by Fr. John Hollister:
The “Jerusalem Declaration” issued as part of the “Final Statement” from last week’s GAFCON conference sounds just wonderful. Warm, fuzzy words abound and the whole thing sounds just like what real Anglicans might have said back in the 1950s, had there been any need to say them.
The problem is just that: Words. A word means something only if both the writer and the reader understand it the same way; otherwise, it is not a means of communication but an obstruction to communication. That is why elementary Philosophy classes used to be taught: “First define your terms”.
“Doonsbury”, the newspaper cartoon, currently has a theme about Berzerkistan, a “former Soviet republic” where the psychopathic dictator renames everything in sight with the most beautiful word he knows – his own name. In such a fantasy realm, no one can ever be sure what someone else refers to because the key word has so many potential meanings. For other examples, just read the “news” releases from the current government of Mugabeland (oops, I meant “Zimbabwe”).
The “Jerusalem Declaration” lives through the looking glass in that kind of country of slippery meanings. Its Paragraph 1 says: “We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans....” But it makes no attempt to define what “faithful” means. Does it mean “faithful to what Anglicans until the 1940s or ‘50s understood their faith to be”? Does it mean “faithful to the ‘Anglicanism Lite’ that rejects the authority of Holy Tradition and Scripture but thinks male-male and female-female sex is ‘yucky’”?
So as far as the GAFCON Declaration gives any guidance, anyone can call himself a “faithful Anglican”, provided he either bought a ticket to Jerusalem or knows someone who did. Even worse than what GAFCON did not say is what it said incompletely. Just look at the problems raised by some specific provisions of the “Jerusalem Declaration”:
“2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church's historic and consensual reading.”
But St. Paul’s Epistles, which up until now have been accepted as inspired Holy Scripture of the New Testament, state that a Christian minister must be “the husband of one wife”. And, the plain, canonical sense of the word “husband” means “a man married to one woman”. There are only two possible outcomes when this standard is applied to GAFCON’s present membership: either Provinces such as Uganda, Australia, and others must be made to conform their ordination theologies and practices to the New Testament or, just as Katherine Jefferts-Schori does, the New Testament must be made to conform to what GAFCON’s members do. The Declaration, however, gives no clue as to which option GAFCON is going to select.
“3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
The Eastern Orthodox say there are seven, not four, Ecumenical Councils. The Roman Catholics recognize those same seven, they just add twenty or so of their own local councils and label those, too, as “ecumenical”. So both major branches of the Universal Church are agreed that there are no fewer than seven Ecumenical Councils. Where GAFCON has decided to part company with three-fourths of all living Christians, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect it to explain why it did so?
“7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.”
But that “classic Anglican Ordinal” states that the “historic succession” is made up of men. So that brings us back to the “heuristic” problem – the problem of interpretive principles, or rather, of the lack of such principles – already discussed under Paragraph 2.
And how is the “classic Anglican Ordinal” upheld by another prominent GAFCON leader, Abp. Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, who teaches that ordination itself is unnecessary because laypeople may celebrate valid Eucharists?
“11. ... We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.”
Well, since the Jerusalem Declaration gives us no guidance as to what “orthodox faith and practice” mean, this paragraph is just a feel-good statement. Since, as to Alice’s Red Queen, the words may mean whatever the writer wants them to mean, and since to some of GAFCON’s most prominent figures they may include both beliefs and practices that, until recently, all Anglicans universally rejected, what principled basis are we left with for saying that Katherine Jefferts-Schori’s beliefs and practices are not equally “orthodox”?
The problem is that just as frustrated traditional Roman Catholics talk about “supermarket Catholicism”, where the worshipper as shopper takes only what he wants and leaves on the shelf anything that doesn’t appeal to his personal taste, so GAFCON brought together in Jerusalem many who actually expound “supermarket Anglicanism”. That is what renders meaningless a statement such as:
“12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters.”
Since GAFCON does not tell us which issues are “primary” and which are “secondary”, and since some of the best-publicized GAFCON leaders think that an issue such as the nature of the sacramental ministry can be “secondary”, we are left to conclude that absolutely anything on which we disagree is “secondary”. But if everything is “secondary”, then nothing is “primary”; in other words, we actually have no fundamental beliefs, just esthetic preferences of the moment.
“13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.”
Since GAFCON either does not know what “orthodox” means or, if it does know, it is unwilling to say what it is, it is going to be very difficult to find anyone who can be shown to “have denied the orthodox faith”. If that faith has no fixed or certain content, then there is no way anyone can show persuasively that Katherine Jefferts-Schori, who says that she is “orthodox”, is not telling the truth.
Supporters of GAFCON claim it is a great step forward and say its critics are being unfair. What these people overlook is that the crisis in Anglicanism, indeed, the crisis in modern Christianity in general, is not about specific distasteful teachings and practices or even about one deviate bishop in one New England state. It is about what lies behind those distasteful teachings and practices and what made it possible for a pervert to be elected a prelate.
“Epistemology” is a branch of theology and philosophy that examines the concept of Truth. It asks questions such as, “What does it mean to say that something is ‘true’? How do we test propositions that are offered as ‘true’? To what sources do we resort to discover potential ‘truths’?” Until recently, Catholic Christians, including Anglicans, have always looked to revelation as the primary source of Truth, have believed the plain meaning of Scripture is the principal record of that revelation, and have interpreted the Scriptural texts by first looking to the consistent understanding of the Universal Church that, under God’s inspiration, wrote that Scripture in the first place.
Within the lifetimes of many of us, however, that objective epistemology (truth method) has been replaced, first within PECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada and now throughout most of the Lambeth Communion, with a new, subjective epistemology. This new method looks not to what the authors and millennia of worshippers have understood the texts to say but to how those texts conform to the worshippers’ personal lifestyle choices. Where once Christians were called to remake their lives into what God said they should be, now God is being called to remake His Word into what His worshippers say it should be.
GAFCON supporters tell us that women’s “ordination” is not a salvation issue, and offer only this as proof: GAFCON’s members cannot agree about it. But actually it is a “salvation issue”, as is the toleration of openly homosexual clergy. This is because those innovations, and others like them, can only be accepted by those who have first accepted the new epistemology, the one which says that which was false in our grandparents’ time is now true for us.
Those who accept either or both of these new things have no understanding of how Christians have always sought for, tested, and recognized Truth. But if a church group cannot lead its members to Truth, what possible use is it? What use are the discussions it has in public conventions or meetings?
And these tests for Truth govern all areas of the Church’s life. Once a church group has declared that Christianity’s distinctive interpretive methods do not apply to one issue, such as who is ontologically (“as a matter of ‘being’") capable of receiving ordination, that same group has given up all principled ways of judging other issues, such as morality. Then the rejection of previously unacceptable lifestyles ceases to be a moral judgment and is reduced to a merely esthetic one: they are distasteful.
But the “yuck factor” is not a reliable guide through life and to Heaven. Furthermore, a church group like GAFCON that has women's “ordination”, or that is in communion with those who have it, has a highly defective understanding of the very nature of the Church. So how can GAFCON’s leaders show Christ’s sheep the way back from the wastelands into safe pastures if they themselves do not know what sort of institution it is that they are supposed to be leading?
Their toleration of women’s “ordination” means they have a defective concept of the ministry and no understanding whatever of the nature of the Sacraments, or of the fact that it was Our Lord Himself who ordained the Sacraments for our welfare and salvation. Thus they are oblivious to the fact that when a church group tolerates women’s “ordination”, it will henceforth live with only the Sacraments of Baptism and, perhaps, Matrimony. Prideful and disobedient, it thereby rejects the other five Sacraments Our Lord has ordained as His means of bringing Grace to us.
The struggle over the meaning of Truth is the great battle of our time; individual issues, such as women’s “ordination” and buggering bishops are merely particular manifestations of the new interpretive techniques. Yet both the GAFCON “Final Statement” and the “Jerusalem Declaration” are completely silent about it. In vague, uncertain, inconclusive terms they dance around the symptoms, all the while utterly ignoring the real cause of the disease. They offer cool compresses for our heated brows while they pretend there are no germs that caused our raging infection. So long as they refuse to bring in the surgeons and the antibiotics, and prescribe placebos, they let the patient die.