Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Some Out-Loud Thinking About Ecclesiology

Yesterday I was reading this post on Thinking Anglicans about the struggles toward ordination of women to the episcopate in the Church of England. This article from Andrew Goddard, linked at the TA post, made a reference to Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Evangelicals in the Church of England having “different ecclesiologies.”

In responding, I made the comment, “As for Mr. Goddard's analysis: I was struck by the comment that Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Evangelicals have "different ecclesiologies." Notwithstanding some differences in opinion, how can those with different ecclesiologies claim to be in the same institution?”

One person responded to my question with his own: “Good question -- but aren't you a bit late in asking it, since it has been the case ever since 1559?” (And thank you for that, Mr. Tighe.)

I had some thoughts about that which I posted (I think; the process didn’t seem to function smoothly), but which I also thought I would share here.

Well, late, yes, although I wouldn't have dated it to 1559 so much as after the Tractarians; but perhaps late, yes.

However, I think the "different ecclesiologies" as laid out by Mr. Goddard are more different, more polarized than I experience in the Episcopal Church. My experience is of a theology of episkope that balances functional and charismatic understandings - that is, a vocation to specific functions for which the Spirit provide the person the specific charismatic gifts. Perhaps most folks in the Church of England think (when they think about it at all) much the same, and Mr. Goddard presents the poles for clarification and sake of argument. However, the wider rhetoric, and especially all the talk of "taint," suggests that there are indeed folks in the Church of England embracing the extreme positions.

Perhaps the question isn't why they're still in the Church of England (if not exactly "together"), and not in the Episcopal Church. In the American context, where all ecclesial communities are matters of choice and none is "by law established," the extremes have largely left, forming new communities (and, two points: rhetoric from some notwithstanding, no one has been thrown out, but some have walked away based on conscience, feeling, as we often say, "better fed spiritually;" and second, there are indeed splinters in the American context more liberal than the Episcopal Church). One wonders if without Establishment these folks would have chosen to stay in. So, is the answer to my question that they remain together legally for reasons that don't affect their theologies of the episcopate?

Just a thought.


Ecgbert said...

Well put.

A house divided against itself and all that, or artificially held together by the state.

In the American context, where all ecclesial communities are matters of choice and none is "by law established," the extremes have largely left... One wonders if without Establishment these folks would have chosen to stay in.

Exactly, or why for the most part in the Episcopal Church you don't and never did have Anglo-Papalists (real would-be RCs) or real Anglo-Evangelicals with Calvinist or even Baptist beliefs.

Catholic ecclesiology: infallible church in which precedent, doctrine, is not subject to change by vote.

Liberal Protestant ecclesiology: everything is up for a vote. This fallible church may seem humbler than an infallible one but really claims absolute power, which Catholics don't. ('I can't. I'm only the Pope.')

Marshall Scott said...

Young Jon! So good to hear from you.

I don't think either Rome or the non-Roman Western churches are innocent of claims of infallibility. The voice of the most humble of popes is heard by so many as the voice of God, regardless of his intent. The vote of the Southern Baptist Convention is enforced by institutional boards of trustees and by local associations, even as they claim to be truly congregational. Remember, it's not only clerics that maintain clericalism in its various forms.

You did lead me to think that, as Trent was the gathering for the Counter-reformation, perhaps in the Episcopal Church we had a Counter- sort of even after the Oxford Movement in the schism from which was born the Reformed Episcopal Church in the 19th Century. Those were indeed the Calvinists in the Episcopal Church, and until the late 20th Century, as some evangelicals discovered a need for liturgy, there were simply very few in the Episcopal Church; while in small numbers and without much fuss those who found it more authoritative made their ways to the Roman Church.

Well, as always, good to hear from you.