The Theological Pogo Stick


Kendall Harmon over at Titusonenine reports that Andrew Hutchinson, the head of the Canadian Anglican Church has knocked the Archbishop of Canterbury for not providing clear leadership. Geesh, if he wants clear leadership, why’s the guy an Anglican? Doesn’t he geddit? Archbishops of Canterbury are elected because they know how to compromise. As it used to be said of Archbishop Robert Runcie…”He was very good at nailing his colors firmly to the fence.”Huthcinson’s grumble about the lack of clear leadership is really code for, “We’re pretty fed up with the Archbishop of Canterbury not taking our side in the homosexuality debate.”

If the Archbishop of Canterbury had taken a clear position and reprimanded the Canadian and American Churches for their wacko stance would they have listened and heeded his rebuke? Probbly not. We only have to see what the American bishops did with the communique from Tanzania to check out what the American and Canadian Anglicans do with ‘clear leadership.’ If the ‘clear leadership’ isn’t to their liking they claim jurisdictional independence and blame the other side for not being ‘sympathetic’.

Fact of the matter is that the ABC doesn’t have any real power and can’t exercise any form of leadership other than ‘first among equals.’ The situation the Anglicans find themselves in (i.e. no clear voice of authority) sheds light on a couple of things. First, it exposes what has always been the case: that Anglicans don’t have any real structure or mechanism for taking tough decisions and making them binding. Their famous ‘three legged stool’ of Scripture, Tradition and Reason is actually completely relativistic. One has to ask, ‘whose interpretation of Scripture? whose choice of tradition and whose reason and why?” As with the Evangelicals’ theory of sola Scriptura all one has in the end is individual opinion. The three legged stool turns out to be a theological pogo stick.

The second matter the Anglican situation enlightens is the relationship between Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome. Our Eastern brothers often plead for the Pope to be ‘first among equals’. Is that really the role of the papacy? If it means being the ‘first among equals’ as the Archbishop of Canterbury is ‘first among equals’, no thanks. That way lies endless division.

Love it or hate it, at the end of the day, one man has to make the call. This principle holds true in every other human endeavor from the family, to business to leading an army or leading a country. The buck has to stop somewhere. We all accept this in every other walk of life. Why such a problem when it comes to Church?

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  • I’m sure you’re right to highlight the structural element in the current Anglican meltdown. Archbishop Rowan Williams could have all the leadership clarity of, say, a Winston Churchill and those who disagree with him on a particular matter would still be able to ignore him (and mischievously accuse him of weakness)given the current Anglican command structure. However I’m less sure when you extend the analogy to the Orthodox churches. I’m perfectly certain that when Orthodox Christians (and others) say they would be willing to accept the Bishop of Rome as the first among equals they do not have the Anglican model in mind.While clarity is indeed helped by having a leader with whom the buck stops, that clarity is rendered null and void if this leader’s authority is hedged about with all sorts of claims (or cluttered up with a lot of unnecessary baggage) which an awful lot of people are reluctant or unwilling to accept.At the risk of immodesty, I’d like to draw the attention of readers to the piece I penned yesterday under the title ‘Et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam’ which draws together threads developed by Fr Anthony Chadwick and Daniel Mitsui.What is needed, I now suggest, is an acceptance of the Petrine Ministry by key elements of Orthodox Churches (and others) provisional upon calling the first genuine Ecumenical Council since goodness knows when to thrash out all the current issues including the exercise of authority in the 21st Century Church. Yes, this would become a very public forum for disagreement between Christians and at the end of the day there will still be those who dissent from any decisions taken. It was ever thus. But, I would submit, such a scenario is surely preferable to the present mess. And here, I don’t just mean ‘Anglican mess’! The situation in the Roman Church is equally parlous as graphically illustrated in Fr Dwight’s recent piece on the falling number of vocations (in spite of his understandably positive spin). What is clear is that unless something dramatic happens many of the key Catholic functions on the ground (priestly functions mainly)will have disappeared by the middle of the century. Indeed in parts of Europe they have already done so.Calling the kind of Ecumenical Council outlined here would take an unprecedented leap of faith (greater indeed than that of Pope John XXIII) or demonstration of political will – if you want a secular slant – but, I suggest, anything less simply won’t do.

  • Before leaving the Anglican Church, I heard Williams speak at an SSC conference in London. He was superb. Whatever my theological problems with Anglicanism, I was still convinced that in that Communion’s two Archbishops (Canturbury and York), there wre men of integrity and goodness. Not perfection, mind you, but alot to admire.As for Hutchinson, he was my bishop when I lived in Montreal. And while there are things it would be wise for me to NOT say about his leadership when I was there (you know the adage: if you can’t say anything nice…), I CAN say that he was never anything less than absolutely hostile to real theological/philosophical thought.It’s really no wonder that he should criticise the Abp of Canterbury for being unclear. I’m quite sure he doesn’t understand him… or even want to try.

  • Stephen, the Eastern Orthodox may not envision the Anglican model of ‘first among equals’ but the Anglican model can reveal to them what this acually comes to.I admire much, but know very little about the Eastern Orthodox, but the impression I get is that many of them (if not most) dislike the Pope and the Roman Church with as much intensity as our Protestant brethren. The stories one hears about reactions to Rome from visitors to Greece are on par with stories from Ian Paisley’s Northern Ireland. It’s basically ‘no pope here.’Isn’t there an inconsistency in your stance? You appreciate the clarity of papal leadership, but dislike the ‘hedging about’. Wouldn’t you be even more critical if there were not suitable explanations, checks and balances to papal authority?

  • Before I resigned as a Lutheran minister, and just after a national synod where several matters of doctrine were voted on, another Lutheran minister joked saying “The Lutheran Church, where men are men, and doctrines are nervous!” On a more serious note, when it became obvious the Lutherans could not possibly answer the questions I was asking, I had several people try to convince me to consider Eastern Orthodoxy. I have to admit, it was an attractive option for aesthetic and personal reasons (namely, I could choose which bishop to ‘submit’ to) but as Fr l says, it ends up with exactly the same problem, albeit ina different form, to the Lutherans. We have a Pope. Beware of incomplete immitations!

  • DGus

    The ecclesiology of the Eastern Orthodox does not seem to have led to “endless division.” In actual practice, the EO are, if anything, more unified and certainly more doctrinally stable than the RC West. No?

  • DGus, which EO are we discussing? The Russians, the Russians in exile, the other russians in exile, the Alaskan Russians, the Antiochan, the Antiochean, the Copts, the other Copts, the Byzantines, the Rumanians, the Greeks, the Chaldeans, etc etc.There may not be as many groups as the Protestants, but my point is that they suffer from two of the same related problems: no central voice of authority and therefore division of voice.The may be doctrinally ‘stable’ but see my previous posts that they have retained unity of doctrine at the expense of unity of form, while Anglicans (for example) have always retained unity of form at the expense of unity of doctrine. Only with an infallible authority can you retain both.