Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More on Ecclesiology: Truth Comes First

This past Sunday, Canon Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream International. gave an excellent speech on the occasion of the 8th anniversary of the consecration of the Bishop of Recife. You may recall that bishop and most of his clergy have been excommunicated by the ECUSA-kissing liberal Primate of Brazil.

The speech reflects an ecclesiology at least slightly more evangelical than I would hold to. For example, I would not say, “Is the bishop a successor to the apostles? No.” The Apostolic Succession of bishops holds more weight for me than that. But I would agree with him as he goes on to say,

Continuity in apostolic faith is fellowship with the apostles, with their gospel, and with their true and lively word. We look with them at Jesus and seek to follow him as they teach us to. It is the local ministry of the word that is more directly and fundamentally apostolic. It brings the word of life to congregations. It is where the word of God is lived and taught and obeyed and builds up the people of God.

Who then are the successors to the apostolic faith? It is all of you as you remain faithful to the apostolic witness within scripture.

In other words, being in line with apostolic truth is more important than who did or did not place hands on you.

He doesn’t place much stake in geographical diocean boundaries, either. In fact, he seems to rejoice in boundary crossing:

Globalisation is the end of geography and the old geographical jurisdictions. Parishes in the US are under the oversight of the Bishop of Recife who is part of the Southern Cone. This is what the Anglican Communion will look like all over very soon. You got there first.

I think a fair summary of his speech is truth trumps offices and geography. And I completely agree.

This area of ecclesiology is one where my frankly Fundamentalist background and my new small c catholic Anglicanism come together and perhaps collide a bit. Unlike before, I feel the office of bishop is a Biblical one. And I think the apostolic succession is Biblical as well. And when I decided to make the switch to Anglicanism, one of the first things I did was get confirmed by a bishop in that succession, the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton.

And, all other things being equal, I feel it is preferable that a bishop be somewhat nearby so he can perform his oversight and pastoral responsibilities more readily.

But, as in the past, I still firmly feel the authority of God’s word trumps any churchly authority. Yes, I know that’s a “low” ecclesiology that many of my new Anglican brethren would disagree with.

And I do realize there is the issue of who interprets God’s word. Ideally, the church interprets it, avoiding “private interpretation.” But the church has been seriously wrong before, even on central doctrines of the faith. There have been times when the proverbial plowman can read scripture better than a prelate. In cases where central doctrines are at stake, such as the Gospel or the authority of scripture itself, it is necessary for Christians to stand up for truth, even if the authority of a whole church is arrayed against them.

Yes, I know -- very Protestant. And this is one way, the chief way actually, I remain somewhat Protestant.

And I am admittedly quite radical on this, as I always been. When a church officer, even a bishop, willfully and repeatedly goes against scripture on central doctrine, he forfeits his authority. Frankly, I wish laity had the gumption to physically throw such officers out of the pulpit, if not the church altogether. (I’ve never done that although I did confront a liberal guest preacher at a former church on the church steps after a service.)

As for geography, with the internet, it’s now better to have a far away orthodox bishop than a nearby apostate one. The old canons about geography are outmoded and never did trump orthodoxy in the first place. I continue to be amused at how some who are orthodox on hardly anything else are raving Fundamentalists when it comes to geography.

So as my views on church authority and structure have become more catholic, I still quite firmly maintain that the authority of scripture trumps any human or churchly authority.

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