More ’09 Reflections: Anglican Iconoclasm

Tony Sig

“Yea, I am persuaded, that of them with whom in this cause we strive, there are whose betters amongst men would be hardly found, if they did not live amongst men, but in some wilderness by themselves. The cause of which their disposition so unframable unto societies wherein they live, is, for that they discern not aright what place and force these several kinds of laws ought to have in all their actions. Is there questions either concerning the regiment of the Church in general, or about conformity between one church and another, or of ceremonies, offices, powers, jurisdictions in our own church? Of all these things they judge by that rule which they frame to themselves with some show of probability, and what seemeth in that sort convenient, the same they think themselves bound to practice; the same by all means they labour mightily to uphold; whatsoever any law of man to the contrary hath determined they weigh it not. Thus by following the law of private reason, where the law of public should take place, they breed disturbance.” Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity – I.xvi.6


The ideas were liberating: “We don’t have a Luther or a Calvin, just a Prayer Book;” “It’s not so important that in all things we agree but that we worship together;” “Anglicanism is a Via Media between (insert whatever two things you want);” “You don’t have to leave your brain behind (or another wonderfully condescending phrase);” etc… These are the things that you hear as you begin to approach the Anglican churches. And to a disillusioned Pentecostal who doesn’t know what he believes, they are glorious things to hear.

Unfortunately they are all false. Or at least in most ways confused, or interpreted diversely, or forgotten. In many ways the petty arguments about “Initial Physical Evidence” or really bad eschatology between a tiny minority of youth and their elders in the Assemblies of God pales in comparison to the sheer scope of disagreements currently going on within Anglicanism. And don’t think for a second that the homosexual thing is the only thing. There is a perennial struggle for the soul of the church. Is it Catholic? Is it “biblical?” Is it Evangelical? Is baptism optional? Should laypeople administer the Sacraments? Given the homosexual struggle, was it an error to have allowed Women clergy? Are the large numbers of Christians in the Global South proof of mass Western apostacy?

Whereas these are legitimate questions to ask, we have found that there are no structures available in our various means of Communion to curb the increasingly fierce independence desirous of being expressed in our diverse bodies.

We are a hairs breadth from every Province becoming an island of theological conscience to themselves.

This for me is most terrifying possibility. “Catholicism” is not a matter of mere piety, as if praying with Icons or singing the Magnificat makes one a catholic. Even having monEpiscopacy is not enough to qualify a church for being “Catholic.” “Catholic” is a matter of the structure and vision of a Church. I began attending an Episcopal parish largely on account of C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright, but I stayed because of Michael Ramsey, Rowan Williams, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Radical Orthodoxy and the Oxford Movement. I could compose my own Prayer Book, I could plant a church that sung the Divine Liturgy, but I could not make from scratch a Catholic church structure and history. If Anglicanism splits into a looser federation, I’m not really sure where I’d be, but I’d be a wreck.

At every turn I’ve been confronted by contradictions. Many liberals aren’t really inclusive but of their own kind; many evangelicals are deeply unaware of their Anglican history and doctrine; there isn’t much of a Via Media but an intolerable and systematic diversity from low church Reformed Protestants to Anglo-Papists; few know or care why we have Bishops and a Prayer Book instead of a Presbytery and Confessional, unless of course not having a confessional becomes permission for doctrinal indifference or iconoclasm; many conservatives are completely unaware that their highly determined systematic theology influences their “biblical” readings and quite a few liberals don’t yet realize that the academy doesn’t give a rats ass about Tillich anymore.

Not that I’ve not found glimmers of hope. I’ve found a great many reflective priests and there are a number of stupendous Bishops (mostly in the Church of England) and Anglican academic theology is currently without peer in most of the world.

But may I say, in keeping with an open and honest tone, that I’m truly terrified. I know it would be more pious and faithful of me to say that I’m hopeful but I’m not really not. I feel as if I walked into the middle of a Family Feud that I’m not much interested in taking to the grave, and while I hold on in trust, I’m still at a point where I’m apprehensive as to how it will turn out. I say this because I don’t feel as if enough people are saying it even though it’s not very constructive. Of those whom I respect many must put on a good face while many for whom I have less respect are declaring the triumph of their “side.” “Winning,” is not something at this point that can happen and constancy is for those stronger than I.

Lord have Mercy.

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36 Comments

  1. Sorry, your blog rejected my HTML. Let me try again. Delete the previous.
    ——————————–

    You said, “If Anglicanism splits into a looser federation, I’m not really sure where I’d be, but I’d be a wreck.”

    I know this is an inside conversation, but I am curious.
    Is it most disturbing to you because:

    a) You are searching for a career in religion (I forgot, sorry)

    b) Being a Christian in an organization is somehow very important for you? (imagine the tiny house churches of the first century of Christianity: no great theological structure, no Bible, only their livilihoods and their love.

    c) You don’t want to become Catholic because Pentacostal to Anglican is already too much of a cognitive dissonance but going Catholic is the only thing that seems logical?

    You said: “I’m truly terrified”

    I have been terrified in my life. What is it that “terrifies” you? Churches have come and gone for centuries.

    Seriously, I am curious? It seems dramatic but I feel like I am missing part of the picture.

    Reply

    1. Sabio,

      Well, I’ve never considered a call to ordained ministry to be a career so it’s not A. There are ways in which B is true. I believe that the Church organized the way it did for good reasons, chief among them unity and the preservation of Apostolic teaching. So yes, being in “organized” Christianity is very important to me.

      And even C is true in some ways. Not because I believe Rome to have a juridical primacy over all Christians but because I believe that they have preserved in their structure something of value that is easily lost in many churches birthed from the Protestant Reformation. It seems to me that Anglicanism, broadly conceived, has become so wide that it’s integrity can be hampered by that width. As I mentioned, the fact that there are parishes that “reserve” the Sacrament and others that scorn their grace as mere symbols speaks of a breakdown in communication and trust between Churches.

      Re: “Being terrified”

      You have heard of hyperbole yes? What scares me is that I will put my heart into a church that will fall apart. Sort of the same hesitancy and fear that keeps some people from committing in relationships.

      Reply

  2. …and I’m attempting for these posts to reveal to other Episcopalians how I’m really feeling right now. I’m attempting to be vulnerable even though it sort of makes me look like a bit of a baby, because in Anglican conversations there are often only exchanges of hostility and bitterness, not openness and reception.

    In addition, many “put on a good face” of “trusting in the Lord” or of “hoping for this or that” when I would rather some be honest enough to reveal what they feel are the stakes in the matter.

    Reply

  3. You said, “I’ve never considered a call to ordained ministry to be a career” — Does that translate as:

    a) Yes, I plan to be a priest, but that ain’t a career

    or

    b) I am not considering being a priest or teaching in a seminary …

    Reply

  4. So, it is career anxiety.
    If you didn’t have all your education banked in religion, this turmoil would not mean half as much, don’t you think?

    If you were just reporter for a local paper, or a philosophy teacher at a University or some such thing. Then you could relax about the future of the Anglican Church much more.

    Am I wrong? This is career jitters. (Oh yeah, you don’t call it a career)

    My definition: “Career” the daily activity one does to receive money to buy food, shelter and what ever else they can with the remains.

    Reply

  5. Sabio,

    Whatever happened to your ability to translate generously?

    Even by your way of phrasing you’re still wrong. Right now I am only finishing up my BA as I started school much later than most my age. That will be a double major in Greek and Latin. As of now my plan is to take my first Master’s degree in Classics. With those two degrees I can do any of a huge number of Doctoral programs. I could teach at a Catholic, Protestant, Ecumenical or Secular school. I would obviously not pursue ordination but my ability to make a buck with my education is hardly limited to my being in or out of the Anglican church.

    Reply

  6. @ Anthony

    I asked a sincere question then you hit me with a caveat about priesthood not being a career.

    I am very glad to hear your ancient languages & philosophy studies can probably secure you multiple jobs opportunities after any number of Doctoral programs accept and then certify you. And now, after my original question, I see it is not solely job panic for you.

    But if priesthood is one of the options, then I can’t imagine job insecurity (or I should say “personal future” insecurity) is not part of the emotions you stated in hyperbole. I don’t see the hyperbole as a pure literary tool — I think you wrote that way for a reason. Remember, your hyperbole also set the tone.

    But to my original inquiry: I was sincerely worried by your tone and the stress you seem to feel in all this. And I sincerely did not understand it. For I thought, “If he feels God is truth and the final Victor in all things, why is he so worried about the ecclesiastical fate of one particular denomination. There will be splinters and mergers till the Second Coming. Sure, he choose to jump horses and that is embarrassing, but he could recover.”

    But then I thought, “Wait, maybe he is more invested than even he imagines. Not in the survival of an organization to protect orthodoxy. Not in a monolith to protect splintering of doctrines. Not in the pain Christ would feel to see his bride crumble a little. For he would have faith that all that would be fine. But what if the ropes he cut when he jumped into this theology put his heart at risk? For if he has to leave again, it would me confessing a new theology, a new set of knowledge, new confessions. This would make the truth of all this feel very shaky for him. Was Anthony uncomfortable with all this future anxiety for himself instead?”

    I thought, “Gee, wouldn’t anyone be anxious? He is human like me. I’d be anxious. I wonder if I ask him if he will put it in far less abstract terms than this essay? Cause already the essay was being honest, albeit in an Anglican flavor. I wonder if we could step the feelings down to a deeper personal level. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe something else is going on. Maybe something that, not having been a believer for many years, I wouldn’t understand without asking.

    So I asked.

    Are my wonderings still wrong? Is this mainly about your love for Christ’s Bride and concerns for her unity? Or is there a large part of this that is about Anthony wanting to be on the right team and playing a good position and not look bad changing teams too much? That would not be a bad desire at all. All of us understand that. And that is not accusatory. I wasn’t sure if you were stripping the vestiges off your pedestrian intentions and fears or whether you were lighting the incense.

    So I asked.

    Reply

  7. Wait, I thought of a simpler way to put it.
    I live in a town where the Episcopal Diocese split. I talked to lots of Episcopals struggling with it. There is an Episcopal seminary 5 miles from here and all the students live in my town, drink at my coffee shop and talk up folks in the shop. I have had many conversations. In fact, it got so loaded with Christians preachin’ over coffee that many of us just switched coffee shops (only 2 in town). Funny little social event in our town.

    Anyway, the people I saw most concerned about outcomes where the seminary students, the average parishioners I saw felt fine about their church, split or no split, yeah they wish the other side would just agree with them. But at least when they split, they’d be surrounded by like minded people. I heard seminary folks and elders discuss money, authority and doctrine. The average folks were thinking about their friends.

    Yeah, that may be way to simple, but that was part of the image from outside here. People cared more, it semmed, when they were “career” invested — it is only natural. But the way they expressed care was theological, not personal when they were in public.

    Hope that helps.

    Reply

    1. Sabio,

      There are probably several different levels one could dissect from this essay. Generally, I don’t try to hide motivations in fancy language, I use the language that comes most naturally for me in a given context. The essay wasn’t about “job security” in any way. I certainly find the prospect to be a murky one given the current North American context but it just wasn’t on the horizon of this particular essay.

      As you say, it’s mostly a care for the Church to not fracture, and a trust that Anglicanism embodies a particular gift that would be rejected if broken. I think it would be a travesty if I was able to shrink the church down to “like minded people.” If that happens it usually means that one’s own “orthodoxy” has gotten pretty narrow indeed.

      I don’t know why other people may or may not care about splitting but I can’t account for other peoples feelings in my own essay!

      Reply

  8. Anthony,

    Then it was my mistake. It is the Church you care about. It seems you have put great stock in finding the best denomination. Maybe it is like finding the woman you marry decides she is not into sports like she was when you were dating. Or hates the smell of pipe tobacco. Or maybe now starts spending more time with her friends. But you are telling me your concern for the Church is objective — about

    (1) embodiement of a particular give that would be rejected if broken.
    (2) splintering
    (3) narrowing orthodoxy

    Anyway, it all seems numbers to you, or orthodoxy. I can’t tell which you want to preserve — both perhaps.

    You said: Are the large numbers of Christians in the Global South proof of mass Western apostasy?

    This tells me that you may be slightly mistaken on how religion works in general — and yes, Christianity is a religion. Here is a link to Epiphenom where Tom Rees sums up many interesting studies this last year on religion. Before you think that choices of church policy or doctrine are key to preserving what you treasure, you might want to look at this short page of his.

    Maybe the Global South is more insecure, thus their numbers climb. People use religion for many things, but it seems you are right that attendance (though not beliefs) are an important element to helping people. So any effort of your to increase church attendance may help others.

    Reply

  9. Sabio,

    The questions in succession were not necessarily questions I am asking but ones the churches are asking. I think there are plenty of reasons that Christianity is fading in the West but it is not for the new center of Christianity to become our judges.

    Reply

  10. Just so you know adhunt, you’re not the only one who feels the way you do. I don’t plan on being a priest, but Anglican ecclesiology still matters to me. A major factor in my decision to investigate the Episcopal Church was it’s inclusion in a global communion.

    Since you’ve raised the issue of the Communion’s issues, do you have any thoughts about what to do about them? I tend to agree with N.T. Wright’s assertion that a greater involvement in “mission” — especially concerning the issue of global debt — would go a long way toward overcoming the Church’s problems. In other words, if we were more involved in the work we’re supposed to be doing, the issues the communion’s been arguing about would appear less significant by comparison.

    Reply

  11. I love the post. But what’s really intriguing about your post is the picture of Bishop Tom as a dwarf.

    He seemed normal size in real life. I guess they bought special stage furniture to camouflage it.

    Does he represent the lollipop guild?

    Reply

  12. Jordan,

    That’s good to know. I do have some ideas and I plan on writing on them soon.

    Charismanglican,

    Ah, the apocryphal Hauerwasian canon increases everyday!

    Reply

  13. When I was still a little boy I was visiting the College of St. Benedict, St. John’s University in MN and the “extra” books got brought up in an informal lecture by a Roman Catholic, I said “Oh, the Apocrypha?” And the gentle monk smiled at me generously and said: “We prefer to call them the Deuterocanonical Books”

    Reply

  14. I try not to thread jack. You must help me see the error of my ways.

    You wrote about your problems with the Anglican situation. I asked what component was personal vs. solely about the Church. You suggested reasons the Church is facing these problems and discussed your logic for why the Latin and African churches are growing. I suggested that some actual researched data on that might help you think about it differently. I gave you a link to that research. But you respond curtly and dismissively.

    Where was the highjacking?

    Is it because I did not speak to you as a fellow believer? What it because I just didn’t buy into your reasons and agree and commend you? Is it because this is not the way you wanted the thread to go? Even if it were any of those reasons, I don’t think the correct term is “hijacker”.

    But then, I may be mistaken. 🙂

    Reply

    1. Sabio,

      I say: “This is how I am feeling”

      You ask: “This must be why you are feeling this way”

      I say: Nope

      You say: Yes it is

      I say: Let me show you why it is not.

      You say: Alright fine, but I find your understanding of why Christianity is growing in the Global South to be ill informed and superstitious

      I say: I didn’t say that is what I think, if only you grasped the context

      You say: “Here is research that will show that you are silly”

      I say: “No thanks, I find the philosophical and ethnocentric presuppositions of the secular social sciences to be theologically loaded and methodologically incomplete”

      You say: “All this talk of “hermeneutics and ontology” is a false “nuace” and doesn’t compute with my worldview, therefore you are evading my scientific research into the real reasons religions are and do-things”

      I say: “Another thread hijacked”

      Reply

    1. Sabio,

      You said:

      This tells me that you may be slightly mistaken on how religion works in general — and yes, Christianity is a religion. Here is a link to Epiphenom where Tom Rees sums up many interesting studies this last year on religion. Before you think that choices of church policy or doctrine are key to preserving what you treasure, you might want to look at this short page of his.

      Maybe the Global South is more insecure, thus their numbers climb. People use religion for many things

      This is rather clear Sabio that you believe that the “reasons” that religion does this or that is because of x, y or z reasons, whatever else you’ve said you make clear that you believe my theories to be ill informed – “You might be slightly mistaken” – The whole conversation has been an exercise in me saying what I wanted to say and you telling me the reasons I feel this way. I find that to be condescending to say the least. You consistently turn conversations toward the things you are interested in, look at what you just did on Charismanglican’s site. You are a master evangelist and you don’t even realize it and it remains difficult to keep conversations on topic because I write “in house” pieces, but you try and turn them into sociological interpretations of my faith.

      Reply

  15. We should ask “charismanglican” what he thinks. We have had several pleasant encounters today. Here is an encounter on ethics, for example. Or was it here, where I tried to understand more of his background and positions? But maybe Charismanglican will totally agree with you, yet his response style seems significantly different. But then, he and I have just met. Maybe he will tire of me quickly.

    Did you peak at Epiphenom? Did it prove to be loaded with all those false epistemological presuppositions that stop it from arriving at real truth that you imagined? Probably, eh?

    And concerning sociological analysis. Good religion should both be able to withstand scientific scrutiny and sociological scrutiny — not that they have to comply to it, but shunning it is another issue. Much of the insights of the theology you presently hold are probably in debt to some of the insights of the sciences. I agree that sciences have many presuppositions that deserve questioning. But to declare oneself free of all this seems a bit overboard. But maybe I am not hearing you correctly.

    My thought is that you could still read the insights I linked you to and actually agree with them and still remain Christian.

    Reply

    1. Sabio,

      I’m not tired with you, I’m tired of your sidetracking the comment threads. You are always more than welcome, and I mean this with no shadow of turning. But I started the blog to write about theology, spiritual growth, music, really damn good beer and pipe smoking. I didn’t start it to have the sorts of discussions you seem to want to have, which seem to focus primarily on sociology of religion. If I write a post about the sociology of religions or about other faiths, you will be one of the first people I look forward to commenting. But I’m certainly not alone in this (mild but real) frustration, these guys seem to be right about where I’m at. Moreover, I don’t appreciate being condescended to. So you can say, “I believe this is an underlying cause for this religious phenomenon”, but I’d prefer you not imply that I don’t really “get” religion because I don’t examine it the same way you do.

      As a matter of fact I did look at a couple of Epiphenom’s links. I especially found the one funny that implied that 2009 “found out that we tend to make gods in our own images” – something that any ancient Israelite or Greek philosopher – or David Hume for that matter – already knew.

      Furthermore, I’m not sure from what canon you get the proposition that “Good religion should both be able to withstand scientific scrutiny and sociological scrutiny “ – That is something you believe but then again you believe all talk of god to be talk about a no-thing and any “value” religion has is in their sociological benefits. It’s not that “science” just has some presuppositions, that if properly exercised can be nearly accounted for, but the very idea of “science” is a meta-narrated presupposition just as sociologically conditioned as any religion and just as ideologized. This you seem to think surely I can’t mean but I do. And on the good insights from atheistic philosophers just as much as theistic philosophers.

      See this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy

      Anyway, I don’t mean to exasturbate a problem too far. I simply ask that in the future, try to keep on topic and be mindful that “in house” discussions might not be the best posts for you to chime in on, unless of course you can get the language games going on.

      Peace,
      Tony

      Reply

    1. And this one too I suppose.

      I thought “exasturbate” was a word. Did I mispell? I realize of course the verbal similarities to certain “solitary” activites…ah yes… exacerbate…that’s what I meant 🙂

      Reply

  16. I’ve remained out of this conversation, although I’ve enjoyed our private correspondence, Anthony. As the response count continues to climb, I’d just like to submit my condolences to you for the oddball hijacking of what were some very good reflections.

    Reply

  17. 1. Great post! And you are not alone – your observations are spot on and your feelings of anxiety over Anglicanism’s apparently incoherent ecclesiology are shared by more than a few (including me). The question that arises in my mind is how does Orthodoxy manage to stay together with a conciliar ecclesiology. It seems like all it takes is one person willing to hijack the system (sort of like Sabio) and conciliarity breaks down. Arrggh.

    2. Sabio did hijack an otherwise wonderful post that did not deserve to receive this treatment. Ban him.

    3. Exasturbate – lOl!!

    Reply

    1. Anxious Anglican,

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’m not sure if you saw but Jordan Costa asked a similar question about “what to do?” I don’t want to promise a post that I won’t come through on but I think that it’s possible that a slightly more authoritarian center of gravity is necessary to curb Anglican’s enthusiasm. That is not a thing Anglicans want to hear or talk about but I think that it is something that should be wrestled with. In this I am increasingly influenced by the writings of the Anglican theologian John Milbank.

      Re: Sabio – He’s really a good guy. He has been patient with me in times past when I’ve been outright rude to him. I don’t want to ban or give him the impression he’s not welcome.

      Reply

  18. Hunt…A friend of mine in England is married to a priest in the Anglican church. He passed on this article in the conversation about public health reform. I wonder if it has any insights into your ‘slightly more authoritarian center of gravity’ concept.

    Paternalistic Libertarianism

    re: Sabio – it’s tough when your family has problems in public and your friends have questions about it, isn’t it?

    Reply

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