Saturday, August 04, 2007

some thoughts on current anglican events

Last week there was, in Ft. Worth, a meeting of the Anglican Communion Network. There was, and continues to be, a lot of buzz around it.

One of the things that was manifest at the meeting is division in the orthodox camp -- between those wanting out now, and those calling for more patience.

What do I think? I think more patience is necessary. That doesn't mean I hold out much hope for ECUSA. ECUSA's probably lost, and lost for good. I think ECUSA is rapidly being vindicated as just another liberal protestant sect, doomed to go the way of all liberal protestant bodies: declining attendance, growing irrelevance. Ironically this is a byproduct of seeking above all else to be relevant and to increase attendance by being friendly and open to anyone and anything. Barring a miracle, I believe ECUSA is doomed. It is very rich and it will be around for yet a long time. It will become high church, syncretic Unitarianism, and it will continue its sprint to the margins of coherence. Society will regard ECUSA as society regards a demented old lady: tolerated and indulged for the sake of who she once was and because she is high-born, but an irritating embarrassment to all who remain long in her company.

So, why call for more patience from the orthodox who remain in ECUSA? Chiefly: because none of us have the authority to do what needs to be done: to create a Province of the Anglican Communion in North America that is juridically separate from ECUSA. The orthodox bishops who remain in ECUSA can't do it because they are subject to the jurisdiction of ECUSA which doesn't allow such things. This has to be done by the Primates and by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Because to be in the Anglican Communion means to be in communion with the See of Canterbury, and with the other Churches that are in communion with it.

And this takes time. And taking time is frustrating. But what do you expect? The Anglican Communion spans the globe. There are 80 million Christians in it. It moves slowly. But a process has been set in motion that will, God willing, lead to the creation of a North American Province, outside the juridical structure of ECUSA, incontrovertibly in communion with the See of Canterbury and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion. It is outlined in the Windsor Report and the Dar es Salaam Communique and Archbishop Williams' document The Challenge and Hope of Being and Anglican Today.

I understand the frustration of waiting for the Instruments of Communion to grind away while the faithful in ECUSA face inhibitions and lawsuits and various kinds of disenfranchisement. But frankly, as Christians we're called to bear witness to the truth, and we should expect that this will entail suffering. Moreover, I don't understand the the conservatives who thwart the judgment of the Instruments of Communion in their zeal for truth and purity NOW when the very basis for their critique of ECUSA is that it has thwarted the judgment of the Instruments of Communion out of love for the zeitgeist. What's the difference? If to be Anglican means to accept the doctrine and devotion of Anglicanism (and what else could it mean?), then the question becomes: who may authoritatively enunciate Anglican doctrine and set the parameters of Anglican devotion? Is it not the Instruments of Communion, and particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates, and the Lambeth Conference, since they are bishops and therefore in a special way the heirs of the Apostles?

Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.... For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore (Psalm 133)...

Unity is very important. SEEKING and PRESERVING unity is very important -- because it is the fruit of the Lord's commission of bearing witness to the truth. If we lose our unity, then we have ceased to drink from the fountainhead of truth. Clearly this is so for ECUSA: it bears witness to a lie, and the fruit of disunity within and without is slowly blossoming. It will take awhile for the juridical reality to catch up with the pneumatic reality; that's just the way of things in this vale of tears. But we should stick to the plan and continue to call ECUSA to stick to the plan too. I doubt they will, but ceasing to call because an authoritative judgment has not come on our time frame is disobedient and a refusal to hope. It won't go on forever, but it will go on for a season. We will know considerably more after September 30. And I imagine the shape of a definitive resolution to this mess will become clear at the Lambeth Conference.

What can you do? You can bear witness to the truth -- proclaim the gospel -- whether you are a layman, a deacon, priest, or bishop. You can proclaim the gospel and suffer for it. Be the lone voice at Diocesan Conventions. Be the lone voice in your parish. Be disenfranchised. Suffer. "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials.... Without having seen him, you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls... Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you..." (1 Peter 1.6, passim).

And pray, pray, pray. Pray for the blinded souls in ECUSA. Pray for those who persecute you. Pray for the Instruments of Communion and those with authority to ACT, that they would be given wisdom and courage to do so. They have said that they will, and they've even given us some indication of benchmarks and time frames. September 30. Lambeth '08. Wait, proclaim the truth, suffer, don't presume to have authority you don't have, and don't despair of a godly outcome because the process is not unfolding according to your will. Let the Lord guide it, and when the dust settles, and you have been purified by suffering, then take stock of our situation.

8 comments:

Dave said...

Excellent essay, Fr. Brown, and excellent advice.

mmbx said...

Very well said, Fr.

Anonymous said...

I would like to ask for clarification on a few issues that have come up in our discussions recently.

First I might point out that the Instruments of Communion are currently sending mixed messages. The ABC is not telling us what the Primates are. The Primates are actively encouraging the formation of a new Anglican Province in North America. As such, my feeling is that grace needs to be shown towards both those who remain in TEC and minister amidst the ruins, as it were, and those who have moved on. You might find it helpful to know that many parishioners, if faced with the lack of an orthodox Anglican alternative to TEC, are simply quitting church altogether or else joining various non denominational churches. The hearts and minds of these people are gone forever to the catholic church, which I'm sure we can agree is a great tragedy.
I'm curious as to how you would respond to the above.

My second issue is with the insistence on the primacy of the APC. While I agree with his importance in all of the usual ways, I refuse to concede that to be in communion with the ABC is what constitutes an "Anglican" True, he comes up in the Windsor report as an Instrument of Unity, which in and of itself means that abandoning communion with him is an absoloute last resort, but, and this is important, the traditional identifying characteristics of an Anglican are the formularies, i.e. The 1662 BCP, the Ordinal attached to the same, and the 39 Articles. If the ABC tolerates jurisdictions that violate any of these 3, as TEC clearly does, then he is in danger of putting himself outside of Anglicanism. It is not the other way around; it is not that those who wish to keep faith with the formularies are the ones ceasing to represent the Anglican way, it is the ABC himself. Of course, the purpose if this is to avoid the romish exceess of the papacy, where an infallible doctrine not found in scripture can be defined as necessary for salvation. The point of the formulies is not to define a confessional, protestant faith, but to ordain obedience to God's holy Word.

Okay, rambling a bit but I think that this is clear enough that you might respond.

Best,
Michael R

father wb said...

Fr Michael,

Indeed. Good points all.

First, with regard to the mixed messages: I don't think the Instruments of Communion are in fact sending mixed messages. The Primates Meeting is an Instrument of Communion (as I think we are calling them now) -- not the Primates individually. SOME Primates are agitating for the creation of a new jurisdiction in the near term. But SOME Primates are not Instruments of Communion. The Primates Meeting (i.e. all of them together, convened as such under the presidency of the ABC) is the Instrument. This goes to show that SOME Primates, by urging the near-term creation of a new jurisdiction are sending messages at variance with what the Instruments have actually called for (in the Windsor Report, the DeS Communique, and Challenge and Hope). Akinola is not by himself an Instrument of Communion. Neither is Kolini, nor Venables, nor Gomez. Nor even when the four of them get together do they constitute an INstrument of COmmunion. The Global South Steering Committee is not an Instrument of Communion. The Primates' Meeting is. The only Primate who by himself constitutes an Instrument of Communion is the ABC... except I think we call him a "Focus of Unity" now. And for good reason, to wit:

With respect to what it is to be Anglican... Wittgenstein might be helpful here. People mean "Anglican" in various ways. And I will admit that the Continuers are in some sense "Anglican". But there is one thing that the overwhelming majority of Christians down through the centuries who called themselves "Anglican" have in common (might we say "have in communion"?) which the Continuers lack: communion with the See of Augustine. Nizimbi, Kolini, Akinola, Ackerman, Iker, E.B. Pusey, J.M. Neale, Charles Stuart, Lancelot Andrewes, Matthew Parker, Jermey Taylor, George Herbert, Elizabeth I, and Fr WB have all been "Anglican" in this sense. If you were to ask a non-specialist with common sense "Who is an Anglican?" you would likely get answer along the lines of "Well, a member of the Anglican Communion." And of course members of the Anglican Communion are those who are in communion with the See of Augustine.

And I'm not sure what you mean by these formularies being the "traditional identifying characteristics of an Anglican." I don't mean to be an ass, but what does that mean? That AFFIRMING these things is an identifying mark of an Anglican? But surely this isn't so. Vast swaths of the Anglican Communion have nothing to do with these formularies. I'm in such a swath. I've never used the 1662 BCP. I wasn't ordained with the 1662 Ordinal, and I've never affirmed the 39 Articles -- in fact I've seldom even glanced at them. Yet if I'm not "Anglican" then what am I?

Okay, okay. Maybe I'm not the paradigmatic case of a plain vanilla Anglican. Perhaps I'm more "anglo-papalist" than "Anglican." But surely you would grant that Lancelot Andrewes is a good example of an Anglican, or Charles I, or Matthew Parker, or William Laud, or George Herbert, or Elizabeth I, or Thomas Cranmer himself. Yet none of these people ever affirmed the doctrine of the 1662 Prayer Book or Ordinal, nor used it, nor even ever heard of it, since they all were dead long before either were ever contrived. And yet they were indisputably "Anglican." How so? Well, I would suggest by being in communion with the See of Augustine.

Certainly these formularies are part of the doctrinal and devotional patrimony of Anglicanism -- indeed a very important part. And there are good things about these formularies. They just aren't constitutive of Anglicanism -- except in some tortured sense of constitutivity contrived for the sole purpose of gathering the Continuum INTO the semantic range of "Anglicanism" and excluding TEC and the heretics. But if you make the use or the affirmation of these three things CONSTITUTIVE of Anglicanism, you not only rule out the TEC heretics -- but me, Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Cranmer, and whole Provinces (besides TEC) of the current Communion, inter alia, as well.

Vero diligens.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, but I do believe that Dar Es Salaam as a unit proclaimed the toleration of alternate jurisdictions in the face of noncompliance. However, your point is quite correct and helpful that the Primates did not as a unity encourage overlapping jurisdictions. In that sense, the message becomes less "mixed," as it were.

As far as the formularies, Peter Toon assures me that they are mentioned in English Canon Law. A5: "The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."
This, however, ought not bind you too closely as I'm unsure of the affirmation of the same in TEC.
While it is true that we no longer subscribe to such things as the 39 articles in an official sense, as clergy did from as early on as Archbishop Parker, I'm sure we can agree that the Anglican way is bound up in much more than the lowest common denominator of regulations. The question as priests in the Anglican tradition is; how serious are we to take the formularies?
My own answer is "very."
My understanding of the reformation was not that it was a protestant one as was occurring on the continent, neither was it a replacement of the Vatican with Canterbury (as you seem to be implying), but it was a return to the early church practice of a threefold ministry (the Ordinal), the scriptures as containing all things necessary for salvation (affirmed by the articles among others things, all presumed to be a return to the early church), and a reemphasis on a common prayer tradition grounded in sacramental worship (don't be sidetracked by references to 1662, I don't see any reason why 1549 wouldn't work as well. I believe that 62 is simply the one on which all could agree at the time and thus preserve common prayer. Modern prayer books are ideally based on 1662, one of the major exception is BCP 1979, which is why many still reject its use.).

All of the reformers and Anglican divines would heartily affirm the above.

I think that we get to the heart of the discussion with your admission of being an "Anglo-papist." I perhaps am as well. My only concern is that we express our sympathies in the right way, which is to say perhaps in the Roman Church. I am concerned about any attempts to change the Ecclesia Anglicana into a poor copy of Rome. While I personally love the see of Canterbury and all the history of her Bishops, I have trouble swallowing the idea that the ABC is anything other than a visible sign (symbol?) of unity. If we lose that sign, the loss will be grave indeed, but will it mean that the parts that are left are not Anglican? Perhaps not, but perhaps so. The problem is, as you have put it, we won't know for a long time.

MM said...

How tiring...it sounds like it may be time for a refreshing, joyous summer swim...

father wb said...

I forgot to discuss the issue of layfolk leaving.

People need to be educated (by their priests). Just because the going gets tough, that's no reason to stop going to church, or to stop going to a PARTICULAR church. When was the going ever NOT tough in the history of the Church? Athanasius had a much harder time than we do. Leaving the Church because of disappointment with its members seems to be a problem endemic with baby boomer Americans, though perh. not ONLY with them. If they join the OPC, sooner or later they'll have problems there. If they go to Rome, sooner or later they'll have problems there. If they stop going to church, they'll have problems at home. So what do you do? Give up and move on in every circumstance?

You have got to explain to people that they will always be disappointed, but that that's no reason to quit. Things are hard? You're disappointed? Your persecuted? Shocking! Welcome to Christian life in the world. The Lord wasn't joking when he said that if you want to be his disciple, you've got to follow him along the way of sorrow.

As to your other points: the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP / Ordinal are historically and culturally situated. They are products of their times. There's no reason why our devotion or the way we enunciate doctrine should be ossified in a 16th / 17th century mold.

The 1662 BCP is a fine thing. I like it well enough. Its language is beautiful. The Coverdale Psalter is wonderful (I use it every day), etc. etc. But why enshrine the 1662 BCP as some kind of spiritual / devotional zenith? Frankly, I quite like the 1979 BCP. Its not perfect, but neither is 1662. Frankly 1979 is rather more explicitly and clearly catholic than 1662 or even 1549.

And as to replacing Rome with Canterbury: hardly. Anglican Primates and bishops gathering under the presidency of the ABC is a far (far, FAR) cry from, e.g., the claims of Vatican I as in Pastor Aeternis.

Using adherence to formularies, in the end, will just not help. There will be other doctrinal crises in the future, and how will we solve them? What happens when language evolves to such an extent that the idiom of 1662 is unintelligible? We're already moving into such a time. Try explaining "our dounden duty and service" to an illiterate Puerto Rican in Harlem. 1662 and the 39 Articles are a quasi-adequate expression of catholic doctrine and devotion, but they are historically and culturally situated. IF (and its a big "if") Anglicanism is going to survive in a vital way, we have to have a mechanism by which we can ennunciate doctrine and set the parameters of devotion time and time again, down through the years. Pointing to what was going on in England in the 16th and 17th centuries and saying "There; like that!" is just not going to work. It won't work for our current crisis, and it won't work for future crises. We have GOT to have instruments that can enunciate and clarify for the whole Anglican Communion, in EVERY generation, what was enunciated and clarified for England during the 16-17th centuries by the these formularies.

Why can't we just do it the way the Catholic Church has always done it? By being obedient to the authority of our bishops and metropolitans in council? They are the heirs of the Apostles (this, by the way, is clearly expressed in the 1979 BCP, though not in 1662 - though it is a biblical, catholic, patristic doctrine). The only answer I can imagine is that we just don't trust the Holy Spirit to work through the Episcopacy, so we have to look to unchanging formularies, which of course is a recipe for the ossification of doctrine and devotion. This, by the way, is the same impulse at work in the sede vacantist catholics. But our faith is supposed to be "lively" i.e. living. We have to have mechanisms for enunciating it over and over again, in light of changing cultural and historical circumstances. That mechanism is the episcopacy, not some set of formularies.

As to overlapping juridictions: the DeS Communique proposed the Primatial Vicar Scheme as a way to do three things at once: 1) restore the trust of the Instruments that ECUSA is committed to the Windsor Report, 2) restore ECUSA trust in the Instruments by ending inter-provincial interventions, and 3) provide for the pastoral needs of ECUSA dissenters w/o further inter-provincial interventions. ECUSA was set a deadline of Sept. 30 to agree or not agree precisely to allow two meetings of the ECUSA House of Bishops to consider the proposal. We have not reached Sept. 30. Only one of the two planned HoB meetings have taken place. So why have inter-provincial interventions multiplied before Sept. 30? That was not what DeS envisioned. But I can guess why: because ECUSA is intractable and wicked, and because the orthodox and semi-orthodox are paranoid. So what? We should not act out of paranoia. If ECUSA doesn't seem to want to go along with the Communion, so what? Why should we allow them to demolish the foundations of our common life simply because THEY no longer wish to live in communion?

Again: everyone agreed to this plan. Barring a miracle, ECUSA won't follow it. But we should not let ECUSA's probable non-compliance, nor ECUSA's impetuousness, provoke us into rash action. Even though NOT acting rashly will be cost some of us a good deal in the near term. Acting rashly (as the conservatives seem now to be doing) will cost us MUCH more in the long term. It will, in all likelihood, cause the break-up of the Communion. And so the word's third largest Christian community will fall apart because of in-fighting. How will this look to non-Christians? It would be much better for us actually to take the time to see this process (Windsor, DeS, the Covenant) through. It will take a while, and it will cause the North American orthodox a bit of suffering, but in all likelihood it would end with a Communion tested but largely intact (sans ECUSA) -- and it would say to the world's non-Christians that we care for the Truth (and so ECUSA has had to go its own way), but we are nonetheless a Communion inhabiting the the communion-in-love that is the gift of God's life for and to us.

The successful negotiation of this crisis would speak VOLUMES to the world -- to Protestant bodies, to the RC Church and the Orthodox, and (most importantly) to non-Christians. It would be the vindication of a life-together in Christ, bearing witness to the Truth -- and I think the whole world would find THIS kind of Anglican life very compelling. Indeed I think this is our vocation as Anglicans. What causes me deep sadness is that EVERYONE'S actions now belie that vocation -- the liberals, the conservatives, and the indifferent folks. The only people who seem to see it in a public way are Rowan Williams (re-read Challenge and Hope), and Ephraim Radner (re-read his essay from the last six months at the ACI website). Everyone else seems either too hurt or too blind or too self-righteous to keep pursuing this uniquely Anglican vocation. Its a shame. If and when it doesn't pan out, in a definitive way, that's when I'll pack my bags and start a new life elsewhere.

Dave said...

Father Brown hits the proverbial nail on the proverbial head, with great proverbial accuracy:

Why can't we just [be] obedient to the authority of our bishops and metropolitans in council? This...is a biblical, catholic, patristic doctrine. The only answer I can imagine is that we just don't trust the Holy Spirit to work through the Episcopacy, so we have to look to unchanging formularies, which of course is a recipe for the ossification of doctrine and devotion.

And so we have it. The evangelical anxiety with regards to the ABC and the primates meeting (the DES statement) is a function of this basic mistrust in an incarnate authority, and a belief that orthodoxy can be reduced to propositions, which are clear and distinct and comforting. But who comes up with these propositions? And who interprets the propositions when even their language has been re-appropriated and twisted? And who adjudicates between provinces and bodies that have adhered to the propositions and who have not? You still must have an incarnate authority to answer these questions and enforce these political realities. Propositions and specific doctrinal clarity are absolutely necessary, but even more so is the divinely ordained authority to do something with the propositions.