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Interview with Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner


The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner is Rector Church of the Ascension, Pueblo,
Colorado. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from Yale University and is an accomplished
violinist and scholar. He was interviewed by VIRTUOSITY on the crisis in the
Episcopal Church.

By David W. Virtue

VIRTUOSITY: First of all thank you Dr. Radner for agreeing to being
interviewed. I realize this cannot be an easy time for you. You have taken quite a few
hits from clergy and a couple from two well-respected Primates and an ECUSA
bishop. I suspect you are still reeling. So let me begin by asking, has anything
been written in response to what you have written that has caused you to
change your mind about why conservatives should not leave the ECUSA?

RADNER: Well, David, there has certainly been a good deal of - to keep with
your boxing metaphor, but to Paulinize it a bit - "beating the air" going on.
What we could all do with a little more is some "pummeling" of our "own body
and subduing it, lest after preaching to others we ourselves should be
disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:26f.).

If anything, the past few months since General Convention -- with all their
internet, email, conferences, and journalistic interchanges - have solidified
my sense that what we are being called to is a renewed "discipline" in the face
of our church's (and many other churches' and our larger culture's) stubborn
assault upon and demanded dismantling of the Gospel tradition. But discipline
here is for all of us: for those within the church who are undermining the
evangelical witness and teaching for which we are responsible, for those within
the church who are trying to resist this and offer an alternative witness, and
for those within the larger communion, in Anglican and ecumenical terms, who
are charged with constraining by and in counsel, the actions and witness of
the rest of us.

Discipline represents the formative act of grace by a loving God - it
upholds, it nourishes, it prunes, it humbles, it transfigures. To this degree, it is
part and parcel of the reality of "communion" about which so many of us talk.
Our failure within the church to discipline each other, and our failure to
discipline ourselves, are both contributors to the disintegration of communion.
Within the thing we call "the Anglican Communion", we are seeing the fruit
of such failures propagating themselves before our eyes.

We are not without hope, however. One of the foremost practical goals I
would encourage us to pursue in the present moment is to help the Archbishop of
Canterbury's Commission to understand this reality, and to take hold of the
calling to discipline: disciplining ECUSA as an ecclesial structure and within the
legitimate framework of our relationships within the Anglican Communion; and
holding each of us accountable to the glorious duties of communion in Christ
that permit such discipline to be edifying in the first place rather than
merely punitive. If we shirk this goal - considering it beneath us or too hard or
too relationally demanding - we have also skirted one of the critical means by
which the Church of Christ is renewed and transfigured.

VIRTUOSITY: You wrote in, "Why we will not leave: A conservative reflection,"
that amidst the recent turmoil within the Episcopal Church is the fact that
the vast majority of "conservative" and intentionally "orthodox" Episcopalians
are remaining in the Episcopal Church." Are you concluding from this that
numbers matter and that the majority is, by definition right?

RADNER: The issue is not numbers, obviously; it is the integrity of our
witness before the eyes of the world (and of each other!). There has been a good
deal of disdain cast in the direction of purportedly "conservative"
Episcopalians who have committed themselves, in some fashion, to remaining in the
church: they have been charged with venal concerns like "keeping property" and the
rest. In fact, however, many people intuit rightly that the fragmenting of this
church - ECUSA - does little to promote the Gospel's compelling witness even
if done for the sake of a clear truth, in large measure because the Christian
Church's history of division has already so sullied the image of Christian
commitment and solidarity that further fragmentation does less to instill than it
does to disgust people with a notion of the truth's integrity.

By contrast, a responsible, accountable, and steady defense of the truth
within a context of engaged dispute and straight-forward testimony, aiming at
discipline rather than schism according to the forms of our Lord's own teaching
and example, is a critical gift to offer not only a divided Church as a whole,
but a horrendously fractured world. The world does not trust the Christian
Church for a host of reasons - Jesus himself tells us this over and over. He
also tells us how it is that "the world may believe" (John 17:20ff.). There
is nothing sentimental in this; because the "oneness" to which his own prayer
aims his divine heart is something that goes through the Cross.

VIRTUOSITY: You wrote: "There have been struggles over doctrine and
discipline, to be sure, but pursued within the church community, they have not been
without positive effect. In short, our leaven within the common work of the
diocese, here as elsewhere, continues to be a witness to the Lord's Kingdom." Are
you saying that there is never a time for believers to leave what many judge to
be an apostate church? Should one always stay?

RADNER: I feel sometimes that this question is a little like the one posed
to Jesus by the Pharisees: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?"
(Matthew 19:3). Jesus doesn't really answer the question directly: he says
that Moses permitted divorce for some reasons - "hardness of heart" - and that
under at least one condition ("unchastity", whatever exactly that is),
divorce and remarriage is not the commission of adultery it would otherwise be.
However, he makes it clear that God "from the beginning" did not will divorce.
As we know, people have argued endlessly over this response. And through it
all, they have gotten divorced and managed to justify it almost every time.

With respect to the question of ecclesial separation, I would say this:
Christians will divide, since they always have (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18). And there will
be all kinds of reasons for doing so. Furthermore, people will positively offer
a host of justifying reasons for doing so, based on this or that Scripture or
moral argument, just as people find plenty of good reasons to get divorced.
But how could we ever "commend" such a thing (Paul certainly doesn't)?

The Church herself, through her theologians and leaders, ought to avoid
casuistry on this matter altogether, and stick with the simple "from the
beginning"; in the case of division, they must always ask the simple question, "is
Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:13). If they do not, and we continue to whittle down
the details that justify division in answer to the anxious, just as with divorce
(and here I include the generalized fiction of annulment used by the Roman
Catholics), the Church will find that she has offered so many rationalizations
that the very purpose of her critical indulgence - pastoral care of the broken
- is subverted because there is nothing whole left to maintain.

VIRTUOSITY: You say that part of our decision to stay in the Episcopal Church
explicitly derives from traditional Christian commitments themselves. Staying
represents a "higher calling" than leaving. It is a "higher calling" in the
traditional Anglican sense of being a "safer path to salvation", a more certain
grasp at the health of the soul in its accountability before God. It is
"higher", "safer" and "more certain" because it is aimed at the simple following
"in the steps of the Master", and these steps, we know, are ultimately pointed
towards a Kingdom of great light, for which the world longs.

My question is, there are many who point to specific Scriptures, especially
from Paul's letters that would indicate that lines should be drawn,
specifically Galatians about "another gospel" being proclaimed, unequal yoking and so
forth. How do you answer those critics?

RADNER: Paul obviously holds himself out as a model for all Christians,
whatever their role or ministry. His own particular ministry, however, is
specific: that of "apostle". And it might be helpful to view his relationship with
erring Christians and with false leaders within the church from the perspective
of this apostolic role, a role that later became paradigmatic for the
episcopacy (would that all bishops took Paul as their model!).

It is from this position that Paul encourages Christians to keep clear of
false teaching, false teachers, and immoral persons. He urges them to do this as
members of his flock, within a given church. He does not urge them to leave
churches and to divide congregations - for they are his in a special way! --
but rather to exercise within their own ranks the "discipline" necessary to
maintain a clear witness and godly context of common formation. This is the
whole burden of his Corinthian correspondence in its focus upon moral purity:
maintain the integrity of your common life.

Paul's personal relationship with teachers he judges to be in error, however,
is slightly different than it is with individual members of his
congregations. In this case, he is speaking to them if not exactly as ministerial
"equals", at least as colleagues of a sort do. Paul can argue with them, berate them
mercilessly, "oppose them face to face" as with Peter (Gal. 2:11), and
encourage his flock not to follow their errors. But he is very careful to maintain
the integrity of the church's common life, even as it is somehow engaged with a
broad range of other teachers. Each teacher, he insists, is responsible
before God for his or her own teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 3;10-15). Indeed, the "curse"
that Paul promises to preachers of a false Gospel, in Galatians 1:8f., is
probably pointing to just such final accountability, and not to some formal
"ban" from the local or larger church (it is, after all, aimed at "angels" not
just guest preachers!).

In any case, Paul never asks that congregations split over their adherence to
this or that teacher, however false they may be. (This is clear in his
argument with the "pseudo-apostles" in 2 Corinthians.) For all his fulminations
and even claims to be morally autonomous of them, he even maintains his
connections with the Jerusalem church and its leaders, and indeed labors tirelessly
to embody these connections materially and physically, to the point of risking
and suffering final arrest because of it.

The reason for all this is fairly simple, think: his congregation and its
people are a trust he has been given. While they may be "foolish" and
"bewitched" (Gal. 3:1), they are his "little children", and he their mother, "in travail
until Christ be formed in" them (Gal. 4:19). As a parent to them, he is
responsible for his charges, and accountable for their lives unto the end,
however wrecked or veering towards wreckage they may be. Even his urging that the
Corinthians banish one of their immoral members from their midst is done for
the offender's ultimate salvation (1 Cor. 5:5). Like Jesus' own parable of the
Lost Sheep, Paul is a shepherd who leaves those who are well in order to find
the one who has wandered astray. At their most recalcitrant and hostile - as
with the Galatians and the Corinthians - Paul speaks to them as his
"brethren" (cf. Gal. 1:11). And at his most severe in terms of demanding discipline,
he promises it for "building up and not for tearing down" (2 Cor. 13:10).

Much could be said about particular passages and about the evolution of the
practices of discipline and even of excommunication in the developing Christian
Church. These are serious and complex matters, often poorly understood by
historians. And they should not be dealt with cavalierly, as they tend to be in
the midst of present argument. My point is simply that, from the perspective
of one who is a steward of the Church of Christ, and of its people, the line
between division deemed "necessary" and actual abandonment of the larger flock
is not one that can be drawn with much degree of certainty, on a Scriptural,
let alone a broadly spiritual level. We should beware.

VIRTUOSITY: You point to "centuries of church tradition" to justify your
position. But didn't the early Church Father St. Cyprian specifically say we
should not follow disobedient bishops? And more that we should try every effort to
remove them?

RADNER: The appeal to someone like Cyprian, David, is greatly mistaken.
This 3rd century North African bishop was, by all critical accounts, one of the
great contributors to the "juridical-canonical" understanding of the Western
Church's structures and unity. Even someone like Hans von Campenhausen - no
happy promoter of this development in the Catholic tradition - is forced to
admit this about Cyprian. Cyprian was a great disciplinary rigorist, of course:
he argued strongly for strict penances and even what we would call
"excommunication" for those who had compromised with the State's enforced idolatry during
persecutions. This applied, in his mind, especially to priests and bishops
- using the "contagion" model of immorality and heresy, he believed that
church leaders who failed in their person to uphold the faith needed to be
separated from the body. He was not, for instance, willing to accept the validity of
"heretical baptisms". But two important things need to be said about this.

First, Cyprian's notion of clerical "infection" was eventually ruled unsound
by the larger Church, something Augustine in his controversy with the
Donatists classically articulated. The Anglican 39 Articles (#26) concur. Second,
Cyprian was adamant that the "separation" of people from unfaithful clerical
leaders was a form of ecclesial discipline and therefore could only take place
legitimately within the unified structures of the church as a whole, people,
clergy, and bishops working together. No individual or individual congregation
or individual bishop, according to Cyprian, had the right to impose such
discipline on another individually - they could do so legitimately only by acting
in counsel. Thus, in a letter often cited these days to support "separation"
(i.e. #67 in some enumerations), Cyprian urges that two "lapsed" bishops in
Spain be deposed; but he insists that the "whole brotherhood" exercise "suffrage"
in this matter, and that bishops of the province in question make the
decision and be involved in its disposition. On several occasions he labels those
who rise up against their bishop outside of these conciliar disciplinary
frameworks to be "like Korah" of the book of Numbers rebelling against Aaron, and
thus worthy of God's wrath.

Cyprian, in this sense, was precisely a precedent for "discipline within
communion", exactly the kind of thing I insist we must pursue, for the sake of our
common life in Christ and the integrity through accountability of our mutual
witness in the truth, and exactly the kind of thing that we are in fact
pursuing through the common work of the Network, Primates, Commission, and
Archbishop of Canterbury together. And, to this, degree, Cyprian stands in complete
coherence with what became the standard notions of conciliar discipline outlined
in the canons of the great Ecumenical Councils, canons that, I would
emphasize, demand to be read authoritatively in concert with the conciliar Creeds.

VIRTUOSITY: You point to Jesus, in his relationship with his (often wayward)
people, arguing he was a "stayer", not a "leaver". Given the present debate,
this fact is crucial above all other claims. In mission and ministry within
Israel, Jesus met error, rebellion, and faithlessness by proclaiming his Gospel
upholding the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees (who "sit in the seat of
Moses" -- Matthew 23:2), and maintaining table-fellowship with his enemies. And
then you say that had he left, and formed a separate community of "purity",
like the Essenes, [Jesus] would probably have survived into a longer ministry.

This seems to beg the question that if ECUSA bishops consistently preach
heresy, should orthodox laity place their souls in jeopardy, perhaps even
permanently corrupted, by listening to that which is not true?

RADNER: I don't think this "begs" the question at all: it addresses the
question straightforwardly. If we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, where
does that lead us in the face of religious leaders who are teaching error?
Abandoning the Temple? Out into the wilderness? Separation from the
Pharisees? The point is pretty simple, David: all the Scriptures and the Law are
"fulfilled" in Him, and the shape of our life, even in these particular
decisions, is being called into Him and into the form of His own self-giving.

Of course, this calling isn't easily accepted and pursued. That I will agree
with. The apostles themselves didn't have the stomach for it, initially
anyway: standing up, speaking the truth, engaging honestly but persistently,
rebuking where necessary, allowing for one's own failure of power, trusting in
Another's power… It is almost inhuman, I realize.

And so, when you speak of "souls in jeopardy" and of their "permanent
corruption", it's hard to know exactly what this might mean - corrupted because they
cannot do what Jesus asks of us to do? What I have certainly seen are souls
that are exhausted in the face of the battle against error and disobedience.
I have felt exhausted myself. And I am not about to judge those whose
exhaustions can only find some rest in "going away", in finding some more peaceful
avenue in which to journey. And, I realize also, the Episcopal Church isn't
exactly "the Temple of the Lord"! Still, the footsteps of Jesus are not thereby
erased because we all at some point meet the limits of our strength.
Separation has its exhaustions too, as many who have pursued it will attest. What
is certainly not acceptable is to brand those whose choices are at least to try
to follow such traces of the Lord as they mark a resolute adhesion to
Israel's people with a kind of failure in pastoral responsibility or even of
disloyalty to the Gospel. This simply makes no sense.

VIRTUOSITY: Jesus finally abandoned Israel, "how often would I have gathered
you but you would not", and Paul takes his message to the Gentiles because the
Jews were too hard-hearted to hear the message. Does this not indicate an
exasperation point can be reached to which the dust must be kicked off ones shoes
and one moves on to more fertile spiritual ground?

RADNER: The notion that Jesus "abandoned" Israel is nonsense, David.
Indeed, a very pernicious nonsense, if I may state it so strongly. Jesus died for
Israel, in the form of Israel, and tied to Israel. The passage you cite
(Matthew 23:38) expresses the sorrow of Jesus at Israel's rejection of his love, not
his own rejection of their person. The Parable of the Vineyard (Mat.
21:33ff.) speaks, in the end, of the Kingdom of God "being taken away" from one set
of tenants and given to another; but only after the death of the householder's
son sent to them, who remains with them even through his maltreatment and
murder; and who these "others" are and in what fashion the "kingdom" is "taken
away" is left unclear. Jesus died for the world as well, of course, but only
through Israel. "Salvation is of the Jews", he tells the Samaritan woman
(John 4:22), and he means it. His is Israel's "flesh" (Rom. 9:1ff.). The classic
Scriptural commentary on this matter is, of course, Romans 9-11. It's
complicated and murky, but one thing it is clear about is that Israel is not
"abandoned" -- "Has God rejected His people? By no means!" (11:1) - nor is Israel's
present rejection of the Christ to be a kind of anathematized consignment to
Gehenna (11:26, 32). The relationship between Jew and Gentile is one of mutual
provocation, judgment, jealousy, humility, fruitfulness, and grace. The
Christian Church's subsequent adoption of a radically supersessionist view of
Israel is in fact historically tied to the promotion of separatism and schism
within the Christian Church itself, something that has obviously had sorry effects
not only on Christian vision and practice, but more materially on the life of
Jews. No one should think that the moral stakes of this argument throughout
history, and perhaps even now, are limited and intramural.

VIRTUOSITY: You write: "We do not, quite simply, find in Scripture a way of
"following" our Lord that leads away from the people who reject him, for they
remain always "his" people." Many feel that ECUSA's revisionist clergy and
bishops are not "his" people. They are false teachers who corrupt the flock, like
Bishop Spong? How would you respond to that?

RADNER: The appropriate response to error among church leaders is communal
discipline. The separation and division of a church over error is an
admission somehow that the community is incapable of applying discipline. The
question then is "why?". It is possible right now, and quite easy in terms of
getting the numbers, to request presentments for virtually every bishop who voted
for Robinson's consent. It would certainly be legal and probably appropriate.
Why don't we do it? The assumption many hold - based on a single attempt with
an assistant bishop, charge not even with teaching but with an ordination,
viz. Bp. Righter - seems to be that discipline is pointless. But it has only
been tried once! (Philip Turner's essays on the history of all of this are
illuminating; not least of all because they emphasize the sharing of
responsibility for ECUSA's state among all stripes and parties over the past decades.)
And, after all, discipline only makes sense within a context in which it has some
kind of expected and habituated forms and demands and is tethered to accepted
spiritually informed limits. Here is where work needs to be done, however
slowly and patiently.

I want to be clear, however, that what is needed is in fact discipline, and
not dialogue. Dialogue is useless at present, because there is little shared
basis of evangelical commitment upon which to follow the persuasive compulsion
of argument. Actually, I am myself convinced that we are not really dealing
simply with "error" and "false teaching" within ECUSA. Rather, we are dealing
with something akin to madness. I believe, that is, that the church is, in a
real sense, possessed by a spiritual illness, where otherwise intelligent and
self-consciously and religiously committed people are being led, because of
our sins, somewhere through the providence of God that has placed leaders in
the grip of strange and destructive powers.

I have had my own personal, and certainly much pastoral, experience with
mental illness, and I see all the analogies at work in our common ecclesial
relationships of the moment. It is not possible, for instance, to convince a deeply
depressed person, no matter the incontrovertible realities on display as
proof, that the world is not falling apart; it is not possible to counter the
misapprehensions of reality that a schizophrenic holds by pointing to something
more rational. And so in our situation: "Scripture in its plain sense, its
accepted authoritative sense, its use within the Church and churches over time;
authoritative teaching, saintly and godly testimony, natural reason, conciliar
decision -- all point to the error of your choices and teaching", we say;
but it's as if the words are gibberish and the argument nothing but wind. We
are talking to people in another world.

One's responses to this kind of situation are limited: to argue endlessly
and with increasing vitriol; to sullenly acquiesce; or to shut up altogether,
suffer the encounter silently, and then walk away. This dynamic has been in
existence within EUCSA and other denominations now for decades. It is the way
people deal with madness, and I have seen it in many a family. And its final
endpoint is not unusually a separation of life altogether, simply for the sake
of holding on to depleted energies. This is, surely, where many of us are.

But it is not, it seems to me, where the nuptial character of Christ's own
marriage to the Church (Eph. 5) would lead us. There is, after all, yet
another way to deal with madness. To move forward simply with what is real and
true, to do so decisively and with the willingness to place practical limits on
the irrational behavior and claims of the other partner (i.e. a kind of
discipline), to live within these limits for oneself with the other as best one can
(thus discipline becomes a kind of self-offering) and to let time and the grace
of God bring healing if that is His will.

VIRTUOSITY: Should not a man like Spong been publicly rebuked and tossed out
of the church?

RADNER: In brief: rebuked: yes; disciplined: yes; if impenitent,
permanently stripped of his authority and office (such as it is in retirement): yes,
yes, yes.

VIRTUOSITY: You cited the French Revolution and the Roman Catholic Church
response, which, by staying, won the day. But what of the Reformation? Are you
saying that Martin Luther was wrong to fight the ecclesiastical corruption of
his day? He never wanted to split the Church, he wanted a pure church, or at
least a better one. Out of it was born Lutheranism and the three great truths,
Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Sola Scriptura. Was Luther wrong?

RADNER: Wrong about what? The truths you enumerate were and are the
Church's truths, and Luther articulated and promoted them brilliantly at a time when
they had been forgotten or twisted by many. None of this is in dispute, at
least for me. I know that there are those who would like somehow to tar me
with the brush of being "disloyal to the Reformation". But what does that
actually mean? We are living in the 21st century, not the 16th. And "the
Reformation" isn't a current reality; we have, rather, ideas, habits, cultures, and the
rest which have been left behind by the 16th century and which have evolved
out of that period and movement. Including Anglicanism! It is hard to be
disloyal to the past, unless of course, you believe in the Communion of Saints in
a rather tangible way; which, of course, I do. But in that case, you are
also bound to loyalties that go far beyond particular national and temporal
movements: Luther, for instance, must be heard, learned from, and responded to
within the extent, the embrace, and the constraining grace of the Church

My interest, in a scholarly way, has been with the fruit of Christian
division, not with the integrity of this or that Christian leader (like Luther) in
the course of this or that struggle. And my critical focus has been on, among
other things, the way that the Catholic-Protestant divisions of the 16th
century and beyond actually created modes of thinking theologically and of reading
Scripture that obscured rather than illuminated certain basic realities of the
Gospel (the figural reading of the Scriptures as a unity of Testaments
embracing the life of the whole Church, the character of charity and communion as a
vehicle of truth, the shape of the Holy Spirit's work, the nature of
conversion, and so on). Like it or not, we are heirs of these modes of thinking and
reading, we are "bound" to them. Is it possible to "get outside our skins" in
this regard, and see ourselves more clearly and thereby hear our vocation more

One of my contentions is that we both should try to do this, but that it is
also deeply difficult to succeed at doing so within a state of multiple and
divided Christian communities and churches. This is both a sociological and a
spiritual contention. That is, there is a dynamic at work in the Christian
church today, embodied in our divisions, that is in fact tied to the work of God
in our judgment. It's not just a matter of getting our structures right, or
of getting our ideas right, or of being on the right side - although we are not
free to disregard the obligation we have to make faithful decisions in this
regard. What is at stake, at this point, is yet more profoundly how we are
going to act "under the hand of God", what posture we shall take. And this is
the posture in which we should be making our decisions about structures and
ideas and "sides". My commitment to "hearing the Scripture in communion" - i.e.
in the communion of the larger Church as best as we are allowed to be a part
of it, in all of its strange and blurred contours - and my sense that we are
called to exercise our difficult mutual responsibilities and accountabilities
within an ordered process of discipline that reflects that communion, all of
this is informed by my sense of "posture" as a penitent before God, demanded by
the very history of our churches.

None of us, to my mind, have been placed in the "true church" among other
churches; at least, not so that we could discern it. With respect to
Anglicanism, we have been placed here and not somewhere else; and while placed here, we
have been entrusted with a wealth of riches, theologically, liturgically,
ethically, intellectually - from the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Fathers,
the Puritans, the Restoration, and so on. We are bound to receive these with
humility, gratitude, an ordering of priority even, and the critical spirit of a
penitent heart seeking God in the midst, especially now, of assaults upon the
Gospel and spiritual wreckage wrought by confusion and unfaithfulness of an
extensive kind; and to do so knowing that we are called to something bigger
than the preservation of a way of divided life in Christ. For however good God
has been in providing us with blessing in the midst of division - and God has
been good indeed, far beyond our deserving - there is no "renewal in
division", only the hard hand of God, gloved with unmerited mercy. Scripturally, our
divisions are simply contrary to the Word of God, the prayers of Jesus, and the
mind of His self-offering (cf. Philippians 2:1-11).

I know that not everybody agrees with this, nor should they in any prima
facie fashion. But my argument is borne out on a number of historical fronts I
believe, and it would be helpful if people attempted to approach it critically,
rather than ideologically (which has tended to be the case).

VIRTUOSITY: You say that a second reason why conservatives are staying in the
Episcopal Church is their institutional loyalty and obedience. This, you said
was branded as "legalistic", "mechanistic", and "structural" -- somehow
beneath the spiritual depth of truth-seeking? Are you saying that there is never a
time for believers to leave a corrupt institution that preaches against the
very things it is supposed to uphold? Should one forever be "loyal and obedient"
to a corrupt institution?

RADNER: I would prefer to use the word "subjected love", in the sense of
Paul's usage in Ephesians 5. Jesus himself was, at least in the minds of the
religious authorities, "disobedient" on matters like the Sabbath law. However,
he was subject to their power, in the ultimate way of willingly allowing
himself to be arrested, unjustly condemned, and finally executed. We are told -
rather "called" -- to "follow in his steps" and to "trust to him who judges
justly" (1 Peter 2:21ff). The whole developed philosophy of "conscientious
objection" - which can be deeply subversive of unjust structures, as well we know
-- is rightfully and in fact historically linked with this reality. It would
be odd if Christ were to have bequeathed to the wider world (including
Hinduism) a way of life Christians no longer themselves judge worthy of their spirit.

VIRTUOSITY: What if ordinary people sense that their very souls are being
jeopardized by staying in a morally and theologically compromised church, what
if the Spirit is saying, "begone, the lampstand has been removed, I have gone."

RADNER: The situation you describe is also described in the book of the
Prophet Ezekiel. It would be interesting to draw potential similitudes between
the experience of a pneumatically abandoned people like Israel placed into
captivity and subjected to exile, with our own vocation today. Indeed, that is
precisely what I have encouraged us to do. And one response is this: you cannot
escape the judgment of God upon your people by trying to find another people
more worthy of your affiliation. The accepted and even deliberately pursued
division of the church is, ultimately, a way to remain irresponsible.

VIRTUOSITY: You appeal to both Catholic and Reformed traditions, the
submission to the "order" and "law" of institutions, especially those of the Church,
is a necessary "bridle" upon the innate tendencies of individual pride that
lead to sin. Without this submission (or at least acknowledged presumption of
subjection), even in cases of individual conscience, the passions of autonomy and
rebellion will and must eventually destroy the very means by which truth can
be established. IS submission and acquiescence the same thing in the end?

RADNER: Is the Cross of Jesus Christ a form of "acquiescence" to sin? There
are certainly those who believe it is. But not the Christian Church.

VIRTUOSITY: You talk about legal safeguards by which the "rights of the
accused" are protected. In the ECUSA the "rights of the orthodox" seem to be
anything but protected. Can you draw a direct analogy here?

RADNER: There is a need for the freedom of worship, teaching, and deployed
leadership of "orthodox" Christians within our denomination to be respected and
protected. That is a moral obligation of any church, obviously. And it is
one that the Primates, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have formally
and publicly upheld, to the point of placing their own authority behind its
guarantee. This is a promise we must hold these leaders accountable to keep, and
to do so with all the persuasive and importuning means we have.

VIRTUOSITY: You say the Archbishop of Canterbury, is lifting up the supreme
value of jurisdictional canons within Anglicanism, but is not thereby
diminishing the value of the Gospel's truth in relation to some merely human and
self-serving structure. He is rather acknowledging that the truth cannot emerge as
determinative, without securing its freedom from the depredations of individual
striving and delusion, a security given only in the social contours of a
stable institutional life. But what if, at the end of the day the Liberals triumph
in the are of morals and try to push pansexuality onto the rest of the
communion and they balk, what happens then? Should provinces like Nigeria and Uganda

RADNER: David, you raise one of the more sobering speculative possibilities
that we are facing. For the moment, I believe, the Archbishop is indeed
working to maintain a context in which the truth may freely be apprehended, shared,
and proclaimed within our Communion. His support, and indeed formative
encouragement of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes is real
and has made a difference to this group's ability to move forward in the face of
much opposition within the 815 crowd; his work in keeping the Primates
working together, not simply to avoid a problem, but to address it as far as
possible within accepted, because historically rooted, commitments and values of
Anglicanism, is critical in assuring the edifying outcome to their work for the
sake of the Communion as a whole. I could go on, and should, because there are
many people working very hard, and providing depths of theological and
intellectual resources to this work, much of it going on quietly and persistently.
One day, I hope they will be thanked.

Still, it could all come to naught. In such a case, we will see the end of
the Anglican experiment of non-centralized and non-coercive Scriptural
catholicity in mutual subjection and mission. It has been a grand experiment, I need
to say. Marvelously grand! And its failure will be a deep disappointment,
not only to day-dreaming individuals like me, but to the nations, who have
longed for a testimony to this possibility of life together, and whose salvation is
tied to the God who might make such life possible. In the face of this hope
now shattered, they will see the visage of God's re-ordering judgment.

But if this happens, the question will be for individuals, not for "churches"
as a whole to answer. There will be nothing for Nigeria or Uganda to "stay
in". They will go their own way and call themselves what they will. But to
individuals I would say: "The Anglican Church is dead! Whatever you do,
wherever you go, do not call yourself by that name any longer. It has become a
byword among the nations."

VIRTUOSITY: You write: "A third reason why most conservative Episcopalians
are staying in the Episcopal Church is related to the previous one. To speak
bluntly, it is because we have tasted the fruit of unbridled separatism, and the
fruit is bitter indeed. Are you referring to the Continuing Churches in this
statement that flowed from St. Louis in 1979?

RADNER: I am not pointing to anyone in particular, but to all of us and each
of us together.

VIRTUOSITY: You seem to take particular aim at the AMIA. What is your basic
beef with them? They seemed to have made off with some 8 parishes in the
Diocese of Colorado?

RADNER: I don't have a particular animus against the AMiA. My worry, as is
crystal clear, is with the whole habit of division and separatism that
permeates our culture, ecclesially and in secular terms, and for reasons I have
already enumerated. I believe that the AMiA - like the rest of us! -- embodies
aspects of this culture. The point you are raising is related, of course, to
the fact that these embodiments are known and immediate, and not theoretical.
And my concern, in an immediate and deep sense, has been primarily pastoral.
The AMiA didn't "make off" with some 8 parishes in Colorado at all. They
formed, from the division of these parishes, new congregations, so that where
there was one in each case (by and large), there became two. (The particulars of
each congregation's history are not at issue here.) That, in itself, is not
even problematic: many churches grow through mitosis, as it were. But these
divisions were of the "divorce" kind: leaving in their wake hurt, anger,
mistrust, mutual recrimination, charges and counter-charges, weakened witness,
scandal and so on, among conservatives and the unchurched alike. And, as with
many divorces, we can list a whole host of "good reasons to separate". But it
hardly seems reasonable to go the next step and encourage the multiplication of
divorce, which is exactly what our culture has done (with the churches
happily following along).

The disagreement that has become public between myself - along with others! -
and the leadership of the AMiA is one that helpfully brings into profile in
part what is at stake in our larger Anglican conflict: are we a mutually
accountable communion, bound by the ordering virtues of Scripture's common hearing
and individual deferral? If we are not, there are of course many different
paths we could still follow, which would still pit conservative and liberal
against each other. But if we are, then this particular doctrinal and ethical
conflict we are in must be pursued within a special context of its own -
conciliar, communal, with the patience that bespeaks passion. And since I believe we
are such a communion, I also believe we are making a serious mistake, as I
have said over and over, if we do not resolve this conflict within the conciliar
context that explicitly defines communion.

As I have also said over and over, the AMiA is filled with faithful and
self-sacrificial Christians; certainly no less faithful than anybody else; and
far more faithful than I in many respects! I pray that someday there will be an
ecclesial reconciliation among us all. I would pray too that none of us make
the eternity of such a prayer necessary by our own actions.

VIRTUOSITY: You write: "Finally, driven by passions for success and rapid
advance, and unbridled by the slow structures of ecclesial canon, leadership has
been recruited and thrust forward without prudent testing, formation, or
accountability. This is the bitter fruit of impatience. Are you saying this of the
AMIA or of all separatist vagante groups that have left the ECUSA?

RADNER: The issue of formation is fundamental if we are to rebuild a
faithful church. Bp. Allison has long drawn out attention to this truth. And
failure to get straight the rigorous demands of selection, formation, and
accountability have crippled many movements of protest and reform within the church,
separatist or not. I have been a student, as you know, of 17th and 18th-century
Jansenism, a reform movement within French Catholicism. It was a movement
filled with spiritual and theological geniuses, with ascetic virtuosos, and with
courageous confessors and martyrs. Their greatest influence came within the
limited efforts of their educational and formational ministries; their more
extensive failure can be tied directly to the fact that these efforts were as
limited as they were, and that the call to formational rigor soon gave way to
the more immediate satisfactions of polemical displays and sacrifices. We dare
not fall into this trap. One, by the way, that our greatest Reformation
teachers did not.

VIRTUOSITY: You say the search for order, is ultimately liberative. Many of
those who leave ECUSA for the AMIA and other groups say THEY feel liberated, no
longer under the curse of apostate bishops. What would you say to them?

RADNER: I'm certainly not in a position to judge how other people "feel".
The "liberative" gift of ecclesial order's genuine search is not a subjective
reality in the first place, but one that describes the actual character of the
spirit formed into the image of Christ through a "sharing of His sufferings"
(cf. Philippians 3:10), something St. Paul places squarely within the
experience of seeking a "common mind". The "freedom for which Christ has set us free",
as he writes in Galatians, is governed by a Spirit whose gifts provide fruit,
nourished and grown within well-ordered common life (cf. Gal. 5:1, 16ff.).
At some point, surely, what the Spirit makes of us, becomes the very thing we
are grateful to have become. Then our freedom is turned into the subjective
heart of thanksgiving. There is certainly no virtue in feeling bad; nor is
there any in feeling better. Virtue lies in the image of Christ.

VIRTUOSITY: What is the correct response to false teaching? What of our
Lord's admonition to "take heed that no one leads you astray" (Matthew 24:4). And
Paul's injunction about "preaching another gospel" and being declared
"anathema". Does this not imply that separation might be necessary in extreme

RADNER: I encourage people to read the Pastoral letters of St. Paul - 1 and
2 Timothy and Titus -- especially in answer to this question. Chapter 6 of 1
Timothy, for instance, provides a wonderful outline for how to teach in the
face of falsities and dissension. The outline, furthermore, is tied to the
shape of Paul's own life and body, about which I have already commented.

VIRTUOSITY: How far can we accommodate sin in the church before we say enough
is enough?

RADNER: It is God, I believe, who says that "enough is enough". We have
been accommodating sin all over the place over the centuries. Not necessarily to
our credit, mind you. But the "line in the sand" is a wonderfully
adjustable measure, more frequently used for self-protection than for the building up
of neighbor. What we are asked to do is provide clarity and example, and
discipline where needed, in face of these shifting sands.

VIRTUOSITY: A recent study by the Barna Research Group painted a devastating
portrait of the Episcopal Church as scoring at the bottom of the heap of
American denominations as to the accuracy of the Bible, sharing the faith with
others, the importance of religious faith to them, that Christ was not sinless,
and their commitment to Christianity. It would appear that the ECUSA is
capitulating to the culture. Can this go on without separation at some point?

RADNER: The details of Barna's picture are indeed dispiriting. But Barna's
research indicates a whole range of religious inefficacy that runs across
denominations including many evangelical groups. We are in a time when
Christianity itself is losing ground in America, and it isn't primarily because of
ECUSA that this is so, although she is part of the trend. The response,
furthermore, to this trend is not obviously to start new churches as opposed to
reforming and renewing current ones. Indeed, the decline of Christianity as a
proportion of the American population has taken place when there are actually more
denominations of Christian churches than ever before.

Numbers aren't the issue anyway, as you point out earlier. Rather, the
integrity of our witness is. And the context of that witness informs its integrity
in ways I have been trying to underline. One of the greatest religious
turn-offs for young people is the divisive infighting among Christian communities.
That is not to say that we are called to avoid conflicts that are over
critical matters; rather we are to testify to a way of upholding the truth that can
overcome easy division and embody the true form of Christ Jesus. This
witness is one that young people yearn after. In fact, they hardly know that it is
possible, so distant has its realization been among the churches for so long.

VIRTUOSITY: Thank you Dr. Radner


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