Skip to comments.The Lectures of Archbishop Robin Eames: A Critique and evaluation
Posted on 10/14/2005 5:49:17 PM PDT by sionnsar
Recently, Archbishop Robin Eames, chair of the Windsor Commission and Anglican Primate of Ireland gave two lectures at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), followed by a lecture at Yale. He received honorary doctorates from both. This essay is a response to those lectures.
By the Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders
EXCLUSIVE TO VIRTUEONLINE
October 14, 2005
As is widely known, the Anglican Communion is in crisis and Archbishop Eames described how the crisis emerged and how it can possibly be resolved. Among other things, he urged Anglicans to adopt a common covenant. I affirm a covenant and will comment on that in this essay. At the same time, however, the Archbishop did not adequately address two fundamental realities -- doctrine and discipline. As a result, he did not lead the way forward. Rather, his lectures, both by omission and commission, placed loyalty to Anglicanism -- its persons, processes, and structures -- above loyalty to doctrine, sacraments, and discipline. Or, to put it another way, the lectures placed the Church above its own norms as found in Scripture, confirmed by tradition, and essential to authentic Anglicanism. Allow me to explain.
The Archbishop's central message was straightforward. The Anglican Communion is in crisis. He spent considerable time describing the historical and cultural origins of this crisis. To summarize, the Anglican Communion was once held together by "bonds of affection." These bonds were sufficient when there was "agreement on fundamental principles" (VTS). This agreement on "fundamental principles" was threatened, however, with the growth of autonomous provinces who were jealous of their "cultural as well as doctrinal freedom" (VTS, Yale)." The result was a "new emphasis on cultural as well as doctrinal divergence" (VTS, Yale). These divergences, cultural and doctrinal, placed severe strains on the "bonds of affection" which proved inadequate when "events in ECUSA and in particular the diocese of New Hampshire in 2004 lit a fire" (VTS, Yale). This, in his view, is the "reality" (VTS) of the present situation.
What should be done about the crisis? In light of his experience in Northern Ireland, the Archbishop recommends reconciliation between the conflicting parties. Reconciliation, he says, entails four elements:
First, reconciliation cannot be enforced. Reconciliation comes when parties wish to be reconciled. Second, reconciliation involves pain just as the situation to be reconciled causes hurt. Third, reconciliation does not mean the total achievement of individual aims. It speaks of honest compromise. Fourth, reconciliation involves recognition of the possible and acknowledgement of difference (VTS).
Reconciliation, of course, entails dialogue. Dialogue, however, requires an "agreed transparent basis" (VTS and Yale), a "wider theological context" (Yale), and "essentials on which there must be universal acceptance" (VTS). Lamentably, the Archbishop sees little evidence of a shared perspective which would make dialogue possible.
But what alarms me about our current crisis is the failure to engage in dialogue on an agreed playing field between two apparently opposing views. If Anglicanism is to maintain a global community dialogue on an agreed transparent basis is essential. Sadly, so far I have found little evidence that such a process is taking place (VTS, Yale).
Further, the Archbishop urges the Anglican Communion to adopt a covenant. In fact, he thinks such a covenant inevitable. "I for one am convinced that eventually Anglicanism will incorporate the Covenant principle in some form" (VTS). As an example of covenant, the Archbishop affirmed the covenant submitted by the Windsor Report.
Finally, the Archbishop suggests that Anglicans develop structures by which to "hold the line of relationships when the respective parts of that relationship are moving into unchartered waters" (VTS, Yale). By "structures," I think he means ecclesial structures such as the instruments of unity or the structures envisioned in the Windsor Report Covenant.
In short, the Archbishop affirms reconciliation, dialogue, structures, and covenant as the way forward.
As the Archbishop spoke he alluded several times to what he termed "doctrinal divergence." For example, in the context of his brief history of growing autonomy within the Anglican Communion, he noted that this "development was to place new emphasis on cultural as well as doctrinal divergence" (VTS, Yale). Or again, increasing confidence in emerging provinces led to "jealous protection of cultural as well as doctrinal freedom" (VTS, Yale). At one point the Archbishop seemed to imply that divergence in doctrine was a result of cultural divergence. He mentions, a "changing world picture of growing cultural and therefore doctrinal practice" (VTS, Yale). Aside from a few allusions, the Archbishop did not explore the matter of doctrinal divergence in any depth. Let me explore the matter further, beginning with a quotation from the Archbishop's address.
"Are there essentials on which there must be universal acceptance if Provinces are to be in complete communion? Are there issues which diversity protects, on which there can be disagreements, but which are not essential to full communion? If there are to be different levels of essentials or non-essentials in this sense - who decides into which category any action by an individual Church should fall?" (VTS)
This, of course, is the critical question. What are the essentials? It is impossible to have a Communion without essentials. Further, these essentials must be enforced. A communion without discipline is not a communion. Does Anglicanism have essentials and a way of enforcing them? Yes, of course. The Nicene Creed is an essential norm for all Anglicans. The evidence for this is overwhelming. The Covenant proposed by the Windsor Report, for example, states that the members of the Anglican Communion must uphold the "essentials of the apostolic faith, as summed up in the Creeds" (Appendix Two, Article 1).
There are other essentials as well. The teaching of Scripture, the tradition, and the beliefs of early Anglicanism insist that there be some minimal level of theological and moral agreement before sharing Eucharist together. That also is an essential. It is also essential that those who commit egregious and public immoral acts, those who deny fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, be disciplined. Historically, this discipline has taken two forms. The weaker penalty is exclusion from the Eucharist, the stronger denial of any form of fellowship. It is the special role of bishops to guard Christian truth, to protect the ancient doctrine, to embody moral norms, and to discipline those who publicly refuse to abide by or affirm these norms. All these are essential and it is useless for me to document these facts as they are widely known. Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Anglican Articles of Religion, the Prayer Books, concur -- doctrine and Eucharistic discipline are essential. Without them there is no Church. Apart from them, Anglicanism cannot exist.
Now, let me give one example, one of many, of Anglican teaching that violates the Creed and thereby denies an essential element of Anglicanism. I refer to the theology of John Macquarrie, former Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. I choose him because he is a highly respected Anglican theologian and he is studied in a number of our U.S. seminaries. Furthermore, Archbishop Eames must certainly be aware of his teaching.
Macquarrie does not believe in miracles. Therefore he cannot believe in the virgin birth, the empty tomb and bodily resurrection, or the creation of the universe out of nothing. Here is Macquarrie on the virgin birth, the resurrection, and creation.
First among these special "moments" in the career of Jesus comes the nativity. There can be little doubt that the stories that have come down to us are legendary rather than historical (Principles of Christian Theology, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977, p. 280).
There would be no profit in speculating about the nature of these appearances, any more than trying to establish that the tomb was empty. As with the other miracles, the miracle of the resurrection is ambiguous. The skeptic will see in it nothing but a subjective vision or hallucination; but from the view of faith it is the perception of the self-giving of Christ in depth, so that this Christ is seen as the one in whom God is. Faith is born that God is indeed self-giving love and that life is truly attained through death, and this is the Easter faith (Macquarrie, p. 289).
The exposition of creatureliness in terms of dependence puts to the side the question about creation as a beginning in time. ... Theology can have nothing to say on this matter, and, on the other hand, whatever answer science may produce, this would not affect the doctrine of creation, as it is expounded here. For this doctrine is not an assertion that things began at a given time in the past, but is an attempt to describe the characteristics of creaturely beings (Macquarrie, p. 216).
Since Macquarrie does not believe in miracles, he considers the virgin birth a "legendary" story. Further, he considers it pointless to wonder whether Jesus rotted in the tomb or not. Rather, he considers the "resurrection" a mythic way of expressing the fact that the disciples saw Jesus' death on the cross "in depth," that is, as the expression of God's self-giving love." In other words, the resurrection was a subjective event in the minds of the disciples rather than something that happened to Jesus and the disciples. Nor does he care whether there was a time when the universe did not exist. In his view, the Genesis stories of creation are a mythic story describing our present dependence on God, not about creation at some moment in the past.
All this is a direct violation of the Nicene Creed. Bishop Eames has to know this. Further, he must know that Macquarrie is not alone. There are many professors, bishops, and priests, both in the States and in England, who have views similar to Macquarrie. It would have been helpful, at the point where the Archbishop mentioned "doctrinal divergence," for him to have given his listeners some concrete examples of these divergences. Along with Macquarrie, he could have mentioned Bishop Spong who believes the empty tomb is tommyrot, the traditional doctrine of the crucifixion an example of child abuse, the virgin birth a myth to cover up Jesus' illegitimacy, the notion of a theistic God nonsense, and the doctrine of the incarnation bankrupt. Or the Archbishop could have mentioned the fact that a majority of the House of Bishops at the 2003 ECUSA General Convention voted against the authority of Scripture while a minority affirmed that authority. Or, the Diocese of Maryland in convention refused a few years ago to pass a motion that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life," an affirmation subsequently affirmed by a minority in the Baltimore Declaration. These represent significant a "doctrinal divergence," a critical part of the reality of the Anglican Communion.
Given this "doctrinal divergence," what must be done? Let me first consider the Archbishop's ideas on reconciliation. Point three of his four-point program is "honest compromise." Is there any "honest compromise" between the belief that Jesus rotted in the tomb with the belief that he rose bodily from the grave? Or, what "honest compromise" exists between a virgin birth and an illegitimate birth? Or, perhaps there is some form of "honest compromise" between Jesus being Lord and other persons or gods being Lord. Perhaps these honest differences are disagreements "which are not essential to full communion." In that case, can we discover other "Christian" beliefs as an "agreed transparent basis" for dialogue? If so, what would they be? If such beliefs were orthodox, they would be denied by Spong and the heretics. If the "agreed transparent basis" were vague affirmations, suitable to the heretics, they would be denied by the orthodox. That is why dialogue is impossible. The opposing parties hold two utterly opposed world-views. The Archbishop needed to tell us that.
Although the Archbishop ignored the doctrinal division which afflicts our Communion, he did focus on Bishop Robinson and the Windsor Report. But that leads to a question. What is the relation between Bishop Robinson and the theological apostasy found in ECUSA and elsewhere? There is a relationship. I have yet to see a single writer affirming homosexual unions who are also orthodox with an orthodox approach to Scripture. In general, their approach to Scripture is modalistic. I have documented this in detail on my web page (www.rsanders.org). Bishop Robinson is a symptom, a symptom of a much deeper problem, the problem of theological truth. The Archbishop and the Windsor Report did not address that problem -- the heretical perspective that gave birth to the false scriptural teaching on sexual morality. In the words of the Archbishop, "As I have explained on numerous occasions this Report [Windsor] did not enter into the wider theological questions raised" (Yale). Even if ECUSA complies with Windsor at its next General Convention, which is unlikely, the theological problem remains. For this reason, I believe the Windsor Report is flawed. It did not deal with pressing doctrinal issues and thereby raised the possibility that revisionists in ECUSA will somehow bend enough to satisfy Windsor and yet retain their heresies. This would allow heresy to become "legitimate," as if rampart heresy was addressed by forestalling the consecration of practicing homosexuals. The Anglican Communion must address the cause, not merely the symptom. Until the cause is addressed, there will always be symptoms, an unending stream of them. The next step, one of a number in ECUSA, is to open the Holy Eucharist to non-Christians.
How then should the Church deal with false doctrine? One could ask, for example, if there have been other occasions when "doctrinal divergences" confronted the Church. Were there ever disagreements over such things as the divinity of Christ, the authority and integrity of Scripture, or whether God created the universe? One could ask what Anglicans did at the time of the Reformation when there was a "doctrinal divergence" with Rome. To ask these simple questions, questions omitted by the Archbishop, is to see at once that these questions have long been addressed. We need to do what the Church has always done and believe what the Church has always believed. We need to uphold the covenant we already have, namely the Creeds, before pressing on to a new covenant. Nor do not need further dialogue on a number of matters. The Church long ago decided that it was heresy to deny the Nicene Creed. Why dialogue over something that is obvious? Bishop Spong is obviously a heretic, yet he has not been stripped of his office by the ECUSA House of Bishops. That should have happened long ago. Why ask Anglicans worldwide to continue the dialogue on homosexuality? It is contrary to Lambeth, 1998, to Scripture as traditionally understood, to the teaching of the Church for two thousand years, and to the wishes of our significant ecumenical partners. Why further discussion? I thought it significant when Archbishop Eames stated that the liberals on the Windsor Commission only signed on with the understanding that "dialogue" would continue (Yale). I would suggest, however, that if we wish to dialogue on human sexuality, that we first deal with critical doctrinal issues. On the core doctrines there can be no debate, none. Discipline is what is needed.
I think of Hooker, who wrote: "Against which poison [heresy] likewise if we think that the Church at this day needeth not those ancient preservatives which ages before us were so glad to use, we deceive ourselves greatly. The weeds of heresy being grown unto such ripeness as that was, do even in the very cutting down scatter oftentimes those seeds which for a while lie unseen and buried in the earth, but afterward freshly spring up again no less pernicious than at the first." (Hooker, Lawes, V,xlii,13)
What are these "ancient preservatives?" Along with Scripture and tradition, the primary preservatives are the Creeds and the discipline of the church. I would recommend that the orthodox confer together and sever Eucharistic ties with those who publicly and egregiously deny Christian faith and practice. For the moment, I think the milder Eucharistic discipline sufficient. Fellowship and dialogue can still occur through the Instruments of Unity. This will allow time for repentance and clarification.
Would such actions be too precipitous? The false teaching that infects ECUSA didn't begin just yesterday. It goes back at least as far as Schleiermacher (1768-1834). It has been building in ECUSA for decades. It can only be defeated by resolute long-term resistance which does not rest until the theological problem has been thoroughly addressed. That, in my view, can only happen if we have an Anglican Reformation. A group of scholars, under the leadership of Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison, are working to that end. You can learn more about it by searching the Web under the title, "Mere Anglicanism."
Eucharistic discipline is already happening. At the last meeting of the primates in Dromantine, a number of primates refused to share Eucharist with the Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of ECUSA. Most notably, the Anglican Province of Nigeria recently erased all references to the See of Canterbury in its constitution and proclaimed itself only in communion with "all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the historic Faith, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" (VTS, Yale). Nigeria also claimed the right to provide Episcopal oversight to Anglicans in other dioceses. The Archbishop views this development with alarm, a major step forward in the unraveling of the Anglican Communion. In his words,
This wording not only removes what the Windsor Report described as "the pivotal" role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the instrument of unity but perhaps of greater significance challenges the concept of Communion as understood throughout Anglican history. Acceptance of an individual Province's view of orthodoxy becomes the basis for relationship. Further the revision of its Constitution states that in all questions of interpretation of faith and doctrine the decision of the Church of Nigeria shall be final (Yale).
Placed in its Provincial context it is arguable that such developments as this in one of our numerically strongest Churches can be understood on grounds of frustration, alienation and bewilderment. But placed in the context of the Communion at large I feel concern as to its implications for other Anglican entities. It raises questions of principle; it underlines the need to find that level and agreed playing field for which I have appealed. It also has something to say about contemporary understandings of "bonds of affection" and "relationships" (Yale)
It is not at all clear that Nigeria has arrogated to itself "all questions of interpretation of faith and doctrine." I read the relevant material on their web page and concluded that their statement leaves them free to consult prior to any decisions to deny communion. I am certain that they are in consultation with the orthodox throughout the Anglican world. Frankly, as one in favor of a covenant, I would prefer a conciliar approach to doctrinal and moral differences, but until a binding covenant is put in place, every province is responsible for its own decisions in concert with others.
More to the point, the Nigerians have addressed the fundamental issue -- doctrine and discipline. They are willing to impose discipline, namely, break communion and protect the orthodox in other dioceses. Further, when the Archbishop states that Nigeria's action "underlines the need to find that level and agreed playing field for which I have appealed," he ignores the fact that the Church has already "found" a level playing field, the "historic Faith, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." When Archbishop Eames states that such a level playing field is missing, it becomes clear that he is primarily thinking of the Church in terms of an agreed process for dialogue and adjudication rather than doctrine, sacrament, and discipline. Nor does the fact that the Nigerians erased all references to the Archbishop of Canterbury necessarily challenge "the concept of Communion as understood throughout Anglican history." Again, the Archbishop appears to understand Anglicanism in terms of personal loyalties rather than loyalty to God's revealed Truth. Let me quote part of Article XIX of the Articles of Religion, changing only one word, "As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Canterbury hath erred, not only in their manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith." I am not claiming that Canterbury has erred, I am simply saying that Anglicanism is not ultimately defined by loyalty to a specific person, but in terms of doctrine, sacraments, and discipline. If this isn't true, Anglicans should still be under the tutelage of Rome.
I also think it amiss to suggest that Nigeria's actions were the result of "frustration, alienation and bewilderment." I don't think they are bewildered. They can think. They know theology. The African bishops have more advanced theological degrees than ECUSA bishops. They must know that a goodly number of bishops, priests, and professors in such places as the U.S., England, and Canada have denied essential Christian beliefs. In the words of Archbishop Akinola, "Some find the historic tenets of our common beliefs old fashioned and unacceptable to their modern culture" (Press Briefing by Archbishop Akinola, September 29, 2005). Finally, in regard to Nigeria's actions, Archbishop Eames states that "schism could quickly become a reality if we all start doing that sort of thing" (VTS) We must be clear. If the ECUSA Bishops, starting with Bishop Pike in the 1950's and up until the present with Bishop Spong, had done "that sort of thing," we would not be in the present crisis. Sooner or later, discipline must be imposed. The sooner the better for a body without discipline is doomed.
What must be done at the local level? This is not the place to go into great detail. From everything I know, Anglicans at the local level are in fellowship with the larger church through their bishops. Within ECUSA, the orthodox cannot be in Eucharistic fellowship with bishops in fellowship with the ECUSA House of Bishops. That body is riddled with heresy and immorality. The only alternative is to find a bishop who refuses Eucharistic fellowship with the ECUSA bishops. For many, this means alternative Episcopal oversight.
Once we make that decision, we are delivered from a load of worry and care. We do not need to worry about the future of the Anglican Communion, or about continued dialogue, or Windsor, or what will happen at the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church, or whether the Episcopal bishops complied with Windsor. It is important to address these matters, but sorting them out is ultimately God's problem. Our number one priority is obedience, doing what we believe God has called us to do. That is what I found most amiss in the Archbishop's address. He called us to respect a process, to act in charity, and to seek understanding. These are general values that apply to all Christian behavior. At no point, however, did he ever specify what God in Jesus Christ, known in Scripture, the tradition, and historic Anglicanism, calls us to do when confronted with massive violations of essential doctrine and practice. Rather, by omission and by commission, the lectures placed loyalty to the Anglican Communion, its persons, processes, and history, above the eternal witness to the Truth.
--The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Sanders holds a Ph.D. from Graduate Theological Union and the University of California Graduate School in Berkeley. He has studied the Theology of the Modern Period, Apocalyptic and Nuclear War, William James and Karl Barth, Mathematics, Science, and Theology. He holds an M. Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. Dr. Sanders was a priest in the Episcopal Church, but recently joined the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and is planting a church in Jacksonville, Florida.
This report is exclusive to VirtueOnline (http://www.virtueonline.org). It may be forwarded with all attachments, but it may not be excerpted or changed.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.