Friday, February 10, 2006

Unpicking the Newark Resolution

Just as I was going to bed last night I picked up my email and found amidst the clutter a copy of a resolution from the Diocese of Newark to General Convention. As I glanced at it I realized that not only did this reflect a significant ignorance of catholic Christianity, but also of Anglicanism. Furthermore it is deeply flawed by the contemporary addiction to radical relativism, non-rationality, and an inability to think in a disciplined manner. I thought this might be a place just to review what Newark is saying.


TITLE: The Importance of the Anglican Communion

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention declare that the Anglican Communion is a precious gift which we treasure, that there is and always has been a wide diversity of disciplines practiced by various parts of the Communion, and we therefore affirm the right and obligation of every province to apply the Gospel and its values to its specific cultural context, and to respect the decisions that other provinces make for their people.

This resolution, as far as I can see, does not accept that within Anglican Christianity there are any real boundaries, instead they would rather major of DIVERSITY, a slippery word that is usally twinned with INCLUSIVITY, an equally eel-like commodity. Yes, there is a significant cultural variety within the Anglican world, and having traveled to a lot of places I have seen this. This is inevitable in a global community of Christians because we are made up of people of many races, languages, ethnicities, tribes, and nations.

However, what is absolutely clear about Anglican Christianity is that the overwhelming majority if these many peoples within our fold may express their faith with external differences appropriate to their culture, but they affirm the same fundamentals of the faith, and seek to live by the same ethical and moral principles. Thus, the notion of diversity being affirmed here is different from the diversity we find within Anglican Christianity.

However, working from their own idiosyncratic relativistic presuppositions they then go on to say that every province has the right to apply the Gospel to its own specific cultural context. Certainly, one of the important elements of an effective missiology is to to contextually appropriate, but what they imply by this is that they can shape what they consider the faith to be to their particular culture. We are commissioned by Christ to translate the Gospel into the culture, not to adapt the faith to the prevailing culture.

Furthermore, if we are going to affirm the principle of contextualization, why should we stop at a particular national culture? This one huge nation is made up of many cultures and regions. The chi-chi relativistic ethics of the Diocese of Newark might be just the thing in their part of Northern New Jersey, but why should they, for example, impose them on the very conservative part of Tennessee in which I live and work and where such things are considered offensive by a vast majority of the population?

If we are going to be contextual in this way why stick with such a huge unit as a province? The Gospel is a grassroots thing, and our mission is to reach the grassroots, if we are to be consistent to their inner logic then we must go down to the very basic cultural contexts of every community and make our decisions there. At least every diocese has the right to adapt to its own cultural environment, but why not every parish or small cell group? Of course, the outcome would be anarchy -- but then we have that already...


EXPLANATION:

One of the core characteristics of the Anglican tradition is that we have always placed a primary value on pastoral care. This means the constant application of the Gospel to the current contextual reality. This is one of the reasons that the Anglican Communion has chosen to be autocephalous in structure. Each national church is independent so that it can determine how best to apply the Gospel to its own specific context. The spiritual needs of the United States are likely to be somewhat different in specific ways from those in Africa or Asia. The Communion has always allowed the national churches to make their own decisions about how to minister to their people and to respect each other's obligations to make those decisions.

Now we start getting into real trouble, because yes, Anglicanism is a pastoral tradition, but it is a great deal more than that. It is pastoral within the context of a theological and ecclesial continuity. What Newark is doing is to break that continuity so that pastoral can then means letting everyone do what is right in their own eyes. And, no, Anglicanism is not entirely autocephalous. The Communion has always talked about Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence, which means that when we act we act in accord with our sisters and brothers elsewhere in the Anglican world. There was a big push (led by an American) in the 1960s to assert our Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence, and how here is an American diocese in the maverick American province denying that reality.

Yes, the spiritual needs of the United States have a different flavor than, say, Singapore, but it is the same Lord and same Gospel that needs to be applied appropriately in all places within the parameters of what is legitimate catholicity. Besides, if Newark are saying that they do not want other parts of the Communion to lay their trip on them, why shouldn't Tennessee or South Carolina, or Texas turn round and say to Newark, what right do you have to lay your cultural trip on us?

The problem is that Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence have to be worked at, as is the case in all human relationships, and the Neward diocese doesn't really want to work within the discipline of those relationships as part of the larger communion of saints. Rather, as has so often been the case with we westerners, they want to act imperially and unilaterally, and then say that it is too bad if you don't like it. I suspect those who put this together howl at some of the actions of the United States around the world, but do they not see that they are acting in just the same way? Our present troubles should be teaching us biblical humility in the midst of our fellow-Christians, but I am afraid we have yet to even begin learning that lesson.

We see the current crisis as a difference over what is doctrine and what is discipline. Those who desire the Episcopal Church to revoke its decision regarding The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson see the Episcopal Church as having abandoned the doctrine of the Bible and of the Church. We who uphold the election of Bishop Robinson see the matter as one of how that unchanged doctrine is applied to our current societal context. In the heresy trial of The Rt. Rev. Walter Righter in 1991, we formally decided that the formularies for doctrine, i.e. the Creeds, are silent on the matter of human sexuality, and therefore a core doctrine is not at stake.
Much of the debate concerns the role of Scripture in Christian decisions about behavior. This also is a matter not covered by the Creeds. It is covered in the tradition, but with much variation of approach. Therefore, much disagreement should be expected and tolerated before breaking communion.

(Submitted by the Episcopal Diocese of Newark - Annual Convention, January 28, 2006)

Now we get to the interesting stuff, for here begins the work of deconstruction, and we are basing it upon the flimsy evidence of an ecclesiastical court ruling that was deeply flawed, and not upon the mind of the whole church. There is, you notice, no attempt to defend their actions from the base of Scripture, but just to infer that those of us who accept that God's authority is known through the written word are wrong, while they have a position that is at least allowable, but by implication is correct. One of the things about the deconstructionist mindset is that there seems to be a minimum of intellectual rigor or honesty. This is reader receptiveness at its most extreme, and already the thoughtful in academia, for example, are recognizing that deconstruction as an approach does not have a long shelf life.

We also see a misuse of the Creeds, which were never intended in a thousand years to be summaries of the behavioral implications of the substance of what we believe. The Christian faith as we Anglicans understand it, is a great deal more than what can be stuffed into the Nicene Creed. Wanting to limit the essence of Christian discipleship to the historic Creeds is like suggesting that everything I need to know about American citizenship is summed up in the Pledge of Allegiance!

Hidden within this resolution is the typical strategy of so many of those on the "progressive" end of the spectrum to keep repeating something constantly enough in the belief that if it isn't true or correct, then it will become true and correct. I studied theology in one seminary and two universities, and I have no doubt that the knowledge of Anglicanism, church history, theology, and Scripture that this resolution displays would have received a failing grade in all those places -- and, by the way, only one of them was on the orthodox end of the spectrum.

1 comment:

James the Thickheaded said...

The Athanasian Creed will do a number on most of the squeamish. It's specificity of the manner and extent of belief is sooooo detailed that one reading tells you why they kept it out of the Prayerbook. I think one of the "Comfortable Words" of the Affirmation of St. Louis lies in the subscription to this Creed as well as the Nicene and Apostles. And I see the problem a bit differently: how can a church that votes against the Nicene creed at its convention (2003 and previously as well) dare to present itself as either catholic or apostolic? As Anglicans, we can't claim to lack for courage. Nope. I think the holes in the argument lie elsewhere.