Friday, June 19, 2009

Walking together or apart; if the latter, together again?

Mark Harris at Preludium tackles some nuances in the question raised in Amos whether two can walk together when disagreed:

"The NRSV and the New American Standard Bible read, "Do two (men) walk together unless they have made an appointment?" The KJV is not too far off if one simply added a few words, " Can two walk together, except they be agreed in doing so? The addition of those two words makes the question not about the two being in agreement, but about their willingness to walk together. The difference: "We can't walk together because we don't agree." "We can walk together because we agree to do so." The first ends up being about purity. The second is about engaging."

As ACNA heads for its inaugural conference, and 6th July and the FCA conference in the UK looms pretty fast, Mark Harris' question is no less urgent to consider. Here is one reflection ... many other angles on the question exist so I offer 'a word' on the matter, not 'the last word'!

First, a reminder of Anglican history: in the 18th century a moribund Anglicanism strangled by rationalism and a predominance of deistic rather than theistic theology spawned John Wesley and co who led a renewal movement within the Church of England which that church refused to accommodate with the result that though Wesley himself died an Anglican priest the movement became a separate church.

Meanwhile some notable evangelicals, John Newton, the Venns, etc, felt able to remain within the C of E. In the 19th century, with, admittedly, a stronger hand being played by evangelicals (Wilberforce and all that), nevertheless all was not well. On the one hand Anglo-Catholicism rose up with a strong visible attempt to recast the C of E on the basis that the Reformation was a misunderstanding, but could not wholly contain this recasting within the C of E and John Newman, with others, left for Rome. On the other hand (and much less talked about by Anglicans) the Plymouth Brethren were spawned with leadership from John Darby and others: a back to Scripture movement. Yet the 19th century was also notable for a flourishing of back-to-Scripture evangelicalism which remained within the C of E.

You will have noticed the key roles played by people called 'John'!!

That is, our history reminds us that when 'two' views within Anglicanism have sought to walk together the result sometimes has been a walking apart. We cannot discount the possibility that the movements represented in ACNA, GAFCON, and FCA (which perhaps are just one movement) will become, like Methodism and Brethrenism in the past, a new church or churches.* A significant difference is that 'Anglican' will continue within the naming of any such new church or churches. Yet, whatever may happen in this part of Anglican action, there will be evangelicals and anglo-catholics who remain within the Anglican Communion.

But here is the interesting thing (for me, at any rate). Both Methodism and Brethrenism soon split in at least two ways, into what I shall call 'stricter' and 'less strict' versions. The Brethren became the Open Brethren and the Exclusive Brethren ... the results of which continue to this day, especially in Nelson, NZ where I live and there are highly successful Open and Exclusive churches operating. A number of commentators have long worried that one split in the Communion will lead to another, and there are good grounds from history for thinking this. I think there are also signs within the ACNA/GAFCON/FCA wing of the Communion of potential to split into stricter and less strict forms of conservative evangelicalism.

Yet here is another interesting thing. Methodism split (as I once saw sign of in a village in the north of England with two chapels bearing different Methodist 'brands') but later reunited (as also did Scottish Presbyterianism in the 19th century). Would an Anglicanism breaking off from the Communion which then split up later reunite? I ask that question because a reckoning with history might alert us to the wastage of energy a pathway of splitting and then reuniting involves and cause us to use less energy on working out, now, how not to split!

*In one sense ACNA is already a 'new church' for it is organising itself as a church yet it is not formally recognised by the Anglican Communion as a member church. Nevertheless all judgements are provisional at the moment. Recognition might be forthcoming. There is a pathway of communion via its links with African and South American provinces. Some in ACNA remain in TEC ... or sort of remain ... .


Rhys Lewis said...

The trouble with history is that most of us don't know it well enough, and those who do contest it.
And quite how one draws conclusions from history and also uses them is unclear.
Methodism excluded? Catholic departures generally individual conscientious decisions? Brethren an organised group separating? These are rather different scenarios.
As for what the alternative presents - Roman Catholic history -well there are divergent views on that too.
History can only inform present judgments, and only as one of many sources of information.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
My plea is that we acknowledge that one lesson from history is that a lot of energy can be wasted through schismatic action.
But that acknowledgment may not outweigh other pressing reasons in the present to walk one way rather than another!

Peebs.Net said...

Of interest in the Open / Exclusive Brethren Division (Bethesda 1848) is the ensuing lack of further divisions in the 'Open' branch (1 in 1899) compared to the increasingly sectarian and legalistic Exclusive Brethren who have suffered at least 8 so far.

Although the Plymouth Brethren were originally a bible-based 'back to simplicity' group of dissenters, the Exclusive Brethren display the worst aspects of what can happen when making separation from evil a doctrine that disallows contact with any outside the fellowship.

Today the Darbyite / Raven / Taylor / Symington / Hales branch of the Exclusives have been accurately described by Kevin Rudd as "an extremist cult and sect".

It is easy to blame Darby for insisting on the original division on the basis of 'for the sake of a nail the kingdom was lost', but the Exclusive Brethren are really an object lesson in the evolution of a man-made doctrine. A doctrine of comparatively mild legalism associated with a spiritual injunction to live apart from the world has turned into an almost obscene basis for breaking up families, tax evasion, fortress-style compounds, private schools and a terrifying seige mentality.

Walking together or Walking apart? We are meant to ... Walk! And history shows that we have the hope then of Someone joining us as we travel on our individual but collective Journey.