Initial Reflections on the Windsor Report
by the Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders
October 18, 2004
The discussions of authority, Instruments of Unity, Scripture, the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the recommendations in regard to the Archbishop's enhanced role, the establishment of a Council of Advice and a Common Covenant, as well as the invitations of regret and moratorium on the part of those who have damaged the Communion as a whole, are to the good. The invitations were conciliatory, yet they established boundaries.
At the same time, several features need to be emphasized. First, Scripture is a locus of unity as the Report rightly emphasizes. But Eucharist is the place, above all, where that unity is weekly celebrated. From the beginning the Church excluded immoral persons and false teachers from Holy Eucharist. A goodly number of the canons of Nicea, for example, set forth guidelines on who can or can not be admitted to Holy Eucharist. This was not mentioned by the Report and it is significant.
The Report understates the matter when it urges the Archbishop of Canterbury to "exercise very considerable caution in inviting or admitting him [Bishop Robinson] to the councils of the Communion." It is not simply the councils that are at stake, but the integrity of the body of Christ in fellowship with the Lord that is at stake. Of course the Archbishop needs to exercise caution in inviting Bishop Robinson to the councils of the Church, but all Christians should exercise caution in regard to the Lord's Supper by recognizing its legitimate boundaries.
When the Report urges the offending parties to send letters of regret and to "consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion," the same applies, not simply to representative functions before international bodies, but also to representative functions in general. Among such representative functions is presiding at Eucharist. If it be amiss for bishops to come together internationally with offending bishops, it is amiss for local Christians to come together with offending bishops in the celebration of the Holy Communion.
Further, the Report states that it appears to the wider Communion "that neither the Diocese of New Westminster nor the Episcopal Church (USA) has made a serious attempt to offer an explanation to, or consult meaningfully with, the Communion as a whole about the significant development of theology which alone could justify the recent moves by a diocese or a province." I would agree with this statement. However, if needs to be further added that the fact that ECUSA has not given significant theological justification for its actions does not imply a lack of theology on the part of ECUSA. The problem is not lack of theology on ECUSA's part, but rather, a false theology what justifies recent actions. This theology can be analyzed, laid bare, its fundamental principles set forth. I do this on my web page (www.rsanders.org). Once this aberrant theology is described, it can easily be seen that this theology is false teaching. For the most part, it is a contemporary form of the modalist heresy if not worse.
For this reason, there are those in ECUSA who not only object to Bishop Robinson, but to the actions and statements of many ECUSA bishops. Many do not believe they can take communion from them. The Report recognizes this. At the same time, as the Report clearly states, "Bishops represent the universal Church to the local and vice versa." (p. 31) This reflects the teaching of the ancient Church. Local Christians were in Eucharistic fellowship with the universal church as their local bishops shared Eucharistic fellowship in episcopal gatherings of the universal Church. From this it follows that local bishops who share in Eucharistic fellowship with heretical and immoral bishops (that is, with a good many ECUSA bishops), take with them to these Eucharists the members of their dioceses who are in Eucharistic fellowship with them. Further, when local bishops celebrate Eucharist locally, they place local Christians in Eucharistic fellowship with the bishops of the wider Church with whom they enjoy Eucharistic fellowship. In short, Eucharistic fellowship with a local bishop in fellowship with errant bishops is fellowship with errant bishops. This holds true for bishops. It does not hold for Eucharistic fellowship with lay people or priests who may happen to come from a diocese with an apostate bishop, for such persons are not called in a special way to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church." (BCP p. 517) Bishops represent the unity of the Church, above all at the Holy Eucharist. We need to decide whether or not we believe in communion beyond the level of a parish, and if so, all actions of God's grace creating wider communion come with commands to ensure its truthful expression.
As a result, it is incumbent that local Christians receive the ministry of orthodox bishops who are not in communion with unorthodox bishops. This matter is addressed by the Report. Among other things the Report states the proposals for delegated Episcopal oversight as set forth by ECUSA are "entirely reasonable." (pp. 58-9) If I am not amiss, these proposals leave final decision on Episcopal oversight to the local bishop, a situation that cannot be accepted. Not all local bishops will be accommodating. At the same time, the Report does "commend a conditional and temporary provision of delegated pastoral oversight for those who are dissenting."
The Report asks for moratorium on ordaining active homosexuals to the Episcopate, to authorizing rites to bless same sex unions, and to unilateral crossing of diocesan lines for Episcopal ministry. This is not enough. If rites for blessing same sex unions are not to be authorized, then no one should bless homosexual unions, regardless of what form or rite they may use. if bishops cannot be in committed same sex unions, then neither can priests. The wider Church needs to insist on a wider moratorium.
Finally, I am thankful for the charity, clarity, restraint, and firmness found in the Report as a whole. It made me thankful to be an Anglican. At the same time, I, like the authors of the report as seen in the final paragraph, page 60, do not believe that I can continue in fellowship with false teachings and rank immorality. To do so is to sin against those who do such things, and although I am a sinner, I am called upon to not only bring myself before the judgment seat of Christ for repentance and forgiveness, but to help others to do so as well. Eucharistic fellowship with false teachers and notoriously sinful persons destroys the body of Christ and robs everyone of a chance for the glorious liberty of becoming a repentant sinner.
The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D. is a rector in the Diocese of Florida and Virtuosity's resident cyber theologian. More of his writing is available on www.rsanders.org
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