A Paper for the Chapter of our Lady of Walsingham, Society of the Holy Cross
Saint Francis' Church, Dallas, Texas
23 April 1998
by the Rev'd Samuel L. Edwards, SSC
(Note: see also Reason, Revelation, & Ecclesiastical Authority by Earle Fox)
Executive Director, The Episcopal Synod of America
As most of you will know and acknowledge, my topic today has the highest degree of contemporary relevance to traditional Anglicans. This has been so at least since the approval of the ordination of women by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1970 and 1976 and the subsequent emergence of the various jurisdictions of Anglicans which are extramural to the Anglican Communion. It is a topic which has become more urgent as the disintegration of the dogmatic and moral teaching and practice of the Anglican Communion (at least in the "First World") has continued over the last quarter-century.
The timeliness of a discussion of this matter has become more intensely evident in the months since I accepted the invitation to speak to you: To be sure, we have before us a Lambeth Conference at which the nature and limits of communion will be an issue in spite of the efforts of the organizing agencies to suppress or evade it. We also have evidence of considerable anguish on the part of those within the overlapping conservative and orthodox parties of the traditional resistance as to what is the appropriate way of responding in practice to the depredations of post-modern revisionism within the contemporary Anglican family. A perusal of Internet discussion groups reveals this perplexity. There is a serious tension and disagreement between those who advocate different means of expressing in sacramental and institutional practice the gulf that exists between revisionists and corporatists on the one hand and self-styled "traditional Anglicans" (meaning an amalgam of the genuinely orthodox and the merely conservative) on the other.
A major problem seems to be that an uncomfortably large
number of us in the latter group, for all our sincere desire to adhere to
the tradition of the Church, have a less-than-clear notion of what the tradition
has to say to us about the sort of situation in which we find ourselves.
Often we are indisposed to recognize that, as a by-product of our being in
the world, we bring a number of non-traditional assumptions to the consideration
of the problem and therefore we are unlikely to subject those assumptions
(even when they are recognized) to vigorous examination in the light
of Holy Scripture, which is the standard by which what is genuinely traditional
is measured. To put it another way, we are at risk from traditionalism, which
(like all "-isms") eventually consumes what it purports most highly to value.
Added to this is the complication that the ecclesiological context in which
we must deal with the problem is one of transition between the Christendom
model which was in place roughly from the reign of Constantine to the early
part of this century and a post-Christendom/ pre-Constantinian model dictated
by a secular and increasingly profane social context, for which the current
politically-correct description seems to be "multicultural." Because
I have written about this elsewhere, I will not belabor it here, but I will
say that it helps in compassionate understanding of the confusion amongst
some of our fellow-laborers.
FUNDAMENTAL HERMENUETICAL PRINCIPLES
Now is probably as good a time as any for me to lay out
the principles on which I intend to address this question. First, I approach
it from the belief that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God, given through
and quickened by the Holy Spirit, that they contain all things necessary
to salvation, and that because of their divine origin their witness is
fundamentally coherent, discoverable, determinative, and self-consistent.
(Vide Article XX.) I further believe that God keeps and has kept his promises,
one of which is that he would give to us a Counselor to call to mind all
that he has taught us and to guide us into all truth. Since that truth is
Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever and who is the
beginning and the end of all things, I believe that it is a reasonable conclusion
that the material that God has given us in Scripture (and in the Tradition,
which is founded upon and consonant with Scripture) is entirely adequate
to guide us, not only in our present situation, but in any other conceivable
situation. If this is granted, then it inevitably follows that the guidance
of Scripture ought to be followed without regard to the temporal consequences.
Finally, I am assuming that a genuine commitment to the catholic and apostolic
faith demands of all of us an honest and wholehearted attempt to see that
there is integrity between what we proclaim and how we apply it.
THE BASIC QUESTION
At present, we are very exercised (or ought to be)
by practical questions concerning with whom we ought to consider ourselves
to be in communion. In what sense and to what degree can I consider myself
in communion with, say, the Bishop of Newark or the Presiding Bishop or the
Archbishop of Canterbury or the Bishop of Edinburgh? Can I, or ought I, to
be in communion with those who are in communion with them? If my bishop is
has orthodox positions on everything except the ordination of women, am I
more in communion with him than with a bishop who has signed the Koinonia
Statement? If one believes that women's ordination is possible in the long
run, provided the proper degree of ecumenical consensus can be reached (the
original position of the ECM), he will come to a different conclusion than
another who holds that it is clearly proscribed in Holy Scripture and that
because of this no agency of the Church has any authority to alter it (which
is the position of the Pope, among others). Are there really degrees of
communion, or is being in impaired communion rather like being a little bit
pregnant? Is it accurate or useful to describe all church relations in terms
of communion, or is the sharing of baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity
a necessary but not sufficient condition for eucharistic fellowship? Is not
the notion that sharing in baptism necessitates eucharistic fellowship rather
like in principle the idea that ordination is a right inherent in baptism?
The permutations of such questions are large in number and their practical
consequences very serious. We now are at a point at which we can no longer
ignore them, if for no other reason than that the laity, in greater numbers
than before, are beginning to ask them, too. It is evident (to me, at any
rate) that all questions of practice which concern the nature and limits
of communion sooner or later come down to a fundamental question, which can
be variously stated: In what does the unity of the Church consist? What
fundamentally constitutes the Church? Who gathers the Church, God or ourselves?
Is there a genuine difference between thinking of the Church as a communion
(communio) and thinking of it as a fellowship (coetus)? Is her unity
fundamentally from above -- sacramental and mystical - or from below - liturgical
and institutional ? Does the sharing of institutions cause or signify the
Church's unity (which, as you will recognize, is another form of the question
whether the sharing of the Eucharist ought to be a sign of or a means to
Christian unity)? It is only when we deal with the problem at this level,
I believe, that we have any hope of a solution to the practical difficulties.
In order to begin doing this, we must go to the fount of Christian doctrine
and see what the Scripture says about it. After doing this, we shall move
on to see how the Church has understood and applied what Scripture says in
the past. We will also look at how and why the integrity of the Church's
practice has eroded during the past couple of centuries, at what might be
done to recover that integrity, and at what we might expect as we intentionally
try to recover that integrity in our own generation.
THE MEANING AND LIMITS OF COMMUNION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Israelite religion knew of no meaningful distinction between doctrine and practice: Belief expressed in proclamation but unexpressed in action was unbelief and hypocrisy. Belief was to be acted upon, and action was to be rooted in faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That said, we must recognize that, as integral as faith and action are, faith has the pre-eminence. Saint Paul emphasized this when he pointed out that Abraham was reckoned righteous before God because of his faith prior to the outward expression of that faith in the ritual of circumcision. In like pattern, Israel receives the Covenant of the Law before the system of worship is outlined in detail. Faith not only requires but directs and corrects action.
Nowhere were the consequences of the integration of belief
and practice more evident than in the sacrificial worship of Israel. It will
be helpful here to remember that the primary purpose of sacrifice in Hebrew
religion (as in Christianity) is to establish and renew covenant communion
with God. The removal of sin is an essential means to that end (because God
is holy), while the union of the worshippers with one another is a consequence
of the divine life in which they share. Worship is not seen primarily as
a celebration of community, fellowship, or nationhood: The worshippers have
communion with one another only because they first are joined to the Lord
in the sacrifice; they have community or national identity only because the
One whom they worship has made them who were no people into God's people.
Correctly appreciated, worship expresses faith and orders the community,
but neither the community nor its worship changes faith. The idea that worship
could actually develop or substantially alter the content of the faith was
not utterly foreign to Israel, but it is worth noting that whenever it took
root among the people, it quickly resulted in the worship of other gods in
addition to or in place of Yahweh and a descent into the cesspool of idolatrous
nature worship with its inevitable moral degeneration. If this pattern sounds
familiar, it should.When this is forgotten, as repeatedly it is during the
history of Israel, the prophets are sent to recall the people to the proper
order of things: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart
is far from me; in vain to they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts
of men." [Matthew 15:8-9, cf. Isaiah 29:13] "I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies." [Amos 5:21] "I desire steadfast
love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings."
THE NEW TESTAMENT WITNESS
We find no discontinuity between the priorities of the Old Testament and those of the New: If anything, the centrality of the principle that faith has priority over works (which include the worship of the people of God) is intensified. The connection with the prophetic tradition of Israel is evident in the ministry of John the Baptist and is central to the teaching of Jesus, who quite explicitly states that he has come not to abolish but to fulfill the Law. He participates in the liturgical life of the people of God, while at the same time inveighing in the strongest terms against the ritualistic formalism that smothers the intent of the Law to form God a people after his own heart: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites." "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do." "But you [scribes and Pharisees] say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God) - then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do." "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
So far as our specific topic is concerned, it is when we come to consider the writings of the Pharisee's Pharisee, Saint Paul, that we find the clearest guidance on the nature and limits of communion. In his letter to the Galatians, he says, "but even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema esto). As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." [1:8, 9] (The term Paul uses - anathema esto - involves excommunication, and it is worth noting that this exclusion is for teaching false doctrine, not for the immoral action which led him to excommunicate the incestuous Corinthian.) In 1 Timothy 1:19, 20, we find Paul making reference to having "delivered to Satan" Hymaneus and Alexander, who "by rejecting conscience ... have made shipwreck of their faith." While it is unclear whether some actual immoral act is involved in the exclusion of these two men, it is clear that the acceptance and proponence of false teaching is involved here as well. (In fact, it is ultimately impossible to make a radical distinction between false teaching and immorality, since both involve rebellion against revealed truth.)
It is when we come to look at the letters to the Corinthians, however, that we find the most assistance in discerning the Scriptural understanding of the nature and limits of communion. The key passages are found in 1 Corinthians 10 and 2 Corinthians 6.
In chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul begins his discussion of the problem of meat sacrificed to idols by pointing his readers back to the Exodus from Egypt. He notes that though all of them shared the experience of escaping from Egypt and being protected and provided for by God in the wilderness, most of them displeased him with their idolatry, immorality, presumptuousness, and ingratitude (all of which, not incidentally, were widespread in the Corinthian Church, not to mention our own). As a result, they were overthrown in the wilderness, and Paul tells his hearers that this is a warning to them.
He then exhorts them to "shun the worship of idols." Immediately he goes on to ask rhetorically, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a communion (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a communion in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we share in one loaf." To refresh the memories of his Jewish readers and to continue the education of the Gentiles, he points to the practice of Israel, asking "are not the eaters of the sacrifice sharers in the altar" (and by extension, in him to whom the altar belongs)?
In like manner, those who knowingly eat meat that has been offered in sacrifice to idols are partakers in the idols' table. (It is worthwhile to note that the distinction moderns would make between the worship service in which the sacrifice was offered and the meal at home using that which previously had been offered would probably not be understood or appreciated in first-century Corinth.) While Paul hastens to deny that an idol represents a divine being, he is equally emphatic that the pagans offer sacrifice to demons (probably mistaking these for gods) and not to the One God. Christian worship must be offered in purity of heart: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."
Knowledge of the unreality of the pagan gods does not give a Christian license to participate in pagan worship. The reason for this is twofold: He should have a care both for the conscience of those fellow Christians (weaker brethren) who might not be so strongly grounded in the truth (cf. Chapter 8: 9-12). He should also be concerned for the clarity and integrity of his own witness to the pagans with whom he associates, lest they get the idea that he puts their religion and its gods on a par with his own (cf. Chapter 10: 27, 28). As always, Paul is insistent that Christians are a people apart, whose God -- through Jesus Christ -- has unique and exclusive claims, not only on them, but on the whole of creation. Therefore, nothing is to be done which compromises this understanding, either in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of the believers themselves, and that includes participation in pagan worship, even at a distance.
This sets the context for the consideration of the other major Pauline passage which relates to our topic, which begins at 2 Corinthians 10:11. It is evident that his first set of guidelines had met with some degree of resentment on the part of the Corinthian Church, for he has to begin by telling them that his heart for them is "enlarged," meaning that they are deep in his love. The fault is not with him restricting their freedom, but that their willingness to obey is restricted by their affections - literally their "bowels." In other words, they have proved so far unwilling to submit their desires to correction by the truth.
Paul then proceeds to ask a series of rhetorical questions which, taken together, give a fairly complete picture of what being in communion signified in the early Church: "Do not be mismated (heterozygountes) with unbelievers. For what partnership (metoche) have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship (koinonia) has light with darkness? What accord (symphonesis) has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common meris) with an unbeliever? What agreement (synkatathesis) has the temple of God with idols?" He then goes on, "For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God , and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.'"
There are six Greek words here which go into the formation of a comprehensive definition of the meaning of communion: heterozygountes, metoche, koinonia, symphonesis, meris, and synkatathesis. We shall look at each of them in turn.
HETEROZYGOUNTES: "Do not be mismated with unbelievers." This word has at its root the Greek word for a yoke -- syzygia --that which holds together animals used for pulling a plow or cart. Paul hearkens back to the Torah's restriction against yoking an ox and an ass together for plowing (Deuteronomy 22:10), which side from its practical wisdom was symbolic of the vocation of Israel to be a distinct people, as was the general prohibition against mixing unlike things, such as fabric, seed and certain kinds of food. A form of the same word is used by Jesus in reference to marriage when he says, "What therefore God has joined together (synezeuxen, literally "yoked together"), let not man put asunder." (Mark 10.9)
There is a distinct undertone here of a warning against participation in idolatry, which you will remember is frequently classed with and referred to as adultery in the Old Testament. The significance of this is apparent when one considers that to be "mated" or "yoked" to someone in marriage involved the taking of that person's gods into the home -- a practice which had proved uniformly disastrous to Israel's covenant fidelity on numerous occasions.
METOCHE: "For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?" The "partnership" referred to by metoche seems to have little to do with a legal relationship. Rather, it is more akin to the concept of companionship, which literally has to do with sharing bread. Your companion is one with whom you share the necessities of life. The point here is that righteousness (dikaiosune) and lawlessness (anomia) have nothing in common, and neither do their advocates.
KOINONIA: "What communion has light with darkness?" This word has a checkered recent history, and I'll have more to say about that later. In English, it is variously rendered as "communion" or "participation" (as in the KJV) and "fellowship" (as in the RSV and elsewhere). In Latin, it is usually translated as communio or participatio, though it is sometimes rendered as societas. (The difference in nuance between communio and societas in Latin parallels that between "communion" and "fellowship" in English. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he used the word Gemeinschaft to translate koinonia, though by his own admission he did so reluctantly and simply because he could not find a more suitable German word. This deficiency later had grave consequences, as we shall see.
The participation or communion to which koinonia refers before all else is participation in Christ, particularly sacramental participation, communio in sacris, communion in holy things. Only in a secondary, derivative, and dependant sense does it refer to the fellowship or community between those who participate in holy things. Its primary reference is to participation in the life of Christ; participation in one another's lives in a positive sense is possible only to the degree that we first participate in the life of Christ himself. Thus, the contemporary use of the notion of "community" to render this term involves an inversion of the original priority of meaning.
SYMPHONESIS: "What concord has Christ with Belial?" Symphonesis is a musical term indicating a harmonious blending of diverse voices. It is used in the New Testament to refer to agreement in the pursuit of a common goal. For instance, we find it in Matthew 18:19, where Jesus says that if his followers agree (symphonesosin) in his Name on something, it will be done for them. Paul uses it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians (7:5) to refer to mutual consent between husband and wife. There is also a case of its use to describe mutual consent in wickedness in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts (5:9). Paul's point here again is that there is nothing in common between Christ and Belial: There is either consonance or dissonance, there is either music or noise.
MERIS: "What allotment has a believer with an unbeliever?" The implication of the "share" or "allotment" that meris denotes is that what is shared is received from another as a gift. It can only be taken because it first has been given. Since what is received comes through faith, the unbeliever by definition cannot have a share in it.
SYNKATATHESIS: "What common ground has the temple of God with idols?" The "agreement" or the "common ground" to which synkatathesis refers is the sharing of a common perspective on the nature of reality. Since unbelievers and Christians are in the most basic disagreement about this, there can be no fellowship between them. For that to happen, something must change. Either the unbeliever is converted or the Christian becomes apostate. Not until then can there be any meaningful relation between them.
It is evident from all this what is the nature of the koinonia to which Paul refers. It is rather different from the koinonia to which, say, Mark Dyer or the Eames Commission refer. It is a marital yoking, a partnership, which enables the participants to share in the life of God communicated through holy things and which stands on the common ground of doctrinal agreement and moral concord. The idea of a community not characterized by this
shared standard of faith and moral order would rightly have been regarded as self-contradictory. A group of people who live together but have no common agreement on the nature of reality is not a community, but a voluntary aggregation of individuals formed for the pursuit of essentially individual purposes and ultimately held together only by self-interest or sentiment.
In the New Testament, the sharing of communion always
presupposes common faith. To demonstrate that this is not just a Pauline
idea, we need only to turn to the first letter of John. Here he states that,
"if we say we have communion (koinonia) with him and walk in the darkness,
we lie and are not doing the truth; but if we walk in the light as he is
in the light, then we have communion with one another and the blood of Jesus
cleanses us from all sin." (1:5-7)
THE NATURE AND LIMITS OF COMMUNION IN THE EARLY CHURCH
Until quite modern times, there was universal acknowledgement of the scriptural standards manifested in the New Testament: The absence of agreement on fundamental doctrine or on practices with doctrinal
implications of necessity meant absence of sacramental communion. The church or the individual who espoused heresy was cut off from sacramental communion and almost always from personal intercourse with orthodox persons as well. Those who remained in communion with heretics were themselves considered suspect at best and usually were subjected to the same excommunication. Sometimes the orthodox and the heterodox congregations in the same town would co-exist in relative peace and occasional amity, but there would be no question of their sharing in communion until the doctrinal matters which led to the break in the first place had been resolved satisfactorily.
The consciousness that the unity - the communion - of the Church rests upon the ground of common faiththroughout this period is evident to anyone reading the history of the Church. It is a perception which enabled the orthodox members of a local church (parochia) with an heretical bishop to seek and receive the pastoral care of orthodox bishops. In his seminal book, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, the German Lutheran scholar Werner Elert mentions the case of the church in Antioch during the Paulianist heresy in the middle of the third century:
The Synod of Antioch (268), which was against Paul of Samosata, records a letter of Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria addressed "to the whole parish of Antioch" in which the bishop there "is neither honored with a greeting nor addressed in person" (H.E., VII, 30, 3). We see from this that the connection between church and bishop is only conditional. It can be sacrificed for the unity of the church according to a higher criterion of unity. From this we may conclude that, in the case of a conflict, fellowship with the parish has precedence over that with its bishop. In this particular instance the Bishop of Alexandria dealt with the congregation of Antioch over the head of its bishop, and this before his dismissal. What here appears as a single instance was often repeated later. [p. 140]
What is demonstrated here is that the notion that Christians only have communion with each other through their bishops is simplistic to the point of falsehood. In fact, orthodox Bishop A's breaking communion with heterodox Bishop B did not of itself indicate that he had broken communion with every individual Christian in Bishop B's parochia. To be sure, if any of them remained in communion with Bishop B, it could be assumed that they were not in communion with Bishop A, but the cause of the rupture was not Bishop B's excommunication in itself, but in their own refusal to break communion with him, which indicated their adherence to his false teaching. If, however, they did break communion with Bishop B, their communion with the Church would not have been in question. As a direct consequence of his heterodoxy, Bishop B would have been considered to have put himself outside the fellowship of the Church. He would have become, so to
speak, an "unbishop" and his followers "unchristians." There would have been no scruples about a neighboring orthodox bishop extending oversight, for the parochia (or diocese, to use the later term) would have no genuine bishop.
With the movement of the Church out of the age of the councils and into the more doctrinally settled middle ages, this principle had fewer occasions for implementation, but it was not forgotten. A good example of this is in the practice of the Church of England regarding communion with the reformation churches on the European continent during the Elizabethan period. These churches had no bishops with whom the English bishops could
be in communion, yet in general there was eucharistic fellowship
between them (in spite of the adherence of the English Church to episcopal
polity) because it was understood that they shared a common faith.
THE MODERN BREAKDOWN
It is only in the last couple of centuries that the connection between common faith and eucharistic fellowship has begun to erode. There are a variety of phenomena which contribute to and/ or are connected with this, and I shall touch on them as I go, but a great deal of the credit for it belongs to the influence of Friedrich Schleiermacher.
You will recall that I mentioned that when Luther came to translate the Bible into German, he rather reluctantly rendered koinonia as Gemeinschaft. Unfortunately, it seems that this fit very nicely into the mixture of romanticism and pietism espoused by Schleiermacher, which in effect shifted the basis of church unity from common adherence to a given doctrinal standard to a shared aesthetic striving for "a sense and taste for the infinite." More bluntly put, for Schleiermacher and his followers (who included some of the most influential academic theologians of the 19th century, Christianity was at bottom a matter of intuition and feeling (mostly feeling) whose goal was a feeling. As the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church puts it [p. 1243], "he saw its highest experience in a sensation of union with the infinite." This is really more like Hinduism than orthodox Christianity, and it is a far cry from the classical Christianity which sees the faith standing upon the rock of objective truth and having as its objective the personal communion of those who stand upon that rock, which is Christ.
This same subjectivism also infects Schleiermacher's doctrine of the Church. Elert describes this as follows:
For him the church is above all "a fellowship" (Gemeinschaft). He says in his Glaubenslehre (¤ 2, 2) that in order to know what the Christian church is one must first establish "the general concept of the church together with a right understanding of what is characteristically Christian." He goes on to say, "The general concept of the church, if there is to be such a thing, must be derived from ethics because the church at all events is a fellowship created by the voluntary actions of men, and only through these does it continue to exist." That certainly fixes the idea of fellowship. Since a fellowship arises through the voluntary actions of men and continues to exist only through such actions, the church, since it is a fellowship, arises in the same way, that is, only through "the voluntary actions of men etc." Pursuing this line we may go on to say that since the Lord's Supper is a fellowship (koinonia), and since this term evidently includes both altar and church fellowship, they are both brought about "by the voluntary actions of men, and only through these can they continue to exist." The concept of fellowship which is here said to characterize the church does not derive from the nature of the church, but the nature of the church is derived from the concept of fellowship. Wherever else this concept of fellowship may come from, it certainly does not have its source in the fact and character of the church.
... Behind this procedure lies the idealist conception of man and a view of the church which already has a long history with the English Independents and in the German Enlightenment. Such wide connections help to explain the popularity of his derivation of the church from the concept of fellowship, as also the role it has played and continues to play in theology and in much thinking and action regarding the church. His understanding of the church holds sway as far as does his concept of fellowship, and this still seems to grow rather than to decline in popularity in many parts of the world. It is nourished by democratic ideologies, as may be seen in north America and elsewhere. Social ideas and experiences slip imperceptibly into theological guise, and vice versa.
... [Schleiermacher's] persistent influence was evident in the recent discussions about altar and church fellowship which prompted this study. Much of what has been written on this theme suggests that altar andchurch fellowship are matters about which men are free to make their own arrangements. This means in effect that whether fellowship is granted or withheld depends on the good or ill will of those concerned. In harmony
with such thinking we find altar fellowship arranged and practiced without full church agreement acknowledged by both sides. This can only be understood as a product of the view that Eucharistic koinonia isa "fellowship created by the voluntary actions of men, and only through these does it continue to exist" It is, then, a matter about which men are free to make their own arrangements. [pp. 2-3]
If this sounds eerily familiar to most of you, it is with good reason: In fact, if not in formulation, it has become the ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church, expressed in interconfessional relations (such as the proposed intercommunion concordat with the Lutherans approved by the last General Convention), in intraconfessionalrelations (such as the absence of intercommunion with Anglican Churches not holding the Canterbury franchise), and in internal relations (such as the maintenance of communion between revisionist and orthodox bishops within the ECUSA and the Anglican Communion generally). In each of these categories, the question whether there is sufficient commonality in doctrine to justify communio in sacris seems to have secondary importance at best. One gets the distinct impression that the determination is made on the grounds of other, non-doctrinal factors.
The contemporary confusion about communion is a consequence of its corruption by sentimentality and relativism and of the degradation of the doctrine of the Church by institutionalism. Nominal unity -- togetherness as its own justification -- has been substituted for agreement in the truth, which is the only surebasis for unity. Partnership in the search for a truth that seems always drifting leftward just out of reach hasreplaced common confession of the faith once for all delivered to the saints as the ground for communion. The togetherness of the institution seems to have become more important than its integrity, and the telling of home truths about this is seen as an offense against the all-important value of "community."
I recall very clearly from my seminary days how oppressive this attitude could be, and how stultifying it was to the open and vigorous disagreements over the nature, scope and application of Christian truth. What happens, I think, is that the early Christian sense of community is recognized, but only the outward phenomena are appropriated. The basis of that community -- unity in the truth (understood as an objective reality not dependent on our perception or experience) -- is neglected. The result is that the reality of most thinking about "the community" in ECUSA has more in common with collectivism than with Trinitarian Christianity. It is perhaps, then, no wonder that we find a certain measure of practical Stalinism in the actions of corporatist leaders in ECUSA: For them, what the General Convention defines as reality is less important than ensuring that the members of the institution conform to that definition. This is nothing peculiar to the 20th century, of course: Not many Roman magistrates really believed that the Emperor was a God (nor did many of the emperors), but they made -- and insisted that others make -- the statutory sacrifices to his divinity for the sake of maintaining the imperial community.
This exaltation of form over substance, of institutional loyalty over fidelity to the truth, is characteristic ofdecadent institutions that have lost their center. When its members no longer acknowledge a common accountability to the Gospel, an ecclesiastical institution will seek to save itself by insisting on compliancewith institutional forms and, having obtained compliance, will deceive itself that genuine unity has been established. Belief becomes essentially a private matter. Only behavior makes a difference. The statement of belief as anything more than opinion or feeling is a major social faux pas, on a par with audibly belching at a state banquet. This is especially so if faith is portrayed as something with consequences for anyone's behavior other than that of the believer: This is excoriated as "imposing one's morality" on others. This is the sort of thinking that enables revisionist Episcopalians to complain about bishops they don't like "imposing their individual conscience" on a diocese.
However, as Elert says about Schleiermacher's notion of the Church and the eucharistic fellowship, "there is no conceivable bridge between such a view and that of the early church." [p. 3] The church is not a voluntary association of individuals engaged in a search for the truth or their own truth or self-fulfillment. Rather, she is
constituted by the Spirit of Truth sent by him who is the
Truth because he is the perfect image of the Father and who chooses and appoints
his servants to go and bear fruit that abides.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
If we are to recover the authentic understanding of the nature of the church and of the meaning of being in communion within the church, we must be willing to put it into practice. Talking about it to our people and our colleagues, while necessary, is not going to be sufficient unless we are willing to put it into practice ourselves. The last twenty years of our experience in the ECUSA ought to be sufficient to convince us that the attempt to teach the institution back into orthodoxy -- at least in the way that we have tried to do it by lecture and publication -- is foredoomed to failure. The institution is more interested in self-preservation than in the truth, and so long as its institutional apparatus is not seriously threatened, it doesn't much care what its members believe. An intellectual appeal which is not carried through into practical consequences is never going to have a decisive effect on altering the course of any institution.
The fact of the matter is that in the ECUSA, until quite recently, the breaking of communion which is the consequence of false doctrine has never been widely and vigorously applied by the orthodox to the heterodox. Such applications as there have been generally have been either localized or tentative or both, and those making them have been too easily persuaded to mitigate or withdraw them by appeals to sentiment and compromises which leave the heterodoxy which provoked them still in place. It often has been speculated that if the sixty-some bishops who had signed the dissent from the 1976 action of the General Convention which authorized women's ordination had followed up their statement by breaking communion with those who voted in favor of the measure, we would not have had to deal with the institutional lunacy so starkly evident at the last three or four General Conventions. Sensing a threat to its image and perhaps its existence, the institution would have accommodated the orthodox. The history of the orthodox resistance in the Church of England seems clearly to bear this out: The willingness of Cost of Conscience, Forward in Faith, and Reform to enforce the sacramental consequences of heterodoxy on the heterodox has made the Establishment much more willing to take measures to limit the damage it has done than ever was the case in the ECUSA. Their pro-activity in delineating and applying the consequences has had the effect of making the institution respond to them, in contrast to the American re-activity, which has allowed the institution to call the tune.
The prescription is really very simple in principle, though it may be a bitter pill to swallow in practice: If we are to recover a genuinely traditional doctrine of the church, then we must not only talk about it, we must do it. If the teaching of false doctrine, which includes the advocacy as moral of what in fact is immoral, of itself breaks the communion of the church, then we must hold ourselves apart from those who do it and teach those in our charge to do likewise. Those who set themselves outside the communion of the church by actions which contradict the Gospel are not to be communicants at the Lord's table. This is a principle as old as Saint Paul's excommunication of the incestuous Corinthian. It will not do to continue communicating those who have put themselves outside the fellowship of Christ's Body in the hope that by receiving the sacrament their hearts and their behavior will be changed. Nothing that we know about the effect of the sacraments enables us to ssume that this is possible, and if one of those effects is to strengthen the will, then to communicate a person who is set against the known will of God is to co-operate in his damnation.
Similarly, to receive communion from someone who is a purveyor of false doctrine would seem more likely to work for the confirmation of his opinions in his own mind than for their reformation. If a husband violates his marital commitments by consorting with a mistress, and his wife knows about it, and he knows that she knows about it, is she to be blamed for refusing to have intercourse with him? If, on the other hand, she does permit marital relations (and only expresses her disapproval of his extramarital arrangement), would it not be natural for him to assume that there is really nothing wrong in his having a mistress? In neither case is the marriage invalidated by the husband's adultery, but only in the first case does the wife create conditions that might reasonably be expected to move the husband to repentance. In the second case, she not only enables him to continue in his adultery (thereby becoming an accessory to it), but she helps to evacuate the marriage of its character, leaving only an institutional shell - a Potemkin marriage. Only the first response carries with it the possibility of redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of breaking communion with the adherents of falsehood is twofold -- that communion in spirit and in truth may be maintained among those who remain faithful and that those who have left the fellowship may seek to be restored by returning to the faith. From the beginning, the motivation for such action has been educative, not punitive. We know about the incestuous Corinthian, who Paul orders the Corinthians to "deliver to Satan" "for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." [1 Cor. 5:5] Paul also delivers Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan "that they may learn not to blaspheme." [1 Tim. 1:20] Education and restoration is the object here, not to mention the protection of the faithful congregation from the negative influence of the unrepentant.
If we are not willing to follow the consistent practice of the Church for most of her life by breaking communion with those who teach false doctrine and promote ungodly life, how can we hope to convince the heterodox of the seriousness both of our commitment to orthodoxy and their departure from it? How can we credibly claim to be traditional Christians if we will not act in accordance with the tradition? If we do not, how can we convincingly defend ourselves against the charges of our opponents (not to mention some of our friends) that our claim of orthodoxy is just a fancy name for social conservatism and prejudice? How, indeed, can we claim to "be the Church within the Episcopal Church" if we will not act like the Church, standing for the truth without regard to the institutional consequences? How willing are we really to dig a pit for the cross when we know that we are likely to be nailed to ourselves? How willing are we to defy the institution's orders to surrender the faith and to desert the Lord?
These are serious questions indeed, and I have a feeling that I have only scratched the surface of them. However, the laying of a foundation begins with the scratching of the surface, and about that business we must be, for the time is short and we must be ready to render an account.
The Rev'd Samuel L. Edwards, SSC
(former) Executive Director of the Episcopal Synod of America
Back to Episcopal Library
Go to: => TOP Page; => Anglican Library; => ROAD MAP