I read this morning during my “quiet time” the story of the faith of the Centurion found in Luke 7.
Verses 6-10 struck me:
So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
I’ve heard and read so many times from people who don’t like their bishop or that particular canon or this mandate, so they simply ignore the thing or rebel against and refuse to be a person under – authority. They do their own thing because, well, of course they know more and as any good American knows, no one can tell me what to do.
I have friends who give all kinds of reasons why they disobey the canon about only the baptized being eligible for communion. It is the very trendy thing, right now. There are legal means for changing the canon, but it just is not convenient and takes to long, so they give all kinds of excuses (even the excuse that their bishop said it was alright, as if the bishop had the authority to disobey the canons of the Church) to disobey the authority above them. Some of them also rail against the government for not obeying the constitution or illegally getting us into a war, but they then turn around and do the very same, very American thing of not obeying our canons (our law, our procedures) – because, well, they really know better and it feels so right. Very American. Very individualistic. Very non-episcopal. Very non-catholic. Very anarchical. Very hypocritical.
They don’t think things through. What if a vestry person decides to mimic their example and do his own thing and ignore parish policy or the by-laws, or God-forbid the priest’s-in-charge own decision? Would the priest give that vestry member the same leeway that s/he expects from the bishop when s/he disobeys diocesan policy or canons or the bishop’s decision? Why would a bishop expect his/her priests to obey him/her when s/he decides s/he doesn’t have to obey General Convention or the national canons? Do we not see the chaos that results?
We have the means to change things, but those means are just so inconvenient and the process may return a decision that determines: â€œyou are wrong; stop it.â€ Americans hate to be told we are wrong and to stop it. Are we people under authority, which is a defining point of episcopal polity, of Catholic polity? Or, are we too seduced by our American ethos?
There is a balance, and it is called The Rule of Law and the democratic process. We have the same elements, although in different forms, in our own Episcopal polity. The balance is being severely challenged in our country and within our Church right now. The more extreme elements from all perspectives in our Church are ignoring the mechanisms of balance right now and the results are chaos and will end in dictatorship by imperial bishops whether liberal or conservative or the ending of our episcipal polity for congregationalism. Are we under authority or are we not?
Now, priests, vestries, parishes, bishops, and even whole dioceses are deciding that they will not abide by this decision, that canon, or the authority above them. So, why not just resign or orders in the Church Catholic, leave, and go join a congregational or independent free church? Why not, because our rebellious nature doesn’t allow for such an honorable exit. We have to prove our point by over throwing or destorying that which we don’t like in order to rebuild it in our own image – how glorious a battle, how worthy a cause, how determined we will be! We don’t like the legal means of change, because it is too inconvenient and we might be told, â€œNO.â€
When we take upon ourselves vows, when we receive Holy Orders, and when we vow to obey our bishop, the authority above us, we are willingly placing ourselves under an authority and are pledging to obey that authority. There are no qualifications in the vow. There is no crossing our fingers. No strategy is present for when we don’t like something. We also take a Vow of Conformity to the Church. This isn’t done, or rather shouldn’t be done, without great thought and consideration. These are not vows made for expediency’s sake or simply as a means to an end. They are real, at least in God’s sight. They are to be obeyed by bishops, priests, deacons, and parishes, diocese, provinces, and the whole Church.
There isn’t anything wrong with change. There isn’t anything wrong with disagreement or difference of opinion, interpretation, or theological perspective. There isn’t anything wrong with rightful challenge to existing policies or authorities. There isn’t anything wrong with protest. But, there isn’t the freedom to rebel against the authorities that establish our common life – we know this from the beginning and if we cannot abide by it we shouldn’t take the vows. Where is the humility and integrity? If we come to the point after legal petition, after making our descent known, after trying to make things the way we won’t them to be, and we fail, then either we abide by the decision and remain a loyal opposition or we resign and move somewhere else more to our liking.
This is where Church and State are different. Membership in the Church is voluntary and we should know the implications of such membership before we join up. Citizenship is not voluntary. This is why the way we conduct and handle descent within the Church is different (or should be) than they way we do such things within the geo-political boundaries of our country.
Whether we like it or not, God has established authority. The above Scripture gives us a picture of right dealing with authority, and the good results that come with it. What we see within our Church right now from both the liberals and conservatives ignoring authority and rebelling against it in destructive ways, well, what we are seeing is the chaos and destruction that comes from our arrogant and prideful rebellion against our authorities. It is to our shame, because we (liberals and conservatives) are destroying the very elements that have made Anglicanism a distinctive form of the Christian faith for centuries. Shame on us for not being people under authority. Shame on us for not having faith in God. Shame on us for being such a pathetic witness to the world of a means that should bring peace and the truly liberal idea of harmony and all working together, even in the midst of disagreement.