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Practical Donatism at work in Virginia

Practical Donatism at work in Virginia

Updated

A Bishop of the Anglican Church of North America has advised the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Anglican Church, Fairfax, VA, to terminate the dialogue with the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston. Baucum has complied and ended the dialogue.


This comes after the two of them appeared together at a peacemaking and reconciliation conference at Coventry Cathedral, which was highlighted by Archbishop Justin Welby as an example of reconciliation.

Baucum claims that two events changed his mind: the ordination of partnered lesbian to the priesthood by Bishop Johnston and talks by New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan at parish and diocesan events.

But at the end of the letter. Baucum’s bishop, John A.M. Guernsey advised him to break of the relationship, which he did.

Here is the letter Baucum wrote to his congregation:

I believe peacemaking is a Gospel imperative and a defining characteristic of Christian faithfulness and virtue (Matt 5:9). It may lead to reconciliation, but they are not to be equated. Reconciliation is a gift of the Holy Spirit in the truth and authority of Jesus Christ. This week two events were revealed that have challenged the two principles upon which my peacemaking work with Bishop Shannon Johnston was based.

First, Nicene Christianity is the basis upon which I have related to him as a brother in Christ and to work for the healing of the Church. Like Augustine, I don’t believe Nicene faith alone can hold the Church together. (Most Donatists were Nicene believers but they were also schismatic and heretical). However, Nicene faith may be sufficient for Christians in a divided church to find common ground for peacemaking. That was, and remains, my hope.

The second principle upon which our peacemaking work was based is that the “imago dei” in every person, even our theological opponents, is the definitive reality which should guide our conduct in conflict. God’s image in us and Christ’s love for us must govern how we treat others in this, or any, conflict.

This week I learned of two events in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia that have challenged those principles of Christian peacemaking.

First was the ordination of a non-celibate lesbian in the former home of the Falls Church Anglican parish this past December. This was a problem of both menu and venue, of what and where it was done. This kind of ordination, which violates scriptural teaching, caused the Anglican schism in the first place. I believe that holding the service at the Falls Church shortly after they lost their building showed a disregard and lack of respect for the good and godly pastor and the people of the Falls Church. This was a failure to treat others in a way that honors the imago dei in each of us. It was extremely painful to learn of this action and my full sympathy is with John Yates+ and his congregation.

Even more egregious was a series of talks given by John Dominic Crossan at a church in the Diocese of Virginia. I believe that Crossan’s work is a contradiction of Nicene faith and events like this undermine Nicene Christianity. Avoiding this kind of aggravating damage is foundational to our efforts at peacemaking. Crossan has appeared in debates with Christian scholars like N.T. Wright to fully and completely debate his theories, which have largely been found in extreme want of support in fact and scholarly analysis. But he appears to have come as a Christian teacher. He is not.

I was waiting to speak to Bishop Shannon personally before issuing this statement. All of the above and, its implications, I have shared with him yesterday. I know he will be issuing his own response soon. I pray the Holy Spirit’s guidance and wisdom upon him as he seeks to repair the damage done by these two actions.

I remain committed to the Gospel imperative of peacemaking, especially as a means to biblical reconciliation but with the advice and counsel of Bishop Guernsey, I am ending this work with +Shannon.

Finally, to the good and wonderful people of Truro and its vestry: I am grateful for your trust in me and your prayers and love to Elizabeth and our family.

Bishop Guernsey’s letter does not mention the ordination, as Baucum’s does, but points to Crossan’s presence in the Diocese of Virginia.

Bishop Johnston’s action is unconscionable. In spite of his assurances to Tory that he believes the Nicene Creed, he welcomed Crossan, who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus and says that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs, and he permitted him to speak unchallenged to clergy in his diocese.

I have talked with Tory Baucum about this. He is grieved over this situation and agrees with my determination that this relationship with Bishop Johnston can no longer continue.We long for the Body of Christ to reflect the unity for which our Lord Jesus prayed (John 17:20-23), but there can be no reconciliation with The Episcopal Church apart from its repentance for false teaching and practice and its return to the truth of the historic Christian faith.

Guernsey’s directive, coming on the heels of Archbishop Justin Welby’s conflict conference, is an example of the need for the ACNA bishop to police the relationships of their clergy. In reining in Baucum’s work, which was seen by many in the denomination as a betrayal, ACNA sends the message that they are not really serious about being Anglicans unless they get to set the rules.

UPDATE

Bishop Johnston has issued a statement focused on the Crossan event.

…I will not be a censor of ideas, a roadblock to inquiry that is grounded in a search for “God with us.” The Holy Spirit is still at work with and within the Church and, in my view, we cannot shut down that which pushes our limits. Many times in human history, we have seen how the Spirit has pushed the Church beyond itself.

I give thanks for scholars, like John Dominic Crossan, who are part of that work that challenges us, even if it turns out to be an occasion to return to our own orthodox convictions with stronger roots. No less do I give thanks for scholars, like N.T. Wright, who keep us grounded with such compelling integrity. …

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C. Wingate

My problem with inviting someone like Crossan in this manner is that I know that I am equipped to deal with all his questionable assertions, but I don't think most people are so equipped. If my rector were to invite someone like him to speak at my parish, I would be objecting, loudly; and failing that, I would come to the presentation loaded for text-crit bear.

I don't participate in the ACNA schism in part because for me things are not that bad yet, and I think their rhetoric is over the top and exaggerated both for political purposes and as a kind of self-congratulation. But that said, the principle of "schism is worse than heresy" is false, and nobody takes it seriously in the end. A priest who brings someone into his parish to bring people to question the creed is not only in effective violation of his vows, but is put a lot of people's faith in peril. There are better ways to deal with the problems of doubters than to present as an authority someone who stands against the faith as it is supposedly being affirmed every Sunday. It comes across like Lewis's card with the rules, which has the real rules printed on the back. So I can't blame them for wanting to stay separate under such circumstances.

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Chris H.

Jenks, part of the problem is people really do become like their friends. Studies have shown that divorce and infidelity spread through friendship groups, so do other moral or immoral behaviors. Our bishop won't hire conservative priests because he doesn't want their point of view spread. He's protecting the flock by his standards. Liberal churches have kicked out scouts and other groups because of their stance on gays. Liberals refusing to deal with conservatives is acceptable, conservatives refusing to deal with liberals is heresy, worse than twisting or denying the faith(which there are lots of people in TEC who do)? There are Biblical examples of people splitting and kicking others out to keep the faith. Jesus lost a lot of followers saying things they couldn't agree with, and he didn't chase them down saying, "Wait, wait, just believe what you want, just don't go." Endless dialogue just for the sake of dialogue doesn't seem to have been the great good TEC makes it these days. It just means that the best, most convincing speaker wins, whether they're right or wrong.

Chris Harwood

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Jenks Hobson

John Guernsey's action expresses my main objection to the ACNA 'heretics'. I use this term, not because of their conservative points of view to which they are certainly welcome, but because they have decided that they are too pure to be with the rest of us sinners. That is, In my humble opinion, a dangerous heresy. This kind of purity movement has never served God's people well.

As a footnote, I consider myself to be of fairly orthodox theology, I was at the presentation by Crossan to the invited clergy of the Diocese of Virginia, and I did not find much to which I would object in his presentation that day. I did find it quite stimulating and am thankful for Bishop Shannon's invitation.

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Chris H.

Jake, I don't see where anyone here thinks there's grace in conservatives or ACNA whether they helped after the fire or not, so it's hardly a one-way street.

Can someone tell me exactly what "reconciliation" would look like in these debates? All the ACNA people rejoining TEC and signing a something like the conservative bishops did to keep their jobs? If it's not capitulation, and conservatives don't bless gay marriage, are people here going to stop calling them bigots, etc.? What is the expectation/hope, etc.?

If Crossan's theology is really that bad, then having him speak IS endorsing that error, unless you're deliberately setting it up with critics to discredit him and/or the error. Such teaching isn't harmless. Was he only speaking to scholars? If it was laypeople, how many have the means to find the errors? Much more likely that some are going to say, "They let him teach in church, so he must be right." Mat. 18:6, anyone?

Chris Harwood

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Jacobepierce

This is a sad development. It's particularly sad for the priest many of us know at VTS who is being talked about in the blogs as if she were simply a character in a novel. Dean Ian Markham has also developed a close relationship with Tory Baucum and will be teaching a class with him in the next quarter. Truro Anglican responded very generously after the chapel fire in 2010. These relationships are cleary very complex. It appears many in ACNA don't see the grace in the complex and often tense relationships.

Jake Pierce

VTS '15

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