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On Asking the Right Question - by Bishop John H. Rodgers

Two brief ecclesiological reflections

By John H. Rodgers

A bishop comments on the Church and on the present state of things in the Anglican Communion, ECUSA , AAC and AMIA.

I find myself asking whether we do not err when we put the question in terms of staying in or leaving ECUSA. I believe the issue before us is more accurately understood when viewed in terms of the excommunication of false teachers, that is of godly ecclesiastical discipline, and in terms of the marks of a visible Church, of being the Church.

Let me begin with the perspective of excommunication of false teachers.

This, as far as I see it, is what AMIA has sought to help take place by its early and continuing appeal to the Primates of the Anglican Communion. In this connection, I find myself in full agreement with Fr. Sam Edwards' earlier essay on "Being in Communion" and with Dr. Rob Sanders' recent article that views the actions of the orthodox as necessitating excommunication, as requiring a clear and public break in sacramental communion.

What sets AAC and AMIA apart from other orthodox Anglican bodies that have protested the state of things in ECUSA is that they have both sought to remain within the Anglican Communion and as part of the Communion to seek to encourage the Primates of the Communion to take action. AMIA in its Petitions from the beginning asked the Primates to excommunicate from the Communion false teachers and notorious public sinners in ECUSA, as viewed from a biblical and historic Anglican perspective. In that sense it is not really a question of staying or leaving but of expelling, of ecclesiastical discipline.

What is odd in the case of ECUSA is that many of those who have seats of authority in the institutional structures of ECUSA who should be doing the excommunication are in no position to do so, rather they themselves need to be excommunicated. It is this painful oddity that gives the mistaken appearance that the issue is one of staying or leaving.

When we view the situation in the light of the marks of a visible Church once again the issue is not one of staying or leaving. The issue is the nature of ECUSA. Can we hold ECUSA, seen from historic Anglican perspective, to be a true visible Church at all? Article 19 "Of the Church" states: "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 35 "of the Homilies" commends the Homilies to be read in the Church as containing "godly and wholesome doctrine" . The Homily on Whitsunday states expressly that the third mark of a visible Church of Christ is proper ecclesiastical discipline. Ecclesiastical discipline is clearly implied in Article 19, for without the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline faithful proclamation and faithful sacramental administration will soon be lost. Surely we have all seen that documented before our very eyes. Note also that the Articles do not say that it is sufficient to have right teaching and sacramental practice on the books or in the canons, rather they but speak of actual practice, "is preached", duly ministered".

Now, can anyone have any doubt that ECUSA as an institutional Province has long failed in the practice of all three of these marks. We need not rehearse the well known, manifold departures from biblical and historic Anglican teaching and practice in ECUSA over the past 40 or so years. And can it be doubted that with the consecration of V. G. Robinson which has contradicted the Word of God written ECUSA has now entered the level of apostasy.

ECUSA has done this publicly in an official and undeniable fashion thereby changing the official teaching of the institution, i.e. the doctrines and practice of the authority of Scripture, human nature, marriage, sin, etc. And what of proper ecclesiastical oversight and discipline? Where is there responsible ecclesiastical discipline in ECUSA? As far as I can see the vast bulk of discipline being presently exercised is launched against those who would affirm the historic and biblical teachings of the Church, as Anglicans have received and confessed them and as clergy have vowed to uphold them. We find the same regarding the sacraments.

How can we hold that the sacraments are rightly administered when non-Christians and those living openly and unrepentantly in sin are invited to the table in the name of a "love and inclusiveness" which is contrary to the true love of Christ. Christ was willing to let the rich young ruler depart sadly rather than change the need for repentance on the young ruler's part.

Wide spread in ECUSA is an inclusiveness, which considers everyone to be saved regardless of whether the Gospel or the graces of repentance and faith are present. The conclusion concerning ECUSA seems unavoidable: given this break with right doctrine, with faithful celebration of the sacraments and given the lack of and abuse of ecclesiastical discipline, it is hard to see how we as Anglicans, can in good conscience, hold institutional ECUSA to be a visible expression of Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

If that is the case with ECUSA, then the Network sponsored by AAC is right in claiming that the institution of ECUSA has left the Church and that the Network is a continuing form of the true and faithful expression of what ECUSA once was; for to enter the Network requires conformity to right doctrine, faithful celebration of the sacraments and submission to the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline. Of course, I am assuming that these things are being carefully required and that a public break in sacramental communion has taken place with those who have endorsed and followed the path that institutional ECUSA has taken.

Here again it is not a matter of leaving or staying; it is a matter of being, of being a visible expression of Christ's Church and of no longer being such. It would seem that at least 13 Primates who have broken communion with ECUSA and who have publicly affirmed the Network would agree with that assessment and undoubtedly more will join them in days to come.

Seen in this manner both AAC and AMIA , while daily carrying on their God-given mission, have been and are seeking to help bring about the formation and recognition of an Orthodox Province recognized by the Primates of the Anglican Communion. Needed as well is a declaration by the Primates and their Provinces that ECUSA as an institutional Province has ceased to be a part of the Anglican Communion and for that matter can no longer be regarded by faithful Anglicans as a visible Church of Christ. It would be good if this could be done with the full agreement, consent and cooperation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lest someone think these reflections to be narrow and harsh, I can only plead that excommunication and telling the truth regarding the nature of the visible Church are regarded in Scripture and in the Articles of Religion as acts of love done not only to protect the faithful, and to make clear the Church's message but also to warn and awaken those in heresy and those living openly in notorious sin to their need for repentance and to the welcome in the Gospel that awaits them upon true repentance.

John H. Rodgers Jr.
Retired Bishop, Anglican Mission in America

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