Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why Central Churchmanship was - and is - important

One of the down sides to Anglican ministry is the tendancy of churchmen, and especially the clergy, to divide themselves into warring factions.  Most of my ministry before I joined the United Episcopal Church  was conducted against the background of the liturgy wars. This particular manifestation of fracteousness led to those of us who preferred to 1928 BCP being told by the self-appointed 'Liturgy Police' that we were doing it all wrong.  What used to really annoy me was the fact that the folks who called you out for being disobedience to Catholic Tradition did so for using the official liturgy of the Church. They also tended behaved as though they thought that if you used the right Missal or the right vestments people would come flocking in.  Occasionally, I used to consider telling them that I thought their point of view was delusional. However, I have a strong suspicion they would not have understood what I was on about.  What they seemed to miss that what makes folks keep coming to Church is the idea that they are loved and that they are involved in what the Church is doing, so in the end Churchmanship and Liturgical Fetishism does not matter, but a strong loving parish Community that gets on with being Anglican can really make a difference.

This brings me to why Central Churchmanship is important.  Its importance lies in its being 'Mere Anglicanism" with all that implies about loyalty the Church's formularies and ways of doing things.  So  So often today we are faced with hyphenated Anglicans - catholic-anglicans, anglican-evangelicals, Anglican-progressives, Charismatic-Anglicans, and so on and so forth.  It seems as though unhyphenated Anglicanism has gone out of the window, and along with it the glue that used to hold the Church together!  The trouble with so many of these hyphenated Anglicans is that they believe that their particular version of Anglicanism is the whole enchilada, and they have no room for, or tolerence of, other expressions of our common tradition.  This has contributed greatly to the dysfunctional nature of American Anglicanism, and it is only with the reemergence of a strong 'unhyphenated Anglicanism' that the Continuing Church can begin to resolve its problems and move towards greater unity and thereby gain in effectiveness.

I am not quite sure what exactly Archbishop Doren had in mind when he established the United Episcopal Church 31 years ago, but it is quite clear with the Constitution and Canons that he had drafted that whatever he envisioned in terms of Churchmanship in the short term, there was nothing to prevent the UECNA from becoming a church where 'mere Anglicanism' would be the dominant expression of our tradition.  It seems to me that, inspite of the pressure to merge, there is a need to build a proper foundation so that the whole structure does not crack and fall apart again.  There is a very real sense, in which this structure cannot be built by human hands at all, but rather by the Holy Spirit.  It seems to me that much of the time, because of our human dislike of messy solutions, the Holy Spirit is not given breathing room when we think about the church's future, and I would venture to suggest this is partly because so many folks seem to be obsessed with remaking Anglicanism in their own image.  However. just as remaking God in our own image leads to heresy, so remaking Anglicanism in the image of whichever party you belong to leads to something that just is not Anglicanism.

Of course, I am now going to prove what a hypocrite I am by following a pitch for the non-partisan approach, but pitching for my own outlook.  On the other hand pleading for 'mere Anglicanism' in the context of pleading for more cooperation and mutual forebearance cannot really be construed as true hypocracy as what I am asking for is a greater focus on what makes us Anglicans, that is, what unites us, rather than what divides us.   We need to focus on, and teach our common heritage in terms of the Bible, the Creeds, the Ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church, and also about the Prayer Book, the Articles of Religion and the history of Anglicanism so that we have a common platform, a common foundation on which to build.  In effect, we need to spend less time being different and more time being Anglican!

So why am I so hung up on Central Churchmanship?

A lot of the answer lies in what it says about Anglicanism.  One of things that creates instability in Anglo-Papalism, Evangelicalism, the Charismatic Movement and Liberalism is the fact that they all seem to be looking to something outside of Anglicanism in order to find their validity.  In the case of a lot of Anglo-Papalists they have at least one eye on Rome - usually, in the USA, the Rome of Pius XII.  Many Evangelicals and Charismatics seem to behave as though they believe 'Big Box Revivalism' to be the one true Faith.  The Liberals look either to Christian Socialism (with Socialism as the dominant party,) philosophical relativism, or psychology as being the bigger truth to which Anglicanism must conform.  Then they are surprised when folks pass through their versions of Anglicanism to join either what they are pointing to - Rome, the Big Box, the Polit Bureau or the Academy - or to some more focussed Christian tradition.  Central Churchmen, on the other hand, should be saying, "this is Anglicanism and this is what we do.  Come join us!"

Of course, there is a sense in which Anglicanism should always point beyond itself.  We need to direct attention away from ourselves towards Christ as every Christian should.  We also need to point beyond ourselves and reference our theology against that of the Early Fathers and Councils so we do not lapse into heresy or revisionism.  But other than that we need to just get on and be Anglican.  We have a glorious tradition that we do not need to muchj about with.  The decline of Anglicanism in America in some respects reflects the declining confidence that we have displayed in our own tradition.  We need to reverse that, and one again get on with being the Church.


  1. Hello Bishop Robinson,
    At the 2011 Brockton Conference, Bishop Grundorf mentioned two models for cooperation-- Federation or Benedictine kinds.

    A Benedictine structure would probably resemble the 1999 Bartonsville Agreement where churches basically agree to some sort of ministry partnership doubled with transfer of clergy arrangements and promise to send delegates to each others' synods as observers.

    A Federation would probably be copied from ACNA since they seem to have gone furthest with this approach. It would leave respective jurisdictions basically as parallel provinces and/or dioceses with an national C&C that is more or less minimal, recognizing principles of subsidary.

    The national C&C would then allow those sub-jurisdictions that share affinity to eventually merge or not. It would also provide a structure for gradually introducing national standards and further discussion.

    However, a federation would have to be based on broad church principles, so any mention of the Affirmation in a federation's C&C would have to be less than prescriptive. Given the numerous statements made by ACC, I'm not sure how that would fly, as it seems the ACC would not subject it's "settlement" without full subscription to the Affirmation.

    If the proposed federation based itself on an unqualified Affirmation, then it seems this would constitute a narrowing of churchmanship that excludes Evangelicals as well as, I believe, classical Anglicans. Though needed, I'm not sure how Central Churchmanship can succeed without 1) leaving the ACC out of a federation. 2) forgoing a federation indefinitely, adopting a Benedictine or confederation model instead.

    The problem with #2 is that it's been done a number of times before in the Continuum, but it's never compelled further commitment to unity other than showcasing individual jurisdictions at conferences and meetings. A lot of expensive traveling.

    I believe both models describe two sorts of communion which goes to show that intercommunion pacts have more degrees and shades to them than just "full-merger" or nothing. This bears upon geographical dioceses which are no longer helpful, especially as Anglicans emerge from years of serious ecclesiastical fragmentation.

    I don't think the ACC is ready to accept either conclusion, so it will stonewall on anything greater than confederation. Meanwhile, it will use intercommunion pacts to draw others away from FACA or FiFNA options, since since these bodies are heavily involved with ACNA and GAFCON. So, isn't unity, centered on the ACC as the 'quintessential' continuing church, just a paper fiction?

    More constructive, in my opinion, would be basing a federation around the proposed ACA-APA merger, which is an extension of FACA, whereupon ACC and PCK could either follow or not. That way, a genuine interdependence could be had, based on a common solemn declaration that mentions 39 articles and other historic formula, but in broad terms.

    Nevertheless, it's hard to conceive a solemn declaration favorable by a large number of basically anglo-catholic churches that omits mention of the Affirmation. Perhaps the APA's "spirit of the Affirmation" clause is the best way to go to avoid a 'hyphenated Anglicanism', thereby keeping doors open to evangelicals while keeping central churchmanship as a glue.

    Of course, narrower incarnations of Anglicanism, e.g., the ACC's "settlement of religion", could exist alongside low and broad church alternatives, without abandoning a formal and common structure that a confederation would lack.

  2. ...But, again, such a federation (based on broad churchmanship) would need a solemn declaration that treats the Affirmation lightly. The APA's C&C gives an example of such, but the ACC would likely reject this scenario. I should have stated this in the last paragraph above...