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"One must not choose to split one's Church…"

AS EYE SEE IT: "One must not choose to split one's Church…"

By the Rev. Dr. Orley Swartzentruber

The Response of Bishop FitzSimons Alison to the argument of Ephraim
Radner’s lecture in Charleston raises a very central point, and deserves
to receive all the attention he and Radner give it. I am grateful that
this debate arises between the two men, who have great respect for each
other, and whom I personally admire.

With the background of a former Mennonite minister, nourished on a heavy
diet of Anabaptist history, in which divisions upon divisions are an
outstanding feature, I come with a strong conviction hammered out among
some of us younger ones who took it upon ourselves to discuss at some
length the issue of the "legitimate break."

We came then to the conclusion that a break in church fellowship is only
legitimate when it is forced upon you: one must not choose to split
one’s church. The Anabaptists chose otherwise, with disastrous
consequences. To take but one clear example from the Reformation, Luther
never asked to create a Protestant church. He asked for reforms in the
Catholic church (the issue was Indulgences) and he was excommunicated
for it. He proceeded from there, in a word, to do the next best thing
available to him.

Not to dwell on other people’s history, however, I note that bishop
Alison raises the same central question when he says, "Philip Turner,
one of [Radner’s] colleagues, makes it clear what is his hope: If the
Primates and Rowan Williams are prepared to exercise some discipline on
the American Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster in
Canada, then we will continue to have an Anglican Communion"

But Bishop Alison asks, "And if not?"

I submit that on this question hinges a great difference – a moral
difference – as to how we ought to act. "If we are given a choice, then
Bishop Allison’s vision is probably correct..." If we are given no
choice, then Ephraim Radner’s vision is probably correct. If we have
other choices, as for example the choice Turner contemplates, then I
believe our duty is to remain within, and continue to work for reform as
we are doing. In any case, I submit that as there is no case for a just
"pre-emptive war," so there is none, in matters ecclesiastical, for
pre-emptive schism.

The Rev. Dr. A, Orley Swartzentruber Rector, All Saints’, Princeton, NJ.
(Retired)

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