This is the final of three short writings that I did after the General Synod 2010 in Halifax. Forgive the terse statement at the end, but it is how I often feel about the liberal alterations to a once great Church. Brian+
Your Church: Is it too Small?
One of the aspects of the crisis facing the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) relates to how we understand the inter-relations of the different bodies (members) of the Anglican Communion. During my attendance at the General Synod of our Church in Halifax it was obvious that part of the problem rests in how ‘big,’ or ‘catholic and apostolic’ as we say in the Creed, our church is. This is important because our understanding of the bigness of our church directly impacts how we understand our relationship with each other.
While in Halifax, it was obvious that those of the liberal persuasion who were inviting changes in the doctrine and polity of our ACoC understood the church to be what I call ‘small church’, whereas those of traditional/conservative/orthodox views saw the church as ‘big church.’ By ‘small church’ I mean that each diocese, and even parish, if one takes the premise of smallness to its logical conclusions, can determine its own doctrinal and polity positions over practically any matter. This smallness was frequently expressed at the General Synod through disapproval of ‘interference’ from the rest of the Anglican Communion regarding what was perceived as local issues (cultural context). For ‘small church’ thinkers, the local church/diocese should have the right to determine how they should act within their local context.
‘Big church’ thinkers, on the other hand, feel that the local church draws its doctrine and polity, even identity, from the larger or wider church. The more important or difficult the issue that is facing the local diocese/church, greater would be the need for wider consensus on that decision. Thus, given the significant struggle of the current issue facing our church and our internal difficulty of having a clear understanding of a Biblically based doctrinal rational for liberal innovations, ‘big church’ thinkers would reserve judgment to the wider, catholic and apostolic church.
Recent comments by Archbishop Rowan Williams reflected the struggle to balance the autonomous diocesan structure of the Church with the ‘bigness’ that is belonging to the ‘catholic and apostolic’ church. He said that the Church, at this time, is not able to make a consensus decision on the matter of same-sex blessings, nor the ordination of persons living in a same-sex relationship. The Saint Michael’s Report, The Galilee Report, and the Council of General Synod reflect that it was not clear that the ACoC should move on these liberal innovations. Still, some bishops and dioceses have already acted upon their ‘small church’ perception, where ‘big church’ thinkers have said no, or not yet.
Many conservative/orthodox/traditional thinkers have not articulated this point of the ‘bigness’ of the church very well. However it is an important component in the overall understanding that though each diocese is local and ‘autonomous,’ we do not have the right to change any significant doctrinal or church polity that adversely impacts the identity and mission of the rest of the members. Though the Biblical rational for changing our doctrine on human sexuality is debatable for liberal thinkers, what ‘big church’ thinkers do not often understand in the debate is the expression of our wider unity when we consecrate a new bishop. Given innovations unwelcomed or unwanted within some dioceses of our national church, does a conservative, ‘big church’ diocese welcome an innovating ‘small church’ diocesan bishop to participate in the consecration of a new bishop where these matters are deemed critical to their understanding of the church? Does this sully the ‘catholic and apostolic’ witness of the new bishop? I believe all bishops of the Eastern Orthodox persuasion would say yes; all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church would say yes; Our Anglican rites of ordination and Consecration say yes, at least within the nation.
Now, we live in an age of relativism and individualism, where ‘small church’ thinking seems to be correct, but I would put forth the understanding that the ‘big church’ thinking is the thinking of the historic church, and thus should be the thinking of the Anglican Church of Canada. To think less of our church is to risk its reason for being and reduce it to a localized social/religious organization with pleasant language about social justice and good works salvation. It was interesting to note that during the recent General Synod we heard constant lauding of all of our ‘good works’ in mission, but virtually nothing of our being personally and corporately transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.
The essential reality of the ‘big church’ is why the general Secretary of the Anglican Communion, The Rev. Cannon Kenneth Kearon said to our General Synod, that we are not the Anglican Church OF Canada, rather we are the Anglican Communion IN Canada. That’s ‘big church.’ That is the church I want to belong to, and that is the church that I believe we are confessing when we say the Creed. Local option, ‘small church’ thinking is a sign of the declining, dying, and decaying great church we once were. We pretty up the dying with pleasant language of respecting diversity within unity, but let’s not kid ourselves, we are meant to belong to the holy, catholic, and apostolic church, not some little aberration of a Gnostic cult that will soon be all that is left of the Anglican Church of Canada.