The Anglican-Methodist Covenant

Update: 28/01/10 - Please note that this post reflects my views during my early stages of exploring Orthodoxy and may not necessarily reflect my current understanding with complete accuracy.

This is modified from something I posted elsewhere, but I thought that a discussion here might be beneficial to me because of where I am currently.

We the Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Church of England, on the basis of our shared history, our full agreement in the apostolic faith, our shared theological understandings of the nature and mission of the Church and of its ministry and oversight...

It seems to me that this covenant fails from the start because it is based on a lie - the quote above sounds like a typical Anglican fudge. At least there's one practice that we now seem to be sharing with each other. Whence comes this full agreement in the apostolic faith? (And I noticed the lower-case letters here). Did I miss this one?

And surely we do not have a shared theological understanding of the nature of the Church, otherwise the Church of England would never have seen the question of the validity of Methodist orders as an issue. It is clear that the Apostolic Succession through tactile Episcopal succession is seen as vital to the existence of the Church by one group, and not by the other. To say that we have a shared understanding of this is nonsense, because if we did, the validity or invalidity either of our orders would not be an issue.

I can understand the difficulty of the Methodist position. The issues here are the same as any other theological issue, in that a large proportion of regularly worshipping members of any church just 'go to church' and do not spend their days studying the finer points of their churches' beliefs. This is perfectly acceptable, as there is more to the Christian life than this.

Before people 'in the pews' (at the risk of sounding patronising) of both Methodist and Anglican churches can begin to develop an understanding of why there is a question about the validity of Methodist Orders, they first have to take a big step back and consider something that may previously have never even crossed their minds, yet Methodists are being asked to think about the validity of their orders, when for some of them, the concept of validity is not one that has ever entered their consciousnesses. The starting point is different depending on who you talk to, and to state that we have a shared understanding of the nature of the Church is fallacy.

My views on this sort of things are this. We celebrate the Sacraments as they have been given to us through Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition. A celebration outside of these norms, not following the practice of the Church is not instantly condemned as invalid, nor as devoid of God's grace - God may bestow his grace wheresoever and howsoever he so desires - but a degree of uncertainty is introduced by such actions, as there has been a deliberate departure from the Sacramental norms which are guarantors of God's grace.

This is what happens when priests use custard creams instead of bread at Mass, and this is what happens in having a priest perform "ordination" instead of a bishop. I would receive Communion in a Methodist church - indeed I have, but I could not be certain that what I have received is indeed the Body of Christ because I cannot be certain that the person standing in front of me is a priest. (S)he may well be - God may have decided to work through this community of Faith, where genuine people have come to worship God - but there would still be doubt because the norm for Ordination would have been departed from. I do not believe that this is the sort of thing that we ought to be enshrining in our official procedures. If full visible Christian Unity is really something that the Church of England is genuinely concerned about, then introducing further doubt into the validity of its orders is not the way to go about it.

I truly believe that honesty about what divides us is essential to healing, rather than pretending the differences do not exist, which, to some degree, is what this covenant is doing. We need to start afresh and thrash out these differences, instead of papering over the cracks.

It is precisely this sort of thing that is making me more and more convinced that I cannot remain within Anglicanism. Having said that, our High Mass for Easter Day this morning brought tears to the eyes of people, as this church has been used to a much higher tradition, but has not done anything of this nature for over 25 years. We trained the servers and borrrowed some tat, but all of the efforts paid off. I am loving being part of re-establishing this tradition that has been lost to this church, and the thundering organ with some fantabulous hymns is something that I would severely miss - it is this that drew me to church in the first place.

This really is difficult.

9 responses:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Michael! I am noticing you are thinking deeply, and that is very, very good!

I don't want to say anything at this point that might be confusing, so if you get a headache reading anything I write, take it with a large block of salt and don't pay any attention!

I think the question really is, "Where does church unity begin?" Is it, as John Romanides said, in the purification of the heart before all other efforts, or is it, as Zizioulas advocated, =in=, =through=, and =by means of= a common eucharistic action?

The Anglican-Methodist and the Anglican-Lutheran efforts toward "limited intercommunion" seem to me not to have quite thought all this through, but perhaps I am misunderstanding what they intend to do--it depends on what they consider the Eucharist to be, a fellowship meal with symbolic connotations as to the bread and wine, or a clear action in holiness and thanksgiving to bring the Real Presence of the Lord into our midst by the power of the Holy Spirit? Being somehow enabled to interchange "eucharistic ministers" would not be possible in Orthodoxy without uniform ordination of those "ministers", so I would be talking apples and oranges if I were to comment further on that.

But when does the Real Presence begin? Is the Real Presence effected at the moment of the epiclesis, when the bread and wine by the power of the Holy Spirit become the Body and Blood of Christ? Does the congregation complete that action of the Holy Spirit by saying "Amen" at the end of the consecration?

My late, great spiritual father of eternal memory was very fond of the Coptic Church, where they are very careful about everything connected with their Eucharist, to the point of blessing a special field where the wheat is grown that will be made into the flour for the Holy Bread. Not only do they bless the field, but they have special prayers for the ploughing, for the planting, for the harvesting, for the threshing, for the grinding, and for the making of the bread! Copts would faint with horror at consecrated crumpets and coca-cola, that's for sure!

Whatever you decide, I suspect there will be some pain involved in the decision; but be brave and as the Theotokos said to the servants at Cana, "Do whatever He tells you." The Orthodoxen will be praying for you!

Leetle M.

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Perry Robinson

Michael said...

Thank you both.

It's good to learn of the Coptic practice of santifying the entire process of the bread's production before it is brought to the Liturgy. It reminds me of God's sanctification of us: even before
we reach the end that he has planned for us, he is constantly sanctufying every aspect of our lives.

Anonymous said...

Michael, what a wonderful thought, that

"He is constantly sanctifying every aspect of our lives."

You have been doing a great job of showing that growth on bulletin boards, too, and I am very proud to know you! You reminded me of a bit of a canon from our Paschal liturgy:

"Let us speak, brethren,
"Even unto them that hate us:
"And forgive all,
"For the sake of the Resurrection."

I reckon we will not attain much in the way of unity until we all learn to let Christ, by the working of His Holy Spirit, drive out all our "passions" so we can see others as Christ sees them.

Leetle M.

Michael said...

Hmmmm. I posted this about ten minutes ago and it appears to have vanished, so I shall try again.

I just said thank you for your kidn words. I have been very much aided by you and others here. People have been so open and willing to share of themselves, their beliefs, their feelings and even their compositions.

I have learnt as well from another message board where (although this is a generalisation) many of the Orthodox members tend to be so much more polite and gentle about deep-seated differences than some of the Anglican and Roman Catholic members. It has shown me an aspect of Orthodox culture, will is certainly beneficial.

Anonymous said...

Well, I made a post too, to thank you, Michael, but it vanished as well....

Anyhow, the gist of it was that as long as we make careful use of the minds God has given us, and cooperate with Him, we will be on the right track.

Leetle M.

Anonymous said...

Much of the area in which I grew up was Methodist, and the non-evangelicals among the denomination occasionally looked back fondly at their Episcopal "forebears" -- forgetting in the process that their denomination exists because Canterbury didn't want their converts....

(And forgetting the "Method" that forms the basis of their service was to be used for evangelism, rather than the regular weekly services -- which followed the Book of Common Prayer!)

Michael said...

You raise some good points.

It's all a very messy business. I suppose it's much like the Anglo-Catholic dilemma? Do we convert individually or do we stick it out and move Anglicanism closer to Rome/Constantinople?

I can see how some high Methodists could be facing the same issue. I would suggest that it is perhaps easier to do the former, but this may not be the case. I know I have my worries.

Merseymike said...

I don't want Anglicanism to be any closer to either Rome or Constantinople, thanks. Almost as bad as it hurtling down the funsy evo path.

And where I might have cared about these sort of ecclesiastical niceties at one time, I don't give a stuff. if the coming together of anglicanism and methodism produces a more inclusive,progressive, and liberal church, then I'm for it, if it does the opposite, then I'm against.

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