Anglicanism, ChurchNerd, Uncategorized

UnAnglican: How GAFCON’s Ecclesiology is Breaking the Communion.

It doesn’t surprise me when the mainstream media gets coverage of Anglican polity wrong. The Washington Post’s horrendous coverage of the 2016 Primate’s announcement has caused more consternation and than is necessary, and many in the Church are rightly pointing out just how wrong WaPo got it, and why we shouldn’t hail this as the end of TEC’s time in the Communion.

What I am seeing discussed in Church circles, by and large, are questions of Authority, How little or how much does this mean? What power do the Primates actually have?

The general consensus is; It hurts a lot, but doesn’t really mean much.

Bishop Curry has been wonderful in couching this in explicitly Biblical terms, and for the first time in my life as an Episcopalian I’ve been proud of the way we’ve borne the shocks of being called out on a worldwide stage.

I think that’s because we’ve stepped off the defensive. At this moment in our life together we are clearer than we’ve ever been about our vocation to extend the love of Christ unequivocally to all, and are articulating it in positive theological terms that speaks powerfully to the world around us. Suddenly we feel like a Church with a voice.

And we’re going to need to hold on to that voice, because I don’t think things are about to get easier for us, or for the Communion.

I sincerely encourage everyone interested in whats happening now to go back and read The Jerusalem Declaration issued by the GAFCON provinces in 2008. What it proposes is the clearest articulation of the ecclesiology that is being pushed by very vocal providences in the Global South, and we have done a very bad job of contending with it at all. To operate like there is at all a consensus about what Anglican ecclesiology does or should look like is to bury our head in the sand, and to ensure that what happened at this years Primate’s conference is something that keeps happening. 

Within the declaration, interspersed between benign language about the Lordship and saving work of Christ, are claims that need to be called out for what they are: Foreign to Anglicanism as it has existed as a historic Communion.

For example:

6.) We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

This runs against the fundamental concept of subsidiarity, with individual provinces abilities to formulate liturgy independently of one another. It invalidates the Book of Common Prayer in; The United States (Every book since 1789), Scotland, New Zealand, Mexico, and Chile among others…

The ability of independent Provinces to revise their own liturgies substantially predates the publication of the 1662 BCP, and to set a Communion-wide standard is an innovation that runs against what has been true since the 17th century.

It can’t be disputed that the 1662 was the Book of the British empire, and holds a dear place in the GAFCON provinces, the desire to set a standardized BCP across provinces betrays an impulse for standardization that I doubt few American (or Scottish, for that matter) Anglicans share.

The statement about the Ordinal follows the same lines. While the American Ordinal is built around the 1662, the differences are enough as to be profound.

The statement that, “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” Implies another assumed norm that simply doesn’t exist. When read as a statement pointed toward concerns over Sexuality it has a bit of a firmer foundation, but taken as a stand alone statement it borders on being disingenuous that the Church is at all (or ever has been) remotely uniform in its reading of Scripture.

I would like to believe that the GAFCON primates wouldn’t be so naive.

The Jerusalem Declaration is an affirmation of an Anglicanism that has never existed. It assumes authority that hasn’t been exercised sense before the American Revolution, and it sets it as the sine qua non for Communion.

It isn’t Anglican.

It isn’t, but it could be.

We’re going to need to watch this like a hawk. We have to be able to call out this innovative and destructive ecclesiology whenever and wherever we see it, because letting it creep into our common life together is to see what happened this year intensify in years to come.

This means we have to stay at the table. And we need to fight like hell to retain our vote while we’re there.

When the Archbishop of Uganda left the Primates conference he did so because he was disappointed that the Primates didn’t exercise an authority that they did not have. 

Foley Beach is calling for more sanctions, when the Primates are unclear about their ability to give real sanctions in the first place.

GAFCON has been telling us that this is what they’re after since 2008. It’s time to call their ecclesiological claims what they are: Unfounded in history. Ungrounded in our common heritage. UnAnglican.

 

 

 

 

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Catholicity and Culture

Why The Filioque Doesn’t Suck, A Respectful Response.

I’m about to do something that may be highly inadvisable, and pick a fight with the Crusty Old Dean.

But like folks at my Alma Mater will most likely tell you, pushing back on Seminary faculty was a bit of a pastime, and I’m glad to get back into the swing of things.

I fully recognize that I’ve already lost this argument within the wider Anglican Communion, and when the BCP gets revised I’ll say whatever’s put in front of me to say. For the moment, however, I felt called to go to bat for what I feel is an important part of the Western Church’s life and doctrine.

On my wedding day a friend of the family gave me a cross-stitch from his time growing up in an Episcopal Church in the 50’s. It was triumphalist and imperialist and mostly wrong, but it was a keepsake and had been dear to him for years.

Now, this man is the most quintessentially Greek man I know. Growing up in Central Georgia wasn’t enough to take that sense of cultural and religious heritage away from him or his parents. Despite all this he was raised in an Episcopal Church because, at the time, Orthodox Christians who lived away from Orthodox communities were actively encouraged to attend Episcopal Parishes. Our polity bears a striking similarity. Our sense of Catholicity tends to jive well remarkably well together. Our Eucharistic theology is closer to the East than it is to Rome… all of this was enough for the leaders of the Orthodox Church to tell its members in the Diaspora that they could feel at ease among us.

We were the next best thing. Filioque and all.

And then we started ordaining women, and the Orthodox had a problem with that. (The Orthodox have also been expanding their presence in the U.S, making the lack of parishes increasingly less of an issue.)

If the Filioque is a stumbling block to our Eastern Brothers and sisters, it is one among so very many, and pretending like we’re going to get past 1976 (much less 2003) based on christological goodwill alone requires an optimism I don’t have. (The writers at Anglican News seem to have it in spades.)

It’s important to remember that since 1976 we’re no longer talking about full communion. The conversation we’re now having is one centered around “theological understanding and common witness.” It’s noble. It’s necessary. But the degree to which it places claims on our respective traditions is negligible.

All that isn’t to say that I’m against the dialogue, I’m simply against us thinking that its more than it is. So many times I feel like Anglicans in ecumenical dialogues are like the nerdy kid who freaks out after being acknowledged by the head cheerleader. We’re so excited that they talked to us that we lose sight of the fact that we don’t have a chance in hell of taking them out.

There’s another thread to this that concerns me a bit more than our preoccupation with ecumenical concerns, and it comes in two forms; Anti-Medievalism, and a misplaced trust in the state of our current Trinitarian theology.

The heart of the argument against the Filioque is that it was an early Medieval interpolation into the fruit of an ecumenical council, and that point itself can’t really be contested. The historical foundations of the Filioque aren’t up for debate. What we make of those foundations, however, needs to stay alive in our theological consciousness.

What we see in the life of the Filioque, is the persistence of context in the formation of liturgy. It was a good-faith attempt at keeping the Catholic faith alive in a region and at a time where Arians were in the majority, and in positions of power. Place that in tandem with the fact that Augustinian theology was the sine qua non for doctrinal development in the Western world (and largely ignored in the East) and you have the makings of a well-reasoned liturgical change rooted in the clear pastoral needs of the people. And lets be clear, the Creed has always been a principally liturgical document. It was born in the Councils, yes, but its life has been lived in the Mass.

The Filioque received its doctrinal place largely by acclamation. It was contested, suppressed, and contested again, over a period of well over two hundred years. Anselm’s defense of the Filioque pretty well put any theological concerns about the clause itself to bed. It is a product of Western circumstance that, while unorthodox in its implementation, was completely orthodox in its sentiment.

This is the same period of time, and the same general region that gave us the Creed of St. Athanasius which has avoided controversy while retaining a place as one of the 3 Ecumenical Creeds approved by the 39 Articles. It comes out swinging in favor of the Filioque, and is frequently lauded as one of the best articulations of Trinitarian theology we have at our disposal. (See: Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies.) While it is in no way Athanasian, (It comes just shy of quoting De Trinitate verbatum) I fear that its Patristic namesake has kept it safe.

We are so slow to escape from the overwhelming cultural construct that nothing good happened between 500 and 1300CE. The fact is that Trinitarian heavy lifting that took place in the Middle Ages set the stage for the most formative period of Theological development in the Western Church since Augustine, who a decent cohort are more than willing to lump in with the “nothing good happened” lot. What the Filioque controversy shows, however, is a group of devoutly Orthodox Christians who were devoted to raising their people up in the Catholic faith, and were willing to do the theological heavy lifting that made the change possible.

We are doing precisely the same thing today in so many ways. To be Episcopalian and take a hard stand against pastoral need driving doctrinal development is to speak out of both sides of our mouths.

Which leads me to my second point. The usefulness of the Filioque in formation today can’t be understated. Yesterday Derek Olsen wrote a remarkably poignant description of the theological climate in which we currently live and move. His insight around the tenets of Therapeutic Monotheistic Deism are right on the mark, and the fact that TMD is a remarkably Arian movement needs to be pinned to the wall of every catechist in the Church.

My own Barthian predilections notwithstanding, we are at a juncture where the creative aspects of the eternal Logos need to be taught and preached with abandon. The Filioque and the Athanasian Creed are two tools that can’t stand to live without. Derek was right to note that any Prayer Book Revision has to take TMD into account, and if we’re serious about what that means it follows that we should be serious about retaining the Filioque.

Liturgy is formation. Its the heart of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The Filioque was produced at a time where that was felt more acutely than ever, and the Western Church, Catholic and Protestant alike, has affirmed repeatedly until the Ecumenical wave of the last 50 years.

It seems to be that my lot as a young priest is to scream into the wind of movements I wasn’t around to play a part in, and this feels a lot like screaming into the wind. But with a Prayer Book Revision looming on the horizion, I reckon its something I’m going to need to get used to.

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Catholicity and Culture

Justin Welby, Bernie Sanders, and working toward Reconciliation.

The Most. Rev. Welby shook the Anglican world this week. Showing exactly how little it takes to shake the Anglican world.

I was more than a little surprised by the response. We’ve either been scoffing at the prospect of Covenant, or being (rightly) irate at the positions of Bishops on either side. The worst parts of our political culture are creeping their way into the way that the Church looks at itself. Diatribe over dialogue. Contrast over connection.

Don’t think I’m saying we can’t call each other out. We have to be able to stand up to Bishops in Central Africa who support laws that criminalize homosexuality. We have to be able to say that its wrong, and we have to mean it. But we also have to recognize the qualitative difference between those who would criminalize LGBT persons, and those who believe that ordaining LGBT people is wrong.

The Episcopal Church has seen the power of dialogue. General Convention this year was case in point. We’ve been able to come from the Schism of 2003 to the well-stated and generous response of the Communion Partners. In twelve years we’ve gone from an all out ecclesial brawl to “we respectfully disagree.” That means something. Its nothing less than a marked victory of the Catholic vision and we need to celebrate it. 

My news feed exploded this week with quotes of Bernie Sander’s speech at Liberty university, and rightfully so. We are living in a world where talking with the other side is a news-worthy event. It wasn’t only astonishing for its novelty, but for Sen. Sander’s approach. He stood up to speak, identified the points on which they disagreed, laid out the positions on which they did agree, and then pressed forward on common ground. He did something that the mainline Church needs to desperately learn from, he spoke sincerely with Evangelicals about the scriptural witness to justice. Not as a jab at their misplaced priorities. Not as an homage to his own moral superiority. He sincerely spoke to him about what a text that they both hold dear has to say about treating their neighbors.

Bernie knows something we can’t seem to grasp: When, not if, but when Evangelicals wake up to issues of Economic Justice, it will be a cataclysmic shift in the American political landscape. One which the Republican party, as it stands today, will not survive.

I’m not sure the Mainline will survive it either. We’ve made justice issues our sine qua non, at the expense of a comprehensive theological vision to back it up. When Evangelicals start to get on board they will do it better than we do, and no amount of liturgical Millenials will be enough to make us compelling.

What will make us compelling is the same thing that made ++Welby’s statement, and Sen. Sander’s speech compelling, reaching out in love to those with whom we vehemently disagree.

There’s an offertory sentence in the BCP that doesn’t get nearly enough play on Sunday mornings. Its from Matthew 5; “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Sometimes we have to step away from communion for a bit in order that we can come back and more fully participate together. The Gospel does not abide us using our separation as a sign of inherent superiority. (See also: The Prayer of the Pharisee)

Much as I bristle anytime I see “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” I’m starting to get my hackles up anytime I hear “It doesn’t matter how you believe, only how we pray.”

No. The Creed is a claim, not just of our belief, but of the truth of the reality of the Triune God, and the Church that serves that God. The central claim that we make is that God crossed the infinite gap between Godself and us, and became like us in order to save us.

That’s the God we serve. That’s the God we attempt to emulate. And that might mean sitting down at the Table with the GAFCON primates. That might mean calling Ugandan bishops to repentance. That might mean sitting down with Evangelicals for the sake of millions of people in this country who are crushed under the weight of working for poverty wages.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the mission of the Church. At a time when efforts at reconciliation are rare enough to be newsworthy, we would do well to live into it.

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