Friday, May 11, 2007

the challenge of communion: vocation deferred: father ephraim radner does it again

If you haven’t read Father Ephraim Radner’s latest essay, Vocation Deferred, do it now. It is long and challenging but, as usual, well worth the time and effort, particularly for those who are concerned about or involved in the ongoing Anglican realignment.

Various people have commented on it. The comments I have read so far are at Stand Firm, and All Too Common.

In what follows, I will speak to a few of the objections to Father Ephraim’s piece that I have read from various friends. I will then offer my view of what Father Ephraim is on about, and why it is absolutely critical that Anglicans of good will take up the issues he raises.

I admit that I really like Father Ephraim's essay. For one thing, it represents one of the precious few constructive projects going on within Anglicanism – and a project with profound ramifications for Christendom at large, given our divisions since 1054. With regard to Anglicanism in particular, Radner’s essay also addresses a very deep and terminal deficiency: that we Anglicans have a radically underdeveloped and attenuated ecclesiology, practically useless. What Radner is getting at (and I agree with him) is that our ecclesiological deficiencies are more fundamental and systemically problematical than the doctrinal / confessional innovations being promulgated by ECUSA and others; that the former are a necessary condition of the latter, and therefore that the doctrinal / confessional problems will be resolvable only if the ecclesiological issues are first addressed.

Those who are concerned about confessional standards (like Texanglican's comments here and Fr Matt Kennedy's here) are right in a sense. But Radner’s project is more fundamental; the problems he is seeking to address must be addressed BEFORE any kind of confessional standards can be upheld by the Communion. For who now, at the Communion level, has the authority to promulgate them? Lambeth Resolutions, as ECUSA has correctly pointed out, are non-binding, etc. Primates ARE, as things currently stand, little more than “foreign prelates” outside their own jurisdictions. That’s not as it should be; but it’s a fact nonetheless. Because the Anglican Communion is an accident of history (though, I believe, at the same time an orchestration of divine providence), its jurisdictions at the national level remain autonomous. And autonomy, as Radner notes, is a fundamentally unchristian principle, radically at odds with the scriptural call to mutual submission and divine heteronomy in Christ. “The very discussion of the church in terms of ‘body parts’ rules out ‘autonomy’ as a working term,” says Radner. Indeed.

The irony is that the practical autonomy of Anglican jurisdictions, while jeopardizing the Communion’s catholicity, has at the same time ensured that the catholicity of Anglican jurisdictions at the local (diocesan) level has remained possible. Where would Fort Worth be without the affirmation, at the Communion level, of the “two integrities” vis-à-vis the ordination of women (most recently in the Panel of Reference’s report on Ft. Worth). Agreeing to disagree has its advantages; but it is proving fatal for the Communion per se. Radner says:

“..the smallest unit of the ‘local’, according to the Report, is the ‘diocese’. This means that bishops are the ‘local’ expression of whole (in the familiar sense of embodying the “whole church” while presiding at the Eucharist).

But the explicitly episcopal character of this representation has profound practical implications, most pointedly underlined when episcopal links are ‘visibly’ severed and ‘mutual recognition’ of episcopal communion is jeopardized or lost.”

If “autonomy” is our fundamental working principle as Anglicans, as many American prelates have touted it as being, how can we meaningfully claim communion in one lord, one faith, one baptism? Saying it doesn’t make it so. And if it is merely affirmed, while having no ramifications in the life of particular churches (provincial or diocesan), then what could communion possibly mean? Indeed it looks as though ECUSA has embraced a fundamentally hateful working definition of “love” – a definition that is basically about apathy with regard to the other. “Live and let live” is its motto, which is radically at odds with what the Lord said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and again, “My sheep hear my voice and FOLLOW ME.” His gift of communion was not without demands: he gives communion to those who believe in him through the teaching of the Apostles (Jn. 17.20). It is no coincidence that the foil on which turns ECUSA’s refusal of the gift of communion, with its demand of mutual submission, is ECUSA’s refusal to love gays and lesbians with the love of Christ, a love that asks a life-laid-down. And it is no coincidence that ECUSA’s intransigence comes with denials by ECUSA’s leadership of the Son’s unique communion with the Father. Such a denial, increasingly systemic within ECUSA, cuts off the grace of communion at the root.

Radner writes:

“The Windsor Report, in this regard, has forcefully taken up on this vision, and strengthened and nuanced it considerably in a particularly Anglican way by rooting the episcopal character of communion in the commending, teaching, and guarding of Scripture’s authority within the Church.”

This is manifestly true in the rites for ordination to the episcopacy in use in our BCP: “A bishop in God’s holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in… interpreting the Gospel…” and thereby “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.” A bishop is explicitly called to be “a faithful pastor and wholesome example for THE ENTIRE FLOCK OF CHRIST.” The rite then goes on to ask the candidate: “Will you SHARE WITH YOUR FELLOW BISHOPS in the government of the WHOLE CHURCH…?” This vision of episcopal communion is totally incompatible with the autonomy demanded by ECUSA’s prelates. Communion requires a submission to theonomy, and thus to radical heteronomy. As Radner puts it:

“It is not homophobia – fear of the ‘same’ (sex) -- that is driving this train away from communion; it is theophobia, the fear of God’s reality; and hence most truly, it is heterophobia, the fear of what is truly ‘other’, that is the culprit.”

Likewise, its no coincidence that the peril in which the Communion now finds itself are the result of ECUSA's insistence on autonomy for a particular class of folks within the Church. I am all too conscious of the sacrifice we are asking of gay and lesbian Christians. I have no doubt that the moral standards to which they are called seem impossibly austere. But the Lord assures us that the impossible holiness to which we are all called, when we embrace it even though it breaks our hearts, mysteriously becomes an easy yoke and a light burden (Mat. 11.30). I have had a few gay friends who embraced the Church’s moral teaching, and it was a powerful witness to me: they left the world and the world’s promises for the sake of Christ. They left the possibility of the consolations of having a companion with whom they could share their lives intimately – for the sake of Christ. And I know its not easy for them, but it is an unspeakably beautiful thing they have embraced, even though it means that they will appear to all eyes to suffer for it – loneliness, etc. It is a powerful witness and call to me, and I am very grateful to them for it, because of what it says about Christ’s call in MY life.

And this is what ECUSA has been called to at a corporate level: to forego its desires for the sake of the Body of Christ. Sadly, they seem to have refused that more difficult, but more beautiful, call. And although we are called to hope and pray for ECUSA’s metanoia, I'm not holding my breath. Nor should anyone else among the orthodox. We must move ahead in answering the call to communion, and hope and pray that ECUSA will join us.

This too is what the unspecified confessionalists in Radner’s essay are called to do: to lay aside their desires for a more theologically correct Communion for the sake of the integrity of the Body. Yes, truth is important, but getting it right about the ordination of women (for Anglo-Catholics), or justification by faith alone (for evangelicals), will mean very little to those who have not known Christ. On the other hand, a corporate life of mutual forbearance and submission in love will mean a great deal to those still in the world – as well as for our brothers and sisters in other communions who are concerned about the visible unity of the Body of Christ, and who also are looking for ways to inhabit the Lord's gift of communion. Radner puts it this way: the Anglican Communion can be a school…

“…for the koinonia that can only arise from a specific form of evangelism and ecclesial life that, through its outgoing reach, raises up the challenges of the Body of Christ as judgment and opportunity both.”

This is where all Anglicans are called to be “Prayer Book Catholics”, where we must admit the upbuilding reality of the English Reformation. Father Ephraim and Archbishop Rowan both put this in terms of the Benedictine Patrimony of English Christianity, from the days of Augustine, which was conserved uniquely through the English Reformation in the form of an ecclesial life of truly Common Prayer. Radner notes three elements of the Anglican ecclesial life:

“…the structuring of time away from simple production and entertainment, and towards human growth (in and through God); the character of obedience as mutual discernment and support within an ordered life in common; the commitment to full participation by all – the offering and receiving of support -- within the common life.”

What must happen now is a formal, PAN-ANGLICAN (Communion-wide) ordering of our ecclesial life of Common Prayer, a formal ordering that conserves Prayer Book Catholicism (in the best sense) in an intra-provincial way for the Communion as a whole. For the principles that we have inherited were designed for the Church of England, and have spread by historical accident and, as I noted, by divine providence far beyond the juridical borders of the Church of England.

This, I suggest, is a positive vision for the vocation of Anglicanism within the context of the whole Body of Christ, of which we have only ever claimed to be but a part. Apart from the particular agendas of the liberals, evangelicals, and catholics within the Communion, this ecclesial vision seems to be the only game in town, and indeed the only game at a catholic (= universal) level worth playing. I for one hope that some of us are still willing to take up the challenge, that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son.

4 comments:

father thorpus said...

So does anyone know whether Fr. Radner's ideas are having influence?

The Old Peasant said...

"Apart from the particular agendas of the liberals, evangelicals, and catholics within the Communion, this ecclesial vision seems to be the only game in town"

Who exactly does that leave to play this particular game? Our problem (and it is directly related to the Henrican and Elizabethan settlements) is that we are three theologies in one ecclesial body and, unsurprisingly, it is any kind of coherent ecclesiology that is the casualty of that.

father wb said...

OP,

To continue the game analogy, the issue is that liberals, evangelicals, and catholics are all trying to DO STUFF (achieve goals, implement ideas, etc.), but that there is no agreed-upon set of rules by which the competing agendas can be measured against one another or adjudicated. The Windsor Process and the Communique mapped out a course at the end of which were (it was hoped) a system within which competing claims could be measured against one another and adjudicated. This "game" is neccessary if the three parties in Anglicanism are not going merely to disband and join other Communions or start their own.

I would agree with you, OP, except sort of the other way around: it is the absence of a robust ecclesiology which has allowed competing interests to grow to the point of incoherence within Anglicanism. This is esp. true of liberalism. I happen to believe that Anglican evangelicals are catholic enough to co-exist with the more robust catholic party within A'ism. And they DID coexist peacefully for centuries. Liberalism as we know it is a theological latecomer, a child of the 18th century. They're really the only party with ideas wild enough to destroy the relative peace of Anglican unity. Our ecclesiology is really only not-robust enough to deal with THEM.

Lost in Translation said...

Because the Anglican Communion is an accident of history (though, I believe, at the same time an orchestration of divine providence), its jurisdictions at the national level remain autonomous. And autonomy, as Radner notes, is a fundamentally unchristian principle, radically at odds with the scriptural call to mutual submission and divine heteronomy in Christ. “The very discussion of the church in terms of ‘body parts’ rules out ‘autonomy’ as a working term,”

Agreeing to disagree has its advantages; but it is proving fatal for the Communion per se.

Substitute, "the sins (possibly mortal) of H8 and E1" for "historical accident" and you make a very eloquent argument for your return to Rome. See you soon.