Monday, May 09, 2005

A Strategy of Recovery

I have been interested by the responses I have received to my last piece, both on Toward2015 and personally. I recognize that many Americans who share my orthodox Anglican faith are disheartened, and sense that the battle is lost. From hereon out, as they perceive it, it is a rearguard action which will inevitably end in defeat.

I understand their misgivings and confess that there are days when I feel that way, too, however I do not believe that defeat is inevitable. But first we need to define our terms. For starters, I do not believe that we are in a contest for the worn-out structures of the Episcopal Church because they are already beyond our reach, and besides, most of them are irrelevant. I suspect that the actions of the General Convention 2006 and the Anglican Communion will play a role in significantly reshaping what tomorrow is going to look like, and those structures will be declared even more irrelevant.

Maybe I suffer from the shortcoming of being brought up to believe that even when you have your back against a wall and all looks lost, you keep on fighting the good fight. Churchill's "We will fight them..." speech, made almost exactly 65 years ago, and perhaps his greatest, was not delivered when things looked hunky-dory, but at that moment in 1940 when the British people believed that what would be required to save them from the wrath of Nazi-ism was a miracle. This is exactly what they received at Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain.

Perhaps I have drunk too long at that old-fashioned well which says you stand firm on your principles, and you do all in your power to protect them, whatever the odds and whatever the consequences. Churchill knew exactly what he was doing in 1940 when he took power in Britain, and he knew precisely what it would cost -- the wholesale destruction of the British economy and the loss of the British Empire. But the principles upon which Britain stood were more important than these. Despite those miracles of 1940, from 1939-1942 the British people saw very few victories or encouragements, but their bulldog determination reflected that of their leader.

Under God, I suppose this attitude has always been the one that I have clung to when the going has got tough, as it has so many times in 36 years of ordained ministry. But I also believe wholeheartedly and without reservation, that the future of biblical Christianity is as much at stake here as trinitarian orthodoxy was at stake in the 3rd and 4th Centuries when the Arian crisis rocked the church. When I had the opportunity to leave the Episcopal Church some months ago and go back to my homeland to minister, that was when I realized that to leave now would have been to admit that error is stronger and more powerful than truth.

So, as has been asked, when "the triumphal actions of the liberals" are as dominating as they are, isn't restoring Anglican Episcopal Christianity more or less impossible? In the short term and from our human perspective, I would hazard that this is so, but need that be the case in the medium and long term?

1. It is wrong for us to define ourselves vis-a-vis those with whom we disagree. Episcopalians have had the infuriating habit of doing this for a long time. We need to define ourselves in terms of who we actually are. In this part of the world being an Anglican is "Not-being-Baptist!" This isnt' good enough. We need to have clarity about who we are, what we believe, and a positive way of affirming our identity -- because our identity is clear, great, a treasure, and something God-given. I find it much more pleasing to know that I am an Anglican Communion Christian in fellowship with a wonderful worldwide church, rather than an adherent of a little elitist American high church unitarian universalist sect, something that seems to be in vogue in the structures of ECUSA.

2. It is right for us to work hard to gain clarity when it comes to our theological foundations. This is what Trinity and Nashotah need to be working on in terms of leadership for us, as well as engaging those in the trenches in the process. Theology is not primarily clarified in the hallowed halls of Academe, but in the day-to-day struggles of parish ministry. We need to work especially hard to see where our theology is infected by the spirit of this age and to cleanse it, for if it is weakened by the zeitgeist it will not sound the clarion call of Christ into postmodernity.

3. It is right for us to develop the outline of a long range strategy, and then to stick with it. Of course there will be need for course corrections, etc., but these will be necessary. This was the way that John Stott and others led Anglican Evangelicalism out of a pitiful wilderness beginning with the tiniest patch of land in 1945. Today more than three-quarters of those training for leadership in the Church of England are evangelical and orthodox.

4. It is right for us to develop our own structures, networks, institutions, ministries, and so forth, and to put our heart and soul into them believing that what we are doing is creating something that will supercede that which is dying -- i.e. the 815-oriented structures. Hierarchies of the kind we have lived with for so long are a thing of the past, networks and horizontal ways of organizing are the thing of the future. They will take over the church whether the hierarchies like it or not. In these circumstances we might need to give some lip-service to the structures that are still there, but no more than is absolutely necessary.

5. It is right for us to major in what we do well, which is planting new congregations, reviving old ones, being pastors, teachers, evangelists, those who are equipped by the Spirit of God to be the People of God on earth. We want to be in the business of winning those beyond the church's doors to faith in Jesus Christ. This is where the wisdom of the likes of a Kevin Martin comes in. As I travelled the church for two decades it was not difficult to see where faithful ministry was taking place when compared to places where folks were going through the motions. Take my word for it, going through the motions is very much the flavor of many on the left.

6. It is essential that we do the political work necessary to maintain our strength where we can. This is something I leave to others because I am politically not so bright. However, this means using intelligence and prayer to move forward. In some dioceses I recognize that this is well-night impossible, but I believe in others there is a lot that orthodox people can do to put their stamp on what is happening. The caveat is that you can expect to be fought all the way, you can expect to be misrepresented, and to be misused, but if the true Israelites will come out of their caves and their holes in the ground there is a mighty host that will walk with us.

7. It is vital that we pray. Prayer is the fuel of any movement, and it is creating a movement that we are talking about. No work of God advances if it does not advance on its knees. As we pray, as we tune ourselves into the mind of God, then the miracles will start to happen, indeed, some of them are happening already. I am fond of quoting Prof. Herbert Butterfield of Oxford some time back, "History belongs to those who pray."

8. We need to use our intelligence, but we also need to be ready to both fail in some of our endeavors, as well as not get everything that we believe is right the first time around. I presented a motion to our diocesan convention in January that I did not expect to make it, it was intended as a signal of where the orthodox would want to go if they could. To my surprise we got it. It doesn't always happen like that, but we need to think about keeping coming back with what we believe to be right until it displaces the error that has been enthroned in the heart of the church.

9. We need courage and tenacity -- and above all we need leaders. It is not for old guys like me to keep on stepping up to the plate, it is for the next generation of Anglicans to say what sort of church they believe God is calling them to be part of.

What I have outlined above is not a program between now and General Convetion 2006, but an outline of what we need to be doing for the next 30-40 years. Unless an awful lot happens to improve longevity, the likes of me will not be around to see the fruits of such a strategy, but the next generation and the generation of my granddaughter to be born next month will see the fruit.

Anglicanism in North America will look very different in that far off time. There will be a rump of revisionists living off the innate spiritual curiosity of the American left, and also on the endowments built up by faithful people that they have commandeered. But there will also be convergences with those outside of the Communion now but on the Canterbury Trail, and, I suspect, some kind of rapproachment with Rome. It has the potential of being a powerful tool in God's hands -- but a lot will depend on how we handle ourselves in the next few years.


Richard M. Wright said...

Wonderful. Thank you. I am grateful for your hopeful realism - or is that realistic hopefulness? ;-)

I do need help following the grammar/sense of this sentence: (QUOTE)But there will also be convergences with those outside of the Communion now but on the Canterbury Trail, and, I suspect, some kind of rapproachment with Rome.(END QUOTE)

Craig Goodrich said...

But there will also be convergences with those outside of the Communion now but on the Canterbury Trail, and, I suspect, some kind of rapproachment with Rome.

I think Richard means to say that along the way we will find convergences with [elements of] the Anglican continuum, which are currently showing a willingness to work more closely with traditional Anglicans still in communion with Canterbury.

In addition, Richard sees orthodox Anglicans increasingly cooperating with and finding common ground with the Roman Catholic Church.

(I hope this helps...)