Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fleeing from the ECUSA – a moral duty?

Considerations from Peter Toon

Two respected graduates of Nashotah House have recently joined hands (in Fr Kim’s List) to speak of the apostasy & madness of the Episcopal Church and of the moral duty for all members, priests and laity, who desire to be biblically orthodox to leave this Church immediately – for the salvation of their souls and the true welfare of their families. Fr Kimel is joining the R C Church and Fr Edwards has already joined the Anglican Province of Christ the King (a continuing Church dating from 1977). We should most certainly respect and support them in their convictions and new ecclesial relations.

May I first establish my credentials to disagree with parts of what they say. I think I can say that I have, as clearly as anyone, pointed out in several books and many tracts, essays and articles, the apostasy of the ECUSA as an institution, which began seriously in the late 1970s when this Church rejected the historical Formularies of the Anglican Way (the classic BCP, Ordinal and Articles) and put in their place the mixed content of the 1979 Prayer Book. Further, like Fr K & Fr E I have been ready to stand up for what I have asserted and to take the consequences.

Let me state first of all that each of us is called to follow an informed conscience. The informed conscience is the voice of God in the soul and is to be obeyed. Thus Fr K & Fr E (and others like them) had to follow their conscience, and, in this particular case, flee to a “denomination” where they believed they can be embraced in the arms of Mother Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God. Like St Augustine, in his sermons to catechumens, they believe that you cannot have God as your Father in heaven unless you have the Catholic Church as your mother on earth.

So far so good.

But…. And here I offer some considerations which cause me to take a different line to that of these two respected priests. My position is that it is appropriate for some to stay within the ECUSA, but only if they are truly aware of what they are doing and why, the greater glory of God is their motivation, and thus they are ready to face persecution and deprivation. Each must follow not his opinion but rather his informed conscience. I offer these considerations simply to show how one’s conscience may be informed in ways different from others and therefore those prompted by conscience may take differing stances.

1. What these two priests provide as reasons for immediate departure are utterly convincing to them and because of this, they appear to them, as it were, universal principles, that contain a moral imperative for all. So what has convinced them and guided their consciences, they believe also ought to convince and guide others. However, other godly consciences are informed by related but not identical norms and information, and thus they do not speak with the same non-negotiable voice on this matter. And why this is so one can easily, I believe, see from what is written below…. Please Read on, remembering these are considerations not absolute rules to follow.

2. The church situation in the U.S.A. is most complicated. There is what I have often called the massive supermarket of religions and in this market are many small Anglican denominations/jurisdictions. It is one thing to leave ECUSA, it is another to have a common mind where to go. Thus if one in conscience decides to leave but remain an Anglican, then the choice as to where to go next is not easy but complicated. And the more one learns about the struggles, difficulties, tribulations and aspirations of the various Anglican groups (30 or so) across the nation, the more one is aware of the difficulty of this choice.

3. Further, to flee to Rome is not an option for an Anglican who is schooled in the classic Anglican Formularies and accepts the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way. Rome teaches and requires certain dogmas and doctrines, rites and ceremonies, which to the Anglican go far beyond what Scripture teaches or allows. Informed Conscience forbids this route, even when the mind sees the “attraction” of the Roman route.

4. Although a consecrated church (the kyriakon of the Lord) is in the last analysis only a building, it is a sacred building & it is the Lord’s building. Of course, worship can be held anywhere for God is a Spirit but what has been consecrated to the Lord should not easily be turned over to a “liturgy” that is contrary to the foundation and
history of the Lord’s temple/house. Further, and this can be most important, when there is attached to the Church say a school or some other important local ministry, to leave it all is a very major decision indeed, for without a building a school cannot exist and without suitable property other ministries cannot function.

5. There is in the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA a very strong tradition of a congregationalism/parochialism in the sense that the Polity of the PECUSA was more from the parish to the diocese rather than from the diocese to the parish. Strong centralization is a modern phenomenon and was unknown in the colonial period and not prominent in the two centuries afterwards. Thus it is possible (as an emergency kind of position) in some circumstances to recover a certain parochialism in order to safeguard the Gospel and keep holy property locally.

6. It is possible for a parish to make it clear --- though not to proclaim it from the housetops --- that it is not in communion with obviously heretical and immoral bishops and that it will not allow them into its holy temple, the kyriakon.

7. It is possible for a parish to decide that certain local compromises are needed in order to preserve the essentials of Anglican Faith and Practice. One will be how money is allocated – e.g., none to NYC headquarters of ECUSA but some to the diocese. In the complex situation of American religion, to be 60 per cent of what one knows one ought to be, to be aware of failure and confess it, and to be striving to be more conformed to God’s plan are probably good reasons for staying put and not fleeing.

8. In the Church the wheat and the tares grow in the same field and they are not separated until the harvest. No church is perfect and good people testify to real problems in all churches. Thus one may stay until it is, locally, truly impossible to stay and remain aspiring orthodox believers.

9. In 2005, there is more concern about the ECUSA, its apostasy and the plight of its would-be orthodox members, in the Anglican Communion of Churches than ever before and this provides a possibility that overseas influence will, in some ways (yet to be made clear) effect positive change in the ECUSA. It is by no means sure that overseas influence will bring real help but it is possibly worth waiting to see what happens, if this is locally possible.

10. It is a possibility – though only a dim one right now – that the so-called “Network” could become, by the general agreement of the Lambeth Conference of 2008, the beginnings of a new orthodox Anglican Province in North America. The Network will itself have to become truly orthodox itself, including the recovery of the classic and historic Anglican Formularies and making the 1979 Prayer Book into a “Book of Alternative Services.” Again this provides a possible reason for waiting and witnessing.

11. There is the biblical doctrine of “the remnant” which by grace remains faithful (or as faithful as possible) when there is general apostasy. Humbly to aspire to be so is probably a good thing, but it must be humbly while being aware that the judgment of God is upon all, including the remnant ( see the OT for many examples).

AND SO ON…. But the above will suffice to make the point that an informed godly conscience can speak a different word than Fr K & Fr Edwards both heard. God sees everyone and everything; but our sight and understanding are so limited and poor. Thus let us in charity pray one for another, and not be quick to judge the motives of others who act differently than we think they should do so.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon June 16, 2005

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