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.


    LSP said...

    Thanks for that - would you be able to contribute something along those lines for the next Forward in Christ? I think it might be a helpful perspective.

    Great to see you at the Convention in DFW.


    Lee said...

    Robert, I was directed to your Blog and specifically this post by A Google Alert searching for Articles on Moravians and the Ecumenical movement.

    I want to acknowledge your thoughtful analysis of the divide that causes the division that hinders our being One in the Spirit as the Lord Prayed in High Priestly Prayer.

    As Moravian Layperson who has participated in a study group at our local Church on the proposed Full communion with the Episcopal Church I have spent a great deal of time looking at all facets of the Ecumenical movement.

    The first document we studied was the William Temple Sermon in 1937 that is often used to inform the modern ecumenical movement. We found that quotes lifted from that sermon and intended to support our efforts to create a unified church were incomplete and misleading. As you will see William Temple was not promoting a man-made organizational structures. In fact he warned against it. This was surprising to us given his speech is often used to support efforts by denominational leaders to formulate organizational structures.

    Note it was William Temple, in this sermon, that said it was Sin that caused the division and this is not mentioned when modern ecumenist quote his message.

    It was our groups opinion that the unity for which our Lord prayed was not a formalized structure but rather a brotherhood of Christians who find kinship in the Holy Spirit.

    An Argument for the modern ecumenical movement is so that others will see and know we are of Christ. As you point out we can not assume that our houses are in order or will stay in order. We will be known by those we associate with. Moravians as well as Anglicans have rich histories. We have not always been on the right path in our history as you seem to suggest regarding the Anglican/Episcopal church.

    Moravians were born out of a need to separate ourselves from an organized Church that had become large, powerful and morphed into a organized self governing structure whose initiatives and objectives seemed more concerned with self preservation than preserving the integrity of Christ’s message and instruction to the Church.

    There is much that can be said here but let me refer you to our Study Group’s Web Site and report here.

    Thank you for the opportunity provided here to consider the importance of stepping back and take a carful look at the way Biblical Ecumenism has morphed into Modern Ecumenism. Maybe we were not being called to do this in our Lords High Priestly Prayer.

    Please feel free to visit our site and feel free to respond to our research.

    Brother in Christ
    Lee Sprinkle

    Robert S. Munday said...

    Lee, I have always had a great appreciation for the Moravian tradition. However, when I read articles like this one: it strikes me that what is happening between the Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church is an example of Modern Ecumenism and a very sad departure from Biblical Ecumenism.

    Does the Moravian Church (especially at the grass roots level) have any idea what they are getting themselves into?

    Lee said...

    Sadly, only some of us do. And we seem only to be the laity.

    Given Moravian Peg Chemberlin was officially installed today during a service at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis as the President of the NCC - where do you think that leads our provincial decision makers in the Moravian Church?

    If Synod decisions were made by studied/prepared lay delegates I think Full communion would be voted down. When respected Bishops and Church leaders are behind this it becomes a go along to get along process.

    Hope you will take time to look at our work and maybe comment on our findings.

    Robert S. Munday said...

    Lee, Unfortunately the NCC and other attempts at Institutional Ecumenism are simply an exercise in circling the wagons into an ever-shrinking circle--one that is comprised of folks who are united in what they disbelieve about biblical and historic Christian faith, order, and morality.

    Fortunately, there are a growing number who are part of an informal "confessing Christian" movement. We find fellowship across denominational lines with those who are united in believing the "faith once delivered to the saints." Whether we ever wear the same institutional label is irrelevant, if we know ourselves to be truly brothers and sisters in Christ. AS you pointed out, this is the kind of ecumenism that William Temple meant, when his quotations are not taken out of context, as the Institutional Ecumenists so often do.

    Deacon Gary said...

    Robert;Thank you for your clarity on this important issue. Since I returned to Anglicanism (27 years ago - from being a Roman Catholic for 24 years) I have understood myself as both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical (with a bit of Charismatic thrown in) These streams are each necessary for the proclamation of the gospel (as we understand it in Anglicanism)and should be seen as complementary not in conflict. Don't we as Anglicans proclaim "Word and Sacrament?" Isn't that another way of saying "Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic?"

    We need to agree on what we agree on (as you stated) and then move ahead vigorously on what we seem to disagree on. Like the ARCIC study of transubstantiation and the Real Presence, maybe when studied, both sides are much closer to agreement than what it seems now. In any case, you are spot on. We need to address this somewhat dividing views in Anglicanism with love for one another and a sincere desire to find our unity in Jesus Christ

    Gary Cartwright
    Deacon, SWFLA

    Unknown said...

    Munday's call is well said for its context.

    I have longed for this kind of dialogue for Anglicans, but now I see that the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project is already working on these issues on a larger scale. In many ways, it is redundant to try to replicate the process within Anglicanism. I don't want to sound sarcastic or dismissive, but in the end, I think this effort would come across like a pickup game or a scrimmage compared to a real game that counts for the record. When the Roman Catholic Church engages in this kind of dialogue, it makes international headlines and makes history. The Catholic - Lutheran dialogue, for example, has enough permanence and authority to actually affect teaching for both groups and be a source of study for Christians outside the dialogue. The Anglican Church has become balkanized because of patterns of thought endemic to Anglicanism. As a result, it is naive to think that anything analogous to these global Catholic dialogues could make a difference within Anglicanism, much less to anyone beyond.

    This has been a sad realization for me, but I have hope because there are other contexts for this kind of dialogue, like those mentioned above.

    Jason said...

    I know that you are, in this case, speaking primarily of seeking unity within Anglicanism, and from the outside looking in, I would say that for all the chaos in Anglicanism there is more unity than many inside Anglicanism give it credit for.

    Depending on the individual, the unity may come from a certain thoughtful and shared understanding of what has to be essential for institutional unity vs. what is adiaphora, or it come about from commitment to the institution and outward forms of the "common heritage" (BCP, etc) combined with apathy toward doctrine and church politics.

    However, when it comes to ecumenicism with other denominations, and the idea of Anglicanism as being a focal point or bridge or whatever for uniting East and West, Protestant and Catholic, etc, I'm more skeptical.

    I'm reminded of the joke that "Anglicans are so interested in ecumenism because they are convinced that it will result in everyone becoming Anglican."

    Between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church, for example, there simply is NOT a common understanding of what is essential and what is adiaphora. For them the role of the Bishop of Rome is no less important than the Virgin Birth. That is why there will never be full Communion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. Either Anglicans will become Roman Catholic while retaining some of their customs, or the Roman Catholic Church will cease to be doctrinally Roman Catholic and instead become something more approximating Anglicanism.

    The same might be said of Baptists and Presbyterians, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic, etc. Full unity can not come without full agreement on doctrine, even if the agreement what people can disagree about. It is my personal opinion that it will take the New Heaven and the New Earth to bring this about.

    Mike said...

    Wasn't it J Gresham Machen who wrote that there is more common ground between Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic than there is between either of those groups and those who dismiss the Incarnation & Resurrection as being mythology?

    I would hope the same might be true of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.

    Robert S. Munday said...

    Sola Gratia,

    Even though "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" may be already working on these issues on a larger scale, I do not believe that it is redundant to try to resolve these issues within Anglicanism. We may, to some extent, learn from what Evangelicals and Catholics Together are trying to accomplish, but applying it in an Anglican context will still take some work, and that is what I believe we should be doing.

    Resolving our differences as Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals is only the first step I am proposing. My concern goes far beyond that and extends to healing the divisions between Calvinists and Arminians (i.e., achieving a truly biblical and catholic understanding of soteriology), Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics, those who are divided over the ordination of women, etc.

    My contention is that Christianity as a whole has left some great issues lie unresolved (in some cases for centuries!), and we need to hash these things out. Anglicans are in a good position to help the rest of the Christian world do this, but we need to take care of our internal divisions first. That is why I believe that, whatever Evangelicals and Catholics Together may do, we Anglicans must sort out our differences.