LETTER FROM AMERICA
Positions contrary to Scripture
AS THINGS here are developing, the United States may have a Second Province before next summer's General Convention. Many dioceses' response to the last Lambeth Conference has shown that they will not be bound by biblical teaching, even when it is proclaimed by a seven out of eight of the Communion's bishops.
In addition to which, and of immediate pastoral concern, large areas of the country have no orthodox Anglican witness and no chance of one being created, and in many dioceses even the politest insistence on the institutional implications of orthodoxy -- not giving money to a diocese that will pay for bad causes with it, for example -- will result in the diocese moving against the priest and parish. (In many of these dioceses one may flout the Church's canons on sexual morality and be promoted.)
The cause has been taken up by the First Promise group (described in the October 1997 and April 1998 letters) and a new group called Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission. AACOM is made up mainly of parishes that have left the Episcopal Church and others that would join it were it other than it is.
A few months ago AACOM sent all the world's Anglican bishops a long, well-documented statement describing the state of the Episcopal Church. It asked the archbishops to intervene in the Episcopal Church, as allowed by the Lambeth Conference, and if that effort failed to break communion with the Episcopal Church and form an alternative Anglican province.
The leader of the group is John Rodgers, the first professor and second dean of my seminary. He is, in body as well as spirit, much like your George Austin: a genial man who would rather be doing something else -- in Dr. Rodgers' case teaching and writing -- but who has accepted the burden of church politics because it must be done, and who has taken a great deal of abuse for continuing to state what was once the obvious.
He knew that not every orthodox believer would agree with the action, Dr. Rodgers wrote Trinity's graduates. "I view it as saying, 'The Emperor has no clothes' regarding the assumed state of tolerance within the Episcopal Church as well as the assumed Anglican character and orthodoxy of the Episcopal Church."
Not schismatic but helpful
To the inevitable charge that the action is "schismatic," he replied that it is not schism but "excommunication, which is clearly enjoined as a last measure in Holy Scripture. To be Anglican is not to be a wax nose that can be twisted in any shape one desires without regard for Scripture or the Catholic Creeds, or the judgement of the other Churches of the Communion.
"Truth to tell," he continued, "I believe the orthodox would be willing for the revisionists to depart, as seems appropriate in the light of their departure from the Faith, and to take their property with them. In this I believe we are more charitable than they are."
He thought that "A careful reading of the Lambeth resolutions seems to envision such an action when the Faith is being denied," and that such action was faithful to the ancient Christian practice. It would help "isolated and oppressed congregations" and also help the Episcopal Church to face "the seriousness of our situation at the next General Convention," to be held in Denver next summer.
"Apart from these actions," he continued, "the next General Convention will either officially affirm positions contrary to Scripture and to the Lambeth resolutions as the official positions of ECUSA, or even worse continue to do business as usual. Business as usual would mask the fact that orthodoxy is being increasingly oppressed within ECUSA; it would allow revisionism to continue to grow in strength, and cause more and more orthodox believers to find their way to other churches."
The archbishops' response
As has been widely reported, Dr. Rodgers, First Promise chairman Chuck Murphy, Jon Shuler of the North American Missionary Society, and other leaders of the group met with several archbishops in Singapore after Easter. Attending were Maurice Sinclair of the Southern Cone, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Moses Tay of South East Asia, Harry Goodhew of Sydney, Jonathan Onyemelukwe, representing the primate of Nigeria, and Evans Kisekka, representing the primate of Uganda.
The archbishops issued a statement assuring the group that "the international Communion is becoming more alert to the urgency of the situation you face" and promising "to pursue this matter to a satisfactory conclusion." They said that they were "also concerned that vulnerable parishes in ECUSA should receive the Episcopal visitation they need."
An Episcopalian tends to read Episcopal statements with some scepticism, for reasons you will understand, but Dr. Rodgers and others report that the archbishops' statement is a tactful and prudent statement of a real commitment. These are not men who trifle with the Gospel.
As NAMS' Dr. Shuler wrote on his return, the archbishops "bring a holy passion to the table that is a joy to behold. They are sold out for Jesus and the Word of God. They care for the 'lost,' and believe that to not be sharing the gospel with unbelievers is to be in disobedience to the Lord. And they believe that all the world (including America) is a mission field. These men are praying that we will be 'faithful and fruitful'!"
"Faithful in delivering the truth 'once delivered to the saints," he continued, "They have no hesitation in making the following statement: 'To be a Christian is to be under the Lordship of Jesus, submitted to His Word and commandments, and the teaching of His Apostles. If this is not true of a person claiming to be an Anglican Leader, they are not recognised'."
What about Canterbury?
When AACOM's letter appeared, Bp Mark Dyer, one of our contributions to the Anglican Consultative Council, announced grandly that such a group would never be recognised by Canterbury. I think he thought this a crushing blow.
These people would rather be recognized by Singapore or Rwanda than Canterbury, if a choice has to be made. If Bp Dyer is right, the price of being recognised by Canterbury is leaving thousands of sheep at the mercy of the wolves.
David Mills is director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. He is the editor of The Pilgrim's Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans) and is working on a companion volume to be titled Worth Doing Badly: G. K. Chesterton and the Art of Witness.
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