Saturday, March 02, 2013

Division, multiplication and Alphabetti Spaghetti!

There is an accusation levelled against Continuing Anglicans that because there are a large number of groups who call themselves "Continuing Anglican" all known by various acronyms, hence the umbrella term, alphabet soup. Why should this be a problem if we are all Christian? Why is the fragmentation of the Continuing Anglican movement a scandal? Are these not all branches of the Church sprouting from the True Vine that is Our Lord?

First, we note that, as per Ephesians iv.5, anyone who takes the Bible seriously (as Christians necessarily must) cannot fail to accept One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. This seems very straightforward until you realise that the Christian next to you does not necessarily agree on the meanings of "Lord", "Faith" or "Baptism". Since these terms only receive a truly Christian meaning in the context of Holy Scripture, it is how people interpret that corpus of work that causes any differences in meaning.

The historical facts of Jesus Christ are most completely to be found in the Bible, the reason being that the Church deliberately chose all the most reliable written information about His life to form the testimony of the Gospels. That which was left out was largely written too late, too secondarily or with a vested interest in changing the facts. This is why one does not find much outside the Bible relating to Our Lord's Holy Incarnation.

Thus, to truly be a Christian, one must necessarily hold to the Holy Scriptures as the source of Who Jesus is, what Baptism is and what our Faith is. If we hold to the same Lord, Faith and Baptism, then we are indeed truly One Church. It is, however the word "Faith" that needs to be scrutinised carefully as it necessarily affects our relationship with the Lord and how we do Baptism. By and large the majority of Christians will accept one another's Baptism. There exceptions especially in some of the African Orthodox Churches who refuse to recognise another's baptism on the grounds that the baptism was not performed in the right Faith in Christ. This is a rather more extreme version of the Orthodox relationships with Anglicanism where Anglican Orders will be recognised by the Orthodox Church only when the Anglican Church converts wholesale to the Orthodox Faith. Faith seeks understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) and to change one's understanding means to change one's Faith.

The Undivided Church seeks to be true to clarify what is meant by "One Faith". How do we read the Holy Scriptures with the right understanding so as to bolster that One Faith? The result of the process include the three great Catholic Creeds, most notably the Nicene Creed.

So what if one does not hold to the Nicene Creed? Well, necessarily, one stands apart from what the Catholic Church believes, and by "Catholic" I do NOT mean "Roman Catholic". Well, what do I mean by "Catholic"? Well, I mean the Church that fought and strove together to thrash out at the seven oecumenical councils what "One Faith" means. There was a lot of fall-out from this as Ebionites, Arians, Nestorians, Apollinarians, Monophysites, Sabellians, Marcionites, Socinians, Iconoclasts, and Montanists went their separate ways. In that they believed that Jesus Christ is Lord there is no problem, in that sense they were Christians, but they had a different faith as can be deduced from Holy Scripture as it has been interpreted from the first. We should give them the benefit of the doubt if they refer to themselves as Christian and treat them with the same love and respect as we would those we know to be Christian, but they simply cannot be Catholic by the very difference of their Faith.

Catholic means holding to the "One Faith" of Ephesians iv.5. This is why there can be only One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  All four marks are necessary to give ourselves assurance that we hold to the Christian Faith. Departure from any one of them loses that assurance. All those in the Catholic Church will fall together and rise together and, because they hold to the same faith as the Apostles of Our Lord, they will rise and fall with those Apostles who taught, wrote about, and suffered for the Faith of that One Lord and who are succeeded by the Catholic Bishops and Patriarchs. Theirs is a common Salvation and a common Destiny because they have a common Purpose. Those who prefer their own interpretation of Holy Scriptures do so on their own, but they lose any of the assurance of Salvation in Christ as the Apostles.

So then, what of Alphabet Soup?

Any Jurisdiction which can show that its faith arises from Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Church Fathers, the Catholic Creeds, and the Seven Oecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church is indeed Catholic. Any Jurisdiction which can demonstrate a line of Apostolic Succession in line with the threefold Ministerial Priesthood of Deacon, Priest and Bishop is indeed Apostolic. Any Jurisdiction which prizes the Christian Faith above Secular Ideals, which strives against the tide of popular opinion when popular opinion is against the Christian Faith, and produces martyrs for that Faith, which seeks to proclaim the Faith in action as well as, if not more than, words is Holy. Such a Jurisdiction is actually part of the One Church whether it is recognised by other Jurisdictions who themselves may be part of the One Church.

By and large, many of the Continuing Anglican Jurisdictions are divided more due to Law than to Doctrine. This needs review and constant dialogue should be seen as a necessity in order to work towards a more visible expression of the ontological unity that Catholic Jurisdictions have. We may indeed be separated by Ecclesiastical Law, but these are largely man-made and, if they produce any schism at all, then that schism is within the Anglican Continuum and not from it.

But why be "Continuing" Anglicans at all? Why not seek unity with the Anglican Communion?

The new Rector of my old CofE parish Church which abandoned me almost precisely two years ago recently described me as "not main church". I cannot honestly say what he meant by this except that he did not see me as being either Anglican or Catholic. To him, one supposes "Anglican" means "CofE" and "Catholic" means "Roman Catholic". The Established Church refers to the Continuing Anglican movement as "Breakaway Anglicans" and in so doing completely misrepresents the position.

What does "breakaway" mean?

It means a deliberate separation from the main body, in this case the Established Church. This is the case of "schism from..." Yet any separation must be the result of some change in the material cause of that main body. The thing is, at most one part of that separation will continue with the material cause unchanged otherwise there is no separation. Now one looks at the Established Church and the Continuing Anglican Church and asks "who changed?" The burden of proof must lie on the one who makes the claim that the change is necessary. Since the changes to the Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order have been made by the Established Church, and that these changes have not been demonstrated to be Catholic, it can only be that the Established Church is the breakaway Church. The Continuing Anglicans, however small in number, are still the main Church having the four marks of the Church on their side.

So can there be unity with the Anglican Communion?

It doesn't matter on which side of the schism we are, we can still pray for the other. Clearly, a Christian cannot engage in worship that is schismatic so until the breach is healed there cannot be full communio in sacris. This does not mean that we cannot act charitably towards one another. If there is no Christian Charity then being Holy, Catholic or Apostolic is fundamentally meaningless. There has been far too much sniping and litigation between ecclesial bodies and Catholic Jurisdictions and the true fault of these schisms lies squarely in each of us when we do not love our neighbour as ourself.

Perhaps that's where we should start!


Andrew said...

The logical endpoint is a church of 1. You get quasi-Congregational churches, jurisdiction hopping, and all manner of madness that you see in the alphabet soup, which seems to get ever more crazy. Quite frankly, it is a scandal and embarrassment.

Warwickensis said...

Indeed, all Christian disunity is an embarrassment. Yet, true Catholicism is the uniting principle. One has to remember that the Anglican Continuum as separate from the Anglican Communion is less than 50 years old, which is a blink of an eye theologically. Things are in a state of flux. Howevever, the main continuing Anglican bodies are stable and have been stable for some time now and even showing greater signs of unity. Long may that continue!