by Fr. David Marriott
One of the reasons that I am happy to support and encourage the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, the group that organised the Congress of St. Louis, where the founding document of the Continuum – the Affirmation of St. Louis - was developed, is the understanding of the ‘other’ in the continuing church movement, the mutual respect of one for the other, the worship we hold as a group. This it is which replicates the aims of the originators of that Affirmation: that we might be united in the desire to see the continuation of Classical Anglican worship and polity across north America, and later, around the world.
The guiding principle at work is that of acceptance: an acceptance which in itself reflects the teaching of Christ. Recall His response to the Pharisees, when they challenged His disciples, ‘Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?' He answered, ‘They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick’ and continued that ‘I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’. (Matt. 9.11-13) Jesus Christ accepted the sinners, the wrongdoers and the poor and downtrodden, to bring them out from their sin, and into His light, whose brightness we are charged to keep shining into all the dark corners of our world, that sinners, for whose sins He died, might be brought to redemption, and that all who will might repent of sin, and have the joy of eternal salvation.
The ‘great commission’ spoken by Jesus Christ to the company of the Apostles exemplifies this teaching: ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16.15-16).
This teaching was the fulfilment of the words spoken by the Old Testament prophets and teachers, which we recite daily in the Benedictus: ‘To keep the promise which he made to our forefather Abraham, that He would grant us, that we, being delivered from our enemies, might serve Him in joy and gladness all the days of our life.’ (Luke 1.73-75) To keep this promise means that we, cleansed from sin ourselves through Baptism, might demonstrate God’s love for man by our acceptance, sometimes even of those with whom we might in at times disagree. And that, by our worship and prayer together, we might come to develop and grow our own personal faith, the faith of our parishes, and the faith of the church, so that all who enter in might become aware that it is in His Church that they find acceptance. In His Church there is genuine acceptance of the repentant sinner, of the poor, of the disinherited, of the lonely, of the needy, of all who might present themselves as willing to admit past fault, past error, who now come in to know and experience the divine love and care promised by the teaching of Jesus, and through His Incarnation.
If Jesus accepts sinners, who, if any, does he reject? And what can we learn from this example, what might help us to understand the proper role for rejection, if there is such a thing? The clue is in the second great commandment: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’.
To achieve this, you must first know what you are, so that you can truly acknowledge all of your own sins and weaknesses, that you can confess these before God, and ask His continued grace to make the necessary improvements that are our duty before God. Once we see the truth of what we are, we become equipped to love our neighbour, with the clear understanding that, as we are weak and disabled in so many ways, so too is our neighbour. We can accept his weaknesses as we accept our own frailty. Note that this does not require us to like our neighbour, just that we are to love our neighbour. And the meaning of love in this case is more clearly expressed by the word caritas, that we care deeply about each of our fellow men: and that this deep caring might also mean that as a father may have to apply discipline to his son in order to teach the right way for him to follow, so too we may have to apply this same discipline to our relationship with that very neighbour we are trying to love. For example, if your neighbours have a very noisy party in the wee hours of the morning, you are quite in order to remonstrate in a caring manner, but it should be done with understanding and forgiveness.
It is in this same spirit that we see Jesus Christ illustrate his displeasure with those who transgress, those who leave the right path, those who succumb to temptation to deviate from the truth. But he reserves his greatest displeasure for those who have authority and misuse it: those who are in some position of power and influence, and abuse that power and influence. For example, what about the Pharisee who shows his pride even in prayer, and feels superior to the quiet publican in the corner? (Matt. 6) ‘The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but so not ye after their works: for they say and do not’. (Matt. 23) It is here that Jesus refers to this group of scribes and Pharisees as: ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ (Matt 23.33)
What is the common factor in this need or correction: is it not a lack of humility, a lack of the care for the needs of the other, for the good of the other? And how is this any different from the chastisement and mistreatment of the prophets, mistreatment by those in power to Elijah, to Jeremiah, to Ezekiel and so on to the close of the Old Testament? One reason why this lack of humility is strongly condemned is that it represents the arrogance of superiority, where Jesus calls us to servanthood. Whenever this pride is manifested it is to be condemned. It carries with it the very opposite of acceptance; indeed, it is rejection of the other, rejection of the neighbour, rejection of the very people who are dependent on us, the Church, for their succour and support.
The approach made by the TAC to Rome represented to many a way forward and a means to achieve greater unity, in joint communion: this was the original concept of the ARCIC discussions of which this was to be the successor. The concept has changed, when the leaders, those of ‘higher rank’ those with ‘better knowledge’, moved the process beyond simple intercommunion to the concept of ordinariate. In this, they neglected their own rules, of consultation and dialogue, and established a proposal for the future of the church. That serious problems have arisen should not be a surprise, in that just as the people in Jerusalem on that very first Palm Sunday heard Jesus teaching on the duties and the abuses of the leaders, of the Pharisees and scribes, so too the people of this day have looked for good counsel from their pastors, for a clear and precise explanation of the proposal. Instead they have been greeted with generalities and empty reassurances: ‘trust your bishops!’
But for those who have had the gall to question the actions taken by those same bishops, there has been an absence of that very caritas that is the key to our primary obedience: obedience to God, that is the key to our future salvation, in that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. There has been rejection, not acceptance. There has been harsh action, and little love. There has been hurt, where there should have been balm for the soul, ointment for the wounded, for the troubled and weary traveller, beaten and robbed by the side of the road: ignored by bishop and priest, succoured by the Samaritan......and to the point that one of the bishops has stated in his cathedral, that those who do not accept the terms of the Apostolic Constitution have effectively excommunicated themselves!
The Rev David Marriott currently serves under the Patrimony of Archbishop Haverland (ACC-OP). He is working to establish a new ACC parish in Pitt Meadows, close to Vancouver.