Recently I wrote a piece on things Anglican in which I called a spade a spade. This piece is about calling a fool a fool. That fool would be me, and I suppose, many people like me. Let me explain.
The spade in AMIA that still needs to be called such is schism. I stand by that judgment despite the thoughtful push back I have received. I have explained myself in my comments section and in my article. No need to beat that dead horse.
But one thing I was unaware of when I wrote that piece was my own motives for writing it. I knew I was angry, yet anger is not the problem, for one can indeed be angry and sin not. It’s what motivated the anger.
A big reason I joined the Anglican communion was that I wanted to be a part of something that had an organic connection with Christians worldwide, and Christians back in time. I had become increasingly dissatisfied with schismatic Protestantism, and I thought I could avoid that sin by entering the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The catastrophe of 2003 was about many things, certainly biblical authority and sexual ethics. But it was also about church authority and communion. What disappointed me most about the Episcopal Church was its flaunting of the explicit and clear decisions of 1998 Lambeth regarding human sexuality. In short, TEC was being schismatic! And many members of my Episcopal parish, I discovered, could care less, saying it was none of the Communion’s business how we ran our affairs.
Well, I cared a great deal, so naturally, I wanted nothing to do with such a church, and eventually off I went, looking for an Anglican body that would abide by the letter of the Lambeth law and preserve communion with the worldwide church. I knew things would be messy for a few years, but I was optimistic that eventually conservatives in AMIA, CANA etc. would prevail in this sense: We would be recognized by the communion and by history as having done the right thing.
Today, I am unsure that this will happen, but stranger things have occurred in church history. But I am sure of this: the motives for my reaction and that of many conservatives have now been exposed for what they are. That occurred when the nine AMIA bishops recently resigned from Rwanda oversight. When I read about this, I was stunned and angry. When I discovered that the oversight we had was really no oversight, that we in AMIA had essentially been free-lancing for years—well, I was more angry still. Why? Because I joined AMIA to avoid schism, and here we were practicing schism!
And why did that particular sin make me angry? Because I see myself as a person who is not a schismatic, not like those other sinners. I have made my church choices based on righteous criteria! In short my identity as an Anglican is very much wrapped up in my self-justifying efforts. I want to be in a morally superior institution. That makes me feel good about myself. To call a thing what it is: That’s self-justification, or self-righteousness.
Any one familiar with my writings can see that this sin is compounded by hypocrisy, because one of my big themes is that we are called to live graciously in a sinful church. The church of course is also justified, but not by its moral purity and theological integrity or because it has proper standing with a bishop, but only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Among the many sins churches traffic in is schism. To live in a sinful but justified church means living in a schismatic church.
We’re not given to admitting such, of course, but the Anglican communion as a whole is a schismatic church. We rejected Catholicism for no good theological reason other than to justify a divorce and remarriage of a king. We have striven mightily to build up a rather impressive theology that has, yes, attempted to justify our separate existence, showing the unique things we now bring to the table of Christendom. There is much that right and true and wise in Anglican theology and liturgy (the Lord uses all sorts of things, even schism, to lead us into all truth). But the plain fact is that schism is at the heart of our identity.
In this, we certainly are no different than Protestantism as a whole—though we like to imagine that Anglicanism is a noble third way! And lo and behold, things don’t stand much better with Catholicism and Orthodoxy, who in 1054 mutually excommunicated one another, committing bilateral schism. In other words, every Christian communion on the planet is living in a state of schism regarding another Christian communion. There is no communion that can justify its current existence based on the purity of its theology or ecclesial practice. We’re all sinners–and all justified by Christ.
Because we are justified by Christ and not the purity of our ecclesial actions, we have the freedom to call a thing what it is. New expressions of schism should be called such, and be repented of as soon as possible. We in AMIA are still called to act as faithfully as we know how in this situation, which means arranging our ecclesiastical connections in ways we believe will be most fruitful for our churches and for the witness of the gospel.
But let us not kid ourselves. To come under a “recognized authority” is still to come under an authority that is historically complicit in one schism or another. To do so as an attempt to justify our existence is foolish, for there is nothing we can do to justify our existence. Jesus has already done that.
Furthermore, to distance oneself from schismatics is, in the end, to distance oneself from sinners. Schismatics are usually fellow believers (unless they’ve become heretics as well), the only difference is that they are sinning in a public way. Who among us has not at some point wished to chuck the communion and go it alone? If Jesus is right, to lust after separation with the heart is to commit schism in essence. We are all schismatics, I’m afraid.
Again, that is not a call for ecclesiastical indifference but only a call for a little more self-awareness and humility. Certainly, these are not traits I have been exhibiting lately, and my only excuse is that it is just so much more fun to be self-righteous!
The sins of schism, self-righteousness, and self-justifying behavior will be with us always, even to the end of this age. In fact, the church is already one, as Ephesians teaches (Jesus having broken down the wall of hostility) and the creeds affirm (“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”). Jesus’ work is indeed finished, as he said. But we live between the time when the work is finished and the time when the work becomes manifest. In the meantime, I believe we are called to humbly bear the suffering that such sins bring upon us, and yet do so in joy, knowing the forgiveness that is ours in Christ.