27 March 2007

Bp. Bauerschmidt re H.O.B.

Bishop Bauerschmidt on the House of Bishops' meeting:

Though I appreciate the canonical concerns of my colleagues which led to the rejection of the Pastoral Scheme, I believe it is possible for the Presiding Bishop to participate in the Scheme within the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. In spite of the failure to move ahead with nominations to the Pastoral Council, I recognize the willingness of the House "to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates" in some other way. I hope this will be possible, though in the absence of new proposals I am not sure who is taking responsibility for advancing this work. I am also unsure whether the House will be able to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates’ Standing Committee, or what our agenda would be.

Furthermore, I am unconvinced by the historical arguments advanced by the Bishops’ Letter to the Episcopal Church as reasons for not participating in the Primates’ Pastoral Scheme. As statements which function to define who we are as a Church, they are of limited usefulness.

I am not sure that we are well served by a historical perspective that links the founding principles of the Episcopal Church to our experience of "liberation from colonialism", as if this were a distinctive feature of our Church. The American Revolution "liberated" the Episcopal Church from much of its assets and influence, perhaps rightly, but at the end of the day it is hard not to argue that the Episcopal Church had a very ambiguous relationship with the Revolution. At the very least, this linkage fails to bear the weight thrust upon it.

At the same time, the American Revolution was distinctly different from the revolutionary movements that flourished in Africa and Asia after the Second World War, in the greatest post-colonial period. The experiences of Christians in the societies of the post-colonial Third World are very different from our own. Our own American experience was marked by the emergence of a national and even imperial consciousness which is largely absent from these others. It is difficult to equate our experiences with those of other post-colonial societies, or even to place their struggles on the same ideological continuum. It is ironic that this appeal to our "liberation from colonialism" takes up issues addressed by the Primates, many of whom are from the this post-colonial Third World.

The appeal to our "English Reformation heritage" also goes wide of the mark. The "local governance of the Church by its own people" was neither the intent of the Reformers nor was it an actual result of the Reformation. Instead, the Reformers appealed to Scriptural truth; while the Monarch appealed to the Royal Supremacy over the Church. At times, both Reformers and Monarch asserted the principle of a national Church, but neither subordinated this to their more primary concern, of faithfulness to Scripture or the demand of Royal Supremacy. Neither espoused "the local governance of the Church by its own people". In fact, the Reformed Church of England in Tudor and Stuart times was characterized by policies that excluded this governance, for fear that it would result in either Romanism or radical Protestantism.

The appeal to Christian origins and the early days of the Church is a far more central part of our "English Reformation heritage" than is a particular Church polity, apart from Episcopal order (which itself is rooted in the appeal to Christian origins). It is difficult to privilege the life of "national churches" when we look to early Christian sources. The dialogue there is between two poles of life: the local, particular Church, centered in the Eucharistic Assembly, and the universal, world-wide Church. The communion of the bishops with each other, as leaders of each local Eucharistic Assembly, was a key piece in holding these two poles together.

I agree that the cutting off of relations between Christians is spiritually unsound. I agree that the keeping of vows to each other is crucial. I too am concerned about the division of the Episcopal Church.

A this point in our life, Anglicans, and not just Episcopalians, need to pay more attention to ecclesiology, the consideration of what the Church itself is. We’ve not done a very good job of this in the past, because our experience in the English Reformation allowed us to simply accept the Church as a given without much need for consideration. But as Anglicanism has spread to many different contexts throughout the world, our situation has become more complex, our challenges more pronounced, our opportunities much greater. It is precisely at times of challenge like this that development and change takes place.

We need ways in which the Communion can hold together in spite of difference, and pursue a common life. Those ways will come through consideration of the Church, "that wonderful and sacred mystery" (BCP, 291). I’m sure that the Church referred to in this prayer is a worldwide phenomenon with its roots firmly planted in the earliest times, growing and reaching out to the future. A Communion in which there is no way to reach a common mind about the extent of difference will not be able to grow together. Or even hold together Insisting that our present differences are not enough to divide us will not convince others who believe differently. Instruments are needed by which we can engage each other and hold each other accountable, and not simply be Churches that are talking past each other. I believe that those Instruments of Unity are at hand.

Here's the whole thing (.pdf).


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