Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clarifications for the present day

A few unrelated thoughts that seem worth spouting

About this blog
I received a phone call urging me to be cautious about doing damage to potential unity. I was told we said too much about divisive issues. When pressed, the caller told me we had to stop writing about "Deerfield Beach." The problem with that advice is that we have never posted anything at all about that old worn out subject. From 2005 until now, we have never posted an article about it, nor made any point indicating that the topic is worth bothering with. We decided long ago that it does not help the cause of unity to discuss it, so we have always left it alone. This makes me wonder in what other way we have an undeserved reputation. And, to what degree is a perceived reputation as significant as an accurate reputation?

But, I don't plan to lose sleep over it.

Today's lesson
Today is the feast of St. Bartholomew, August 24. The Book of Common Prayer gives us an Epistle and Gospel reading that sets up a fascinating contrast:

"And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest." (Luke 22:24) 

"By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people." (Acts 5:12)

Like other such feasts for the Apostles, we see a short and precise contrast between them pre-Pentecost and post Pentecost. Before their night of terror and two days of fear, that is, before seeing the Risen Christ with His wounds, and also before the infilling of the Holy Spirit fifty days later, we see them striving with each other. Afterward, they look like Christ Himself, representing Him with the same power and authority to set captives free, because He had given it to them. 

We speak of the Apostolic Tradition, and it occurs to me that we need to be clear which Apostolic Tradition we want to keep. Do we want to keep the tradition of striving around the table, not aware that the Lord is, on the same night, betrayed? I believe we have been quite successful at keeping that tradition, because it takes next to no effort. 

Somehow, I think that is not what we really should aim at, nor what we mean by saying we are part of the Apostolic Church, and that we keep the Apostolic Tradition. At least, I hope no one thinks that. I believe we mean to follow the post Pentecost image of the Apostles. But, to do that we have no power in and of ourselves. For they did not merely live up to a better model; they were transformed by the Holy Spirit Himself. So, we can now decide. We can be like the Church as we see it on that night of betrayal, or like we see it in the Book of Acts. The first choice is the easy one, and the second choice is impossible, but for the grace of God.

Hills to die on
It feels dishonest to argue for anything I cannot prove. Theology is "the queen of the sciences" and the data is revelation. Ultimately, the Church kept a library of revelation, and we call it the Canon of Scripture. If Anglicanism is, as C.S. Lewis called it, "the largest room of all," it is because we have a tradition of liberty within orthodoxy. 

We might as well learn to live with that Anglican tradition, because we are experiencing a return to normalcy now that the recent attempt to infect thousands of people with Roman Fever has fizzled out. If we have academic liberty, unlike Fundamentalists whether of the Evangelical or Roman brand, it is strictly within orthodox boundaries. That is, we may have to accept the practices of both Low and High Anglican Churchmen, but only to a degree. 

Let the following examples suffice: The Low Church folks, if they are Continuing with us, cannot imitate the neo-Anglican bodies whose view of the sacraments is so low as to allow "ordination" of women, a trivialization of liturgy etc., without parting company. And, our High Church folks cannot despise their Low Church brethren, or try to force on them practices that seem foreign. The first question is, what is a hill worth dying on? The second is, what can you prove by the science of theology? For all else, there is liberty. 

It is obvious that even among the concordat churches the High and Low questions are not all resolved fully. Welcome back to true meaning of "Anglican Comprehensiveness," a very different meaning from what the modern Episcopalians have given it. Within the framework of the Affirmation of St. Louis, we still have a manifestation of variety in the Continuing Church concerning things that do not justify dissolving our sacramental communion. What do we do about it?

Because this blog has been committed to the cause of unity in the Continuing Church, and because I do a lot of writing for it, I have decided to resist the kind of over simplification that hinders communication. I will leave you with one example. We have heard from some people (I mean our own people, including some in the concordat) who are not comfortable with the Affirmation stressing seven Councils and seven Sacraments. 

I wrote an essay, therefore, entitled Two rights don't make a wrong. My point was to approach the subject without over simplification of a cheerleader variety, and to defend the Affirmation of St. Louis in the process. It is not enough merely to say "seven and seven" unless we address the questions this raises. And, no question can be answered fully and in an educational manner by merely a brief assertion. 

About seven Ecumenical Councils, it is perfectly right to place the greater emphasis on the first four, as any theologian will tell you. But, it is equally right to acknowledge the authority of all seven as representing the mind of the Universal Church before the Great Schism. It is right (as our catechism says) to place special emphasis on the Two Sacraments of the Gospel as instituted by Christ. It is also right to acknowledge that the Bible reveals the sacramental nature of the other five, and that they are called sacraments quite correctly (the true meaning of Article XXV to readers capable of understanding the foreign language we call English). For that, you may read the essay.

Ultimately, when we have the truth at hand, it will prevail because it cannot fail to persuade and convince. There are, of course, real hills to die on. Absolutely. 


AFS1970 said...

About part one: You should absolutely not stop writing about controversial stuff, it is our blemishes that we have to work through to achieve unity throughout the whole continuum. We will never get past issues if we ignore them, be they Deerfield Beach or something else. There is already far too much revisionist history going on in the various continuing churches.

For me at least learning about the divisive issues, from as many viewpoints as I can, helps me learn allot about the continuum that I grew up in, and the issues that I was unaware of as a child and teen. Looking at these with my now adult mind has formed a large part of helping me on my journey to find a church home.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

A very learned person observed that History has a mind of it's own, and is hard to change.

We certainly appreciate that the facts are not distorted on your blog, and that for the "new kid's on the block" accurate information will always be made available.

Many blessings.

Canon Tallis said...

Well written and entirely Anglican.