June 30, 2011

Thought for 06.30.11

The proposed Anglican Covenant threatens to destabilize, deface or destroy the one thing of value that Anglicanism has to offer: our polity as a comparatively loose fellowship of self-governing churches. Anglicans have little to offer world Christendom by way of doctrine, except in the choice language of some of the very best English around. We do have (variably throughout the communion) some wonderful liturgy, again in rather fine language and music (some of which has indeed been borrowed by other traditions.)

But it is the idea of being a fellowship, a communion — not a "church" or a "federation" — of self-governing churches whose individual decisions do not bind the others, even as they cooperate in mission and ministry, that forms our only peculiar offering to the tapestry of world Christendom. It is a model of service and fellowship, of work with rather than power over, commended by Christ himself as a model of churchly governance. If that is not worth preserving, then we have little else to offer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Jon said...

Amen. From my studies of Anglican history though it would seem that such a result was more an accident than an intended outcome. More's the pity that we don't recognize such a gift of the Spirit.

Jon White

June Butler said...

Very well put, Tobias. Are you still undecided about the whether our church should adopt the covenant?

Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

I have put your work to work -- see Moving Toward A New Anglican Communion

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, all. GM, I'll stand by my past position, that we should continue to study and engage in the process, affirm sections 1-3 as consistent with past understandings (though not without some faults!) and reject section 4 as incompatible with the notion of communion. I also stand by my thinking that, although I oppose adoption, I do not think adoption will be the end of the world -- as the Covenant is unworkable and will collapse under its own incoherence.

But it is scarcely worth the journey...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Over at his blog, Fr. Jonathan has posted a long response to this short "thought." It appears to me he is reading a great deal into what I say here that I do not intend, while misinterpreting some of what I do say. Take a look at his long post if you like; this is what I said in response:

Fr J., I don't think you really make your point, and I don't think you have actually understood mine. You cite a few people who think as you do, but I could easily do the same -- and the ones I cite would be people like Hooker, Jewel and Cranmer! My point on doctrine is that Anglicans traditionally espouse the faith of primitive Christianity, against the dogmatic innovations of Rome.

You appear to be unaware of my (admittedly unstated) premise that it was the Anglican Reformation that established the "political" principle of "the national church" free from outside intervention by other ecclesiastical entities. (See the Articles of Religion, for the "classical Anglican" position, esp., XIX, XX, XXI, XXXVII -- this is the "peculiar polity" to which I am referring.) This polity was carried over to the founding of the Episcopal Church, which was not, at the beginning, "in Communion" with the Church of England, at least as we use the term today -- as the first American bishops and anyone they consecrated or ordained were forbidden to function anywhere in English domains! Rather the nascent Episcopal Church was seen by England as a new and independent church, for a new and independent nation.

It is the "Anglican Communion" that is a relatively recent invention. And moves to make it conciliar are directly contrary to its founding ethos of independent, autonomous churches. That is not to say they are wrong; many share that view. But it does mark a change -- or why would people be proposing it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Some further comments to Fr. J.:

Dear Jonathan,
I may be being to subtle for my own good, but I'm making a distinction about doctrine, which I'm defining rather narrowly, but with reference to the the traditional distinctions of "doctrine, discipline and worship." Hence in my original post I highlighted doctrine and worship -- and by the way I didn't mean to suggest we don't have our own "angles" on some doctrines; just that I think most of us (as most of the early Anglican fathers) would say they can be found in the primitive sources and aren't original to us.

But I see the polity matter -- as a communion of autonomous churches, not under a common canon law (as the Eastern Orthodox are... hence our main difference from them as a political reality, though they too are "national churches") --- as one of discipline rather than doctrine. There is an intellectual component, of course, but I see it more as a concept than a doctrine. As I say in the second 'graph of my short "thought" it is "an idea" -- a
modus vivendi that I'm getting at as peculiarly (and I think that is short of "uniquely") Anglican. (I would similarly suggest, and offer for your consideration, that our approach to Scripture is also not so much a "doctrine" as a "Way of working..." It is no wonder we gave rise to the "Methodists"!) But my point really is that the structuring of the Anglican Communion up to recently has allowed for local developments and slow reception -- which is much undercut by a synodical conciliarity (which appears to be the trend advocated by some.)

Where I depart from your final 'graph above is in my not seeing the necessity of recovering an ancient conciliarity for consistency with ancient doctrine. Even the Jerusalem Council, though it dealt with doctrine, ended with an essentially disciplinary action, and apart from this the Apostolic Church was not notably "conciliar." As to the early Councils, the Caroline Divines were careful to limit adherence to the "doctrinal pronouncements" of those Councils, and felt quite at liberty to ignore the political aspects -- as indeed they must if they are to ignore the Emperor across the channel! Classical Anglicanism simply does not look to conciliarity as an essential, but as a sometimes useful tool, the results of which a "true church" is always free to disregard when a Council "errs." This is precisely why the autonomy of each church supersedes any decision of a "higher synod." Of course, I'm quite willing to acknowledge that "lower synods" can make mistakes too... but I am more trusting that the errors can be worked out in time, rather than being "settled" by some superior synod, which may introduce errors of its own.

Hope this helps elaborate my original intent, which was a really rather off-hand "thought"!

Anonymous said...

john 2007
We do have doctrine which, you know, means understanding or teaching-- and it is the world outside of Christendom that we need to meet with the confident understanding of God that the gospel offers. God created us as reflective creatures, made for truth, and capable, through the illumination of the spirit, the New Testament, and more, of knowing more than is commonly thought to be known as IMHO suggested here. See Stephen Sykes' The Integrity of Anglicanism for one, no right wing reactionary book but a book that challenges just this kind of assertion.

Praise God, I say, for a healthy comprehensiveness. Allow charitable theological discussion and argument to rock and roll. But let's move pass the fog that downplays doctrine and leaves our parishoners rudderless. And I would note that while our communion does not produce continental stars in theology like those in mid 20th century Germany, we do in the UK for sure, have a number of first rate theologians, beginning with ABC, who ought to be a challenge to us in TEC do more not less theology and own heartily, within its limits, the word doctrine :)!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

John2007, you join a small chorus of folks who have completely misunderstood what I'm saying here. I am very far from suggestion that Anglicanism has no doctrine. What I am saying -- to echo the founders of Anglicanism -- is that our doctrine is not unique or individual to us, and that we proclaim as doctrine only the essentials of the faith, founded in Scripture and elaborated in the Creeds. I join people like W.R. Huntington and C.S. Lewis in this view.

James said...

Tobias, you neglect that when we recognize one another in working together, we give one another power - for better or worse.

When I, in Europe, identified myself as "Anglican" to a woman who was seeking to find out more about Christ, was in very active discussion, attending our Anglican church -

This woman went to the bookshop to the "Christian" aisle, and picked out a book whose cover highlighted the fact that it was by an Anglican Bishop (it was Spong). After reading the book, she no longer wanted to speak about Christ.

This "power" I'd given the Anglican Communion, and Bishop Spong by proxy, has had the effect of alienating this woman from Christ, due to Spong's awful and ugly views.

Now I am careful in identifying myself as an Anglican - I warn people, "watch out - Anglicans in general are rather horrid, we teach wretched things, and have some rather ludicrous scholarship. Other churches are much more faithful."

This, of course, has its effects on the ministries of others who identify themselves as Anglicans.

But I think it's necessary and honest if we do identify ourselves as Anglicans.

I am happy when people turn to Christ. This tells me: I must do what I can to prevent them from falling into the hands of Anglicans.

Until Anglicans turn to Christ and learn to abstain from inflicting spiritual violence upon their flocks, and exporting such to other provinces - I'm afraid we're mostly pulling down the ministries of one another. TEC and Spong teaching those I'd love to teach about Christ, about a person who's dead - me teaching about Christ who is Risen and alive, and protecting the vulnerable with whom I speak, by keeping them away from the clutches of other Anglicans (though I remain Anglican myself).

Can't you see, in such a situation, why some "power" could be useful, if the most powerful amongst us are violent and destructive?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

James, I'm having trouble following your logic here. Frankly I feel your characterizations are mistaken, but you are certainly entitled to such an opinion. If I felt as you do about the Episcopal Church I would certainly warn people away. But I would want to be very careful that my judgments were based on fact rather than my own private judgment. Perhaps you are the one guilty of spiritual violence, in your own self-appointed judgment of a whole church? And, from my perspective, a mistaken one at that, as the Episcopal Church still teaches that Christ is very much alive! I just preached as much at a funeral liturgy this morning. It seems to me you are giving far too much weight to the writings of one fringe bishop who does not speak for the whole church.

James said...


If teaching that Jesus is dead (in plain language) is not a part of the Anglican Communion - why do Bishop Spong and Marcus Borg continue in this?

Yes, "everyone" says "Christ lives" - but a lot of the time amongst us Anglicans this means "lives" in the same sense that Elvis lives.

I am happy that as far as I know you - you seem to have many Trinitarian beliefs. But your love for Christ is not evident in your tacit silence about those in the Communion teaching their flocks to deny Christ.

Notice how I said nothing above about TEC and am speaking of Anglicans - a group to which we both belong, and are both corporately guilty for denying Christ. This is *our problem* and we needn't be silent about this until this problem is taken care of - no more than we should be silent if there were any bishop teaching his flocks that it's permissible to have sex with children. Frankly, I think teaching them to deny Christ is the worse of the two; and there's certainly precedent in Scripture for this assessment.

Why not shoo people away from the Anglican Communion, while there are plenty of Trinitarian churches where there are no clergy denying the resurrection, the divinity of Christ, etc.? Are there any other churches claiming to be Trinitarian, which have bishops and canons who deny Christ? If I'd been faithful in making clear that some Anglican clergy deny Christ, my friend might have retained her interest in learning more about Christ.

Persons who are "fringe" are, by definition, not bishops or canons in the church.

Yes, this means that for a season - until we repent - we must bow before other churches, and will be ministering to fewer persons. But if this results in our turning back to Christ and to Christendom, is that not worth it?

James said...

I'm sorry Tobias, you're right in that I did mention (once) TEC above; I thought I'd refrained from mentioning this word. It was my intention to use vocabulary putting us both in the same boat.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

James, I just think you are making too much of Spong and Borg. To answer your challenge, every church I know of -- and I mean every -- has its oddballs who don't toe the party line on doctrine in one way or another; but the party line is still the official teaching. Check out the blogosphere and you'll even find fringe Eastern Orthodox opinion -- and a number of heated battles raging. There are wacky Lutherans and RCs. To reverse your challenge, can you point to any church in which someone has not taught contrary to that church's teaching at some point or other?

As a practical matter Spong was ably contradicted by many other bishops and leading scholars -- I spent a week in seminary with my NT professor ably dissecting Spong's errors on the resurrection for the benefit of the class. Other bishops took him on in debate, and a group published a book attacking his errors some years back.

If what you are looking for is a "pure church" and heresy trials and an official "Nihil obstat" kind of check on any published materials produced by anyone in the church, that just isn't our style -- and hasn't really been Anglican style for a long time. (It isn't even really RC style in general, as RC clergy and bishops will publish without getting the "nihil obstat" or "imprimi potest" -- though those tags do alert an innocent reader that the book has an official stamp of approval.

The closest thing that comes to that for TEC is this: If someone asks me for books about the Episcopal Church, I point them to the BCP or the Church's Teaching Series (I prefer the old one) as authoritative; and I might warn them that there are lots of Episcopalian authors, just as there are Lutherans, Roman Catholics and others, who publish books that do not represent the official teaching of their respective churches. (The blogosphere is full of RC folks -- many of them clergy -- who challenge the current regime as too liberal or too conservative -- and that's a church that has a tradition of disciplining fractious clergy!)

So not only do I think the picture of widespread apostasy you've painted is false, I don't think you are helping the situation. It is much more effective to critique the actual errors of the individuals (i.e., Spong) than to attack the whole institution, in which they play a very minor role. I think fifty years from now Spong will be as much of a footnote as John A.T. Robinson is today!

James said...


Thank you very much for your kind and even-keeled answer. I must admit that my own comments are not as charitable as I'd like.

I should add that I have enjoyed some of your writings, and there is good evidence of a warm heart for Trinitarian Christianity there.

You are correct about criticism of Spong from within TEC.

However, that was many, many years ago - and despite this criticism, Spong became chair of the HOB Theology Committee.

Marcus Borg is quite a different matter - he is not vitriolic like Spong, and countering him requires some education. Some of his scholarship is of high quality. He has been gaining quite a following in being by far the most prominent person closely associated with The Center for Progressive Christianity; and what he teaches is very much contrary to Trinitarian Christology. And only last year he was made a Canon in TEC.

Then there is also the case of your PB.

I don't doubt that in many pulpits in TEC, there is preaching of the (bodily) resurrection. I am happy about this, and also that you are amongst the Trinitarian Christians in TEC.

My concern is: that the "Jesus is alive" contingent in TEC will likely wither in TEC if it does not develop the will to defend Trinitarian Christianity within TEC in an effective manner. Moderated voices frequently go unheard; good scholarship is frequently ignored for the "exotic" and piquant.

Yes, other churches have leaders who are a bit wonky; but I think it's fairly clear that TEC is, in many ways, quite unique in this regard - not only in contemporary Christianity, but unique in the last 1,000 years or so of church history.

This is a major issue; and I should not have broached it in this manner - especially to one who is placed in a position to actually do something about this. I do not want to simply write off TEC or the Communion - and if there is something I can do for the risen Christ in TEC, I do wish to do that.

It would be a beautiful thing were "liberals" within TEC to champion the beauty and truth of Trinitarian Christianity within TEC; as this is surely a very liberal cause, when one takes the open-minded and broad notion of "liberal." It exalts our Savior who is both fully man and fully God; a world view which is so profoundly humanist as to boggle the mind. And I fear the "conservatives" allowed themselves to get too side-tracked by sex and polity issues, thereby missing an issue and urgency of infinitely greater importance.

I would like to hear more from you in the future about the state of Christology in TEC; perhaps we can keep this thread open, or find some other interested parties for discussion on the matter. This is, indeed, the "honest" way of approaching such a matter - in discussion with a good mind within TEC who shares love for the Risen Christ.

Blessings to you, and to the whole flock within TEC.

Fr. J said...

Just to second what Tobias has said, it is not fair to judge a church or even an entire tradition based on the ramblings of one or two individuals, even if they happen to wear purple. I do agree with James that TEC has done a poor job of refuting the heresies of Spong and others, but I don't think that is an adequate reason to actively shoo people away from Anglicanism in general.

The book, by the way, that Tobias refers to is called "Can a Bishop Be Wrong?" and includes essays from a number of Episcopalians, including bishops, who take Spong to task for his heresy. Nevertheless, it would sure be helpful, even at this late date, if someone would bring charges against Spong or if, at the very least, the House of Bishops would censure him and condemn his work. It would help to make the point clearer that when Spong stands behind the mask of his office, he does so against the wishes of the wider church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, James. It is a little hard, and frustrating at times... but as we will be reminded in a few weeks, as lonely as the struggle may seem, "there are 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal..."

Fr. J., thanks to you as well. That is the book I was referring to. I do have to say I never saw Spong as that much of a problem, in part because his "ideas" presented by him with such a breathless air of revelation, were for the most part rather stale leftovers of late 19th century liberalism, only heated by the microwave of his personality. He just turned 80 -- and I think bringing him to trial at this point would only make him a martyr and gain further publicity -- than which he would likely like nothing more! I'm actually more concerned about folks like Crossan and Borg, who have a rather sizable following, and are young enough to keep it up for another couple of decades. Speaking plainly in defense of sound doctrine is our best response, I think, rather than heresy trials. Look at what St Paul had to deal with! He'd be a blogger today, no doubt about it...

James said...

Tobias, I recommend a beautiful article by Bishop Whalon aptly subtitled "The Ghost of Pike." I don't think Spong's indirect influence is to be underestimated; many can couch behind him simply arguing, "Well at least I'm not like Spong!" I doubt, if he'd been brought to step down from his position, that Borg would have been made a Canon. The publicity of a "trial" was what initially made TEC reluctant to act ... and things generally got worse. It generally means: any supporters of Borg can ordain or consecrate who they wish, and they have free rein in teaching and influence - even when such teaching is chock full of bad presuppositions and errors, or replaces Jesus Christ with a dead prophet.

It's not for me to say, "heresy trial is best" - but - the Pike example shows "writing good theology" simply doesn't work. The good, interesting theology gets overlooked inside the church for the petty drama, and the "real" issues remain unaddressed. There are few clergy in TEC these days who care to even evaluate Borg's teachings. And we have his "Adult Faith" DVD put out by Church Publishing hitting the shelves this month (I believe).

I saw the booklet "Can a bishop be wrong?" and wasn't particularly impressed - I'd wished more time and thought had gone into it - and frankly I doubt many read it. It was a gesture in the right direction, but fell short of the mark.

I'm afraid that something like a "movement" within TEC for Trinitarian Christology will be necessary. Many who join TEC these days want a Christianity that's "Progressive," don't have much time to learn about faith, and are strongly pulled by soundbytes. I believe quite a bit of turmoil will take place before many are convinced to take the time to evaluate, do the intellectual work of setting aside obstacles to faith, and coming to faith in the Living Christ. It's simply too easy to identify one's "good works" and social principles with "faith" when one's intellectually lazy - with a veritable heap of unevaluated premises blocking the road to faith - with some clergy adding to such premises with their teaching.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, James. I suppose part of my reluctance to heresy trials is that I think it best to fight fire with water, not more fire! (Though as I know from the scene out west there are times a fire-break is handy).

I think the biggest problem is the collapse of education of the laity. I was rather appalled by first year in seminary to discover that many of my classmates had little or no familiarity with the Bible. I was at a distinct advantage, not only having read several translations, but also having said the Daily Office for about two decades as a lay person. One of my proposals here in NY is to recharter a School for Ministry to help equip and train lay leadership, and spread, hopefully, to all of the parishes a reinvigorating Sunday School and adult education movement.

Like children eating lead paint, if wholesome food is not given, people will eat the junk. Visit Barnes and Noble sometime and see the burgeoning "Spirituality" section. So I agree entirely that a major effort is needed to recover sound biblical engagement with the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.

June Butler said...

I think the biggest problem is the collapse of education of the laity.

Amen to that. As former Roman Catholic, I was well indoctrinated in the basics of the faith, and the RCC had begin introducing study of the Bible, so I had some familiarity with the book in several versions. I'm sad to say that I was mostly well ahead of my fellow Episcopalians in the adult classes, even long-time members, who were not new to the faith.

Christopher (P.) said...

Two comments/questions:

Your take on Education for Ministry as a type of program that you hope to see in New York?

"Recovering sound Biblical engagement with the fundamental truths of the Christian faith" is a program that my conservative evangelical parish would heartily endorse (and where I am certainly an outlier). Most of the parish will measure the success of that program by seeing God's affirmation of traditional notions of human sexuality, the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, and the obvious and manifest division of the world into those who are saved and those who are damned (including in the latter most of members of the Episcopal Church). Not where I come down! Please hold out hope for something between conservative evangelical neo-orthodoxy, and Christianity as metaphor!

JCF said...

permissible to have sex with children. Frankly, I think teaching them to deny Christ is the worse of the two

Excuse me, are supposed to let this OBSCENITY by (this) James to go unanswered???

Every Jew (FWIW, including my own brother, a convert) "denies Christ" and, if pressed, many will teach about it. For James to say this is worse than teaching it's "permissible to have sex with children" is DISGUSTING. Anathema!

Furthermore, I utterly reject the FACILE condemnations of Spong and Borg by someone who CLEARLY has no understanding of either of them. Not saying I'm a fan of either (less so Spong), but James's attempt to make a narrowly-defined bodily-resurrection (*resuscitation*?) equal to the "Trinitarian" Faith is beyond the pale. As an Episcopalian, I'm a Christian, NOT a Fundamentalist!

Finally, I note that EACH of James's posts seem at pains to hammer on us the (unquestioned) point that "Jesus is Alive". Methinks he doth protest too much---that he pounds away at it in attempt to silence his own doubts? O_o Evangelical, Evangelize Thyself!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi.

Christopher (P) I have no direct experience of EFM. I do know some folks who have gained much from it, others who found it too "lite." I'd certainly want to know more before making any recommendation, and I usually refer people to those who actually experienced it for their opinion.

I think there are more than conservative evangelical ways to recover biblical engagement with the fundamental truths of Christianity -- I think that's what I did in my book on same-sexuality. (The so-called "biblical" stuff on sexuality really doesn't stand up to very close examination and the "traditional" position is full of interior contradictions and exceptions. The book lays all that out.) so I do think it is possible to find a middle ground between conservative evangelicalism and the poetic license of the liberal fringe.

JCF, I think James was referring to the scandals in the RC Church. I am also not sure he is talking about Jews -- there is ample Scriptural warrant in Scripture for the special dispensation. However, I don't share his opinion on the relative weight God will assign to child-rape and disbelief in Christ in the life of the world to come. I am content to leave that up to God! Suffice to say I think Jesus had things to day about both, but that it is not for me to make pronouncements about the final judgement. Salvation is the work of God, and it is not for me to tell God how to do it, or to whom God may choose to offer it; even while I affirm my own confidence in my own salvation through Jesus Christ, and that he is, indeed, the Savior of the World.

As to resurrection, I'm rereading some of the early fathers, and just came across the rather absurd insistence by Athenagoras that at the resurrection each raised human body must necessarily consist of the identical atoms that made up the body that died. This is, of course, impossible since many of the atoms in my body were once part of someone else's body --- and the idea that even the body in which we die is somehow particular or unique to us is mistaken. To say nothing of how little this has in common with the view of the resurrection espoused by St. Paul in First Corinthians! the resurrection is definitely more than resuscitation...

June Butler said...

Although my beliefs about the core doctrines of the faith are quite orthodox, I don't find Spong, nor even Borg or Crossan as disturbing as others seem to. Theologians explore, and if some of them seem not to have their doctrine ducks lined up in a proper row, I'm not especially troubled.

In our adult class we watched the videos of the "Living the Questions", which included talks by all three men, and I found much that was good in them. The series led to lively and interesting discussions within our group.