Friday, December 21, 2007

Yet More Ecclesiology (not impoverished)

With his permission, I pass on the following from Fr Tony Clavier, a priest of the Diocese of West Virginia. If you are not aware of his bio, he served for decades at top levels in one of the "continuing Anglican" jurisdictions before--at some substantial cost in terms of prestige, at any rate--he was received into the Episcopal Church in the late '90s. I mention this only to underscore that he has some experience with the search for "purity" in church life.

I'd like to suggest a couple of things:

The first is that we are easily dragged into consumerism and sectarianism, consumerism because we want a church which meets our expectations and sectarianism when we contemplate the other offerings available in our American shopping mall version of Christianity.

This is by no means the first time in which Christians have found themselves in a notably corrupt part of the Church. In comparison with some bishops in the past the Bishop of New Hampshire is boringly moral and the antics the church would wish to wink at, or even privately or not so privately bless, small beer. This doesn't mean that we should sit still for what is happening. Far from it.

However I think we should think it possible that we are not at the end of the story or anywhere near the end of the story. It would be tragic if we put the book back in the bookshelf before reading the next bit in which restoration and revival comes, unexpectedly, from the "edges" as +Rowan puts it, rather than from the center of power. You may even be that "edge".

What makes us so special that we should not find ourselves in this part of the church at this time of suffering? Or perhaps we are special enough that God has called us to witness to the truth in love in such times as these. That's the consumerism part.

The sectarian part is to buy into TEC's self description that it is merely a denomination among many from which we may pick and choose. Perhaps Rome, Western or Eastern Orthodoxy, perhaps Lutheranism seem attractive in this bewildering shopping mall version of Christianity. But if TEC is what she once thought herself to be, the Church, locally expressed in mission, then as long as she clings to the bare necessities of what we once called Churchmanship dare we abandon her for something which seems to fill our needs and meet our expectations?

Perhaps I am an old romantic but I look on you all as part of what God is about and doing in his Church in the midst of the years. And I believe that the strategy God would have us adopt is to faithfully preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments in those "places" where the Church locally has settled herself (that's the old-fashioned post-Constantinian aspect of things) and at the same time find ways to network into a deeper and more authentic spirituality (that's the earlier church strategy). I am convinced that when this happens the essential winsomeness of the Gospel, the assurance of Christ's presence and the sufferings of the Spirit's people work together for good. We may not witness an enormous difference in our lifetime. That doesn't matter a bit. And that is all the differentiation we dare attempt for dwelling on that subject too much places us in danger, the danger of an arrogance which is perhaps more destructive than sentimental heresy.

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