Clarifying the Nicene Point

Alan Jacobs has written a helpful critique of one of the points I made below.

I have a number of qualms about the validity of Ould’s reading of the Councils’ “principle of diocesan integrity.” First of all, his reading would have required Christians under the authority of Arian or Donatist leaders to remain under that authority — that is, under the authority of the very people whose vies the Councils were summoned in order to denounce. It is not likely that Augustine or Jerome would have endorsed the principle that Ould articulates here.

But let me address this issue more directly. I left the Episcopal Church and joined a new Anglican church largely because I did not want to have my son instructed in beliefs I do not share. Consider this: the man who is now the rector at the parish I left — a wonderfully kind and generous man, by the way — preached, on Easter Sunday no less, that it does not matter whether Jesus was or was not raised physically from the dead. Now, I happen to think that it matters very much whether Jesus was or was not raised from the dead, and unless I am tragically mistaken, St. Paul did too (see 1 Corinthians 15). I am glad that my son, instead of hearing this sermon, heard a sermon from Father Martin Johnson that joyfully and boldly proclaimed the fact of the Resurrection.

What does Peter Ould have to say to me? He does not believe that All Souls’ Church should exist, at least in its current form, so what options does he think were legitimate and appropriate ones for us? Is it his view that we we obliged to remain at our former church and allow our son to receive false teaching — and not just from the pulpit — which we could then, presumably, correct once we got home? Or would we be allowed to form a new church as long as it had no bishop other than TEC’s — an independent church, say? How about becoming Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists? If Ould’s concern is the maintaining of catholicity, and catholicity requires bishops whose territories are geographically distinct, then attending any of those non-Anglican churches would violate catholicity just as much as attending a church affiliated with the Southern Cone would.

As far as I can tell, then, Ould is saying that the only way for my wife and me to avoid sin in this matter is to allow ourselves and our son to be instructed in heresy. This strikes me as a deeply strange notion of what it means to be orthodox, and one that my wife and I cannot accept. The notion that violations of traditional ecclesiastical polity, especially in the post-Reformational age, are to be taken as seriously as violations of creedal orthodoxy and Biblical moral teaching — well, that’s just wrong.

I think this is a fair point and demands a reasonable response. Here goes.

  1. A moratorium is not to abandon those boundary crossings which have already occurred. A moratorium says that no further boundary crossings will take place.
  2. While I think it is perfectly acceptable for conservative laity to leave revisionist clergy, what we need to stop doing for the moratorium is attempting to transfer churches into other jurisdictions. I know that that is a painful decision, but we are asking the LGBT lobby to also make painful (for them) decisions in abandoning their justice agenda. We can’t turn back time and put churches that have left back into the TEC structures, but we can stop making the situation worse. I realise that for some this will mean being in limbo, but we have to genuinely ask ourselves what the real sacrifices to currently by made are.
  3. By engaging very clearly in such a moratorium, we put the responsibility for schism firmly in TEC’s court. There will be no ambiguity – if they don’t agree to a moratorium by the time of the Primates’ Meeting then the Primates can happily act on that understanding.
  4. Finally, the issue of Nicene boundaries and ecumenical relationships is understandably tricky, but I honestly believe that before we go through schism and yet again have competing jurisdictions (in the same manner as the divisions in the 16th Century) we need to be absolutely clear that we did everything possible to prevent the split happening.
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