Sunday, January 29, 2006

Musings on being Schismatic

I am sitting here in a state of dazedness, having survived yet another diocesan convention. I have never enjoyed conventions, and for me each year they become more and more of a pain and a burden. To some, they seem to be meat and drink -- but not me, rather they are something to be endured.

I was privileged to be re-elected to Bishop and Council for the Diocese of Tennessee, although I would prefer the privilege to the work that goes with it. I have found myself wondering in the last 24 hours whether this is the last elected office for which I will ever run and be elected. We will see. Now in our diocese we move on to the electing convention for a new bishop in seven weeks -- which will probably be even less "fun" than the annual gathering we have just endured.

While there were positive things that happened as far as the faithful in the diocese are concerned, the memory that I take away from this particular is the constant drip, drip, drip of misrepresentation and disinformation about the orthodox within the diocese and the wider church. Overtly, covertly, and snidely, the accusation was constantly made that to be orthodox is by definition to be schismatic, bent on destruction of the Episcopal Church. This has been going on for months now, with the Anglican Communion Network being elevated to the level of beast in Revelation in the minds of some, without them ever necessarily even talking to those who are part of the Network to see whether their perception is correct.

It does not seem to matter how many times and how forthrightly those being accused refute such charges, back they come. The refutation of charges has neither been heard, nor listened to. I suspect the rationale behind this is that if you keep throwing enough mud, eventually some is bound to stick. Meanwhile, the fact that we were sitting in that same room participating actively in the affairs of the church would seem to be evidence contrary to these assertions.

Out of curiosity this afternoon I looked up various definitions of a schismatic. One good one read that "schismatic as a noun denotes a person who creates or incites schism in a church or is a member of a splinter church, and schismatic as an adjective refers to ideas and things that are thought to lead towards or promote schism." Other definitions were more or less of the same flavor.

Now consider carefully the definition that a schismatic is someone who creates or incites schism; the adjective is about ideas that promote division. The divisive circumstances in which we find ourselves were certainly not created by those of us who affirm biblical orthodoxy, on the contrary, we pleaded that the actions which have led to our unhappy state would not be taken because we feared turmoil as a result. We were not listened to, and innovations quite contrary to historic Christianity were introduced into the life of the Episcopal Church -- turmoil ensued.

I have said to those of my colleagues who have thrown these words at me and then at least been prepared to hear my response, "Explain to me, please, how I am a schismatic because I am neither believing nor acting in any way differently than I have in the 37 years that I have been ordained. I affirm the same faith and essentially the same moral and ethical values that I did when I was ordained; that was not only perfectly acceptable when the bishop laid hands on me, but, indeed, back then such belief and values were required of me."

I have gone on, "My understanding of that faith has grown, matured and developed, but the substance is essentially the same. When the church acted in a manner which was contrary to how Christians have believed for two millennia then I disassociated myself from its actions. I continue to oppose them for the good of the church. In this I am merely keeping the vow that I made when I knelt before the Bishop of London in St. Paul's Cathedral, that I would be ready, 'with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous doctrines contrary to God's word.' What has happened is contrary to God's word."

Thus, I have told them, that within the context of the church I am not a schismatic, but am being the opposition, the loyal opposition, because I am loyal to what God has revealed and what the church has always held. Indeed, we are not the ones dividing the church with novel ideas, that has been done by those who adhere to what Paul calls "another gospel." All I am doing is defending the church from its own foolishness and unwillingness to live within the parameters that God has set, and its own formularies. My question then is, "How does this make me a schismatic?"

What often follows is usually some flim-flam of the we-know-better-today flavor, etc., etc. I can honestly say that I have yet to received a well-argued theological and philosophical refutation of what I have said, just as I have yet to read a well-argued theological defense of these actions that have divided us. This leaves me wondering why I should believe that an elistist little Protestant sect in North America knows better than the Communion of Saints down through the ages? Such is stance that the likes of C. S. Lewis described as chronological arrogance.

Sometimes when I have had such conversations, there is no attempt at all to answer what I have said, just the sense that I must be some kind of poor, benighted, unthinking, uneducated idiot who is caught in some kind of time warp. What is a medieval like me doing living in the postmodern world? In short, I lack enlightenment, I lack illumination, and I'm not really much of an Anglican!

The truth is that it is because I am a committed Anglican Christian that I wish to be part of the Anglican Communion, rather than be isolated from that Communion, and therefore the whole global ecumenical venture just because I affirm the peculiarities of the Episcopal Church of the USA. As Article XXI of that very Anglican document to which I assented at my ordination, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, asserts, that councils "may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God." Right now we are living with the consequence of a council having erred big time, and then the supporters of that action then turn round and call those of us who stand four-square where the church has stood for centuries schismatics. Something is not right here.

This is nothing other than the total deconstruction of language, which is making the words we use mean what we, the users, want them to mean. It seems to me that we need to keep calling our erring colleagues on this one.

Inciting the unhappy division that is now rending us is the action of those who have stepped aside from what the church has always believed, and how the church has always behaved, in favor of something that is now, fashionable, and in tune with a prevailing culture that has all but shed its Christian clothing. This is not prophetic, it actually has more of the flavor of syncretism. The challenge before us in these circumstances is how to be loving, caring, pastoral, and truth-full all at the same time. This is a huge task, and we haven't even started to go there yet.


James the Thickheaded said...

You nail it on the head. I started to respond to a bit on "Confessing Reader" and thought better of it. Too much the Crumdugeon I guess and the sense of even straighteninoug out would-be Orthodox in our church seems - just not worth it. This is hard work because we can't do the heavy lifting for them. Worse, it is heartbreaking. The Would-be Orthodox seem to accept the Baby-Boomer notion that Tradition is B-A-D by definition. "Heck, even the Reformers overthrew the traditions of the church when they revolted against Rome to cleanse the church." As my priest would say, "N-o-o-o-o-o. I don't think that's quite how it went." But today church government gives everyone a vote...everyone but the inifinitely larger democracy of the dead. Oh, I forgot. We voted the Creed we say every Sunday out. Right. THe Communion of Saints - I guess means something like Open Communion? "N-o-o-o-o. That's not what it was meant to be." We still say the Lord's Prayer only because it actually appears in scripture - Thanks be to God! But I doubt few understand it as St. Cyprian, Tertullian and Origen - in its beauty, its Trinitarian dogma, and it's terrifying oath of fealty. These would-be orthodox fail to grasp that the Reformers sought to restore tradition but erasing the novelties of Rome - claimed as "tradition"...but simply not supported by the true traditions of the early church. I guess when we just will do just about everything but find out what our faith really consists of, we're going to have arguments and spin ourselves tighter and tighter over the point where we give up before we begin - even when it matters. Because we're so used to not knowing what we're arguing - that it doesn't matter most of the time. The Revisionists are on this symptomatic defect to their opposition as a key tactic for getting by.

So how can the catholic party in the church stand when even those who would stand with it can't even get their faith right? The cry that we're all in error, we're all in sin can so easily become a cover for accomodating error rather than repenting to do otherwise. So the intent may be clear, but they give away half their ammo before they even get started. The pretense that this is all about sexuality or liberating civil rights is simply a very big part of the problem....and the would-be orthodox seem to fall into this trap every time. Heck, I can live with homosexuals. That's not the problem. The problem is that I am not convinced we can be a church if we don't have faith and uphold each other's faith by holding each other accountable to it. So the pretense that it is the Anglican way to get along misses is just wrong. There has been a lot of blood blood spilled over the past 400 years....let's not make light of it.

I am a fan of Peter Kreeft's lectures. I agree we are under judgment - not just ECUSA, but all of us. We are a would be remnant that is splintered not within a denomination, but accross several different communions. The sorting out process will happen through convergence, but it frightens me that well meaning would-be Christian folk don't understand the seriousness of our times, that these things do matter, that compromise on fundamentals is to lead us into serious error. And it seems simply as plain as day that just as the well meaning folks of Israel missed the son of god in their midst, missed the meaning "that something was different this time" in the star over Bethlehem at the start, missed the chance to stop the crucifixion, and instead compromised their fundamentals, choosing to avoid a change that would save eternity for a constancy of the peace over the next few minutes. This we do everyday. How can we not see that instead that we are all right, but that we all need to repent and return to the true faith? Yes, even those of us who want to, who even pretend that we have, who would choose to see the terrifying true face of Christ are in danger. Listen to Kreeft's lecture on "Culture Wars" on if you have the opportunity...or any other of the fundamentals. A great speaker, a frighteningly faithful message.

Anonymous said...

Fr Kew, thank you for these deeply personal musings on the willful and, I think, malicious misrepresentation that faithful Anglicans in The Episcopal Church endure.

Reading your comments in the context of having reread Dr Folke Olofsson's reflections "On being a priest in a dying Church" in the Church of Sweden, with their steady slide into unfaithfulness in belief and practice over the past four decades demonstrates how widespread this phenomenon, the misrepresentation or outright demonizing those who hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints, really is.

James, I encourage you to leave a comment at Confessing Reader, however curmudgeonly (I welcome those particularly!). If your comments about the "Would-be Orthodox" are meant to describe me, I have to say that I do not recognize myself in them at all. I would welcome an exchange about what you have to say, but I don't want to monopolize Fr Kew's comment space with the conversation.

Todd Granger said...

My apologies for clicking on the publish button without first entering my name. The preceding comment (#2) was mine.

Ian Montgomery said...

Thanks Richard. I am sitting here at St. Paul's United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya having returned for a medical mission and a brief stint of teaching. Well stated regtarding syncretism. The last ditch cry of the revisionists that WE are the schismatics is in order to hide their syncretism. The Anglican folk here in Kenya fully understand syncretism and know how far ECUSA has fallen into line with the Spirit of the Age. Their are praying for us to continue to resist the false teaching that you and I vowed to oppose back at St. Pauls, now many years ago. Bless you

struggling in diocese of mass said...

Richard, thank you for soldiering on. Diocesan Conventions in Mass are increasingly incoherent, and I come back drained. Someone's got to be there, but it's incredibly depressing to realize there really is no "there" there in terms of gospel proclamation. The sad thing is they--our bishops,, truly don't know it. My overall impression? A stockholders' annual meeting with a vague religious overlay.

The Anglican Scotist said...

Before joining your argument, it might be wise to establish what it is that should be shown.

Is there any evidence that would convict you, against your feelings and your conscience, that you are indeed schismatic?

Anonymous said...

Drell recently mentioned a movie called 'CONFLICT" which was aired in the early 70s as "CATHOLICS." You can find it at Amazon. It was set, ironically, in the then-near future at the turn of the century. In the movie, the Catholic Church had become much like the ECUSA is becoming, with pluriform beliefs the imposed norm. A small abbey had begun having the old Latin Mass, and people were coming by the multitudes. A much younger, and thinner, Martin Sheen played a Jesuit trouble shooter sent to put a stop to this. Tevor Howard played the conflicted abbot. At the end, after agreeing to stop the practice, he looks half to the camera, and half to Heaven, and says something close to "And so yesterday's orthodoxy becomes today's heresy." Except for getting the denomination wrong, it was an amazingly prophetic move.


Anonymous said...

Is there any evidence that would convict you, against your feelings and your conscience, that you are indeed schismatic?

I can't speak for Richard Kew+, but I will point out that, in historical fact, schism arises from insisting on something new that is not supported by the wider Church, not in continuing to hold to what is old in the face of a small group of sectarians.

This definition has held for a very long time. Sometimes facts are just facts.

Your question is, to me, similar to, "Is there any argument that would convince you that you are a poached egg?"

On the other hand, let's remember what Chesterton pointed out about heresy--until very recently, it was always the other guy who was the heretic.

Foley Beach said...

Hi Richard:

Wonderful and thoughtful piece!! I have to wonder why being schismatic now seems to be equated with “blasmphemy against the Holy Spirit?” Is there not an appropriate Biblical mandate to be schismatic? (i.e. I Corintians 5). Yes, Jesus prayed for unity in John 17, but that comes after the “his truth” and “our sanctification” portion of his prayer (John 17:13-20). Where would we be without the schismatic reformers of Luther, Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer? Our Anglican heritage was birthed in schism (to use the understanding of those of whom you speak).

To be holy means to be set a part. There comes a time when the Holiness of God demands it. From one who has walked away from ECUSA, I can say with upmost authority, we insult the work and ministry of Christ when we are unequally yolked with those who make a mockery of his holiness. To be unshackled is painful and sorrowful, but I would never trade the Presence of the Lord and freedom of the Holy Spirit which being in communion and under the authority of godly, holy, and apostolic bishops has brought to my life and ministry.

Bless you, my brother, and I hope our paths cross again real soon. You are a hero of The Faith!

Richard Kew said...

The Anglican Scotist asks a fair questions, so I will answer it fairly. While I think that we all have those days when we wish we were somewhere else, I have never yet seriously considered leaving ECUSA. I don't like what it has become, but I do not intend to walk away from this major engagement that is taking place as error invades the church. I suspect my departure from ECUSA will be when my wife and I eventually leave the USA and "retire" back home in England -- at which point I take up again my involvement in the life of the church of my ordination.

I stand with John Stott that I will not keel over in the face of error, neither will I leave (which is the easy way out of a difficult situation), but I will stay and contend for the truth of the revealed truth, and its ethical and moral implications. I am not by nature a fighter, so don't expect me to enjoy it!

Part of the contending for the truth, however, is seeking to rebuild more appropriately that which is broken. ECUSA as presently configured is beyond repair. The time has come to rethink entirely what it means to be an Anglican in North America, and how the church that we live in today can be reshaped to be an enable of mission rather than a destroyer of mission.

doug Atkin said...

Someone should write a book about how to 'do' a reformation. The revisionists just don't seem to get it!

Michael said...

As an Alpha leader I am constantly amazed at the reactions I get, when we introduce the whole concept of "the devil" as a recognizable, sensible, spoiling concept, yea even a person. It is also just as stunning to me at how my daily difficulties increase exponentially as the next Alpha approaches, and then magnify on the weeks I have particularly good attendance.

As "Jacks" would have put it when asked "Do you mean, at this particular time of the day, to re-introduce the concept of Old Hob, hoofs, horns and all?" Well, I don't know what the time of day has to do with it, but yes, how can one examine in any detail the trials and tribulations of the Anglican Church worldwide, and ECUSA, and not see the Dark One at work.

The subtlety is stunning, is it not? Gradually let Modernism infiltrate all elements of our thinking, carefully segment church and state, even throwing into the mix insane folks who are labeled "evangelicals" by the media who do horrible things ostensibly in the name of God.

Well, my prayers and thanks go to you, Bishop Kew, for defining the conflict and drawing the battle lines. Like you, I detest the conflict, I'm not a great fighter, but the clarity in the response to my prayers is stunning: "Love them, but do not leave them out in the cold." So there will be no leaving for me, or mine, anytime soon.

Pray for us all....mrb

Richard Kew said...

Michael said, "Well, my prayers and thanks go to you, Bishop Kew, for defining the conflict and drawing the battle lines."

I have been addressed in a lot of ways in my time: Reverend, Father, Mister, Professor, Doctor, or just Hey You, but I have never been addressed as "Bishop" before. May the saints in heaven preserve me and the church from such a horrifying eventuality. I guess like all priests I have entertained the thought once in a while, but I know deep down that I have neither the stomach nor the mental constitution for such a ministry. Fortunately, at 60 I am now beyond the age when such ideas might be taken seriously!

Thanks for the compliment, however.

A. Noël said...

I found my way here via a Google search. I've bookmarked this site and look forward to reading more.

I confess I made the same mistake as the previous commenter, because of this sentence: "I was privileged to be re-elected to Bishop and Council for the Diocese of Tennessee, ..." Perhaps that sentence can be worded a bit differently for those of us entirely new to your acquaintance.

Richard Kew said...

OK, the Bishop and Council of the Diocese of Tennessee is the name that is given to our diocesan council. It is the body that manages the affairs of the diocese on a week-by-week basis.