Monday, March 8, 1999

Broken Communion

Broken Communion

The Ultimate Sanction Against False Religion and Morality in the Episcopal Church

By Stephen F. Noll

The following essay was written in the aftermath of the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops and in response to the Petition presented to the Primates (Archbishops) of the Anglican Communion in January 1999 by the "Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission" (AACOM).

THE AACOM Petition claims that an "exceptional emergency" exists within the Episcopal Church U.S.A., in which "revisionist" leaders "have supplanted Scripture with human experience to fashion a new religion and code of moral standards that are irreconcilably contrary to historic, orthodox Anglican faith and practice." Furthermore, the Petition claims that these same leaders "are imposing their new religion and morals throughout ECUSA, all in violation of Resolutions 1.10, II.8, III.5, and III.6 adopted by the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops."

It is my contention that if the charges against the revisionist bishops and dioceses of the Episcopal Church are true, and I believe they are, the proper response of orthodox bishops in the Episcopal Church and of the Primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion is to threaten and if necessary employ the sanction of broken communion with those who have endorsed this new religion and morality.

The Biblical basis
I am convinced that the "rule of faith," which is implicit in the New Testament Acts and Epistles, involves a Christian’s utter separation from two things: idolatry and fornication. "Fornication" (porneia) is a wide-ranging word covering all sexual activity outside marriage (see Appendix A). The Old Testament does not speak specifically of fornication, but under the Seventh Commandment, the Law condemns all sexual activity outside marriage, and the prophets draw an explicit connection between false sexuality and false religion (e.g. Hosea 1-3).

There are numerous texts in the New Testament condemning fornication. At the Jerusalem Council, where the apostles set out what might be called the "non-negotiables" of the Christian faith, fornication was one identifying mark of the old paganism which converts had to abandon:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity (porneia). If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:28-29)

This set of criteria seems to be reflected throughout the New Testament Epistles. St. Paul, writing early on in his ministry to new Gentile converts, makes clear that fornication is a practice directly contrary to life in the Holy Spirit:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity (porneia); that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)

What seems clear here is that, in the Apostle’s mind, avoidance of fornication is one of the prime signs of the Christian convert, and the Church offers holy matrimony as God’s alternative. Furthermore, it is clear that "God is the avenger" of those who rebel against this rule. In other words, disobedience in this area can lead a person to forfeit the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

I am convinced that in our day a new paganism, in Episcopal clothing, has emerged which rebels against God in both of these key areas: sexuality and worship. Sexuality is the leading edge of this movement, but a pluralistic spirituality and its "unbound" Prayer Book are not far behind. Now let’s ask, "What would the apostles do to a person who stubbornly practices fornication, or — how much worse — stubbornly teaches others to do so?" Here is St. Paul’s answer, addressed to the Corinthians:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men (pornoi); not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is a fornicator or miser, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:14)

In this passage, Paul acknowledges that fornication will be commonly found among worldly people outside the Church. The task toward them is evangelism. But the pastoral duty toward those inside the church who stubbornly persist in fornication is clear: break koinonia with them. Breaking communion in such cases is an essential link between word and deed, faith and practice. I can think of no examples in the Bible and the history of the Church where leaders have publicly acknowledged that other leaders were teaching heresy or practicing immorality and they took no disciplinary action.

Ecumenical tradition
Renunciation of fornication is a Gospel "essential," which led the apostles to warn and then break communion with those who disobeyed this rule by their teaching and action. One could easily show that this rule of Christian avoidance of fornication is an ecumenical consensus in Christian history. The inclusion of the Athanasian Creed in our Prayer Book, with its warning — "This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved" — is a sober reminder that at times it is necessary to define the boundaries of the faith. (See Appendix B, where I have collected four examples from Patristic and Reformation history suggesting that the mentors of our tradition would have broken communion with those who teach heresy).

To break communion is to declare that certain matters define the "substance" of the faith. To think and act along these lines is not puritanical or fundamentalistic but part of the "via media" characteristic of Anglicanism. In my pre-Lambeth book, The Handwriting on the Wall, I wrote:

The essentials/adiaphora distinction is constitutive of the Anglican Communion. Each member church has pledged to uphold the "substance of the Faith," i.e. the essentials, as it has received them. Anglican churches cannot rewrite the essentials to their liking any more than the Church as a whole can rewrite the Bible. The Lambeth Quadrilateral is a statement of essentials offered to the wider Church of Christ as a permanent basis of unity. Churches may vary in all sorts of ways, the Quadrilateral says, but in essential respects, they are all one and the same. And the first of these essentials is the authority of Scripture.

Because they believe in biblical essentials, Anglicans have a basis for offering genuine ecumenical reconciliation, both within the Communion and with other communions. If the Anglican primates make any substantial progress with the Roman Catholics at the proposed May 2000 meeting in Canada, it will be because they can convince Rome that Anglicanism has some historic and coherent principle of authority – and that, I think, is the commitment to essentials.

To make any real ecumenical progress on the matter of women’s ordination, for instance, Christian leaders must determine whether it is a matter de fide or not. The Eames Commission (sec. 29) was rightly cautious in warning against declaring broken communion over an issue on which Scripture and tradition are unclear. However, the commission failed to distinguish between doctrines and practices that may be tested by "reception," and others that are simply unthinkable. I believe acceptance of fornication is in the latter category.

I propose the following litmus test of essentials and adiaphora, what I call the "Baal test." If the Episcopal Church were to approve a Baal liturgy for trial use, would this immediately lead to "impaired communion" and a "reception period"? God forbid! Similarly, if fornication is offensive to God, then it is equally inappropriate to respond to the authorization of fornication (a.k.a. same-sex blessings) by negotiations or even a declaration of "impaired communion." In the latter case, broken communion is the appropriate response.

Pastoral considerations
One easy caricature of conservative Christians today is that they are uncaring and unpastoral in insisting that the church uphold traditional sexual morality. And of course, if fornication is just a lifestyle choice, then this is correct. But for the Christian faith, lifestyle choices are set in the context of eternal choices. If fornication puts a person outside the will of God and in danger of eternal death, promotion of fornication is a dangerously false act of "pastoral" love.

Let me begin with a very personal case. Several months ago I had the privilege of preparing a 47-year-old friend for death from cancer. It was in many ways a sad occasion. But it was also a joyous occasion because this man knew Jesus Christ with confidence and confessed him gratefully, even up to his dying day. I felt that I could assure him with utter reliability from the Bible of Jesus’ promise that "today you will be with me in Paradise."

This leads me to a second test: the "hell test." Scripture offers no reason for those who live a life of fornication to have confidence that they will inherit the kingdom of God. Indeed, the warnings of Scripture would suggest just the opposite: that "the Lord is an avenger in all these things." And how much worse for those who teach such things: it were indeed better that a millstone was tied round their necks and they were cast into the sea. Now the mercies of God are wonderful, but for the Church to instruct its people to risk their salvation for such uncovenanted mercies is utterly reprehensible.

Many priests and bishops, I suspect, may say: "I agree and I would never counsel a person to live in such a way. What more need I do?" To be sure, each of us has a primary pastoral responsibility for the flock directly under our care. But in a catholic church, priests’ and especially bishops’ vows extend more widely. Therefore it is not adequate to say: "Bishop Spong may be leading people to perdition, but I am not." Nor is it even adequate, I think, to say: "Bishop Spong may be leading people to perdition, and I have spoken out against him, and that is enough." The only consistent reaction to Spong & Co. is: "Have nothing to do with them."

As noted above, church discipline requires that "having nothing to do with them" must involve some action, not just words. One way, traditionally, is to present someone for trial. The Righter presentment was therefore absolutely proper, and it conformed to the intention of Scripture and the rationale of canon law. But when exercise of canonical discipline is blocked, as is now the case in the Episcopal Church, the next appropriate step is to declare those who endanger the souls of the faithful out of communion with the catholic and apostolic faith and to take actions appropriate to this declaration.

The Implications of Broken Communion
So long as the Church in its official formularies is biblical and orthodox, I think one may presume that it is only those who have publicly denied the faith, not the Church as a whole, who have separated themselves from the faith. The basic response of orthodox bishops and priests to such folk, according to apostolic practice, is not to recognize their spiritual authority in any way. So long as orthodox and heterodox bishops and priests live under one canonical roof, this will involve discernment as to which issues are spiritual and which are legal and canonical. I think each bishop and priest may have to work out the precise implications of broken communion, but several consequences seem clear:

  • Orthodox believers will not receive communion celebrated by those with whom they are out of communion.
  • An orthodox rector, vestry, and congregation cannot accept the spiritual oversight of a bishop who is out of communion with the catholic faith, although they may allow the heterodox bishop to exercise certain legal and canonical functions.
  • An orthodox bishop may choose to refuse to receive letters dimissory for a priest who is known to be out of communion.
  • Orthodox people and assemblies may nullify decisions of the General Convention which clearly reflect views and practices contrary to the Catholic faith.

Living in broken communion is a recipe for confusion, like life in the days of the Judges when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." But there is no alternative, until revisionists turn back from their ways or offer a settlement. We should acknowledge this brokenness with full awareness of our own sins and in hope of a future reconciliation in truth and love.

We must consider one final eventuality. What if the General Convention were to put the Episcopal Church officially on record against the catholic faith? In that case, orthodox folk must presume they are out of communion with any leaders except those who have publicly renounced the false doctrines and practices that the church has endorsed.

"A Place to Stand": Disassociating from the People or the Positions?
One of the gifts the American Anglican Council first offered Episcopalians in 1996 was a clear confession of Christian essentials adapted to our present context and endorsed by an Advisory Council of Bishops. It is called "A Place to Stand, A Call to Mission" (see Appendix C). At the first AAC Board meeting in August 1996, convened just weeks after the Righter trial had concluded, members debated how to respond to those in the Episcopal Church whom they knew had and would continue to violate biblical doctrine and practice. The Board decided to take a "centrist" stance of disassociating themselves from false teachings and practices without breaking communion with the purveyors of those teachings and practices.

This decision has had consequences. On the one hand, it has helped the AAC to work within the system and avoid some of the most virulent accusations of being "schismatic." On the other hand, it has raised the question of whether and when the AAC and its bishops will take action against revisionist leaders. This latter problem has been most apparent in the case of "frontline" parishes, who have turned for support to groups like First Promise and AACOM rather than to the AAC.

Therefore I proposed in February 1999 a change of wording for "A Place to Stand, A Call to Mission" that would reflect the view stated above about broken communion (changes in italics):

When teachings and practices contrary to Scripture and to this orthodox Anglican perspective are permitted within the Church — or even authorized by the General Convention — in obedience to God, we will disassociate ourselves from those [who hold and teach these] specific teachings and practices and will resist them in every way possible. They have broken communion with the catholic and apostolic faith.

I intentionally imported the language – "holding and teaching" – of Canon IV.1.1 that was ignored by the Righter Court. I also based broken communion on their actions. They have broken communion with the faith, and the role of orthodox leaders is to testify to a judgment that has already been made by God.

I presented this proposal to the Bishops’ Advisory Council at their meeting in Orlando on February 24-26, 1999. They listened respectfully but were clearly not of a mind to endorse such a change at this time. Since such excommunication of erring bishops has to come primarily from other bishops, I do not think it practical or responsible to ask other clergy and laity in the AAC to make a change in the charter at this time.

The AAC Bishops’ Statement
While not accepting my proposed change, the AAC Bishops did issue a Statement on February 26 which sets their course for the near future (see Appendix D). This statement makes a number of significant points.

First, the Statement sets the particular conflict in the Episcopal Church in the wider context of the "Great Commission." This is consistent with AAC’s goal of "confessing the biblical and catholic faith, supporting the local congregation, fulfilling the Great Commission." "This is not about sex, it’s about the Gospel," the bishops are saying. And they are surely right. However, they also intend to say that obedience to the Great Commission includes obedience to apostolic faith and practice, "all that Jesus taught the apostles." My argument is that avoidance of fornication is one of those fundamental apostolic teachings, and therefore it is impossible to fulfill the Great Commission while promoting sexual relationships outside of marriage.

Second, the Bishops’ Statement warns that disobedience to the clear apostolic teaching will inevitably divide the Church: "Any other foundation will force division in the Church." The bishops identify the AACOM Petition as a judgment on the Episcopal Church, and they discern an ultimate "realignment" if the leadership of the Episcopal Church does not turn back from its unbiblical ways.

Finally, the bishops see themselves as living in an interim period. They clearly expect further actions in response to Lambeth both from inside and outside the Episcopal Church. They also have determined that their role at this time is to find a modus vivendi for orthodox dioceses and congregations, and they intend to cooperate with the Presiding Bishop and others to that end, if possible. The goal of the AAC Bishops’ Statement, it seems to me, is "making missionary space." The bishops are saying: Look, the Church is in a time of chaos, potentially a time of reformation, with divisions too deep to bridge by resolutions and "continuing the dialogue." What we want is an agreement or understanding to allow clergy and congregations to be faithful to the Gospel as they understand it."

The most immediate application of this version of the "Gamaliel principle" (Acts 5:34-39) will be in the case of "frontline parishes," where clergy and lay leaders are at odds with the bishop over matters of doctrine. If the bishops of the Episcopal Church were to accept this principle in general, it would allow those congregations – on both sides of the worldview divide – to seek spiritual oversight from bishops who held their convictions. It might even mean that missionary "church plants" would be allowed in hostile dioceses like St. Andrew’s Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Let me now relate the AAC Bishops’ Statement to the question of "broken communion." The AAC bishops, it seems to me, are asking for something similar to what the Eames Commission called "impaired communion." The Eames Commission itself was responding to Lambeth Resolution 1 (1988), which stated "that in any Province where reconciliation on these issues [women’s ordination] is necessary, any diocesan bishop facing this problem be encouraged to seek continuing dialogue with, and make pastoral provision for, those clergy and congregations whose opinions differ from those of the Bishop, in order to maintain the unity of the diocese."

I do not see women’s ordination and homosexual practice as equivalent issues. Therefore I do not think "impaired communion" is a proper response to the latter innovation. Nevertheless, the political mechanisms of impaired communion, such as "flying bishops" and a "reception period" may be an acceptable response to our present situation.

I personally doubt that the AAC bishops will find much support for their version of the Eames principle, given the precedent of the 1997 General Convention’s revision of Canon III.8.1 on women’s ordination. This new canon makes it technically illegal for any Episcopalian who publicly opposes women’s ordination to exercise office in the Church, thus explicitly rejecting the Eames principle of provisionality. And even though the 1998 Lambeth Conference reaffirmed that principle (Resolution III.2), there is no chance the Episcopal Church will back off its stance that women’s ordination is a matter of fundamental human rights.

The Challenge to Worldwide Anglican Identity
The AAC bishops’ statement, it seems to me, presupposes that their "inside approach" will be accompanied by "help from abroad," namely from the Primates of the Communion. In this sense the AAC bishops agree with the essential thrust of the AACOM Petition, even if they may have reservations about the timing of the petition. In effect, they are saying: "We will do what we can by strengthening our own dioceses and by making missionary space for the Gospel in hostile dioceses. But we need the international community to deal with the Episcopal Church as a whole.

The AACOM Petition, tacitly accepted by the AAC bishops, sets the stage for an international Righter Trial, with the revisionist leadership of the Episcopal Church as the Respondent. The Petition is, in effect, the Presentment against the revisionist bishops of the Episcopal Church. The idea of an international Righter Trial may not sound encouraging, but what we did learn from the Righter trial is that judgments set precedents and affect the mores of the Church. Thus a firm international judgment on the direction of the Episcopal Church would disabuse many Episcopalians of the idea that they can fudge their way through this crisis.

The call for a disciplinary judgment from the Primates follows logically from the key Lambeth Resolutions:

IF the Anglican Communion is constituted by its fidelity to the primary authority of Scripture (1998 Lambeth Resolution III.1); and

IF the practice of homosexuality is contrary to Scripture (Resolution 1.10); and

IF a diocese or province sanctions this practice; and

IF this diocese or province harasses parishes, clergy, and people because they uphold the biblical teaching on sexuality,

THEN the Communion must deal with this violation of its own integrity and identity.

Presumably the 1998 Lambeth Conference foresaw this possibility when it passed Resolution III.6 "noting the need to strengthen mutual accountability and interdependence among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion." This Resolution "urges that encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates’ Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates’ Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters." It goes on to spell out exactly how that enhanced responsibility is to be exercised when it

asks that the Primates’ Meeting, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, include among its responsibilities positive encouragement to mission, intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies . . .

Resolution III.6 is the basis for the AACOM appeal. The legitimate question facing the Primates is, does the endorsing of the gay-rights agenda by the Episcopal Church constitute a major break in historic Christian teaching? My answer to this question is a clear yes, because the legitimizing of homosexual and other forms of fornication overrules the plain teaching of Scripture and the apostolic rule of faith, dishonors God’s institution of holy matrimony, and introduces a new pagan spirituality into the Church.

If the charges against the revisionist leadership of the Episcopal Church are true, the appropriate response is for the Primates of the Communion to threaten and if necessary declare a state of broken communion with the Episcopal Church or with those leaders who have publicly endorsed the gay-rights agenda.

The final authority of a judicial council is the power to impose sanctions. In the case of the Anglican Communion, that final sanction is "broken communion." One of the mantras recited by certain American bishops at Lambeth was that "the Lambeth Conference has no legislative authority over the Episcopal Church." This is true. But it does have the authority to break communion with member dioceses and provinces. The Episcopal Church USA can call itself "Episcopal" until doomsday under U.S. law, but it cannot claim to be a "province of the Anglican Communion in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury" if the Communion says it is not so.

The question of whether the Anglican Communion has any integrity as an ecclesial body is clearly of great importance in ecumenical dialogues. Archbishop Carey’s recent call for an international conference of Anglican and Roman Catholic archbishops in Canada in May 2000 should put real pressure on the Primates to demonstrate that Anglicanism is not a mere hodge-podge of communities with historic ties to the Church of England. For the American Episcopal Church to have spurned the Lambeth Resolutions on issues where Rome’s teaching is clear would be a major embarrassment.

Excommunicating bishops of the Episcopal Church or the Church as a whole may seem like a very long step to take. And it should be. No division of this sort should be taken lightly. On the other hand, for a judicial council to refuse to exercise ultimate sanctions when they are clearly called for is to undermine its own legitimacy. To put it bluntly, if the Episcopal Church calls the bluff of the Communion and the Communion flinches, the Communion will undermine its own authority and identity.

Is it politically possible that the entire Primates’ Meeting might discipline the Episcopal Church? I do not know. But we Americans should not be so jaundiced by our own experience of episcopal equivocating that we assume the international bishops will do likewise. If we learned anything from Lambeth 1998, it is that the Third World bishops take very seriously the heresy in the Episcopal Church and are willing to challenge the external unity of the Communion for the sake of theological faithfulness to God’s Word.

Prospects for the General Convention in 2000
Clearly, actions by the Primates of the Anglican Communion may revolutionize the agenda and politics of the Episcopal Church. Stay tuned! In the meantime, many Episcopalians look with foreboding toward the General Convention in Denver in the year 2000. Many fear that for the first time, the Episcopal Church will officially approve same-sex legislation that will directly contradict the clear teaching of Scripture.

While some have predicted a showdown between liberal and conservative forces at Denver, the Presiding Bishop seems to have another plan. Speaking to the Executive Council in February 1999, Frank Griswold signaled his strategy for the coming General Convention in Denver in 2000, under the banner of the Jubilee. According to one report,

Griswold quoted from Leviticus 25, in which God instructs Moses about Jubilee as a time of liberation from regular work, from slavery and from debts. Jubilee is "a whole near era of reality" and "a whole new age," Griswold said.

"It means liberation. It means being set free — set free from slavery — set free from all patterns of domination. And various other parts of the Bible speak about some of the articulations of Jubilee — set free from all definitions of self or one’s group over against another group — set free from (now I’m sort of expanding a bit) attitudes which bind and oppress," Griswold said.

"We all use binding and oppressing language at times — language which demeans and dismisses the other. It also means loosening the bonds of fear — fear of difference, fear of those who represent something which challenges our notions of how things are or ought to be," he said.

For General Convention, Jubilee may mean setting aside the sense that a debate — such as the Church’s standards on sexuality — must be resolved in 2000.

"Might we ask the question, ‘What really needs to be decided?’ Also, we need to question what calls for a continuing process of discernment, listening, reflecting, and asking the Spirit to deepen our apprehension of God’s imagination and God’s desire before we bring ourselves to a point of making a decision," he said.

Bishop Griswold’s vision, which was well received from all sides of the political spectrum represented at the Executive Council, accords with his notion of pluralism, a patient conversation between "your truth and my truth." It also claims a biblical grounding in the Jubilee, one of the themes of Lambeth (on economic matters) and obviously a motif of the upcoming year 2000.

It is important, however, to analyze carefully what he is and is not saying.

First, his use of Jubilee is largely metaphorical. It is a metaphor for liberation. Short-term, it is a liberation from resolutions and political in-fighting. Long-term, it provides the rationale for liberation theology to become the basis for Episcopal identity. What I do not think the idea of liberation includes is the possibility that conservatives might be liberated to form their own jurisdiction.

Second, he is not suggesting that the Church will forever postpone making decisions on sexuality and worship, just not in 2000.

Third, none of his language suggests that the Jubilee will be used for genuine examination of, or repentance from, unbiblical revisionist positions. He does not say: "We have been issued some serious challenges from the Lambeth Conference, asking whether our Church has turned from the way of Christ. I call us to a Jubilee of reflection on the authority of Holy Scripture and the ecumenical consensus on matters of sexuality." No, he speaks of the Jubilee as liberation from "fear of difference, fear of those who represent something which challenges our notions of how things are or ought to be." Now which group do you think he is referring to which needs to be liberated?

Bishop Griswold’s stated desire to slow down the march toward official sanctioning of the gay rights agenda may be based on a sincere desire to reach a stronger consensus within the church (clearly he believes the tide of history is on his side of the "conversation"). But slowing down also makes political sense for his side (I speak of "his" side since he continues to be a signer of the revisionist "Koinonia Statement"). Until recently I had thought it likely that the left-wing leadership of the Episcopal Church would try to force through same-sex legislation at the General Convention of 2000. I am now inclined to believe that they will not push official recognition of same-sex unions (and hence also ordinations) in 2000. There are two good reasons why:

  1. By "tabling Lambeth," they avoid a direct snub of the worldwide bishops. They also nullify any advantage the AAC may have gained from Lambeth to "claim the center" of the Episcopal Church. Indeed if the Spongites try to force the gay agenda in 2000, Griswold can step forward as a centrist; after all, he abstained in the Lambeth sexuality vote.
  2. They will isolate the First Promise/AACOM movement. "See, we’re just continuing the dialogue, seeking Jubilee peace," they will say. "They are the trouble-makers and schismatics." Once the extremists leave (and the left rightly calculates that this will be a small group if it has no episcopal support), they will have an even stronger balance of power for future action.
  3. Their plan for a Jubilee makeover of the Church includes not just matters of sexuality but also worship. They realize that Prayer Book revision takes a lot of time to be accepted in the church. Furthermore, same-sex blessings will only have significant force once certain States approve same-sex marriage (Vermont is now the likeliest candidate). The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music recently announced 2012 as the projected date for a new Book of Common Prayer (hence 2009 for first approval). I now think it likely that same-sex marriage will be put on the table for "reflection" by the SCLM Report in 2000; liturgies for trial use adopted in 2003; final approval of the rationale for same-sex marriage in 2006; official incorporation in 2009 and 2012. By that time, full-fledged Episcopagan liturgies for all the Church’s rites will be available. (Let me suggest another litmus test: any liturgy that goes out of its away to avoid reference to God the Father is ipso facto pseudo-trinitarian and heretical.)

The Left has shown itself patient in the past. Some people I have talked to think they are desperate to endorse the gay agenda before their movement peaks. I don’t sense this. They have captured the Presiding Bishop’s office, the National Church bureaucracy, the major sources of funding, and all but two of the seminaries. The wider gay-rights movement now recognizes the Episcopal Church as the prime mainline church ripe for takeover. The Clinton victory may well suggest to them that they are winning the culture war in secular society.

I do not pretend to be a tactician in the upcoming politics of the Episcopal Church and the General Convention. What I do think is that orthodox leaders should seek to do what is right according to the apostolic faith. Declaring broken communion with those who publicly promote fornication is, it seems to me, the most conscientious response to the crisis of the Episcopal Church and it is the way that most honors the commitment the Third World bishops have made to us. In addition, it just may be the flexible way to prepare for any eventuality at the General Convention. When you stand on the truth, you can apply it to varying circumstances. In this case, if the General Convention changes its formularies to permit same-sex marriage, whether in 2000 or some other year, the orthodox leaders will be in a position to separate from the Episcopal Church (as they must!). If Bishop Griswold succeeds in avoiding official action in 2000, conservatives will have a principled response that makes clear that they are not compromising on essentials but simply finding a pastoral modus vivendi for loyal Episcopalians.

A Final Appeal
Bishops in the Episcopal Church find themselves most frequently functioning as ecclesiastical administrators and politicians. No doubt that is their present lot. But that is not the primary vocation of a bishop according to Scripture or the Prayer Book. Bishops are to be teachers and defenders of the faith. You cannot teach ultimate truth unless you are willing to die for that truth. In the case of heresy, dying in our context means breaking fellowship.

Recently a young patristics scholar sent me a letter he had sent to the bishops of the American Anglican Council. It challenged them at the very point of their apostolic calling. He wrote

The evidence of history is overwhelming: There is no theological precedent for continuing fellowship with those bishops and priests who stubbornly refuse to yield to the divine truth and morality set forth in Scripture and tradition. Why then, I respectfully ask, have you refused to disfellowship and excommunicate these false shepherds from our midst?

Given the clear precedent we find in both Scripture and tradition, the burden of proof rests upon you to demonstrate why the AAC has chosen to ignore the wisdom of the ages. Therefore, as a theologian and historian of the church, I challenge you to produce cogent and compelling theological reasons for your continuing inaction.

Your credibility as an organization and as ministers of Christ is on the line. There are many faithful Anglicans who will not abide your complacency and lack of courage much longer. Martyrs have given their lives for these very causes.

These are harsh words, I know. But, they are the stripes of a friend, not an enemy. I harbor no resentment toward the AAC or its members and will continue to pray for you and work with you.

With all due sympathy for the difficulties facing biblically-minded leaders in the Episcopal Church, I add my voice to his. It has been a long time since Western Anglican bishops have "shed blood" for the faith, even though our Anglican Church was founded on the blood of such heroes as Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer. Today Anglican bishops throughout many parts of the Third World face the risk of martyrdom for the testimony to Jesus. Who knows but that in this moment when the spiritual center of Anglicanism has shifted from the West to the South, God is calling us to relearn from them that ancient lesson that the testimony (martyria) of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10).

Appendix A: Fornication (Porneia) According to St. Paul
Excerpts from David F. Wright’s "Sexuality, Sexual Ethics," Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity Press, 1993) pages 871-875. Dr. Wright is Senior Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Edinburgh.

PAUL NEVER addressed the subject of human sexuality in a systematic manner, but said much about it in response to particular questions. Nevertheless, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 suggests that his basic teaching to a community of new converts covered sexual behavior. This was only to be expected in the Greco-Roman world where various forms of sexual license were common. Paul now reminds the Christians at Thessalonica that God’s will for their sanctification required abstinence from porneia (1 Thessalonians 4:3, "sexual immorality" NIV). This Greek word and its cognates as used by Paul denote any kind of illegitimate — extramarital and unnatural — sexual intercourse or relationship. . . .

The greater frequency of references to sexual issues in Paul than in the Gospels reflects the laxer sexual mores of Hellenistic society. Paul stresses the incompatibility between a life of sexual license and the kingdom of God: "no pornos ("immoral") or impure person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:5). Some of the Christians at Corinth, before being "washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God," had been pornoi (prostitutes?), adulterers, and homosexually active (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The inclusion of idolaters among these different sexual offenders indicates the gravity of their sinfulness. Foremost among "the acts of the sinful nature" are "porneia (‘sexual immorality’ impurity and debauchery" (Galatians 5:19; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:8). It was chiefly in the disordered sexual vices of the Gentile world that Paul discerned God’s judgment on the godless (Romans 1:18-27).

Paul is consequently keenly concerned that the Christian congregations be kept free of such corruptions: "among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality (porneia), or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people" (Ephesians 5:3). Paul is outraged that the Corinthian church is tolerating, rather than disciplining, a member indulging in incest with his father’s wife (probably not the man’s own mother but his stepmother or his father’s divorced or widowed wife. But the brevity of the reference counts against Countryman’s view that Paul’s interest lay chiefly in breaching family hierarchy.) Such porneia was not even countenanced among Gentiles (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). . . .

Paul cites Genesis 2:24 ("the two will become one flesh") to demonstrate what is involved in the seemingly casual one-night stand with another woman; you become one body with her (1 Corinthians 6:16; note that Paul substitutes his own favorite soma [body] for the Septuagint’s sarx [flesh]). It is the peculiar dignity of the one-flesh union of heterosexual marriage, on the other hand, that not only is it quite compatible with spiritual union with the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17), but also it expresses the mysterion ("mystery") of the union between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:31-32; 2 Corinthians 11:2). The analogy covers not merely the reciprocal mutual love, respect and care but he union itself. A couple’s becoming "one flesh," which entails sexual congress whatever else it may entail, is comparable to the bonding between Christ and believers. They become members, limbs, of his body, just as a husband loving his wife loves his own body, his own self (Ephesians 5:28-30). There is a close affinity between the teaching of 1 Corinthians 6-7 and Ephesians 5. . . .

Marriage (i.e., monogamy) is needed and right because porneia as an outlet for sexuality is intolerable (1 Corinthians 7:2). The implication is clear: the satisfying of sexual desires is not wrong, and marriage is its appointed setting. (The parallels with 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 exclude the reduction of marriage to merely a cover for uncontrolled sexual gratification.). . . .

The prevalent sexual license of Western society makes Paul’s teaching both peculiarly relevant — for it was addressed to Christians in a world in this respect not too dissimilar to ours — and painfully sharp. He allows no compromise of the restriction of sexual activity to (heterosexual) monogamous marriage. Such an ethic must seem almost utopian to our sex-besotted age, in which it appears at times that one’s identity is made to reside in one’s sexual organs and their untrammeled exercise. Paul espouses an altogether higher view of sex that could never allow it to be casual or promiscuous, simply because it is an act uniquely expressive of one’s whole being. From a Pauline perspective a cavalier freedom in sexual behavior can be bought only at the cost of trivializing the human person. His emphasis on mutuality, including sexual mutuality so marked an advance on the practice and precept of contemporary Hellenism and Judaism — is attractive in a day of increasing sexual violence and exaggerated insistence on individual sexual rights.


Compare Wright’s straightforward reading of Paul on porneia with William Countryman’s allegorical interpretation: "Paul and the Pauline tradition, then, appear from the evidence discussed thus far to have little, if any, concern with sexual purity in the physical sense. Impurity, for them, consists rather in trying to get the better of someone else; in other words, impurity is competitive greed . . ." (Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today [Fortress, 1988] p. 109). According to Countryman, it seems that Paul was not inveighing against first-century libertinism but rather against twentieth-century capitalism! I challenge anyone to substitute the word "competitive greed" wherever Paul uses porneia and make sense of these passages. Furthermore, if Countryman is correct, the rest of the apostolic and the post-apostolic writers totally misunderstood the Paul’s nuanced language about sex and proceeded to re-enslave the people of God in a legalistic code of sexual purity. — SFN

Appendix B: On Defining Heresy and Schism
Bishop Mark Dyer claimed in the first news report on the petition presented to the Primates (Archbishops) of the Anglican Communion in January 1999 by the "Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission" (AACOM): "For foreign bishops to fly into various U.S. cities to baptize, confirm and counsel Episcopalians over the objections of the resident bishop is unprecedented in church history." I have collected and comment on several pieces of evidence that heretical bishops were not accorded the legitimacy of their office, either in the early Church or by the Anglican Reformers.

A. Episcopal Jurisdiction in Athanasius: A Line in the Sand?
Excerpts from a paper presented to the Oxford Patristics Conference, August 21, 1991 by the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Steenson, Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

DID Athanasius break collegiality with his fellow bishops and ordain outside his own episcopal jurisdiction? This question admittedly has a contemporary ring to it, but there is no doubt that fourth century churchmen had similarly well developed territorial instincts. There are numerous fourth century canons which address this matter. Perhaps the most intriguing one for our purposes is that which emerged out of the Dedication Council of Antioch of 341. The membership of this council included many of Athanasius’ enemies, who were determined to block efforts to overturn his deposition by the Council of Tyre in 335. It was probably at this council that Gregory of Cappadocia was brought forward to replace Athanasius in Alexandria. Seen in this context, the 22nd Canon of the Dedication Council comes into sharper focus:

Let not a bishop go to a strange city, which is not subject to himself, not into
a district which does not belong to him, either to ordain any one or to appoint
presbyters or deacons to places within the jurisdiction of another bishop,
unless with the consent of the proper bishop of the place. And if anyone shall
presume to do any such thing, the ordination shall be void, and he himself
&hall be punished by the synod.

It is a fair assumption that such canons were not written to deal with hypothetical situations. We may therefore reasonably conclude that bishops did not always observe the traditional ideal of staying at home and minding their own business, that their interfering in the affairs of other bishops was a continuing problem in this age of doctrinal controversy.

Socrates makes a fascinating observation in his Ecclesiastical History about Athanasius’ practice of ordaining orthodox clergy outside his own jurisdiction. Socrates reports this twice, so there is no misunderstanding him:

Athanasius passed through Pelusium on his way to Alexandria, and admonished the
inhabitants of every city to beware of the Arians, and to receive those only
that professed the Homoousian faith. In some of the churches also he performed
ordination; which afforded another ground of accusation against him, because
of his undertaking to ordain in the dioceses of others.

Socrates said that Athanasius, as he made a great circuit of the Mediterranean on his return from his second exile in 346, warned the orthodox to shun the Arians. To facilitate this admonition, he ordained clergy of Nicene conviction to minister to them.

Socrates seems to have looked disapprovingly at these irregular ordinations, for he noted that this practice lent credibility to other Arian charges against Athanasius. Socrates’ narrative is not perfectly clear as to the sequence of these ordinations, but it would seem that at least some of them occurred between Athanasius’ attendance at a council in Jerusalem, where he secured the support of the Palestinian bishops, and his triumphal entry into his Alexandria. The Egyptian coastal city of Pelusium is mentioned as a stopping off point.

This appears to be the only straightforward evidence we have that Athanasius engaged in this type of extra-jurisdictional activity. Athanasius himself is silent on this subject. Since he was at this time being accused of many outrages against which he so carefully defended himself, it seems unusual that he would not have felt constrained to explain his actions here. There are several possible explanations: Was Socrates, from his vantage point more than fifty years later, giving voice to nothing more than a legend? Or was there simply disagreement and confusion about the extent of the metropolitan see’s influence over the region around Alexandria? Or was Athanasius prudently diverting attention from behavior that would not readily bear scrutiny? Or were the Arians hesitant to bring formal charges against him for violating this particular canon, since they were vulnerable in this area themselves? Possibly there is an element of truth in all of these explanations.

Is this behavior consistent with our knowledge of what Athanasius was doing and thinking during these years? From the earliest years of his episcopate there would be no doubt that this was a man of action. He went to great lengths to secure his election and consolidate his position as Alexander’s successor in 328. He utilized an impressive intelligence gathering network to expose the Arians’ extraordinary plot to frame him for the murder of the Meletian bishop Arsenius. Scholars of tender conscience today look back on him as running a kind of ecclesiastical mafia: "Like a modern gangster, he evoked widespread mistrust, proclaimed total innocence – and usually succeeded in evading conviction on specific charges." Such a colorful judgment tends to implicate him in everything.

It is, however, certainly plausible that he did perform extra-jurisdictional ordinations. His efforts at organizing a new alliance of episcopal support met with stunning success at the Council of Sardica (ca. 343). The council not only exonerated Athanasius, but it also deposed his leading opponents. In calling on the people to refuse to communicate with the heretical bishops, it effectively invited orthodox interventions. (Thus Athanasius’ exiles turned out to be a blessing in disguise, enabling him to take what we might today call a "global perspective." He recognized the importance of producing an ecumenical consensus of bishops, far and wide, in a way that the Arian leaders did not, so intent were they on controlling affairs from the imperial court.)
Because of the sheer number of bishops subscribing to the Sardican synodical, and with the recent death of Gregory clearing the way in Alexandria, the Emperor Constantius bowed to the inevitable and allowed Athanasius’ restoration. On his return, Athanasius traveled to Rome to Antioch to Jerusalem, securing additional testimonials from Pope Julius, the Emperor, and the Palestinian bishops. His journey home was that of a conquering hero, confident of his position, and no doubt much the wiser about the motives and tactics of the Arians. He carried with him a remarkable letter from Constantius, a veritable blank check, vindicating all of his supporters -"An assurance of safety is given to all who adhere to [Athanasius), whether Bishop or other Clergy. And union with him will be a sufficient guarantee ... of an upright intention." So the occasion was certainly presented to an emboldened Athanasius, to take whatever drastic steps were necessary in order to resupply the ranks of the Nicene clergy.

The character of the Arian controversy was changing during the decade of the 340s. The emergence of the Neo-Arian party shattered the uneasy peace that existed in the Church. According to Socrates, doctrinal opponents by and large had remained in communion with each other until the Council of Sardica. People were tiring of endless dialogue; the rules of engagement were changing. Athanasius himself gave clear signal to this by invoking Isaiah 52:11 as the precept for separating from heretics - "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." What does this mean? This conviction, assuming that it is more than merely rhetorical, has the effect of overturning many institutional customs and prerogatives. Its limited application is not a prelude to schism. But diocesan boundaries do become lines in the sand, lines which the orthodox might very well feel an obligation to cross, for there is no higher principle than to seek out and pastor those who have been left without true shepherds. To recognize this willingness to suspend temporarily the normal conventions of church order helps us, I believe, better understand the distinctive character of Athanasius’ leadership, particularly why it possessed such extraordinary power to reshape the ecclesiastical landscape.

Dr. Steenson demonstrates that Athanasius, and the catholic tradition following him, considered heresy a grounds for nullifying the authority of the "revisionist" bishops of his day and intervening in their jurisdictions. At the same time, Athanasius’ reticence about explaining his behavior may indicate how grieved he was to violate external order. This should be a warning to those who argue that the principle of honoring geographical provinces is obsolete. — SFN

B. John Jewel’s Apology of the Church of England (1562)
The following is taken from Part III of Folger edition of Jewel’s Apology (pages 65-66).

NEVERTHELESS in this point they [the Roman Catholics] triumph marvelously, that they be the church, that their church is Christ’s spouse, the pillar of truth, the ark of Noah, and that without it there is no hope of salvation. Contrariwise they say that we be renegades, that we have torn Christ’s seat, that we are plucked quite off from the body of Christ and have forsaken the catholic faith.

And, when they leave nothing unspoken that may never so falsely and maliciously be said against us, yet this one thing are they never able truly to say, that we have swerved either from the word of God, or from the apostles of Christ, or from the primitive church. Surely we have ever judged the primitive church of Christ’s time, of the apostles, and of the holy fathers, to be the catholic church; neither make we doubt to name it Noah’s ark, Christ’s spouse, the pillar and upholder of all truth, nor yet to fix therein the means of our salvation.

It is doubtless an odious matter for one to leave the fellowship whereunto he has been accustomed, and specially of those men, who, though they be not, yet at least seem and be called Christians. And to say truly, we do not despise the church of these men (howsoever it be ordered by them nowadays), partly for the name sake itself, and partly for that the Gospel of Jesus Christ hath once been therein truly and purely set forth. Neither had we departed therefrom but of very necessity and much against our own wills. But I put case, an idol be set up in the church of God, and the same desolation which Christ prophesied to come stood openly in the holy place.

What if some thief or pirate invade and possess Noah’s ark?… Much like as if a thief, when he has gotten into another man’s house and by violence either hath thrust out or slain the owner, should afterward assign the same house to himself, casting forth of possession the right inheritor; or if Antichrist, when he had once entered into "the temple of God," should afterward say, "This house is mine own; and Christ has nothing to do withal." For these men now, after they have left nothing remaining in the Church of God that hath any likeness of this church, yet will they seem patrons and the valiant maintainers of the church…

Like all early Anglicans, Jewel had to explain theologically why the Church of England had separated from Rome and been excommunicated. His primary appeal to the Church of England as catholic and apostolic is its conformity to Scripture and to the early Church. From Jewel’s point of view, old is good, and the Roman Catholics are the innovators, even though they sit in the ancient seats. Jewel is willing to retain the name "church" for Rome, but he also is ready to call Rome’s leaders pirates and thieves, and even Antichrist.— SFN

C. Richard Hooker’s Sermon on Jude
The following is taken from sections 11 and 15 of Hooker’s Sermon on Jude (on Jude 17-21)

11. . . . WE, whose eyes are too dim to behold the inward man, must leave the secret judgment of every servant to his own Lord, accounting and using all men as brethren both near and dear unto us, supposing Christ to love them tenderly, so [long] as they keep the profession of the gospel and join in the outward communion of the saints. Whereof the one doth warrantize unto us their faith, the other their love, till they fall away and forsake either the one or the other or both. And then it is no injury to term them as they are. When they separate themselves, they are autokatakritoi, not judged by us, but by their own doings.

Men do separate themselves either by heresy, schism, or apostasy. If they loose the bond of faith, which then they are justly supposed to do when they frowardly oppugn any principal point of Christian doctrine, this is to separate themselves by heresy. If they break the bond of unity, whereby the body of the Church is coupled and knit in one, as they do which wilfully forsake all external communion with saints in holy exercises purely and orderly established in the Church, this is to separate themselves by schism. If they willingly cast off and utterly forsake both profession of Christ and communion with Christians, taking their leave of all religion, this is to separate themselves by plain apostasy. . . .

15. Here I must advertize all men that have the testimony of God’s holy fear within their breasts, to consider how unkindly and injuriously our own countrymen and brethren have dealt with us by the space of four and twenty years, as if we were the men of whom St Jude here speaketh, never ceasing to charge us, some with schism, some with heresy, some with plain and manifest apostasy, as if we had clean separated ourselves from Christ, utterly forsaken God, quite abjured heaven, and trampled all truth and all religion under our feet.
Against the third sort [apostasy], God himself shall plead our cause in that day, when they shall answer us for these words, not we them.

To others, by whom we are accused for schism and heresy, we have often made our reasonable and in the sight of God, I trust, allowable answers. For in the way which they call heresy, "we worship the God of our fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and the Prophets" (Acts 24:14).

That which they call schism, we know to be our reasonable service unto God and obedience to his voice which crieth shrill in our ears, "Go out of Babylon, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).

Hooker begins with a standard Anglican refusal to look into the soul of those who "keep the profession of the gospel and join in the outward communion of the saints" (cf. Article XXVI). For Hooker, outward profession would include specific articulations of biblical Christianity, such as those summarized in the Creeds and the Articles. Those who abandon either doctrinal conformity or participation in the life of the church — or both — can be labeled heretics, schismatics, or apostates.

Hooker later distinguishes the three ways that people can "separate themselves" from the faith once delivered to the saints: heresy, schism, and apostasy. Heresy is the denial of "any principal point of Christian doctrine." For Hooker and the Reformation Anglicans, "doctrine" would certainly include the moral "Commandments" (note how he cites "believing all things written in the Law and the Prophets" as a defense of Anglican orthodoxy).

Schism applies to those who break "external communion," while apostasy applies to those who are both heretical and schismatic. The Roman Catholics had accused the Church of England of being apostate. Hooker’s response turns the tables. Anglicans, he says, are not schismatic; indeed they are obedient to God because they have departed from Rome. In other words, there come times in the history of God’s people when those who leave are faithful and those who remain are schismatic. Needless to say, all schismatics say this, but Hooker argues that part of one’s "reasonable service" to God is discerning when it is necessary to come out.

Appendix D: "A Place to Stand: A Call to Mission
The American Anglican Council: Individuals, Congregations, and Specialized Ministries Associated for Faithfulness to the Good News of Jesus Christ

The mission of the Church is, according to Jesus’ Great Commission, to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). In a fresh commitment to that mission, we join together in common confession of the Gospel and in a radical commitment to support one another in accordance with classical Anglican orthodoxy.

The Gospel and the Triune God: We rejoice in the grace of the Triune God, who has forgiven our sins and given us redemption in Jesus Christ. We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, who became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, lived a life of perfect obedience to his heavenly Father, died on the cross to atone for the sins of the world, and rose bodily in accordance with the Scriptures. God the Holy Spirit draws us to faith in Jesus Christ, through whom alone we are justified and found acceptable by God the Father.

Christian Obedience: We confess Jesus as the Lord to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given by the Father. We commit ourselves to follow him and love him above all else and to conform our lives to his example and teaching by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Scripture: We believe all Scriptures were "written for our learning" (Romans 15:4), that they are "God’s Word written," and that we are to "hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them." We commit ourselves to regular Bible study and to preach and teach only that which is in accordance with Holy Scripture.

Congregational Life. We hold corporate worship, discipleship, and mission to be interconnected and indispensable aspects of our response to God as he revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. We are committed to being sacrificially involved in all three aspects of congregational life.
Mission and Missions. The Risen Lord commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel and to follow his commandments. The mission of the Church includes both evangelistic proclamation and deeds of love and service. We commit ourselves and our resources to this mission, both locally and to the uttermost parts of the earth. We affirm our particular responsibility to know, love, and serve the Lord in our local settings and contexts. Since the biblical pattern of witness moves from the local to the global, we will endeavor to be well-informed about our local communities and active in church planting, evangelism, service, social justice, and cross-cultural, international mission, with particular concern for the poor and the unreached peoples of the world.

Historic Faith, Ecumenical Vision. We affirm the Faith of the Church as it is set forth in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds and in the classical Prayer Book tradition, including those documents contained in the "Historical Documents" section of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. We further affirm the principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as an expression of the normative authority of Holy Scripture and as a basis for our present unity with brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion and for the future reunion of all the divided branches of Christ’s one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Christian mission is rooted in unchanging biblical revelation. At particular times, however, specific challenges to authentic faith and holiness arise which require thoughtful and vigorous response. We therefore speak to the following issues of our time and culture.

The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ. While religions and philosophies of the world are not without elements of truth, Jesus Christ alone is the full revelation of God. In and through the Gospel, Jesus judges and corrects all views and doctrines. All persons everywhere need to learn of him, come to know and believe in him, and receive forgiveness and new life in him, as there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Church and State. Biblical social commandments and Christian ethical principles are foundational to the well-being of every society. Recognizing the call of Christians to be faithful witnesses and a challenging presence in society, we are committed to seek ways to express these commandments and principles in all spheres of life, including the public life of the nation.
Sanctity of Life. All human life is a sacred gift from God and is to be protected and defended from conception to natural death. We will uphold the sanctity of life and bring the grace and compassion of Christ to those who face the realities of previous abortion, unwanted pregnancy, and end-of-life illness.

True Inclusivity. In grateful response to Christ Jesus, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we will extend the welcome of the Church to every person, regardless of race, sex, social or economic status, sexual orientation, or past behavior. We will oppose prejudice in ourselves and others and renounce any false notion of inclusivity that denies that all are sinners who need to repent.

Marriage, Family, and the Single Life. God has instituted marriage to be a life-long union of husband and wife, intended for their mutual joy, help, and comfort, and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation and nurture of children. Divorce is always contrary to God’s original intention, though in a fallen world it is sometimes a tragic necessity. The roles of father and mother, exercised in a variety of ways, are God-given and profoundly important since they are the chief providers of moral instruction and godly living. The single life, either by call or by circumstance, is honored by God. It is therefore important for unmarried persons to embrace and be embraced by the Christian family.

Human Sexuality. Sexuality is inherent in God’s creation of every human person in his image as male and female. All Christians are called to chastity: husbands and wives by exclusive sexual fidelity to one another and single persons by abstinence from sexual intercourse. God intends and enables all people to live within these boundaries, with the help and in the fellowship of the Church.

We desire to be supportive of congregations, dioceses, provinces, and the national structures of the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. However, when there arise within the Church at any level tendencies, pronouncements, and practices contrary to biblical, classical Anglican doctrinal and moral standards, we must not and will not support them. Councils can err and have erred, and the Church has no authority to ordain anything contrary to God’s Word written (Articles of Religion XIX, XX). When teachings and practices contrary to Scripture and to this orthodox Anglican perspective are permitted within the Church — or even authorized by the General Convention — in obedience to God, we will disassociate ourselves from those specific teachings and practices and will resist them in every way possible.

We invite all members of the Episcopal Church who concur in this classical Anglican perspective, to stand with us for mutual enlightenment, encouragement, mission, and ministry, and, where necessary, for protection of the right to live and minister in obedience to Scripture, Anglican tradition, and conscience. We further invite all persons who share this faith to stand with us.

Adopted August 7, 1996

Appendix E: Statement of the Bishops of the American Anglican Council
The Bishops’ Advisory Council of the American Anglican Council met in Orlando, Florida, on February 26, 1999, and issued the following statement:

DESPITE the real threats of serious division within the Episcopal Church, we, the bishops affiliated with the American Anglican Council (AAC), believe we are in a moment of significant missionary opportunity.

We are unanimous in our embrace of the reports and resolutions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. We believe Lambeth’s teaching is authoritative for Anglican Christians and the clear starting point for a new era of mission in the 21st century. The refusal of some to embrace such teaching as guided by the Holy Spirit in a Council of the Church not only diminishes but seriously threatens both the unity and mission of the Episcopal Church and the entire Anglican Communion.

Our vision for the Episcopal Church, too detailed to articulate in this space, will be spelled out in coming months. This vision is rooted in the Great Commission of the Risen Christ to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). It is embodied in the church as a community of believers living in one accord with God’s word in love and truth. We are not an independent denomination, but we are members of the Anglican Communion whose local franchise in the United States of America is the Episcopal Church.

We recognize that fulfilling our vision entails profound and radical consequences for the structures of the Church. Form will follow function, or dysfunction, and will reflect either choice. Embracing the Great Commission as a context for our life as a Church will inevitably have positive and far-reaching consequences that are observable in specific realignments of structures not only in ECUSA but also throughout the Anglican Communion.

We are aware of recent petitions for emergency intervention in ECUSA, delivered to the Primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion from the "Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission" (AACOM). These petitions signal some troubling realities. They reveal - and may understate - the post-Lambeth condition of the American Province, ECUSA. They may well represent the leading edge of an impending realignment in the Anglican Communion, and serve to emphasize the serious divisions within the Episcopal Church, as evidenced by the almost immediate repudiations of Lambeth resolutions and significant misrepresentation of bishops from other Provinces of the Communion.

If we are to avoid serious schism, then Christ’s Great Commission must ground our vision. Any other foundation will force division in the Church. We believe we are in the midst of an authentic reformation of the Church. In such circumstances, profoundly different opinions are bound to lead to conflict. Therefore we request our Presiding Bishop to promote the kind of community that resists the use of force, the one against the other, and to establish a principle of providing creative alternatives in situations where there is serious disagreement between a bishop and that bishop’s clergy or congregations.

We offer this statement in the sincere and abiding commitment to the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name believers are redeemed to eternal life. to relearn from them that ancient lesson that the testimony (martyria) of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10).

This essay was written in the aftermath of the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops and in response to the Petition presented to the Primates (Archbishops) of the Anglican Communion in January 1999 by the "Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission" (AACOM).

Copyright Stephen F. Noll, 1999.

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