Thursday, July 16, 2015

The once and future undivided church

One Church, One Faith, One Lord
"Restoring the Conciliar Church and Her Mission"
July 13-July 17, 2015 Fort Worth, Texas
A conciliar gathering of Catholic Anglicans rooted in the past. Ready for the future.

With the International Catholic Congress of Anglicans nearing its completion, I have to say that Forward and Faith and other organizers were wildly successful in addressing their designated theme.

It’s really hard to summarize more than five hours of keynotes on this topic, citing Christian thinkers from the patristic fathers through the Reformation to the 1920s Anglo-Catholic congresses to today. However, these ideas to me seem essential in being able to articulate Anglican (or Anglo-Catholic) distinctives in contrasting one’s local Anglo-Catholic parish to the other Protestant alternatives.

Fortunately, AnglicanTV recorded these keynotes. These include:
The focus of all the speakers was on the original undivided church, from the Apostolic church of the 1st century (as recounted in Acts and the Pauline letters) to the Great Schism of 1054. In the name of conciliarity, I heard a lot more about the seven ecumenical councils of 325-787 — subscribed by FiF, and the Eastern churches — a superset of the four subscribed by some Protestants (including the REC) and a subset of the 21 endorsed by Rome.

Nazir-Ali and Linsley argued that the ECUSA and CoE theological innovations of the past 50 years (notably women’s ordination) have both broken from the original faith of the undivided church, and also impairs the possibility of Anglican reconciliation with either Rome or the East.

Prof. Edith Humphrey
Edith Humphrey

The most through argument came from former Anglican (now Orthodox) seminar professor Edith Humphrey, who presented a historical research paper (posted at Virtue Online). She began by quoting the 1902 observation of Alfred Loisy:
Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom, and what arrived was the Church.
She then laid out a three-fold definition of the one true undivided church:
  1. Apostolic, by reviewing the evidence of the three-fold ministry in first two centuries of the faith, as recounted by Acts and early church leader such as the 2nd century bishops Papias and Irenaeus.
  2. Conciliar, the mutual accountability of the bishops to each other (rather that total independence or control by one supreme pontiff) — as Acts 10-11 and the seven ecumenical councils.
  3. Concrete, the tangible connection of the faithful through baptism, communion and fellowship.
Finally, she quoted the optimistic view of C.S. Lewis in his essay “On the Reading of Old Books”:
We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it.
The True Faith

Linsley quoted from an eclectic mix of Christian thought on the need to repair the divided church. One quote was from Wednesday morning’s hymn — “The Church’s One Foundation” — the 19th century classic by S.J. Stone:
Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
From Basil the Great in On the Holy Spirit:
Every man is a theologian; it does not matter that his soul is covered with more blemishes than can be counted. The result is that these innovators find an abundance of men to join their factions. So ambitious, self-elected men divide the government of the churches among themselves, and reject the authority of the Holy Spirit. The ordinances of the Gospel have been thrown into confusion everywhere for lack of discipline; the jostling for high positions is incredible, as every ambitious man tries to thrust himself into high office. The result of this lust for power is that wild anarchy prevails among the people; the exhortations of those in authority are rendered utterly void and unprofitable, since every man in his arrogant delusion thinks that it is more his business to give orders to others than to obey anyone himself.
From CS Lewis in God in the Dock:
We are to defend Christianity itself—the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, enbodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers. This must be clearly distinguished from the whole of what any one of us may think about God and man. Each of us has his individual emphasis: each holds, in addition to the faith, many opinions which seem to him to be consistent with it and true and important. And so perhaps they are. But as apologists it is not our business to defend them. We are defending Christianity; not “my religion.”
She argued the importance of rallying the church and its moral leadership: “We are bombarded by lies daily. The Church is the single institution to identify and speak against them.”

Finally, she quoted from GK Chesterton in The Ball and Chain:
Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. … The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue.
Making Ourselves Obsolete

Perhaps the most fundamental (and even unsettling) argument came when Nazir-Ali argued that Anglicanism is only a temporary religion awaiting the restoration of the undivided church: “Anglicanism stands ready to disappear for the sake of unity of Christ’s Church.”

This reminded me of the 1930s hymn by a devout member of the Church of Christ:
This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through
My treasures are layed up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beacon me through heavens open door,
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.
Albert E. Brumley (1905-1977) 
Alas, in reality I will probably pass through to the other side before reunification of the Christian churches wipes out denominationalism. Perhaps that means there will be continuing interest in a blog about Anglican liturgy.

Photos by J. West at the 2015 International Catholic Congress of Anglicans

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