C. FitzSimons Allison on an unreliable witness
‘ECUSA was only guilty of a breach of manners but the people who have crossed boundaries have violated the fundamental foundation of Anglicanism.’ Mark Dyer
he sole ECUSA representative on the Windsor Commission was Mark Dyer, erstwhile bishop of Bethlehem and now teaching at Virginia Seminary. No one better personifies the denigrations of theology and the elevation of polity in ECUSA’S leadership than he. He seems to have been the first to express this substitution of unity over truth, polity over principle and territorial autonomy over biblical faith with his infamous dictum: ‘Schism is always worse than heresy.’
This claim comes from one who left the Roman Catholic Church for the Anglican Communion whose very identity is based on the doctrinal issue of biblical faith that resulted in separation from Roman Catholicism at the Reformation. Obviously Mark has left Rome for no reasons of faith and doctrine. It is something of a puzzle as to his reason when he claims that issues of doctrine can never justify separation. It is an impossible position for authentic Anglicans to take. Separation from Marcianism, Arianism, Donatism, etc. is simply a part of the history of the Christian Church, each over issues of heresy.
His claim, that ECUSA’s responsibility is the current threat of (or actual) schism in the Anglican Communion is merely a ‘breach of manners,’ echoes the House of Bishops’ theological amnesia in the case of Bishop James Pike. Pike had denied the creeds’ affirmation concerning Jesus Christ and the Trinity. The House of Bishops censured him for his ‘tone and manner,’ not for the substance of his attack on the creeds.
Mark Dyer is not alone in this atmosphere of relegating theology to a question of ‘manners’ but this process undermines the foundation of our unity, our common Christian faith. What is left to hold us together is territory, property, endowments, canons and coercion. After giving up faith and doctrine as the foundation of unity it is logical to claim the autonomy of ecclesiastical boundaries to be the ‘fundamental foundation of Anglicanism.’ It is also inevitable that without a common faith as the foundation of unity the latter must be imposed by tyranny.
Dyer’s attempt to substitute ecclesiastical unity for biblical truth leads him to deny our very history. He falsely claims that Anglicanism has never had any overlapping jurisdictions when the scholarship is abundantly clear and available that there are at least six examples of current and historical overlapping jurisdictions.
One of the weaknesses of the Windsor Report is its failure to acknowledge the tragic examples of faithful Episcopalians who hold the classical Anglican faith yet are excluded by a leadership that does not hold to Anglican faith and doctrine. The failure is largely due to the presence of Mark Dyer as the only representative of the Commission who could have let the members know what was actually going in the ECUSA. Unfortunately he has become a part of the very problem that seeks to maintain unity without the faith that gave birth to our church.
Mark was at one time a member of the Irenaeus Fellowship and was its official spokesman when it numbered 106 bishops committed to the historic Anglican faith. However, at General Convention, 1990, he voted with those who defeated the resolution which asked that bishops, priests and deacons refrain from sexual intercourse outside of marriage. He voted against his expressed conviction and no longer participated in, or was associated with, the Irenaeus Fellowship. He was, however, immediately put on several desirable committees by the Presiding Bishop.
The examples of Athanasius ministering in Arian jurisdictions, and Catholic bishops doing the same in Donatist dioceses, are incomprehensible to those suffering from willful theological amnesia concerning the crucial importance of faith and doctrine. Such advocates of unity over truth cannot comprehend the action of African, Asian, and Latin American bishops and primates who minister in dioceses where the leadership has voted against the faith expressed in their own ordination and consecration vows when Bishop Ackerman’s resolution B001 was defeated at General Convention in 2003.
One cannot but feel a certain sadness observing the frantic compulsion to elevate ‘boundaries’ as the ‘the fundamental foundation of Anglicanism’ when those very ‘boundaries’ are historically and obviously derivative from the Christian Faith now being denied and called into question.
William Langland, a 14th Century poet warns us of the danger in the Church to let derivative gifts (like territory) replace the very faith that gave birth to the Church. ‘When the kindness of Constantine gave Holy Church Endowments in Lands and Leases, lordships and servants The Romans heard an angel cry on high above them ‘This day endowed Church has drunk venom and all who have Peter’s power are poisoned forever.’
The Rt Revd D C FitzSimons Allison is the retired Bishop of South Carolina
This story was first published by Virtueonline.org by whom it was originally commissioned
It is reproduced here by kind permission of the Publishers
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