A 30-year-old problem
In Chapter 16 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be put to death by the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem. This was repugnant to his disciple, Peter, who took hold of Jesus, telling Him that such a thing was not going to happen. Jesus' response? "Get thee behind me Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."
Sometime in the 1990s, Pope John Paul II reminded the Church in the West of the dangers of cafeteria style Christianity -- the idea that "I will choose to believe or accept the things that sit well with my current worldview, and reject the rest, even if they come from the mouth of God Incarnate." While he aimed his comments at Roman Catholics, they resounded in the minds of all orthodox-minded believers, regardless of denominational affiliation.
Was the episode with St. Peter the first example of cafeteria-style Christianity?
The current furor over same-sex blessings in the global Canterbury Anglican Communion is being characterized as a debate between orthodox Anglicans who oppose same-sex blessings and those who do not. But how orthodox are those Anglicans who are now considering leaving the Canterbury Communion to preserve their opposition to same-sex unions?
Thirty years ago another debate divided Anglicans, one that has a direct link to the debate today. In 1978 the issue was the nature of the priesthood. At that time parts of the Canterbury Communion voted to overturn revelation and to allow women to become priests, using sociological arguments about the equality of women. Feminism and its unisex views of the interchangeability of men and women trumped almost 2,000 years of revelation and tradition in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Back then, as today, a small group of Anglicans found this departure from divine revelation troubling. They wished to remain orthodox, so they left the Canterbury Communion.
Father Carmino de Catanzaro who had been the Anglican parish priest in Ottawa established one of the first parishes in this new body. We now have parishes from St. John's to Victoria and are part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion, with membership in over 40 countries. We are the largest group of Anglicans who have found it necessary to exist outside Canterbury.
Father de Catanzaro's comments in 1978 turned out to be prophetic. "Women priests are now an accomplished fact in both Canada and the United States. Why, then, resist? Because I am convinced with many others, that this is against God's will for His Church." He succinctly summarized his reasons: "It has no support in Scripture. It has no support in Catholic tradition. It creates theological confusion." He then went on to predict that the issue of same-sex unions would cause further confusion and destruction of the Anglican communion.
If it is permissible, based on sociological obfuscation, to alter the nature of one Sacrament (Holy Orders) and invent women priests, then why should it not be equally permissible for another (Holy Matrimony) and invent same-sex marriage? This was the danger Father de Catanzaro warned of. When sociology trumps Revelation, where can one possibly stop?
This only would I say to those who are contemplating breaking with Canterbury and seeking alternate Episcopal oversight: Are you behaving like cafeteria Christians when you effectively say, "We're with you on the nature of marriage, but so far as the priesthood goes, well, we think that we know a better way"? Are you prepared to examine all of your beliefs, even at the expense of discovering you are not quite as orthodox as you think?
With so many Canterbury bishops offering to serve inside the cafeteria, many Anglicans may continue to find the varied diet pleasing as long as it doesn't include same-sex blessings or actively gay bishops. Is this orthodoxy? It is more orthodox, but it is still inside the cafeteria.
The Traditional Anglican Communion left the cafeteria long ago and has grown tired of the wilderness. We want the full course meal served by the Communion of Saints from the very beginning of the church. Quite aside from our desire to remain steadfast to traditional Anglicanism, we desire just as strongly to do whatever small part we can in terms of healing the broken Body of Christ, His Church, to seek unity rather than division. That's why we have asked to come into full sacramental communion with the Catholic Church, with the Book of Common Prayer, married priests and our Anglican identity intact. At their invitation, we made our formal request in early October and await a reply from the Vatican. As our primate, Archbishop John Hepworth, stated -- based on our Lord's Prayer on the night before His crucifixion "that they may be one" -- "Unity with Canterbury is a pleasant device. Unity with [the Catholic Church] is an imperative."
To those still lingering inside the cafeteria, we offer you our prayers. You do not need to go to Africa or South America for episcopal oversight. Come join us for Anglican worship that is orthodox both in practice and belief.
-The Rt. Rev. Carl Reid is Suffragan Bishop for Central Canada in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. http://anglicancatholic.ca.