COMMUNION IN A DIVIDED CHURCH
The following is a paper presented by the Chairman of Forward in Faith, Fr John Broadhurst, to a meeting of the Samrad pa Kirkens Grunn of the Church of Norway in Bergen in June of this year
Theologically Communion (Koinonia) is the expression of that perfect unity which exists between Christ and his Church. Each Christian by baptism becomes a partaker in the mystery of God and participates in the perfect communion of the Holy Trinity. That relationship puts upon the Christian the constraints of Faith, Hope and Love. The New Testament gives us the vision of a people united in purpose because of their unity with Christ. If we are to be faithful to the Lord it can only be expressed in our straggle to be, and remain, one family united in faith and love.
St Paul tells us that we see `through a glass darkly' (l Cor. l3:12). In other words our perception of the truths of God, and our communion with Him, is obscured by our frail humanity and our continuing sinfulness. In this world we are not yet what we are to be in God's purpose. He exhorts the early Christians to be faithful to their calling using a multitude of metaphors to enforce the relationship. 'You are members of the Body of Christ and individually members of it'. (1 Cor. 12:27) writes, Paul, asserting the truth that the Christian Faith is essentially communal in character. Each and every image of the Church is essentially a corporate image - People of God - the New Israel - the Kingdom - the Vine - the Flock, etc. - are essentially communal pictures. The New Testament assertion is that Jesus died and rose for us, and therefore that he died and rose for me. It is only with the rise of the Anabaptists that we find a reversal of this imagery. `Christ died for me' is a Reformation picture and as a statement of first principle, or of faith, it is a denial of the collective and corporate impulse that runs through the Old and New Testaments. `None of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself'. (Rom. 14:7) `If one member suffers all suffer together'. (I Cor 12:26)
The Anabaptist distortion has in varying degrees affected all the churches of the Reformation leading to a church which places undue emphasis upon the value of personal belief and interpretation. One man's belief is of its nature another man's heresy. We have indeed come a long way from the revelation of the corporate nature of the Body of Christ at Paul's conversion. Jesus said `Saul why are you persecuting ME?', enforcing the essential unity between himself and the Church. A real and inescapable tension consequently exists in all the Churches of the Reformation between individual and local perceptions on one hand (Protestantism at its worst) and the corporate claims of universal tradition on the other hand (Catholicism at its best). Those of us who seek to assert the universal and biblical inevitably find ourselves hampered by the fact that in our Churches such a belief is portrayed as just `another point of view'. Nothing is absolute and no point of view can have any ultimate ascendancy. My Church oscillates between Catholicism, Evangelicalism and Liberalism. Yours has a similar trio of Classical Lutheranism, Pietism and Liberalism. Members of each group are subjected to an endless round of frustration as mutually contradictory perceptions gain the ascendancy and then wane in rotation. In this situation nothing is absolute and ultimately nothing is true!
In the Acts of the Apostles we find the early Church sorting out its first major crisis at the Council of Jerusalem When the Church is established in the empire this continues with Constantine and his successors sponsoring universal Councils and enforcing their decisions. It is significant that Nestorians and Monophysites existed at the fringe of the Empire or beyond its borders. In a real sense the Empire became a tool of the catholicity of the Church. After its collapse the church continued in its conciliar mode, a strengthened Papacy replacing the role of the Emperor in the West. Though it would be simplistic to present this is as a golden age, it is not difficult to identify the mainstream of Christianity throughout this period, or to find its central doctrines and practices.
The rise of the nation state in the western world gave rise to a host of tensions which led to the break up of the previous international/catholic Christendom. Religious and national wars led to a Europe with several mutually exclusive Christian systems and a real confusion as to the nature of truth. `Cujus regio eius religio' is a frequently asserted reformation dictum. It is pragmatically true, but quite devastating in its implications. The English are Anglicans because their King sponsored Cranmer, the Dutch Calvinist because their leaders sponsored Calvin, and the northern states Lutheran because a series of monarchs sponsored Luther. We are what we are because of a series of historical events. What is true or false does not enter into the picture! Each nation is formed in a particular interpretation of the Christian faith by an historical accident. For Anglicans the Councils of the undivided Church are true only in so far as they are in accord with the word of God. In other words they are not, in themselves, or of themselves, true at all.
Anglicanism and Lutheranism both saw their local churches as part of the Universal Church and eventually settled down as static national Churches with an agreed, and sometimes rigorously enforced, set of beliefs and practices. Within traditions quite wide divergences exist. Anglicanism in Ireland is very different in history, theology and ethos, from Anglicanism in Scotland. In a similar way Lutheranism in Denmark is quite different from that in Norway. In each state the national Church developed its own ethos and practice. Traditionalists through the ages have always stressed the universal against the purely local and each Church has found itself living with the tension between the faith of the undivided Church and its own confessional statements. The historic statements established at the Reformation have given a settled basis under which these conflicting views can co-exist. In each of our Churches the inner core of the tradition was conserved with the scriptures and the creeds, allied with an agreed (and usually episcopal) structure of ministry. The power of the state was used to maintain this balance and keep in unity the different groups in the Church.
What has changed? Firstly the later development of the Enlightenment has elevated the role of the individual to such a degree that an exaggerated respect for personal freedom and opinion has become the mark of a civilised society. Society, responsibility, duty, and even family have all become old fashioned and outmoded concepts. This has affected every strand of our lives and now threatens the Church. The Anabaptists, the religious anarchists, reign supreme!
The establishment of a church, which once bound it closely to the old universal tradition, has now become an instrument of oppression seeking to enforce the views of an increasingly secular world upon the believers. In Scandinavia secular authority has promoted women priests in one place, homosexual marriage in another, and Christians have found themselves unable to oppose these innovations. In my country the church is being liberalised apace and the establishment effectively means that we have no recourse to the law of the Land. For all of us the secular establishment of the Church is a Babylonian captivity of enormous proportions Our established churches defend every view except traditional Christianity. Justice exists for every group except orthodox Christians within the National Church. It is a direct denial of our basic human rights and I would not be at all surprised to see it eventually challenged in the European Court of Justice. We are the most unhappy of people.
How do we respond? We are no longer at one with the majority in our national Churches. We reject their interpretation of the truth. Many of their assertions we take to be falsehoods. The Faith of the apostolic Church, and any notion of revealed truth, find themselves in an extremely hostile environment. Contemporary perception has replaced Revelation and Reception. Many of the actions and teachings of our National Churches are contrary to the tradition of the early Church and have the effect of driving us to the fringes. We are the most unhappy of people because for us the Church has always been both an instrument of the kingdom and a part of Christ's plan for the salvation of mankind. How do we survive in a community which is at times faithless, at other times apostate and acts in a way that often deliberately excludes Orthodox belief and practice?
If we, and the Truth, are to survive it is necessary that we stand away from them as far as is necessary for us to survive. This standing apart must be with a heavy heart; but we cannot continue in a Church which proclaims falsehood, denies truth, and makes the sacraments doubtful questions rather than signs of the kingdom. As Christianity is an incarnational religion my personal view is that incarnating error by ordaining women is the fatal flaw The question we have to ask is how far we are willing to go in the defence of truth.
In the Early Church the Fathers established the principle that orthodox Christians should gather around the nearest orthodox Bishop. In my Church several bishops have publicly stated that they have supported what they do not believe in. Few hold to the old beliefs. As none of the bishops of the State Churches is willing to come to the defence of orthodox Christians outside their own dioceses this puts us in a problematic situation. In England we have made a Statement on Communion which sets the limits of our relationship with the majority as a consequence of their actions.
The statement starts from the minimal premise that there is doubt about the acceptability of women priests. It spells out the consequence of this doubt which destroys the collegial nature of the presbyterate and breaks the relationship with the bishop. How can a priest act on behalf of a bishop who ordains women and acts collegially with them? We believe that to continue to do so is to affirm that which we deny. We therefore accept the juridical authority of the diocesan Bishop, but not his episkope over word or sacrament. He has ceased to he our pastor. In the document we set out the basis of our continued participation within the State Church and our Communion with each other. We publicly recognise the real impairment of Communion which is now with us. This solves the immediate problem but does not offer us any future. Without bishops we will be exterminated within a generation. We have to secure the ministry - Have we the courage and will to defy the establishment and secure the consecration of bishops who will guarantee us a future?
Like you Norwegians we are now in the process of appointing regional deans who will be a focus for our members and exercise Episkope among us. These Deans are being appointed by a consensus of the priests in the regions. However a catholic understanding of faith and morals, and a catholic practice of sacramental life depends upon a structure which is ecclesial, if not ecclesia Are our national churches capable of being moved from their old monolithic structures to a new federal model in which the orthodox can live and proclaim the truth to the majority? My own view is that any State Church is essentially opportunist and will accept what it has to accept. We should seek the consecration of bishops who will for us be a focus of unity and guardians of the sacraments, and for them will be proclaimers of the truth and drivers away of error. Liberal Christianity will happily talk forever. We need decisive action, Action is the one thing the liberal Christian has not bargained for. Inevitably they would be defeated by it, and Truth would triumph.
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