Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A protest Church? I protest!

One of the sad facts of ACC history is that there was a schism in the late 1990s when Bishop Leslie Hamlett left to form the Holy Catholic Church. His argument was that the ACC was more of a protest Church than seeking any actual affirmation of doctrine. Of course, one could argue that the HCC was then a protest movement from a protest movement which itself was a protest movement from a protest movement... et c. Naturally, I have no desire to demonstrate any disrespect for members of the HCC. Does the ACC have a case to answer?

All schism within the Church is an embarrassment and scandalous, especially when the Church isn't very big to start with. The fact that Continuing Anglicanism has fractured I think rather demonstrates how fractured the parent body of the Episcopal Church was to start with. We must also add in the fact that there have been some very strong personalities that have caused repercussions with their words (and sometimes actions) which have not served the movement well.

Should there be these things called "movements" within the Church? Movement implies motion and that implies either a destination or a withdrawal. In the case of the Oxford Movement, it was a movement to reclaiming the Anglican Heritage of the pre-Reformation, especially the heritage of the Early Church. That was the Tractarian Goal. That heritage has both Eastern and Western parts in it which does explain why there is a certain dichotomy among Continuing Anglicans. Just as the Eastern Church had one language - Greek - and the other had another - Latin. So Continuing Anglicans occasionally have difficulty hearing what another is saying.

This needs to be addressed, but can only be really done so when the East and West Patriarchates have done so. Until then, within the Continuing Anglican Church, St Thomas Aquinas will need to find how to sit next to St Gregory Palamas. Reason and Philosophy will have to dwell with Mystery and Unknowing. How are we going to agree on the validity or expression of doctrine of Original Sin when the East rejects it and the West affirms it? Can a soteriology based on The Day of Judgement be reconciled with one based upon a break from prison by Theosis? Personally, I believe it can, but it will take more than I could ever comprehend to work out the details. Is the movement a convergence? I pray so.

From the point of view of the Chambers Succession, the movement called "Continuing Anglicanism" becomes visible in the 1970s in the U.S. when the Episcopal Church of the U.S. puts forward several changes which result in changes to the sacraments and the lex orandi. A vote is taken, the changes adopted and those who protest at the result leave the authority of ECUSA. Again we have political and religious dimensions to this that have to be separated out clearly.

In voting to implement changes to sacraments and liturgy, the Episcopal Church have voted substantive changes to the Faith in order to accommodate the sensibilities of the contemporary culture. The Continuing Anglican movement becomes a protest movement against the politics of the Episcopal Church and, consequently, leaves the political jurisdiction of that Church. It does, however, seek to continue what was in the Episcopal Church before the vote. Thus, the Episcopal Church have departed from what they hitherto affirmed and have thus protest against the religious interpretation that Continuing Anglicans actually continue. The same is true in the Church of England, which is why the Continuing Anglican movement is now present in this country.

To say that we are a protest Church is true in the sense that we exist because we seek to keep things the same as they always have been and do not believe that the changes to the Faith are warranted. We exist as a separate movement in the same way as a non-smoker continues to sit inside the pub while the smokers go outside to light-up. The smokers say, "we're going outside to smoke. Come join us," The non-smokers say, "no thanks!" possibly with some unbecoming comments about how smoking is not healthy. The group of non-smokers becomes apparent precisely because the smokers have left. Likewise, we have become visible because our parent Churches have left us. Is that a protest? Perhaps makes us like the Democrat members of Congress who stage a sit-in to discuss gun control. The thing is, we're still here and we were not in a position to force people to stay; the majority have left the building. In that sense, there is no such thing as a Continuing Anglican movement. We are a Continuing Anglican Staying-where-we-were-ment.

The Church of England was intended to be a political protest at the government of Rome; religious reforms came in later but have never been universally accepted. The Church Papist, the Laudian, the Caroline Divine, and the Non-Juror have always been lurking in English History. The lack of a comprehensive definition of what it means to be Anglican has meant that we in the ACC have had to pick a particular interpretation of that adjective and use that to describe us. For us, "Anglican" means that we are "Anglo-Catholic". Even then, that term is rather subject to change. There are Romanising Anglo-Catholics, and Puseyites. I suppose that makes me an Anglican Papalist Puseyite! This does mean that we have doctrine and thus a particular substance that, although is not unique to us - we hope it isn't!! - means that we have some recourse to answering the question "can I be saved?" in the same way as any other Catholic.

What is true is that our language has probably been rather polemical, and this does lend credibility to the charge of us being a "protest church". The key thing is for us to develop some further substance so that we don't exist for the sake of protest. The fact that we hold to the doctrine that the Catholic Faith cannot be altered by political acts means that we are necessarily in opposition to those that believe that the Catholic Faith is a product of culture. If we voice that opposition, then that is a protest. Yet, to gain substance and credibility, we must actively live that rule.

If we protest against the ordination of women, then what are we doing actively to ensure not only that women have a valued presence within the Church and can find expressions of spiritual leadership if, like St Hilda and St Hildegard, they are called by God to become spiritual leaders? How do we demonstrate that the male priesthood is not a tacit suppression or exclusion of women?

If we protest against abortion, then how do we work to end the need for it? How do we contribute to the welfare equally of mother and baby? How do we invest our resources into making the practice unnecessary? Do we, by our living as well as our speaking and writing, encourage and inspire others to seek the commitment of marriage as the environment in which man and woman can give themselves to each other in loving tenderness for the purpose of bringing a loved child into the world? How do we make our society safe for women so that they can live without the fear of being raped?

If we protest against same-sex marriage, then how do we demonstrate how love really works within celibate friendships? Do we regard divorce as another version of same-sex marriage as we should? How do we value a person who just happens to be a homosexual? Do we actively assist society in seeing that sex is not the be-all-and-end-all of human existence and that celibacy is not only valuable but venerable?

You see, the more we shout loudly and make noises and yet forget about the way we live life sinfully, the more that our protests do nothing about the issues that afflict society. Indirectly, all of our sins contribute to everyone else's like merging ripples on the surface of the water. As Our Lord says, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Yes, we need to be able to stand up and say "that is a sin" but equally we need to be able to lead folk out of sin. It's like shouting "fire" and not telling anyone where the fire escape doors are.

None of these questions can be answered by waving a placard and shouting.

What we often forget is that we, the Church, are called to be a blessing to the world. This was supposed to be the people of Israel, however with the incorporation of gentiles into the Body of Christ, the Church at least shares the call to be this blessing. This makes it all the more necessary for us to live our lives in order to distribute that blessing.

If the Anglican Catholic Church is a protest Church, then let it be because we protest on behalf of the human race against Evil, and let us do so actively reminding ourselves that we do so as part of the Catholic Church. There is very little point in protesting against the Church of England or the Episcopal Church if there are projects and activities within them that feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. People will see these good works and will not see that supporting the transgender manifesto threatens the safety of women, or supporting the right of a woman to abort at any time threatens the life not just of the unborn but also the newborn. They will see the benefit of gene therapy, but not see the impending issue of eugenics.

Of course, the argument could be made by some that the Devil can clothe his vile actions with good works just as he can clothe his lies with truth. Absolutely right! This is why the doctrine of the Church has to be on the firmest footing so that the whole Catholic Church is on the same verse if not agreeing with the same tune. With the Church living out her faith as well as speaking about it, we have greater opportunity to demonstrate that we mean what we say ion an age of soundbite, branding, and superficiality. We must call out sin, but back up its excision with grace, forgiveness and the fullest support.

We also have to be protesting against Death too. The issues that I've outlined above are evils enshrined in Time. They will end with the human race. The existence of the Church is a loud "NO!" to the cadaverous face of the Grim Reaper. We have been given that voice by the Resurrection of Christ. We have the strength to stand up against the end of our lives precisely because Our Great High Priest has made that journey for us, laying out the Catholic Faith like Ariadne's string in the Labyrinth so that in Him we can find the way out of our prison and live with God in Eternity. This is the greatest protest that we can make and none more worthwhile. All of our actions, our good works, our doctrine, dogma, and discipleship, all are pointed towards the destruction of Death in the abyss. All that exists in the repository of the Faith testifies to the worth of each individual from beyond the confines of Time and Space, and it is our job to give expression to that testimony.

We fail to do that if we continue to protest in a way that does not demonstrate the intrinsic worth of precisely everyone involved in the issue we are protesting against.

The Anglican Catholic Church exists because it seeks to continue its protest by staying put and growing in the Faith that it has received. The question we need to ask is whether we truly are growing in the Catholic Faith - not necessarily numerically, but in spirit. If we're a sexist church, a purist church, a church where we're better than everyone else, a church that's all talk and no substance, then we'll deservedly die out, and good riddance!  For, in that case, there is too little evidence that we live the Faith once delivered to the saints.

Our reality and recognition as a Church depends on living a Catholic life. Of course, with the fragmentation of Continuing Anglicanism, we need to make sure that what we mean by "Catholic" is clear. We know that we take the Vincentian Canon as our definition, but do we really live out a faith that is recognisably Christian everywhere, at all times and to everyone? If we do, or at least strive to, then it doesn't matter what we're called, just as long as it involves Christ Our Lord, and we protest our allegiance to Him in spirit and in truth.

Is our protest noted, and by whom?

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