July 3, 2013

Anglican Way Institute Continues to Thrive

The Council of Nicea (Photo Credit: Facebook)

The Council of Nicea (Photo Credit: Facebook)

by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)

Last week, young classical Anglicans gathered at the Church of the Holy Communion in Dallas to learn about “Creeds, Councils and Christ.” Aimed at Christians under thirty and clergy, the Anglican Way Institute highlights deep theological teaching and extensive liturgical worship. This year’s featured speaker was the Rev. Dr. Gerald Bray, Church of England minister and professor at the evangelical Beeson Divinity School.

The mastermind behind AWI remains one of its founding visionaries, the Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton, bishop coadjutor in the Diocese of Mid-America of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). When asked about the conference’s purpose, Bishop Sutton explained, “The Anglican Way Institute really started with a desire to perpetuate this way of being a Christian that we call Anglican. And it began in a time where there was much reorganization of Anglicanism going on. It seemed that there was a need to try to articulate what this Anglican Way is – to provide teaching.” “[T]here was a concern to see beyond generations, to catch hold of this way for which all the churches with liturgies and ancient traditions in the West have been frontally assaulted for decades and told to give up their traditions to reach people through culture,” he furthered, “And they’ve given up their traditions, and they haven’t really reached more people because they gave up their traditions.”

Bishop Sutton opened the conference with his own lecture, observing that “[e]ven when some Christians claim ‘No creed by Christ, no book but the Bible,’…but even those churches have doctrinal statements, Sunday School material, hymns, songs–all statements of faith.” He highlighted Lancelot Andrewes’ five-fold approach to Anglican spiritual authority: one Bible, two Testaments, three creeds, four councils, and the first five centuries of the Church. Classical Anglicans have long focused on these sources in their faith and practice as a means of protecting both catholicity and orthodoxy. Sutton noted that the councils and creeds speak to a broad range of issues, but especially the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and the Church.

Professor Bray organized his four plenary messages according to the Nicene statement “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” He tailored his concerns to a personal level, hoping to avoid an abstract discourse of theology. In his first address, he declared, “We have a message that cannot be diluted, compounded, exchanged, or optional.” Jesus, the Incarnate God, came down from heaven to provide the only way of salvation to mankind. This exclusive message proved almost as unpopular back then at the Church’s early days as it does today: Rome tended to favor unity over truth. The Jewish people before Christ tended to be left alone since they kept to themselves; the early Church, on the other hand, went out into the world to “bring the message of an exclusive Deity to the world.”

In his explanation of holiness, Bray worried that, after the socially-engaged Holiness Movement, “holiness becomes something that must be visible—just like the Pharisees.” The British theologian called for a revived understanding of holiness as a distinctness and separateness of God’s people. “Often, holiness is a whole lot of little, non-heroic things, but they’re the difference between life and death.”

Bray also discussed catholicity, reminding that, if I Corinthians 8 is trustworthy, personal feelings and preferences can cause many of the controversies within the Church. “You can go up into the pulpit and preach Buddhism, and only one or two people will notice…People will notice other things.” Thus, it is important to learn what matters and what does not in order to preserve true catholicity—“catering to everybody leads to chaos.” Bray recommended the Book of Common Prayer as a helpful tool to achieve this kind of informed unity.

In addition, he commented on what apostolicity looks like on a practical level. “[The second epistle to St. Timothy] is about handing on the apostolic message…This tradition is a way we’re connect to the apostles.” Bray highlighted the fact that it was a miracle that different groups did not go their separate ways in the early Church. Even in the midst of illegality, persecution, and geographical separation, the Christian forefathers attested to one apostolic deposit and message: “We are of Jesus.”

In typical Anglican fashion, Bray saw a split between the Church and orthodox belief as a false dichotomy. He coyly surmised, “In the Prayer Book tradition, we have both faith and order. Together, they are like a jug of milk. Order is like the jug—if it has no milk, then it’s simply empty and you can only use it for decoration, really. However, faith is like milk. If it’s spilled all over the floor, you can lap it up if you wish, but you never know what you’ll pick up with it.”

Workshop sessions proved erudite yet useful. Eschewing both detached ivory-towered academics and dumbing down, AWI assigns active clergy to teach conference participants. Workshops tended to focus on particular ecumenical councils, the harm of heresy, and Anglican spirituality (which springs from patristic and monastic sources). Participants also enjoyed much time in congregational prayer and sacramental worship. Especially noteworthy was AWI’s music, thanks especially to the formidable talents of organist Christopher Hoyt and choir director Andrew Dittman.

Combining theological depth with vibrant worship, the Anglican Way Institute represents an important foundation for church renewal in the coming years.

19 Responses to Anglican Way Institute Continues to Thrive

  1. John Morris says:

    Why does Anglicanism as defined by Bishop Sutton only recognize 4 Ecumenical Councils and only the first 5 centuries? There were 7 Ecumenical Councils and the Faith of the Church before the Roman Schism that established the standard of Faith for all Catholic Christians.

    • Bart Gingerich says:

      First of all, this is not “Anglicanism as defined by Bishop Sutton” since he is quoting the Caroline divine, Lancelot Andrewes. Second, Anglicanism isn’t “defined” by these things–it _emphasizes_ them.

      • John Morris says:

        There are many different and conflicting definitions of Anglicanism. You did not answer my question. Why does Anglicanism only recognize the first 4 of the 7 Ecumenical Councils, or the Faith of the ancient undivided Church before the Roman Schism?

  2. Greg Paley says:

    One of the pleasures of being a Protestant is not fretting over matters like Ecumenical Councils. Paul, John, Peter, Luke, and company gave us sufficient theology.

    • John Morris says:

      One of the manifestations of Protestantism is that because you do not have the Ecumenical Councils or the Fathers, you have no standards on how to interpret the Bible. As a result Protestantism is divided into many different conflicting sects.

      • John Morris says:

        The 7 Ecumenical Councils and consensus of the Fathers are important because they are an expression of the Faith of the ancient undivided Church and preserve the Holy Tradition taught by Christ and His Apostles. For example. St. Ignatius of Antioch heard Sts. Peter and Paul preach and was taught by the Apostle John. St. Irenaeus of Lyons was taught by St. Polycarp who was taught by the Apostle John. Thus their writings give us not only the beliefs and practices of the Apostolic Church, they also give us the teaching of the Apostles, not all of which is contained in the New Testament.. Without Holy Tradition, the New Testament is incomplete. The Holy Spirit did not ascend back into Heaven after the death of the last Apostle but continued to guide the Church through the ages. The Ecumenical Councils were guided by the Holy Spirit to express the truth about Christ and establish the correct doctrine, discipline and organization of the Church. The problem with Protestantism is that it has no concept of the historical Church. To me as an historian and Orthodox Christian it is very important to uphold the faith, teachings and worship of the historic Church. The Divine Liturgy that I served yesterday has its roots in the worship of the Apostolic Church and has not changed significantly since the 8th century. It was not made up by a committee or one man, but represents one form of the historic worship of the Christian Church. Without the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils, you would not have the canon of the New Testament. Therefore, it is reasonable to look to them for guidance on the proper understanding of the sacred text. The Fathers and Ecumenical Councils also give us the correct doctrine of who Jesus Christ was and how Christians are to follow Him. Without them, we are left to our own personal conflicting interpretations on what true Christianity should be and are left to be driven here and there by the ever changing fads of secular society, which is exactly what has happened to American Protestantism. This not only leads to constant division among Protestants but has greatly weakened the witness of the Christian religion in our country.

      • gregpaley says:

        Thanks, Bart, but I already read Douthat’s book. I don’t recall him devoting a great deal of space – or any, come to think of it – on the ecumenical councils. His habit of throwing little slurs at evangelicals probably isn’t going to send a lot of us stampeding into the nearest RC church or beating ourselves for being “heretics.” Richard John Neuhaus could be catty also. Evangelicals and RCs can and should unite for political purposes, but down at the core our differences are insurmountable. I read books by RCs, retain the good parts, spit out the husks. Discussions like the one on this page make me glad I’m not the type of shallow Christian that John Bunyan portrayed so beautifully as the character Talkative, the type who talks theology the way most guys talk sports. Bunyan, having the heart of a pastor, knew that the type of guy who delights in arguing about Calvinism v Arminianism is a long long way from the kingdom of God. In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, a person’s eternal destiny does not hinge on his knowledge of the Council of Chalcedon. I imagine there will be a lot of theologians in hell, and it would be fitting to have to endure each other’s company. They prefer the -logy to the Theo, so maybe they’ll get what they desire.

        • John Morris says:

          I never stated that one’s salvation depends on a correct understanding of Chalcedon, However, for theology a correct understanding of orthodox Christology is very important, especially for a church claiming to preserve the Faith of the ancient Church. You cannot have a correct understanding of Calcedon without accepting the decisions of the 5th and 6th Ecumenical Councils. The 7th Council is also built on a correct orthodox Christology. The consensus of the Fathers and the decisions of the 7 Ecumenical Councils are a correct expression of the Faith of the ancient undivided Church that Bishop Sutton claims to accept.

      • Bart Gingerich says:

        Mr. Paley, the danger of your position–that the councils which identified and officially condemned heresy (as well as settled the Scriptural canon) do not matter very much–is its cruelty. As Bp. Fitzsimmons Allison eloquently argued, heresy steals the very good news out of the Gospel.
        Arianism, addressed in the First Council of Nicea, asserted that Christ was not divine. God did not fully come down to us. Instead, we have a salvation from below–if Jesus was a creature that was exalted to a god-like state as a result/proved by his virtuous life, what does that mean for us? We have to become like Him through our own striving. This is not good news for sinners.
        Apollinarianism, as seen in the Council of Constantinople, basically asserted that divinity was poured into a human body. God was on the inside of Christ while his outward body was man. The divine Logos was his soul–He had not a human soul. This means that mankind’s body, not His soul, will be saved. This is not good news for sinners.
        Nestorianism, condemned by the Council of Ephesus, asserted that Mary did not give birth to God (not Theotokos, and thus Christ is not one Person with two natures). But when did Christ become God? A Nestorian understanding of the Incarnation leads to schizophrenic divisions of the Gospel, when the divine and human aspects of Christ vie for control in His story. In short, God and man are not truly united in and by Christ. Human will must be forced to submit to the Divine’s to be well-pleasing–it is not transformed. This is not good news for sinners.
        Eutychianism, dealt with by the Council of Chalcedon, asserted that Jesus is one person with one nature. As a hybrid, however, Christ makes a poor mediator: He could not really relate to God (being less-than-God) and he cannot fully relate to man (being more than a man). This is not good news for sinners.

        • John Morris says:

          I should point out that the official website of the Reformed Episcopal Church does recognize all 7 of the Ecumenical Councils. Thus at least some Anglicans, including the group that Bishop Sutton is part of do recognize the 7 Ecumenical Councils. I still do not understand the rational behind defining the Faith of the ancient Church as ending in the 6th century. It would be more reasonable to define the Faith of the ancient Church as that which was held in common by East and West before 1054 and the actual schism between East and West. In fact, the St. Louis Statement, which was the founding document of continuing Anglicanism affirmed exactly that, the 7 Councils and invoked the canon of St. Vincent as the standard for belief. That is that the Church teaches what was taught by all, at all times in every place.

        • John Morris says:

          I think that some of you are missing the whole point of the Incarnation. We are saved because through its union with the human nature, the divine nature deified the human nature of Christ. To paraphrase St. Athanasius, God became like us so that we could become like God. In Christ, God assumed all that we are, the entire human experience except for sin. As St. Gregory the Theologian wrote, “That which is not assumed is not healed.” On the Cross, Christ assumed the consequences of our sins and offered Himself as a sacrifice to liberate us from sin. By His Glorious Resurrection, Christ liberated those who are united to Him from death. Thus, the Incarnation is the central doctrine of the Christian religion and is correctly defined by the 7 Ecumenical Councils. Too many American Protestants settle for a shallow Christology that fails to really take seriously what God did for us when He became man through the Incarnation.

      • gregpaley says:

        It is also not good news for sinners that they must be able to navigate the deep waters of christology in order to be saved. I wonder how the thief on the cross got saved – was it his faith, or did he have some pre-emptive knowledge of the ecumenical councils, and while he was hanging there with not much else to do, he worked out a theology that the Ancient Fathers would have approved of.

        Interesting theology, guys: Salvation limited to theological adepts. Maybe God in his mercy designed some in-between state for us poor benighted slobs who stupidly trust in Christ as Savior but didn’t have the leisure to apply a microscope to that belief and hence remove all the joy and mystery from it.

        If I remember correctly, Gnosticism was considered a heresy, but it continues nonetheless. There will always be people who have such a high opinion of their own vast intelligence that they really don’t need a Savior, just some Cosmic Professor to pat them on the head.

        Nothing personal, fellas, guys, but I’m sure glad we don’t attend the same church or move in the same circles. Given the Bible’s rather harsh attitude toward pride, I find discussions like these very disturbing, but thankfully most evangelicals I know don’t fit the profile of Bunyan’s Talkative. Pascal referred to “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the god of the philosophers and scholars.”

        • John Morris says:

          The question “who is Jesus Christ? is hardly unimportant to the Christian Faith. Was He just a prophet or an inspired man, or was He God Incarnate? The answer is essential to a proper understanding of what it is to be a Christian and how we are saved. To me the idea of just believing in Jesus, but not saying who Jesus is just does not cut it. As an Orthodox Christian, I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils to proclaim the truth about Christ. I could not be an Evangelical Protestant, precisely because it is shallow without a firm foundation in historic Christianity. If I want to be emotionally moved or attend a performance, which seems to me to be the purpose of modern Evangelical worship, I can always attend a performance of Puccini’s Le Boheme, but when I worship God, I want to worship Him in spirit and in truth and in the way that the Apostles and the historic Church worshiped.

  3. What exactly is behind this obsession with ecumenical councils? The Greeks took the relatively simple theology of the New Testament and started obsessing over “persons” and “natures” and what percentage of Jesus was divine and which was human, and whether to use 2 fingers or 3 in making the sign of the cross, and whether Communion bread should be leavened or unleavened. I don’t see anything in the Bible that tells us our salvation depends on assenting to creeds concocted by a horde of theologians with too much time on their hands. Laymen badly need spiritual guidance in this secular culture, why do clergy piddle away their time on the esoteric pronouncements of councils, and why are those councils regarded as being on the same level as the Bible? As for the Anglicans, they would do well to concentrate on contemporary ethical issues, since they seem a mite confused about the difference between male and female.

  4. dcnjonathan says:

    Anglicanism emphasizes the first four Ecumenical Councils because these councils defended orthodox Christology and Trinitarian theology. The remaining three Ecumenical councils are recognized for affirming the faith delivered through the first four. After Chalcedon, there is not significant development of these fundamental doctrines but application of what the Holy Fathers established between 325 & 451.

    • Bart Gingerich says:

      Very well put.

    • John Morris says:

      The 5th and 6th Councils clarified Chalcedon by establishing the principle that Chachalcdon is to be interpreted in conformity with the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria. This is very important because one can claim adherence to Chalcedon and teach a Nestorian like Christology. For example, John Calvin claimed fidelity to Chalcedon, but by his denial of the communication of attributes and the deification of the human nature of Christ was really a Nestorian. One of the most serious failure of Protestantism is its very weak understanding of Christology. The 7th Council is important for its condemnation of the heresy of iconoclasm.

  5. […] Gingerich: I can’t help noticing that many of the lecturers and attendees of the Anglican Way Institute, including myself, are members of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). From what I understand, not […]

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