Friday, December 04, 2009

Healing the Fault Lines in Christianity - Some Initial Responses

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)

At this point I had intended to move on and talk about methodology--some possible means by which the fault lines in Christianity can be healed. However, there have been a few responses to my first post that call for some discussion first.

It has been suggested that I am being idealistic. Yes, I am talking about achieving an ideal that exists in the mind of God for his Church and which Jesus prayed might be realized. I am being idealistic! But that is not to say that I am being unrealistic, since I am speaking about something Scripture explicitly says God wants to see happen.

I wrote that "Orthodox Anglicans, possessing as we do a comprehensive grasp of the Church—ancient and modern, east and west, catholic and reformed—are uniquely positioned to be the focal point of Christian unity." But I then went on to cite a partial list of things about which Anglicans hold varying opinions:

  • The nature of justification,
  • the nature of sanctification,
  • grace and works,
  • the nature of a sacrament,
  • the nature and effects of Baptism,
  • the nature of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper,
  • the role of the Virgin Mary,
  • the authority of the Scriptures in relation to Tradition,
  • Apostolic Succession,
  • the nature of the Priesthood (Presbyterate), etc.

    Referring to this list, Fr. Al Kimel commented on Stand Firm that, "It would appear that Anglicanism does NOT in fact possess a comprehensive grasp of the Church." Well, yes, it does. First, you have to note that the differences among Anglicans on many of these issues are matters of nuance, not fundamental disagreement--which is all the more reason why we should engage in discussions to resolve them. Secondly, where there is fundamental disagreement, we have both the freedom and the obligation to work out those differences. Within the range of interpretation on each of these subjects lies the truth. Like Michelangelo, we need to chisel away the marble to liberate the statue that is trapped inside. Thirdly, I believe it is better to be in an ecclesial environment where one can honestly work out differences than to be in one that may have authoritatively resolved these questions incorrectly.

    Again, referring to my idealism, someone commented: "Archbishop Williams and Dean Munday appear to share one characteristic--DENIAL." Rowan Williams (alas) bears much of the responsibility for what the Anglican Communion has become (at least during his tenure). I am speaking of what Anglicanism can be!

    What is more, I am not speaking of the Anglican Communion, I am speaking of the Anglican Way. The institutions of the Anglican Communion may fall to dust, yet it will remain that the Anglican Way of being a Christian contains much that is of great value that we can and must contribute to the universal Church and to the future of what Christianity is becoming.

    I realize that for those who need the reassurance of a strong visible expression of the Church, dealing in ideals may not be enough. But I would submit that while the whole company of believers in Jesus Christ—baptized into Christ's body, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, from Pentecost until our Lord's return, and existing in heaven and on earth—may not at times be keenly visible, nevertheless, it is a reality. And our work for the Church must have that reality as our focus and our aspiration, more than any earthly expression of the Church (no matter how venerable) that represents only a portion of those believers at one moment in time.

    I realize that my proposals may hold no attraction for former Anglicans who have now become Roman Catholics. That is understandable. If you are someone who believes that the answer to Christian unity is for everyone to become united in communion with the See of Rome, without any prior discussion of the ways in which Rome has erred—that there need be no discussion of Christian doctrine into which Rome in humility needs to enter—then, naturally, we are going to disagree.

    My starting point is a fundamentally Anglican premise:
    Article XIX. Of the Church.
    The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

    As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith. (emphasis added)

    If you do not believe that last statement—if you believe that the Church of Rome has not erred, or through Papal Infallibility and the Magisterium cannot err—then you have already become a Roman Catholic. A discussion of how Anglicans can work for the unity of the Church (or any discussion of the unity of the Church that consists of a solution other than everyone coming under the Papacy) probably holds nothing for you.

    My present calling and my purpose in writing this series of blog posts is to call orthodox Anglicans to see what they have in common in the catholic faith of the Church, to reconcile our differences where they exist, and to work for unity in the faith among Christians worldwide. Furthermore, I am not so much concerned whether Christians ever come under the same institutional structure as whether they find unity in the truth.

    It is not my intention to comment here on the Apostolic Constitution presented by the Vatican in recent weeks, other than to say this: I recognize that there are many Anglicans (including close friends of mine) who have already entered into full communion with the Holy See or who will choose to do so as a response to the Vatican's offer. Even though I believe I am called to work for Christian unity on different terms and by other means, please do not take my arguing for those other means as showing any disrespect for you and your decision. Even though our paths my be different, they run along parallel lines; and our journeys are motivated by the same intention. Let us strive to outdo one another in humility, forbearance, and Christian charity. And let us work and pray that we may someday be one.
     
  • 2 comments:

    whoizme8 said...

    John Wesley had a lot to offer in regards to various Christian groups getting together. As a minister of the Church of England and the founder of the Methodist Church he pushed for a distinctionb between doctrines and opinions.

    See my book:
    J. Robert (Bob) Ewbank’s book “John Wesley, Natural Man, and the ‘Isms’ has been published. The ‘Isms’ are Heathenism, Judaism, Deism, Roman Catholicism, Quakerism, and Mysticism. The questions being answered are: how does each of them differ from John Wesley’s idea of True Christianity, and what are the prospects for those holding these views being saved.

    Written for the layperson as well as the scholar, there is a Study Guide in the back of the book to help individual or group study. The Guide has questions in the front, which are answered later in the Guide.

    Bob has a B.A. from Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas and an M.A. from Garrett-Evangelical. He is currently Lay Leader of St. Mark UMC, in Mobile, AL.

    Bishop Rueben P. Job of the United Methodist Church has written some kind words on the back cover.

    Sam Royappa District Superintendent of the Coulee District in Wisconsin has recommended this book to his clergy and laity.

    A review of the book has also been published in the October 15, 2009 copy of The Laity Link which is the newsletter of the Alabama-West Florida Conference Board of Laity.

    The book is being used by one local Sunday School, divided into 14 sessions.

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    padreblue said...

    Thanks for this post and the one before. Since coming to faculty at Trinity I have become converted by Lesslie Newbigin's prophetic ecumenical writing. He draws the closest possible connection between ecumenical unity and evangelism and mission. If Christ has come to bring about the unity of the human race with itself and God the Father through the blood of the cross, the disunity of the messengers of the gospel is a countersign to that gospel.

    It appears to me that Anglicanism has had a unique ecumenical vocation which it has a critical moment dropped to ground, for instance the rejection of the Church of South India scheme by Lambeth.

    If the renewal of Anglicanism is to be a truly missionary moment it must at the same time be vigorously ecumenical and we must labor to reconcile the party spirit in our church and demonstrate the reconciliation of separated brothers and sisters in one apostolic fellowship.