Healing Schism and Ecumenicity
It is with some Presbyterian interest that I observed a small dust-up down the Canterbury trail last week. ACNA priest Hannah King (disclosure: we attended seminary together and remain friends) suggested that allegiances to Christ trump allegiances to ACNA or TEC, and therefore churches and clergy should work together across denominational lines for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. She does not provide a roadmap for what that looks like, only affirming that Christ as the head of the church should be trusted in guiding his people down that path. She also is clear that this cross-denominational partnership should be between faithful (i.e. orthodox) ministers; she has the gall to believe that there remains orthodox ministers in TEC.
Fellow ACNA priest Alexander Filgus responded over at The North American Anglican (disclosure: I am good friends with one of their editors) that the basis for schism between ACNA and TEC rests on the claim that TEC is an illegitimate church, and therefore ACNA clergy should avoid promoting TEC in any capacity: “The very existence of the ACNA contradicts the ministry of TEC, and so the consistent and forthright position of any of any ACNA clergyperson would be to urge aspiring ministers not to attach themselves to that communion (emphasis original).” Filgus warns that any discussion or shared lament for the Anglican schism will be used to avoid the truth, and therefore repentance of the wrongs that remain in TEC or have been inflicted by them upon ACNA. Perhaps. But if Hannah is taken charitably and seriously, the participating faithful ministers in TEC would do no such thing. No genuine lament is without repentance, even if individual ministers may not be able to right the wrongs of an entire denomination.
My interest in all this is in application beyond the ACNA/TEC dispute. How catholic is the church after schism? Can I as a minister in the EPC partner with faithful PC(USA) ministers? PCA? Lutheran? Or even ministers in (gasp!) ACNA? Filgus’ position, consistently applied, would preclude the sort of networking Hannah is proposing across any and every denominational lines on the grounds that ACNA’s existence contradicts the ministry of these other churches. ACNA formed as an independent denomination not only because they saw TEC as an unsuitable home, but every other church in North America as unsuitable alternatives.
But in the words of the Westminster Confession: “This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure…The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” As a Presbyterian, I can affirm that ACNA is truly the church, with whom I can partner and network faithfully, without also saying that ACNA and the EPC must merge now. The differences in our polity, confessionalism, and liturgy are too significant to overlook for institutional merger, but not barriers to both individual and institutional cooperation in the meantime. This is precisely what Hannah is proposing for ACNA and TEC: the difference between them institutionally in doctrinal toleration is too significant for merger, but faithful congregations and ministers are worth joining in partnership. The command to be reconciled does not give step-by-steps for this, but does provide a basis for beginning that journey.