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Anglican Christianity - For Consideration by the Bishops of the Episcopal Church

Anglican Christianity - For Consideration by the Bishops of the Episcopal Church

A Season of Judgment

It is impossible to watch the delegation going to represent ECUSA at Nottingham next month without concluding, 'this is not Anglican Christianity.' Whatever else it is, the composition of this delegation is a public statement about the character of the Episcopal Church at this moment in time, and it forces those of us who have identified with Anglican Christianity to conclude, 'I no longer am represented. This is simply not my church.'

Such a claim is controversial of course, but for those of us who have this conviction, borne of prayer and theological/historical reflection, what is to be done?

Before answering this question, one must be able to describe accurately the situation in which we find ourselves under God. The fracturing, misrepresentation, and conflicted character of our church and Communion that the ACC meeting constitutes in its very form has been long in coming, and is the result of an ingrained set of failures in discernment, discipline, and order that implicates all leaders of our Anglican churches. We have clearly entered a time of divine judgment that is touching all members of our Communion. Any "way forward" must take this profound reality into account, and only in this context can we faithfully answer the question, "what is to be done?"

To this question, one answer that has been given is, take action and forge new alignments. This answer focuses on the strategic needs, as these are perceived, of Anglican Christians in the United States. This way has been tried in several earlier guises, constituting what has been called the 'continuing church' movement. In its newest form, this answer seeks formal alliances with primatial leaders in other areas of the Communion. We have been urged by the Communion to forbear in this regard, but the conditions for that are eroding and at a fierce rate.

Another answer is, leave altogether. This route typically leads to the Roman Catholic Church or an embrace of the Orthodox Way.

What is Anglican Christianity?

Both answers raise fundamental questions. Central to these is, what does it mean to be an Anglican Christian as such? And, is it possible to remain an Anglican Christian at all, or must one leave and declare the reality of Anglican Christianity too deeply flawed or ill-conceived? Forging strategic alignments is an effort to secure what is declared to be a measure of 'protection', but what is the actual effect on Anglican Christianity as a reality? Let us say that it is possible to gather a significant number of the Primates and ask them to provide oversight in the United States. Let us say that such a strategy even has a measure of logic, and that it will throw ECUSA into a kind of strange receivership, and initiate a major war over property and the true identity of Anglican Christianity in the Unite d States. But even if this all transpires according to some plan or accident, we are left with the question, when the dust settles, 'what is Anglican Christianity?' It is far easier to identity the problem and the trouble-makers (as either end of the spectrum perceives this) and seek to disestablish them. But what is left when this idea has been prosecuted?

The Anglican Communion, as a functional body and through its bishops, has always existed as a gathering of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and as such, as a kind of reflection of the council gathered around and with Canterbury. Many of our churches' constitutional documents state this clearly. What is now being tested is whether a form of Anglican Christianity can exist independently of this office. Other non-Roman churches (Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed) exist without a decisive historical and theological link to a region and person. Why cannot Anglicanism modify itself and rally around several primates, and let them be the chief 'instrument of unity' (the term could be carried over or let go)? Perhaps the theological and ecclesiological rationale for this is waiting to be made, or published, and those who might have such a role in forming such a new "instrument of unity" have been consulted and have a greed to it according to this or that logic. This is, however, unclear and probably must be so in the nature of the thing, given the season of judgment the Anglican Communion presently finds itself in.

Nevertheless, as we sit in this season of judgment, and this kind of option is increasingly aired, one is entitled to hope that some serious theological, historical, and ecclesial thinking is going on which will give clear expression to how this new polity is a warranted extension of, whilst being a departure from, what has been the identifying center of the Anglican Communion. What is at stake here is historical (why is there an Anglican Christianity and where did it come from?) and theological (does this form of Christianity exist under the providence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?) One can see how those going to Rome have answered this second question. It is imperative that those who are seeking new alignments be prepared in turn to answer the first.

Anglican Communion Distinctives

We would here seek to seek to direct attention to elements of teaching and order around which the Anglican Communion in fact has coalesced. In providing this outline, we wish first to identify several features that have historically given Anglican Christianity a distinctive form in the United States and which reflect as well those same features in the Communion at large. And second, we wish to provide a general set of touchstones by which to 'correct' an Anglican presence in the US in the direction of the Communion and away from self-assertion. This list is not exhaustive and it is not intended to be; nor is it designed to summarize the Christian faith as a whole. Its purpose is simply indicative for those who want ECUSA to cease being anti-Anglican Communion. The final feature has been the focus of much controversy w ithin the United States, of course, and in other places in the Communion, not to mention in ecumenical relations; yet it has also been embodied in a way that has maintained wide Communion support by and large.

* The primary authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture. * The Articles of Religion, not necessarily requiring subscription on the part of clergy, but as providing authoritative historical touchstones for how this authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture ought doctrinally to be applied. * Worship according to the Book of Common Prayer, solemnly re-attached to its history of use. [This means, in the U.S., no longer banning the use of the 1928 BCP, but upholding it and its originating versions as liturgical touchstones (analogously to the role of the Articles above) for current prayer; and in so doing reflecting Communion practice as a whole.] * A common and mutually recognized and interconnected episcopal ordering of ecclesial life, synodically structured and committed together to the guarding of an apostolic faith. * Women in Holy Orders as reflective of Communion-wide practice and theological warrant so provided that has been synodically received as such (not on account of alleged 'prophetic actions' in the United States), understanding that the character of the Communion's general nihil obstat does not and cannot mean "mandatory" in particular places.

The point here, to repeat, is not to invent a list of 'characteristic Anglican features' (for other Christian bodies may reflect these features in different forms as well) but to identify those central features which exist both in the United States and in the Communion at large. And while others may wish to re-order this proposed set of distinctives, care must be taken to meet the criteria of actual and common Communion life as historically given, rather than to uphold some historically and geographically limited portion of the Communion.

However this might be done, we can see clearly how the present controversies fall within this outlook: "blessing same-sex relationships" is according to this logic contrary to Holy Scripture. But it is also the case that the reason we know this is that Anglican Christians are unable to agree about changing the teaching of Scripture without the consequence being schism and judgment, such as we are now witnessing. The Holy Spirit may have done a new thing in the Book of Acts, but He united the faithful as well and what was given as new was seen, by common apostolic agreement, to conform with the prophets. This has not happened in the present case. Presumably those who have sought for revision on the matter of same-sex blessings believed the march of time would prove otherwise, and Anglican Christians would eventually all be persuaded of the rightness of this new understanding of human sexuality, Christ and the Church, and Communion identity as such. Distinctive of the late phases of this season of judgment may be the acknowledgement that this is just not happening and will never happen.

Do Anglican Christians in the United States wish to gather around distinctives such as these, held in the Communion at large, and see them as reflective of Anglican Christianity? And if so, how, and with what kind of fallout? For as those who seek realignment realize (now joined by their counterparts in favor of revision at the other end of the spectrum) there is and will continue to be fallout. That is what it means to be in a season of judgment.

Our Practical Challenge

The chief practical question that now arises from this situation is this: Is it necessary to forge alignments and sever links with Canterbury in order to maintain Anglican Christianity in the United States? And will or can such an effort maintain the distinctive characteristics of Anglicanism in the process? It may be possible to work for this, and one may well feel it is vital to the cause of separation from an ECUSA now wildly adrift. But is this strategy going to end up with something like a global Anglican federation, which consequently must exist alongside other competitors for such a title? Would the result not be something like the continuing church movement, now writ large in global proportions?

Another possibility is not to press for this result unless Canterbury itself embraces a Christian way that is at odds with the description of Anglican Christianity stated above. If that happens, then Anglican Christianity will be well on its way to becoming something new and different anyway, and we will each have to decide if it has lived out its vocation in the providence of God and is effectively now in abeyance.

Our Calling

This last possibility, tied to the integrity of Canterbury, is one that ACI believes to be in greater conformance with our Anglican identity, now firmly given within the life of the Communion. On this ground, the ACI requests that as many ECUSA Bishops as are able agree to a set of historical, theological and ecclesial warrants for representing Anglican Christianity in the United States. We believe the outline above is characteristic of Anglican Communion Christianity in its broadest reach. We also believe that such an outline of belief will serve the purpose both of strengthening links with the Communion at a time when these are eroding, and also of determining how Anglican Christianity will be manifested in the United States. Rather than seeking strategic solutions in our season of judgment, we regard the more crucial determination to involve the theological identity and mission of Anglican Christianity. Let this then serve the means of identifying ourselves with Canterbury and appraising that relationship.

The 'same-sex issue' has been demanding of time but also a great distraction. We have found ourselves fighting a battle over a matter at the very periphery of Christian practice, and have lost sight of those things we hold in common. The danger is real that we will cease being able to identify those features which Anglican Christians in the United States do in fact agree about. A further irony is that we might be forgetting them at just the same moment when the 'same-sex issue' is bringing into far sharper focus what the nature of our Communion is. This ought to be an opportunity to identify in a fresh way what makes us Anglican Christians, in a worldwide Communion.

One recent departee wrote, 'I cannot in conscience represent the Episcopal Church to the world, nor can I in conscience summon sinners into its fellowship.' All of us have struggled mightily to maintain a sense of identity and purpose in an Episcopal Church undergoing fundamental changes. The 'same-sex issue' has forced many to conclude that their ability to identify with the Episcopal Church is simply too fractured. A step has been taken which is a walking apart from our Communion, and we do not want to walk apart too by having to identify with this Church's actions.

There is another way. For those who wish to abide by the Windsor Report and remain in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, far more unites us than divides us. We have been distracted from that fact. Let us not squander what God has given us in this part of His Body. We do not want to have to depart. We do not need to conclude, as has been tragically concluded, that we cannot summon sinners into the fellowship of Christ's Body in the Anglican Christianity of the United States, in what has been ECUSA. But what is needed is a commitment on the part of as many ECUSA Bishops as are able, to walk together with one another and with our Communion partners.

Anglican Communion Institute (ACI)

The Rev. Christopher Seitz
The Rev. Philip Turner
The Rev. Ephraim Radner
The Rev. Donald Armstrong

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