Anglican versus Andersonian Ecclesiology

Alright. I am just as tired of "conservative" schismatics, as I am of "revisionist" heretics. I need a little ranting room, if you don't mind. I do not know what to post first here, so I will let you (the reader) decide. This article is about an email I received from David Anderson of the American Anglican Council (one of the soon-to-be schismatic groups vying for American conservative Anglicans and their money).

I have pasted the email at the end, with my own paragraph markings [] for easy reference. Anytime you see a number inside [ ], that is a reference to Anderson's letter. The people referred to in the article are Rowan++ (the archbishop of Canterbury) and John Howe+ (the bishop of Central Florida).

Anderson writes an odd, and somewhat unconnected letter about what is wrong with the way Rowan++ perceives the Church, and underlying his critique, there seems to be a radical revision of Anglican ecclesiology going on in Anderson's mind. Ecclesiology, if you do not know, is the doctrine of the Church (ekklesia), what the Church is, how She is led, and what She does. This article is an attempt to tease out this new, revisionist "Andersonian" ecclesiology (and why it is neither Biblical nor Anglican).

Traditionally, in Anglican ecclesiology, there are three levels of the Church: At a primary level, there is the "head pastor" of a local region (the bishop), and his Church (the Diocese). Secondarily, within this Diocese are local assemblies of believers called "parishes", which are led by local church elders (priests). Third, the Dioceses are connected together into a worldwide communion, as each Bishop recognizes, receives, and shares sacraments with other bishops.

As a secondary historical development, sometimes groups of Dioceses are organized into provinces, or national Churches, with each bishop equal to every other bishop, and not able to intervene in each other's Diocese. They are organized this way for practical, administrative, and resource-sharing reasons, not because the "province" is actually a real entity in the Church.

In [2] he seems to be implying that the REAL work of the Church is done on the parish level, and thus the parish is the actual basic unit of the Church, except for the fact that bishops are needed to ordain and confirm. Then, in [3] he implies that bishops (and hence their dioceses) cannot be the basic unit of the Church, because more than one bishop is needed to consecrate a new bishop. Then he launches into a critique of what is going on with Howe+ in Central Florida [4-6].

In [6] he begins a critique of Rowan's++ letter to Howe+, and Rowan's++ assumption that the Anglican communion is made up of Diocesan bishops in communion with the Diocesan bishop of Canterbury. Also, in [6] he accuses Rowan++ of following a Roman Catholic model, and thus Anderson sets up the province/national church as the "primary unit" of the Church, rather than the Diocese.

In [7] Anderson concocts a theory that Rowan++ is trying to topple the Primatial structure of the Church. Thus, in [7] Rowan++ is compared with Charles I, with the not-too-veiled threat that the Anglican primates will "cut off his head" (ecclessially speaking) if he does not recognize the Primatial nature of the Church.

In [8-10] Anderson basically re-iterates that Rowan++ is making all "True Anglicans" mad, and that if he continues to do so, his side will loose members and eventually the Anglican communion. Anderson ends with the quip about spreading the faith [11]. One might ask, how does he plan to do this? The faith requires something or someone to spread it.

He seems to be basically implying that He wants to create a new "holy club", which will spread this faith, in a new denomination, with an "Andersonian" ecclesiology. The two units of this new denomination are the provincial/national Church and it's "flying bishops", and the local parish and its priests. The Diocese has no place to play in his schema. The only really worldwide fellowship in the Andersonian denomination would be the "national headquarters" of each denominational affiliate province. Each parish would be basically autonomous Congregationalists, with no direct pastoral oversight, other than paying a bishop to fly in and lay hands on people sometimes.

I think that he presents a bold new vision of a new kind of hybrid Baptist-episcopal Church, don't you? Or do I read him wrong? I mean, he can claim this vision is "episcopal", because it still uses bishops for something. But the bishops would have a position not really known in the history of the Church. Biblically, we find regional Diocesan Churches (i.e. "The Church of Rome", "The Church in Galatia", etc.). And we find house churches, or parishes, within these Dioceses (i.e. the house church of Nympha in Colossians, or that of Prisca and Aquilla in Romans). We even find references to the universal, worldwide Church.

But, in the Bible, we do not find any reference to Provinces that are sub-universal, but trans-regional. We do not find a "Church of the Roman Empire", nor a "Church of the Persians". Diocesan Churches are always connected with a specific city (Rome, Corinth, Canterbury, Dallas), or regional district (Galatia). Provincial, national, and primatial Churches are a second-order administrative development made later in history for the purpose of unifying Dioceses together in a region, led by an "elder brother" bishop (who, I may add, did not have the ability to directly intervene in a brother-bishop's Diocese).

So, Anderson has taken a second-order historical creation (the Province), endowed it with new powers, and is trying to write it off as an "orthodox" conception of the Church? Hrrrrmph! Ecclessiologically, he seems to be every bit the revisionist that "The Episcopal Church" is regarding human sexuality! Am I reading this right? Because just as he claims that he must read Rowan's++ letter in light of other things he has done [9], so I also must read this article in light of what separatist Anglo-protestants seem to be doing.

If I am right, then our choice is clear: EITHER we opt for a historic Anglican conciliar-catholic vision of the Church, in which the primary unit of the Church is the Diocese, and communion is based on mutual recognition of Diocesan bishops OR we opt for the revisionist Andersonian vision of autonomous local Congregationalist churches who hold onto the vestiges of episcopacy, and basically pay bishops for what their hands can do.

What do you think?

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Message From Bishop-elect David C. Anderson

[1] For years as a parish priest I heard the arguments over which is more important, or the basic unit of the church, the local parish or the diocese.

[2] Is the basic unit the diocese with bishop and people or is it the local parish church? A parish church and priest can baptize, celebrate Holy Communion, marry, anoint the sick, hear confessions and grant absolution. The two things the local church and priest cannot do are confirm and ordain. A local church which is well managed might feel quite self-sufficient ecclesiastically until they need to have someone ordained. The American Episcopal Church went from the early 1600s until the late 1700s - not quite two hundred years - without Confirmation generally being available since Bishops were unwilling to venture to the American colonies. Priests had to be imported, or candidates sent to England for ordination.

[3] From a standpoint of continuity it would seem that the smallest complete unit of the church is the Bishop and his flock, even though by custom when a bishop is consecrated there are three bishops doing the laying-on-of-hands. Now there is a new dimension to the argument that takes it to the Province level and even to the See of Canterbury. Archbishop Rowan Williams has used the recent writings of others on this subject and applied it in a novel and two-fold way; more about this in a moment.

[4] The Rt. Rev. John Howe, Bishop of Central Florida and an orthodox and faithful man of God, has of recent confused many of his clergy as to where EXACTLY he stands in his relationship with the revisionist and heterodox top leadership of TEC. As the actions of the principal leadership of the Episcopal Church have more and more offended and disturbed the orthodox laity and clergy of his diocese of Central Florida, more and more of them have wondered if they still have a place in TEC, and indeed even in his diocese.

[5] Very recently nine of the congregations, some of them the largest in the diocese, announced that they are in conversation with Bishop Howe about their departure. Bishop Howe's orthodoxy is noted, yet the congregations and clergy felt that their Anglican connection through the heterodox TEC leadership and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori was negatively impacting their life, ministry and proclamation of the Gospel. Bishop Howe has been clear that he is staying in TEC no matter what, so that left the clergy and congregations looking for departure options.

[6] Howe wanted to reassure these congregations (and others which haven't spoken out yet) that there is another option, and so he wrote to Rowan Williams. At the same time, it seems that Dr. Williams has several things he wishes to accomplish besides holding onto the current American Episcopal Church and her money: he wishes to project, strengthen, and expand a special relationship between individual bishops of the Communion and himself along a Roman model; he also wishes to undercut and diminish the power of the Anglican Primates whose strength has been growing of recent and is a challenge to him. Dr. Williams wrote a letter to Howe, meaning for it, in a sense, to apply to Howe's special appeal, but at the same time to move the larger agendas forward. In his letter, Dr. Williams discouraged "separatist" plans, urging all Windsor-supportive Anglicans "to regard the bishop and the diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity, rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church.'"

[7] I believe it was King Charles I who, when he couldn't control the English Parliament, decided not to convene it. Unconvened, Parliament couldn't exercise any power, he thought. Finally when he had to convene it to raise taxes, it set in play a sequence of events that cost Charles his crown and the head that it sat upon. Dr. Williams, having tried to manage the Primates (with some success at the October 2003 London Primates Meeting, then less so at Dromantine, and still less so in Dar es Salaam) has decided and stated publicly that there will be no Primates Meeting prior to the Lambeth Conference 2008. It is, quite honestly, a gamble on his part. Can he suppress the Primates Meeting and undercut the role of the Primates and Provinces by establishing that what makes a bishop Anglican is the relationship with Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Canterbury? If that is successful it would mean that to be Anglican is defined by Canterbury alone. This seems like a dangerous road to go down, especially since this Archbishop's own orthodoxy seems to waver.

[8] When the Archbishop of Canterbury first surprised everyone with the release of the list of invitees to Lambeth, it was noted that they were not invited by Province, but individually. This seemed like a slight against the Primates, but the concern quickly focused on the inclusion of those bishops who consecrated Gene Robinson and the exclusion of Robinson Cavalcanti of Recife and a number of American bishops connected to African Provinces. Now after the letter to Howe, it becomes clear that this is part of an orchestrated attempt to pull down the Provincial structure as a means of international accountability, and to pull down the role of the Primates as a college of Primates, sitting with Rowan, who is first among equals.

[9] With the blogging world and the HoB/D list serve going crazy, and some very harsh things being said about His Grace, a second letter was released. It was a "What the Archbishop meant to say was..." which attempted to put his remarks into a narrow context. Viewed alone you might be tempted to accept that, but with the earlier invitation list following the same stream of thought, it becomes clearer that Rowan isn't making this up as he goes along.

[10] Surprisingly, this letter to Howe has managed to upset both revisionists and the orthodox at the same time - but perhaps Dr. Williams doesn't mind this. The difficulty is his belief that there is a mythical middle that he can work with, unaware that the "Windsor" bishops are about to experience a hemorrhage of members themselves. More and more, especially after a number of entire dioceses and bishops depart for other Provinces, he will discover how serious is his misunderstanding. Is there such a thing as "divine right of the primal archbishopric?" Good sense would argue for a catholic and evangelical faith united, within an Anglican Communion globally made up of a family of orthodox Provinces and Primates, with clear faith and discipline applied both within Provinces and between Provinces. Although many of us are to some extent Anglophiles, the location of the see city is less important than the vitality of the faith and a structure that encourages that faith to grow.

[11] In closing, don't just keep the faith. Spread it.
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.