Treating Friends like Enemies
I continue to be surprised that Sydney continues down the path toward diaconal and/or lay presidency. I’ve said before and I’ll reiterate it here, I see no clear biblical impediment to lay presidency. Nor do I see any biblical reason to deny the authority of any church to limit Eucharistic celebrations to the ordained presbyteriat. To my mind, the absence of clear biblical instruction one way or the other means that the matter must necessarily be considered adiaphora or non-essential.
As such, the two principles to be weighed are “liberty” on the one hand and “charity” on the other. Christians must not allow the liberty of the gospel won by the blood of Christ to die the death of a thousand traditions while at the same time we must not think of our freedom as a licence to trample on the consciences of fellow believers.
The problem from Sydney’s perspective (as I understand it) is that Anglo Catholics do not believe that the sacerdotal priesthood is adiaphora. Regular participation in a validly celebrated Eucharist with validly consecrated elements is necessary, Anglo Catholics believe, for the salvation of souls.
Those writing from the Sydney Anglican perspective on Stand Firm have suggested that the present Communion-wide standard in which only ordained presbyters may celebrate the Eucharist, if left unchallenged, implicitly supports an Anglo Catholic or sacerdotal understanding of the priesthood and thus directly undermines gospel liberty.
Article 20 of the 39 Articles reads:
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.
The Communion standard, from Sydney’s perspective (again, as I understand it), to the extent that it reflects an Anglo Catholic sacerdotal understanding of the priesthood forces a “thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation” that is contrary to God’s Word written.
The calculus, then, from Sydney’s perspective seems to be that the cause of gospel liberty in this case outweighs the call of charity.
I disagree for three reasons:
First: There are many Anglicans, and I am one of them, who reject the Anglo Catholic understanding of the priesthood while recognizing that presiding over the Eucharist is an act of headship and as such ought to be reserved for the ordained leadership of a local congregation. I will not argue that case here but I want simply to point out that the Communion standard is no more an implicit endorsement of the Anglo Catholic sacerdotal position than it is an endorsement of the evangelical headship argument. The reason the Communion standard has survived so long is precisely because it can be legitimately embraced by both evangelicals and Anglo Catholics in very good conscience.
Second: Because that is true, what Sydney may perceive to be a grand act against sacerdotalism also stands as a divisive act against fellow evangelicals.
Third: Sydney’s stance toward Anglo Catholicism as represented by the move toward lay or diaconal and lay presidency is the kind of stance generally taken toward an enemies rather than friends.
In the early 80’s Libyan dictator Mohamar Quadafi drew what he called the “Line of Death” across the Gulf of Sidra. The line cut directly through what the United States understood to be international waters. And so the US, correctly I think, instigated a conflict by floating some navy warships right over the “Line of Death” and in the ensuing conflict humbled Quadifi and reopened international sea routes. This was a very good thing. Quadafi was a hostile enemy. It was necessary to confront him and to assert international law.
Anglo Catholics may be wrong, I think they are, but they are not hostile and they are not our enemies nor are they enemies of the gospel. They are friends. And what is more, they are friends who do not insist that evangelicals accept their understanding of the priesthood. The very last thing evangelical Anglicans ought to do at this point is send our warships over their lines. But that is essentially what Sydney proposes to do.
I certainly agree that resolving question of the nature of salvation and the nature of the priesthood/presbyteriat is a vital and necessary task for orthodox Anglicans. And I pray that my Anglo Catholic brothers and sisters may one day be won over to the evangelical position. But since they are friends and not enemies we should not force this thing down their throats.
If I have misunderstood or misrepresented the Sydney position in any way, and I actually hope that I have, please, Sydney readers, correct me. But as it stands I see no reasonable basis for this action. It is not an assertion of Christian liberty over and against modern day Judiazers but an unnecessary and divisive act with the potential to turn friends into enemies.
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