There are some good new pieces over at Fulcrum, on Blessing by Ephraim Radner, two perceptive pieces by Jordan Hylden, and more commentary on Archbishop Rowan’s latest statement by Bishop Tom Wright. Who would have thought it? Occasionally we Anglicans can be calm, measured, even faithful…
I had a great ten days in the US. It started with the SBL at Boston, bumping into the usual serendity of people – Tom Wright, Neil MacDonald, Doug Campbell, Alan Garrow, Mark Elliott, caught up with Murray Rae, roomed with Luke Tallon and Dan Driver and met some of their talented St Andrews mates. Lots of theological exegesis going on: I was impressed by Edith Humphrey and then by Peter Leithart on typological exegesis of the Book of Ruth. Ephraim Radner was there but gave me the slip.
Then on to Justyn Terry at Trinity Evangelical School for Ministry at Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving. The college was quiet so didn’t get to meet local heroes Bill Witt or Leander Harding, but I’m hoping they will invite me back. We went to service for Pittsburgh’s 250 year anniversary at the Cathedral Church with Bishop Bob Duncan, apparently not ‘deposed’ so no unseemly fight between bishops for the throne. From Justyn’s account both sides of the Episcopalian ruck seem to understand the Church as a corporation, with Presiding Bishop as CEO, bishops as the branch managers that can be sacked – so the churches, that is, actual Christians, would then be employees perhaps, or consumers? A properly ‘episcopalian’ church would understand that a bishop is king in his own diocese, his relationship with the people of the church in his city indissoluble, so that any other jurisdiction such as province or national church is not higher but simply honorary. Anyway, a wonderful time with the Terry family, while writing my piece for Princeton
Then Princeton and the new Institute for Theological Inquiry which had set us the task of talking about Covenant and the Human Future. Supper and (Episcopalian) Church with the Jensons. I was crushed to find that Jean Bethke Elshtain had withdrawn: her vast output anticipates most of my proposal. I want to produce my theological economics book along with new stuff, on the long-term political-and-demographic result of the dissolution of marriage, which Allan Carlson of the Howard Center is doing, as is Elshtain. A very mixed but also quite elderly company, Darlene Weaver and Gerald McDermott the exceptions, and one of the rabbis one was certainly impressive, but it is not easy to see what will emerge from this. Saw a lot of Rusty Reno, who was being extra-irenic and refused to reveal the identity of Spengler, my new hero, and on to a Madison symposium chaired by Robert George on Eric Cohen’s In the Shadow of Progress
Why are the wealthiest people in human history the least likely to want children? What kind of civilization will we become if we seek cures for the sick by destroying human embryos?
Also found Ben Myers, who has been working away on the Jenson book after all, I was very relieved to find. All in the US were very relaxed about political and economic developments, but here it feels as though we are about to disappear into the maelstrom, so not at all relaxed, but dithering between continuing the effort to interest London diocese clergy in their faith while working towards a marriage institute, and running away to Scottish island monastery.
You must pray, you must reflect, you must listen. You must also act. Let me suggest four central actions you must come to a common mind about. In all these cases I use the term âmustâ?, not because I am absolutely certain of these matters, but because I believe that God is indeed calling you to act, and this belief is buttressed by the discernment of countless others around the Communion.
1. You must state clearly that the actions of TEC as an official body, and of certain Canadian dioceses, are unacceptable to you as bishops of the Communion. And you must decide, resolutely, that those bishops from these churches who are in agreement to press forward in ways the Communion has now clearly and consistently repudiated no longer partake in your common councils. I am not eager to state this; but I know of no other reasonable course to take at this point. This is not a matter of punishment, or even âdisciplineâ? in any technical form: it is a matter of common Christian sense. TEC (to use this example) has demonstrated clearly, and with increasing hard-heartedness, that it does not wish to respect the common recommendations and pleas and even hopes of the Communion as a whole.
2. You must call back into your midst those who have stayed away from this Conference, not simply as a sign of continued fellowship, but in order to meet face to face again to resolve and heal the breaches that are widening among you month by month. There is much speaking of the truth, repentance, and reconciliation that needs to be done among you and with them. But it is not right simply that declarations be made or statements offered or private counsel kept in the face of the present estrangements, irregular episcopal acts, and hostile words. There is scandal on every side: confront it and heal it among yourselves, armed with powers of Christâs spirit.
Theological leadership is raised up in due season. We have no comparable tomes such as Jewel’s Defensio Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae or Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, but the Reformed English Church persists because there is no better expression of English identity: it is the Ecclesia Anglorum. If it is ‘crucified between two thieves’ – the Puritans and the papists – it is because it has tasted the unmerited grace of God in Jesus Christ and maintains continuity with the Church of the Middle Ages and the early Fathers. It is catholic and reformed; moderate and reasonable; rigorous yet pastoral. And these are held in tension, in the brokenness of the cross, and there are undoubted frequent imbalances, in the imperfection of our fallenness. The Ecclesia Angliae has endured through numerous threats – the Roman Catholic Church, the Puritans, the Enlightenment and science, and ecumenism. So Cranmer is sure that it can survive feminism and pluralism.
Knight is not quite so sure the Church of England can survive but, when in the dark, whistle.
For a host of historical and theological reasons Anglicans have routinely overplayed an understanding of visibility which associates it too strictly with ordered externality, and underplayed what that stout ecumenist Karl Barth called the ‘very special visibility’ of the Church. By that, Barth did not intend to deny that the Church of Jesus Christ has concrete, historical form; he simply sought to affirm that the Church has visible form by virtue of the presence and action of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit; and he wanted to deny that any contingent historical ordering could guarantee or ensure the essence of the Church, since to say that would be to pass the Church from the hands of its Lord to the hands of its human members. Visibility is thus a spiritual event, describable only by talk of the presence and action of God, and not convertible without residue into forms. Again, this is not a denial of externality, but an attempt to spell out how the Church’s externality is a function of present divine action, of which the externality of the Church is a witness. Hence the principle: ‘The visible attests the invisible’ – ‘invisible’ meaning ‘spiritually visible’, perceptible by faith in the work of God. Perhaps the most crucial bit of dogmatic work which Anglicans need to undertake here is to spell out full, visible unity in such a way that the necessary concrete forms of unity (apostolic confession, common sacraments and ministry, and episcope) can credibly be shown to attest the invisible rather than replace the invisible with contingent structures or order.
There are difficult and maddeningly slow formal attempts unfolding, yet unfolding nonetheless, within the Anglican Communion as a whole to begin to identify a means of getting through this adjudicatory impasse. It involves a host of synods, including the Lambeth Conference, and a proposed “covenant”, among other things. Since no one has offered an agreeable alternative to these unfolding attempts, they remain the primary means, indeed the only means available to all parties in the dispute to move forward. They are, furthermore, in keeping with the long traditions of catholic order and deserve a presumptive respect. Yet because they are both slow, still imperfectly defined, and legally of untested strength, the ultimate usefulness of these unfolding attempts must depend on a host of other Christian realities that – most would agree – actually define the Church of Jesus Christ far more essentially, primarily, and profoundly than do simply the Constitution and Canons of this or that province or diocese (indeed, that latter are, in a Christian sense, legitimate only to the degree that they embody these prior realities). These realities touch upon the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit and the powers thereof that permit a clear following of the Lord Jesus Christ’s own straightforward calling to specific forms of relational behavior. They touch upon matters of humility, patience, longsuffering, honesty and transparency, self-control, and much more. That is, both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of which it is still a part and which it has, rightly or wrongly, so disturbed through its executive actions, have been thrown upon a complete dependence upon these gifts and fruit, in a way that must transcend, even while respecting for the sake of the world’s order, particular rules and regulations.
How then should the Lambeth Conference be viewed? It is not a canonical tribunal, but neither is it merely a general consultation. It is a meeting of the chief pastors and teachers of the Communion, seeking an authoritative common voice. It is also a meeting designed to strengthen and deepen the sense of what the episcopal vocation is.
Some reactions to my original invitation have implied that meeting for prayer, mutual spiritual enrichment and development of ministry is somehow a way of avoiding difficult issues. On the contrary: I would insist that only in such a context can we usefully address divisive issues. If, as the opening section of this letter claimed, our difficulties have their root in whether or how far we can recognise the same gospel and ministry in diverse places and policies, we need to engage more not less directly with each other. This is why I have repeatedly said that an invitation to Lambeth does not constitute a certificate of orthodoxy but simply a challenge to pray seriously together and to seek a resolution that will be as widely owned as may be.
And this is also why I have said that the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross – and so of the resurrection. We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples. I do not think this is either an incidental matter or an evasion of more basic questions.
Another Anglican forum has just launched
We are a gathering of evangelical and catholic Christians, seeking to renew the center of the Christian tradition in North America and particularly within Anglicanism, acting as a point of balance within the diversity that is Anglicanism in North America. We embrace a historic orthodoxy that is generous in spirit, confident in the contribution evangelical-catholics can make to Anglicanism, and welcoming of the diversity of traditions within North American Christianity.
1. Morning and Evening Prayer shall be said or sung in every parish church at least on all Sundays and other principal Feast Days. Each service shall be said or sung distinctly, reverently, and in an audible voice.
2. On all other days the minister of the parish, together with other ministers licensed to serve in the parish, shall make such provision for Morning and Evening Prayer to be said or sung either in the parish church as may best serve to sustain the corporate spiritual life of the parish. Public notice shall be given in the parish, by tolling the bell or other appropriate means, of the time and place where the prayers are to be said or sung.
Canons of the Church of England – B 11 Morning and Evening Prayer in parish Churches