Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Accidental Dissenter

For whatever reason, the habit of my political and religious thought is a mild species of Toryism - I am basically an instinctive Church and King man. Of course, that makes me a dinosaur, and I have spent a good deal of my life dealing the consequences of being a member of an endangered species - leaving the Church of England, because I held to its old theology made me an accidental dissenter. I have also become progressively more disillusioned with contemporary politics, and like many of my generation I have had to face the fact that, unless there is something close to a counter-revolution occurs, I may well live long enough to write the epitaph of classical Western Culture. However, being a Christian, I do tend to be an indefatigable optimist mainly because the Bible teaches us that God is Sovereign, and that ultimately His Will will prevail.

However, no matter how much I would like to talk about political theory and culture, I am first and foremost a Churchman, and it has been with some fascination - no, that is too strong a phrase - mild interest that I have been watching the Anglican Realignment playing out through the inevitable series of meetings, handshakes, and photo ops. Much of what is taking place is, frankly, unimportant and intended to demonstrate that 'we are doing something' whilst it is pretty much 'business as usual' behind the scenes. So let us have a look at some of what has been going on...

The Primates' Meeting
I got conflicting signals from this one. The fact that Archbishop Foley of the ACNA was present and an active participant in the debate was encouraging in that it seems to indicate that Canterbury is prepared to listen to conservative voices, even if he won't listen to orthodox ones. It was also encouraging in that TEC did receive a suspension from the ACC and the ACO, but I suspect that this was not so much for heresy and unorthodoxy, but for moving further and faster than the political centrists Anglican Communion as a whole are prepared to go. In sum, the net result of the meet was to mildly rebuke TEC, and kick the can down the road another three years, which gives the Revisionists among the political centrists in the Anglican Communion another three years to spread the pro-gay word. However, I suspect that GAFCON, although it has largely caved on the ordination of women, will not give in on homosexual practice and same sex unions, and in three years time my theory is that they - the GAFCON Primates - will be even less willing to kick the can down the road.

Continuing Shuttle Diplomacy
At the moment the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Church in America, the Anglican Province in America are engaged in a goodly measure of shuttle diplomacy, and it would seem that full communion and the M-word (merger) are very much in the air these days. I suspect that much of this stems from the fact that the Episcopates of those three bodies are largely Anglo-Catholic in outlook, and therefore find their common ground in the Affirmation of St Louis rather than in Classical Anglicanism, makes this process and the exchanges that go with it much easier. Certainly some of the old bugbears, such as the San Diego and Deerfield Beach re-consecrations have been laid to rest, so the politics of what was very largely a political dispute have very largely been put to bed. Some observers are speculating that the Anglican Catholic Church may be positioning itself to absorb (the ACC does not in any real sense "merge" with anyone) the reunited ACA-APA at some point in the future, but I think they are getting rather ahead of themselves in saying that. I would be surprised if the ACA-APA merger makes any further steps forward before 2017, if then, and that any further moves will be to some extent timed with an eye to the improving relations with the ACC.

The wild card in all this has been the visits between Bishop Stephen Scarlett (ACC-Holy Trinity) and Bishop Royal Grote (REC) which has sparked a good deal of speculation. Some folks are talking about this as the great apostasy, and others as signs that the REC is coming from the cold (I am tempted to ask, what cold?) depending on their churchmanship and allegiances. Personally, I think that it is far too tempting to read far too much into this development, and we are bidden to resist temptation. However, it has given the optimists and the conspiracy theorists something to talk about, and as usual, the theory is that the Anglican Continuum is about (i.e. over the next 10 years) to coalesce into a single jurisdiction which is based on the Affirmation of St Louis. A phrase containing the words 'fat lady' - 'over' - and 'sings' springs to mind far too readily.

The Three Streams
Even though I follow ACNA and CANA with some care on the internet, I have to admit to not having a clue what is going on with those jurisdictions. I think I would have to presume that it is very much business as usual, though they seem to have their growing pains associated with Catholics versus Charismatics, and the inherent instability of the three steams approach to Anglicanism. However, ACNA is still managing to keep its internal discussions about Women's Ordination and their new BCP as discussions and not heated debates, and are displaying a degree of maturity that was sadly missing from the 1977 Continuum at this stage of its development. I cannot help thinking, though, that ACNA in particular relying a little too much on the 'three-streams' approach to diffuse (or should be defuse) any identity conflicts within the broader organisation. However, I still cannot help thinking that that theory that lies behind the three streams is more Methodist than Anglican because, through the Charismatic stream it adds 'experience' to Scripture, tradition, and reason, creating a theological wild card which could be used to liberalize ACNA long term.

Classical Anglicanism
With the "Affirmationers" and the "Three Streamers" making most of the running, it seems that what Peter Toon and others dubbed "Classical Anglicanism" has not been much thought about, let alone discussed, in the latest round of shuttle diplomacy. I think the idea of returning to the old Anglican datum points of the Bible, the Creeds, the male threefold ministry, the BCP, and the Articles is currently out of favour because the current philosophy is that Anglicanism needs to be fixed. On the other hand, there probably isn't that anyone really rejects any of these traditionally Anglican markers - well, perhaps the Articles of Religion - but there seems to be general desire for closer definition. That is precisely where lies a very definite danger that whatever one's well meaning reforms might produce, it may well not be Anglicanism but a distinct tradition of its own.

Anglicanism is at its best when it is both Catholic and Evangelical. We need both the discipline and the sacramentalism of the Catholic Church, and the Biblicism of the Evangelical Reformation in order thrive. The danger of the catholic tradition is that it become impersonal and 'churchy' - to use a vague perjorative of yesteryear, and that the influence of Christ becomes lost in the shadow of the Church. Evangelicalism can easily become too individualist and degenerate into 'me and my Jesus feel-goodery' where sacraments and intellectual rigour disappear on a tide of emotion. Catholics and Evangelicals need each other in order to stay intellectually and spiritually honest, and when the two cross fertilize, as they have often done in the Anglican tradition, what is produced is a very glorious with the beauty of holiness. However, how do we put this into words?

Back in 1870, when the Church of Ireland was abandoned to disestablishment, they were left with the task of defining who they were, and in the preamble to their Constitution and Canons they described the Church of Ireland as being 'the ancient Catholic and Apostolick Church of Ireland' but also referred to it as a 'Reformed and Protestant church' which sought to return to the faith and practice of the Primitive Church. The former reflects the interests of Tractarians such as Richard Trench of Dublin and William Alexander of Derry; whilst the latter reflects pro-reformation thinking of the Evangelicals such as Bishop John Gregg of Cork, and leading laymen such as Benjamin Lee Guinness. I often think that the Preamble and Declaration adopted by the 1870 General Convention of the Church of Ireland represents a very good working definition of what Anglicanism should in that it positively affirms both the Catholic and Evangelical streams within Anglicanism. My big fear is that somewhere in the wash, this combination of Catholic and Evangelical will be the sock that goes missing. If we do loose that balance of Word and Sacrament, Catholic and Reformed, Apostolic and Evangelical, then will have lost much of that which made Anglicanism appealing.

In the current atmosphere of rumours about big things I have this quiet fear that I may once again become 'The Accidental Dissenter' by refusing to accept the redefinition of the Church that I love - at times 'warts and all.' It is always easy to make changes, but it is far less simple to correct an error once it has been made, and I fear that where Anglicanism is concerned the cures being proposed may be almost as bad as the disease!

1 comment:

  1. You are not alone. I and other Anglicans I know feel as if we were dinosaurs. However, we are not extinct and in fact, I sense a turning toward true Anglicanism. Scripture-Tradition point in the direction we face. Keep praying and keep building bridges. Continue to name things what they are. Pray for me, a sinner.