Monday, June 19, 2006

Wearing My Church History Hat

I had pretty much decided that I wouldn't post anything concerning the General Convention of the Episcopal Church being held this week in Columbus, OH. In general, this blog is really for my reflections on books...though I've realized in recent weeks the scope of my reflections has been expanding.

Besides the fact that I don't often care to comment publically on church politics, there's the fact that hundreds of other bloggers are already saying what needs to be said. However, as someone who loves Jesus, loves the Church, has been blessed to be a part of the Anglican tradition for over a decade, and who teaches Church History from time to time, I just can't seem to help but make a couple of comments.

I'm grieved but not terribly surprised by the Convention's actions this week. I had hoped that the Lord might yet knock a couple of prominent leaders off their horses, so to speak, shine the light of truth full on them as they travelled the Damascus Road and wake up their hearts. God is in the business of changing lives and hearts. People can repent.

But it seems that, at the moment, God is allowing the Episcopal Church in the U.S. to go on their undisciplined and uncharitable way. I'm not sure why, but I trust his higher purposes for the church -- both the church here in the U.S. and the church around the world.

The fact that ECUSA did not repent of their actions in 2003 was not surprising. The election of a woman as presiding bishop was surprising. Both actions send a very strong message to the rest of the global communion, and it's not a message of reconciliation. I know, to my deep sadness, that many people involved in these decisions view them as cutting edge, revolutionary and even prophetic. What they primarily are, it seems to me, is rude and self-serving, but in keeping with the modernist liberal theology that has held sway over much of the denomination in recent years.

Please hear me: my problem with the new presiding bishop's gender is in a different category than my problems with her theology. I understand, yea I even ache a bit, for the many, many Christians around the world who stand on a long history of church tradition and who do not accept or approve of women priests and bishops, including many of our own Anglican primates. That's why choosing a woman was a particular slap in the face to the the rest of the communion, especially at this critical juncture in our strained relations with the rest of the global church, because it shows that we're continuing to go on our merry way without regard for their feelings and concerns, and without humble recognition of the fact that the ordination of women has a relatively short history in the institutionalized church (I'm not talking about women's ministry, which has a long and hallowed tradition going way back to Jesus). But it's not ++Schori's gender that's the real problem here, it's her theology, and in that regard perhaps nothing much has changed at all, because it's the same ol', same ol'.

I confess I did find it a bit troubling to hear a statement of a theologically conservative diocese (can't recall which one right now) immediately raising questions of apostolic succession because of her election. It's understandable -- because she will be consecrating other bishops then of course that's an issue that will be raised, but what I don't understand is why we don't raise it more often with other bishops in the church, most of whom are male. If one has a completely physical/mechanistic view of sucession, then of course, anyone who has had hands laid on them properly in a consecration is "in apostolic sucession." And of course anyone who holds that because Jesus was male all valid bishops must be male is going to have a major problem with the consecration of a woman.

But my understanding of apostolic succession is deeper than that. If you look at the early history of the church, and of subsequent church history, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit has safeguarded the church and the message of the gospel to a hurting world through bishops and teachers who were faithful to apostolic teaching. That's where the rubber meets the road. If you have a faithful bishop who holds to the gospel, then that bishop is in apostolic succession. And in a less historic but somehow very real sense, every Christian who faithfully holds to the teaching of the apostles carries on in that line (my colors as a daughter of the Reformation really flying high right now!). It seems to me that in many ways the quiet but faithful passing on of the faith in families and communities down through the ages has as just about as much to do with apostolic succession as the consecration of bishops. I'm not saying the church doesn't need faithful bishops -- one reason I'm an Anglican is because I think collegial authority and mutual accountability is a very good thing and necessary thing. But the key for me is that the church needs faithful bishops, not just bishops. And when we lose that kind of faithful leadership, then the whole structure is in danger of capsizing.

More soon. I commend N.T. Wright's comments on the Windsor Report resolutions and Bishop Nazir-Ali's sermon on the Holy Spirit, both documents that have gotten a lot of attention in recent days.

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