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Eucharist and the Present Conflict in the Church - by Robert Sanders

Eucharist and the Present Conflict in the Church

By Robert Sanders

I have just finished reading Ephraim Radner's book, Hope among the Fragments. Among other things, Radner addresses the present conflict within the Episcopal Church. His chief recommendation is that we "stay put," that is, we continue to suffer the present situation without leaving ECUSA, and most significantly, that we not exclude anyone in ECUSA from Holy Communion.

In opposition to Radner, I do not think the orthodox in ECUSA can continue in sacramental fellowship with the revisionists. In making a claim of this sort, I think it best to address the strongest arguments of those who would disagree with me. Hope among the Fragments presents the strongest case I have seen for staying put. Therefore, if I disagree, and I do, I must address its principal arguments.

I first heard of Radner's book from clergy and laity who found it rather heavy going. Radner uses complex phrasing and extensive vocabulary. He moves with an air of mastery from century to century, theologian to theologian, concept to concept. This sense of mastery is heightened by the glowing praises on the back cover from the highest theological authorities. I strongly suspect that there may be readers who will not clearly discern the true shape of Radner’s argument. Rather, they would be awed by his learning and thereby ready for his conclusions. Unlike certain passages, the principle conclusion is rather easy to grasp: stay put. I will counter that conclusion by clearly stating his argument and measuring it against Scripture and the tradition. At the same time, my own perspective on the vital subject of Eucharistic fellowship will become evident.

Before setting forth my objections to Radner's position, I must recognize certain outstanding features of his work. Above all, the chapter on marriage was beautiful. It was a pleasure to see such learning, clarity of expression, and theological truth so perfectly joined. The section on the historical critical method was also excellent. The fundamental idea of the book, that providence is conformed to the history of Jesus Christ, can be found in Barth. Radner's placing God's revealing history as prior to abstractions such as unity, truth, and mutual love as in marriage, is also Barthian. All of this is to the good.

Further, I would agree with Radner on several matters that are important for understanding his thought as a whole. First, with Radner, I would agree that God has set forth certain forms -- Scripture, Eucharist, marriage, bishops, doctrine, orders of worship, mutual submission in the Church -- by which God providentially shapes human life into conformity with the primary form, Jesus Christ as known in Scripture. From this perspective, Christian ethics is one of obeying the given forms, allowing oneself and the Church to be shaped by God through these forms into the body of Christ. I would agree with this, provided of course, that the forms to which one submits are indeed ordained by God.

Also, with Radner, I would agree that the whole of Scripture needs to be interpreted christologically and figuratively, and further, that the Old and New Testaments must be understood as a unity. Some time ago I posted affirmations along these lines on my web site, showing how biblical interpretation can be carried out from a creedal perspective. Radner also believes, and here I would begin my criticism, that the passion represents the vital center of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. Given that vital center, Radner's strongest argument is that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with Judas. This table fellowship revealed how Christ stayed put, remaining in fellowship even with those who put him to death on the cross. Consequently, Christians are to stay put, maintain Eucharistic fellowship, and do so even if they suffer under the institution to which they belong. Here is Radner,

Judas, whose complete and satanic rejection of Jesus is explicitly underlined in the Gospels, is nonetheless present as one of the Twelve, he shares in the covenental meal by which Jesus establishes the participatory receipt of his body and blood; and he is even served by Jesus as the Lord washes their feet. In all this, Jesus holds Judas close to him within the group of his closest friends quite knowingly and despite being aware of Judas's deceit and ultimate role in his betrayal and death. ... The truthful witness of Jesus to the Father is given precisely in the refusal to part with the perpetrators of deceit and the willingness to share communion, in the literal sense even of the Lord's Supper, with contradictors of that truth. (Radner, p. 116)

Again, as an important aspect of staying put, Radner affirms that we should, maintain communion with our sisters and brothers in Christ, despite our rejection of aspects of their witness and perhaps even character. Again, recall the form of Jesus in feast and supper, and let us settle ourselves into his patience in staying put, and take as our goal the form of his own communion, that is, the cross of sacrificial love, the cup he drank and shares. As persons baptized in his death, our call is to represent, as fully as possible, the perfect joining of sacrament and life together that Jesus offered at the Last Supper, shared even with his betrayer and deniers. The New Testament has no systematic theology of Eucharistic excommunication or even of personal separation from communion. (Radner, p. 213)

Let us examine this more closely. When Radner says he holds to a figural and christological interpretation of Scripture, he means that individual biblical passages must be seen in the context of the whole of Scripture with each biblical passage taking its place in the unfolding chain of figural denotation, and further, each passage and the whole must be seen in the light of Christ. When the Last Supper is understood from this perspective, it can be seen that it reflects the whole of the biblical revelation both forward and backward. Looking backward, the pericopes on the Last Supper begin with Jesus' statement that he wishes to celebrate the Passover with his disciples. This connects the Last Supper with the liberation from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land. The Promised Land itself is prefigured by Eden, the original blessing where God dwells as the tree of life in the midst of the Garden. Looking forward, the Last Supper pericopes show Jesus making statements of this sort, "From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father" (Matthew 26:29. The Last Supper thereby prefigures a future event in which Jesus will drink wine with his disciples in his kingdom. This future event was his resurrection appearances in which Jesus sat at table with his disciples in his kingdom, and these resurrection meals became the eucharistic meals of the early Church, followed by the eucharistic meals of the Church of all ages, leading in turn to the final Wedding Feast of the Lamb of Revelation 19:9. Figuratively speaking, the Holy Eucharist contains the entire drama of salvation in sequence: Eden, Exodus and Promised Land, Last Supper, resurrection appearances, Eucharists of the Church, and the final messianic banquet.

From this figural perspective, and it is Radner's perspective though he does not draw this conclusion, the Last Supper was not the first Eucharist. Perhaps this is why, in connection with Judas, Radner never uses the words "Holy Communion" or "Eucharist." Rather, he uses the words "Last Supper." The Last Supper was a Passover as the gospels clearly claim. Jesus instituted the Eucharistic words at this Passover meal, yet the words themselves denoted the full reality of his death and resurrection. Eucharist began with Passover, but it was not completed until Jesus' words at that meal were fulfilled -- "I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father." For that reason, the first celebrated Eucharist was Jesus' appearances in which he sat at table with his disciples in the resurrection.

To put it another way, Eucharist is not only the celebration of Christ's passion, but also of his resurrection, even of his coming again. One can see this in the synoptic gospels where the Eucharistic words are linked to Jesus' future kingdom, in John's gospel where Eucharist is said to give eternal life which conquers death, in Paul where Eucharist shows forth Christ's death until his coming again, or in Hebrews where Christ is seen as the high priest who gives access to a heavenly sanctuary through his blood. Anglican Reformation teaching is set forth in Article XXVIII which states that believers partake of the body of Christ "only after an heavenly and spiritual manner" (BCP, p. 873). Our Eucharistic liturgy proclaims "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again" (BCP p. 363). All this and far, far more show that Eucharist sets forth both the cross and resurrection thereby giving believers a foretaste of heaven even upon earth. The Last Supper with its words prefigured this taste of heaven, but the disciples only entered into its reality with the resurrection. This, from everything I know, is standard Eucharistic teaching.

Now, where does that leave Judas? First of all, Judas was not the only one who sinned against Jesus. All the disciples sinned against Jesus in one form or another. Among the disciples, two figures are especially important -- Judas and Peter. Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter disowned him. They are similar to two other figures in the drama of Jesus death -- the two thieves. One of these thieves repented and was promised Paradise. The other received no such promise. Similarly, Jesus addressed both Peter and Judas. These are Jesus' words to Peter, "Simon, Simon! Satan, you must know, has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32) Simon was tested, his faith did not fail, and he did strengthen his brothers. For that reason, he ate with Christ in the resurrection. (Luke 24:36-43).

In contrast to Peter, Jesus spoke these words to Judas: "The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born." Unlike the penitent thief, Judas was not promised Paradise; even worse, he fell under a terrible indictment. Like Peter he sinned. But unlike Peter and the penitent thief, his faith failed him. Rather than accept Christ's death as the penalty for his sin, he accepted the penalty himself. He hung himself. He was not promised Paradise, and as far as Scripture tells us, Christ did not appear to him in heaven or on earth. Rather, Scripture emphasizes that it was the Eleven that ate and drank with Christ in the resurrection. "Lastly he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table." (Mark 16:14) For that reason, Judas never celebrated the Holy Eucharist with Jesus and the disciples. He participated in its sign, he participated in the passion itself through his perfidy, but he did not, as far as Scripture tells us, inherit the promise given to the disciples: "I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father."

Radner is quite right to state that Jesus drew "Judas close to him within the group of his closest friends quite knowingly and despite being aware of Judas's deceit and ultimate role in his betrayal and death." Yes, that is true. Jesus did this because he was and is willing to go to any lengths to draw sinful human beings into the closest fellowship, even to allow Judas, the disciples, the leaders of the people, the Jews, the Gentiles, the women, even the whole world, to come into this most intimate fellowship with him, a fellowship in which all put him to death by sin, and even as this happens, God used that sin for our sake. But there was and is one thing he did not do, if Scripture be any guide: Christ does not celebrate Holy Eucharist with those who do not repent and avail themselves of his atoning death. He ate and drank with sinners and did so repeatedly, but only the repentant entered his Kingdom. If Judas means anything, those who have heard his words proclaiming his atoning death, witnessed his passion and added to it, yet repent not, must hear those most terrible words, "Alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born."

Judas does not stand alone. He is a figure for a fundamental biblical reality. Anyone who comes into God's presence and hears his word, yet does not obey, repent, and be forgiven courts certain death. One need only think of the sentence of death given to Adam and Eve, the punishment of Pharaoh, the faithless Israelites who died in the desert, the continuing divine judgments against Israel in the times of the Judges, the theme of many Psalms, those who died in Exile, Judas and those who rejected Jesus, the unrepentant thief on the cross, Ananias and Sapphira who lied about their property, and in the intense presence of God among the apostles, fell down dead, the "dried up rivers, fogs swirling in the wind" of Second Peter (2:17), and all those who do not wash their robes clean, and therefore, will not feed on the tree of life. (Rev. 22: 13-15) These are all figures of Judas who did the unthinkable -- he entered into the presence of God incarnate in Jesus Christ without repentance and forgiveness. For this reason, and I will say more on this later, the historic Church, out of compassion, bars egregious and open sinners from Holy Communion.

Why does Radner insist that we should stay put and remain in Eucharistic fellowship with all baptized persons in our denomination? He makes this claim because he thinks it reflects the biblical form given in Christ. According to Radner, that biblical form is the cross. As seen in the cross, Christ stayed put. He submitted himself to the place that God had given him, to his own Father, to "his own Jewish leaders, Pilate, and the people's wrath" (p. 185). This is the fundamental argument of the whole of Hope among the Fragments. It claims that Christians should give up church shopping, submit to the forms of the denomination in which they find themselves, understand that the divisions within Christendom are figures of Christ's broken body on the cross, remain in that brokenness by staying put, and then, by God's providential action, God will bring unity out of submitted separation. "Unity will be freed as we carry division upon our bent backs, the figure of consignment to partiality the transforming image of redemption (Radner, p. 51). As applied to ECUSA and the present crisis, this means that Episcopalians cannot separate, leave, or repudiate ECUSA because Jesus did not separate, leave, or repudiate those who crucified him. Here is Radner,

It is therefore facile and ultimately misleading for orthodox Christians to identify, face, and respond to their churches' errors simply by saying "repudiate and separate"; it is ultimately misleading even if such a response is made only after long agonies of discernment. It is misleading for the single reason that this is not the shape of Israel's history -- which must ultimately be our own -- because it is not the shape of Jesus' own life. There is no other standard (Radner, p. 208).

Similarly, submission to the cross, suffering an unjust institution like the Church, informs Radner's understanding of the Eucharist.

And is not the Eucharist (at least!) a coming-to-memory of the death of Jesus, the one who expired on the cross in both judgment and mercy in the reception of vinegar and gall? If so, then the history of the Eucharist is the history of that body of Christ redemptively broken, and we must find in it the letters and words of salvation. The Eucharist was a kind of prophecy for them, because it contained in it the life of Christ according to which the world was ordered (Radner, pp. 125-6).

The problem with this argument, however, is that it doesn't reflect the fundamental biblical form. The fundamental biblical form is not cross alone, as in Radner, but cross and resurrection. That is the decisive biblical form. Radner may have some intimation of this fact, the "at least!" in the previous quotation, but it has no significance for his argument. He never organically relates cross and resurrection to each other. In the index of his book, for example, the cross is referenced to 24 different pages, and there are other references to the passion not given in the index. By contrast, the resurrection is never mentioned in the index and only rarely in the text. In all references to the cross that I could find, none organically connected cross with resurrection. At no point does the resurrection enter substantially into Radner's arguments. If he wants to bring heretics and orthodox alike to a common Eucharist, and he does, he must leave out the resurrection because Christ did not include everyone in his resurrection. As it stands, Radner's reduction of the faith to the cross alone represents a severe, even fatal, distortion of the biblical witness. Without the resurrection, the cross is just another terrible death. With the cross and resurrection, God brings repentant sinners into the joy of his Kingdom through the forgiveness of sins. The central message of the New Testament is the ancient kerygma "He is risen," and any analysis that leaves out resurrection and thereby reduces gospel and ethics to the cross alone is a severe distortion of the Christian faith.

Since only the repentant can enter Christ's Kingdom, Scripture and Church alike have always insisted that one should examine one's conscience prior to receiving the body and blood of Christ. At once a further question arises, Does each and every person decide for themselves, individually, whether they have repented, received forgiveness, and are seeking to make amends prior to Eucharist, or does the Church as a corporate body have some responsibility in helping its members come to Eucharist in a faithful manner? Radner wants to make this an individual decision.

The New Testament has no systematic theology of Eucharistic excommunication or even of personal separation from communion. ... Although unworthy communion in this context is therefore something to be avoided, it is only when we ourselves prove that we cannot love as Christ loved. Any subsequent historical development of the practices of excommunication and separation -- practices hotly disputed and inconsistent in Church history -- should be evaluated in this light: their purpose is fundamentally penitential, not protective of a church's order. Jesus and his Church are not injured by the unrepentant sinner who shares his body and blood. If we cannot share communion in the church, it is to our own, not another's repentance that we are being led (Radner, p. 213).

Let us think about this for a moment, beginning with Radner's statement that the "New Testament has no systematic theology of Eucharistic excommunication or even of personal separation from communion." What does he mean by the words "systematic theology"? Systematic theology emerged in the context of Hellenistic thought. To ask the New Testament to have a systematic theology is to ask its writers to be systematic theologians, which they were not. More to the point, the whole of Hope Among the Fragments sets forth a form of figural interpretation that grounds Christian life and doctrine in God's providential ordering of life in accord with the figural events of salvation history. That is the approach Radner uses, and he uses it all alone the line, except for Eucharistic discipline. Given that figural perspective, and it is Radner's perspective, we see something quite clearly -- God shields sinners from his consuming presence and calls his people to do the same. The biblical evidence for this is overwhelming. One can think of the cherubim with the flaming swords who guarded the way to the tree of life, (Gen. 3:24), or the bounds that were erected around Sinai to separate the people from God and certain death, of the fact that only the high priest could enter the holy of holies and only once a year, of the Exile which was a form of exclusion from God's presence on Mount Zion (more on this later), of exclusion from worship as practiced by ancient Israel, of Christ who gave authority to the Church to exclude (Mt. 16:19, 18:17-8), of the fact that only believers saw Christ in the resurrection, of Paul who warned the Corinthians against taking Eucharist carelessly, some were sick and others had died, or their expelling the grossly immoral man that he might repent, or 2 John 10-11 which excludes false teachers from the fellowship, and even into eternity where the righteous may enter the gates of New Jerusalem while the perverts, the immoral, the magicians, the liars, and idolaters must remain outside (Rev. 22:14-15).

And what of the early Church? To prepare this essay I read the canons of the first seven ecumenical councils, together with a number of the provincial councils. My first thought was to count the number and varieties of the anathemas issued by these councils, but there were so many and of such variety that it would be tedious to present the results. What is clear, and it is utterly clear, is that the principal aim of these councils was to define faith and morals and exercise Eucharistic and ecclesial discipline. The canons and acts of the early councils are filled with examples of heretics and immoral persons, lay and clergy alike, including bishops, who violated the faith and morals of the Church and were thereby excluded from the fellowship. I saw nothing in there that would indicate that excommunication was "hotly contested" to quote Radner (p. 213). How the faith should be defined or who should be excluded were "hotly contested," but not the validity of Eucharistic exclusion. At every step of the way councils confirmed the definitions of faith and morals given in prior councils and then added their own. For example, the first canon adopted at the final ecumenical council, meeting at Nice in 787, was to preserve the orthodox teaching and discipline of the previous six ecumenical councils. It contained these words,

Seeing these things are so, being thus well testified unto us, we rejoice over them as he that hath found great spoil, and press to our bosom with gladness the divine canons, holding fast all the precepts of the same, complete and without change, whether they have been set forth by the holy trumpets of the Spirit, the renowned Apostles, or by the Six Ecumenical Councils, or by Councils locally assembled for promulgating the decrees of the said Ecumenical Councils, or by our holy Fathers. For all these, being illumined by the same Spirit, defined such things as were expedient. Accordingly those whom they placed under anathema, we likewise anathematize; those whom they deposed, we also depose; those whom they excommunicated, we also excommunicate; and those whom they delivered over to punishment, we subject to the same penalty (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 14, Philip Schaff, editor, p. 1335).

Finally, early Anglicanism affirmed and maintained Eucharistic discipline. The existence of Article XXXIII witnesses to that fact, as well as the Eucharistic disciplinary rubric in our Prayer Book (BCP p. 409). Bicknell's standard text on the 39 Articles summarizes the teaching of the universal Church on this matter and describes how early Anglicanism enshrined this teaching in its articles and canons. Furthermore, as is well known, the Anglican Reformers broke with Rome because of Rome's theological errors, errors that appear like trifles when compared to the blatant errors being promoted by some of ECUSA's revisionists. Anyone who has read Spong's Twelve Theses, for example, knows at once that his theology is not even remotely Christian.

In sum, eucharistic or ecclesial discipline is a primary scriptural form held by the universal ecumenical Church and affirmed by Anglicanism by word and deed.

Just as the cross is Radner's primary New Testament figure, the Exile is his primary Old Testament figure. He coordinates both images, with both figures reflecting the brokenness of the Church. Christendom is in exile because we are separated one from another and far from the unity that God so clearly desires. How should we respond to this fragmentation? Radner references Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah's letter to the exiles (Radner, p. 73). In this letter, God tells the exiles to stay put. Radner then applies this to the Church, claiming that we should remain where we find ourselves, accept our church's norms, its institutions, common life, and in the case of Anglicans, its good and bad bishops. Only as we surrender ourselves to exile, to suffering, to humble submission, do we enter into exile as a figure of Christ' suffering. Only in this way can the Church be ordered by God's providential action into the body of Christ.

Let me expand on this a bit. The Exile not only separated God's people from each other; it also separated the people from God. Those carried off into Babylon in the time of Jeremiah were separated from Mount Zion, the place where God had made his Name to dwell. It was there, at the temple on Mount Zion, that God met his people. There the people congregated for the great feasts; there they offered the sacrifices and celebrated the liturgies. The hope of the exiles was to return home, to rebuild the temple on Mount Zion, and thereby to draw near to God for blessing and assurance. When God in Jeremiah 29 told the exiles to stay put, he was telling them to suffer apart from God, a prefiguring of Christ's cry on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me." Once the people had paid their penalty for sin, God would restore them to Jerusalem. The letter ends with God speaking in the first person, promising the exiles that if they would remain in Babylon he would some day bring them to himself by bringing them back to Zion.

The command in Jeremiah 29 to stay put meant that God had excluded his people from the temple, the sacrifices, the feasts, and the community. The Christian counterpart of the Exile would be separation from Holy Eucharist for grossly unrepentant sinners, the imposition of a time of penance, and then, upon repentance and restitution, restoration to the Church and its holiest of rites. Historically, consistent with Jeremiah 29, that has been the practice of the universal Church. Radner, however, uses Jeremiah 29 to claim that Episcopalians should all stay put together and thereby have access to the temple (Christ's body), to the sacrifices (the Eucharist), to the feasts (the liturgical year), and to the community (the gathered body). That isn't exile. That is the attempt to return from exile. That is exactly what Jeremiah 29 denies. Will it work? Will God allow his people to return before the debt of sin has been paid? In Christ Jesus we have access to God through repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And for those who do not repent, will God allow them to return to Mount Zion? Let me quote Article XXIX,

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing (BCP p. 873).

A church that refuses to go into exile will be taken into exile, regardless, and the more quickly for its refusal.

The foregoing raises a question, Why does the Church exclude false teachers and egregiously immoral persons from Eucharist and or fellowship? There are at least four reasons and I will be brief. First, out of compassion, the Church must exclude openly heretical and immoral persons from communion as a means of enabling them to repent and receive eternal life. If the figure of Judas means anything, it is dangerous for unrepentant persons to take communion. Radner is mistaken to claim that "Jesus and his Church are not injured by the unrepentant sinner who shares his body and blood." Unrepentant sinners belong to the visible body of Christ, and if they take communion unworthily, they place themselves in terrible danger. Out of compassion the Church should obey the Prayer Book and exclude those who are "living a notoriously evil life" (BCP p. 409) from coming to communion. How cruel ECUSA has been in this regard, allowing its members, especially its bishops, to publicly promote all sorts of heresies and immoralities, and yet, welcoming them into the intimate fellowship of Christ's body and blood. What a terrible tragedy, what callousness to the spiritual destruction that now devours the body of Christ. This is heartless.

Secondly, we are social people. God sent his Son to save us and his actions, and ours as well, affect other people. Not only for the sake of the errant is discipline necessary, but for the sake of the body. Paul put it simply: "You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be" (I Cor. 5:7) Again, Radner is mistaken to claim that "Jesus and his Church are not injured by the unrepentant sinner who shares his body and blood." No, this is wrong. The Church is ravaged when its wolves prey upon the flock with impunity. Corruption breeds corruption, and corrupt leaders corrupt their followers. That is the state of ECUSA today. We need boundaries, limits. If the orthodox continue in Eucharistic fellowship with revisionists the corruption will spread. They will eventually become orthodox in name only because they belong to a body promoting a revisionist agenda.

Also, and this is one of the ironies of Radner's book, a church without Eucharistic discipline becomes a church devoid of saving forms. The whole of Radner's book is predicated on the notion that God in Christ has given forms to the Church and that submission to these forms brings salvation. Without discipline, however, forms of every kind can be introduced into the Church, allowing it to become a "sheer abyss and not a glorious embrace" (Radner p. 56). Unfortunately, that is what has happened to ECUSA, and that is why the faithful must exclude those who have publicly introduced these alien forms.

Further, for the sake of ecumenical relations, the Church must stand for some minimum level of theological and moral integrity and enforce it by Eucharistic exclusion if not a complete break in fellowship. Other Christian bodies know very well that some level of agreement on faith and morals is necessary for Eucharistic fellowship. There is no substitute for painstaking ecumenical discussions. When Vicki Gene Robinson was approved and consecrated, great damage was done to the cause of Christian unity. The withdrawal of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold as the chair of ARCIC is one symptom of this wound to the body of Christ. The healing of a fragmented Christendom cannot take place without a minimal level of agreement on faith and morals, and a church that cannot define and enforce its own beliefs has no basis for ecumenical discussions. I agree with Radner that further divisions of the body of Christ would be tragic, but the right use of the norm of exclusion is the solution and not the abolition of the norm itself.

In this connection, Radner suggests that bishops can be deposed, yet he presents this possibility as something the early Church achieved with difficulty (a conclusion utterly at odds with the ecumenical canons), and further, it will likely result in a "juridical standoff" (Radner, p. 192). I can tell you, in the early Church Spong would have been repudiated instantly without discussion. Ultimately, however, Radner's solution to errant bishops is consistent with the whole of his book, "A truly Episcopal vocation, rather, is to suffer in unity, around our bishops, for the sake of embodying the shape of Jesus Christ in flesh and blood" (Radner, p. 195).

Does our present state of affairs in ECUSA warrant breaking fellowship? What does Radner think?

First, the extreme novelty of recent revisionary teachings on sexual behavior is unique in our church's development and more than anything else offers up a seemingly culturally driven rejection of scriptural authority that has no precedents. ... The revisionary program over sexual behavior strikes at the core of our biblical faith. Second, the kinds of reasonings that seem to lie behind the revolutionary trend in our denomination -- reasonings based on controlling definitions of justice, love, inclusion, and so on -- are so distant from the particularistic and defined words and actions of Jesus and the Christian's tradition acknowledgement of his person that the revealed Christ appears to have become the servant of a greater principle that stands beyond him. This contemporary and perhaps only implicit form of the ancient Arian heresy -- that Christ is to be identified with a reality not personally equivalent with God -- strikes at the core of our catholic confession of Christ (Radner pp. 200-1).

Radner thinks we are in a situation without precedent, subject to an agenda that strikes not only at the core of biblical faith but also at our "catholic confession of Christ." Radner, however, is only describing the sexual agenda and its heretical justifications. There are also a host of blatantly heretical claims made by bishops and professors that make a number of ancient heretics, persons like Apollinarius, Nestorius, Pelagius, and more, seem like beacons of orthodoxy. I have detailed this on my web page (www.rsanders.org). If Radner is right, and I can scarcely disagree, we are in a situation "without precedents." This means that if the universal norm of Church discipline were ever to be applied, it should be applied now.

In regard to Eucharistic exclusion, the Church does not probe into the private lives of its members. We are not engaged in a witch hunt. The Church's sphere of responsibility extends to those who publicly promote heresies and immoralities. The 1979 Prayer Book uses the term "notorious" (p. 409), and the 1928 Prayer Book refers to anyone who is a "open and notorious evil liver" (1928 BCP p. 84). Open violations deny the Church's public norms. Radner recognizes this in his discussion of marriage. By upholding public norms the Church allows individuals a real degree of private freedom as they work out their salvation in light of public norms.

How should the Church go about breaking fellowship? From whom should the orthodox withdraw? These are vital questions and I think they should be made in concert with the orthodox throughout the Anglican Communion. The historic practice was conciliar; councils were convened, decisions taken. At the highest level of Anglicanism, the teaching is already clear. Lambeth 1998, the Windsor Report, and other Anglican Communion forums have already affirmed norms that ECUSA has broken. In actual fact, ECUSA has been violating universal Christian teaching and moral norms for decades, and done so publicly. To this point, as seen in the latest House of Bishops meeting, January 12-13, 2005, ECUSA bishops have not as a body repented of their egregious violations. At some point, and by historic standards we passed it long ago, Anglicans must exercise some form of exclusion. That time is upon us because the Anglican Communion has already defined ECUSA as beyond the boundaries. The only question left is the how and when of breaking fellowship. Some have already broken fellowship, and hopefully, the Primates at their February meeting will act to restore the integrity of the church. If not, the norm still holds, we are all responsible. Why? Because Christ will cleanse his Church and we are called to follow him. All across ECUSA a separation is taking place. "His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:17).

--The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D. serves as Associate Rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, FL. He has also served in Central America, where he was the Director of Theological Education in the Diocese of Honduras. He is VirtueOnline's resident theologian. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology.

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