March 3, 2012 Leave a comment
We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.
March 3, 2012 6 Comments
There are things that frequently push us as Christian believers to question our ecclesiological (and theological) positions. This is a good thing, if you are solidly rooted in both your doctrine and faith, but not if you are unsure of the foundations on which you are building. Moreover, asking questions can (and should) lead you to a deeper level of commitment and not push you away… ‘But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 3:18). He stands as the core of our faith.
Our guide along the way is the Word of God and the Church, who watches over and interprets His Word (2 Thess. 2:15). This is a great point of conflict between those we would call Protestant on the one hand and those we would call Catholic in doctrine on the other: The role of Sacred Tradition. But what the Word of God and the Church who interprets that Word really does is act as a safeguard to the deposit of faith; in other words, together they prevent people from erring and/or drifting into the dark areas of heresy, apostasy and schism. What happens when that safeguard is not adhered to? Well then, basically, anything goes.
Mercifully, at the very least, thanks to the determined and industrious work of the early Christians, we know that the marks of the true Church are, and will always be: She is ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’. These are the four major, professed, distinctive and essential characteristics of the Church of Christ on earth. So whenever people gather together in worship in the name of Jesus Christ, and one of these historic and empirical marks are absent, then something is amiss. Officially and ontologically, you are cut-off, no matter how hard you try to justify such a heterodox position.
Every so often, there comes an event that causes you to evaluate your standing in relation to the truth. For me, such an event has been the recent gathering of Traditional Anglican Communion Bishops in South Africa.
So we have to take the formal position (which has been released), and rightly evaluate that in relationship to and against what historically and theologically have been considered, through unbroken succession, to be of the most important affirmations of the Christian faith. The Word of God and the Church, on these matters, are crystal clear.
The Church is One
‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.’ (Eph. 4:5-6). One. One Shepherd, One flock. The Church is never formally divided nor is she sectarian (Jn. 17:20-23; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13). Ever.
Why? Well, ‘A kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand’ (Mark 3:24). Unity, our ‘oneness,’ is what makes us as Christians and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to be more visible and believable to a lost and fallen world (Jn. 17:23). Again (and do forgive me for belabouring this point) the secular media calls the Traditional Anglican Church ‘rebel[s]’. What an appalling indictment. The statement (which as far as I can see, remains both unrefuted and unchallenged) should pierce us to the core, and if anything, elevate our thinking.
The aim for us as believers, is to work with all that lies within us, towards retaining and maintaining the goal of Christian unity. And what prevents us from achieving that goal is nothing but pride and selfish, unbiblical, individualism… Those, ‘who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who . . . cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ’ (St Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Chap. 33, Para. 7, 180 AD)
‘For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread’ (1 Cor. 10:17).
Because of the Mystical Body of Christ, we should be one, undivided… Unable and unwilling to split.
In which direction are we moving? Towards or away from unity? When we start to talk about ‘a new direction,’ warning lights should immediately be flickering (cf. Eccl. 1:9).
It was always with good reason that the early Christians acted so swiftly against factionalism and division.
‘Whoever is separated from the Church… is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ’ (St Cyprian, Treatise I. On the Unity of the Church, Chap. 6).
From division – and this is undeniable – comes further division. Denominationalism. A grave wound.
Perhaps in addition to the Biblical mandate that is the pursuit of unity and oneness, is the perceived ecclesiological anarchism that forces me to question, again, our position in relation to the truth.
Ruinous to the Faith is the freethinking mentality of Protestantism, and the selective reading of ancient Creeds.
What happens when I – in a Protestant ethos – no longer agree with my Bishop (or leaders, if you will)? Or what if I face some formal, legitimate, sanction or laicisation? I leave. I go it alone. Or I could always run to another ‘Continuing’ Church (there are plenty to choose from, and trust me, they are not fussy). I take with me as many likeminded ‘freethinkers’ as I can. I ring up a Bishop in the United States (at any one of the more than 20 North American Church bodies commonly called ‘Continuing’ Anglican, who are hungry for numbers) ask him to come over as a matter of urgency and establish a ‘Missionary Diocese’ (this is Africa after all). High Church, low church, broad church, who cares? And soon enough, I’m my own Bishop with my own denomination, still ever reciting the Nicene Creed…
Being truly Catholic does not afford one such liberty.
Canonical irregularities, impediments and malaise are not an issue. Only the ‘stiff’ Roman Catholics really bother with such trivialities. Yet never does it seem to cross the mind that they are ‘stiff’ and seemingly unyielding for good reason: The Faith, which is precious beyond measure, needs to be defended and protected at all costs. And when the truth is brought to bear or pointed out (think here: Anglicanorum Coetibus), we push ourselves further and further away. Incorporation in the Church of Christ is not, and never has been, unconditional.
The sad state of ecclesiological anarchism, having to carry the epithet of ‘rebel’, which has become a hallmark of who we are seen to be, is not representative of the true Christian Faith. Such labelling by the secular assures one that you are well outside that which is considered to be orthodox. Ultimately, such challenges are directed against the authority of God, and His Church. The question is: What will we do? What should we do?
Ecclesiology is a difficult subject, as anyone who has properly studied theology will know. But what it does is call for an attunement to Christ’s divine presence here on earth, and asks the question: Where is it that He is most fully to be found? His redemptive presence? Sapiential truth is unfortunately often hidden in that which is selective, relativistic and easy. One can buy into ‘Branch Theology’ all you will, but down the ages, the Church has stood as the ‘ecclesia’, God’s people gathered together, lead by the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the Gospel to every creature; dealing with and helping man to attain redemptive grace. And she is: ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’.
It would be foolhardy not to point these things out, and even worse, to ignore or not grapple with what it means to be in communion with the Christ, and His apostles after. Fidelity befalls us all. Mercifully, many elements of grace, sanctification and truth are to be found outside of the visible structure of the Catholic Church. Ecclesiology opens itself up to ecumenism. And that is not something that you can turn your back on.
Snow in Jerusalem! I’ll make this my pic of the day:
The Jerusalem Post also has more on the weather here.
March 3, 2012 3 Comments
Former Anglican/Traditional Anglican Communion monk and bishop, Robert Mercer, is to be ordained as a Catholic Priest :
This news is just in from England via Bishop Carl Reid. Brother Robert Mercer is to be ordained a deacon on 21st March at 3.30 pm in the chapel of Allen Hall in London by Bishop Alan Hopes, Auxiliary of Westminster. He will be ordained a priest by the same Bishop on 26th March in Portsmouth (RC) Cathedral at 11 am.
I am sure he would appreciate our prayers.
Congratulations. Fr-to-be Mercer is a godly man, a fine example, and our prayers are indeed with him.