Thursday, October 30, 2008

Evangelicals to Liberals: "Psst! Meet Me in Back of the Barn"

Sydney is the largest and wealthiest and arguably the most influential of the dioceses that comprise the Anglican Church in Australia. It has always had an ecclesial culture that is not only Low Church and Evangelical (as those terms are understood in an Anglican context), but is overtly anti-Catholic (in both its Anglican and Roman iterations) as well. This may be a reflection of the large number of Church of Ireland immigrants who settled New South Wales.

Until now, Sydney has pretty much played by the rules of Anglican churchmanship, even as it has staked out a position at one end of the accepted Anglican theological polarities. It has professed loyalty to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Articles of Religion (the latter, at least, being a rather more natural fit than the other two). The diocese has always been a "player" on the international Anglican scene.

It has for years been no secret that there was a critical mass of opinion and desire within the diocese to authorize lay persons to preside at celebrations of the Eucharist (in the local parlance, "administer" Holy Communion). This is consonant with an ultra-Reformed understanding of the nature of the Church, the nature of the sacraments, and the nature of ordained ministry. Anglican Evangelicals may wish to make a case that it is consonant with the nature of Anglican religion itself. But it is manifestly dissonant with the formularies (Prayer Book, Ordinal, Articles) that even Sydney would agree somehow circumscribe Anglican identity.

This past weekend, Sydney finally stepped off the reservation. Its synod voted to authorize deacons to preside at the Eucharist. This isn't the whole deal. This isn't all they would want. But it steps over the line nonetheless, and "Lay Presidency" is only a matter of time, it would seem. From an Anglo-Catholic perspective, this is so unspeakable as to scarcely even merit refutation. But even from a classic Evangelical perspective, it is a serious breach of good order.

Of course, in the present climate of Anglicanland, it takes irony and raises it to an unprecedented level. Sydney Anglicans have been in the forefront of the chorus of voices critical of the "progressive" position of the North American provinces in the area of sexual morality. They have been members of the choir singing the repeated refrain, "You have not adequately consulted. Your actions have breached the bonds of affection. For the sake of the unity of the communion, please do not do this. Show appropriate restraint." 

I have also sung in the same chorus, and I continue to do so. This is precisely why I am horrified--not surprised, perhaps, but horrified--by what Sydney has done. The members of the synod cannot have been unaware how their action, as much as it may "make sense" for them, will be seen as an egregious breach of Anglican norms by the vast majority of other Anglicans, even Evangelicals. But they allowed their own local convictions to trump the universal discipline of all the churches that share in the gift of the historic episcopate.

Some might contend that Sydney should get a pass on this because they are "orthodox," while the Americans and Canadians are "revisionists." But in doing what it has done, the Diocese of Sydney has utterly forfeited any claim to orthodoxy. Its offense is every bit as serious, every bit as much an abrogation of Anglican orthodoxy, as anything the American or Canadian churches have done. Sydney is no less culpable than New Hampshire in rending the fabric of the Anglican Communion.

The larger onus now lies on GAFCON to exercise whatever influence it may have over one of its very own key players to desist from implementing what the diocesan synod has approved. Whatever integrity GAFCON hopes to maintain in the eyes of the rest of the communion will evaporate if they do otherwise.

And the smaller onus lies on the members of the Covenant Design Group. Even though the impetus for the development of an Anglican Covenant comes from the (mis)behavior of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, the disciplinary reach of the covenant needs to have sufficient range to encompass Peter Jensen (the Archbishop of Sydney) as well as bishops like Chane, Bruno, Andrus, and other would-be bad actors. 

There can be no distinction between orthodox moral theology and orthodox church order. One is neither more nor less important than the other.


RB said...


Please help me understand why this is so important. With my evangelical background, being an Episcopal only about 10 years, I have to admit that I don't get it.

Undergroundpewster said...


In the "Historical Documents" section of the Episcopal Church USA 1979 BCP you will find,

"Article XXV. Of the Sacraments.

Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession,
but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will
towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also
strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say,
Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders,
Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel,
being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of
life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and
the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments are not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but
that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a
wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to
themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith."

The sacrament of "Orders" seem to be the one put at risk by this slippery slope.

Of course, "Disorder" is the new sacrament of T.E.C.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that lay presidency was approved by the Synod but wouldn't take place because Archbishop Jensen would have to authorize individuals to do it and he has said he would refuse any such authorization. Is this right?

Also, would it not be under the Archbishop's authority to order his deacons not to preside at the Eucharist?

I realize that these would be temporary fixes until perhaps a wider solution is found (the Covenant perhaps, or GAFCON ruling).

Otherwise, I agree with Dan. This is either a great opportunity for GAFCON (albiet a very difficult one) to demonstrate that they are a "Communion" with real boundaries within the Anglican Federation; or the proof that GAFCON is just another federation within the Anglican federation.

Matt Kennedy said...


This is an inaccurate and poorly thought out piece. First, not all "evangelicals" are Sydney evangelicals and very few would support lay presidency. Even most memorialists, Baptists etc... reserve the celebration to ordained your headline suggests a reality that does not exist...

Second, while I agree that Sydney's decision was a poor one and ought not to have been made. And while I agree that with regard to our common agreements as Anglicans in the Anglican Communion that Lay Presidency is a violation of our common life, bonds of affection, and thoroughly "UnAnglican" in that sense. I am no fan of lay presidency.

At the same time it is not just a stretch but it is simply insupportable to suggest the following:

"Some might contend that Sydney should get a pass on this because they are “orthodox,” while the Americans and Canadians are “revisionists.” But in doing what it has done, the Diocese of Sydney has utterly forfeited any claim to orthodoxy. Its offense is every bit as serious, every bit as much an abrogation of Anglican orthodoxy, as anything the American or Canadian churches have done."

Sydney violated unbroken ecclesial tradition. She did not violate scripture.

TEC not only violated tradition she blatantly, defiantly, and unrepentantly, violated the clear and plain teaching of God's Word in a formal way. Her offense is not just twice as offensive as that of Sydney, it is infinitely more offensive, since it is given not just to one visible body within the Church but to the Cornerstone, the Lord of the Church.

Matt Kennedy said...

That was from me, Matt Kennedy, sorry for not signing my name

William Tighe said...

Perhaps my mini historical disquisition here:

at comment #37 might be of interest. No doubt it is a simplification, but not an excessive one, to state that all of the ongoing conflicts over "Anglican identity" stem from that obscure 1571 English canon, an dits implications.

Daniel Martins said...

Your point is well taken. I did not mean to imply that *all* Anglican Evangelicals (or even most) would want to go where Sydney has gone. In that sense, the headline is misleading.

I write from an Anglo-Catholic perspective (no surprise here, I hope).
In a Catholic ecclesiology, the uniform sacramental discipline of the Church dating back to antiquity carries such a weight of presumptive normative authority as to constitute a virtual veto in the absence of a fresh articulation of the consensus fidelium, even when the practice in question may not be dealt with overtly in scripture. And Sydney's move makes even less sense in the context of current Anglican politics, where there is an increasing desire for consultation and accountability across provincial lines. I'm in the middle of teaching a class on I Corinthians, and the consistent message there is "Wait! Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you should automatically do it. Love, encased in responsibility, trumps the exercise of rights." Whatever the pastoral exigencies of the Diocese of Sydney may be, whatever low ecclesiology informs their sense that they have a right to do what they're doing, if they want to be Anglican, they must subordinate their rights to the welfare of the larger whole. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Martial Artist said...

I am just that little bit further reassured that what I perceived as the Holy Spirit calling me to Rome was an accurate perception. I return home tomorrow from my final sea deployment of this year, and will have the time to pursue fuller involvement in RCIA, for which I am grateful to God.

Blessings and regards,
Martial Artist (Keith H. Toepfer)

RB said...


Thank you for your explanation. It is helpful, but I'm afraid I remain somewhat unconvinced.

I mean, the we've-always-done-it-that-way argument only goes so far (even when couched in Latin theological terms like consensus fidelium). I do understand, of course, the need to maintain the fragile unity between anglo-catholics and Anglican evangelicals, and I haven't heard of any shortage of priests in the diocese of Sidney that makes lay presidency necessary. Still, though, what is there was such a shortage? What of the universal priesthood of believers? Would Christ not be present if a layperson presided? It's hard for me to imagine Jesus of Nazareth actually being concerned over such an issue.

I am amazed that in the Episcopal Church as I have experienced it, just about anyone can preach, but it takes a graduate theological education and an ordination for someone to wave his hands over the elements and read some words out of a book.

I'm not trying to be contrary; in fact, I suspect you are probably right.

I guess I'm looking for the why element: why is this the consensus fidelium, and why has the church always done it this way?

Chris Jones said...


I guess I'm looking for the why element: why is this the consensus fidelium, and why has the church always done it this way?

The short answer is that the Church has always done it this way because it is the Apostolic Tradition. That is to say that the Apostles received it from the Saviour, they handed it down to their successors, and it has been handed down continuously in the Church from the Apostles' time to our own.

Not everything that is attributed to "tradition" is, strictly speaking, an Apostolic tradition. Many things that are "traditional" have in fact developed over time, but some things really do go back to the Apostles -- and this is one of them. Those things (the "Apostolic Tradition") have the same authority -- Apostolic authority -- that the New Testament has, and for the same reason: because they bear the authority that our Lord gave to His Apostles.

In short, we don't make things up in the Church as we see fit; we believe, teach, confess, and practice according to what the Apostles gave us.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Th 2.15)

Baddelim said...

Just a quick note, as far as I am aware Sydney hasn't argued that TEC's actions are wrong because they haven't consulted, nor has it called for restraint.

It has consistently argued that the actions are wrong because they contradict Scripture, and has pointed to the breaking of the bonds only as one of the consequences of disobeying Scripture. It hasn't called for restraint, but repentance.

My impression is that Sydney believes that talk of communion consensus as a basis for theological decisions is bad theological method, and bad strategy when liberalism has so much institutional strength.

This is why I would think that Sydney's decision is internally consistent at this point. Consequently, you might want to reconsider your implied point that they are doing what they criticised others for doing.

On a completely different tangent however, making the substance of your theological criticism based upon unequivocal anglo-catholic sacramentalism is not likely to bring about a change of mind. Neither do I think it passes your own test of communion-wide consensus. Perhaps if you want to criticise Sydney on this basis of this theology you should get the instruments of unity to agree that the Anglican church is, in its essence, anglo-catholic? ;)

Or maybe consensus isn't a good argument to put forward where theology is concerned. Athanasius contra mundum and all that....

in Christ,
Mark Baddeley

Anonymous said...

From my recent reading of the Gospel and the Catholic Church, by Abp. Ramsey (Longmans 1956):

"the close connexion between the showing forth of the Lord's death, and the unity of the body suggests inevitably that the minister in the Eucharist will be, not only the representative of a local group, but the organ of the one universal and historic society, so that the rite proclaims the dependence of the local community upon the one family of God" (p. 60)

"...the Eucharist is never merely the act of a local community, but always the act of the great Church, wherein the local community is merged. This is expressed in the restriction of leadership in the rite to the ministry of Bishops and presbyters, a restriction which does not lower the place of the laity but reminds them that their place is one with the whole Church in history and heaven." (p. 113)

In XPo,
Michael LaRue, K.M.