September 22, 2005

Shadows of Unity

When I was in seminary I wrote a paper for R. William Franklin's church history course, in which I compared the lives and views of Dr. William Reed Huntington and Fr. Paul Wattson, founder of the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor. The essay was later published by the Society of the Atonement, with two responses, addressing my sometimes pointed critique of Fr. Paul's concepts and direction.
It occurs to me that we are engaged in a similar discussion at present as to which model for unity or communion is best, and so I'm providing a link to this essay for anyone who might be interested in a historical perspective.
Here is the precis of the paper:

In this paper I will examine two men and the models for church unity they proposed. This is a study in contrasts and shadows. The men themselves are shadows of each other: each perceived in the other a distortion of an ideal; each reacted to the divisions within the Episcopal Church in a different way, one by seeking common ground, the other by escape to higher ground. The models for church unity they proposed reflect their different backgrounds and outlooks, and respectively present an ethos centered in community and an ethos built upon authority. As such they reflect the ongoing tension between koinonía and episkopé that has marked the church from the days of Paul and Peter. The models have changed and been adapted over time by those who have adopted them, but the end of unity for which they were to serve as means seems still as shadowy as ever.
The first part of this paper compares and contrasts the lives and philosophies of the two men: one viewing the strength of the church welling up from the parish, the other looking to the See of Peter as the fons vitae for the health of the body. The second part summarizes the origins and development of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Church Unity Octave. A brief concluding section comments on the current state of ecumenical affairs, and describes one glimmer of hope among the shadows of unity.

Read the rest at Shadows of Unity

September 16, 2005

The Other Shoe

So as many have noticed the Church of Nigeria has amended its constitution, in exactly the way expected. But I think it is very important to note that the Church of Nigeria has not quite disassociated itself from the Archbishop of Canterbury... yet.

Note the wording from the press release of earlier in the week:

The hierarchy of the Church of Nigeria has not ruled out a major constitutional amendment to give legal effect to some new positions likely to be adopted by delegates to the General Synod.
So only the first shoe has dropped at this point: the Constitution has been amended in a major way. Reference to Communion with the See of Canterbury as a defining characteristic of the Church of Nigeria has been deleted, replaced by a list of requirements involving conformity with the Articles of Religion, the 1662 BCP, and so on, such conformity to be determined, it seems, solely by the Church of Nigeria.

However, unless something happened at the Synod that has not yet been reported (or that I have not yet seen, to be more precise) the other shoe still remains to be dropped. What "new position" remains to be adopted? Nigeria no longer requires itself to be in communion with Canterbury, but has yet to place itself out of communion with Canterbury. If and when they do that, we will all have to wrestle with the concept of what it means to be Anglican in a communal, rather than in an historical sense.

I have noted elsewhere that I see this as a movement from a Communion of autonomous churches sharing a common heritage, into an international Confessional Church. Some may think that to be a very good thing. I do not.

Rather, I favor the good old Anglican minimalism that keeps confessions neat and concise (like the Creeds) and bears with them lightly. I have no beef with folks who want to be part of a Confessional church in the strict sense; or a church that emphasizes a central authority as the determiner of "who's in, who's out" (as King Lear said). But I prefer the elastic charity of classical Anglicanism. I think when the dust has settled we will find the bulk of the present Anglican Communion still willing to abide by that principle. If not, it will be a sad day for the loss of a church bold enough to admit that churches make mistakes.

In the meantime, watch out for falling shoes.