Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the Magisterium (Redux)

This was first published on the web by me on Brad Drell's blog back in the Fall of last year. I thought I would put it up on my blog now because it seems the appropriate thing to do. If you find it interesting, please let me know. If you think I'm a total loon, please also let me know. I doesn't cost anything to comment, and the input helps me to know if how I'm doing. Thanks and God bless.


In Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, Jesus is traveling from the Jordan near Jerusalem back home to Galilee. Passing through Samaria, He encounters the woman at the well. Consider verse 22: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4: 22 RSV) How can she, the Samaritan woman at the well, worship God yet not know him? The Samaritans worshiped the God of Israel, but the Samaritan Bible contained only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Lacking the Books of the Prophets, the Wisdom Literature, and the Histories, the Samaritans had no way to know how God had continued to reveal Himself to His people following the death of Moses. They knew that they were to worship God, and they knew that a Messiah would come to redeem His people, but they did not have the full revelation of God.

Jesus revealed Himself to the Samaritan woman, and subsequently, He reveals Himself to those who hear and read the Gospel. Holy Scripture from beginning to end is the revelation of God’s Love for mankind, yet if His people never hear or understand what God has revealed through His Word, and through His Church, then we are no better than the Samaritans who only received part of the story. The responsibility for teaching God’s people falls upon the shoulders of the Church, specifically to the clergy whose job it is to ensure that Holy Scripture and the doctrines of the Church inform and enlighten this darkened world.

The magisterium is defined as the teaching authority of the Church. Literally, magister ludi in Latin means schoolmaster or teacher. In Roman Catholicism, the magisterium propagates and enforces the traditions and doctrines of the Faith informed by the words of Holy Scripture. In reality, should we of the Anglican Faith have any substantially different understanding of the concept? Did not Richard Hooker defend the Anglican Church against the Puritans by describing a paradigm where Scripture, Reason and Tradition were the proper ways to understand Anglican theology, liturgy and doctrine?

It is not insignificant that in his Address to the Academic Convocation at Nashotah House last Fall, Bishop Robert Duncan referred to an Anglican magisterium no less than 5 times. Clearly articulating the necessity for a revitalized teaching authority for the Anglican Community based on Holy Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer, he said, “A Church without a magisterium is soon no Church at all.”

This idea of an energized and proactive teaching authority surfaces in the lectionary. On the Feast of Leo X, we read Matthew 5: 13-19, a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus assures his disciples, especially the 12 who are gathered around him, that He did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but rather “to fulfill them”. On the heels of this statement, Christ issues a warning that we would be wise to heed today:

“Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5: 19 RSV)

On the Feast of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, another reading hit home. As St. Paul made his final journey to Jerusalem before being sent to Rome for his execution, he landed in the port city of Miletus and sent to Ephesus for the elders of the Church to come and meet him. Knowing that his race was almost run, Paul tells them to “take heed to yourselves and all the flock” over whom the Holy Spirit has made them “overseers”. The Greek for overseer is episkopos.

Paul warns his episkopoi, bishops, about “fierce wolves” that will prey on the faithful from the outside of the community. Of greater danger, however, he warns that, “…from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20: 30 RSV) His advice: “Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20: 31 RSV)

The primary teaching authority of the Church resides with the Bishops. They are the defenders of the faith who are charged to order the instruction of those who are raised in the Faith or who choose by their own will to join the Church. The Episcopate is charged to raise up, educate and direct a knowledgeable and well trained clergy who are in turn given the practical task of teaching the people of God by instruction and example. The laity are responsible for actively taking part in the teaching of God’s Word through Bible studies, classes and participation with the clergy in learning and teaching. The laity is also responsible for providing a check on the clergy when they either fail to provide this education, or they advocate teachings that are contrary to the Scriptures or the doctrines and traditions of the Church. The magisterium must be prepared, as I believe many are, to stand firm in the Faith as received from Christ and delivered to this broken world through the Apostolic Succession of the Church.

In a sermon to Swiss Roman Catholic Bishops recently, Pope Benedict XVI instructed the leaders of the Church to actively combat the deepening cultural ambivalence towards religion.

“Pope Benedict said modern people refuse to believe or to live their faith fully because they do not really know God, and they have never really experienced his love for them. ‘Our task is to help so that people can taste, can feel again the goodness and greatness of God,’ he said.” Catholic News Service

Those whom God has chosen to serve Him in His Church must take seriously their roles as teachers and preachers of the Word and the traditions of the Church. God’s people must not be satisfied to worship a God that they do not know.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


The Primates of the Anglican Communion have tossed the ball back into our court. The Communique reflects the hard work of many devout and theologically wise people who are trying to find a way to preserve the Anglican Communion, defend the Apostolic doctrine of the Church and find a way to bring the Communion to a deeper and more coherent form of unity. Not an easy task, but the Communique hits the mark on several key points.

The most important of these points, in my humble opinion, is the call for ECUSA to clarify its response to the Windsor Report. Contrary to the report of the “gang of four”, the Primates rightly understand that the product of General Convention ’06 was not an adequate reply to Windsor.

While they[the Primates] appreciate the actions of the 75th General Convention which offer some affirmation of the Windsor Report and its recommendations, they deeply regret a lack of clarity about certain of those responses.

The Primates have requested that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the United States:

1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any
Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General
Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and

2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention
means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not
receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);

unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR,

These are reasonable requests that could be answered by the House of Bishops, if they chose to do so.

I believe that there are four possible paths that the House of Bishops could take in the next few weeks:

1) The House of Bishops can agree that they will not authorize any Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses. This only requires an act of will by the Bishops to abide by the intent of the Windsor Report. It is significant that the request of the Primates does not ask the Bishops to stop any such Rites that may be being used within their respective dioceses. As to the consent to an episcopal election, again all they would need to do is agree to withhold consent. It would be a “gentlemen’s agreement”.

I don’t give this option a high probability of success; but it is not impossible, and it is the best option. If the Bishops do accept the responsibility and agree to these requests from the Primates, then ECUSA will apparently continue to stay in good enough graces with the Anglican Communion so that ECUSA bishops will not be excluded from Lambeth ’08. I gather this to be the case since a failure to answer the request in the affirmative would result in, “…consequences for the full participation of the Church [ECUSA] in the life of the Communion.”

A great deal of time and ink has been invested in proving the independent and unique “polity” of ECUSA as compared with the rest of the Anglican Communion. It is hard to perceive a strong will in the House of Bishops to take the lead on this issue and thereby potentially alienate the House of Deputies or their Diocesan Standing Committees. Further, I believe that there are enough Bishops who disagree with the intent of the request on “theological” or political grounds to impede a timely response. Therefore, I don’t discount the possibility, but I find it to be unlikely at this time.

2) The House of Bishops could acknowledge that they have the authority to answer the requests of the Primates, and then answer in the negative. This does not seem to be a likely possibility because it would require a decisive statement on the part of the House of Bishops that would result, almost certainly, in the complete alienation of ECUSA from the Anglican Communion (read schism). The recent history of this ongoing struggle over doctrine and authority leads one to believe that such a forthright and definitive stand would not be readily forthcoming. It would certainly bring an end to the debate and the speculation about how long this process will play out before there is some resolution.

The final chapter may be written at Lambeth ’08 with the adoption of the Anglican Covenant, depending on the final wording of the document. Certainly the Bishops want to have a say in the final drafting and adoption of the Covenant. Unless of course, the revisionists within ECUSA are indeed ready to cast off the pretense and set about creating the new Progressive Episcopal Worldwide Communion. But, I don’t see that happening yet.

3) The House of Bishops declares that, while it does “technically” have the authority to respond to the request, it would not be prudent nor appropriate for it to do so because of ECUSA’s polity and due to the seriousness of the issue and the consequences arising from the answer. In this scenario, the House of Bishops exercises it’s right under Title I, Canon 1, Section 3(a) of the Constitution and Canons and calls for a special meeting of the General Convention which would have to meet prior to the deadline of September 30, 2007. If this occurs, the House of Bishops would be looking to the House of Deputies to confirm its answers to the Primates, whatever those answers might be.

The Special General Convention would meet and would, presumably, hammer out a resolution that would affirm the Bishop’s answer, or would override it, thereby beginning the formal split of which I spoke in point 2. There is a better than even chance that this is the option that will be proposed. From a political standpoint, it offers the best cover for everyone concerned and gives ECUSA the most opportunity to vent its collective spleen to the rest of the world.

4) The House of Bishops declares that while it does “technically” have the authority to respond to the request, it would not be prudent nor appropriate for it to do so, and, because of the short notice, expense and repercussions to people on both sides of the theological argument, the Primates will have to wait until the next regular General Convention which is scheduled for Anaheim in 2009. This would be a bold and gutsy play for the House of Bishops, as it would put the ball squarely back into the +++ABC’s court. He would then have to either respect the will of the Primates and take action based upon the Tanzania Communique, or he would have to convince the Primates that they should respect ECUSA’s polity and give them the time they need. In the meantime, of course, ECUSA would attend Lambeth ’08, have a say in writing the final form of the Anglican Covenant and the Anglican Communion would limp along until, I guess, Lambeth ’18. This would be consistent with the revisionist strategy of grab and hold a position until everyone else is tired and gives up and goes home.

I doubt that the Primates of the Global South would go along with this, but if they pressed the +++ABC, and he insisted on giving ECUSA the time, then the Global South would separate from the Communion and ECUSA would basically get the Progressive Episcopal Communion many of the revisionists want. In addition, they would have Canterbury, which would be firmly within their sphere of influence. This would be the worst of the options, but, it will certainly be considered as a way for ECUSA to continue to have a seat at the table while at the same time asserting its absolute independence from any kind of external authority.

All this has been written from a purely politically perspective (pardon the alliteration). In my life prior to accepting Christ and discerning a call to Holy Orders, I lived, ate and breathed politics. It was my career. I will be the first one to admit that I wasn’t all that good at it, but then maybe that’s because God was humoring me for a few years before He set me on the right path. Or maybe it was so I could learn about people and about myself in the process. I fervently pray that everyone who sits in a position of authority in God’s Church will continue to look to Him, and to Him alone, for guidance and strength.

Seeing through the eyes of a believer, I see pain, frustration and fear. I also see a Church that is struggling to rediscover its identity as the “Bride of Christ” as Paul describes Her. We have a responsibility to reach out to the disaffected and the poor and the hurting. In doing so, we introduce them to Christ, who leads them, just as He led me, out of that place in which they are and into that place He would have them be. He transforms lives. He heals. The Church, His Church, must be healed, but that healing cannot be the end to itself. Unity for the sake of unity will not do. Agreeing to disagree over matters of fundamental theology and belief is no longer an option.

I pray that the House of Bishops will assent to the requested clarification to ECUSA’s answer to Windsor. I pray that all sides will allow the recommendations of the Primates to work so that healing within the Church can occur. I pray for the whole state of God’s Church, and that we can all remember that this is not a struggle of us versus them. This is about the Kingdom versus the world, and we have been distracted from that mission for too long.

To God be the Glory.

Michael W. Millard
Nashotah House '08

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Windsor Compliant? Really?

Regarding the report from the "gang of four", I must admit some surprise and disappointment. There are many political and strategic reasons why the report tries to make a purse from the sow's ear that was GC '06, but it really isn't worth losing too much sleep over this baffling report.

I was a Deputy in Columbus. I participated in all the debate on the various resolutions pertaining to Windsor. I heard deeply emotional and sincere testimony on both sides of the issue. I was shocked that the most important Windsor resolution (A161 which is not mentioned by the "gang of four" in their report) was soundly defeated by almost a 2/3 majority. Yes, I voted against the resolution because it was not sufficient to meet the standards of Windsor.

I was amazed at the super-extraordinary arm twisting by she who shall remain nameless on the floor of the House of Deputies. And I was saddened by the passage of the weak and worthless resolution, B033, which not only failed miserably to meet even the most generous of tests on Windsor compliance but inflicted a real slap in the face to all those who had less than 24 hours earlier been cheering (yes, cheering) over the revisionist victory.

Yet, maybe in retrospect, the slap wasn't all that stinging. Immediately after the vote on B033, a significant number of progressive bishops announced that they would not recognize the provisions of the resolution. In the months since GC '06, there have been at least two openly homosexual men standing for election to the episcopate in two different dioceses. Neither was elected, but their presence on the ballots was heralded as a significant step forward by many.

Now, we have this report that asserts that ECUSA has indeed met 2 of the 3 criteria necessary for Windsor compliance. We apparently are still shaky in the same-sex blessing arena, but B033 has been interpreted as sufficient on the other two. How they came to this stunning conclusion, I have no idea; but I surmise they must have gleaned something hidden within the words of the document that we unenlightened mortals lack the 'gnosis' to discern.

Despite the continued drift toward same-sex blessings (if not outright marriage), the prominence of non-celibate homosexual men in episcopal elections and an very shaky apology with a prominent lack of repentance, ECUSA can say, "We have complied (mostly) with Windsor so give us a seat, don't harass us anymore and leave us alone because it's our Church and our polity so you can't tell us what to do! Let's have no more talk of this, or we'll sick Bonnie on you."

Will this work? No. The Primates of the Global South know what B033 said and what it means. They have been watching and listening with ears far more highly attuned to the theological issues of the day than most bishops in America, Canada and Great Britain. And while the +++ABC may privately acknowledge how transparent this report is, the Global South has already proved their willingness to stand to the fore and loudly declare that the emperor has no clothes. If anything, this report could be seen as a slap in the face of the orthodox Primates who, in the words of one notable revisionist of the highest rank are only one generation removed from the trees.

Oh my! What inclusion. What sensitivity.

There has been much rhetoric surrounding this meeting and much speculation regarding the possible outcomes. From the beginning of our current unpleasantness, I have believed that, in the end, the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, will emerge stronger and more resolute in its profession of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Shall we all stand and recite the Nicene Creed.

To God be the Glory.

Michael Millard
Nashotah House '08

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Question of the Day

While I mostly dislike "what if" questions, sometimes they can be fun and insightful if they are not taken too seriously. Therefore, I am posing a question that I hope many will ponder and then answer in a comment to this post.

The question is: If you could choose which Book of Common Prayer ECUSA would use starting on Advent 2007, would you:

A: Keep the 1979 BCP
B: Use the Anglican Service Book
C: Reinstate the 1928 BCP
D: Adopt the 1662 BCP
E: Go back to basics with the 1549 BCP
F: Write a completely new BCP
G: Let each diocese choose which one to use

Please give a brief reason for your selection.

Consider this a conversation starter.