Sunday, December 17, 2006

Walker: Take the Heretic Test

This is what you get for surfing the blogs, and I know I am going to regret this in the morning.

It might just be me, but I ran across (well actually walked hip deep into) something which perfectly illustrates both the simplicity and the complexity of the Mess We Are In in the Anglican Communion.

First, I ran across this on Dave Walker's blog Cartoon Church tonight:

I noticed this challenge on the blog of Peter Ould:

Three quick questions Susan:
i) Is Jesus 100% divine and 100% human, now and for all eternity unchanged in that hypostatic union, in a way that no other human being could ever ever be?
ii) Is Jesus the only way to the Father, in that it is necessary to have personal faith in HIS saving power in order to dwell with the Father in eternity?
iii) Was Jesus’ defeat of sin and sin’s power demonstrated by an unequivocal physical resurrection from the grave of the exact same body that was crucified days earlier?
If you can’t answer “yes” to those three questions then you demonstrate why schism will happen. I challenge you to permit this comment onto your blog and then to answer all three questions.
[Look at Peter’s post for the full context]

So, being curious, I followed the link to the blog of a fellow in England named Peter Ould who claims to have the fundamentals of Christian Orthodoxy mastered, and can therefore seems to function as a theological watchdog for the rest of us.

[Full disclosure: Peter gave the Standing Committee of my Diocese a resounding “bzzzzt! Thanks for playing” in an earlier post that links to this blog. Thanks Technorati. Anyway, I know I am already on thin orthodox ice here.]

If you follows Peter's post “Three Questions” it leads back across the Atlantic (who needs the Concorde, we've got the Internet!) to a post on the blog of the Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena about the wave of schism facing us this weekend.

So, since Susan's post was where all this started, I read it and re-read it. Her point is that the long-awaited schism has arrived and both the energy for it and the responsibility for the havoc it is causing rests entirely with the groups that are leaving, no matter what they say to the contrary. It is a point I happen to agree with. It is this post that prompts Peter's challenge, which as far as I can tell Susan has ignored, but Dave picked up and wrote about. In a comment on Dave's blog, Peter snipes at Susan about not answering his challenge. (Bzzzt!)

I don't blame her for ignoring it. From her standpoint, it is at best a non-sequitur.

But Dave picked it up and commented on the content of the questions themselves—which is where I came in. I read the back and forth between them and then wrote in both blogs the following comment (which is probably what I will regret in the morning...) :

Interesting test. Thanks for posting and pointing to it. I prefer the Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 BCP (USA), which is based on the Apostles Creed. Here are two reasons why:

First, as confidently and happily as I am to be able to tick off "yes" to all three questions, and therefore I can now rest easy because I am presumed to be orthodox, so what? Because where Mr. Ould and I part company is in that we draw different implications from the same belief. And it is those implications of the Gospel that is at the heart of the conflict within Anglicanism right now.

Which leads to the second problem. These questions seem to me to be a trap into which unsuspecting "heretics" may fall. You want to see if the witch will float: if not, she is not a witch and God will save her; if she does we will burn her for her own good.

If she [Susan] were to post her [I meant “your”] comments and answer "yes" then Peter would castigate her for being an apostate. If she answers "no" to even one, then Peter would announce that she's a heretic. As it is she gets to be castigated for ignoring the question, which seems to be a timesaver.

The Nicene and Apostolic Creeds tell us what all Christian believe not so much as a base line, but as the boundaries within which we are all gathered in Christ. That's why we call ourselves 'catholic.' The precision of this test does not account for differences in practice, culture or polity, let alone theology that makes up the whole Church. At best, this little quiz *may* indicate whether or not a person can live comfortably in this one corner of the Church.

But not whether or not one should.

What I found fascinating about this exchange is, as I said, that it illustrates very well why we are in the pickle we are in. The heart of the matter for the people who are leading at once the attack on the Episcopal Church and the charge to leave it is that we have departed from orthodox Christian beliefs. The core of our faith.

But my experience says that on the things that really makes us Christian (God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, human nature and sin, the Christian hope, the Sacraments, and on and on) there is so much more that we share than don't. What divides us is what we do with what we believe and how comfortable we are with ambiguities caused by our various perspectives, emphases, tastes and practices.

So picture this: Susan says shame on us for letting schism happen; Peter says “pop quiz: are you orthodox?” Dave says “hold on minute, are these kinds of tests useful?” I weigh in with a different view of orthodoxy and catholicity, it goes. And now we are talking about the wrong thing—what constitutes orthodoxy, not what makes for unity. No wonder the Evil One enjoys churchpeople so much!

It may be me. But this illustrates perfectly the pickle we're in and why.

Maybe not perfectly. This cartoon by Dave Walker says it even better.

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