Our Own Little Missouri Synod?

Now that Kenya has consecrated two more American priests as bishops to be missionaries to the West here in North America and there are threats of boycotting the Lambeth Conference from certain Provinces in Africa and bishops from the US and even the Church of England, I wonder if the time has come to at least consider what some kind of “orderly reconfiguration” of the Anglican Communion might look like.

What if we simply acknowledged two separate expressions of Anglicanism here, and perhaps elsewhere around the globe? Would that be the end of the world? Since many of the so-called “continuing churches” seem to prefer the word “Anglican” anyway perhaps we should just concede them that formal designation.

Many Episcopalians do not consider themselves Anglican first and foremost anyway, but rather Episcopalians who are members of the Anglican Communion. If Canterbury were to recognize two expressions of that Communion would it be any worse than the Lutheran World Federation which acknowldedges Missouri Synod Lutherans as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America both as members?

Missouri Synod Lutherans are a more conservative expression and the ELCA a more progressive experession of Lutheranism on these shores and beyond. The two groups disagree mightily on some things and there is a certain amount of tension between them. Yet, they do cooperate in such things as Lutheran Social Services, certain missionary endeavors, and in the Lutheran World Federation itself. Everyone knows they are all Lutherans.

I know the critique here: the LWF is a “federation” of churches while the Anglican Communion seeks to be just  that — a “communion” of churches. However, when you have whole Provinces declaring themselves “out of communion” with others and bishops refusing to receive the sacrament from other bishops, it is perhaps time honestly  to concede that we look a whole lot more like a federation. Indeed, up until the middle of the 20th century that’s pretty much how we understood ourselves as Anglicans anyway.

As one whose entire life and ministry is dedicated to working toward the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer “that we all may be one” this gives me no pleasure. I hope a way can be found for the Communion to remain intact. But, if such a way cannot be discerned, would it not be better to preserve some sense of civility and some level of cooperation rather than watching endless division and fragmentation in this church?

Would we not be a better witness to the world if we found a way for an “amicable” separation showing mutual respect and tolerance? Would some “friendly competition” between “Anglicans” and “Episcopalians” on the local level be all that bad? (Provided we were both seen as full members of the Anglican family of churches?)  

Could we not find a way to live alongside our own little Missouri Synod?      

13 Responses to “Our Own Little Missouri Synod?”

  1. John Petty Says:

    I get your point. Technically speaking, however, the Missouri Synod is not a member of the LWF. It’s not that they couldn’t join. All you have to do is affirm the Augsburg Confession. They don’t join because they don’t want to.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    Really! Guess I was misinformed…

  3. Johann Says:

    As John Petty pointed out, the Missouri Synod (LC-MS) isn’t a member of the LWF because they insist on additional conditions as prerequisites for entering into full communion with other churches. They do, however, cooperate with the ELCA in some ministries and advocacy. But, your main point is relevant; members of the LWF do not insist that there can be only one member church in any particular geographical region. As far as the LWF is concerned, we may indeed have two or more Lutheran churches in the US, in full communion with each other but not in full agreement on all matters.

    I also want to point out that the LWF does define itself as “a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition”.

  4. rwk Says:

    Having two “expressions of Anglicanism” is unlikely to heal the breach between the Episcopal Church and those Anglican Churches that have broken communion with the Episcopal Church. Those churches and their primates made it very clear in Dar es Salaam last year what was required to restore the breach and the Episcopal Church has made no effort to do so. The upcoming House of Bishops meeting is probably the last chance. So, two “expressions of Anglicanism” in the US or North America will probably not change the situation on the ground very much. The best I could see happening is that there might be some handful of joint projects to be undertaken.

  5. ecubishop Says:

    The “last chance” for what? The Episcopal Church remains a constituent member the Anglican Communion. Her bishops have been invited to the Lambeth Conference. She has expressed her willingness to cooperate in the development of an Anglican covenant.

    It is those churches and individuals who have left the Episcopal Church who seek recognition and a place a the table. Not the Episcopal Church.
    The meeting of the American House of Bishops with the Archbishop of Cantebury and certain other Primates is simply one more step in the process.

    Anyone expecting it will be more than that is sure to be disappointed.

  6. rwk Says:

    I would be able to live with a “Missouri Synod” option, but that would still leave the Episcopal Church in broken or impaired communion with about half the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

  7. ecubishop Says:

    And the new “Missouri Synod” with broken or impaired communion with the other half. Admittedly, not a pretty scenario.

    However, perhaps time could provide some space and opportunity for some healing and reconciliation…at least cooperation in mission.

    Again, I hope none of this has to come to pass.

    But, we need to begin thinking about future possibilities.

  8. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    sometimes ecumenical structures are impediments to unity, because they teach us that things are fine. here is, i think, such a case.

    your idea seems to be, if we cannot have a communion, at least let’s have a thing, and that thing, whatever it is, can at least allow for some shared stuff (“at least cooperation in mission”) even if not real unity.

    but then it teaches us that this shared stuff is any good at all without the unity which God gives us, and i’m not so sure of that. i think that organic unity is a wonderful thing, and a tremendous sign of the unity God gives us. and thus i take very seriously proposals for actual organic unity of church bodies.

    but things other than that (the concordat, the lwf-type idea you mention here, cocu) are purely pragmatic things. they are not, in themselves, steps toward unity, and often they explicitly disclaim that: note the way that cocu and the concordat bend over backwards to say they are not about organic unity–and thus, in my book, render themselves nice ideas and potential programs, but there is no compelling reason we must pursue them. they are not necessarily good: they may be good, they may not be.

    (as an example, your predecessor voted that mcc could not join the ncc, thus sacrificing our brothers and sisters in the name of “unity” because thus the orthodox would stay within the ncc. at that point, i say, who cares about the ncc? it is not the holy grail.)

    just so, if we cannot have organic unity, then we must acknowledge that fact. creating substitute things which are nearly-as-good, or which are in-the-place-of-real-unity is a great distraction from realizing the actual unity God gives us.

    which means that if we want some kind of other thing, then let’s build it, but let’s not do so as if it were some kind of replacement for a lost organic unity. it is not, and it cannot be, and we should not pursue it as if it were, even partially. if it is a good thing, then that will become clear in time, and there is no rush; we would not do well to try and build it immediately. that only would send the wrong message, i think.

  9. rwk Says:

    Interesting thoughts Thomas. I have raised before here that on some level we have conflated earthly institutional unity with unity in Christ. I have been in many churches where I had no institutional link, was not “a member” but I was clearly “at one” within a body of believers. At the same time I have attended some Episcopal churches where my beliefs put me on the outside even though I was institutionally part of them. Unity is a unity of belief and not of structure or institution.

  10. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    well, rwk, i don’t quite agree. i think institutional and structural unity is extremely important. i just don’t think that organizations like the wcc, the ncc, the lwf, cocu, etc., are providing it.

  11. ecubishop Says:

    Thomas and RWK:

    No one has ever said that the WCC, NCC, CUIC, or the LWF are expressions of the full, visible unity of the Church. Even “full communion” relationships, as they exist today, fall short of that goal.

    However, that is still the ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement.

    Unfortunately, we do not live in an idealistic, perfect world or Church. We must make pragmatic decisions and take baby steps, sometimes even one step backward before two steps forward.

    And, in my opinion, it is a bit hypocritical to *say* we are committed to full visible unity and then make decisions which make that impossible…at least in the near term.

  12. rwk Says:

    I understand your point, but the same point could be made regarding the Episcopal Church. The rest of the Anglican Communion pleaded with the Episcopal Church not to continue down the path it had chosen. Lambeth had spoken very clearly in 1998 and beyond, but the Episcopal Church chose to “rend the fabric” of the Communion.

  13. ecubishop Says:

    We certainly bear some of the responsibility (for which we have apologized), but not all.

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