Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Right writing righting +Wright's wrongs

In one of Bishop Wright's latest screeds against GAFCon, he made some comments on its constituency, noting that it represents:
a very odd combination of hard-line evangelicals, who would never use incense in a communion service, who would never wear Eucharistic vestments, along with Anglo-Catholics from America for whom those things are absolutely de rigeur.
Now, perhaps this is a reflection of the situation in England - my sense is that the "anglocatholics" there are either what I would call either (not to disparage, simply to clarify) "anglopapists" -- i.e. Anglicans who have no genuine objection to Rome's claims for universal ordinary jurisdiction, infallibility, etc -- or "high church angloprotestants" -- i.e. Anglicans who aren't really committed to "catholicism" in a theological sense (i.e. to that "catholic heritage" recognized by the seven Ecumenical councils, the traditional "catholic" teaching and practices of the Fathers, and accepted by both Rome and Orthodoxy... and, for that matter, many of the Protestant Reformers themselves!). The less said about the completely non-catholic "Affirming Catholics" in the U.K. the better.

But the problem with +Wright's comments are two-fold. First, insofar as the "anglocatholics" he describes are merely "high church angloprotestants" (you'll note that he cites incense and vestments -- not theology -- as the things which 'distinguish' those he is calling 'anglocatholics'), there really is no problem with this "odd combination" at GAFCon. Generally speaking, such liturgical matters are all adiahpora... and there's nothing to prevent "high church" and "low church" angloprotestants from working together in a unified jurisdiction and communion in common cause against the apostasy of PEcUSA and its like.

Now if it were just this liturgical difference represented at GAFCon it would be no big deal. High church vs low church liturgies?... have 'em both! To each his own! Not an issue. And that's all that some mean when they say "anglocatholic" these days.

Indeed Dr. J. I. Packer himself said much the same thing in the post-GAFCon press conference in London:
It is important to know who our friends are. Anglo-Catholics generally believe in Trinity, Scripture, atonement, resurrection, judgement, prayer, etc. A 'higher' view of sacraments and priesthood seems secondary in the light of those primary correspondences. I can be friends with Anglo-Catholics. Modern Anglo-Catholicism has a different agenda from in the past. I can, with qualifications, be friends with Anglo-Catholics. I have good will towards Forward in Faith.
The problem -- and +Wright would have been right if he had been talking about theology, not liturgical style -- is that GAFCON is trying to keep together two fundamentally different "strains" of Anglicanism. These strains have been together since the 2nd generation of Anglicanism -- when the Calvinists came over from the Continent and imported more extreme Protestant thought into the "English catholicism" of the first generation -- but "strains" is the right word: it has always been strained. And the way Anglicanism (under pressure from the State) has kept those two "strains" in one group by that highest of Anglican virtues: vagueness.

The thing is... it's precisely that vagueness which has allowed the apostates to take over PEcUSA, the AcoC, and other groups. And one of the things which GAFCON is doing -- like the Continuing Church did 30 years ago with the Affirmation of St. Louis -- is to address that problem of vagueness by articulating a standard for belief and practice. In this case, the Declaration of Jerusalem. And, as I pointed out with a side by side comparison of the Affirmation and Declaration, there are some fundamental THEOLOGICAL differences between the two. Not liturgical. Theological.

That being the case, and once we've figured out what subset of the GAFCON group is actually going to be willing (against the pressures from Canterbabble and PEcUSA and the nay-sayers( to make the necessary breaks and stands, and once that subgroup (or subgroups) have put something in place to replace PEcUSA... what will hold them together? We know what they are against in common... but what about all the differences in what they are for? Because there are some whopper differences there -- things like the nature of the sacraments, the apostolic succession, the ordained ministry, the Ecumenical Councils, and the authority of Tradtion. Dr. Packer's "good will" toward FIFNA, however collegial it might be, isn't nearly enough.

And so when the dust from GAFCON settles, and the buzz dies off, and the group (or surviving subset of it actually willing to break from PEcUSA) stops looking back and starts facing and trying to move forward (toward something rather than away from something)... then, yes, I think the passage you quote is, actually, quite correct: "That's not a coalition that's going to last very long, to be honest..."

Which is why, as I've said before, I think the best thing GAFCON could do for its own long-term survival is to be honest and up-front about the fact that it is a Protestant group -- tolerant of high church liturgy but not traditional anglocatholic theology -- and move forward without the "vagueness" and internecine tension which, otherwise, threatens both the coherence of its identity and the security of its future.

Or, even better, think about things a bit more and come home to the traditional Anglicanism of the Affirmation of St. Louis.

First posted on the MCJ blog.