of the holy duty and privilege of procreation (--think of it, creating new life in union with the one, unique Creator) in the context of one-flesh, holy union and growing friendship of man and woman, husband and wife, is stated as God’s will, and not negotiable!
Secondly, the whole content of the Service makes it clear that the man and woman are entering into an already existing order of creation, ordained by God himself, to which is added the rich blessing of the new covenant of grace. The Husband and Wife are not creating a new relationship and space for themselves, but entering into God’s existing relations of order and into his holy space. Thus they do not make up their own vows and promises but they make those already there—and in the U.S.A. they say “I will” and not “I do”!
Thirdly, the relation of order into which the man and woman enter in the covenant of marriage before God, the Holy Trinity, is most graciously and clearly that of “the man first in order and the woman second in order, but both equal before God as persons.” This clearly is stated in the promise made by the woman to the man; but, the context of love in which it is made in clearly state in the promise of the man to the woman first of all! Further, and this is often missed, this teaching of what is often called “male headship” is shown to be clearly scriptural and apostolic by the presentation of the duties of Man and Wife as given at the end of the Service from Ephesians 5; Colossians 3; and 1 Peter 3. These passages are part of the Service! [ As an aside, the doctrine of the Marriage service in terms of the relation of husband and wife is the doctrine one uses to interpret the Ordinal in its teaching of the duties of the Minister in the home and parish!]
As I have indicated above, this genuine Anglican doctrine of marriage from the primarily Formulary of the Anglican Way, The BCP 1662, has been eroded at these distinct points:
by dropping its God-given order and making it into primarily a human arrangement and contract which we ask God (who loves us!) to bless;
by the making of pro-creation an option, even for healthy people so that a fruit of the one-flesh union is negated;
and by the allowing of the entry into the current ethos of marriage both rights-monism and expressive individualism (opening the door not only for the advance of the homosexual cause but of much more as well).
At Lambeth 2008 will be the opportunity, provided by the providence of the Lord, for the courageous and wise Bishops from the West, along with the courageous and wise supporters of the Anglican Way, present at the Conference, to place on the front of the stove and bring to the boil this Anglican Doctrine of Marriage---and make it available for all to partake of in reading, study, meditation and desire for using to renew the doctrine and ethos of marriage on the western Church!