Friday, August 07, 2009

The Anglican Schism; Does It Matter?

The Guardian is hosting an interesting set of essays on the topic "Who Cares About the Anglican Schism?" Thinking Anglicans provides links to the various articles. Make sure you take a look at Simon's entry, as I think he offers an important insight into another reason why we are witnessing the current awakening within the Church of England.

I thought it might be entertaining if we addressed that question as well. So, here we go...

Who cares about the Anglican schism?

Since I already have the floor, I'll go first.

I used to care about the schism very much, but possibly not for the regularly stated reasons. My understanding of God's grace has always been very contrary to the Calvinist assumption (predestined election, etc.). In the Gospel in miniature (John 3:16), I don't see any qualifiers to the term "WHOSOEVER." Whosever believes will not perish. God's grace is not limited. It flows where it will.

That means that God's mission is not limited to me, or my family, or my group, or my nation. To glimpse God's mission, our ego boundaries have to move beyond the inclination to separate humanity into camps of "us" and "them."

In some places, specifically in the US, the importance of the "individual" has been enshrined as an idol that dare not be challenged. The Church is not immune to the influences of this particularly poisonous form of idolatry. As a result, what is of utmost importance to many Christians is what is happening in their congregation. This is often referred to as "congregationalism" or "parochialism." It severely limits our ability to perceive the movement of God beyond our own backyard.

The concept of the Anglican Communion guards against this limitation. It draws us to constantly keep in mind that God's mission is a global mission, which touches every person, everywhere, all the time. That is an important perspective. To me, it is what gives value to the existence of The Anglican Communion.

I recall being at some event about 15 years ago, at which some representatives from some official entity (815, perhaps?) were asking us to identify the specific value added by being part of a Diocese. I was troubled by the various responses, as, without exception, they were all about how the Diocese assisted their local congregation. When it was my turn, I pointed out that the Diocese was important because it was my connection to the Episcopal Church, which was in turn my connection to the Anglican Communion. The Diocese was my connection to God's global mission. That response was greeted with a few puzzled expressions, and a few more condescending smiles. Then the discussion continued, along the lines of "what's in it for me," of course.

A decade and a half later, I find that my thinking on this matter hasn't shifted too much. It is the reason that I continue to be outraged by those who believe that a congregation or a Diocese has the authority to make unilateral decisions regarding their connection to the Episcopal Church.

However, recently I find my view has started to shift, due primarily to the tensions emerging within the Anglican Communion. To avoid all the heavy language of the theologians and simplify what I see as at the root of this tension, I'll offer two sentences that I think are quite representative.

The first is from former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning; "In this Church, there will be no outcasts."

The second is from a recent article by Cal Thomas: "Inclusivity has nothing to do with the foundational truths set forth in Scripture."

As you can see, those are two very different perspectives, and I'm not sure that they can ever be reconciled.

If we are to use the recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury as an indicator of what direction the "official" Anglican Communion is headed, it appears that it will be more aligned with Cal Thomas. Based on personal prejudices and a strained interpretation of 5 verses from the bible (while apparently editing out John 3:16), the Good News of the Anglican Communion will be an exclusionary message.

Can such a message convey the free flow of God's grace? I don't think so. If not, can the Anglican Communion be said to be engaging in God's global mission? I'm no longer so sure.

So, what can we do?

I'm drawn to reflect on the term "communion." What does it mean for me to "commune" with God? It is to be in a relationship, a relationship from which grace flows, a relationship in which the depth of God's love is known. A relationship in which that love allows me to be a conduit of grace for the world.

As a conduit of grace (or a "sacramental person" if you prefer) a web of relationships that spans the globe is perceived. God's mission continues, regardless of our petty disputes of what is fit and what is not. And it is in this web of relationships that I find hope for the future.

Perhaps the time for official institutions has come and gone. Perhaps the hierarchies that block the flow of grace must be revealed for the facades that they have always been and be allowed to come tumbling down. If that is so, I will grieve their passing. But then it will be time to carry on, actively seeking the movement of God, and engaging in that mission, wherever it might be found.

Do I care about the Anglican schism? Yes. I find it to be quite sad that such a noble experiment has allowed the shrill voices of a dying world view to twist their global mission into one that places unnecessary exclusionst barricades around their perimeter. As I can see no future for such an institution, I also mourn its inevitable death.

But, in the end, it is God's mission, not mine, not the Episcopal Church's, and not the Anglican Communion's. And God will prevail. Of that I have no doubt.

Perhaps this schism will result in the destruction of the Church as we know it. If so, then let it happen quickly. But let us never give up our hope in God's redemptive love. From the ashes of those broken dreams, God is already fashioning a new thing; a communion rooted in a web of living relationships that transcend the barricades of the past.

Ok, your turn.  Who cares about the Anglican schism?


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