Saturday, 28 August 2004

opinions on Anglicans

In a recent Church Times issue Bill Countryman wrote an op-ed column about What holds the Church together? from a Californian perspective.

Here’s an extract:

Anglicans in the US aren’t as divided as they seem…

…Disestablishment means loss of status. No follower of Jesus can automatically assume that that would be a bad thing. But it would change the context of the Church. The C of E would have to find new terms for saying what it is. American Episcopalians have spent a couple of centuries on this task. Our sense of self is that we are the one traditional Christian alternative to the Puritan legacy of theocratic rigidity in the United States.

That legacy has shaped most American assumptions about religion, including the assumption that “real” Christianity is always legalistic and oppressive. There are liberal alternatives to this legacy, but Episcopalians are something else — the one expression of historic Christianity that has continuously resisted the temptation to know the mind of God better than God does.

Since we don’t profess to know the whole mind of God, it makes it easier to remain in communion with one another, even though we disagree on many things. Theologically, we are divided; just like the C of E. There is no single official theological stance, but we live with that by staying in conversation.

This is why we will survive our current conflicts, and be the stronger for them: for we are living out our identity. Again and again, the mean-spiritedness of right-wing American Evangelicalism has turned out to be our single most potent tool of evangelism. There are signs that the American public is once again tiring of its theocratic program, notably in its refusal to get behind the campaign for an amendment to the federal constitution foreclosing gay marriage….

A week ago in the Telegraph Christopher Howse wrote what he thought about Lay Presidency in Sydney. The column is titled The all-clear for DIY at the altar.

Some letters on this subject are also appearing in the Church Times. Here are last week’s contributions: Lay presidency vote would undermine Sydney including this by Judith Maltby:

There are not many things one can say with such certainty, but lay presidency is clearly a departure from Anglican tradition and doctrine, and an ecumenical impediment far greater than is supposed by the ordination of women.

Does this mean, therefore, that alternative episcopal oversight from orthodox bishops will be provided for those faithful and traditional Anglicans in Sydney who are opposed to such a significant departure from orthodox Anglicanism, and, indeed from Catholic Christianity understood in its most inclusive sense?

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‘The one expression of historic Christianity that has continually resisted the temptation to know the mind of God better than God does’?

How does this square with being the expression of Christianity which sits most lightly to what information we do have about the mind of Jesus? The expression of Christianity which selects from Jesus the two things that fit in with their own agenda (‘Judge not’, ‘Neither do I condemn you’), label these as ‘central’ (not that they are un-central), and ignore the other 99%.

If it’s right to be that agnostic, then why is it right to speak of ‘God’ at all, let alone to assume any continuity between the ‘God’ of ECUSA and the God of the Bible?

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at August 29, 2004 08:58 AM

Countryman: the voice of liberal Anglicanism at its most smug and complacent. It’s the voice of the Pharisee: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other Christians are, legalistic and oppressive. I am humble, for I am an Anglican — and Anglicanism is the one expression of historic Christianity that understands the meaning of humility. And I pray, Lord, that you will pour your spirit of humility into the heart of that mean-spirited publican over there — and make him more like me.”

I just have to ask you to believe, Christopher, that not all liberal Anglicans are as intellectually spineless as this.

Posted by: Andrew Conway at August 29, 2004 01:10 PM

Countryman is approaching this from a historical perspective. His training included, both anthropology and American history - disciplines that don’t require a statement of belief.

I don’t think Countryman ignores anything. His books are remarkably well-informed and cross disciplinary. He’s addressing the context of American evangelicalism, which is historically anti-intellectual, a bit self-involved, sometimes corrupt, often violent and a bit loony.

Posted by: John Wilkins at August 29, 2004 07:15 PM

For Catholic Christianity (understood in its non-inclusive sense, which appears to include everyone except Affirming Catholicism) female presidency is, ipso facto, lay presidency. Liberals who supported the ordination of women, in complete disregard of the RC and Orthodox churches, can hardly complain when Sydney’s evangelicals follow their theological lights to a logical conclusion. The arguments about tradition, authority, and Catholicity have already been gutted, and to invoke ‘ecumenical impediments’ is the height of hypocrisy. Anglican male celebrants are, from the Pope’s perspective, laymen who could one day be priests. Female celebrants are simply a scandal.

Posted by: Murray Lamond at August 29, 2004 09:20 PM

“There is no single official theological stance, but we live with that by staying in conversation.”

Uhhhh . . . that is a theological stance, isn’t it?

I’ve been an Episcopalian my entire life. Only in the past few years have I heard that little gem, but now I hear it over and over and over and over and over.

Hear’s what I know:

1. I never voted for this little dogma.
2. Indeed, I don’t remember a vote on it at all.
3. It’s not in Scripture.
4. It’s not in the BCP.
5. It’s not in any of the Church Fathers.
6. It defies basic reason.

People who repeat this cant are arrogating something to themselves that they should not.

Posted by: Marion R. at August 29, 2004 11:50 PM

I find it curious that belief in the Gospels entails belief in Jesus as the full revelation of God, yet people like Countryman turn down the offer. ‘The one who has seen me has seen the Father.’ ‘I’m very sorry, but believing that would mean that we know the mind of God better than He does.’
Of course our ability to understand the full revelation is limited by our humanness—all the Gospels bear repeated witness to that. But to the degree we are able in humility to accept it, it’s on offer. Flatly refusing to consider this is similar to assuming that our humanity can’t (or at least won’t) get in the way. Both are arrogance, not humility.

Posted by: Douglas Lewis at August 30, 2004 03:47 PM

Marion R is right. Everyone has one stance or another; inclusivity (or pluralism) is just as much a stance as anything else.
This is why it is necessary to have more objective criteria for weighing the different stances against each other (e.g. which ones are/are not self-contradictory). Otherwise one is committed to the obviously incorrect position that all views are equally likely to be right.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at August 31, 2004 08:46 AM

It’s also important to bear in mind that Revd Countryman’s basic position on Christian sexual ethics (that they are a matter of ritual purity rather than of eternal moral law) is given the lie by Jesus himself in Mark 7, when he contrasts foods which cannot defile a person (though they are the subject of a vast number of ritul regulations) with unchanging moral matters under which head he includes sexual matters.

Posted by: Dr Christopher Shell at September 7, 2004 09:33 AM
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