Thursday, September 10, 2009

As the oak weathers the storm from all around

Does apostasy warrant leaving the church?

A week or two back I posted on Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina leading his diocese into a period of stiff resistance to the storm winds blowing from GC 2009, TEC head office at 815, and so forth. Part of the 'so forth' has been the winds blowing from pundits who have already left TEC to become North American Anglicans of one kind or another and who, more or less, accuse Lawrence, and other 'Communion Partner' bishops within TEC of being say much, do nothing, go nowhere, whistle in the wind leaders ... all being forgiven if they would see rhyme and reason and leave TEC.

Now another wind is blowing against the Lawrencian oak. One of his parishes, St Andrew's Church, Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, also as it happens, one of the largest parishes within all of TEC, is engaging in a period of 40 Days of Discernment about whether to stay in TEC or to go. You can read a press release here and it's vicar's letter here. The gist of the discernment quest is that TEC is apostate and this raises the question whether this parish should stay or go.

In theory this would appear to mean that this could happen: the Diocese of South Carolina as a whole remains within TEC (but mostly unhappy with the direction TEC is pursuing via its GC resolutions, and hoping that it can, eventually, achieve some kind of turnaround of TEC), one of its largest parishes leaves the Diocese to (presumably) join ACNA (and followed by others?), thus the Diocese when it needs to be strong in its internal unity is weakened, ACNA is modestly strengthened, and TEC blinks momentarily.

It could get worse: TEC's HQ might attempt to force South Carolina to take legal action against a departing St Andrew's ... though that would be a whistling in the wind!

There are, of course, other scenarios: the discernment leads to St Andrew's remaining in the Diocese; the Diocese follows St Andrew's lead; etc.

The oak is going to need deep roots into the wisdom of God!

This week I have personally encountered an intriguing twist to the question of apostasy and leaving the church: in a conservative context I and other church leaders who do not subscribe to a creationist interpretation of Genesis 1 have been described as 'apostate leaders'. I do not think the person making this description is about to leave our diocese; I do not think I am about to leave (or be ejected out of) our diocese. Ergo, it is possible to remain in fellowship with apostates, and for apostates to remain in fellowship with those who think themselves pristinely orthodox!


Howard Pilgrim said...

"Ergo, it is possible to remain in fellowship with apostates, and for apostates to remain in fellowship with those who think themselves pristinely orthodox!"

Yes! Amen! Exactly! and for good measure, Yes! again

That has to be one of the best definitions of the true spirit of Anglicanism I have read for a while (in contrast to recent official attempts to formulate the nature of our Communion).

1. It expresses what we all intuitively recognize: no matter where we are on the theological spectrum, there will always be someone more conservative wondering if we are apostate, and someone more liberal wondering why we are so hidebound. There can be no Christian fellowship at all unless we accept the reality of those tensions, and even come to celebrate them as God-given. I wonder whether some current "fellowships" are anything more than political bullpits, given the narrowness of their leaders.

2. There is also a missional dimension to our need for a broad tolerance. We live in a world where "apostacy" is the norm. Our children are struggling to find a credible basis for faith in God, and treat everything that Christians have to say with a hermeneutic of profound suspicion. The more we struggle with one another to protect "gospel truth" the less credibility as gospel-bearers we have in the next generation's eyes.

The sight of Christians loving and hence valuing our differences is now, as ever, our prime recommendation before an apostate world. The confidence we share that we are not about to get tossed out on our ears is integral to the good news we carry: we do have a fellowship that we can safely bring outsiders into (no matter how weird some of the insiders may be...)

Peter Carrell said...

I appreciate some of those official attempts to formulate our Communion!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
I think it important to recognise that some can sustain, live with apostates and non-apostates in the same fellowship, and some cannot. I presume that the parish in South Carolina which I mention in the post is really struggling with the question of remaining or not remaining within the formal fellowship of TEC, and that there is an implicit threat within the parish that if the parish does not leave, a bunch of people will leave anyway.

In short, nothing is easy in the situation - for the parish and its vicar, or for Bishop Lawrence!

Howard Pilgrim said...

"I appreciate some of those official attempts to formulate our Communion!"

And by and large, I don't. In my view there is something essentially un-Anglican about the whole process. it seems to be driven mostly by people who have forgotten that fellowship becomes before Fellowship, communion before Communion.

Anonymous said...

"And by and large, I don't. In my view there is something essentially un-Anglican about the whole process."

How about reading The 39 Articles?
Or The BCP as the doctrinal standard?
Or The Lambeth Quadrilateral for ecclesiastical definition?

These things seem 'essentially Anglican' to me. Anglicanism isn't mood music, it's Reformed Catholicism.
There's something essentially un-Anglican about late-modern Jungian liberalism, dressed up in liberal catholic drag.

Peter Carrell said...