Saturday, July 19, 2014

Has The Church ‘Locally Adapted’ Become A Bridge Too Far?

Fr. Dale Matson

St. Gregory The Great sent the monk Augustine to the British Isles as a missionary in 597. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Gregory was eager but cautious in introducing the Gospel to England and thus he included the leeway allowing Augustine to ‘locally adapt” church customs in England.

“Gregory showed great wisdom and insight in his management of the mission. He and Augustine kept close contact with each other; they worked as a team. Through their correspondences, he exhorted Augustine to contextualize Catholic rituals, making the faith as relevant as possible to the nation of Angli. In this, he showed that he cared more for the heart of the religion than for its strict ritual, and removed as many barriers from the Gospel as he could.” (James Choung)

The concept of local adaption is an important component in Anglican DNA and was used in the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) as one of the distinguishing characteristics of Anglicanism.

"As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:

*1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

3. The two Sacraments,--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church."

*Note this is included in the new ACNA Catechism on Page 11.

Perhaps each Archbishop of Canterbury has seen himself as the steward of local adaptation. Once King Henry the Eighth declared the church in England to be the Church of England. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer helped locally adapt the structure and worship of the Church of England with his Book of Common Prayer (1549) in the vernacular in response to the king as the head of the church.
Archbishop Justin Welby said that the measure adopted Monday would mark “…the start of a great adventure of seeking mutual flourishing while still, in some cases, disagreeing. The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds.”

Archbishop Welby, an advocate for female bishops inserted his customary boilerplate jargon into his response to the approval of women bishops in the Church of England. Mutual flourishing along with his other favorite “Human Flourishing” is the new gospel of the Archbishop.

There is no such thing as “good disagreement” which if possible, is even more of an oxymoron than “Jumbo Shrimp”. Notice how he also states, “The challenge will be for the church to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds” as if those who disagree on theological grounds were no longer a part of the church.

This is not really breaking new ground. Archbishop George Carey supported the ordination of women and helped shepherd in the first women priests in the Church of England. The women were ordained during his tenure in 1992.

Here is an excerpt from an immediate reaction to the ordination of women bishops from the Russian Orthodox Church. “The decision to ordain women, which the Church of England took in 1992, damaged the relationships between our Churches, and the introduction of female bishops has eliminated even a theoretical possibility for the Orthodox to recognize the existence of apostolic succession in the Anglican hierarchy.” Notice the fact that we are no longer recognized as being in Apostolic succession which pretty much makes the locally adapted part a moot point.

My question would be, “When is local adaptation simply acquiescence to contemporary culture?” The context for the church is the Kingdom of God and the spreading of the Gospel.  Local adaptation has transcended and usurped Scripture, Tradition and the church universal. The bell cannot be un-rung for the Church of England.  


Robert S. Munday said...

I had never considered the phrase "locally adapted" in the Lambeth Quadrilateral to include women bishops, and I think it is safe to conclude that those who crafted that statement in 1888 didn't envision women bishops either.

It is, after all, the "historic episcopate" that is being locally adapted, which puts some boundaries on the adaptation. Once you get beyond what could be considered consistent with the historic episcopate, it is no longer local adaptation but abandonment of the historic episcopate, which is the point the Russian Orthodox Church has made in their response to the Church of England's decision.

Anonymous said...

In this context, another clause from the statement by the Communication Service of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (Chairman, Metropolitan Hilarion, D.Phil. (Oxon.) ) is worth noting:"In our opinion, it was not a theological necessity or issues of church practice that determined the decision of the General Synod of the Church of England".

"Local adaptation" - or at least a certain range or degree of it - properly understood could be included under that "issues of church practice".

Stephen Neill in Anglicanism (Penguin, 1958)has references to the 'Lambeth Quadrilateral' worth following up. First, he notes its history from Huntington's The Church Idea (1870: available at Internet Archive)through the Lambeth 1920 'Appeal to All Christian People'. In a footnote (p. 368) he says, "The varying forms of the Quadrilateral are conveniently set forth in A History of the Ecumenical Movement (1954)", adding "The divergences are not unimportant, though a concern for the specialist".

Next, he ends this book by attending to it in the context of the response at Lambeth 1948 to the coming to be of the Church of South India in 1947, in the context of then existing inter-communion between Anglican and other bishops (pp. 431-34).

Since at least the Bonn Agreement in 1931 such inter-communion has been a live concern, affected by changes within the other inter-communicating Churches as well as within the Provinces of the Anglican Communion.

In some sense, bells can - or could - be unrung: by innovative changes being reversed, or inter-communion altered or ended in the face of such changes made elsewhere (in as well as out of the Communion). How likely it is that a will to unring will become manifest and prevail is another matter.