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General Convention

2009 July 29
by Gordon Reid

Our Church has been having a busy time, with General Convention having stirred up as many controversies as usual. Although I certainly do not agree with all the conclusions they came to, nevertheless I was impressed by the civility and candour with which weighty matters were discussed and decided on. This is in marked contrast with much of the hysteria and sheer unpleasantness of many of the opponents of the Episcopal Church.

I must say that the people who amuse me the most for sheer illogicality are those who accept the ordination of women, but who then react violently against the ordination of openly gay priests and Bishops. Talk about “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel”!

Such people claim to believe every word of the Bible, but there is less in the Bible against homosexuality than there is about women being decidedly inferior to men and having no part at all to play in conducting the Church’s worship. If they really believed the Bible, no woman would be allowed to read a lesson in church, much less be a priest.

In the same way, Jesus is not recorded as saying anything against homosexuality, but he had a good deal to say against divorce. Yet many of the priests and bishops who have left the Episcopal Church over its many liberal stands have themselves been divorced and remarried, sometimes more than once. I find it hard to believe them when they say they are against homosexuality because the Bible forbids it. They don’t really believe what the Bible says at all.

Well, neither do I – at least not in the way that fundamentalists, both Catholic and Protestant, claim to believe the Bible. I am an Anglican because I believe that along with the Bible, we have to take into consideration both tradition and reason. And as far as tradition is concerned, it can be changed, and often has been changed through the centuries. For example, it used to be a cause of excommunication for a Christian to serve in the military. And Roman Catholics ought to remind themselves how short a time ago it was that they could be excommunicated for reading eh Bible in English, and how many martyrs were burned at the stake in England and Europe for this “crime”.

These traditions were changed because of the third leg of our doctrinal stool –  Reason. As cultures change, so the Church has changed with them, while always maintaining the same Good News of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection. All else is secondary and can be changed. The Church has done this boldly from the beginning: even in Scripture it is recorded that the apostles in Jerusalem decided that Gentiles could be admitted to the Church without circumcision – now there’s a revolution for you if you are a Jew!

So although I wish that the Churches could act together and that the Anglican Church did not have to go its own way on certain things, nevertheless I cannot rationally oppose this – after all we certainly had no hesitation in going our own way in the 16th century when we broke away from Rome because of the corruptions of the medieval Papacy. I am quite content to remain an Epicopalian, because I am sure that schism and the self-righteousness that comes of thinking that only I am right and everybody else is wrong, so that I cannot worship our Father with them, is far worse than the mess and muddle which has always been one of the consequences of the Anglican insistence on Reason as well as Scripture and Tradition. Some would say more strongly that this is indeed one of the glories of Anglicanism. I used to dislike the phrase used by Episcopalians in the 60′s and 70′s about our Church as “the thinking man’s Catholicism”, but it had some truth in it (as long as we are willing to add “the thinking man’s Evangelicalism” too!)

If you want certainties, the Episcopal Church is not for you. But we walk in faith, not sight, and the only certainty we need is that our Lord Jesus Christ was sent by a loving Father to live, die and rise for us, and that we now walk with him in his Spirit till we come to that heavenly Kingdom where we shall “know as we are known”, face to face with reality.

13 Responses leave one →
  1. July 29, 2009

    Amen and thank you.

  2. Paul Goings permalink
    July 29, 2009

    If you want certainties, the Episcopal Church is not for you.


    I understand what you’re trying to say, but I think that this is an unfortunate phrasing of what is really meant. And, if taken at all seriously, leads to all sorts of places that neither conservatives nor progressives want to go. I will forego suggesting an example unless one is needed, as I don’t wish to offend anyone unduly. Still, as I’ve said to lots of other people, we very much need to find a better way to express the meaning of the above.

    • July 29, 2009

      You are quite right, Paul. I myself have a sure and certain faith which is contained in the Catholic Creeds. But what I mean to leave the door open to is that even our certainties about Our Lord, the Trinity, the truths of the Faith may be the minimum we can say about these things from our limited understanding, but not the maximum, and that therefore we have to be open to all sorts of further revelation and development, which will never contradict the Gospel but will open it up even more wonderfully. I suppose I want to confine my certainties to the great truths which I believe undergird all the rest, while other Christians want utter certainty about things I am willing to be agnostic about.

  3. Paul Goings permalink
    July 30, 2009

    Oh, Father, I knew what you meant. I do, actually, listen to your sermons. ;)

    And of course it’s easy to come up with numerous examples of the idea of certainty being taking far beyond its logical conclusion on the conservative/fundamentalist side.

    But I guess I was just trying to point out that this (or maybe its inverse?) occurs on the liberal/progressive side as well. So, pick any of the controversies in the Episcopal Church that we’re all familiar with. In my experience, when someone tries to present the conservative arguments, a frequent rejoinder is that it would be rank arrogance to believe that we can know the mind of God in terms of what he thinks about a particular topic. Which, in a certain sense, is true; God is far beyond our limited ability to reason and understand. However, we can’t just stop there. Obviously we have to be able to claim at least a provisional knowledge of the mind of God. Imagine someone saying, “I like torturing children for fun. What does God think of that?” I’d hope that we’d want to have a better answer than, “Well, we can’t know.”

    I realize that I’m probably making more out of this than you intended, but it saddens me that we see so little clear thinking on either of the two sides.

  4. July 30, 2009

    How right you are – I know a lot of Liberal Fascists too!

  5. Joe permalink
    July 30, 2009

    ‘I must say that the people who amuse me the most for sheer illogicality are those who accept the ordination of women, but who then react violently against the ordination of openly gay priests and Bishops. Talk about “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel”!’

    I am not an Anglican, but having observed these controversies from outside I have often been struck by this as well. I would have thought that the principles that would lead some to accept the former would also lead them to accept the latter, but apparently this isn’t so.

  6. Bromartin permalink
    July 31, 2009

    I find your gentle comments on TEC General Convention both amusing and thought provoking. It is true that those with an ax to grind get o so caught up in their puffy assertiveness. Sides on gender are sort of righteously understood, as the battle has moved on to sexuality. “The Episcopal Church” is a difficult jurisdiction to find oneself in. I find little more than embarrassing indignation in its official direction over the last fourty years or so. Those who now seem passe over WO excuse themselves because of OUR UNDERSTANDING of women’s place in scriptural times…and yes, those who draw lines on sexuality will very carefully quote chapter and verse (or 2-3 words with chapter and verse) covering thousands of years of writings, to accent any perceived anomalies. Alas, your wistful statement that, if we would be certain, the Episcopal Church is not our place to be, gave me pause, at that point wondering where you might drop off. With another careful reading or two, and the follow-ups of Mr. Goings, It made “gentle” sense.
    So….Where is the loyal “Catholic” life of S.Clement’s and in the other remaining bastians of traditional ACism in the TEC jurisdiction. As parishes, or as individuals, we know that there are very “comfortable places” where an absolute hierarchy will make doctrinal decisions very deliberately. Is S.Clement’s, along with it’s obvious dedication to beautiful public worship to the Glory of God, and with it’s actions so deeply rooted in the service of others to the Glory of God in the Most Blessed Trinity, taken for granted as a museum or as a shrine, which is “too big to fail?” Those who lead the convention at TEC seem to have no concern for ecumenicalism among our Catholic brethren in the world. Their approach seems to be one of survival (in numbers) with various sects which appear to come the closest (in worship?) to where they are now.
    For myself, I am a lifelong Anglican, and an active member of S.Stephen’s, Whitehall (PA) for the past 26+ years. I agonize over the direction of God’s Church. Today being the Feast of S. Ignatius of Loyola, I find strength in the call to Dedication and Perseverance:
    “Wherever thy glory be best served; whenever, however, and in that state, let us thy servants be. Only hide not from us thy divine love. Help us to trust thee to the uttermost. Teach us to serve thee as thou deservest; to give, and not to count the cost; to fight, and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not seek rest; to labor, and not ask for reward, save that of knowing we are doing Thy Will.”

  7. David O'Rourke permalink
    August 5, 2009

    Father. I wonder if you could elaborate on the matter of Christians being excommunicated for serving in the military. If this were true there would have been no wars in Christendom from the Edict of Toleration to the Reformation, if not beyond. And, as for the English Bible, I doubt that any excommunication was issued over the reading of the Douay-Rheims Bible. In any case that would not fall under the category of Sacred tradition ss it is merely a Church discipline rather than a question of Divine Law.

    Father, if you have not already read it may I refer you to Newman’s “Essay On The Development Of Christian Doctrine”. Sacred Tradition, as opposed to mere custom, does not change. It develops.

    I agree with you that it is gauling to see groups like ACNA compromise on the question of the Ordination of Women but this does not mean that they are wrong on the matter of Homosexual acts nor does it let you or me off the hook. The unbroken Tradition of the Church Catholic, both East and West is that Homosexjual acts violate Divine Law.

    Certainly it’s important that we teach “the truth cooked in Charity,” to follow the example of St. Francis De Sales but at the same time both truth and therefore Charity require that we be consistent in teaching that which we have received. If we try to weasel out on this matter and yet still oppose the attempted ordination of women the liberals will surely accuse of us of being gay misogynists.

    • August 5, 2009

      Many thanks, David, for your comments. It was only in the Early church that military service and Christian discipleship were held to be incompatible. The enormous (and some would say) disastrous alliance of the Church with the State after the conversion of Constantine was what changed all that. But what happened was certainly a reversal of church teaching. You and Newman may call it “development”: I prefer “change” – and I’m not against change. Who says that God cannot do something new?

      As for ACNA and others who accept the ordination of women but see the end of the world in the acceptance of faithful gay relationships (no one surely argues for promiscuity and cheating in either hetero- or homosexual relations), I regard the former as by far the bigger departure from past church teaching. As one of my congregation said to me “At least the sacrament from a gay male Bishop will be valid!”.

      As an Anglican, I have always lived in the same Church with people (including Bishops!) who believe quite different things about church order, sacraments, personal morality etc. And, though they don’t admit it, so so the Roman Catholics – artificial contraception is a good example, not to mention RC’s who believe in women priests. Let the “development” or “change” continue: there will always be disagreements, but charity is far more important than faith (as St Paul points out at length in I Corinthians 13).

      • August 6, 2009

        Fr Reid,

        I think you are very right on the WO versus gay ordination comparison and the need for charity as well as the roll of scripture, tradition, and reason. But I (if I understand correctly) do not see the need to be a part of the process of changing the faith. Unless it is in the roll of speaking out against it. Developing the tradition I can understand, but not changing the deposit of doctrine and morals. Maybe this is just semantics. Perhaps you can clarify.

        To keep things in perspective about the ordination of women in ACNA, only six of twenty-eight dioceses (less than a quarter) ordain women to the priesthood. A theological study will be conducted soon on the issue. None of them are allowed by the constitution to ordain women to the episcopate. This in comparison with TEC in which now the ordination of women to all orders is mandatory in all dioceses. Who has been more faithful?

        I do not think there is any lack of charity on our side in our (Fort Worth) recent realignment, but I will leave that to the discernment of others and ask forgiveness for any wrongs. We still have several joint ministries with our neighboring Episcopal Diocese of Dallas which continue to this day.

        To me, the realignment happened because of two things, our unwillingness to follow TEC on the path of schism and as a way to avoid the orthodox purge.

        Also, I believe the restriction on Christian military service in the early period had to do with emperor worship and not on the matter of taking up arms, so when Constantine converted, that was no longer an issue. A secondary issue might have been that soldiers might have to take up arms against fellow christians in times and places when it was illegal in the Roman Empire.

        God bless. You and your parish are dear to my heart.

  8. Paul Goings permalink
    August 7, 2009

    I won’t attempt to answer Fr Matkin’s question about who has been more faithful; I’m not altogether certain of what his criteria are.

    I would be inclined to ask him about his two parishes, and the practice of religion there. As I said recently to another correspondent, the main reason that the antics of ECUSA and the General Convention don’t make much of an impression on us at S. Clement’s is that it has been our corporate experience that devoting any significant amount of time to such issues is counter-productive. Of the about eight somewhat Anglo-Catholic parishes in this diocese who expended their energies opposing these various assaults on the catholic faith through political action, all of them are either totally deprived of their former catholic ethos, have closed entirely, or are operating marginally. Only S. Clement’s remains to offer the full package of catholic faith and practice. I think the reason for this is that we, and purely by God’s grace and for no merits of our own, had collected together individuals who understood that Sunday Vespers and High Mass on feast days were far more potent weapons than meetings and press conferences. That’s certainly what I think of as faithfulness.

  9. Terese permalink
    August 8, 2009

    Interesting. I was under the impression that Catholics were only forbidden to read the King James Bible, not the Bible in English in general. This was because the King James Bible was not authorized or translated by the Church, and was/is therefore considered invalid by the Vatican. Now, the Douay-Rheims Bible I believe was approved by the Church, and was indeed in English. And I don’t seem to recall anyone being burned at the stake for reading that…

    Also, tradition doesn’t change itself over the years(e.g., women becoming priests -mainly for political reasons, dare I say?-), it generally evolves, if any change occurs. If something changes completely and totally, it is no longer part of tradition but a new being. If something in Sacred Tradition suddenly and diametrically changes, that which has changed can no longer consider itself a valid part of Sacred Tradition BECAUSE it has changed and is now different from the set tradition. For example, the Episcopal Church cannot consider itself to be a part of the Sacred Catholic tradition, because it broke with the Holy Catholic Church centuries ago (again, because of political reasons). For more information on Sacred Tradition and its unchanging nature, refer to Cardinal Newman’s works.

    Indeed, an interesting and thought provoking article!

    - Your neighbourhood Catholic

  10. John R. permalink
    November 2, 2009

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

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