Friday, November 20, 2009

Healing the Fault Lines in Christianity - Introduction

It has been my conviction (indeed, my passion) for quite some time that those of us who are serious about the unity of the Church for which our Lord prayed in John 17, and who are concerned for the contribution that a renewed, orthodox Anglicanism can make to the future of the universal Church, need to take the lead in healing the "fault lines" that have separated Christians for most of the past 1000 years.

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 to be truly effective as an instrument for uniting the rest of Christianity, we must get our own house in order.

While various jurisdictions in Anglicanism have conducted ecumenical dialogues with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, etc. the great theological divide between Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Anglicans has been left untended (ostensibly with a sort of benign neglect) and even occasionally displayed as a sign of Anglicanism's amazing comprehensiveness. The problem is that the neglect in healing such a gaping wound in the Body of Christ is anything but benign.

Why do I consider this to be a gaping wound instead of simply a healthy sign of diversity? For one thing, there is the attitude of suspicion and even hostility with which Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals sometimes regard each other. I have lived among Anglo-Catholics who use the term "Evangelical" as an epithet. And I have lived among Evangelicals who regard Anglo-Catholics as near pagans in need of conversion. I am not referring merely to fringe movements or isolated incidents--the problem exists among church leaders, theological colleges, and church societies associated with Anglo-Catholicism and Anglican Evangelicalism on every continent where there is an Anglican presence. These attitudes (and sometimes actions) are not healthy displays of diversity, they are a reproach to an institution that exists to manifest God's grace and love.

A second reason this division is a gaping wound and not a healthy display of diversity is the magnitude of the theological issues that remain unresolved. I am not going to argue any of these issues for the time being, but merely list some of them.

  • 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.

  • Knowledgeable Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals will immediately recognize the point of controversy in each of these issues and also recognize that this is far from a complete list. Just as obvious is the fact that these are not trivial issues.

    One might well ask, given the magnitude of the issues, whether reconciliation of the differing viewpoints is possible. But are we willing to say that something for which our Lord prayed is impossible?

    I have long maintained that what unites Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals is far greater than that which separates them. The simple tenets of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds are more than sufficient grounds for a very formidable unity:

  • belief in and worship of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
  • the Incarnation of the Son in the Person of Jesus Christ,
  • His virgin birth, atoning death, and resurrection,
  • the Holy Spirit and His work in the life and ministry of the Church,
  • belief that there is one holy catholic and apostolic Church,
  • that there is a resurrection of the body and everlasting life for all who believe these things

  • This much (and more) we have in common already, and it is of major consequence in establishing both our unity and the basis for our proclamation to the world.

    The third reason I believe that orthodox Anglicans must take the lead in overcoming our divisions and manifesting the unity of the Church is that our disunity impairs our witness. It is only a united witness to the truth of the Gospel that can reach a world that is slipping into post-Christianity precisely through the compromise of the message of the Gospel by the western Church in the face of challenges from materialism and secularism on the one hand, and militant Islam and other world religions on the other hand.

    To accomplish unity for the sake of the Gospel will entail a healing in our spirits, a working out of theological differences, and a renewed commitment to the integrity of our witness.

    To achieve this unity will mean laying aside much of the baggage that characterizes the various parties in Anglicanism. It will require a methodology that enables us to recognize and hold fast to what is essentially Christian. It will call for passions of equal intensity for unity and truth. And it will demand a greater love for God and our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

    This is a beginning of my thoughts along these lines. I will have more to say in future installments.

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Former [abortion] clinic director: "Church chilly to my pro-life turn"

    Former clinic director: Church chilly to my pro-life turn
    Now feels unwelcome among Episcopalians

    Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director whose about-face on abortion prompted her to resign her job, says she's gotten flack for her decision from an unexpected quarter: her own church.

    Read it all.

    Episcopal News Service article on Sweden's lesbian bishop

    Very positive reporting from Episcopal News Service:
    SWEDEN: Lesbian priest ordained as Lutheran bishop of Stockholm

    The (Lutheran) Church of Sweden on Nov. 8 ordained a female pastor as Christianity's first openly gay female bishop.

    Eva Brunne, 55, was elected in late May to be bishop of the Diocese of Stockholm by a vote of 413-365 over Hans Ulfvebrand in the second round of voting. A first round of voting by clergy of the diocese and an equal number of elected lay people was held in April. There are 13 dioceses in the Church of Sweden.

    Then, later in the article, follows this section in which various denominations try outdoing each other to claim "first!"—
    The AP reported that while Brunne's consecration is a first, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a spokesman for the United Church of Christ, said that the UCC has several openly gay and lesbian "conference ministers." That designation is similar to that of bishop.

    In 2003, the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

    Finally, the celebration: "Hey, we can get jiggy wi' deese folks!"
    The Episcopal Church is about to enter into a dialogue with the Church of Sweden that could lead to a full communion agreement similar to the one the church has had with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since January 2001. The July 8-17 meeting of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention called for that dialogue, via Resolution A076.

    Full communion?  Why not?  Sounds like "birds of a feather" to me.

    Read it all.

    Sunday, November 08, 2009

    World leaders line up to mark fall of Berlin Wall

    Guess which "world leader" won't be there.
    BERLIN (Reuters) - World leaders past and present will join German crowds on Monday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall -- a stark symbol of the Cold War that divided a city and a continent.

    Recollections of November 9, 1989 dominated German newspaper headlines over the weekend, and television stations ran program after program of documentary footage, eyewitness accounts and discussion panels about the event that changed the face of Europe.

    "There has scarcely been an historical watershed so radical and so immediately visible as November 9, 1989," the Koelnische Rundschau daily wrote in an editorial.


    Pivotal figures from the era that ushered in the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, such as ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa, who led anti-communist protests in Poland at the head of the Solidarity trade union, will take part in commemorative events around the once-divided capital on Monday.

    Joining them will be the leaders of the nations which occupied postwar Germany, apart from the United States, which will be represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are all due to attend the celebrations hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, amid a series of bilateral meetings.

    Read it all.