Skip to comments."We have not abandoned the Communion of the Church"
Posted on 12/12/2006 4:43:23 PM PST by sionnsar
By Dr. Robert Sanders
Special to VirtueOnline
On Nov. 27, 2006 Bishop Howard of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida deprived several priests of the "right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority conferred in ordination." The reason for this was that these priests had abandoned the "communion of this church." (Bishop's letter to those defrocked) I was one of those who were defrocked by the bishop.
I and several others had asked for alternative Episcopal oversight. This was denied. We were first inhibited and then deprived of our spiritual authority.
As this process unfolded, we found other bishops in the Anglican Communion who accepted our ordinations and provided Episcopal oversight as we continued our priestly duties. These events raise several critical questions. First, what is meant by "communion?" Secondly, who decides when someone is in or out of communion and upon what grounds? Further, what happens if one bishop defrocks priests and other bishops, as is the case, affirm their priestly ministry? These are vital and pressing questions for it harms the body of Christ when the faithful see such conflicts played out in the press as is the present case.
To begin with, communion is communion with God the Father through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. The church exists as communion only in so far as she lives in vital relation to God through Christ. Jesus Christ is made known through Word and Sacrament. For a church to remain in communion with God, and for its members to be in communion with God and each other, she must faithfully preserve the integrity of the Word and Sacrament.
To do this requires discipline. Discipline is required because not all persons or churches faithfully preserve Word and Sacrament. Normally, discipline is exercised by bishops. In the case of Bishop Howard and those of us he has defrocked, this discipline has broken down because some bishops uphold our priestly authority whereas Bishop Howard has denied it. This is symptomatic of the conflict that now exists throughout the Anglican Communion.
Anglicanism is a reform movement within the wider stream of Western Christianity. As such, we hold to the faith and practice of the ancient church insofar as it is based on Scripture. In the church of the first few centuries, conflicts between bishops were decided by general counsels that resolved the conflicts and published written norms which preserved orthodox understanding. For example there were bishops on both sides of the Arian controversy on the deity of Christ. The council of Nicaea in 325 resolved the matter and published a Creed which defined the Arian position as a heresy. Something similar needs to happen today.
It is clear that the Episcopal Church no longer upholds the integrity of the Word and Sacrament. She has denied the Word because a number of her bishops do not believe that Jesus Christ the Word is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, the only way to the Father. She has also introduced heretical forms of biblical interpretation that undermine Scripture as the Word of God written. She has traduced the Sacrament in allowing heretics, immoral persons, and even persons of non-Christian faiths to come to Holy Eucharist. She has violated the church's norms on human sexuality.
In light of these heresies, the orthodox throughout the Anglican Communion need to come together and produce a document that defines the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. This document like the Nicene Creed, the Anglican Articles of Religion, or the Barmen Confession needs to specifically deny the heresies involved. Among other things, it needs to affirm Scripture as the final norm and deny experience as a norm alongside Scripture. Further, theological norms for correct biblical interpretation need to be affirmed as the North American Episcopal revisionists claim the authority of Scripture but interpret it from a heretical theological perspective.
There needs to be clear statements on sexuality, including homosexuality. Clear statements on Holy Communion are vital as well as how discipline is exercised in the Church. Fundamental theological doctrines need to be affirmed, such things as Trinity, Incarnation, and the nature of the Church. These can be affirmed by reclaiming the Thirty-Nine Articles as normative for Anglicans along with Anglican formularies and the theology of the 1662 Prayer. Once established, the Anglican Communion would be defined by those churches and persons who are willing to sign this document and enforce its norms. This would be a covenant which defines the boundaries of the Anglican Communion.
There are a number of people throughout the Anglican Communion who affirm the idea of a covenant and are working on its wording. It is certain that the revisionists will work to soften the language of this covenant, especially in relation to sexuality. If the Lambeth 1998 statement on sexuality is upheld, and it should be, efforts will be made to reduce its significance as a norm for membership within the Anglican Communion.
Originally, the Thirty-Nine Articles defined Anglican norms. Candidates to the priesthood were required to believe and uphold the Articles. The Episcopal Church has abandoned that practice, one symptom among many that this church has abandoned the Anglican Communion. Only those churches and persons willing to affirm the covenant should be members of the Anglican Communion. Only persons who believe and uphold the covenant should be priests that Communion. Without theological norms, upheld by constituted authority, we will not have communion in the Anglican Communion. There will be, as it is now, chaos.
Had there been a covenant, if priests and bishops in the Episcopal Church been required to sign a document affirming orthodox theological norms, if there had been discipline in this church upholding those norms, those of us who were stripped of our spiritual authority by Bishop Howard would never have asked for alternative Episcopal oversight.
As it was, we were unwilling to be in Eucharistic fellowship with heretical bishops and immoral persons through the ministry of our bishop. We had asked Bishop Howard, in person and in writing, not to be in communion with such persons and he refused. We felt that to continue in Eucharistic fellowship with a heretical and immoral church was to promote the heresy and immorality.
We were not making claims as to Bishop Howard's orthodoxy, we were however, claiming that he was in Eucharistic fellowship with heretics and immoral persons and we did not want to be in fellowship with such persons through his ministry. We did not abandon the Anglican Communion. We are still in that communion under the oversight of orthodox bishops from abroad. Bishop Howard and the other bishops in the Episcopal Church believe they are in that communion as well. They are not, however, defining that communion in terms of orthodoxy.
The church is defined by her faithfulness to Jesus Christ as revealed in Word and Sacrament. At the time of the Anglican Reformation, Anglicans broke with Rome who defined herself in terms of the bishop of Rome. Anglicans defined themselves in terms of orthodox norms, above all the Articles and the Homilies. The Anglican Communion cannot be defined in terms of a relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor by a common historical origin, nor by a set of common liturgical practices, but by Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, affirmed in Creeds, worshipped in orthodox liturgies, and theologically defined by theological norms in a common covenant that is enforced. That is the way forward.
---The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D. is pastor of Christ Church Anglican, in Jacksonville, Florida. He is VOL's online theologian. His website can be accessed here: www.rsanders.org, www.christchurchjax.com
This article is interesting in two ways; first the author's idea of what communion is and second his solution for the problem presented.
As to the first, well as a canonical matter, communion is not "communion with God". Communion is a relationship among and between bishops representing dioceses. And it is certainly not the relationship between a diocesan bishop and his priests. What these priests have done is precisely what they should have done, openly declare that their bishop, if not a heretic himself, is an enemy of God because he remains in communion with patent heretics. The bishop, of course, does not accept that position since he does not hold with the notion of communion which was and is that of The Church since the days of +Ignatius of Antioch. At any rate, in the context of this bishop's notions of communion, which is apparently that it is no sin to remain in communion with patent heretics, his defrocking of these priests for disobedience (but not this odd idea of abandoning communion) would seem both understandable and appropriate. That other bishops would accept these priests doesn't surprise me in the least. It is clear that there are many Anglican bishops who recognize that heresies are being preached by heresiarchs in TEC. What I would like to know is whether or not those accepting hierarchs have broken communion with Bishop Howard and those in communion with him. If they haven't, then they are absolutely nothing more than officious intermeddlers and should be condemned for accepting defrocked priests into the ranks of their own priests.
Secondly, the author's solution of a council to deal with these matters of heresy is exactly what should be done and the sooner the better. Anglicanism even has a person who fills the role of the Emperor in the early Church, the Queen. She should call a council of the Anglican world and if necessary, preside. That will put an end to this bickering, at least about these subjects, for centuries to come.
A council of all Anglican bishops was assembled at Lambeth Palace in 1998, and they dealt with these issues in no uncertain terms. That still didn't stop some of the heretics from proceeding with their heresies, but it did provide a basis on which those heretics could be (and are currently in the process of being) cast out. The same thing happened at Nicea- those who didn't accept it were tossed out of the Church.
I believe part of what Dr Sanders (whom I personally know) is getting at is that if we're not in Communion with the Lord, then what good is it to be in communion with each other?
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