Monday, July 7, 2008

GAFCON and the UCC

It is a positive thing that the United Church of Christ keeps tabs on the other denominations among which she co-exists.  On the UCC website right now is an article concerning the PCUSA, the liberal branch of the Presbyterians in the United States (and, for what its worth, it is an article about gay clergy; is it really just the conservatives who are focused on sex?).  

But another partner of the UCC that is getting a lot of play in the media is the Episcopal Church.  The worldwide Anglican communion's existence is in serious jeopardy, and there is no guarantee that a unified Anglican church will exist in 10 years.  For years the Anglicans have tried to walk the line between a common faith and freedom in faith, the same line the United Church of Christ has walked for over 50 years now.  However, the success of that stance is waning, and  the battle between conservatives and liberals is coming to a head, and Christians around the world are watching.

The Anglican crisis calls for particular attention from UCC members because its arguments so closely mirror our own, and the rhetoric on both sides has a familiar ring.  During the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), a statement was released from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), a gathering in Jerusalem of conservative Anglican bishops from all over the world (the majority being African - a persistently interesting twist).  During that conference they released a statement entitled  The Way, the Truth, the Life, outlining the theological positions of the conservative gathering.  The document warrants a close reading, but listen to some of the rhetoric being used:

"The liberals focus on shared worship, shared work and shared experience, but not on shared faith.  In contrast, the New Testament concept of fellowship is anchored in a common faith and a common mind (Phil. 2:1-2; John 1:1-3)."

"Liberal Anglican leaders and theologians insist, in their rhetoric, upon the comprehensiveness of the Church, but in reality they have problems with a comprehensiveness that includes the orthodox."

"The Anglican Church is committed to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. For some, however, the Church is itself the message. By this they mean that the Anglican Church’s own diversity, and its ability to live with plurality and contradiction in its own membership on matters of faith, is precisely the witness it gives to a plural society today."  

"How should we understand revelation?  It is the presence of God, and it is also God speaking to his people (God Is Still Spreaking!?!?).  These two understandings are completely compatible; they are only falsely opposed to one another.  God exercises his authority through his Spirit, by means of the words which he addresses to particular human beings.  Those who disagree with this claim will ask whether that speech is episodic and time-bound as we be suggested by its expression in a historical text, or whether it is of a different order from human-to-human speech."

These selections, among others, raise my antennae considerably; they are the verbatim battles we are fighting inside the UCC.  The lesson here is that the UCC better be watching the Episcopal Church; if they can somehow find a way to maintain their unity, or if they manage to destroy themselves, we would do well to take notes.  Will there be solutions that we can adapt to our own use?  Can we avoid the pitfalls that have and will occur?  Can we, as the UCC, live out what the Anglican church seems unable to do?  Is it possible to walk this path in faithfulness to Christ?  This is a fascinating, informative, and sorrowful tale.  May the Lord's wisdom and guidance prevail, come what may.

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