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COLORADO SPRINGS: ECUSA should be disciplined. Remnant Church must be faithful

Remnant Church must remain faithful and live in “internal exile”, says Missiologist

By David W. Virtue

COLORADO SPRINGS—(4/23/2004) A world renowned missiologist and seminary head, says the Episcopal Church should be disciplined through the instruments of unity including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates, for its theological and moral apostasy.

The Rev. Dr. George Sumner, Principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto, and former ECUSA missionary to Tanzania, told several hundred churchmen and theologians to an Anglican Communion Institute conference that “members of the traditional wing of the Episcopal Church should endeavor to stay and be the Episcopal Church through various strategies of challenge and witness.”

Outlining a three-stage strategy for staying, Sumner said the orthodox must first understand themselves as a “remnant on behalf of the whole and coming generation;” secondly “we must understand ourselves ecclesiologically as a bridge to the whole communion especially in our weakness,” and thirdly “we must understand ourselves sociologically as a subculture by creating a “rich local culture” that included strong colleges, a feisty journal, lively yearly lay and clergy conference, a strong fellowship of prayer which could constitute in embryo renewed Anglican Church in North America.”

The seminary head who earned his PhD from Yale University, said that a movement among Anglican traditionalists marked by these three features stands the best chance of success and stands on the “solidest grounds theologically and spiritually.”

Sumner admitted that such a strategy could fail, “but ultimately the call of our Lord is to faithfulness, and if He wills the humbling of the Episcopal and [Canadian] Anglican Churches”.

Sumner acknowledged that the future of Anglicanism seemed to change almost daily, “but we are slowly and surely coming to an end and to a beginning.”

“The days of arguing over the issue of homosexuality are gone. Business as usual is no longer possible in the Episcopal Church. Whatever comes of the Eames Commission, sooner or later conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans will find themselves alone in official relationship with most of our Communion, a status that will probably not be recognized by our own Church officials in North America”

Sumner said conservatives would sit in anomalous continuity and discontinuity for some time, in a form of “internal exile” but as “the true Episcopal Church or Anglican Church.”

“While the Churches of North America have a false teaching on the subject of sexuality, against the consensus teaching of all major traditions…they still confess the divinity of Christ and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Sumner said the root of the present issues was, as in earlier eras of Church history, “a compromise with our form of Gentile culture, characterized by consumption and individualism. We are all complicit in the much wider compromise. This crisis is the final expression of weaknesses and temptations in modernist Anglicanism long a-coming, as a result of which many Anglicans in North America are effectively deaf to parts of the traditional faith.”

Two options present themselves said Sumner. “One outcome is for traditional Anglicanism to break into various separate splinter groups formally departed from ECUSA.” Sumner said the record of such groups, over the past quarter century was “discouraging.”

“Separating Anglicans run the risk, as time goes on, of resembling those tiny Marxist/Trotskyite/Maoist splinter groups whose doctrine got purer as they got smaller and smaller.”

“By contrast the alternative of simply staying on, to live lives of quiet dissatisfaction, also has its demoralizing prospects. Surely the conservative numbers will be weakened by defections. Young evangelicals may not choose to set out on the Canterbury way. Traditional clergy will be less willing to move to parishes in liberal dioceses that need them, or may find themselves unwelcome there.”

Sumner said that the lesson of the United Church of Canada was an instructive lesson. It still has a brave but diminutive rump of “loyal opposition” which they call themselves. Sumner noted humorously that it was the “only Church he knew where you could move right simply by standing still.”

“United Church leaders still harbor hopes that further shrinkage and resultant crisis in the denomination will bring it to its senses.”

Sumner said Isaiah 10 was a lesson we could all absorb. “A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. That surely is the predominant theological theme for us in this time and circumstance. The theme of remnant follows from the judgment of God which has come upon the faithless people of God.”

“A theology of the remnant is preserving the word of God, and contours of the life it calls us to, for a generation to come. The remnant has an obligation to this future generation,” he said.

“This does not mean that ECUSA will shrink or suffer in a worldly sense - they may or may not. But with respect to this decision they have molded for themselves a teaching to their own liking, disregarding the limit set by God in creation.”

Being a remnant also means that we have a responsibility for the spiritual tradition of Anglicanism in this continent on behalf of the whole Church, he said. “It means that we are obliged to find a way to survive so as to pass the faith on to a new generation we hope will be more receptive to the apostolic tradition. We have the responsibility of being the Anglican Church in North America on behalf of all, including those who disregard us, criticize us, and seek to hamstring us.”

Sumner said the role of being a remnant being a “bridge – the life-line between the churches in North America and the churches of the Global South. We will be defined by our continuing communion with the Global South, and we need to see this in a deeper way as integral to our vocation.”

Sumner cited the historical example of the Wesleyan-Methodist movement of the later 18th and early 19th century. “The Anglican establishment was unable to find a space and sympathy enough for the new movement, and so Methodism left our church. If one considers varied forms of independent evangelicalism, the charismatic movement, and Pentecostalism as in some sense grandchildren of Methodist piety, and if we consider the astronomical rise of these movements in the past several decades, we can see what a critical historical loss the departure of Methodism was. The history of Christianity in the US in the 19th century is in large measure the history of Methodism, cut loose from Anglicanism, spreading across the prairies.”

Sumner said that the views of the primate of Uganda on the Bible, and so on homosexuality, are the same as John Stott’s, and come theologically from the same lineage. “Our leaders will flunk the
new Methodist challenge and that will leave us in our remnant role, with the task of maintaining this link, this bridge to the larger communion, especially the southern churches, and so passing the Methodist test.”

As a result, said Sumner “all we have to offer is our own weakness and need. Matters are reversed, and the North American churches look to their southern partners for help, not only in theological legitimacy, but also in spiritual guidance and revitalization.”

“Our vocation is to be recipients as churches of the South will increasingly send missionaries to the North.”

Sumner said Tanzania Archbishop Donald Mtetemela spoke of the Churches of the West as
their spiritual grandmother whom they love and revere, but now see granny’s gone daffy, she needs care, and a good talking to sometimes!

The difficulty, said Sumner, will be to make the ties between churches stronger in a time of reduced resources. “Circumstances have now bound us together in a more compelling way than when, one or two decades ago, we engaged in companion diocese or invited the occasional African seminary student.”

Sumner said that in a sub-culture as the orthodox now find themselves in one should “seize the radio station. The goal is not simply polemics and the ability to out narrate our peers in the national church papers, we must have our own journal of news and opinion. Sumner pointed to theological colleges like Wycliffe College, Regent College, TESM, Nashotah House, diocesan efforts, and new endeavors in theological education – seminaries are seed beds where you plan a new generation of leaders.”

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