Monday, February 25, 2008

Can Lambeth be seized by the orthodox?

Well, that's the real question, isn't it?

Actually, I think it isn't the real question at all. It is a distraction from the real question.

If we ask if this Lambeth can be hijacked for orthodoxy the way everything good and decent in this church has been hijacked time and time again by the heretics then we are faced with a simple practical political calculation. Of course this calculation has much to do with the level of optimism one is ready to sustain when considering the potential for success in this venture. But my experience has been that there has been a surfeit of optimism about defeating the liberals in their relentless assault upon the Faith. It seems to me that some optimists are simply not willing to see the facts as they are but insist upon reading them in the most optimistic, by which I mean fanciful, light possible. Since Jesus calls us to count the costs before undertaking some great task there can be no room for approaches which misrepresent the facts.

Now some may counter: “Aren't you opposing optimism with pessimism or even cynicism? After all, with God all things are possible.”

Far be it from me, as one who believes in the Resurrection, to limit my actions based upon what I understand to be possible on my part. I have often trumpeted the example of Gideon against arguments that those leaving TEC or Lambeth are draining the strength from the orthodox fight within TEC or within the Anglican Communion. This is the central thrust of Bishop Wright. The conservative defectors are dividing the conservative side just like Teddy Roosevelt divided the Republican forces with his Bull Moose Party. But this is as much a strategic calculation as those who say the fight is hopeless and already lost. The argument is not an illogical one, if worldly logic is all that is counted. But the force of the Gideon example is that worldly calculations should not be the crucial factor in deciding whether this or that venture will be successful. It is rather meant to strengthen the faith of those already tasked with a seemingly impossible mission.

However, the omnipotence of God should not become a license do anything. God can indeed do all things. But that He can do all these does not mean that He will do them. God could indeed cause me to float in the air. Does that mean that I should defy gravity and jump off a building to show my faith and God's power? (I seem to remember a biblical story about something like this) No. Only lunatics and snake handlers (possibly the same thing) operate by that theologic. God could convert the hearts of all those in 815 and the ACC and give conservatives the control of the Communion. Well, He could. But is it likely, based upon how He has acted throughout the last 1900 years of church history that He will break precedent and act in a way He has never acted before?

I believe a dispassionate examination of the evidence will give small hope for turning TEC around and a little less than even odds that ABC and Lambeth will do anything to effectively deal with the rampant apostasy in the Communion. It may be possible, with a determined unified show of force on the conservatives' part, to wrest the agenda of this Lambeth away from the revisionist aparatchiks ensconced in ACC, but I wouldn't put much money on that bet.

But let us assume that even the small odds of success are not there. Let us say that there is no way short of the Second Coming that anything will turn Lambeth into a vehicle for addressing TEC's abuses, let alone disciplining it to bring it back in line with biblical teachings, or at least with what the last Lambeth Conference claimed it believed. Such an assumption might lead one to conclude that going to there would be a waste of time because it won't accomplish anything. If there is no real chance for success why bother? Would that not be throwing good money after bad, in a sense?

But this flows from the wrong way of looking at things. It is starting with the wrong question. Rather than deciding what is the right course of action by seeing which course will be successful, which will “work”, Christians should instead decide which course is right regardless of whether we think there is any chance of it working. Ethics are governed not by the considerations of the possible and impossible or of the probable and improbable. It is dictated by the knowledge of right and wrong. Christianity especially is not a “practical” or pragmatic religion, not when what is practical is defined by our limited human knowledge of what we think can or needs to be achieved.

Before the Resurrection Jesus' death on the cross could well have been looked at as a failure. What did He accomplish by challenging the religious authorities in Jerusalem except a violent death? But the wisdom of God is built upon the foundation of victory through defeat, life through death. Consider John the Baptist. Could he not have spent his time more profitable supporting Jesus' ministry than challenging the moral habits of a powerful king? What did he accomplish? He certainly failed to turn Herod around and only wound up getting killed himself. Look at Paul. Was he successful in his attempt to win over the Jews in Jerusalem? There is little evidence of it. He certainly failed trying to convince Herod Agrippa and Festus. Was he wasting his breath?
No. It was right to make his witness regardless of the evident success or failure of the endeavor, for the witness itself has a benefit of its own.

The Christian principle of being a witness is, I believe, a strong argument for all conservative leaders going to Lambeth and making a stand, even if they know it will be their last one. I believe I am not simply imposing an idea and dressing it up as a moral imperative based solely upon my own authority. It seems to me we can see a clear Dominical ethic revealed in Scripture in Jesus' commands for dealing with sin in the church. Mt 18:15-17

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

What is important to see here is that the sinning brother is confronted openly in the church. Before you can break fellowship with him he must at last be dealt with openly before the whole church. Once you have gone that far you can be done with him if he refuses to repent, but you must go that far. This is not just for his sake but for yours and for the sake of the church. By going the distance to the final level before cutting ourselves off we proclaim the importance of our fellowship in Christ. It is not lightly dissolved. Christians are not to take the easy way out.

Yet taking the easy way is a very common temptation for us, and I speak from my own experience. How often have we failed to confront an erring brother, not because we have forgiven him but because we doubt any good will come of it. He won't repent, we think, perhaps based upon plenty of past experience, and so we write him off. We “let sleeping dogs lie”, and buy ourselves some peace, but at the expense of fellowship. What we have settled for is a less Christian and less honest relationship because we are reluctant to suffer the risk of pain in the honest confrontation. Again, I speak for myself first and foremost. Even in the area of witnessing for Christ it is too easy to hold back for fear of an assumed negative reaction. Why preach if people don't want to hear it? This is cowardice and sin, no denying it. It is sin, though not because we are denying the possibility of God accomplishing what we think impossible. There is that, of course. But it is also sin because we are called to bear witness regardless of whether that witness will be “successful” or not. Maybe the only success is that a stand was taken and a witness made.

Back to the issue at hand; personally I believe that the Canterbury based Communion is broken, the rules are stacked and the game rigged and that there is no way on earth the Lambeth conference is going to address, let alone solve the issues that have been ripping the Communion apart. If there is to be a healing for the Communion it will have to come from outside Canterbury and the ACC. The AC will have to be rebuilt from the outside. I could be wrong, but that isn't the point. The point is that despite this pessimistic, but realistic (as opposed to rose colored) outlook, I still think that our orthodox leaders should go to Lambeth. They should go not with the thoughts of capturing Lambeth and of capturing the Anglican Communion but of confronting it. Since the Communion is something of worth its structure are important. That importance means that if we are going to reject them as fatally flawed we owe it to them and to ourselves to make a public announcement of that at the highest level possible.

Now I know some will be thinking, “What is there to announce? It's all over the internet what this Archbishop thinks and what that Archbishop has said about this and that.” That is true. But these things have not been said at the highest level of the church of which we are all a part. What is the forum for Anglicans to make a statement before the entire Communion? It is not a Synod meeting of a local Province. It is where the entire Communion is officially gathered in its greatest numbers. Lambeth is the only contender for that title. For ++Akinola to make a pronouncement from Nigeria is, as far as the Communion goes, no more than for me to privately tell Bob that I have this grievance against him. At most it is to bring another brother into the picture to confront Bob. But I am commanded to go farther. I must make my case before the church. So likewise I believe that our voice should be made at Lambeth if only to say “This game is over”.
This is the price of Christian community. If there is any hope for a non-Canterbury centered Anglicanism it will only be if we take the communion nature of the Communion more seriously than has been done by those who have done what they pleased and those who have looked the other way. This cannot be done if we start out by paying so little heed to the nature of community when it seems difficult or pointless.

Practical questions:

1) What kind of witness needs to be made at Lambeth? Is it necessary to attend all three meaningless weeks of this silly affair?

I don't think more than a day, maybe two or three, would be required. Coming with the express intention of only making a statement and then leaving would also have the beneficial effect of getting the attention of the rest. It would be like one who, while all the other sheep dutifully take their place at tables so that the meeting can progress, insists on standing in the doorway. The impression should be to come as a visible sign of contention and disagreement. If this causes the rest to decide to address the real issues instead of playing parlor games, all the better. If they refuse to heed the no time need be wasted. A swift exit can be made, making the witness all the more potent. The stand will have been made, which can only be done by going.

2)What about the expense, if many leaders are also going to GAFCON?

I Think there is money enough among all the orthodox in America, Canada, Australia and England to pay the fares of the global south bishops. But even if this becomes a real obstacle it isn't necessary for all bishops to go. Even the Pope never went to any of the universally accepted Councils but he sent a legate. The Primates can well represent their churches, and key representatives of the orthodox from within unorthodox Provinces can be selected. If we are not depending upon outvoting the heretics, but simply confronting them, then it doesn't matter if we aren't there in the greatest numbers. But our chief leaders should be.

Skipping Lambeth is no light matter. It may only be an invention of less than a century and a half in age, but the Communion itself is really little older. The Communion is a new and very fragile thing, and it is breaking apart. If it is to be reforged it must be done carefully, and honorably, and honor has been a thing greatly lacking in the present system, a system that a boycott of Lambeth is implicitly rejecting.

1 comment:

Tregonsee said...

I think we can safely say that the answer to the lede question is NO.