Issues bigger than the ‘presenting issue’ in Anglicanism

I did not go to church this morning. Since I’ll be going this evening with my wife once she’s done work, it’s not that big a deal. And since we were up late with friends, it’s no surprise that I slept in. However, I still had enough time to make it to the 11:00 High Mass at a nearby Scottish Episcopal Church of the Anglo-Catholic persuasion.

Although I like their liturgy (as though my personal tastes have anything to do with worship!) and appreciated the sermons I heard from the rector, I opted to stay home this morning. I thought about going. And then I got an uncomfortable feeling — what if Fr. Malcolm is preaching?

Last time I was at this church, it was Fr. Malcolm who preached the sermon. We were celebrating Advent, joyously looking forward to Christ’s Incarnation as an infant (‘God was eight days old and held in the arms of his mother’ -St. Cyril of Alexandria), and the Gospel for that week was the Annunciation to Mary. Fr. Malcolm proclaimed, straight from the beginning, that this story and everything from all of the birth narratives in the Gospels is pious fiction.

Nothing else he had to say mattered.

Also, I laughed out loud.

I feel a bit awkward about that.

Anglicans have chosen to explode themselves over questions of human sexuality, and fault lines are forming all over North America and amongst the member provinces of the Anglican Communion. This is startling because we have bigger problems afoot. Like Fr. Malcolm denying the Annunciation and the Virginal Conception.

At another Anglo-Catholic church here in Edinburgh, former Archbishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway sometimes preaches. His stance on human sexuality as espoused in that pulpit is so extreme that he says that intercourse should be between consenting adults. Full stop. He denies not only the Virginal Conception, as does Fr. Malcolm and a former Bp of Durham whose name escapes me, but also the miracles of Jesus’ ministry, the Resurrection, and the Second Coming.

Whether Holloway also denies the divinity of Christ and God’s operation in the creation of the universe, I do not know. If he did, he would be in pretty much full agreement with another retired Anglican bishop, John Shelby Spong.

I used to be bothered by Anglo-Catholics who would ‘put the baby to bed’ (process the consecrated Host to the Tabernacle), or bow to the Host, or pray to saints, or believe in transubstantiation, or various other Roman beliefs/practices condemned by the 39 Articles. But I’m willing to let those go. Especially in the face of the enormity of the differences between traditional Christianity and some of Anglicanism’s liberal faces that have been popping up in recent years.

I sincerely do not know what to do regarding my dear, old Anglican church. I am going to take the opportunity of my wife working Sundays to visit some other Scottish Episcopal Churches I’ve not visited yet, but from preliminary observations at the ones I’ve visited, the outlook is bleak. Will I encounter historic orthodoxy at these churches or will a mere ‘God loves you, be nice to each other,’ suffice to fill their pulpits?

Or should I risk a sermon by Fr. Malcolm? Is perhaps the way to help orthodoxy be reborn to persist through the bad sermons and have polite but firm conversations with those with whom you disagree? (I’m not so good at this last one — I tend to get very heated. Hence laughing at Fr. Malcolm.) I don’t know.

I sincerely wonder if any of you have thoughts on this subject…

10 thoughts on “Issues bigger than the ‘presenting issue’ in Anglicanism

  1. The important distinction in the Christian church is “not between high and low but between religion with real supernaturalism and salvationism on the one hand and all watered-down and modernist versions on the other.” (C S Lewis)

    • Thanks for the lovely quote from Lewis! Perhaps the former is what I keep bumping into in certain forms of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, and the latter is what provokes posts like this…

  2. I sometimes wonder at the wisdom of prolonged discussion or argument or conversation. It seems to me that if a person can be argued, or discussed, or convinced (in whatever way employed), to change their view on an issue and agree with the one they’ve been conversing with, then that person can also have their view changed back to what it was by the same means.

    Yet, it seems like what we may be more interested in is people being transformed in their inner convictions – a change that comes about by a much different process. This is the realm of God’s influence. It is His task, and within His ability, to effect such change – no-one else’s. Those we disagree with are to be prayed for.

    The question may be posed: “Is there not more we can do than pray?” Yet this question all-too-often rests on the assumption that prayer is either powerless or only fruitful when complemented by human effort. I deny, alongside the tenets of Christian faith, such assumptions. Instead I re-pose the question, rephrased: “What more can you do than pray?” The answer to this is only revealed to the man/woman of prayer by God Himself: the answer to this is the specific purpose that God has for that person, as His instrument, in transforming the person who is the object of those prayers.

    • So if I feel able to worship God in a particular liturgical setting, should I occasionally go and frequently pray for those who fill its pulpits, that the powerful evangelical truth carried in the actions of a traditional Anglican liturgy would transform them?

  3. The same sad state exists in Lutheranism as well. However, both for Lutherans and Anglicans in the states, there are well-organized alternatives, with seminaries and the like. Anglicans have the Orthodox Anglicans, Anglican Church in North America, Anglo-Catholic Church, Anglican Province of Christ the King etc…Some are in full fellowship with each other. I myself am a member of a confessional Lutheran church. However, the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is just as confused as our mainstream Episcopalians/Anglicans. It is truly sad.

    • From what I can tell, no such ecclesial structures, if existing in Scotland at all, have congregations in Edinburgh. And the Scottish Episcopal Church does have at least 3 churches that are doctrinally orthodox. The one nearest me — still 1 h walk — does not use liturgy of any sort, however. So I may as well go to any of the other evangelical churches in the city. There is no difference!

  4. I’ve faced similar issues here in Canada and also had the same thought about whether or not leaving. What was the determining factor was my high catholic ecclesiology which makes splitting much more difficult. Ultimately, I think we have to remember that the church has always been and, at least until the eschaton, will always be a mixed church of sinners and saints, and all of us in between. Every generation has to fight the battles over orthodoxy and its alternative and each generation fails in someway. I’m not convinced that the way to deal with highly controversial topics such as this one is to split. A lot of times, the answer is to stick with it and, even when things look hopeless, hold on and wait for the Spirit to speak. That takes patience and a committment to sticking out the process. And that is, undoubtedly, difficult.

    My own conclusion is that the biggest problem in this issue is the way that Scripture is used by both sides in the debate. Franklly, we could do much more to resolving our problems and the difficulties with orthodoxy in our church by addressing that. And that means orthodox Anglicans/Episcopalians need to be there and talking.


    • Back in Canada, I never considered leaving. Partly, where would I go? Also, why leave when I was blessed to worship at Little Trinity and lived near enough to St. Paul’s Bloor St. that I could have gone there! Here we live like congregationalists, and have ended up at the Free Church of Scotland. But the Anglican within me who loves the BCP whimpers every once in a while to be allowed out to play…

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