“Is The Episcopal Church Hierarchical?” Short Answer? No.

BB NOTE: The short answer, as the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) has learned through their investigation of The Episcopal Church’s constitution and canons, is that the answer is no.

This has become extremely evident in the litigation now underway in Virginia. As we’ve written before, there is no way that the Church in Virginia would have joined together with other dioceses to form the type of organization that the current occupants of 815 have been promoting.

It is as it was explained by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Bishop of Central Florida, John Howe. Canterbury has a direct relationship with diocesan bishops. But I would guard us all that this position seemed to be taking a political shift – a major political shift – at Lambeth. At Lambeth it was confirmed that the proposed Covenant would be shopped around to the all the provinces, not dioceses – indicating a provincial recognition of power over the diocesan bishop. Also, with the strengthening of the Primates Council’s authority (though as we see over and over again, there is no way to enforce anything that this group – or any group – says or does, except by the will of the people). With this in mind, TEC has turned to litigation and the courts to enforce what cannot be enforced within its own political walls (and that is costing them millions and millions – an accounting of which we have not seen – take note of that). This is not going well of late because the internal documents of the organization do not support the type of organization being promoted by the current inhabitants of 815. But that is the course they are taking and it behooves anyone who thinks that parlaying with this inner-circle of litigation-minded purple shirts and their lawyers will get them anywhere beyond total capitulation or a lawsuit with their own name on it.

I also appreciate the position that ACI (and perhaps those orthodox bishops still vowing to remain in TEC who do not privately plan to go to Rome once they retire) when they write in their intro into the document, “What is legally permitted may not on all occasions be theologically or morally justifiable. Our caution, therefore, is that the paper may provide justifiable constitutional license for a course of action that we believe in some instances to be arguably “legal” but nonetheless deleterious to both Gospel truth and Christian unity.” ACI is worried.

But I would argue that the polity of the Episcopal Church (for better or worse – but we are Americans, after all) is based on the idea – founded in the experience of the American experiment – that hierarchical and centralized churches (Protestant and Catholic) must be held accountable to the possibility of Reformation. Our founders wrote that principle right into the Declaration of Independence when they wrote, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” This is at the heart of the American experiment. If it’s a sin, well, that’s a major oops.

What we understood and understand today is that a corporate or political organization is NOT THE SAME AS THE CHURCH. The Episcopal Church, The Church of England, yes, even The Church of Rome – they are all all corporate organizations. They are not The Church Triumphant – the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Church is a mystery. Different corporation expressions of The Bride of Christ can come very close – many, many closer than others – but we should not confuse our human endeavors to create corporate organizations with being the mystical Body of Christ.

I know this is not the view held by all – I don’t have close friends going to Rome for nothing – but it is a view held by many. And certainly it is no sin to separate from a corporate organization that has tragically lost its theological mission to accommodate the spirit of the age.

For those who question the morality of separation, it might not be a bad time to review the Declaration of Independence and decides once and for all whether our own founders made one grave philosophical and moral mistake with the late King of England. We can imagine where some today may have landed during that conflict two centuries ago. The boats going back to England after Cornwall surrendered at Yorktown were filled to the brim with loyalists and Canada wasn’t founded as a summer-time resort.

It’s now all up at the ACI website. You can read the paper here and ACI’s rather anxious commentary here.