3/20/2009

Bishop Lawrence of SC on Episcopalianism and unscriptural autonomy

Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina, in his address to the diocese said this (thanks to T19 for posting part of the address and linking to a PDF of the rest) :


"Beyond differentiation there is important witness still left to do, and from which I believe God has not yet released us. I believe the House of Bishops, and the Executive Council, following the lead of General Convention 2006 has resisted the change that the Holy Spirit seems to be urging us toward as Anglicans—such as, the call toward a more responsible autonomy and inter-provincial accountability. Yet these bodies have fearfully protected the prior century’s polity and structure when 21st Century structures are needed. It continues to astonish me that so many leaders in our Church favor revision of our doctrinal and moral teaching and yet uphold relatively recent canons and polity with a fervor that would be admirable if held toward the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. This heel-dragging protectiveness was shown clearly in New Orleans in 2007 when the HOB refused to adopt the Primates’ Communiqué from Dar es Salaam, arguing that it was contrary to the polity of our Church. The bishops were soon followed by the Executive Council, therein making it difficult if not impossible for the Presiding Bishop to follow through with the Primates’ directives. If we had received the Primates’ recommendation the four dioceses which have since left would be intact and in TEC today! Even more recently, this fear was shown afresh when individual bishops who seemingly have little respect for the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant accepted the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend Lambeth and then spoke against any progress towards a Covenant. They will not be able to hold back the future of global Anglicanism permanently. Either Episcopalianism will repent of its unscriptural autonomy or it will spread its splintering tendencies of the last forty years throughout the Anglican Communion."

It is important to note that Bishop Lawrence is clear that he sees the Diocese of South Carolina's having a role from which they have not yet been released. He stresses this by saying,

"I believe our steadfastness will be of service within TEC—if only by challenging the structural conservatism of the theological innovators to face the changes of the future. Even more importantly it will be of service for the Anglican Communion as it moves towards the emerging structures God is providentially shaping."

Three points here: (i) "God has not yet released us..." is good news for the Church, up to a point. We need the Diocese of SC as part of our life. But the implication is that God might someday release the Diocese of South Carolina from TEC. (For example if ACNA becomes recognized as an alternative, better, or more pure, presence of Anglicanism in North America and they were to join it. ) This is not such good news. (ii) We may all hope that the bishop is right, that "steadfastness will be of service within TEC." The future of the Anglican Communion and the way in which member churches will express their fellowship in the Communion is indeed a matter of great concern.

Bishop Lawrence believes that "Episcopalianism will repent of its unscriptural autonomy or it will spread its splintering tendencies of the last forty years throughout the Anglican Communion." He believes also that The Episcopal Church leadership and structures are stuck in an organizational protectiveness that will not serve the future.

He makes a fairly snarky remark in his speech: "It continues to astonish me that so many leaders in our Church favor revision of our doctrinal and moral teaching and yet uphold relatively recent canons and polity with a fervor that would be admirable if held toward the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles." The implications of this declaration of astonishment is that TEC is long on law and short on faith. It is the standard line thrown as a treat to the listeners. But underneath it is the charge that the "splintering tendencies of the last forty years" will continue and are all the fault of TEC (Forty years ago... takes us to 1969 ... the ordination of women, allowing them as deputies at General Convention, and the Special Convention of 1969, prayer book reform, etc.) The notion that these relatively recent actions are due to something other than a faithfulness to the "fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles" is a bit over the top.

Turning The Episcopal Church or at least some of its leadership into advocates for some "ism" called "Episcopalianism" is a clever introduction to an idea that is making the rounds these days - that TEC leadership has produced a partisan belief system, an "ism," and substituted that for the church and the faith.

Bishop Lawrence hopes those in The Episcopal Church who practice this awful "ism" of Episcopalianism" will repent of its unscriptural autonomy. This is not only a throw-away line, it is nonsense. Our Lord's prayer that we all might be one is at the same time more universal than the question of who does or does not buy into the Anglican Covenant or for that matter who does or does not belong to the Anglican Communion, and it is more personal.

This leaves us with the Bishop's sense that the Diocese of South Carolina, and I presume he, still has a role to play in The Episcopal Church. For this we should be thankful. When he or the diocese believe they no longer have a role to play in TEC it will be important to remind them that the diocese and its bishop do not simply have roles, they hold license on the basis of oath and accession. If they are called by God to leave TEC, it is not simply a role that they give up, they lose license to call themselves the Diocese of South Carolina or the bishop of South Carolina.

I too believe Bishop Lawrence has a role to play. He is a bishop of the church and diocesan of a fine diocese. His opinions about matters before us are important. His role is to convince as many as possible that the path he believes to be true to the best of Anglican thought and practice is that which we must follow. Some of us are called to other understandings of the path. We can look forward to spirited debate with bishop and deputies of South Carolina on the Covenant and on all other matters, and we can practice union in spite of differences.

14 comments:

  1. "Turning The Episcopal Church or at least some of its leadership into advocates for some "ism" called "Episcopalianism" is a clever introduction to an idea that is making the rounds these days - that TEC leadership has produced a partisan belief system, an "ism," and substituted that for the church and the faith."

    Thank you for signalling this appellation. 'Episcopalianism' is what my for-a-time Baptist-practicing brother called this, but there I attributed it to lack of understanding. For a bishop duly ordained in TEC, this term is a put-down.

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  2. Mark, you wrote, "I too believe Bishop Lawrence has a role to play.... His role is to convince as many as possible that the path he believes to be true to the best of Anglican thought and practice is that which we must follow."

    I think that's only part of his role (and I imagine you do as well). Part of his role is also to listen with as open a heart as he hopes for from we Episcopalians who disagree with him. Part of his role, as for all of us, is to listen to the Spirit with an open heart to see how we might best love God with everything and love neighbor as self.

    I'm sure you thought these additions could go without saying. I hope Bishop Lawrence does as well.

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  3. I have posted before, and it bears repeating, that the diocese of SC knows very well indeed, from it's involvement in the All Saints, Pawleys Island suit, that SC law strongly favors the mother church if a congregation splits or secedes from it - "when a division occurs in a church, the congregation is answered by who is the representative of the church before it split". Unless a way can be found around this, probability is that the diocese of SC will stick, however unwillingly, with TEC.

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  4. 4 May 1535+20/3/09 11:16 PM

    What I don't see is how Bishop Lawrence can justify his 21st century polity: or, to be more precise, I think his 21st century polity, ironically, can only be justified by heavy reliance on evangelical roots (which would, on the face of it, seem to lead away from the one international church model) whereas my Anglo-Catholic roots would lead to the conclusion that if Anglican polity as classically understood (lay supremacy in sovereign national churches) is wrong, there's no need to invent a new one international church to belong to. It seems to me that the first question any church in the historically Latin west has to be able to answer is why it isn't subject to the Patriarch of the West. The traditional understanding of Anglican polity is an answer to that question which rejects the Bishop of Rome's jurisdiction without rejecting a hierarchical church per se. Bishop Lawrence doesn't seem to see the need to offer an answer. But if the traditional Anglican answer is wrong, what makes him think he is a bishop? Not, presumably, apostolic succession, since if lay supremacy over a sovereign national church is wrong, then Matthew Parker's consecration at the royal command and in defiance of the lawful Patriarch was "absolutely null and utterly void," and so was (in that case) Dr. Lawrence's.

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  5. Marshall...you are of course right. It is also part of ours. Thanks for the corrective. I drank it with gusto.

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  6. if Anglican polity as classically understood (lay supremacy in sovereign national churches) is wrong...

    help me out here. is this really the historical view of anglicanism? lay supremacy? i need to ditto Bishop Steenson here, when did that happen? what catechism class did i miss? this is about as far off the mark as we can get, IMHO.

    LS

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  7. 4 May 1535+21/3/09 6:55 AM

    LS,

    The quick answer is that both lay supremacy and the independence of national churches can be found in the Tudor Acts of Supremacy (both Henry's and Elizabeth's are widely available on-line, e.g.:

    http://tudorhistory.org/primary/supremacy.html

    http://history.hanover.edu/texts/engref/er79.html

    The Acts extinguish all foreign jurisdiction in the Church of England, set up the crown as supreme (Head in Henry's case, Governor in Elizabeth's, but the change in language reflected no change in authority), and, under Elizabeth, establish the Crown-in-Parliament, advised by the clergy in Convocation and based on the Scripture and General Councils, as the arbiter of heresy. Note the reference in the text of the Acts to the "imperial" crown, which is Tudor English for "sovereign." To deny any of this was criminal, and the third offense was capital treason.

    All of this could very well be wrong; the Martyrs of May 4, 1535, clearly thought it was wrong. My point is just that if it is wrong, the whole basis of the Anglican reformation vanishes.

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  8. Nom de Plume21/3/09 7:54 AM

    I think the good bishop should return to remedial math class. He has trouble counting to 21 and got stuck at 19, thinking he had already reached 21.

    Incidentally, the orginal plan for the first Lambeth Conference would have excluded the two Episcopal chruches (USA and Scotland). I'm glad cooler heads prevailed, but if they hadn't at least you wouldn't have the preposterous statement from a bishop of the Church that a communique from the Primates in any way should be "adopted".

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  9. Yes, indeed it was an interesting convention. It will be even more interesting if +Lawrence can keep the Diocese of SC intact and in TEC - a phrase he was using repeatedly until (rumor has it) a few of his cardinal parishes suggested he cease. Again, trumors(?) sweeping through the Diocese of SC is that a few very large churches are pressing +Lawrence to formalize the break that was made a few years ago when the Diocese declared itself in "impaired" communion with TEC. In addition to the psychological hit the departure of 1-4 of these parishes would cause if the Diocese fails to move, the financial hit will be even more significant. Lost, perhaps, in the budget detail was the passing of a deficit budget (which was already a few hundred thousand $ less than this past year's). Now, add in the likelihood of legal expenses to defend property ownership and you have the recipe for disaster. An absolutely fascinating moment in the life of this Diocese!
    SC Prognosticator

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  10. Interesting, SC Prognosticator. Thanks. Seems Charleston has learned nothing on the perils of Secession.

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  11. [TEC] "will spread its ... tendencies of the last forty years throughout the Anglican Communion."

    Hey, I agree w/ Bishop Lawrence (who knew?): Alleluia!

    ;-/

    But seriously: would you say that TEC embodies "lay supremacy"? I would say that, via GC, lay/clergy AND bishops govern in tandem. Neither is supreme, neither is subordinate (Well, that's our C&C Ideal anyway! JMO)

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  12. How ironic it would be if Lawrence ended up suing his largest parishes if they attempt to flee with the goods.

    I wonder if the so-called "orthodox" will be putting together any cutesie graphics to commemorate the event.

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  13. The diocese is already suing the breakaway Pawleys Island group, nlnh - something that the "orthodox" (the diocese included?) would just as soon ignore.

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  14. "Some of us are called to other understandings of the path" -- and those understandings can lose license for us to call ourselves Christian.

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