Paul Greve: The Episcopal Church needs to band together

My beloved church, the Episcopal Church, has been much in the news of late.

Some of the media focus has been flattering, especially the funeral services for former President Ford held in three Episcopal churches, including Washington National Cathedral. Much of the media focus has not been flattering, portraying a church fraying at the edges over issues of sexuality and the election of a female presiding bishop, the first ever in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is the second-largest Christian denomination with 80 million adherents, second only to the Roman Catholic Church.

Historically, the Church of England emerged from the Reformation as the least-reformed model of Protestant Christianity. Unlike many of the continental European churches, the office of the bishop was preserved as was a focus on the Eucharist in worship along with other sacramental rites. The liturgy was reformed, and the Mass was translated into English. Many of the continental churches’ drastic reforms in worship and church theology were rejected. Because of its uniquely preserved Catholic emphases, the Anglican Communion is considered the “via media”: the middle way between the Protestant and Catholic traditions.

In 1549, one of the greatest of all books in the history of Christendom emerged, the Book of Common Prayer. It is still used today throughout the Anglican Communion as the basis for communal worship services and private daily prayer.

Read it all.

I would guess Paul Greve is a nice man. I am sure he means well. I share his love for the beauty of liturgy. But this is the kind of article which makes me tear my hair out in frustration and will get us nowhere.

First of all there is the issue of basic errors of fact. The Anglican Communion is NOT the second largest Christian denomination in the world. This would come as news to the over 220 million Eastern Orthodox Christians! Goodness. If you use strict membership as a guide, you can make a case for the Baptists being number 3 at about 100 million worldwide. Nevertheless as a family of churches I believe you can try to argue Anglicanism is number 3–but not number two.

Richard Hooker not only doesn’t discuss the three legged stool, he never mentions it. Augustine? Someone please show me the three legged stool in Augustine! This is historic revisionism at its worst and it is reflected widely, alas, in the leadership of the Episcopal Church..

But the biggest objection to the article is that he never really gets to the meat of why the present crisis is such a big deal. If Anglicanism is a via media between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism as he (thank the Lord) rightly says, then it is not a middle way to nowhere, nor is it a middle way between faith and life, or between all sorts of other false polarities which are suggested in a number of recent discussions. The heart of Anglicanism is as Marco Antonio De Dominis rightly said in essentials unity, in non essentials liberty, and in all things charity. But what happens when the ‘“big tent” of Anglicanism that comfortably accommodated a full range of conservative and liberal beliefs’ accommodates disagreements about matters which are not non-essential?

Here is what I said on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer a while back:

MARGARET WARNER: Canon Harmon, why can’t different views of these two issues — that is, whether to bless same-sex unions or allow priests who are in same-sex unions to become bishops — why can’t both be accommodated in the Anglican Communion?

Is this rooted in faith? Is it a question of — well, I don’t want to characterize what Reverend Russell said — but is it more sort of political and cultural? What is the nub of the inability of different views on this issue, these two issues, to coexist?

KENDALL HARMON: Well, the difficulty here is that Anglicans believe in the importance of tolerating differences, but Anglicans also believe in boundaries. Otherwise you can’t have any community to discuss differences in.

And the crucial point to make here is, there’s different kinds of differences. And it’s interesting that this is the topic of debate here, because in the Windsor report this specific subject is addressed. And in one section — it’s paragraph 89 — what they say in there is, in the New Testament, there are certain kinds of differences that actually Christians can’t tolerate, because it’s not part of what it means to be a genuinely Christian community.

Two examples they use are sexual behavior and lawsuits of one Christian against another. And it’s interesting that, in this communique, both lawsuits and sexual behavior are things that the primates are talking about.

So the reason is because there are different kinds of differences, and the majority of the communion sees these differences as not the kind of differences that can be tolerated.

Or as Stephen Neill in his wonderful book Anglicanism says:

So, by 1593 the Church of England had shown plainly that it would not walk in the ways either of Geneva or of Rome. This is the origin of the famous Via Media, the middle way, of the Church of England. But a ”˜middle way’ which means ”˜neither this nor that’ seems a rather negative road. And a middle way which is no more than a perpetual compromise, an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable, is not likely to inspire anyone to heroism or to sanctity. Such is the carica­ture of the Anglican position which is the current coin of con­troversialists, and nothing could be further from the truth. Anglicanism is a very positive form of Christian belief; it affirms that it teaches the whole of Catholic faith, free from the distortions, the exaggerations, the over-definitions both of the Protestant left wing and of the right wing of Tridentine Catholicism. Its challenge can be summed up in the phrases, ”˜Show us anything clearly set forth in Holy Scripture that we do not teach, and we will teach it; show us anything in our teaching and practice that is plainly contrary to Holy Scripture, and we will abandon it.’ It was time that this positive nature of Anglicanism should be made plain to the world. It was the good fortune of the Elizabethan Church that it produced the two greatest of the positive controversialists of English ecclesiastical history (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 119 (emphasis added)

Ah, different kinds of differences, there is the rub, but Mr. Greve never even makes this clear. This controversy does involve Scriptural interpretation but it also involves Scriptural authority (the two go hand in hand), it involves how the church makes decisions, it involves marriage, it involves the doctrine of humanness, the doctrine of sin, and even ultimately the shape of the gospel itself. We need better informed discussion that gets at the root of the real issues if we are going to get anywhere–KSH


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * By Kendall, - Anglican: Analysis, - Anglican: Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts

14 comments on “Paul Greve: The Episcopal Church needs to band together

  1. robroy says:

    It is somewhat heartening that Father Kendall has the occasional urge to “tear his hair out.” When I read things like the bishop of Newark’s balderdash link, I want to laugh, cry, throw up, and “tear my hair out” simultaneously. I repeat, “Bridle tongue, bridle tongue,…” but don’t always succeed. :zip:

    I am no expert on Hooker. With my life, I have no time to “go to the sources” as Father Kendall as encouraged. That being said, I did find this interesting webpage discussing Hooker and his supposed three legged stool. In particular, we have

    <blockquote>“What scripture doth plainly deliver, to that first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason over-rule all other inferior judgments whatsoever” ( Laws, Book V, 8:2; Folger Edition 2:39,8-14).

  2. The_Elves says:

    robroy, yes, we’re aware of the HTML problem in some comments. It’s happened to even us elves. It’s on Greg’s list of stuff he’s working on. Thanks for understanding. Go ahead and keep using the tags, since at least it makes it clear what you’re quoting… Sometimes they work. Not quite sure where the problem lies.

  3. Nikolaus says:

    Thank you very much Fr. Harmon. I greatly appreciate your thoughts here. Especially:

    Anglicans also believe in boundaries. Otherwise you can’t have any community to discuss differences in.

    It strikes me that this is what revisionists fail to understand. Try to talk about this and they see “litmus tests” from which they recoil like Dracula from…uh…er…the Cross.

  4. Words Matter says:

    If there were a three-legged stool, it would be clear that neither scripture nor tradition support the homosexualist positions. I believe it is time that reasserters reclaim reason as well. As was recently shown on another thread, science doesn’t support the normalcy (and probably not the existence) of a homosexual “orientation”. Medical data clearly shows homosexual practices to be detrimental to health. In fact, the homosexualist reappraisers don’t have reason on their side, and should be challenged on that fact at every turn.

    Not that it will matter. We are dealing with forces, psychological, social, and (yes) spiritual that drive the this debate. What we are not dealing with is “reason”.

  5. Paula Loughlin says:

    Reason is a very fine thing. But if my reasoning leads me to contradict the plain teaching of Scripture and worthies who have laid down the path of church teachings. I must conclude I am in error. As damaging as this is to my ego what choice do I have? Either Scripture is the inspired, inerrant Word of God or it is not.
    If God can err then all bets are off. He sure as heck does not deserve to be worshipped and glorified. When His authority in one matter is in question then it is questionable in all matters. So why bother with Church at all? I really have no use for anarchistic spirituality.

    As for tradition. The path of Tradition leads back to Scripture. If a teaching goes off the path and into uncharted territory we will end up getting lost. Oh some teachings may meander but they do get us to Scripture at some point. But Scripture must always be our true North.
    Of course all three of these elements mean nothing unless their foundation is Jesus Christ. We know this with certainy for Scripture. We believe it for Tradition. We hope for it for reason. But the farther we get from their orgin, Christ, the more cautious we must be.

    PS. Isn’t 3 legged stool a redundancy?

  6. DonGander says:

    “But this is the kind of article which makes me tear my hair out in frustration and will get us nowhere.”

    But sir, out of your frustrations come explanations that even I can use to confront the worst of the error. Out of your frustration the Holy Spirit speaks. Out of your generosity many are taught. Just think how frustrated Jesus was in dealing with everyone from legalists berating a weeping and repenting woman to His disciples chasing away the children that He came to save?

    Yours is a burden I can not bear but I beg you to carry it for the sake of the Church and Jesus Christ.

    May the God, the giver of every and abundant blessing, sustain you and give you the joy of His presence.


  7. Sarah1 says:

    Oh TPaine, what on earth did you go and change your blog name for???? I was just getting used to the other one.

    Oh well . . .

  8. Tom Roberts says:

    The Constitutional disestablishment clause neither precisely states the same thing, nor semantically renders an equivalent to, nor logically equates to the doctrine of separation of church and state. It is close enough to inspire a theoretical legal doctrine concerning separation of church and state, but as stated in the negative it cannot be used to prove its converse.
    This of course bears on #8’s central argument:
    “[Reason] would certainly be at least equal then to scripture.”
    Reason in the human context is always subordinate to Scripture due to our prediliction for errant and subjective rationales. This leads directly to the point of the disestablishment clause: if the government rationally decided to establish one sectarian church or another, would that not subordinate all other scriptural interpretations and Traditions to that rational decision? How presumptuous a course would that be for a morally neutral government?

  9. midwestnorwegian says:

    TPaine – I would recommend Borks book “Souching Toward Gomorrah”.

    And, just who out there is calling for the removal of the (implied or real) separation between Church and State? I can’t think of any “orthodox” Episcopalian/Anglicans calling for this. In fact, I can’t even think of any denominational or nondenominational evangelicals – even the very famous ones – calling for this.

  10. Irenaeus says:

    “Show us anything clearly set forth in Holy Scripture that we do not teach, and we will teach it; show us anything in our teaching and practice that is plainly contrary to Holy Scripture, and we will abandon it.” — Stephen Neill’s summary of the Via Media

    We should take these words to heart, memorize them, and never let others forget them.

    Cf. today’s Old Testament reading: “You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem* on your forehead” (Deuteronomy 11:18).

  11. Sarah1 says:

    Thanks for responding TPaine, but I think that we all know why you changed your blog name.

    You did it because you wished to be able to say this 1) “As for me, I won’t be back. Life is too short and I have far better things to do that revisit this board. Ta-ta.” while at the same time 2) revisiting this board and making comments under a new name, because apparently you don’t at all “have far better things to do than revisit this board”. 3) I could also voice some assumptions about why else you might wish to hide under a new blog name, after the conversation to which I linked above, but others can come to those same conclusions as well.

    TPaine, you made a number of ugly statements on the previous conversation. You were met by a number of people who objected and countered you. And you didn’t like it. You may call such responses by others “harrassment” . . . but I can assure you that if you approach the blog in the way you did on your “inaugural” thread, you will receive more of the same by many.

  12. Irenaeus says:

    T Paine [#15]: The U.S. Constitution prohibits the “establishment of religion.” Many people use the term “separation of church and state” as a shorthand way of referring to that constitutional prohibition. But separationism goes much further. Critics says separationism imposes a requirement of secularism not supported by the Constitution itself. Thus separationists would strike down a school-voucher system if parents could use the vouchers to send their children to church-affiliated schools.

    Philip Hamburger of the University of Chicago Law School has written a superb book entitled Separation of Church and State, published in 2002 by Harvard University Press. He shows, among other things, among the most zealous separationists was . . . the Ku Klux Klan.

  13. Irenaeus says:

    “I did it to get away from you. I have also lodged a complaint about your harrassment.”

    TPaine [#10]: Do you really want a speech code?

    T19 is one of the most civil discussion spots on the Internet. Sarah, even in clawiest tit-for-tat mode, is still within the bounds of civil discourse. Certainly more civil than writing, as you did to Sarah, “I assume you are a teenager; isn’t it a bit early to be philosophizing about unmarried people since you know nothing about marriage?”

    You differ with Sarah and many others here about some fundamental issues. You regard one side of that debate as self-evident; others disagree. I trust you don’t seek protection from a spirited exchange of ideas. As for the clawy stuff, why not just let it go?

  14. Irenaeus says:

    TPaine [#19]: Although I maintain a policy of total abstinence from smilies, I’d note that lots of T19 and Stand Firm commenters use them. Even Greg Griffith, whom no one would dare call a teenager.