Thursday, April 23, 2015

A mast full of colours

Most hammers have two sides: the first is the side that knocks the nail into the wood; the other side is used to prise an incorrectly hammered nail out of the wood again. Clearly, the latter is rather more difficult. An incorrect nail will seldom come out of the wood without sustaining some damage - or at least in my experience, but then my DIY is about as successful as trying to get a hungry cat to befriend a fat little mouse.

Fr Anthony will no doubt fill in the full significance of nailing one's colours to the mast. Clearly, the intention is to display prominently the message that you're trying to convey AND make the further statement that it's going to take a lot to change your mind. In these days when displaying any degree of certainty is somewhat frowned upon, doing the nailing is a big deal.

On his blog, Fr Anthony makes a comment about how we Christians have a tendency to label ourselves. I've mentioned several times about the "Alphabet Soup" of the Anglican Continuum. I once used that idea to excuse myself from joining the ACC earlier. Of course, at the most basic level, to wit as one seeking union with God the Father in Jesus Christ through the Holy Ghost, my label does not matter in the slightest. I am what God declares me to be, after all, God created me so He gets to call the shots. I can only guess about my true self. I think that I have a better idea about who I am than others do, but it's also true that others may know things about me that I don't know about myself. It seems very difficult then for me to label myself as anything with any degree of certainty.

I am a Christian - I'm pretty certain about that because I fulfill the definition of what a Christian is. I believe in the three Creeds and they are Christian Creeds, so that is sufficient to convince me that I am very probably a Christian. Would I nail that statement to the mast? Yes.

What good, then, is having a label which is nailed to the mast? Often we are labelled by others and not always complimentarily. I certainly have been on the receiving end of some interesting labels such as "crackers" and "autistic" and "OCD" which were given to me so that the people using them had some easy excuse for dismissing whatever I had to say. The idea of a label is to bring together things of the same type or category and establish common properties. I used to fulfill the label of bachelor, but now I fulfill the label of husband. I might not be the world's best husband, but I can say with some certainty that I am a husband nonetheless.

Yet, while labels bring us together, they also can tear us apart especially when we disagree as to what the label means. One such label is that of "Anglican". I've mused on this problem a lot over the years. Archbishop Haverland spoke quite some time ago on the matter. His argument is to look carefully at the Elizabethan settlement, and note that this was an attempt to prevent the established church from splintering into diverse factions. The sixteenth century Church of England had to house, evangelicals, Lutherans, high church sacramentarians, Calvinists and Church Papists, all in their own way pulling against each other. On the continent, Protestants were fighting each other and the Roman Catholics too. With a new queen (who was not always in the best of health and who had no children) these factions had to be brought to bear for the sake of the realm. The XXXIX articles were composed in such a way as to allow for some wiggle room and soothe troubled consciences.

The trouble is, that this umbrella has become so broad as, now, it means very little. In the UK, one parish now uses a markedly different liturgy to its neighbor. If lex orandi, lex credendi is true and that the way we pray does reflect our belief, then the Church of England is a collection of separate congregations held together by affiliations which cross dioceses. Some parishes do not recognize another's priest or even bishop as being what they are. Some are not even in communion with their own diocesan bishop. St Cyprian would prove that any sense of being properly catholic, or even a church, is now in the gravest of doubt.

Our Archbishop states that the only way forward is to nail our colours to the mast, i.e. to say clearly what we mean by Anglican and thus establish some bedrock for our expression of Orthodox Christianity. I've said it before that when I refer to myself as an Anglican, I mean that I continue the Catholic faith in the light of the English tradition. Anglican means English and qualifies my sense of Catholicism.

Of course, there will be those who profoundly disagree with this. They will nail their colours to the mast too. Archbishop Robinson of our sister Church, the United Episcopal Church of North America, will roll his eyes at any definition of Anglicanism which does not incorporate the full Book of Common Prayer including the Articles. Yet the fact remains of UECNA's fundamental relationship with the ACC and the Anglican Province of Christ the King in being the original Continuing Anglican Church born of the great lapse of U.S. Episcopal Church in the 1970s. It might be argued that being born of the same fire, the ACC, the UECNA and the APCK have nailed their colours to the same mast. The colours are different, but they all come from the Affirmation of St Louis.

The ACC has chosen to interpret Anglicanism in a particularly Anglo-Catholic way, as opposed to that Romanising Anglican Papalist way which produced the Ordinariate. The ACC has an Anglican Papalism of more orthodox nuances based on the Councils, but these nuances do not lie in accepting the Roman Catholic definition of what a Pope is. UECNA has preferred to retain a confessional Protestant definition. Does that mean that there is disagreement between the two jurisdictions? Of course there is! Does that mean hostility and hatred? No, both jurisdictions have ensured that whatever the disagreements may be, we recognise each other to be deeply related and entwined. After all, "the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you".

However, nailing our colours to the mast does make things clear and it does mean that any desire for unity must be met in the right way. In the ACC, the principles of unity are stated clearly:
As criteria for engaging in formal dialogue with other Churches aimed at achieving full communion or ultimately organic unity, we would see their possession of historic continuity in Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order, including doctrine and discipline faithfully reflecting the canons and decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, with recognizably common Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Ministry, as the starting point, not the conclusion, of such endeavors. These are the minimum requirements for the recovery of authentic Christian unity, and we have no authority to alter or reduce them. To those who embrace them we will gladly extend the right hand of fellowship.
The fastness of the nails restricts our movement greatly. That's not to say that we do not desire unity, but we have to be realistic, especially as the Continuing Anglican movement has existed only in a tiny blip of time in comparison with the Christian Faith. We may only ever exist as a little anomaly in time, but we do exist now. As Archbishop Haverland says, we even have to be careful when we use the term "Continuing Anglican". Just what are we continuing? If we continue in the same error as the CofE, then we will end up like the CofE or, more likely return to the CofE rather sheepishly. We cannot continue the mistakes, but we can continue what we believe to be the Truth, namely the Catholic Faith as held by the Church in England from the start and read through its lens of history.

To some, the refinement of the definition of Anglicanism is historical revisionism. I don't believe it to be so, given that most popular historians who make that claim see "Catholic" as meaning exclusively "Roman Catholic". While I see Anglicanism as being the former, I would heartily say that it is not the latter. Even through the Reformation, its doctrine and definition are something unique and separate from the continental reform, though of course there were influences. On the whole, whether it is or is not revisionism does not matter: we have made our decision and we stick to it for the love of God,

However, others have made their definition. Some, like the Reformed Episcopal Church, made their decision long ago as a stand against the Anglo-Catholic and Anglican Papalism in the Church of England in the Nineteenth Century. Some still make that definition in reaction against our lack of confessional method. We should not hate, snipe or criticise unjustly those who cannot accept our definition, but seek to let live in generosity of spirit and love and remember that it is entirely possible that we have got it wrong. Our job now is to make the best of that definition and accept the consequences that come with the nailing. The ACC needs to grow and explore its identity, not for the purpose of revelling in that identity to shut people out and crush them with labels, but rather to provide the framework in which the Grace of God might be better extended to the World.

Our nailing is only the scaffolding which will hold up our building of the Church. Once that building is complete, the scaffolding will no longer be needed. We must accept our limitations but build on them, just as the God we worship accepted our limitations when we nailed Him to the cross and built the Way for us out of Death's prison.

No comments: