Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thomas Cranmer and an Exhortation to Faithfulness

Sadly, as many readers will be aware of, there has been further disintegration in the Anglican world in these United States.  If the reader is unaware, disciplinary action has been directed against Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina, charging him with abandonment of the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."  This action from the national Church has triggered a response from the Diocese, automatically disassociating the Diocese from the General Convention.  The writer does not presume to weigh in on the apparent rightness or wrongness of the actions of the Presiding Bishop nor of the Diocesan Bishop, his Standing Committee, or Diocese.  However, one cannot think that the Presiding Bishop did not know about these diocesan canons and the effect of her and the Disciplinary Board's actions against Bishop Lawrence.  While the writer certainly shares the views of the Diocese of South Carolina (and it does remain as such, regardless of its stance with General Convention), I cannot help but lament the future pain this series of actions has already caused and most certainly will cause in the near and distant future.  Fortunately and unfortunately, this is the consequence of the abandonment of biblical faith and practice by our national Church and the only remedy is to repent and return to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

However, the situation as it is leads us to conclude that such repentance will not occur.  The question inevitably arises in the mind of a faithful Christian, what to do in times such as these?  Regrettably, in times such as these, one can visibly see the rise in dissent in our parishes and clergy, who sincerely (and justifiably) think that leaving the Church is the best response to the problems facing us from all fronts.  On the contrary, I think that in times such as these, the exact opposite is true.  The best weapon against heresy and tyranny is faithfulness coupled with the courage to stand up against such atrocities.  The problem with dissent is that it causes confusion and ultimately brings about the normalization of schism in our ecclesiastical culture.  Which is better, I ask you, ten competing jurisdictions preaching different party platforms, or one united people of God, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Another problem with dissent is a faulty understanding of the Church.  To be a dissenter, one must hold (to some extent) to a purist notion of the Church (read Anabaptist).  The historic church has always had weeds mixed in among us.  When a group of Christians leaves the Church over some issue, be it homosexuality, women's ordination, or whatever it is, they will have to eliminate the possibility of that particular error arising in their own ranks which necessitates some form of purism.  The problem is that a puristic Church is an impossibility, at least biblically speaking.  The Church is flawed and it has always been.  Moreover, it always will be a flawed body until our Lord returns in glory.

A source of inspiration in my own life has been none other than Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, an exemplar for loyalty to one's national Church.  Some might seem puzzled at this selection at first glance, however, upon explanation, I hope you will see my point.  Why would Thomas Cranmer, the Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury, be the best example of remaining faithful to the Episcopal Church?  Did he not "break" from Rome?  No, he did not, King Henry VIII did remove the Church of England from the tyranny of Rome, yes, but this is not schism, this is restoring the Church of England to its rightful place, and second, Cranmer did not initiate this action, the King did.  In other words, Cranmer left to the King's decision what was in the King's power.  Christian bishops don't go about causing schisms, at least orthodox ones don't, this is not in their realm of authority.  Cranmer remained loyal to his Church, in good and bad times.  For example, Cranmer remained loyal to the Church of England throughout the reign of Henry VIII, when the unreformed mass remained the norm, the Gospel was not articulated and the people were not instructed in the vernacular language.  Cranmer remained in the Church when the times were good under Edward VI, when his reforms were finally realized.  Most importantly, Cranmer remained in the Church of England, when Mary Tudor assumed the throne and re-subjugated England to Papal tyranny.  This is crucial because Cranmer had the option to leave, like other Reformers did, but chose to stay with his Church and be martyred for the Gospel.

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