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Forward in Faith Leader Reacts to HOB DEPO Statement


A Critique of the House of Bishops proposal of Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO)

by The Rev. Michael Carreker

April 5, 2004

With the recent statement of the House of Bishops, the debate within the Episcopal Church has grown ever clearer. This debate, at last, has been directed into the subject and sphere of communion.

For this we can be grateful, because it allows for a clear analysis of what the Bishops of ECUSA actually have in mind. They write, “As we exercise pastoral leadership in our dioceses, we pledge ourselves to work always towards the fullest relationship, seeking, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, ‘the highest degree of communion.’”

What follows is a brief critique of the recent statement of the House of Bishops from the viewpoint of communion as the Church Catholic has understood it. Sadly, we conclude that the Bishops disallow the common ground which all communion requires, and thereby have proceeded to undermine communion throughout the church.

There are several levels on which we ought to evaluate the position of the Bishops. The first, and most important, is the theological level, because the theological involves the presuppositions which inform the faith and practice that constitute communion.

The second level is ecclesiological, which provides the means of the faithful to live into the doctrines and sacraments of the Church. And third is the pastoral which involves the actual participation of every Christian in communion. Communion with God, and with the Body of Christ, the Church, is the beginning and end of the Christian life.

In its various degrees, communion includes each of these levels. On each level, and in each degree, the House of Bishops has gravely erred.

The Theological Level

With respect to communion, the historic Church has clear theological presuppositions. From the revelation of God in Scripture, communion is seen first of all in the ineffable union of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Within the relations of the divine persons, God the Blessed Trinity knows himself in the beauty of absolute truth and loves himself as the object of absolute goodness.

This life of knowing and loving is the very being of God. It is out of his superabundant truth and goodness that God wills to share his very being with mankind, and through mankind, with the whole of his creation. That is why He sent his Son, the eternal Word made flesh, to reveal him to us and to save us. And that is why he sent his Spirit, the very charity of God, to bind us to him in love.

At the beginning of all Christian theology, therefore, is the triune God in whom truth and love are in perfect harmony, joy, and purpose. The communion that we share in Christ Jesus derives from this communion in God. Our participation in him is a sharing, by faith and charity, in the very being of the truth and love of God. In order for this participation to flourish, the presuppositions of Catholic Christianity must be guarded and passed on to subsequent generations of the Church.

Through the authority of Holy Scripture, the wisdom of tradition, and the experience of reason, we continue in communion in a living way. It must be made clear that the House of Bishops has obscured our life of communion by adopting secular presuppositions, which change and alter according to the spirit of the age.

To begin with, the theological presuppositions of the Bishops obscure a theology of communion. The Bishops claim to adhere to Scripture, but when it comes to the practice of moral truth, as revealed in the Bible, especially with respect to human sexuality, the Bishops declare that they, and the Episcopal Church at large, are in a state of “disagreement.”

Therefore, they cannot and will not speak authoritatively about the practice of homosexuality. For them, the Bible is unclear and variously interpreted. Tradition, in their view, is equally fallible, and clings to perceptions of human relationship that are beset with the prejudice and ignorance of former cultures. While the Bishops cannot point to a definitive body of scientific data, because it does not exist; nevertheless, they act on the basis of private testimony and experience (ignoring contrary testimony and experience) which endorses homosexual behavior and ideology.

Their state of “disagreement” has translated itself into permission for - and an implied blessing of - homosexual practice. How does the position of the House of Bishops affect communion? We must conclude that the House of Bishops has no current relation to historic Christian authority and, therefore, is adrift from the theological moorings of the Church. Their presuppositions leave them bereft of theological knowledge and moral conviction.

The Ecclesiological Level

From the viewpoint of the Catholic faith, the Church exists, as Christ’s body, to be filled with the triune life of God. The Church’s doctrines and her sacraments are means of grace which enables participation in his Blessed Being.

And thus the Church seeks always to conform itself to God’s truth and love. At every stage and in every moment, the Church intends to articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be the vessel of his merciful love to the souls of men. It is this active participation in the triune life of God that has been the substance of our Tradition.

It is this living freedom of communion that the Church offers to all who would seek the Kingdom of God. Bishops are responsible, above all else, for keeping and guarding communion.

To insure that the faithful participate in the truth, they must defend the Catholic faith. And in order to bind the faithful to God and to one another, they must teach and model the ways of justice, mercy, and love. God is truth and God is love. For the Bishops to settle on anything less is for them to neglect their sacred duty and commission.

It is a fundamental spiritual principle that one cannot love what one does not know. Because the House of Bishops has divorced itself from Catholic authority, they have no reference for theological or moral truth beyond their own surmise, and with no reference for truth, they lack a clear understanding of the moral good they must love.

They wish to embrace a notion of unity, but there can be no unity apart from a shared participation in the good, known and loved in common. Their refusal to submit to Catholic authority requires that they endorse secular presuppositions and thereby preclude any meaningful Christian unity.

Thus, the only recourse for the Bishops to address the upheaval in the Episcopal Church is to fall back on Canon Law. This they do with total indifference to the counsel and fellowship of the Bishops of the worldwide Communion who retain historic Christian authority.

It must be squarely faced that those who wield power in ECUSA choose the authority of their own counsel. We cannot but conclude, therefore, based on their on statement and actions, that the House of Bishops has forsaken theological and moral authority for legal power.

Canon law and geographical jurisdiction have replaced the supremacy of the Scriptures and the wisdom of the Church. And here the Bishops err gravely, because Canon Law, in its integrity, does not exist except to support and propagate the doctrines and sacraments of the Church Catholic. Geographical jurisdiction means nothing apart from spiritual jurisdiction.

The Pastoral Level

As for Pastoral care, the Church Catholic teaches that each member of the Church is united to God through the living Body of Christ by humility, faith, hope, and charity; and therefore, each member participates in the very being of God through the Church’s doctrines and sacraments, administered by her sacred ministers. Moreover, by virtue of this participation in God through the body of Christ, each member is united to all other members of the body.

The Church in her pastoral responsibility cares for the spiritual and moral growth of the Christian soul in an ever greater participation in the living God. And thus the Christian, through his individual, personal, concrete living in the Church, offers himself to God a “reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice.” The wholeness of the spiritual life is finally a matter of communion. Communion is common participation in the truth and love of God through Jesus Christ.

Love is consequent upon truth because one cannot love what one does not know. If one is mistaken in faith, his love will be misdirected. Truth is a matter of authority and knowledge, given in the Scripture, passed on in Tradition, apprehended by Reason, and enjoyed by the faithful soul. Love is finally union with the true God as the ultimate good of the soul, her only end and blessedness.

We believe Jesus through his word, and we cling to him through his sacraments. What the Bishops have espoused in their statement, and accomplished by their actions, disregards the essence of communion. Different presuppositions have created different world views.

Within this current condition, there is not and cannot be any truly shared participation in the knowledge and love of God. This dreadful condition is demonstrated, first of all, by the Bishops’ conspicuous disregard for the impaired or broken communion which now exists with many Primates of the worldwide Communion, as well as with the orthodox of ECUSA.

The Bishops’ statement expressed no sorrow or regret or acknowledgement of this actuality, and there is, therefore, no understanding, on their part, that recognizes the unity, and growing dependence, between the orthodox “dissidents” of ECUSA and the orthodox Primates.

The House of Bishops thinks that it can continue its course as if it possesses and administers spiritual authority, but the only power they now wield is canonical, not spiritual. They are responsible for shutting off the faithful from a living relation to the Church Catholic. Indeed, they have rendered their own position illegitimate. Canon law used to subvert the inherent spiritual freedom of communion is itself lawless. And given this lawless actuality, emergency measures, such as those recently undertaken in Northern Ohio, will continue.

Concluding Analysis

From the statement of the House of Bishops we must make this conclusion. Insofar as the political administration is concerned, there remains a willful spirit which, by the actions of General Convention and its consummation at New Hampshire, disregards the received authority of the Scriptures and the articulation of its doctrine by the Lambeth Conference and the meetings of the Primates.

This willful spirit has now set altar against altar. The House of Bishops is blind to the fact that it is responsible for this state of impaired and broken communion. Schism, a sin against the bond of charity, is the consequence and present condition. Moreover, this willful determination to proceed by their own counsel, which declares their own truth as “disagreement,” and demands devotion in terms of canonical obedience, is contrary to the Catholic Faith.

This policy demonstrates that the Bishops of ECUSA embrace secular presuppositions and principles of moral practice that contradict those established in the Church of Christ. Insofar as the Bishops persist in this intention and policy, the Bishops of ECUSA are engaged in a repudiation of the Faith - which is formal heresy.

It will not do for them now to hide behind the Articles of Religion. Article XXVI, which they quote in their statement, does indeed recall the Church’s understanding of sacramental validity. The unworthiness of a minister cannot preclude the efficacy of Christ in the Sacrament.

True enough. But the validity and efficacy of a sacrament does not abide on its own in abstraction from or in abeyance to the living Body of Christ which is the Church Catholic. Unless the sacrament is maintained within the living body of the Church Catholic, it exists only in a valid capacity.

It is the wholeness of faith and moral life that the Universal Church teaches and governs for the sake of her communion. Schismatics, while they do not nullify the grace of Christ’s sacrament, have indeed cut themselves off from a living relation to the mind and heart of the Body, which is nothing other than true communion. Moreover, Article XXVI cannot be used as a subterfuge for promoting heresy and schism, the contradiction of truth and rending the Body of Christ, setting up altar against altar.

One cannot miss an obvious omission on their part. The Bishops conveniently left off the final paragraph of that Article which calls the Church to discipline evil ministers, bring them to judgment, and if necessary to depose them. Alas, the present state of ECUSA finds itself incapable of exercising godly discipline. On the contrary, the Bishops seek to manipulate canon law to defend their actions which have brought about the actual condition of heresy and schism.

This is why the entire apparatus that the Bishops have conceived for what they call “Delegated Episcopal Oversight” has no legitimacy. The House of Bishops has added sin to sin. First, was the vote of the General Convention which conceived the consecration of a notorious sinner and dismayed the faithful.

Second, was the action of the Diocese of New Hampshire which brought the General Convention’s conception to birth. Both of these actions were taken with full awareness of the teaching of the Bishops at Lambeth, and of the later meetings of the Primates. The gravest consequence of these actions is how, now, by their new ploy of managed “disagreement,” the Bishops have given permission to the destructive character of homosexual practice.

In this way they do enormous harm to those who are tempted with this particular sin. And lastly is this political strategy of “delegated” Episcopal Oversight, which seeks to silence the cries of the orthodox with hypocritical claims to unity and the heavy hand of Canon Law. This brings us all great sorrow. The last state of that house is worse than the first. The arrogance of the House of Bishops remains.

While there are references to statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and there is mention made of the desire to achieve the “highest degree of communion,” there is no reference to the fact of schism within the Anglican Church at large or within the Episcopal Church of the United States. This demonstrates that in mind and heart the House of Bishops is ever-increasing its distance from Catholic Christianity.

The Bishops do not grasp how very essential the life of communion is for the orthodox in ECUSA in relation to other Anglican Churches as well as the Roman and Orthodox Churches.

The Bishops are determined not to live in love and charity with the larger communion, but rather to erect altar against altar. We pray for their repentance and a return to the communion of the Church Catholic.

Fr Carreker is the rector of St. John’s Savannah, Georgia. He is a member of the FIFNA Council.

NOTE: This article was requested by the President of FIFNA the Rev. Dr. David L. Moyer.

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