Friday, June 30, 2006


Recently our family has switched churches and is now attending an Episcopal church. We were dropped right in the middle of a big debate in the Anglican Communion about whether it was right to ordain praticising homosexuals (as had been done unilaterally by the American Epsicopal Church in 2003 with bishop Gene Robinson). The worldwide communion issued a report produced out of a process known as The Windsor Process. The report begins with an introduction that says:
The mandate spoke of the problems being experienced as a consequence of [ordaining Gene Robinson to bishop] and the need to seek a way forward which would encourage communion within the Anglican Communion. It did not demand judgement by the Commission on sexuality issues. Rather, it requested consideration of ways in which communion and understanding could be enhanced where serious differences threatened the life of a diverse worldwide Church. In short, how does the Anglican Communion address relationships between its component parts in a true spirit of communion?
and it continues:
This Report is not a judgement. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation. The proposals which follow attempt to look forward rather than merely to recount how difficulties have arisen. A large majority of the submissions received by the Commission have supported the continuance of the Anglican Communion as an instrument of God's grace for the world.
Then there is a lengthy document that follows (I only read the first section completely and skimmed the remaining two). Ultimately it lays out the argument against electing homosexuals to the episcopate (bishops) and blessing same-sex unions. But the interesting thing is that it spends FAR MORE TIME talking about the unity of the church and why that matters. Here's are a few choice snippets:
In particular, as the letter to the Ephesians puts it, God's people are to be, through the work of the Spirit, an anticipatory sign of God's healing and restorative future for the world. Those who, despite their own sinfulness, are saved by grace through their faith in God's gospel (2.1-10) are to live as a united family across traditional ethnic and other boundaries (2.11-22), and so are to reveal the many-splendoured wisdom of the one true God to the hostile and divisive powers of the world (3.9-10) as they explore and celebrate the astonishing breadth of God's love made known through Christ's dwelling in their hearts (3.14-21). The redeemed unity which is God's will for the whole creation is to be lived out within the life of the church as, through its various God-given ministries, it is built up as the Body of Christ and grows to maturity not least through speaking the truth in love (1.10, 22-3; 4.1-16). The church, sharing in God's mission to the world through the fact of its corporate life, must live out that holiness which anticipates God's final rescue of the world from the powers and corruptions of evil (4.17-6.20).
The conclusion of the document says this:
We call upon all parties to the current dispute to seek ways of reconciliation, and to heal our divisions. We have already indicated (paragraphs 134 and 144) some ways in which the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster could begin to speak with the Communion in a way which would foster reconciliation. We have appealed to those intervening in provinces and dioceses similarly to act with renewed respect[105]. We would expect all provinces to respond with generosity and charity to any such actions. It may well be that there need to be formal discussions about the path to reconciliation, and a symbolic Act of Reconciliation, which would mark a new beginning for the Communion, and a common commitment to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to a broken and needy world.
The document is not primarily about the theological ramification of homosexual bishops or marriages in the church. It is mostly about the disregard that the Episcopal Church and spefically the New Westminister diocese showed for the communion at large.

Certainly the New Westminster diocese sees their role in some ways as prophetic defenders of human rights. They see the situation as no different than the protection of the rights of women or of black South Africans during apartheid. What's interesting is that the Windsor Repory acknowledges that fact. It stands theologically in opposition to the stance of the New Westminster diocese but at the same time it recognizes the historical changes in the theology of the church. The report says this:
There is, first, theological development. Virtually all Christians agree on the necessity for theological development, including radical innovation, and on the fact that the Holy Spirit enables the church to undertake such development. Primary examples include the great fourth-century creeds, which go significantly beyond the actual words and concepts of scripture but which have been recognised by almost all Christians ever since as expressing the faith to which we are committed. At the same time, all are agreed that not all proposed developments are (to put it mildly) of equal weight and worth. Some, in fact, do not develop the Christian faith, but distort or even destroy it. A recent example might be the heresy of apartheid. Healthy theological development normally takes place within the missionary imperative to articulate the faith afresh in different cultures, but (as has become notorious) this merely pushes the question a stage further back: how is the line between faithful inculturation and false accommodation to the world's ways of thinking (note Romans 12.1-2) to be discerned and determined? Christians are not at liberty to simplify these matters either by claiming the Spirit's justification for every proposed innovation or by claiming long-standing tradition as the reason for rejecting all such proposals. The church therefore always needs procedures for discussing, sifting, evaluating and deciding upon proposed developments; in particular, they need to honour the process of 'reception', described in Section B.
The concern of the Windsor report is that the Episcopal church didn't care to protect the unity of the church by using the prescribed means for having theological debate:
The first reason therefore why the present problems have reached the pitch they have is that it appears to the wider Communion that neither the Diocese of New Westminster nor the Episcopal Church (USA) has made a serious attempt to offer an explanation to, or consult meaningfully with, the Communion as a whole about the significant development of theology which alone could justify the recent moves by a diocese or a province.
All of this is very interesting to me because I've never been in a church that cared much about unity at such a global scale (the Anglican Communion encompasses almost 80M Christians in hundreds of countries, cultures, and languages). In fact the church culture that I'm most familiar with is one that is almost opposite; disagree? split off and make a new denomination. The theological implications of this whole debate ARE important but I'm really glad to be learning in such a tangible way that they are secondary to the unity of the church. I pray that God will honor that desire.