Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Broad Orthodoxy

One of the difficulties that the Continuum has faced over the five decades has been a tendancy to want to unncessarily narrow the boundaries of what constitutes Anglicanism. Our biggest difficulty is that we fail to distinguish the wood from the trees with liturgical orthodoxy being confused for doctrinal orthodoxy. Now I would conceed that there is a link between orthodoxpraxis and orthodoxy, I would also point out that two of the most theologically peculiar congregations I have worshipped in had very proper, correct, and I have to add quite "catholic" ceremonial. That would lead me to believe that the two - right practice and right belief - are not quite so tightly bound together as we all like to think. I also have to confess that I am a veteran of the Liturgy Wars, and have seen and heard learned and experienced clergy derided because they did not hold their hands quite right at Mass, or have the correct red bound tome upon the altar. All of this seems to be a case of majoring on the minor stuff to the detriment of the Gospel of Christ.

If there is something that I would say characterizes the 'Old Anglicanism' it was the ability to tolerate differences of opinion without it spinning out of control into the modern cacaphony of diversity for diversity's sake. The difference was that until the 1950s, the tolerance rested no upon an indifference to doctrine - as it tends to do today - but upon a broad consensus as to what constituted the essentials of the Christian Faith, and what was a matter of local custom. The success of the Old Episcopalianism in the USA was very largely due to this tolerant orthodoxy. One parish might be 'High and Crazy,' the next 'Low and Lazy' and the three after that 'Broad and hazy' but they accepted the same Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Ministry, they used the same Book of Common Prayer whatever their variances of ceremonial, emphasis and outlook.

Although to a large extent the UECNA started out as 'a Low Church jurisdiction' it has mainly been peopled by orthodox Broad Churchmen. Today we have some Anglo-Catholic congregations among us, and I certainly do not hear any complaints about that development in our spiritual life together. Anglo-Catholics, Central Churchmen, and Low Churchmen are able to peacefully coexist within the UECNA, and it is a bit of a mystery to me why this principled tolerance is not more widely accepted in the Continuum. After all, provided the service is not sloppy or irreverent and the Book of Common Prayer is used, then we have nothing to worry about so far as the efficiency and validity of what is being done is concerned as we share the same Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Ministry.

Anglicans share with the Lutheran tradition - that other great 'Evangelical Catholic' tradition - the concept of adiaphora. External matters are indifferent, regulated to edify the faithful. However, back in the 16th and 17th centuries neither Lutherans nor Anglicans contemplated or foresaw the sort of erosion of traditional practice that took place between 1660 and 1810. The concept of 'adiaphora' was essentially a traditionalist one, allowing the customs and ceremonial of the Church, including its sacramental worship, to survive in the face of the attempts of the 'Hot Gospellers' to turn the Church into a lecture theatre. Familiar signs and symbols were used to enable the 'eye gate' as well as the 'ear gate' to be used in the service of orthodoxy. As a mentioned in a previous post (Northernness) the Old Lutheran service in Leipzig or Hamburg was quite Anglo-Catholic to our eyes, yet in a village church using the same Ordnung, the service would have been much simpler - adapted for local needs, but preserving the substance of the Faith entire.

This mention of 'local adaptions' serves to bring me to my next point which is that the frontline so far as Christian ministry is concerned is parish ministry. To use a vulgarism 'that is where it's at.' As we all know, every neighbourhood is not the same, and in the same way not every Anglican parish - never mind Christian congregation - is the same. Therefore there is a virtue in letting each parish develop along its own lines within the basic doctrinal and liturgical framework of the Church. One parish may choose to be Low - having Communion at the early service most weeks, and usually Morning Prayer as their main service. Another may have the staff and the tradition to have a High Mass. Still another will be content to hit the happy medium with a simple Sung Eucharist on Sundays. Yet for all these differences it is still the same Church.

What we try and encourage congregations to do in the UECNA is to be the Anglican parish in their community. In some places this will mean one thing, and in others another. Yet, to return once again to the theme of this post, if we maintain the basic doctrines of the Church, and use her liturgy then we should welcome a diversity of ceremonial usage as the sign of an active, growing, and vibrant Church. To my mind, a tidy house is a house for show; whilst a messy house, with evidence of hobbies, books and so forth, is a house that is truly lived in. In the same way I believe the Church should be something that is a little bit messy with High, Low, and Broad Church parishes all working together to bring people to Christ and to be the Anglican Church in the Communities they serve. That sort of determination to witness brings a certain amount of mess and imperfection, but it is the sort of mess and imperfection that goes with life. In a sense, we have to be, as St Paul wrote 'all things to all men' so that men and women can make a connection with the Gospel and with Jesus Christ who alone saves us. On the other hand, an outwardly perfect Church is inevitably a dead or a dying Church because everyone is afraid that they might make a mess and as a result they have become self-obsessed. Our ceremonial should be an expression of our parish's life in Christ, something that lifts upwards towards the throne of grace and not an end in itself. We need to recover that Broad Orthodoxy where, whatever our ceremonial preferences, our primary work together is to proclaim the Catholic Faith revealed in the Scriptures, Creeds, Councils, and Father which leads us to Jesus, who is the Wat, the Truth and the Life.

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.