Griffiss' "The Anglican Vision," Ch. 7: Identity and Diversity
Griffiss pictures an interlocutor asking "[W]hat does the Episcopal Church stand for? What gives it an identity and an authority? What holds it together?" (102) And now, with GC2006 ahead of ECUSA, those questions are even more urgent. Writing in 1997, he could call ECUSA the "roomiest" church in Christendom for its tolerance of "doctrinal differences and diversity in the practice of Christian life" (102)--by 2006 it seems to many that Episcopalian tolerance is self-defeating. It is not merely that roominess is "messy" (103) but that it has led ECUSA at times to adapt "too easily to the 'modern mind'" and also to underestimate "the enormity of the failures of contemporary culture and human sinfulness" (102)--Griffiss admits all this, and ECUSA's right-wing Anglican critics would see the controversial acts of GC2003 as instances. It may well end up that "some will find the Episcopal Church frustrating and, in the end, will not be nourished by it" (103), leaving ECUSA; we may be seeing this play out increasingly as GC 2006 passes and Lambeth 2008 draws near.
Why am I drawing your attention to all this, this grim prognostication? According to Griffiss--and I agree--the travail of the Episcopal Church is not an accident. He did not predict matters would come to such a head over homosexuality in particular, but our current unpleasantness is just the type of struggle the nature of our church, the Episcopal Church, runs the risk of producing. Being Episcopalian means running a risk of conflict such as this--if not over homosexuality, there would be something else in good time.
Well, that is a sobering thought indeed. Just what is it about ECUSA? Is this a feature of our church that we should resolve to accept, or even celebrate, as Griffiss and I think? Or is it a feature of ECUSA that we should seek to extirpate? Griffiss, sounding here a tad like Tillich, would call us to the virtue of courage; we are to willingly live with ambiguity and uncertainty in our belief, living with unanswered questions, all the while continuing to believe and worship. Indeed, "faith in God means not knowing all the answers to all the hard questions" like, this time around, those concerning homosexuality (114); rather, faith is "having the courage to believe in the God of Jesus Christ and the courage to trust what God is doing with us in life as well as in death" (114).
To put it in Tillich's terms, the Church catholic is to be gripped ultimately by God in Christ--in Griffiss' terms, faith implies living within the confines of our fallibility and ignorance, the church "always" needing to be "recalled to its center in the mystery of God in Christ" (114). The living center of the catholic Church is not a body of propositions, a lifeless, abstract corpse, but the risen body incarnate of Jesus, concrete and alive, a mystery beyond our comprehension. What do you bow before, a set of abstracta or the living Christ?
Griffiss could have followed Tillich and said we are to have the courage to resist the Idolatry of bowing before abstracta of our own formulation, calves of frozen dogma; we are to have the courage to live gripped by God in Christ, "having the courage to offer God praise and thanksgiving even in the midst of human pain and desolation" (114). How much of the Anglican Communion, how many Episcopalians pace Griffiss, cooking up new covenants and confessions in cauldrons of vain cupidity, are poised to resist idolatry? Yet, as Griffiss points out, God is with us even "in the ambiguitues, difficulties, and pains of our time" and "can transform them and us into a greater glory" (115).
For the Episcopal Church, even in the brokenness which is a scandal to so many, "is called beyond itself to God" (116) where its only true unity may be found. Here below we have only a foretaste of the not yet completed reality of unity with the Father in Christ, this foretaste being in "Grain scattered and broken bread made one" i.e. (Baptism and) Holy Eucharist, "our recollection in this present time of the event that makes us Christians: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ," the "normative act of worship of the church" (111).
Here I think Griffiss parts from Tillich; whereas Tillich downplays the efficacy of the sacraments, for Griffiss they have the effect of constituting the normal pattern of Christian life. For the sacraments of baptism and eucharist do not merely proclaim a story and establish a commitment--though they in fact accomplish these things; they bring us to participate in the very life of God. Griffiss: "the sacraments of baptism and eucharist are the acts whereby we are joined to the Incarnate Christ, through whom we participate in the divine life of the trinitarian God" (111).
Thus, for "Anglicans, the church mediates the truth of the transcendent God to huan beings...in and through its own fragility and incompleteness" (108). In Michael Ramsey's words, quoted by Griffiss, "its [the church's] credentials are its incompleteness" (105). And I cannot do better than quote Griffiss to summarize:
We have no pope...and we have no formal confession of faith....We have the Bible, certainly, but that makes us Christians , not necessarily Anglicans. At one time we all had a 'Book of Common Prayer'...but all Anglican churches have now revised their prayer books extensively. In one sense, all Anglicans have the Archbishop of Canterbury" but he "is just another English bishop. So we have been required by our historical circumstances to look to Christ alone for our identity and authority as a church. (104)
And that, I dare say, is exactly as it should be.