Saturday, July 05, 2008

Criticizing GAFCON's Theology from the Right

Logical consistency on theological issues is always difficult to achieve, especially if first principles are not in view. Thus, it came as no surprise to see Continuum published a piece by the Archbishop of the Anglican Catholic Church on GAFCON pointing out the Jerusalem Declaration's inconsistency from another angle. There is no doubt that Archbishop Haverland would find TEC's current positions in an even greater and more dangerous state of error--but that is not my point. Rather, with Haverland's writing in view, it seems clear even GAFCON's touted conservatism is merely an ersatz conservatism--going not quite far enough to achieve internal coherence from a staunchly conservative/traditionalist point of view.

That is to say, what kind of genuine Christian traditionalism could GAFCON actually intend to promulgate when

(1) it maintains "its silence concerning the ordination of women to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate"--for "all three Holy Orders are male in character,"
(2) contrary to the Jerusalem Declaration, "there are Seven Ecumenical Councils, not merely Four,"
(3) the document continues tolerance of divorce among its supporters when "valid Christian marriage establishes an indissoluble sacramental bond which cannot be broken save by death,"
(4) it declined to comment at all on abortion depite the fact "human life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death, and directly willed abortion always is gravely sinful" ?

Moreover, the Declaration's reference to uniquely authoritative formularies is erroneous as well. He writes:

...all Anglican formularies, practices, and beliefs properly are subject to evaluation and interpretation in the light of the central Tradition. If both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches reject something that some Anglicans believe, then that something probably is false, particularly if it concerns a matter of importance. Our security lies in the authority of Scripture as interpreted by the universal Tradition and by the living consensus of the great Churches, not in peculiarly Anglican notions.

Not bad stuff. There is more:

...while the 1662 Prayer Book has many strengths, it also has some notable weaknesses, including a truncated Eucharistic Canon, which the 1928 American, 1954 South African, and other later Prayer Books have corrected.

Which is not to say he supports use of the BCP 1979:

the 1979 Episcopalian Prayer Book, and many other contemporary language books at use in the official Anglican Communion, are radically flawed and are often subject to grave theological objection...

What is at stake here? How we should read Scripture and respond to Christian tradition: without clarity on Scripture and tradition, we are unlikely to be able to reason well on theological issues. GAFCON seems to read Scripture and tradition with an expedient,
selective conservatism:

actively gay bishops are a problem, but not female clergy,
blessing SSUs is a problem, but not divorce and apparently not abortion,
inventing a new gospel is a problem, but not gerrymandering authoritative councils and formularies.

That is, the reading of Scripture and tradition that enables dismissal of prohibitions on female ordination, divorce and perhaps abortion, and that engenders a "shop as you go" mentality toward authority in the church--namely GAFCON's reading--also enables dismissal of prohibitions on ordaining actively gay bishops and blessing SSUs. It's the same style of reading, the same type of treatment of tradition. In effect, GAFCON exhibits another inconsistency: if it were truly principled--that is, if it applied its way of handling Scripture and tradition consistently--it would tolerate the Episcopal Church and Canada; but of course it does not.

Of course, one might turn this around on Haverland: what about his reading of Scripture and tradition on slavery and usury? Note, the Roman See has never come out--to my very fallible knowledge, ready here to be utterly refuted--and said slavery was an absolute moral wrong. Would Haverland agree, given his criterion for sound doctrine--agreement with the Roman and Orthodox Sees--quoted above? I do not know; that is perhaps an argument for another time. Regardless of how he would respond personally, it seems GAFCON still has a problem.


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