Skip to comments.Firearms [Christopher Johnson on Anglicanism]
Posted on 12/21/2006 10:19:25 AM PST by sionnsar
Where did Anglican Christianity go wrong? Some people trace Anglicanism's decline all the way back to the Elizabethan Settlement. According to these, the idea of a Protestant Church that dresses Catholic is ultimately unworkable; one can be one or the other but not both. Others cite the 1930 Lambeth Conference resolution allowing birth control as proof that Anglicanism had sold out to the zeitgeist.
Although there is some truth to both these ideas, I think they miss the mark. Despite its structural weaknesses, Anglican Christianity has, over the centuries, produced some of the finest servants of God and proclaimers of Christ to be found anywhere. It produced the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, one of the greatest pieces of devotional literature in the English language. And Lambeth resolutions by themselves are meaningless; after all, resolutions passed at one conference can be repealed at another.
The Episcopal Church, and perhaps Anglicanism itself, started south here:
Not many Episcopal bishops agree with the dogma-smashing theological views of the Rt. Rev. James A. Pike, recently resigned head of the California diocese. On the other hand, not many Episcopal bishops want to see him put on public trial for heresy, either. Last week in Wheeling, W. Va., at its annual meeting, the House of Bishops adopted a compromise, plague-on-both-sides statement of principles that blistered Pike for his "offensive" and "irresponsible" utterances meaning his skepticism about such doctrines as the Virgin Birth and the Trinity. At the same time, the house deplored the notion of a heresy trial as a "throwback to centuries when the law sought to repress and penalize unacceptable opinions."
In order to head off Louttits formal presentation of the heresy charge, Presiding Bishop John T. Hines had named an ad hoc committee to prepare a general statement that would reflect the consensus of the house. The committee was headed by the Rt. Rev. Angus Dun, 74, the retired Bishop of Washington who, in 1946, ordained Pike to the priesthood. Duns committee proposed rebuking Pike instead of trying him. The debate on its recommendation became in effect a trial by rhetoricnot so much of Pike as of the church itself.
A host of Pike supporters took turns deploring the severity of the statement. The Rt. Rev. John P. Craine of Indianapolis argued that "This is far too precipitant an action. The accused was not allowed the privilege of sitting on the committee." Pikes successor in California, the Rt. Rev. C. Kilmer Myers, declared that the tone of the report "suggests that we are already at trial." Perhaps the most eloquent defense came from Washingtons Suffragan Bishop Paul Moore Jr. "Why is it that the house has not censured any of the rest of us who have spoken, acted out or allowed to occur within our diocese greater blasphemies than the treatment of items of doctrine less than solemnly? I speak of church doors closed against members of another race, clergy denied backing of their bishop because of their Christian social views, public impugning of the motives of fellow bishops."
Nonetheless, the bishops, by a vote of 103 to 36, approved the statement, with two minor deletions. The statement rejected the "tone and manner" of Pikes theologizing as "highly disturbing within the communion of the church," criticized his writings as being too often "marred by caricatures of treasured symbols." The criticism of Pike was apparently good enough for Louttit; at a caucus later, he and his fellow bishops on the "Committee for the Defense of the Faith" agreed to drop their demand for a trial.
Pike was irate at the report. Calling upon a seldom-used Episcopal canon, he petitioned Hines for a formal investigation of the "rumors, reports and allegations affecting my personal and official character." Hines countered by allowing a cooling-off period before naming an investigative committee. Softening the blow against Pike, the house then voted to set up a council to "help rethink, restructure and renew the church" something that Pike has been proposing for years.
In a way, it's incorrect to say that Anglicanism doesn't have a Magisterium. It does; the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles. But I've often said that a Magisterium is like a gun. It's only effective if people know that you are willing to use it. And over the last 40 years, Rome's "gun" has been fired frequently while New York's has been gathering dust.
Rome greatly values its doctrines and isn't afraid to be called "medieval" in order to defend them. The Episcopalians, on the other hand, were and are horrified at the idea of offending the culture. So in 1966, the bishops bent over backwards to avoid actually having to try Pike for heresy, a word many of them probably couldn't even make themselves say.
Eventually, good Anglicans that they all were, they split the difference. They deplored what Pike believed and also deplored the idea of putting him on trial for those beliefs. And the bishop who originally brought the charges pronounced himself satisfied with the result.
Interestingly, Paul Moore's statement above has a remarkably modern ring. Why are we worrying about what Pike said when there are bishops who have said and done far worse things? Definite shades of the "Why are we worrying about who Gene Robinson sleeps with when there's so much (poverty/AIDS/insert favorite societal ill here) in the world?" argument put forth so often by today's Episcopal left.
Once TEC refused to discipline Pike, disciplining John Spong or Walter Righter was out of the question and Episcopal "doctrine" became whatever most Episcopalians wanted it to be. Why should we have to offer a Scriptural argument to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion why women/practicing homosexuals should be priests? It's obviously a matter of "justice" and you wouldn't want the Anglican church to be on the wrong side of "justice," would you?
Offended by some of the language in the prayer book, that "sin" and "miserable offenders" stuff? Not to worry; we'll change it to something you'll feel comfortable with. Offended by having to sing so many masculine pronouns every Sunday? We'll take as many as we can out of the hymnal. Gene Robinson's pointy hat might have been the most inevitable event ever.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that Canterbury has seldom, if ever, wanted to fire its own magisterial gun. Lambeth's responses to Episcopal innovations can best be described as tepid. Non-Christians like John Spong and and non-entities like Barbara Harris were allowed into the Lambeth Conference.
The entire Windsor Report was nothing more than typical Anglican difference-splitting as well as a desperate attempt to avoid doing what needed to be done. And both TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have spent the last three years deliberately not doing what the Anglican world asked them to do.
The Diocese of New Westminster was asked to put a moratorium on same-sex marriages. It stopped them except in those parishes which were allowed to continue them and said that it had complied with Windsor's request. TEC was asked to stop electing practicing homosexual bishops. It stopped electing all bishops, heterosexual and homosexual, and only until the 2006 General Convention.
TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada were told not to come to the last Anglican Consultative Council meeting, they came anyway as "observers," and the meeting wasn't instantly cancelled. At its General Convention, TEC once again faced the Windsor requests that it stop the consecration of homosexual bishops and same-sex marriages.
Once again, TEC ducked the first question while completely ignoring the second. Yet after all this, TEC and the Diocese of New Westminster are, as of this writing, still Anglican churches in good standing and the Archbishop of Canterbury has not yet suggested that their status might change any time soon.
Of course, Anglican Christianity might still be salvageable. The 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 was the first attempt by orthodox Anglicans to draw a line while the February, 2005 Dromantine Communique was another. The increasing assertiveness of the Global South, the parts of the world where Anglican Christianity is still thriving, bodes well.
The formation of the Anglican Communion Network in 2003 and the Anglican Network in Canada in 2005 seems to suggest that North American conservatives finally understand how much ground has been lost and will hereafter, come hell, high water or David Booth Beers, refuse to give up any more.
Will it work? The increasing hysteria among many on the Episcopal left seems to suggest that it just might. If bishops like Peter Akinola, Henry Orombi and their allies essentially present Dr. Williams with an ultimatum, my gracious lord of Canterbury may be forced to take that gun down from over the Lambeth Palace fireplace.
Uh, this isn't a Gun Thread?