I often get comments lamenting the disunion of various jurisdictional bodies of Continuing Anglicans with their various emphases in matters of theology, notably the appeal of historical Catholicism on one side and fidelity to the rigour of the Reformation on the other.
Well, how do we go about it? I have been into this already in Suggestions for Anglo-Catholic Union. Our Bishops can meet up, as they have done for this very purpose, and negotiate concordats of intercommunion or even complete mergers into a single jurisdiction. There is also dialogue at a more parochial level in which people from different Churches and parishes can meet up. There is also what I am doing on this blog, encouraging dialogue, reasoning things out and being open-minded.
The big problem, the elephant in the room, is the impossibility of reconciling the pure and hard Protestantism of some with either the Anglo-Papalism or aspiration to historical Catholicism of others. One side must accept the position of the other and give up his own. Otherwise, one can develop the art of “fudging” and equivocation – saying something that will be understood in two different ways by two different people.
A peaceful parting of the ways? Perhaps not necessarily. Christians have always collaborated with other Christians with whom organic union is impossible, but on the level of humanitarianism, education or other things related to faith and religion without being directly a part of the ideology of a particular ecclesial tradition.
My commenter maintains – “I don’t see a middle ground. No disunion within the Church is really acceptable“. We are getting close to discussions that may have to be limited to the Blow-Out Departments of this blog. We can have strings of ideas without any possible resolution. This is the problem of theological amateurism.
Why do I bother writing on this at all? I think we could look at the history and ideas of the mainstream ecumenical movement and treat these differences in exactly the same way as between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants (ie. of the Calvinist tradition). The ecumenical movement originated in the Roman Catholic Church and the desires of many of its clergy and laity to reconcile with Protestants and Orthodox. The World Council of Churches was set up in 1948, motivated by the desire to reconcile mankind in general after the hardship caused by the war. The first thing was a sense of unity in helping the victims of the war and building a new foundation of peace.
There are several approaches to Christian unity. The highest aspiration is reconciling different denominations by overcoming the historical divisions on account of theological differences. One approach is that of “comprehensiveness” basing what is held in common on “mere Christianity” as C.S. Lewis would have put it, and treating the more “accessory” conditions as negotiable and “optional”. Another approach is basing the possibility of union on acceptance of the sacramental and liturgical nature of the Church – these aspects are not negotiable, but there may be different possible uses of terminology to discuss them. What is the Church? This is the capital question to which there are answers ranging from a vague notion of an “invisible” body to the dogmatic rigours of Rome and the more conservative Orthodox Churches.
There is a two-stage process: the “dialogue of love” and the “dialogue of truth”. The first is Christians being courteous to each other and abstaining from the customary language of heresy, schism and apostasy. The second is the serious theological study of questions like the Council of Chalcedon, the Filioque, justification, salvation, grace and works and so forth. As scholarship has developed over the centuries, we discover that many difficulties were caused by terminology and language.
It occurs to me that many clergy members of Continuing Anglican Churches have an insufficient level of theological education. For those charged with questions of this nature, and especially senior priests and bishops, I can’t see how many of these problems can be discussed by “amateurs”. Perhaps this sounds snotty on my part, but rigorous reasoning and scholarship are essential, and those generally come from having studied theology at university standard.
I would certain propose that each Church should have a commission of clergy and lay people with a university-level theological education, and work through the questions that divide. This is not a job for amateurs? Many of the problems in Continuing Anglican are theological – the classical problems between Catholicism and Protestantism, but not all. Most difficulties are probably caused by ignorance, prejudice, conservatism and refusal to study more recent scholarship than the late seventeenth century!
There’s the challenge. Some of us are getting our act together with serious blogging and writing books, and above all reading about the things we uphold and defend, all too often emotionally. Let’s get our act together!
If Churches get together, it won’t be by magic or one party knuckling under the strongest opposition – but rediscovering books and libraries, and having the self-discipline to concentrate on the essentials.
For the time being, let’s get on with the dialogue of love, and that means getting rid of our bigotry and rudeness. Goodness me! Wouldn’t that be progress before the theologians get busy!