Actually this behaviour transcends religion. The extreme Right Swinton Circle does it. “It’s not the party I joined,” wailed old Labourites in flat caps through the 90’s. And, of course, they were right. Things change, and righteous remnant attitudes lie crouching at all our doors, awaiting their day.
For fun, Bosco Peters has started up his own Real Anglican Communion. Salami slice your way to True Orthodoxy with Mickey Mouse, and you are actually heading towards vanishing point. Bosco’s pulling our legs, but the guy who got consecrated in Kalispell Montana as Pope Pius XIII is deadly serious about being the “true Catholic Church,” following the liberal defection of the other billion odd Roman Catholics in the world. It’s hard to tell where Mickey taking shades into reality. The whole process of rancorous straining at gnats and swallowing camels seems to Bonsai people’s self awareness, as various ecclesiastical costumiers ring up the dollars, to illustrate the grandiose websites.
Cue Dr Ephraim Radner — a deeply grounded and spiritually aware Conservative theologian from Wycliffe College, Toronto. He’s posted his Advent thoughts, What I have learned these past five years, and I commend them to the house as a supremely wise, humble and hopeful resource to everyone on all sides, a blast of human and spiritual reality for us all:
The last few years of struggle within the Episcopal Church (TEC) and within the Anglican Communion have taken their toll on many persons and congregations, and on our common life in a larger way. Every day brings some new report on the impending or already achieved “break-up” of Anglicanism and on the spectacle of “global schism”, even while Anglican leaders insist that this hasn’t happened yet. Many congregations in the United States, and some in Canada, have left their denominations for other forms of Anglican relationship. Even more congregations, including many that have left TEC, have been torn by conflict or bled by tension and malaise, and TEC’s membership has shown a steady and alarming drop in the past three or four years. Declarations affirming something “new” about to begin or demanding something “old” be restored are issued from various groups, and the project of developing “adequate structures” or even canons for this or that ministry, mission, and witness is seen by many as a necessity, even if understood in contradictory ways.
How does one navigate this time as an Anglican Christian? I have a number of friends and colleagues who have decided simply that it is not possible to do so. For various reasons, they have left Anglicanism altogether – becoming Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (less common), non-denominational evangelical Christians (often) or finally (most frequently) “church drop-outs” altogether. A common theme among these persons has been a sense of exhaustion and spiritual depletion, even as they have discerned elements of doctrine and ecclesial life that they believe, in different ways, are best embodied in other Christian traditions. The ache of inner ailment has stirred up a theological ferment whose outcome has opened up the press for a new direction altogether....
More importantly than the substance of the issue in question, however, I have had to face quite simply the fact that my own views, however carefully constructed and believed in, are not the measure of the church’s life or of anybody else’s. They cannot displace, in time, a whole range of other imperatives to action, relationship, reflection and counsel, witness, and prayer. And once I allow them to do this, I have given way, not to God’s sovereign power and love, but to my own self-regard. I might well ask, “why do the wicked prosper?” and find God staying my heart (cf. Psalm 37); I might remember Paul’s exhortation not to insist on one’s own ways (1 cor. 13:5; Rom. 15:1f.), not for the sake of giving up convictions or of compromise, but simply to give oneself over to God the just judge (1 Pet.2:23); I might also, finally and even better, plead, “I am a worm and no man, have mercy on me” (Ps. 22:6, 19).
In a world of inceasing individualism and single issue fanaticism, the gentleman is right, and his point, of course, cuts all ways. He draws attention to eleven particular action learning points:
- You can’t always get what you want, even if you are right
- Parishes are mixed, and require building up by non-conflictive teaching, not transformation into battlegrounds
- So is the whole Communion, and it has the same need
- Legal complexity cuts both ways
- The impact of global culture on Christian life needs to be understood carefully and accurately
- We cannot avoid repeating the mistakes of the past
- There is no magic bullet solution, to be brought about by cataclysmic change
- No one person or group is in a position to bring about such a solution
- There is no credit in failing to defend the integrity of adversaries, or remaining silent in the face of indefensible behaviour by allies
- Spiritual Malice remains Spiritual Malice, to be avoided at all costs
- Israel, wait on the Lord
What I seek to do – through God’s mercy and grace — is to retain the faith, hope, and love that will permit constancy in testimony, perseverance in learning, willingness in encounter, and the wisdom through such persistence to persuade in trust and service. The great gifts of Anglicanism have always turned in this direction – for we were ever sinful, were we not? — so that our mission has triumphed over our internal tensions...
I spent Tuesday in a day’s personal growth, learning and reflection with senior Christian leaders in Buckinghamshire, Baptist, Methodist, Savation Army, United Reformed, Roman Catholic. As we shared openly together what God has been showing us, very much in the spirit of Dr Radner, a tremendous sense emerged of the importance for our common life of integrating the ways God sees us, and the ways the world sees us, and the ways we see each other and ourselves. Ditto at yesterday’s wonderful Diocesan senior staff meeting. We only get one Advent this year, during which we pray
O wisdom that proceeds from the mouth of the most high, reaching powerfully from end to end, sweetly (elegantly, smoothly, gently) ordering everything: Come teach us the way of good judgment.
Let’s not waste it this year...