Ask an Anglican: When the Church is no Longer the Church

William Reed HuntingtonTwo questions today that are interrelated. Cadog writes:

In a prior post, you offered assurances that staying in the Episcopal Church was right, even though there are some serious and disturbing decisions and trends in recent years. I can accept this (the Catholic church endured at least as severe a decline, centuries ago, over many serious issues, including sexuality and faulty teaching and practice) — but I still struggle with the reality of bishops being seated whose authority I would not accept (maybe you disagree, but I do not believe a practicing homosexual meets the biblical or traditional standard for church leadership, and I am glad so many bishops in the worldwide Communion are standing firm on this). How, then, in the midst of such strident disagreement and disharmony, can I and others remain Episocopalian? What of the breakaway U.S. group(s) (chiefly ACNA) that claim apostolic bonds to Anglican bishops but are not recognized by the Anglican Communion? And why shouldn’t they be so recognized? Would not the Windsor report also support such an alternative structure?

And James writes:

If TEC [The Episcopal Church] continues on present trajectories, when (if ever) does it cross a line where it becomes impossible for a catholic, orthodox Anglican to remain?  At what point does catholic order and apostolic succession become meaningless because catholic teaching and belief has so eroded?

Thus far, I have been a “stayer”  because of commitments to “catholicity” and I have sympathies that lie with ACI (Chris Seitz, Philip Turner, Ephraim Radner, Anthony Burton, etc.).  But is there ever a point where staying becomes useless?  It is becoming harder and harder for my family and I to remain Episcopalian, especially now that I have children and think of their spiritual health.  What advice or thoughts do you have?  I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve thought about this.

I think these two sets of questions can be summed up thus: At what point does the Church cease to be the Church? When we look at a church body, especially one that is going through some kind of turmoil, how can we be certain that it is a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that Our Lord established to be His Body and His Bride?

We are not treading over new territory here. Christians have been asking this question since almost the very beginning. Anglicans in particular have spent a good deal of time wrestling with this. The 39 Articles tell us that “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same” (Article XIX). This definition is good so far as it goes, but also rather vague, as it leads to questions about how one knows if the “pure” Word of God is being preached and the Sacraments are being celebrated properly. Article XXIII indicates the necessity for the Church to have an authorized ministry that is dependent upon biblical and apostolic criteria and not simply the whims of individual would-be preachers or even would-be congregations, but it stops short of explicitly saying what that ministry looks like.

Criteria for Discerning the Church

An American Episcopal priest named William Reed Huntington (pictured above) wrote eloquently and persuasively about the topic of how we discern the Church in his 1870 book, The Church Idea. Huntington was writing at a time in which the global expansion of Anglicanism was just beginning to happen and the phrase “Anglican Communion” was just starting to be bandied about. Even as this expansion was taking place, the clarity of Anglicanism, which had long been eroding, was becoming further diminished by the codifying of different parties within the Anglican Churches, primarily Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and Liberals. Living within this context, Huntington attacked what he described as “Romanism,” “Puritanism,” and “Liberalism,” not simply as they had come to express themselves within Anglicanism but as they existed as independent traditions with incompatible ecclesiologies. In Huntington’s view, Romanism added more to the idea of Church than what scripture lays out, Puritanism strips the Church down to nothing, and Liberalism distorts the Church by pulling out the doctrine at its heart and allowing only the form to remain. These traditions, according to Huntington, have left the Christian Church divided unnecessarily for far too long. He believed that the Church would only be unified if a church emerged as a “reconciliation church” to bring together the disparate pieces of Christendom into a body that resembled that which Christ had founded. And he believed the Episcopal Church was to be that church, at least in America, not because of anything special about the way Anglicans did things, but because Anglicanism offers the pure Gospel, without anything being added or taken away. In fact, Huntington goes out of his way to say that what America needs is not English Christianity, spires and surplices and choir boys and the like, but authentic Anglicanism:

The Anglican Principle and the Anglican System are two very different things. The writer does not favor attempting to foist the whole Anglican system upon America; while yet he believes that the Anglican principle is America’s best hope. (p. 156)

Huntington then proceeds to explain what he believes to be the basis of Anglican ecclesiology, a set of four things which every church body must have if it is to be recognizable as the Body and Bride of Christ. These four things would later be adopted by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention and then by the Lambeth Conference as the basis for any future union between the Anglican Communion and other bodies of Christians. They are called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself–Baptism and the Supper of the Lord–ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

We can quibble a bit about the language, of course, as many have, but these things basically define Anglican ecclesiology, not just in the nineteenth century but in the centuries which preceded. Keep in mind, this is not a comprehensive list of the attributes of the Church. A church which has all of these things might still be missing some of the pieces that the Church needs to be her best and her fullest. But in terms of simply asking the question, is this particular body a church or something else, the Quadrilateral provides a pretty good checklist.

Is the Episcopal Church a Real Church?

As regular readers know, I try to avoid writing on this site about the ins and outs of ecclesiastical politics. I do this not because I think these things are unimportant, but because I believe that what will matter in the long run, after all the dust settles from our current controversies, is whether or not the Anglican faith is viable, whether or not it is truly the faith once delivered to the saints or just some strange historical anomaly. Since I firmly believe that Anglicanism is Gospel Christianity, I try to spend my time on seeing the long picture. Nevertheless, I am not immune to the realities of our era. As a traditional, orthodox Christian, I share many of the concerns that James, Cadog, and others have expressed about what is happening in the Episcopal Church today, not just in matters of morality but also in more basic matters of Christian doctrine.

That being said, when I take the Quadrilateral and go down the list, I happily discover that the Episcopal Church still holds all of the essentials that are needed to be the Church, even if she does not always make use of them. We still have bishops in apostolic succession, though their voice may be at times compromised. We still have the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, though there are those who blatantly ignore the rubrics of the prayer book and celebrate these sacraments in a less than salutary fashion. Perhaps more in line with the questions today, we still have the scriptures as the highest authority over us and the creeds as the bedrock of our faith. It is on these last two that many Christians would assert that the Episcopal Church has lost her way, and I would not deny that in many quarters she has. It is not difficult to find clergy, parishes, and sometimes even whole dioceses who deny basic tenets of scripture and redefine the creeds into utter meaninglessness. This is an incredibly distressing phenomenon, and I have no doubt that if it is allowed to continue unabated it will eventually spell doom for the Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, the official teaching of our church remains unchanged. The prayer book and the 39 Articles (which are still officially a part of our doctrine in TEC even though they are called an “historical document” in the 1979 BCP) have not been altered to do away with these things. Even on the much more sensitive matter of Christian marriage, both the canons and the BCP still clearly teach the norms of biblical marriage, despite any actions of General Convention to the contrary. TEC, for all her faults, is still the church that Huntington described her as being a century and a half ago.

Some people might respond that I am being naive, focusing my attention on what the Episcopal Church claims to be on paper while ignoring the actual facts on the ground. I can understand this feeling, and I am not unsympathetic to those who have felt that they had to leave the Episcopal Church as a matter of principle. As I have stipulated, the Episcopal Church today is rife with error at all levels, and in some instances orthodox Anglicans have been and are being harassed and attacked for their adherence to the faith. And yet, to surmise that the Episcopal Church is no longer a true church because she is filled with error is to miss the fact that all churches are filled with error on this side of the eschaton. The Church has always been filled with error, at all levels. The most orthodox seeming church will have its share of heretics. Sin lives deep within each of us, and we are quite naive indeed if we do not believe that this sin will infect the life of the Church. In fact, we should be grateful that the existence of error does not automatically unmake the Church, because if it did there would not be a single church body left standing. This is not to excuse the promulgation of error in the Church, but it is to acknowledge that God’s work can be done even in the midst of deep dysfunction. What has to matter in terms of the question before us is not the thought and practice of any individual member of the Church, be they pew sitter or primate, but what the Church officially teaches. So long as the Episcopal Church upholds the Quadrilateral, she is a true church, even if she is in need of great repentance.

Other Anglican Churches in America

So then, what about other Anglican bodies? Again, if we apply the Quadrilateral, it is hard to deny the presence of the Church in most of them. So long as they have a true ministry, true sacraments, and uphold the creedal faith that flows forth from the Holy Scriptures, we have no right to deny that they are church. But as I mentioned, there are some exceptions. The Reformed Episcopal Church, for instance, explicitly denies that episcopacy is necessary for the Church to be the Church and historically they have not ordained ministers from other non-episcopal traditions who seek to serve as presbyters in their church for this very reason. Likewise, their Book of Common Prayer is based not on the classical English BCP, nor even the early seventeenth century Scottish prayer book that is at the root of the American BCP, but the 1785 proposed American BCP which was never put into use because it lacked certain basic elements of Anglican theology, including clear affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, I believe that the REC does teach the Trinitarian faith, and it is true that they practice historic episcopacy for the most part, but the reality of these abnormalities in their official teaching does raise questions, the likes of which are compounded when we consider the Anglican Church in North America which considers the REC to be “a founding jurisdiction.” Similar sorts of questions might be raised in relation to TEC because of our agreement of full communion with the ELCA, although the matter is more acute in ACNA since the REC is actually a part of ACNA and not just a partner.

All of that said, I do not wish to be at odds with anyone who is attempting to share the Gospel. I have friends in ACNA and in other non-Communion Anglican bodies and I cherish their witness to the Anglican ethos and the true faith. People move from one body to another for a variety of reasons, and I have no reason to question anyone’s motives. But I intend to remain an Episcopalian, not because I am naive but because this is where God has called me to be, and so long as the Episcopal Church remains a true church I shall remain her loyal son. Perhaps the day will come when TEC revises the BCP to jettison the creeds and the scriptures. If that happens, there shall be nothing recognizable left of her, and I will be forced to move on. But until that happens, she is like a patient on life support, very badly damaged but still very much alive (and even capable of recovery, despite the odds). And in that respect, she is like all of us, dead in our sin and yet made alive by Christ Jesus who comes to us while we are yet sinners and gives His life for us.

Suffering for the Sake of the Church

A few years ago, the movie Closer came out, which explored the brutal reality of how people use each other in relationships and why people cheat. The characters in that film were constantly unhappy in their relationships because they were always looking for the next thing, the better thing, the person they could fall in love with and have things be perfect. The tagline for the film was, “If you believe in love at first sight, you’ll always be looking.” In a way, I think this is true in the Church as well. If you believe there is some perfect church out there where you’ll encounter no error and no strife, you’ll spend your whole life jumping from one to another. It’s an understandable temptation, but it is not what Our Lord calls us to do. It is not love. True love sacrifices.

I’ll let Flannery O’Connor have the last word: “I think the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable. The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

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49 Responses to Ask an Anglican: When the Church is no Longer the Church

  1. Death Bredon says:

    Accepting the Quadrilateral as our criterion of “Church,” in what sense has “The Episcopal Church” preserved the “historic episcopate,” especially in light of women’s ordination. And was not the historic Ordinal, which adhered to ancient tradition precisely because it was ancient tradition, been jettisoned by the 1979 Common Book of Prayer.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      In the sense that we have maintained apostolic orders, passed down through the laying on of hands, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and the authority and responsibility for teaching and protecting the faith. Our bishops do not always live up to their calling, but this is their calling nevertheless. In terms of women’s ordination, that is a very important discussion, and I would agree with you that if you believe that the pastoral office can only be held by men, then TEC has most certainly departed from the historic episcopacy. I would simply add that if this is the case, ACNA must be viewed equally, along with many churches in the global south that are often celebrated for their orthodoxy. I find it to be something of a strange development to say that women’s orders are ok for the presbyterate but not for the episcopate. They are distinct orders, but they are interrelated, and both involve teaching and holding authority, so if one is wrong then both really ought to be wrong.

      The classic ordinal is considerably better than the 1979 ordinal in a number of ways, not least being the way in which the roles of the offices are spelled out. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the 1979 ordinal denies anything essential to the episcopal office, nor is it insufficient for ordination to that office in any material way. But perhaps you have specific objections in mind?

      • Death Bredon says:

        The most important thing, to mind, about the classic Anglican ordinal is that it exclusively contemplates all-male orders, which, again to my mind, is crucial to maintaining the historic episcopate. Indeed, both scripture and tradition seems perfectly clear that episcopate and presbytery are to be comprised of godly men, and men alone.

        So, assuming for the sake of argument that female ordinate is a violation of the historic episcopate, and accepting the implication of the Quadrilateral that all church polities based on something other than the historic episcopate constitutes serious, objectionable error, is then the TEC, having adulterated the historic episcopate, no longer a true church? (To my mind, this question is not trivial or obvious, as classical Anglicanism regards Rome, for example, as a true church but with serious error.) And, while we are at it (if you should be so kind a sport), and anticipating that the answer to my query is that Rome and Anglicanism (and Orthodoxy, or any of the Protestant denominations for that matter) are all churches that officially maintain serious error, what should the typical American layman, with practical access to the whole buffet of options, chose? Why Anglicanism and its warts over the others and there warts?

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        …is then the TEC, having adulterated the historic episcopate, no longer a true church?

        If the acceptance of women’s orders in fact does undo the historic episcopate, then no, the Episcopal Church would not be a true church. That would not mean, however, that there is nothing true at all about TEC. As with other Christian bodies, simply saying that they are not “church” in themselves does not mean that they are not valuable, that they are not Christians, or that they have nothing to teach and give to us. It simply means that they lack catholicity, or fullness, as a body. I think, however, that if we are to walk down the path of the women’s ordination question, one has to ascertain which particular objection to women’s ordination is at play. There are essentially three types of objections, the ontological objection, the scriptural authority objection, and what I would call, for lack of a better word, the Orthodox objection because I’ve only ever heard Eastern Orthodox Christians make it (although it does bleed over a little bit into the Catholic objection). The ontological objection is that women cannot hold priestly orders because they are ontologically different enough from men that this would be as impossible as a man giving birth. This is used primarily by Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics. Under this schema, a woman cannot be a priest because she cannot stand in the place of Christ at the altar, because Christ was a man and this is essential to his role as savior. The scriptural authority objection, utilized by evangelicals and some other Protestants, is that scripture forbids women to hold these roles of authority. Sometimes this objection also builds on the gender roles in marriage to make the case. Finally, the Orthodox objection is simply that we cannot have women as priests because we never have. No further explanation is needed. Now, if you hold to the first or the third, the matter is settled as soon as the first woman is ordained, because a breach in sacramental unity has taken place. Personally, while I accept the ordination of women, I think that the best argument against it is the one provided by the scriptural authority objection. And under that objection, while women holding authority as bishops is highly problematic, there may be room for saying that the entire Church is not undone, so long as there are still pockets within the Church that maintain an all male ministry.

        As to your question about why American laymen should choose Anglicanism, my simple answer would be because Anglicanism is the Gospel. But I’ll hold onto that question, if you don’t mind, and answer it more fully in a later post.

      • Death Bredon says:

        Thank you. I await future posts.

  2. Jay M. says:

    Again Fr. Jonathan, some very powerful thoughts here. I admire that you remain faithful to where you are called and I pray that men like you continue on in ECUSA to fight the good fight, even when all seems hopeless at the moment.

    I was introduced to Anglicanism about 4 years ago (I am a cradle RC) through a thriving fortress of the Gospel that is Trinity Episcopal Church in Red Bank, NJ. I will forever be in debt to the Rector and the people there for showing me that Anglicanism is true Gospel Christianity, when it is practiced properly. However, I always had misgivings in the back of my mind of the direction of the National Church. My Pastor would always remind me of the parable of the “wheat and the tares” when I would consider leaving for perceived “greener pastures”..

    I am military and my family just relocated from NJ to ME. In transition, I could not find one, not one Episcopal Church within reasonable driving distance of where we are that is practicing the true Gospel. It’s sad. We are currently attending a Continuing Church and I am grateful for their existence because I just don’t know where else we would go.

    Alas, I have committed myself to orthodox Anglicanism, in whatever form it presents itself. If it’s an ECUSA parish, fine. If it’s an ACNA or Continuum parish that’s fine as well. Wherever the “ancient future” faith is truly found, that is where you will find me and my family. God, in all his Providence will set everything right in the end. I think in the midst all the crappy politics, we lose sight of that at times.

    Peace and love to all of you faithful Anglicans out there…

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thank you for your comment, Jay, and for your witness. I can very much appreciate how hard you have had to work to assure that your family receives the Gospel. My blessing and prayers are with you.

  3. Jordan says:

    Fr. Jonathan,

    Thanks for the great post and provoking thoughts. I share your sentiments about staying in the Episcopal Church in spite of the current trials we face (I am canonically resident in the Diocese of Albany).

    I do disagree with you about the Reformed Episcopal Church. I think you will find that most Anglicans throughout history have not adopted an “esse” view of the episcopacy (compare Laud’s attitude to the Reformed Churches on the Continent). Likewise, the Reformed Episcopal Church has revised their Prayer Book to include material from the 1662 BCP and the 1928 American BCP and adopted the 39 Articles instead of the original 35.

    God bless

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thank you for your comment, Jordan, and many blessings to the Diocese of Albany as well!

      In terms of the episcopacy as “esse” and the classical Anglican approach to this question, I wrote a good deal on that topic in response to a previous question:

      In regards to the REC prayer book, I’m pleased to hear that they have incorporated some of the classic material. I would love to see the REC embrace classical Anglicanism to the fullest. However, as long as “The Declaration of Principles” is still printed in their BCP, denying a number of classical Anglican teachings (the Nicene Creed, Baptismal regeneration, the necessity of episcopacy, and a generous understanding of Real Presence in the Eucharist), it is hard to see how this can be. And given that ACNA has adopted doctrinal standards to the contrary, I continue to be baffled as to how they can be said to be one church.

      • Death Bredon says:

        I believe the REC website still posts a commentary on the Declaration of Principles, which refutes your characterization of them, Fr. Jonathon. Here is the link

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I do not believe the explanations that the REC provides, as on that website, address my concerns. If anything, the explanations make the situation worse. The “quote” from Hooker about episcopacy reveals that they have not actually read what Hooker has to say on the subject. The insistence upon denying the presence of Christ in the elements at Communion goes far beyond what the 39 Articles affirm and makes it impossible to hold a Catholic view of the Eucharist which the Articles permit. And then there’s this: “The Holy Scriptures (Titus 3:5) and the Catechism of the BCP speak of baptism as an outward sign of an inward grace such that regeneration should be understood as normally occurring at Holy Baptism, but not inseparable with Baptism.” This is just absurd, and it is plainly at odds with the Baptism rite in the 1662 BCP where the priest says, immediately after baptizing a child, “We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with the Holy Spirit…” To say that regeneration normally happens at Baptism but doesn’t actually have anything to do with it in anything but a symbolic way would be like saying that salvation normally happens through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross but doesn’t actually have anything to do with it because God could save people without the cross if He wanted to.

      • Charles says:

        Hello Fr. Johnathan,
        The REC has “clarified” the Cummin’s Statement through their 2001 Joint Affirmation with the APA. This enables them to make broad agreement with Fifna where both cooperate closely inside ACNA. Ceremonial also has climbed up the candle stick. Most REC priests celebrate eastward, wearing some form of vestment. The Texans led the charge on this one. Whether the Joint Affirmation actually justifies such liberties against the Cummin’s Statement is perhaps another matter. But it has allowed REC to adopt the 39 articles and 1928 bcp without qualification. My own belief is the 39 articles and Cummin’s Declaration can’t be reconciled. The Joint Affirmation can be read here: .

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Thanks, Charles. I agree with your assessment.

      • Cadog says:

        Now that I have a better understanding of Fr. Jonathan’s thesis, I checked out the REC website — and I think his observation (“I continue to be baffled as to how [ACNA] can be said to be one church.”) is very appropriate.

        REC identifies The Most Rev. Leonard W. Riches, D.D as its Presiding Bishop. There is no mention of Archbishop Robert Duncan. It is also unclear to me who named Duncan as Archbishop (don’t get me wrong — I have viewed and read some of his comments on the ACNA website. He seems like a terrific guy and I have no doubt that he is qualified for the office he holds.)

        Further to this point, I have found very little continuity between the former (?) Charismatic Episcopal Church, based upon its website, or its congregations (based on several congregational websites and attending one local CEC church, admittedly not sufficiently representative), on the one hand; and the ACNA, on the other — although I think the ACNA has every appearance of the attributes identified in the Quadrilateral, and it also seems to me that the ACNA’s existance and claim as a legitimate branch of the Communion deserves full consideration, the aforesaid observations notwithstanding.

        It would be immensely to ACNA’s credit if they would not only establish central polity and ecclesiology, but also require it as a condition of acceptance of all other bodies that wish to join them. This frankly include subordinating the various (former) denominational distinctives to the overarching structure and authority of ACNA, which itself should not be hard to ferret out, given the 500 years the Communion has been working on it. In this sense, REC ought not even have its own website, which features its own emblem and masthead most prominently, with ACNA’s emblem appearing much lower and almost as an afterthought.

        I realize ACNA is a work in progress, and pray them God’s wisdom, direction and blessing, because I can really empathize with the course they have taken. But thanks to Fr. Jonathan and this discussion, I am definitely feeling more confident on my path thru TEC into the worldwide Anglican Communion.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        It would be immensely to ACNA’s credit if they would not only establish central polity and ecclesiology, but also require it as a condition of acceptance of all other bodies that wish to join them.


  4. John Thorpe says:

    ” In fact, we should be grateful that the existence of error does not automatically unmake the Church, because if it did there would not be a single church body left standing.”

    Masterfully said, good Reverend sir.

    However, I think there’s an important dimension that is being left out of this discussion, simply because it was left out of Huntington’s thinking, and left out of the Quadrilateral. But it formed one of the cornerstones of the Patristic Catholic system, and without it no church may be said to be catholic. I mean the element of continuing recognition of all the other catholic churches (and it has to be all of them). Thus I summarize the Patristic system in these four points:

    1. Apostolic Doctrine, as found in Holy Scripture and the Creeds
    2. Apostolic Leadership, as found in the Historic Succession of Bishops
    3. Apostolic practice of the Sacraments, particularly Baptism and the Eucharist
    4. Continuing recognition (koinonia/communion) of all the other Catholic churches.

    There were several heretical groups who claimed to maintain, in essence, Huntington’s Quadrilateral but refused to submit to the judgement of the rest of the catholic faithful. That’s the problem with the Quad – it CAN be maintained in isolation from other churches. The REC thought so; the TAC thought so; even the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which has the wackiest history of all, thought they could just take on the four makers of the Quad. and that’d be it. But catholicism is not something you can give yourself, all alone in your backyard. The very nature of our communion is to pull together into the Apostolic core of the Faith, up into the Head of the Body. The very nature of catholic communion is for the branches to pull in closer to the vine. Christianity is not a faith that defined by extrinsic boundaries, but by an intrinsic and attractive core. True catholicism can be recognized, in addition to the marks Huntington suggests, by a simple desire to be catholic. It was so basic, and Huntington displayed it himself, that he was probably too close to it in his day to see it. But without an irresistible urge to pull together, submit ourselves to one another, give up even our own judgement if our sister churches discern it must be so – without communion/submission/the catholic urge, there is no catholicism. There is only heresy with a good pedigree and nice window dressing. And the heresy is schism, an ecclesiological heresy, perhaps the only ecclesiological heresy. Schism is the urge and the action to go it alone, the urge to set one’s own church in isolation and opposition to others and witness to our ‘prophetic’ message regardless of what the rest of the church thinks. Schism does not necessarily imply other kinds of heresy, Christological, for instance; nor even a failure of the historic succession (was Marcion invalidly ordained?); nor even moral impurity. But schism is an ecclesiological heresy, and it does endanger the souls of the faithful. Commmunion is the antidote. Schism is pride; Communion is humililty and submission.

    So how do we apply this to the questions at hand? It changes the game considerably. It means that for the safety of our souls, we must belong to a church that has the highest degree of continuing recognition possible. For brevity’s sake I’ll put aside the question of the English Reformation and simply state that I believe this Patristic concept of communion has reliably come down to the Anglican Communion of today, if not in its perfect form as in the undivided Church, at least in a form that is no less legitimate (I believe) than that of Rome or Constantinople. Given that TEC has inherited a state of proper Communion, what does that look like for Anglicans? and may it be imperiled? Since the days of the English Reformation and before, there is no other symbol of the continuing catholic recognition given to us than a relationship of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. None of the other instruments of unity within the Communion have claim to do this – Lambeth Conference has never been a synod; the ACC is an ecclesiological joke, intended primarily to coordinate mission efforts; and the Primates’ Meeting is basically a meet-and-greet. From the time St. Augustine first landed in England with the Pallium on his shoulders (which still adorns the Archbishop’s heraldic arms), that See has been the symbol of the connection between the Church in England and all other churches throughout the world. Canterbury links Anglicanism with our historic communion with the Western Church and the Church Undivided. There has never been another symbol, and we have not the authority to create one by legislative fiat of the ACC. No covenant can do it. No confession. We pass on only what we received.

    Our communion differs from that of the Roman church with its supreme pontiff only in that we do not allow the post-Patristic developments of that office (which is a roundabout way of saying what the English Reformation said: the pope is simply another bishop.). We have pure communion with Canterbury, not enforced servitude. We have communion with Canterbury because of who we are and because we display the catholic urge to pull together and submit to one another and the Lord. That’s how the Episcopal Church maintains its continuing recognition from all the other catholic churches (that will speak to us) that we remain part of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic church. That’s how we know we aren’t just an ecclesiological heresy with a fine pedigree.

    So can this final marker of the true church be imperiled? You betcha. If the Episcopal Church severs its relationship with Canterbury, or if Canterbury severs the relationship with us, that would do it. We would be proclaiming by that action that we do not care to be part of the Catholic whole; and that makes us no longer a catholic church. As Fr. Jonathan has mentioned, of course, there are other ways to deny the other markers: denying the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, etc.; letting go of the historic succession. The difficulty with our current situation is that Rowan Williams has not shown any interest in either 1. Caring much what the Patristic church thought about the idea of communion when they created it; 2. acting accordingly; 3. making such clear distinctions as “in” and “out” of communion. So unless his successor is someone of particularly patristic bent – and they are few in Lambeth palace these days – probably the next person won’t be any better. Which means TEC will probably inhabit a no-man’s land of partial communion (whatever that means) until, by God’s grace, we can get our act back together.

    How does this help us with the thorny issue of ACNA? It means that we cannot discard Canterbury as our symbol of communion and take on Southern Cone. Nor do we find anywhere in the Patristic Church the kind of round-about, third-party communion that ACNA has with Canterbury, who has not officially realized they exist. I know first hand that talks have taken place between Canterbury and ACNA leaders about creating that kind of direct communion, which is the only kind of communion we know. But it hasn’t happened yet and may not before another ABC arrives. So ACNA is stuck in an ecclesiological half-light. If the point of the catholic system is the safety of our souls, that’s an awful leaky row boat to flee in at this point. Of course, depending on how things go with the Covenant, yadda yadda yadda, TEC might soon inhabit the same twilight.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      If you look at what Huntington actually says, I don’t think you would see a divergence with patristic thought. Huntington’s position towards Rome is no different than that of classical Anglicanism, that Rome is a true church which has nevertheless lapsed into some serious errors. Remember, the Quadrilateral is about whether or not the Church can be discerned in a particular body, not whether that body is its fullest or best. Rome is a true church, and yet there are things that Rome teaches that can lead people away from the Gospel.

      But your basic point seems to be that being catholic, in the true sense of the word, means that we cannot be islands unto ourselves. I would agree with that whole heartedly, as would the Fathers. And here is where conciliarity comes in, because our only hope of being able to have a meaningful starting point for mutual discernment is at the level of councils, both local and ecumenical. That said, the recognition of catholicity must not simply be an exercise in ecumenism between church structures that exist today but also an approach back to the early Church. We must be in communion with the Church of the past as well as the Church of the present. And when we come to a crossroads where to be in communion with one requires us to be out of communion with the other, we should always opt for the early Church. That is a distinct understanding of catholicity that lies at the heart of Anglicanism.

      In terms of the link with Canterbury, I am not sure that I follow your logic. Obviously, Canterbury is a very old and very important See, and I certainly agree that we should do everything in our power to maintain communion with Canterbury, for historical reasons if no other. But why does the age of a See determine its necessity to the life of the Church? Is there a scriptural reason for this? If not, how can it be required? Moreover, how can we say that there is any reason for us to be separated from Rome, which is after all a much older and more prestigious See than Canterbury? If the proper exercise of episcopacy, along with the proper doctrine of faith, are less important than the age and reputation of the See, then I fail to see how Anglicanism can make any claim to being the Church whatsoever.

  5. Robert F says:

    Does what you post mean that as long as TEC uses the right words in the BCP and there are some, or a few, churches adhering to those words and practicing in accord with them, it continues to be a true church even though many, or a majority, of its churches actually engage in practices and liturgy that significantly betray the intent of those words, and this betrayal is endorsed by a significant part, or even majority, of the church leadership?

  6. Cadog says:

    Fr. Jonathan’s commentary and counsel is hugely reassuring to me, a relatively new Anglican who against all odds was received into TEC this past year.

    Fr. Jonathan’s summary and application of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is very helpful, as well as his application of those principles to the questions I and James raised (BIG THANKS Fr. Jonathan for your thoughtful response, as always balanced and compassionate).

    We (female wife with me, male husband — sad that we have to so characterize these days) travel 1 hour to our TEC parish, and ruled out the local ACNA affiliate because it was only recently part of the CEC, and both my research as well as perceptions of the local CEC/ACNA parish gave me huge pause. THANKS John Thorpe for your direct observation re CEC — I have not wanted to be ungracious but we just couldn’t land there.

    John Thorpe’s articulation of this patristic concept also helps, though I do not fully follow the discussion (I take that he is a priest or otherwise seminary or theologically trained; I am not). His, and Fr. Jonathan’s, remarks help me understand that the ACNA, while certainly an option for many, has many shortcomings for one who is striving for (Anglican) catholicity. John Thorpe says:

    “But catholicism is not something you can give yourself, all alone in your backyard. The very nature of our communion is to pull together into the Apostolic core of the Faith, up into the Head of the Body. The very nature of catholic communion is for the branches to pull in closer to the vine. Christianity is not a faith that defined by extrinsic boundaries, but by an intrinsic and attractive core. ” John, at first view, this would seem to not rule out a “pulling together” into ROMAN Catholicism, which I cannot accept. Your concluding comments provide additional context, most helpful. Further discussion from you would be valued, if you care to.

    I echo Robert F.’s question, hope someone (Fr. J., J. Thorpe?) might respond.

  7. Robert F says:

    To clarify my question, I do know that certain practices, such as the historic episcopacy, are considered to be essential markers of the presence of the true church, so you are not saying that a church just needs to use the right words to remain a true church in that sense. However, if for instance there are only a few places in the practice of a church that remain in contact the historical practices of the Catholic church, such as the Words of Institution at the Eucharist, but much of what surrounds those practices (spiritual formation, preaching, teaching) repudiates essential doctrine as set out in the BCP, and such repudiation is prevalent throughout a church body, especially in the leadership, can that church really be said to be a true church just because it keeps the proper words in its essential documents and keeps those essential practices, even though it blatantly betrays them in much of the rest of it community life?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      The answers are both yes and no. Yes, a church is truly the Church if it holds the essentials of faith and practice, even if the majority of her members are rebelling against her, including her leaders. However, this does not mean that every person who acts in the name of that particular church are equally to be seen as valid. So, for instance, a priest who celebrates the Eucharist using the BCP words of institution and the proper elements, who then turns around and preaches a sermon in which he says that Jesus is no more real than the Easter Bunny, cannot through his erroneous teaching alone unmake the Church. Just because he stands up and says something contrary to the Church’s teaching, that does not alter the Church’s teaching, nor does it invalidate the sacraments he celebrates. Ideally, when something like this happens, the priest should be disciplined and if not then removed. In reality, in the church of today, this happens very rarely. Yet we would never say that Christ was not truly present in that Sacrament, even if the man celebrating didn’t really believe in it. What matters is the intention of the Church, not the intention of the man. And that is true even when the intention of the majority of priests is different than the intention of the Church. A church in error, even grave error, is still a church, though a church in need of reform.

      That said, you could spin this the opposite way too. Imagine a man who becomes a Unitarian minister but who acts like a priest. He preaches the true Word of God from the pulpit and in his pastoral care does the same. He celebrates the sacraments unfailingly using the correct elements and Christ’s words of institution. He teaches his people the creeds. In every way, he acts as he should if he were a true priest of a true church, and yet he is not a priest and his church is not a church. Why? Because he cannot single-handedly turn the Unitarian Church into a true Church. What he is doing may be very good, it may even be saving souls, but it is not truly catholic Christianity.

      The question we are asking here is a difficult one for us to grasp in our era when we are used to everything being individualistic and consumer driven. But the saving work of Christ does not come to us in a vacuum, it comes through the Church. In the examples I give above, we may have greater sympathy with the Unitarian minister than the Episcopal priest. The UU minister may actually be a better Christian than his Episcopalian counterpart. Yet he lacks the comfort of being fully one with the Body of Christ because he is operating in a body that expressly denies all four marks of the Church. He’s trying to put lipstick on a pig, and it doesn’t work, no matter how much you apply.

      • John Thorpe says:

        I’ve never considered that scenario backwards – the UU guy and all. Well said, Fr. J. Also a fine defense of why we love Methodists and other independent Christian groups but can’t really call them a ‘Church.’

        There are two other factors that need to be accounted for in answering the question: 1. the promise of indefectibility; and 2. Whether Cyprian or Augustine was correct about the nature of the Church.

        1. Indefectibility is what we call Jesus’ promise that the gates of Hell will not, in fact, prevail against the Church. Any number of other promises apply, too: that the Spirit will lead us into all truth, that His prayer that we be One (John 17) will be fulfilled, St. Paul’s assurance that Christ will indeed present us whole and unspotted before the Father on the last day, etc. In every case, these promises reference the work of God in the church. The Church is God’s handiwork, not a human creation. Just as we say with the 1979 BCP that “the bond that God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” – so also we look at the Church itself as God’s own doing, and no one is able to un-make what God has made. Not even the introduction of sin and death could de-rail God’s plan for creation. Nor can any amount of failure and error in the Church take away from it those promises that it will never fully defect. There may be errors, apostasies, immorality – But Jesus has promised to present the Church spotless, and so He will. Nothing we can do one way or the other about it. If Romans 8:28 applies to individuals, far more does it apply to the Church, so “I am persuaded to believe.” Nothing, actually nothing, can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

        To those who wonder how many little apostasies it takes to make a Church no longer a church, I ask what percentage of error they have in mind. Will 1% congregations in error unmake the Church? 10%? 50+1%? Is it necessary to do a national survey to ascertain just how many Episcopal congregations embrace error to know whether God will keep His promises? What if there are 50 righteous in the city? 40? 30? 20? 10? God’s threshhold for action in the case of Sodom was frightfully low, which means frightfully merciful. Who are we to say that, because X number of congregations or clergy have fallen away, to demand that He no longer show mercy or fulfill His promises? The burden of proof is upon those who think that we in TEC are ineligible for God’s faithfulness. Even when the worst of judgments falls on Israel in the Scripture, God maintains remnants and promises returns and sends prophets even to the exiles. We have no biblical evidence for the claim that God gives up on churches; that there are such things as “dead” churches who feed on His life in Holy Communion. Judgment and punishment, yes – these BEGIN at the household of God. But if even one drop of Jesus’ blood was shed for the Episcopal Church, is it possible that that drop should have been shed uselessly? Is it possible for that drop to fail in its mission? Did God mean to redeem Episcopalians but somehow, something got in the way and now He’s moved on to plan B?

        2. Cyprian argued that the Church should be pure, a lean, mean Holy machine. If some of our folks aren’t up for the challenge, that’s on them – many are called, but few are chosen. Augustine, however, turned to Jesus’ parable that said the Kingdom of Heaven is a net cast wide, containing all kinds of fish, good and bad; and that only at the end of time will the Angels sit down and sort good from bad. In the meantime, said Augustine, we should expect that the Church will NOT be pure; NOT be totally holy, NOT be all that it should be. There will be error; there will be failure; there will be scandal; there will be division – These things are not marks of a false church, but rather indications that we are right where we ought to be, in the same way that medicine needs to be where the disease is. So error in a certain percentage of Episcopal Churches – even if it’s a large percentage – does not destroy our catholicity or un-make us as the Church.

        It’s different, of course, if we officially leave the Faith once delivered. If we altar an article of the Creeds, for instance, or remove part of Holy Scripture, or decide we no longer need Sacraments or bishops or the recognition of other Catholic churches. Those moves, coming officially by our authorities, would constitute a real departure not only from the Faith, but from the promises of Christ. Christ’s promises are to the Church, not to heretical groups. As long as TEC is still a legitimate part of the Catholic Church, we are under Jesus’ promises as under an umbrella, and no percentage of churches in error will un-make us.

      • Cadog says:

        John Thorpe, you have good things to say. Many thanks.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        What you said there about indefectibility is just brilliant. Thanks for adding it.

  8. Robert F says:

    Also, I have a request. In your post you mention the eschaton. As someone who, having spent childhood in a nominally RC family, gradually became awakened to Christ and Christian faith, the hope for the eschaton has come to seem to me an indispensable part of the faith. It frustrates me that so much public discussion of this doctrine, the Parousia of Christ, is dominated by date-setters and fringe fundamentalists. Could you speak to this issue, the importance of the Parousia, from an Anglican perspective?

  9. Robert F says:

    RE: Jim Thorpe: Were Bonhoeffer and the Confessing church being schismatic when they separated from the German Christians, and declared that anyone who knowingly separated from the Confessing church thereby separated themselves from salvation?

    • John Thorpe says:

      I’m not sure how to understand schism except in reference to the Catholic church, which the Lutherans in Germany at the time made no attempt to be. So I don’t know how to evaluate that split within the rules of the Patristic catholic system.

      • Robert F says:

        John Thorpe,
        It is true that Lutherans in Germany at that time did not maintain practices that Anglicans consider essential to catholicity, most importantly the historic episcopate, although I think that many of them would have insisted that their practice of Christianity was indeed catholic. And I admit that my question was ill-conceived, most likely because I consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer such a towering hero of the Christian faith, Catholic or not. I was really reacting to the suggestion in your comment that for the sake of catholicity we should even be willing to give up our own judgement if “our sister churches discern it must be so.” As Thomas More noted, it is a dangerous thing to go against our own consciences, and if this is what giving up our own judgement includes, it is hard for me to see how it can be undertaken in good faith. With the use of a little imagination it is not impossible to envision a world in which the leadership of the global Anglican communion becomes captive to principalities and powers not unlike those of the Third Reich; if that were to happen, and if we were to ignore, for the sake of catholicity, our own consciences calling us to acknowledge that true communion had become impossible in such a situation, I believe we would be betraying Jesus Christ.

      • John Thorpe says:

        It was Ignaitus of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, who wrote, “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.” (Spiritual Exercises) I have to admit that I have a hard time with this, too. God gave us theologians as a gift to the church; gave us our minds to think and perceive. It is my instinct that these minds ought to be used in service to the Church rather than left aside. And it seems the same with conscience, as you say.

        But then I start to think about the Eucharist, in which the Church and Holy Scripture tell me I find the Body and Blood of Christ, but which to my poor, unspiritual eyes seems only to be bread and wine. Others have decided that their eyes must be correct and the Church must be wrong, therefore they are only symbols, etc. – but I cannot decide that way. It is only through Church and Scripture that I receive the Gospel of Salvation – how then shall I doubt the same witnesses when they say to me, “This is my body.”? I look at Baptism, and I see there only water and humanity, no lightning bolts or shining halos when we do them at church. But the Church and Holy Scripture say it is so much more, that it is a burying in Jesus’ death and a rising in His life, that a new soul is saved there, that the Angels who do have shining halos are rejoicing, though I hear no songs but our own.

        There is most definitely a sense in which none of us Christians can exercise conscience, observation, or intellect without submission to God. The errors of the Roman church, the German church, and the Riech-based Anglicanism of the Twisted Future all stem from a failure to submit to a will other than our own – the will of God. They are all examples of failures in regard to submission, not successful submission. Your question, as I understand it, is whether we on the bottom are able to diagnose such diseases at the top. And the answer is always yes. The Church is always in need of repentance and reform – even Rome recognizes that. And such movements happen from below, from the nobodies, from the prophets who were taken from herding sheep and sent to the kings of Israel, from the insignificant monks who dared stand before the greatest monarch Europe has ever seen and to say, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Erasmus believed it was the monarch’s responsibility to make sure the church in his realm was pure and holy; Erasmus was wrong. It is the laity at all times and in all places who are called to this ministry. And the ministry of reform must always walk hand in hand with the spirit of submission; must be a calling back to the common submission of the people of God. So it’s not just that I think free will is grand so I call the Church to submit to my theology; rather, it’s a pointing to Holy Scripture, an echo of the Fathers, a grass-roots movement that will have none other than pure guides along the road to heaven.

        So submitting to the Church does not mean letting go of conscience or theological judgment, but it does mean taking seriously the spiritual discipline of submission to God and the Church, and exercising those ministries in submission rather than in rebellion. We are not called to ignore conscience for the sake of Catholicity; we are called to inform our consciences within catholicity, and then to hold our leaders accountable to that same catholicity. And we should expect to pay the price that Bonhoeffer paid for that ministry.

      • Robert F says:

        Thank you, John, for your thoughtful reply to my concern. I do believe that suffering for the church is nothing in comparison to suffering because of the church, and that this is exactly what many of the saints experienced in their ascent of the ladder of holiness. And regarding Bonhoeffer, I think the intention that compelled him, and many of those like him, to assert the absolute lordship of Christ before a church and society that had become captive to idolatrous powers was exactly a desire, even if unspoken and unconscious, for true catholicity; and the steps that he and the Confessing church took away from the German Christians were steps in the direction of catholicity.

  10. Death Bredon says:

    P.S., Love your blog!

  11. Whit says:

    “I still struggle with the reality of bishops being seated whose authority I would not accept (maybe you disagree, but I do not believe a practicing homosexual meets the biblical or traditional standard for church leadership, and I am glad so many bishops in the worldwide Communion are standing firm on this).”

    Personally, I struggle with the morality of homosexuality. As a United Methodist, I was solidly on the pro-gay side of the issue, because the argument for the traditional position was crouched in terms of faithfulness to an inerrant, literally true (even on scientific matters) bible, and I could not accept this concept of biblical inerrancy. It’s not historic, and it’s insulting to the reason of intelligent people. However, the denial of biblical inerrancty led many of my fellow liberal Methodists to deny basic Christian doctrines like the resurrection of the body, the full divinity of Christ, etc… In denying an inerrant Bible they also denied all authority. This is the problem of Protestantism which the Conciliar Anglican explored so thoroughly in his previous post on confessionalism versus conciliarity. This dilemma eventually lead me out of the UMC and into Anglicanism, through TEC.

    As an Episcopalian I have learned to read scripture along with the mind of the Church, which allows me to affirm the great Creeds and the whole of the historic Christian faith without also affirming Biblical inerrancy. However, this has led me to re-evaluate my previous position on the morality of monogamous same-sex relationships, because the mind of the historic church seems so firmly against them, and the people who feel the same way that I do about the importance of the Creeds and the principle of conciliarity are mostly on the anti-gay side. However, whether or not partnered gay and lesbian bishops are unrepentant sinners, they are still validly ordained bishops in apostolic succession. You may not, and if your concise is uneasy, should not, accept their teaching on human sexuality, but their sacraments are still valid. You can honor the office without honoring the person in the office.

    • John Thorpe says:

      One of the principles of the catholic system is that the worthiness of the minister does not effect the validity of the Sacrament. Interestingly enough, the online Catholic Encyclopedia quotes the Westminster Confession on this:

      However, it is clear that an unworthy minister does indeed sin by administering the Sacraments without being in a state of grace. So it may be legitimate for us to receive communion from a homosexual bishop, but the question of the sinfulness of his lifestyle has every bearing on the state of his own soul. St. Paul talks about how he is determined not to be disqualified from the race after having preached to so many others.

      • Robert F says:

        But wouldn’t it be sinful for us to receive communion from him, thereby colluding with him in committing an act we knew to be sinful, and in fact reinforcing him in his sin? It is not simply that he is an unworthy and sinful person, as we all are, serving as priest, but the very act of celebrating the Eucharist while publicly embracing a sinful lifestyle itself constitutes the sin .

      • Cadog says:

        I would not, for the same reason that if I had personal unconfessed sin, I would not receive communion from any Celebrant. Thus and similarly, (echoing Robert F.), I would not receive communion from someone who I had reason to believe — based upon their own witness — was in a state of unconfessed sin. It matters not that it is homosexuality.

        I do not believe that (in)errancy is the real dilemma here, but it is certainly a convenient whipping boy.

        I appreciate Whit’s comment — and the struggle, for I also find this a terrible bind on a personal relationship level — but I do not believe I am obligated before God to recognize the sacramental authority of a Bishop whose witness not only I find incompatible with Scripture, reason, and tradition, but also — in the spirit of my newfound Conciliar Anglican mentor (I think!) — others holding the authority of office of Bishop also reject. Thus the seriousness with which we should take the warning of “impaired communion” stated by the majority of provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion on this matter (please correct me, on this last statement, if my memory is not recalling proper context or intent of what these Bishops have said).

        Blessings and peace — Cadog

      • John Thorpe says:

        I faced this struggle in seminary, which was the first time I really came into contact with celebrants whose lifestyle i knew was openly unrepentant (in a variety of ways), and from whom I might or might not receive. For a long time I stayed away from the Eucharistic celebrations there because of these same scruples. It took a private conversation with the Dean (and some threat of discipline) to make me reconsider in light of the historic teaching of the undivided Church. The fact is, this era is not the first time Christians have wrestled with this question. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was gnostics and apostate bishops, as well as those morally compromised, who precipitated the dilemma. What the Church decided, and what has since been the policy in East, West, and Anglican churches throughout the ages, is that the Sacrament does not belong to the celebrant; nor even to the gathered community. The Sacrament at seminary did not belong to that seminary alone, but was the same Sacrifice celebrated by Anglicans throughout the world (most of whom would not agree with the errors of my gathered community or the celebrant before my eyes); the same Sacrifice that made holy Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Beckett and Augustine and Gregory and St. Peter; the same Sacrifice that will continue to sanctify the holy common people of God until the Lord returns. One celebrant, one gathered community, even one denomination CANNOT dilute or destroy such a massive tidal wave of grace. To refuse the sacrament in such a case is to proclaim that the death of Christ was in vain; that sin wins, in the end; that there are parts of the Body of Christ over which the Head has lost control; that the blood of Christ is NOT, in fact, effective to take away the sins of the world; that one person or one congregation is powerful enough to overcome all the Grace of God poured into the world from creation to this day and into the future. In other words, to refuse the Sacrament because of the unworthiness of the minister meant that I was promulgating a lie; that I was trying to sanctify Christ’s Body, when He only is able to do that, and He has promised to do that. It was to put myself in the place of God; it was the sin of Satan. And it is never the correct course of action to try to resolve sin with more sin.

        It helped me also to remember that, in the great multitude dressed in white before the Throne of God, I the orthodox was in the vast, vast majority. It was the unworthy celebrant who would be condemned by history, was in fact condemned by the Word of God, would be seen in the end in the light of Truth to be less than nothing. The entire weight of the Church triumphant and militant stood on my side, and I could receive faithfully with them that Sacrament which belongs to Christ alone, and which is transmitted through His Church. Where there was sin in the celebrant, I could trust the Lord Jesus to deal with that justly in His time. The celebrant’s sin was not a surprise to God; it did not put God on His heels, backpedaling to try to find some way to get grace through to the faithful. God had, in fact, already made provision for this unworthiness by giving the Church an incorruptible Sacrament. And as long as I received faithfully from the hands of a legitimate representative of Christ’s Catholic Church (and, as we’ve seen, I do believe TEC maintains that identity, though precariously), I was receiving from the hands of Christ himself, both victim and priest. It was not this particular celebrant that offered me Body and Blood, but Jesus’ own scarred hands. Could I look into those nail-holes and say it was not enough to sanctify the whole Church? if so then I would have to say it was not enough to sanctify me. If Christ cannot overcome the sin of the celebrant, then he cannot wash away my sins, and we are of all men most to be pitied.

        And now that I am a priest and face this terrible reality, with trembling, every weekend, I can say that there is some comfort that my people are truly receiving Jesus’ body and blood regardless of whether I have said my prayers, whether I have confessed properly, whether I will sin in the next instant, the next hour, the next day. I know my own progress in holiness (or lack thereof) and if it were true that the efficacy of the sacrament depended upon even my holiness – me who does nothing horribly evil and who believes the Gospel, yet who sins daily – if the grace depended even upon my holiness, we’d all be screwed. It is a constant challenge for me to maintain the state of mind and depth of preparation it takes to be a faithful celebrant. I do not take it lightly – but sometimes I do. Sometimes my mind wanders. sometimes I fail in holiness. My errors on the altar go far beyond simply missing a word now and then. Yet Christ is gracious to my congregation, and even to me, to come to us in Body and Blood and offer truly the grace that takes away the sins of the world: All of them.

        Think of how many sins there are in the world. How many rapes are going on right now? How much genocide? Where is murder and theft? Where pride and greed? Where are these sins even in His Holy Catholic Church? Everywhere! Always! and yet we are commanded in the Eucharist to cast our eyes upon the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world? My Lord and my God! If He can take away the sins of the whole world by His sacrifice, surely He is capable to cleanse and effect this particular Eucharist, regardless of the sins and errors of leaders and people. And surely this very grace proclaims the judgement that I hear you longing for – Where Christ offers such lavish love, and it is rejected, and the celebrant does not accept it, and the church runs headlong into error, and sin abounds DESPITE the grace offered – surely the condemnation upon such sins will be the greater, for them having been done in the very teeth of Christ. But it comforts me, as a church leader who, as St. Paul says, is under the stricter judgement, that this is not the first time such insults have been hurled in the teeth of Christ. That unworthy celebrant stands in the person of Pontius Pilate and the soldiers, casting insults in the face of our beloved Lord. Yet the Lord persevered and still offered grace, prayed for forgiveness, showed Himself infinitely patient and still infinitely just.

        If you cannot trust your celebrant, or your congregation, or your denomination – join the club; take it as an opportunity to exercise your faith in Jesus alone. For it is He who extends the sacrament to you, though it be through the vessel of a Pontius Pilate.

      • John Thorpe says:

        And if the question is whether we are complicit in the celebrant’s sin by receiving, the answer is no. We may be sinning if we do not warn the celebrant in some other capacity. Surely it is the laity’s job, as well as that of the Bishops, to keep the Church orthodox, and to unmask sin as it is found. you can warn that celebrant in some other way, following the procedure Jesus describes in Matthew. But it is NOT legitimate to use our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ as a protest or a warning or a statement. There is only one statement going on there, and that is the Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. That statement overwhelms any other that might be made, if we were to see truly with the eyes of faith. Self-excommunication is the vile sin of schism. It is not YOU that are the problem; it’s the celebrant that is the problem. You receive the sacrament in faith with all the faithful through time and space, having your soul prepared by true confession and the absolution of Christ through the church (can you accept one without the other? what about the benediction?). You do no evil to recognize in the Sacrament a reality that is bigger than your local clergyman. It is that celebrant who does evil, and that celebrant who will receive the judgement for it.

      • Whit says:

        On a final note before this community moves on completely to the discussion of predestination, I’d note that as far as enforcing faithfulness to the Creeds is concerned, TEC is, IMO getting better, not worse. Witness the unfrocking of two priests who both tried to be in two religions at once, the retirement of John Spong, and TEC’s refusal to consent to Kevin Thew Forrester’s election as a bishop. Small steps, perhaps (though the refusal to consent to an episcopal election is pretty historic), but they are steps in the right direction.

      • Lee Poteet says:

        Surely it is the laity’s job, as well as that of the Bishops, to keep the Church orthodox,

        This is an idea with which the Orthodox would agree but it also means that when our bishop is or becomes a heretic, then we are obligated by the canons of the General Councils to take ourselves off to the nearest orthodox bishop. This is not simply a matter of sin, since we are all sinners, but a matter of right doctrine and right worship. When the hierarchy, for whatever reason have as a college rejected “the apostles’ doctrine” as expressed in the totality of Holy Scripture as interpreted by “the earliest bishops and Catholic fathers,” the creeds and the General Councils, the laity cannot escape sin if they continue to accept the authority of bishops, priests and deacons who are deliberately heretical and schismatic.

    • Lee Poteet says:

      Let us keep that to the male variety, because until this last century the Catholic Church has never accepted the possibility of a female being ordered deacon, ordained priest or consecrated bishop. And that leads to the further principle of historic Catholicity, faithfulness to Holy Scripture. The Lord said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And we have also the Lord’s example and the writings of St. Paul. Taken together there is no possibility that a woman can hold any of these offices although women served as judges in ancient Israel. Since holy orders and Holy Order depend upon “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, . . .” any bishop who attempts to ordain a female demonstrates his heretical and schismatic intent because this is not what the Church does. The woman remains a lay person and is not able to perform any part of the priestly or episcopal office. They can pretend at it as a woman can pretend to act Hamlet, but it lacks all sacramental reality. And soon you have a church full of people believing they are priests and bishops but whose acts are as empty as their understanding of Holy Scripture and the historic teaching of the Catholic Church.

  12. Charles says:

    I am reminded of the vision of Revelations… Does indefectibility mean God cannot snuff out a candle light? Anglicanism, along with TEC, are just one branch of the catholic tree. Knowing branches can be lopped off as well as candles extinguished, is eschatology really reassuring?

  13. Fr. Tony says:

    I think you will find that the Quadrilateral post dates the formation of the REC by a decade or more. The cause celebrate which pushed Cummings out was his being censured by the Bishop of NY for taking part in a Protestant inter church communion service in NY city.

    I’m troubled by your sentence Jesus goes where he wills, as he wills. He can’t be captured by our rubrics. But yes, we have sacramental security that he is present formally in the Eucharists of “catholic” churches.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Fr. Tony, thanks for the clarification about the REC and the Quadrilateral. The founding of the REC comes before the Quadrilateral, but not before The Church Idea, wherein the principles expressed for Anglican catholicity were already in widespread conversation. But my comment is an overreach to say they formed in direct opposition to the Quadrilateral, though it is hard to understand how their modern canons can make reference to the Quadrilateral since the Declaration of Principles clearly denies it. Be that as it may, I will make a correction in the article above.

      As to the statement, “Jesus goes where He wills,” I’m afraid I can’t figure out what I said to which you are referring. Could you point me to it? Whatever it is, I certainly did not mean to imply that Jesus is not objectively present in the Eucharist. God forbid!

  14. Russ Harding says:

    My wife is Catholic, and I am Episcopal. She wants to know the relationship between the Anglican and Episcopal Churches respectfully. I want to know your opinion on the example I have come up with to explain the realationship;
    We have all had the experience whereby we answered the phone and were thought to be our parent or older sibling. A parent is no doubt instrumental in our upbringing, good or bad. We share a history, and because of that many of the same mannerism of a particular parent. Therefore it should not necessarily take us by surprise when someone mistakes us, over the phone, for a parent.

    Anglicanism is the parent while the Episcopal church is the son or daugther. We share history, worship, teachings, etc but like any adolescent or young adult we as Episcopalians differ at times from our parent, and have our own distinct voice.

    I want to use this as a starting point in that we have two daughters. I then can go into the particulars toward history, etc.

    Thank you for your time, I appreciate any response given.


    Russ Harding

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hello Russ,

      I appreciate the care with which you are trying to explain this. I’m not sure that the metaphor you’ve chosen is entirely accurate though. Anglicanism is actually what all the churches of the Anglican Communion can or should have in common. There should be no difference at all between Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church. If there is, then the Episcopal Church is not living up to her calling. Besides which, it sounds like what you’re really trying to explain is the difference between the Episcopal Church and the Church of England (or other churches of the Anglican Communion).

      Perhaps a more apt metaphor might be that of a locally owned franchise, like a restaurant. All of the X-Brand restaurants serve the same food, have the same sign, and have employees trained to provide the same kind of customer service. Nevertheless, because the restaurants exist in different places, there are variations in terms of building layout, the language spoken, cultural nuances. Plus, since each restaurant is locally owned, the business practices may vary widely. Nevertheless, a customer should feel confident that if he goes into an X-Brand restaurant in Salt Lake City and another one in New York that he’ll be getting the same product, the same menu, the same quality. If not, the brand itself starts to become meaningless.

      Does that help?

      • Russ Harding says:

        Thanks Father for your great (and frankly better methapor) and timely response. If you permit me another questions….with our faith household Catholic/Episcopal a question regarding our differences in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. I know in our Church there is room for those who feel the Eucharist is a symbol as well as those who feel it is the Real Presence. Basicly, I feel what you believe is what you receive. With this in mind, I have discussed with my wife that the entire movement of the liturgy would be considered bringing about the Real Presence more so than a magic moment or what is traditionally experienced in the Roman church as transubstantian. Would that be true to say? What are your thoughts? Thanking you in advance.



      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Russ,

        I’ve been wanting for some time to do either some writing or a new video on the Eucharist, and your question would be a good one for framing that. I have a few other questions I need to get to first, but if you’ll give me a little time, I’ll answer your question more comprehensively in a future post.

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