By Robin G. Jordan
“The Caterpillar was the first to speak.
`What size do you want to be?' it asked.
`Oh, I'm not particular as to size,' Alice hastily replied; `only one doesn't like changing so often, you know.'
`I DON'T know,' said the Caterpillar.
Alice said nothing: she had never been so much contradicted in her life before, and she felt that she was losing her temper.
`Are you content now?' said the Caterpillar.
`Well, I should like to be a LITTLE larger, sir, if you wouldn't mind,' said Alice: `three inches is such a wretched height to be.'
`It is a very good height indeed!' said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high).
`But I'm not used to it!' pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, `I wish the creatures wouldn't be so easily offended!'
`You'll get used to it in time,' said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again.
This time Alice waited patiently until it chose to speak again. In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth and yawned once or twice, and shook itself. Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away in the grass, merely remarking as it went, `One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.'
`One side of WHAT? The other side of WHAT?' thought Alice to herself.
`Of the mushroom,' said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud; and in another moment it was out of sight.
Alice remained looking thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question. However, at last she stretched her arms round it as far as they would go, and broke off a bit of the edge with each hand.
`And now which is which?' she said to herself, and nibbled a little of the right-hand bit to try the effect: the next moment she felt a violent blow underneath her chin: it had struck her foot!
She was a good deal frightened by this very sudden change, but she felt that there was no time to be lost, as she was shrinking rapidly; so she set to work at once to eat some of the other bit. Her chin was pressed so closely against her foot, that there was hardly room to open her mouth; but she did it at last, and managed to swallow a morsel of the lefthand bit.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
At the Amesbury meeting of the Anglican Church in North America’s Provincial Council earlier this month a number of announcements were made in regard to the relations of the ACNA with other Christian bodies. One was the ACNA had not agreed not to use the filoque clause in the Nicene Creed at joint-celebrations of the Eucharist with the Orthodox Church of America. Another was that the ACNA was involved in talks with the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
“Why,” I am prompted to ask myself, “is the ACNA focusing on ecumenical relations only one year after its founding?” “And why are its leaders drawing attention what the ACNA is doing in this particular area?” In my experience denominations are apt to focus on ecumenical relations when they are not doing well in other areas such as reaching a growing unchurched population, and are experiencing a decline in numbers—members, congregations, baptisms, confirmations, that sort of thing. Ecumenical relations are substituted for evangelism, church planting, and church growth. If a denomination reports progress in ecumenical relations, my immediate reaction is to check how it is doing in these other more critical areas.
The ACNA’s choice of ecumenical partners is interesting. The Orthodox Church of America is an Orthodox group that conservative Orthodox groups do not regard as really Orthodox. It has accepted changes that these groups do not accept. Conservative Orthodox groups show very little interest, if any, in ecumenism. In their view Anglicans are heretic. If Anglicans want to enjoy better relations with the Orthodox, they must convert to Orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy, however, is itself divided. Some Orthodox groups do not recognize others and may never recognize them. Even if Anglicans were to convert to Orthodoxy, it would not guarantee better relations with all Orthodox Churches. The ACNA leaders would also do well to read up on the history of Anglican-Orthodox relations, beginning with the Non-Jurors’ overtures to the Orthodox Churches in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and Orthodox Churches’ rebuff of the Non-Jurors.
I am also prompted to ask myself, “Does this flurry of ecumenical activity have anything to do with Convergence theology—the theory that the Anglican Church in North America is at the forefront of the bringing together of a number of disparate traditions?” ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan has, as I have pointed out elsewhere, used the language of the Ancient-Future, or Convergence, movement in his sermons and speeches. This movement has a following in the ACNA. It is particularly strong in the Anglican Mission but it is not confined to that former sub-provincial jurisdiction, now ministry partner of the ACNA.
Developing and maintaining good relations between the ACNA and conservative Lutheran bodies does make sense. My observation is that new Anglican congregations are likely to do well in areas in which conservative Lutheran churches are doing well. They are affected by the same demographics. A key factor is the attitude of the local church-going population toward liturgical churches and the extent that their attitude has influenced the unchurched population. Good relations between the ACNA and these bodies especially at the local community level, would encouraged the local Lutheran churches to view new Anglican congregations as gospel partners and not as interlopers and competitors, and would be beneficial to the ACNA. Local Lutheran churches might permit new church plants to share their facilities until the new congregations leased or rented a meeting place of their own.
Good relations with conservative Lutheran bodies are desirable not just for these reasons. Conservative Lutheran bodies are evangelical Protestant bodies. They do share a number of common beliefs with historical Anglicanism—for example, apostolic succession as a succession of doctrine, not a succession of bishops; justification by grace by faith in Christ; and the Lord’s Supper as a feast on a sacrifice, not a sacrifice itself. Catholic Anglicans may wish to consider the doctrine of the Real Presence as one of those shared beliefs, but actually this particular doctrine is one of those points where historical Anglicanism and Lutheranism part company. Historical Anglicanism is Reformed in its view of Christ’s presence and does not link his presence to the elements, as does Lutheranism.
What particularly caught my interest was Reformed Episcopal Church Bishop Ray Sutton’s announcement that 135 Evangelical Lutheran congregations were considering affiliation with the ACNA. If these congregations are conservative Lutheran congregations, it is difficult to see why they would not wish to affiliate with one of the conservative Lutheran bodies. Conservative Lutheranism as it has manifested itself in the Evangelical Lutheran Church does not just reject the ordination of practicing homosexuals. It also rejects the Anglo-Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession as a succession of bishops, episcopacy, episcopal-ordination, and the ordination of women pastors, On the other hand, it affirms the long-standing Lutheran practices of lay preaching and lay administration of the sacraments. The ACNA in its fundamental declarations avers that bishops are essential to the life and unity of the Church. Its canons affirm the Anglo-Catholic doctrine of tactual succession and require episcopal-ordination for its clergy. They teach that marriage is a sacrament. Lutheranism recognizes only two sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (albeit it has sometimes taken a sacramental view of absolution.)
I could not fail to take note of ACNA leaders’ willingness to make room for conservative Evangelical Lutherans in the ACNA. They have not show that kind of willingness toward conservative evangelical Anglicans. Of course, there are 135 congregations of conservative Evangelical Lutherans—135 congregations that the ACNA would not be required to plant to meet its goals of 1000 new Anglican congregations in five years.
The willingness of ACNA leaders to even entertain the admission of Evangelical Lutheran congregations to the ACNA is very revealing. It confirms my observation that any affirmation of the historic Anglican formularies in the ACNA fundamental declarations is at its very best token. The language diluting and negating their authority represents the real ACNA position on these formularies. The consequences of ignoring the historic Anglican formularies in the Episcopal Church, however, have been catastrophic and costly. The ACNA has either not learned from the mistakes of the Episcopal Church or it has drawn the wrong conclusions. Rather than putting these formularies at the center of its teaching and life, the ACNA has followed in the footsteps of the Episcopal Church. It has shown itself to be the true heir of the Episcopal Church in its disregard of these centerpieces of Anglican identity and orthodoxy.
What would the Queen of Hearts say?
“Off with their heads!”
“Off with their heads!!”