Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Church is Catholic

The Church is catholic because by word and life it maintains and bears witness to the fullness of the faith, and because people of all nations and conditions are called to participate in it. Catholicity stands in contrast to schism and heresy. If Christians cease to love each other or to respect church order they are in danger of schism. If they depart from the essentials of the apostolic faith they become guilty of heresy. The catholicity of the Church is shown in the multiplicity of particular local churches, each of which, being in eucharistic communion with all the other local churches, manifests in its own place and time the one catholic Church. These local churches, in faithful response to their own particular missionary situation, have developed a wide diversity in their life. As long as their witness to the one faith remains unimpaired, such diversity is to be seen, not as a deficiency or cause for division, but as a mark of the fullness of one Spirit who distributes to each according to his will (1 Cor. 12.11).

At each local Eucharist, celebrated within the catholic Church, Christ is present in his wholeness, and so each local celebration actualizes and gives visible expression to the Church's catholicity. Communion in the Eucharist is also the outward manifestation of the common faith and the Christian love which binds together all the local churches in the one catholic Church.


Perpetua said...

Do you think nominating for the position of bishop or bishop suffragan a person involved in an ongoing same sex erotic relationship violates church order in the Episcopal Church or in the Anglican Communion at this time? Would that be a schismatic act?

Bill Carroll said...

J. Robert Wright of the General Theological Seminary wrote an interesting paper in response to the Windsor Report in the Anglican Theological Review which insisted, if memory serves, that the Lambeth Commission did not sufficiently avail itself of the wisdom gleaned from Anglican-Orthodox dialogue.

Bryan Owen said...

Perpetua, given the current circumstances in which we find ourselves, I think that nominating a homosexual person in a relationship to the office of bishop will, indeed, be received as a schismatic act by many in the Episcopal Church and throughout the Anglican Communion. Much more so in the case of actually electing such a person. Whether that's right or wrong, I see that as the outcome.

On the other hand, there is nothing in our canons that prohibits such actions on our part. There's nothing in the Episcopal Church, for example, like the explicit language we find in the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline which says, "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." The Methodists have drawn a line in the sand that simply does not exist in the Episcopal Church.

And yet again on the other hand, I know many homosexual lay and clergy persons who do wonderful ministry in our Church. They are my friends and valued colleagues in ministry, regardless of what their or my sins may be (and I am confident that I have no moral high ground to stand on). I don't know what to do about the issues that are tearing us apart, but I think those contributions from our homosexual brothers and sisters to our common life and common good deserve our respect and support.

Bill, that's a most interesting memory! Do you have any citations? Anything on the web about that?

bob said...

Gosh, you must be the only person alive to quote such a document. The "Agreed" statements are nice relics of 30 or so years back, which you might notice meant precisely nothing to the Anglicans at all. The Orthodox have long since dropped such talks as they have nothing to "Agree" with Episcopalians and most Anglicans. Met. Jonah of the Orthodox Church In America has suggested contact with the ACNA. No one's holding their breath, though. The books like these don't hold much worth, never did. Either you want to be Orthodox or you don't. No one wanted to in 1984, probably don't want to now. Episcopalians *like* being Episcopalians however weird it gets.

Bryan Owen said...

As far as "relics" go, I think this is a fine statement of what it means to say that the Church is catholic.

I also think it's just a wee bit of a generalization to equate the "weirdness" of what some Episcopalians say or do with every single Episcopalian. It just ain't so!

DavidB said...

Well, I think the Dublin Statement is a pretty awesome document. I've been curious about how our church views the Ecumenical Councils, particularly in light of the article in the 39 Articles that discourages the invocation of saints (What, I can't say one Hail Mary, Cranmer?). The summary provided that "we agree that the Ecumenical Councils provide an authoritative interpretation of Scripture in order to safeguard the salvation of the People of God. We differ, however, in our understanding of the relative importance of the Councils. While the Anglican members lay greater emphasis upon the first four Councils, and less upon the fifth, sixth and seventh, applying to conciliar decisions the concept of an 'order' or 'hierarchy of truths', the Orthodox members find this concept to be in conflict with the unity of the faith as a whole."

That said, Anglicans do accept the 7th council. In its summary of the agreement regarding icons, it states that "notwithstanding past Anglican objections and despite differences in liturgical practice, there is no serious disagreement here between Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. It is true that Anglicans do not believe that the veneration of icons, as practised in the East, can be required of all Christians. But Anglicans agree that the theology of the icon is founded upon, and intended to safeguard, the doctrine of the incarnation. They also accept that it is legitimate to regard the icon, not merely as a decoration, but as a means of entering into relationship with the person or event it represents; and to hold that in response to the faith and prayer of the believers, God through the icon, bestows his sanctifying grace."

Regarding the intercession of saints: "The prayers of the saints on our behalf are likewise to be understood as an expression of mutual love and shared life in the Holy Spirit. ...[T]he intercession of the saints for us is always in and through this unique mediation of Christ. [...]The Blessed Virgin Mary played a unique role in the economy of salvation by virtue of the fact that she was chosen to be Mother of Christ our God. Her intercession is not autonomous, but presupposes Christ's intercession and is based upon the saving work of the incarnate Word."

I'm relieved that these practices are now accepted in our church (they wouldn't have been 100 years ago) and I think that's largely a result of ecumenical dialogue w/Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. While I agree that these practices aren't mandatory for Anglicans, it may be good to encourage their use, not as a "Romish" doctrine, but as something that was accepted by the pre-Schism church of which our own "ecclesia anglicana" was a part.

bob said...

There's really no reason to speak of Anglicans "Accepting" any of the councils. You can't find 10% of your bishops or anyone else willing to say they do from Nicea I to VII. All this is purely academic. The councils are uniformly rejected. There are perfectly up front Episcopal parishes who have dropped the Nicene Creed altogether from the eucharist. Care to interest them in even noticing that there *were* other councils for them to also ignore? Don't bother to point out the Reader's Digest version of Calcedon on P. 864 of the BCP. It gets read never, believed never and used as often as Morning Prayer or the lectionary. It's good that you might be interested in the faith of 2000 years of believers. The point is that Anglicanism is the last place to look for it to be taken seriously. It's a minority opinion at best and is met with hostility anywhere you look.

Bryan Owen said...

bob, can you cite empirical data as a warrant for your claim that the theology of the ecumenical councils is "a minority opinion at best and is met with hostility anywhere you look" within Anglicanism? And by "Anglicanism," do you mean just The Episcopal Church, or are you also including the Anglican Communion as a whole? And for how far back in time?

bob said...

Well, sure. Find a diocese where you could actually be denied communion for believing something, anything, heretical or for not believing something, anything, that is affirmed by any of those councils? Start with the Diocese of Olympia. You are in communion with Ann Redding. A Muslim. Her bishop back east had the sense to defrock her, but she is a layman in good standing with Bishop Rickel. Would you deny her communion? This isn't even up to the level of discussing the councils. Everything they talk about assumes a level of understanding and faith that would not even consider a person a layman (or catechumen) who explicitly, openly denies Christ. Or anyone who tolerates them. Work on getting up to the point where Nicea I even applies to you, then maybe accept it unequivocally. That is assumed by the Orthodox as is acceptance of what the other councils defend. I don't think any part of a church that can continue to accept John Spong, James Pike and the unnumbered other clergy and laity who deny the resurrection needs to be wasting time talking about councils of another church whose beliefs they reject. This isn't very high theology, it's really basic.

Bryan Owen said...


Anecdote and the citation of a few examples raise concerns, but they do not provide empirical evidence to buttress (much less verify) the claim that the theology of the ecumenical councils is "a minority opinion at best and is met with hostility anywhere you look" within Anglicanism. I think it's a safe assumption that we can find goofy stuff in any church. But citing a handful of such instances as proof positive that everyone within a church has gone off the rails won't do.

Indeed, lacking empirical support to conclusively demonstrate that such instances do, in fact, prove that everyone within Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church?) has gone off the rails means that your charge falls into the fallacy of converse accident, which is the fallacy of considering certain exceptional cases and generalizing to a rule that fits them alone.

Here are some examples of this fallacy:

I interviewed ten people on Main Street in Greenwood on Friday night, and they all stated they would rather be there than watching TV. The folks in Greenwood don’t like to watch TV on Friday night.

The USDA policies for farmers are worthless. Why I know a guy who collects thousands of dollars for not planting wheat and spends his spare time at the race track.

As I drove to work this morning, not one car which was turning had its turn signal on. Drivers in Jackson are not trained to drive very well.

The following could serve as an example of this fallacy at work in the Episcopal Church:

In his books and lectures, Bishop Spong has repeatedly denied the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And in an interview with Time Magazine, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori denied the biblical affirmation that Jesus is uniquely the way to God. It's clear that the Episcopal Church rejects core tenets of the Christian faith.

Actually, the only thing clear in these cases is that Spong and Jefferts Schori reject core tenets of the Christian faith. But that fact alone doesn't tell us anything about everyonewithin the Episcopal Church.

To be sure, it is troubling when church leaders either explicitly or perhaps more subtly deny core tenets of the Christian faith. That’s particularly so with respect to clergy. Considering the vows clergy make to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church, there should be accountability for openly, consciously, and repeatedly violating that vow. However, lacking overwhelming empirical evidence that conclusively demonstrates that such non-conformist views are shared by the majority of Episcopalians, it is fallacious to use these instances as representative of the entire Episcopal Church, much less of Anglicanism around the world.

Perpetua said...

Hi Bryan+,
I found your example using an Episcopal Bishop and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church a little confusing. What are the roles of Bishop and Presiding if not to present and defend the faith? That seems very different than sampling random people on the street (or in the pews.

Bryan Owen said...

Perpetua, I fully agree that a central role of bishops is to present and defend the faith of the Church, and that when they fail to do so it is quite serious. My point in using this example is that one cannot conclude that the entire Episcopal Church embraces heresy simply because a bishop says something heretical or embraces heresy.

bob said...

I think it's pretty easy to click a mouse about 12 times and find a good geographical representaion of Anglicanism and its beliefs. No problem at all. For a practical example, would you give communion to a Muslim? Ann Redding, specifically? She is a layman in good standing per the Diocese of Olympia & Rhode Island. How about an unbaptised person? Bishop Spong? Answer yes to any one and the "Council" question fades to academic interest only. The only council any Episcopalian worries about, if any, is the one that just eneded in Anahiem. Answer no to all three, you have my sympathy as sooner or later they'll find you out. The fact is there is not one thing you can name that would get the Anglican communion to refuse you communion. Nothing. Everything has been tried. Nothing has worked. Name a line in the Creed (there's one of those councils again) and you can find a bishop that not only doesn't believe it but mocks it. Recall Pike commanded it to be *sung* in his diocese because it was "Poetry, not theology".
I sympathize with anyone that is swimming against the tide. I know it's lonely.