September 18, 2008

The Real Revisionists

Over at the self-styled Anglican Communion Institute's website, the troika of Communionists has posted an essay by attorney Mark McCall, purporting to show the astounding discovery that The Episcopal Church "is a church with no constitutionally established hierarchy above the level of the individual dioceses of which it is comprised." The chief irony for me in this novel proposal is the strange "leapfrog" mentality that would insist on a worldwide Communion hierarchy -- as a kind of international federation of individual dioceses -- apart from, and with no notice taken of, the "national or provincial churches" that everyone else has always said constitute the Anglican Communion -- which itself has no constitution. Yet.

Of course, the timing of this essay in relationship to votes to be taken anon in Pittsburgh, cannot be accidental. Subversion of good order is afoot by the very folks who claim they are seeking greater order and stability. This is all part of the Communionist agenda of rendering the national or provincial churches subservient to a central authority, as a very parsimoniously spread sandwich between a collection of independent dioceses and an overarching international government. Careless (and ahistorical) remarks by the current Archbishop of Canterbury notwithstanding, the notion that the "national church" is a legal fiction will not bear close examination even of the Church of England (whose linkage of region and religion resonated with the form of the Reformation in parts of the Continent, as, to keep the peace, the sect of the monarch determined the sect of the state in each principality).

It is also clear from the Preface to the American BCP that even where the church was not so established, it was by means of that very disestablishment that "the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country." (1979 BCP, 10) And as the Preface goes on to make clear, it was the General Convention that did that work for Episcopalians, creating a centralized and "fundamental" form of Government to which the dioceses were required to give due respect and obedience.

Note, for example, that amendments to the TEC Constitution itself do not require the assent from the several dioceses, except through their deputies and bishops in attendance at General Convention. The diocesan conventions are informed of the amendments, but their conventions have no power to vote on them -- or if they do choose to vote, the result is merely advisory to the bishop and deputies. The amendments, once finally adopted, are binding on each and every diocese, even if the bishop and deputies from a given diocese are absent, or vote against them at the General Convention. This is even more centralized than the US Constitution! But then, some people don't want to be bothered with facts, in pursuit of an agenda.

You don't have to take my amateur's word for it. Historian Joan Gundersen has gone into the details by which the General Convention established itself as the central form of government for this Church in a rebuttal to McCall's paper. I urge you to read it for its clear historical grasp of something that until now was a clearly understood fact: The Episcopal Church is not a mere association of dioceses (in the way the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of national or provincial churches) but is rather a centrally governed body in which certain powers are delegated to the dioceses and bishops (such as the right to consent to the election of bishops outside the practical capability of the General Convention session), but which has central control over the common governance of The Episcopal Church.

I will repeat an earlier observation that the absence of a secession clause in the TEC Constitution is of no more significance than the absence of such a clause in the US Constitution. Secession, once a union has been formed, is as unthinkable as divorce after marriage -- at least in the 18th century. Individuals can leave the church, but the domestic dioceses of The Episcopal Church are not free to affiliate with any other province of the Anglican Communion, and even the overseas dioceses require the permission of the General Convention to do so.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Of course, Tobias, you have it exactly right.

It seems to me that at the root of many of our present problems is a purely Protestant ecclesiology.

They used to call us "high church" because we held the church itself in high respect. And what we see among the conservatives is a repudiation of the nature of the Church itself!

The Protestant/ Charismatic world view is that one's relation with God is a private, individual, one-to-one matter -- and the Church takes a weak second place. So we see the same dynamic in the "freedom-from-the-corporate-Church" moves. Truly traditional Christianity would see the corporate Church's position as primary (e.g., our restoration of the ancient "We believe...." in the Creed). The "corporate" is repudiated here in favor of the "personal"; "conversion" replaces Sacraments; private morality replaces social concern, parish replaces diocese, diocese replaces province, ad nauseum.

What I value most about your postings, Tobias, is that they always demonstrate a solid theological base. Too much of what we hear today is totally emotion-based.

Thanks so much for what you bring us.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Fr. John-Julian. I think you have it right concerning the "evangelical" (I put it in scare quotes intentionally!) understanding of church as means to personal salvation, as opposed to the catholic view of the church as Body of Christ, in which those ingrafted are saved. So much of the "evangelical" movement is obsessed with the afterlife instead of the kingdom of God which is among us -- it's about "getting to heaven" by means of doing the right things, and avoiding the wrong things, a truly anti-evangelical form of Pelagianism that ignores, or at best relativizes, the organic nature of salvation in, with, and under the Body.

Thanks again for your helpful observation! Best wishes to all of the Julian Way...

Anonymous said...

The Church of the Voluntarily-Associating English Dioceses: yup, that's what Cranmer burned for! ;-/