Anglican Communion, TEC Conflict

ABC Advent Letter to the Primates

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an Advent letter to the Primates, which he also gently suggests be shared with clergy and lay persons as well. See the link to read the letter in its entirety. The essence of the letter appears to be in the following section:

So a full relationship of communion will mean:


  1. The common acknowledgment that we stand under the authority of
    Scripture as ‘the rule and ultimate standard of faith’, in the words of
    the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; as the gift shaped by the Holy
    Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers
    and the community of believers to itself and opens our hearts to the
    living and eternal Word that is Christ.
    Our obedience to the call
    of Christ the Word Incarnate is drawn out first and foremost by our
    listening to the Bible and conforming our lives to what God both offers
    and requires of us through the words and narratives of the Bible. We
    recognise each other in one fellowship when we see one another
    ‘standing under’ the word of Scripture. Because of this recognition,
    we are able to consult and reflect together on the interpretation of
    Scripture and to learn in that process. Understanding the Bible is not
    a private process or something to be undertaken in isolation by one
    part of the family. Radical change in the way we read cannot be
    determined by one group or tradition alone.
  2. The common acknowledgement of an authentic ministry of Word and Sacrament.
    We remain in communion because we trust that the Lord who has called us
    by his Word also calls men and women in other contexts and raises up
    for them as for us a ministry which can be recognised as performing the
    same tasks – of teaching and pastoral care and admonition, of
    assembling God’s people for worship, above all at the Holy Communion.
    The principle that one local church should not intervene in the life of
    another is simply a way of expressing this trust that the form of
    ministry is something we share and that God provides what is needed for
    each local community.
  3. The common
    acknowledgement that the first and great priority of each local
    Christian community is to communicate the Good News.
    When we are
    able to recognise biblical faithfulness and authentic ministry in one
    another, the relation of communion pledges us to support each other’s
    efforts to win people for Christ and to serve the world in his Name.
    Communion thus means the sharing of resources and skills in order to
    enable one another to proclaim and serve in this way.

It is in this context that we must think about the present crisis, which is in significant part a crisis about whether we can fully, honestly and gratefully recognise these gifts in each other.

In reading the letter, two points seem relevant to its context.
First, there is a catch-word being used throughout the Communion at this time, namely orthodoxy. Each camp uses orthodoxy to either support their position or decry the opposition. However, the term orthodoxy is being used in two completely different manners. At its core, the term orthodoxy is a common set of beliefs found, as I understand it, in Scripture and the historic creeds. The other term at play is the term heterodoxy, that is, any opinions or doctrines at variance with the official or orthodox position. Each position overtly states its commitment to orthodoxy while implying the heterodoxy of the opposing view. One position, states that active homosexuality is against orthodoxy. They affirm the Scripture and the Creeds in their position. The other position states that crossing diocesan boundaries is in opposition to orthodoxy. They too affirm the Scripture and the Creeds. Both say to the other: You already broke the rules, so I will break them as well. Breaking the rules because the other team is playing ‘dirty’ is unacceptable. As I learned long ago, when the ‘other team’ plays ‘dirty’ you must figure out a way around it. Yes it is unfair and not right. But that does not give us the liberty to do the same. The present issue of homosexuality is, as the Archbishop of Canterbury shows, simply a symptom of a deeper cause. We stand at a crossroads, waiting the outcome. Yet for there to be any resolution, we must be willing to understand orthodoxy in its traditional sense. One must ask the question: If homosexuality is so contentious, then why not other issues, such as the ordination of women? In some corners of the Communion, the ordination women is as contentious. Nonetheless, we would do well to heed the call of the Archbishop of Canterbury and understand orthodoxy as laid out above and not allow it to be dictated to us by certain agendas of either stripe.
Secondly, we many times refer to the Communion as a family, one which is dysfunctional most certainly, but a family nonetheless. What disturbs me is the reduction of this family argument to such polarised positions. You are either on this side or that side. It is as if there are two children arguing over the rules of a game being played. One child objects to the other child’s behaviour based upon “common” rules. It reminds me of when I was a kid and played “Army.” We would run around, using sticks as guns, at the opposing army. We would shoot and say: I got you. You’re . The opponent would respond: Did not. I’m still alive. This would ultimately degenerate into an argument. If I already shot you, then when you shoot me it doesn’t count. In the end, the game would end because of our ability to resolve this issue.
Leaving aside the issues surrounding playing such a game or the analogy of the present crisis to that of a game, which it is not, I cannot help but see children playing a different “game” but with the same outcome. We stand on either side saying: I got you. And we hear the quick reply: Did not. Unless we come to some consensus regarding what we define as orthodoxy, we will never be able to not just resolve this issue, but overcome future issues as well. Hence our extreme need for a Anglican covenant, and our downfall if one is not formed.
I believe that much of the current action on either side has to do with an impatience in waiting. It is rather ironic, isn’t it? At the time in the church year when we are called to wait for the first advent of our Lord, we are unable to extend this to others. Waiting in a biblical perspective is not passive. Rather it is an active waiting. We do not sit in a recliner perusing the newspaper waiting for the advent. We are called to proclaim the coming, to build the kingdom and bind-up those in need with the message of the gospel. However, to resolve the tension which has been building for such a long time just so there is no more tension is short sighted. (Maybe an oversimplification, but nonetheless…)
I can hear objections that this is not simply a release of the tension, but a defense of orthodoxy. There’s that word again. Absolutely orthodoxy is at the heart of our faith. Yet who is to decide our orthodoxy? Yes Scripture, tradition, reason, etc. all inform our understanding of orthodoxy. However, it appears that in our current state we are too quick to delineate who is in and who is out. It is here that a brief discussion of bounded and centred sets would be helpful.
A bounded set is one in which there is a clear border or boundary in relation to the centre. It is clear what is outside of this boundary and what is within it. A centred set does not have such a clear border. The set is understood as points moving toward or away from the centre. This is requirement for inclusion in the centred set: Is it moving toward or away? If it is moving toward the centre, it is included. If it is moving away, then it is excluded. Obviously, the centred set has a much more fluid aspect to it. However, neither set on its own is sufficient. A bounded set leads to fundamentalism, with the distance between the centre and the boundary constantly shrinking. It could shrink so much that nothing is left but the centre. We would then all be excluded. A centred set on the other hand has no boundary. All are included as long as they are moving toward the centre. Yet, it could appear that something is moving toward the centre, but could be slightly off, thereby missing the centre completely. In essence, it could be passing by the centre without actually aiming towards it.
In the end, we need both sets to overlap. The bounded set provides the foundation. The centred set provides the impetus for our faith. We must always being moving toward the centre, Jesus Christ. If we aren’t, are we really orthodox? Or do we just appear to be so?
While this discussion has been wide-ranging and hopefully coherent, I believe we would do well to take to heart what the ABC has said in regard to our understanding of full communion.

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