Friday, December 22, 2006

Why Not Leave?

From William Witt's Blog

"If I were ever to leave Anglicanism, it could only be with a sense of loss, that a noble vision of what it meant to be Christian had been tried for a few centuries, had produced some remarkable successes, and had brought much good to the world. Sadly, it had come to an end, and its loss would be much like that of those parts of the Byzantine Empire that were obliterated by Islam, or the Celtic Christians who faded after Augustine of Canterbury. For me, this would mean that the Church of Cranmer's liturgy, and Hooker's theology, and Donne's preaching, and Herbert's poetry, and Traherne's meditations, and Shakespeare's plays, and Butler's keen intellect, and Jane Austin's novels, and Wilberforce's and Gore's social vision, and Westcott's and Hort's and Hoskyn's biblical scholarship, and Arthur Michael Ramsey . . . . and Evelyn Underhill . . . and . . .C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrer . . . This Church would be gone forever. But wasn't it a glorious thing while it lasted!

So why not leave? I can only give my own reasons.

So, first. Leave for what? Rome or Orthodoxy would be the obvious choices. At least they are the ones that are usually offered. When as a young man I left the Evangelical denomination in which I was raised, I became an Anglican because I believed that the Reformation was a reforming movement in the Western Catholic Church, and I was convinced that Anglicanism had come closest to getting that job done right. For the Roman Catholics, Vatican II was successful just to the extent that it incorporated many of the changes that had taken place at some time or another in Anglican history. Liturgy in the vernacular? Check. Communion in both kinds? Check. Renewed emphasis on Scripture? Check. In good critical translations? Check. Religious liberty? Check. Focus on salvation by grace alone and reconsideration of justification by faith? Check. Married clergy? Well . . . Vatican II didn't do everything.

At the same time, one thing has not changed. As I have always understood it, one only has two choices about the Roman Catholic Church. One either must become a Roman Catholic, or one can not. There is no maybe about becoming Catholic. To become a Catholic, one is required to accept all of that Church's claims, including its claims about itself. If one accepts those claims, then one has no choice but to convert. But if one does not, one also has no choice. In that case, one cannot become Roman Catholic. And the Roman Catholic Church itself says that one cannot.

I am unable to bring myself to believe Rome's claims. Without going into details for now, as someone trained in theology (at a Catholic University, no less), I am convinced that the choices here are between Newman's understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and Barth's. And I think Barth was right, and Newman wrong.

Well, then? What about Orthodoxy? I want to claim the Greek Fathers for my own, of course—Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians. I am even excited about learning from such lesser known lights as Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus the Confessor. And I recognize that the Eastern Church never accepted the authority of the bishop of Rome in the way in which Rome came to understand it. And I think they were right in that.

However, as with Rome, there are a number of things that Orthodoxy demands that I cannot quite bring myself to accept. Some are doctrinal niceties, for example, the somewhat abstruse distinction between the divine essence and energies. Or the doctrine of the filioque. I think the Western view is correct on both points. But at bottom, as I said above, I became Anglican because I believed Anglicanism was a reforming movement in the Western Church, and I
am a Western Christian.

Mine is the tradition of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but also of Hooker, and Luther, and Barth. A Western Orthodoxy that was able to embrace and incorporate this Western tradition (including the Reformers) as well as its own would be an Orthodoxy that I would find attractive, perhaps irresistible. But, to the contrary, Orthodoxy often seems rather to be suspicious of this entire Western tradition, including Augustine, and all who followed him. And, of course, such a Western Orthodoxy would look a lot like . . . historical Anglicanism.

As for leaving Anglicanism for another Reformation Church . . . what would be the point? All of the mainline Protestant churches are struggling with the same issue as is Anglicanism. The Episcopal Church is just ahead of the parade. The non-sacramental free church Evangelicals alone have stood their ground, and I admire them tremendously. But I left that tradition for a reason."

Extract from

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Challenge of the Moment

Over at Titus One Nine, I've noticed a number of comments (on various posts) drawing parallels between the apocalyptic banquet scene in C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength and the present unravelling of the Episcopal Church. In a book so rich with eschatological imagery, are there not other moments in the story that could be drawn upon for solace in the present crisis?

What of Cecil Dimble's final appeal to Mark Studdock: "I can offer you no security. Don't you understand? There is no security for anyone now. The battle has started. I'm offering you a place on the right side. I don't know which will win." (223)

Or that powerful scene when Mark, the sociologist who has been steadily seduced by the dark forces inhabiting Belbury, is called upon to complete his 'education' by desecrating a crucifix. Interestingly, the salvific effect is not, at least at the time, couched in terms of a conversion experience:

"He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way - neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight - what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross." (336)

Most of those in the majority in the Episcopal Church with whom we fundamentally disagree seem much closer in character to Mark Studdock than to those corrupted by Belbury and ultimately condemned because of it. In the early pages of That Hideous Strength the reader is not encouraged to feel much sympathy for Mark and yet he is ultimately spared when the heavenly powers finally descend. This seems a much healthier perspective from which to view those with whom we disagree.

And then there is one of my favorite passages, where the small company of the faithful wait for the powers to descend - so much human emotion, but it is surely that of Mother Dimble with which we are to concern ourselves.

Down in the kitchen MacPhee sharply drew back his chair so that it grated on the tiled floor like a pencil squeaking on a slate. "Man!" he exclaimed, "it's a shame for us to be sitting here looking at the fire. If the Director hadn't got a game leg himself, I'll bet you he'd have found some other way for us to go to work." Camilla's eyes flashed towards him. "Go on!" she said, "go on!" "What do you mean MacPhee?" said Dimble. "He means fighting," said Camilla. "They'd be too many for us, I'm afraid," said Arthur Denniston. "Maybe that!" said MacPhee. "But maybe they'll be too many for us this way too. But it would be grand to have one go at them before the end. To tell you the truth I sometimes feel I don't greatly care what happens. But I wouldn't be easy in my grave if I knew they'd won and I'd never had my hands on them. I'd like to be able say as an old sergeant said to me in the first war, about a bit of a raid we did near Monchy. Our fellows did it all with the butt end, you know. "Sir," says he, "did ever you hear anything like the way their heads cracked?" "I think that's disgusting," said Mother Dimble. "That part is, I suppose," said Camilla. "But . . . oh if one could have a charge in the old style. I don't mind anything once I'm on a horse." "I don't understand it," said Dimble, "I'm not like you MacPhee. I'm not brave. But I was just thinking as you spoke that I don't feel afraid of being killed and hurt as I used to do. Not tonight." "We may be, I suppose," said Jane. "As long as we're all together," said Mother Dimble. "It might be . . . no I don't mean anything heroic . . . it might be a nice way to die.'"And suddenly all their faces and voices were changed. They were laughing again, but it was a different kind of laughter. Their love for one another became intense. Each, looking on all the rest, thought, "I'm lucky to be here. I could die with these." (323-4)

Can we say that of those with whom we share these transitory moments of uncertainty? Are our parishes, our prayer groups, our ministries so ordered? And if not, are we really so far removed from the environment of Belbury as we would like to imagine?

Extracts from C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Macmillan, 1946).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Commentary: Primates, Parishes and Politics

The past couple of weeks have not been a good time for The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States. On December 2, delegates to the Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin in Southern California overwhelmingly endorsed a constitutional change that would, if confirmed at next year’s convention, declare their diocese to be an ecclesiastical entity in communion with the Anglican Communion but no longer Episcopal. [1] On the other side of the country, members of seven parishes in Northern Virginia voted this week on whether to withdraw from the Episcopal Church, a move to which the Bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, responded with dire warnings as to the likely consequences of such action. [2] The marked shift in the stance of Bishop Lee – who had previously come to comparatively amicable settlements with departing parishes – was attributed by conservative commentator David Virtue to pressure from the eminence grise David Booth Beers, chancellor (legal advisor) of the national church, not to allow wealthy congregations such as Truro and the Falls Church to take their property with them. [3]

At a time when the situation changes on a daily, if not hourly, basis, it becomes hard to guess how all of this will play out. A parallel shift already seems to be under way within the Church of England, where some conservative evangelicals have proposed a covenant that includes a pledge to no longer be “constrained by an over-centralised and increasingly ineffective control that is stifling the natural development of ministry.” Respect for the authority and jurisdiction of church leaders will become contingent upon their commitment to the “clear teaching of the Scriptures either doctrinally (for example, on the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ) or morally (for example, on issues of gender, sex and marriage).” Money and ministry will be allocated where it is deemed to be most conducive to evangelism and support will be extended to those whose relationship with their appointed and elected leaders is compromised by the latter’s deviation from the Church’s teaching. [4] As Bishop Tom Wright of Durham, a staunch evangelical and an author of the Windsor Report, has already pointed out this covenant demonstrates the same hostility to the catholic nature of the Church that has become evident in the progressive camp and is potentially as destructive. [5]

As we witness the frenzied cut and thrust of the present conflict, we might draw some enlightenment from Allen Guelzo’s superlative account of the events leading to the establishment of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the 1870s. [6] I suspect that many liberal Episcopalians (and some not so liberal) see distinct parallels: a small group of perfectionist Evangelicals ranged against a broad spectrum of mainstream opinion, incorporating a wide variety of theological perspectives and willing to allow a spirit of diverse opinion to persist; a conservative leadership disdainful of the traditional catholic understanding of constituted ecclesiastical authority and so convinced of its own righteousness that it lacks the capacity for honest self-criticism; and a body of clergy and laity so wedded to notions of personal conversion that they neglect the corporate pastoral injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James.

As with all parodies, there are elements of truth to some of these characterizations. There is a tendency toward evangelical perfectionism, a distrust of authority structures (even conservative ones) and, on occasion, a reflexive objection to certain types of social action because they are understood to be icons of liberal Christianity. [7] The recent controversy over whether the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the Episcopal Church in 2006 represent a substitute for a commitment to mission, have become a debate about the motives of the sponsors as much as about the virtues and limitations of specific relief initiatives in the Two-Thirds World. [8]

Where the analogy with the Reformed Episcopal Church falls flat is in the altered global context. When George David Cummins launched the final attempt to rally Anglican evangelicals against the high church tide, he did so entirely within the context of an American environment. Evangelicals had already lost the grip on the denomination which they had enjoyed in the first half of the nineteenth century, due in large measure to their preference for foreign missions, while the high churchmen focused on evangelizing in the domestic field. As parishes were planted in the west and missionary dioceses received into union, the balance of power at General Convention steadily shifted in favor of the more ‘catholic’ wing. [9] Moreover, establishment evangelicals, like Bishop Charles McIlvaine of Ohio, balked at joining Cummins, whose clerical following was consequently composed largely of the young and restless. [10] The transitory success of the movement in the United States gradually petered out and found little appeal in the Church of England, where evangelicals exercised greater control over the levers of power.

Cummins was not – at least at the time - overly concerned with the principle of episcopal authority. For him, as for many low churchman, apostolic succession was less one of the essential marks of the Christian Church later defined by the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888), [11] than a form of church governance, valued but not essential. The nature of schism within the Episcopal Church was defined by the example of the Reformed Episcopalians for over a century. For the next 120 years, departures from the denomination (except where they involved a transfer of allegiance to another Christian body) resulted in independent structures that claimed a place in the Anglican family but were not recognized as such by the Archbishop of Canterbury, until recently regarded as the acid test of Anglican authenticity (the Anglican Communion being composed of those national churches in communion with Canterbury). [12]

Since the dramatic consecration of missionary bishops for the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA) in January 2000 by two primates of the Anglican Communion, [13] the whole modus operandi of the traditionalist (or conservative) minority in the Episcopal Church has shifted. Even though the AMIA was not recognized by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and is not recognized by his successor, as a body in communion with Canterbury, it functions under the auspices of primates in Rwanda and South East Asia whose provinces are regarded as in communion. As we have struggled through the turmoil of the last three years, which began with the approval by the 2003 General Convention of the election of Vicki Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, those who have dissented from the current course have self-consciously identified themselves not with an indigenous purified Episcopalianism (the standard course pursued in the Protestant churches for much of the nation’s history), but with the primates. Most of the recent departures and new church plants have held aloof from AMIA – with its controversial origins – and requested direct primatial oversight. In 2006, following what was generally conceded to be an inadequate response on the part of TEC to the findings of the Windsor Report, a number of conservative dioceses followed suit. [14]

More heat than light has been generated by the seemingly endless exchanges among conservatives and liberals about who is in communion with whom, who is still Anglican and who is not, and what power the Archbishop of Canterbury has to change any of this. Much of it would have little meaning absent the related issue of title to parish property (this will be addressed below) but there is also an important philosophical dimension not only for those within the Anglican family but also for those outside it. A year ago, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, addressing the Hope and a Future conference in Pittsburgh, delivered his famous sally: “Are you Network or are you ECUSA?” While an effective rhetorical device for rallying the troops, it nevertheless posed a possible conundrum for those, including, it must be said, his local host Bishop Robert Duncan, who insisted that the conservative dioceses in the Anglican Communion Network continued to be part of the Episcopal Church. How, it might reasonably be asked, can such a circle be squared?

One answer may be found in The Fate of Communion, [15] the new work by Ephraim Radner and Philip Turner that makes the catholic argument for reform of the Church through institutional adjustment rather than impulsive separatism. Both authors make a plausible case for, as far as humanly possible, waiting upon the structures of the Anglican Communion – most notably the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting – to work through the process mandated by the Windsor Report. Until that has run its course and the status of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada relative to the rest of the Communion has been formally determined, any alternative structure is premature.

Those liberals who feel that the decision of conservatives to remain within the denomination and yet not of it is disingenuous at best need to recognize the possibility that those involved are actuated by a belief that any departure must wait upon the Church Catholic to reach an appropriate determination. Equally, those primates who have been more than usually scathing about conservative American Anglicans who want to have it both ways should bear in mind that the primates themselves have yet to express a collective opinion about what they understand as the future shape of the Communion. To ask people to come out of the Episcopal Church completely, even if “goods and kindred” must be sacrificed, is one thing;, to ask them to come out with no clear indication of what ecclesiastical entity they are entering is quite another. In “The Humiliation of Anglicanism and the Christian Life,” Radner draws on the examples of the seventeenth century English Nonjurors and the “Refractory” Church of the French Revolution to demonstrate how renewal is accomplished less by purification of church structures than by “agony”:

This is the sort of thing, in other words, that we should expect to experience if “life in communion” is to be the church’s vocation and destiny in this world: purity was no guarantee of and granted no rewards; good motives did not preserve moral outcomes; organization led to schism, while confused confession maintained the marks of humbled flesh, “useful” to resurrection; faithful and simple labor, straight ahead, done in the face of persecution and rejection, is seed; holiness and patience is a flame; teaching and catechizing is a gift; where no one triumphs, God reigns. [16]

If the necessary course for some is to remain, what of those who have reached the point at which they feel that their ability to preach the Gospel is irretrievably compromised? As noted above, most of those who wish to retain an ‘Anglican’ identity have developed ties to the bishop of another province and are now members of the (non-territorial) Seventh Convocation of the Anglican Communion Network (whose moderator, Robert Duncan, is Bishop of Pittsburgh). Thus, in the same way that the Episcopal Church currently occupies a grey area within the life of the Anglican Communion, so the Seventh Convocation churches, while still under their extra-territorial primates, occupy a similar grey area on the American scene.

If the departing congregation – or portion of a congregation – simply removes bodily from its current premises, problems do not arise; the issue is when it seeks to retain its property. At the most basic level, it is clearly absurd to look into the original intent of the founders, as it is doubtful if most of those involved would have approved of recent innovations in church practice; appeals by bishops to the idea that property was bequeathed to the Episcopal Church ignore the fact that such bequests were for the Episcopal Church, as it then was. In the situation that we face today, the only safe ground is to deal with the community of faith as it currently exists. Parishes where the majority is narrowly in favor of secession are unlikely to want to contest the issue of property. Pragmatism and Christian charity alike dictate departure and in the case of an aging structure the new congregation will be freed from the burden of expending an ever-increasing proportion of its resources on plant maintenance.

The problem arises with congregations that are products of the evangelical renewal movement that began during the 1970s. These can either be long-established traditional parishes that underwent a dramatic shift in orientation (such as Truro or St. Stephen’s, Sewickley in Pittsburgh) or plants like Christ Church, Plano, founded in 1985, which severed its ties with the Diocese of Dallas and TEC in September. All of these experienced dramatic growth in membership and material resources (which included a related benefit for the Episcopal Church until withholding in the 1990s reduced funding of the national church by evangelicals to a trickle) precisely by adopting methods of evangelization and spiritual formation in which most of TEC, whether by accident or design, expressed little interest. Part of the value of the church plants of these congregations reflects an active response to the Great Commission in which most Episcopal churches have failed to participate. At the very least, these congregations are entitled to compensation for the “value added” to their property by their labors.

The dissenting parishes do have obligations, however. First and foremost, is their obligation to the minority within their congregation, however small. If conservatives have been disappointed in expecting TEC to acknowledge its obligations to the Anglican Communion, they have no license thereby to disregard those who expected their congregation to remain within TEC. It will be essential to reach a settlement that provides for the latter’s pastoral care. Beyond this, are any financial obligations to their former diocese, all of which must assuredly be repaid. It would a gesture of good faith, finally, for congregations to make some commitment to their former bishop as to their future health as a community. Should they proceed to wither on the vine or dissolve into factionalism – the best measure of failure to keep the things of God clearly in view – then the bishop should have the right to reclaim the property.

What is evident is that most of the evangelical plants so described will go out en masse, and there is no bishop anywhere in the United States who has too many people and too few buildings. The watchword for the last thirty years from San Diego to Maine has been closing and consolidation of parishes. It seems almost certain that any bishop inheriting a property these days will, at best, keep it open for a year or two with a skeleton congregation and then will have no choice but to sell it. Unless one honestly believes that the seceders are not Christians as well as not Anglicans, the net result will be one Christian community fewer and the money raised is most unlikely to be deployed into the planting of a new parish. Perhaps those set to lose their property should try and force their bishop to commit either to keep the building open for at least ten years or to use any money raised solely for the purposes of church planting!


[1] For the text, see

[2] While many of the results will be announced tomorrow, after a week of voting, the lopsided vote from All Saints, Dale City of 402-6 (in a church of 500 members) suggests that the exodus in Virginia will be severe.
[3] See

[4] See
[5] See

[6] Allen C. Guelzo, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).
[7] Bishop Wright’s critique cited in Note Five addresses these issues from an English perspective.
[8] On the MDGs, see Commentators on conservative blogs tend to see the MDGs as the Social Gospel minus evangelism. See Gregg Griffith’s comment on Stand Firm:

[9] George E. DeMille, The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church (Philadelphia: Church Historical Society, 1950).

[10] One interesting case is that of Pittsburgh’s Calvary Church. On February 15, 1874, Joseph Wilson – its much loved rector - preached a sermon inviting his congregation to follow him into the Reformed Episcopal Church. Despite a supportive petition from many of the parishioners, the vestry immediately surrendered spiritual charge of the parish into the bishop’s hands and Wilson was forced to organize a separate congregation to which many Calvary parishioners – including almost all of the Sunday School – followed. When Wilson was called to other duties in the REC, however, the dissident congregation soon collapsed. Today, Calvary Church is amongst the most vocal opponents of Bishop Robert Duncan’s effort to uphold a conservative Anglican viewpoint, a course that could ultimately lead to the separation of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (though not Calvary Church) from TEC. How times change!
[11] See

[12] Some of these bodies are listed at
For discussion of the schisms of the 1970s, see Bryan V. Hillis, Can Two Walk Together Unless They Be Agreed? American Religious Schisms in the 1970s (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1991), 99-126.
[13] See

[14] On APO, see

[15] Ephraim Radner and Philip Turner, The Fate of Communion: The Agony of Anglicanism and the Future of a Global Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).

[16] Ibid., 273.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Church and the Perils of Party Strife: A Cautionary Note

"In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of liking, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a 'suitable' church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false and unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise - does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how grovelling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!) This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper.

I think I warned you before that if your patient can't be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don't mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is, the better. And it isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say 'mass' and those who say 'holy communion' when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things - candles and clothes and what not - are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men's minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials - namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think that they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the 'low' churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his 'high' brother should be moved to irreverence, and the 'high' one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his 'low' brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility."

Extracts from C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. (New York: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1982), 72-75.