Published version is found in Modern Believing, 2010.
I. Evident Entitlements?
1.1. “Bad Loser” Bishops: In July 2008, the General Synod of the Church of
England met at York to consider, among other things, how best to proceed towards
making women bishops a real possibility. The options were  a single clause
measure by which parliament would replace relevant occurrences of ‘he’ with ‘he or
she’ etc., or  such a parliamentary measure supplemented by “protections” for
objectors who could not in conscience receive the ordained ministry of women in
the Church. There were two kinds of protection to choose from: [2a] the stronger
that would write clauses into the law passed by parliament, and [2b] the weaker
that would consist in an Act of Synod to establish a Code of Practice to which
everyone would presumptively conform but which would not have the same force of
law. Parts of two days were devoted to the issue. On the second, after seven hours
of debate, General Synod voted for the weaker Code of Practice option.
This was not the result that a significant minority in the House of Bishops
wanted. The Bishop of Dover rose to say that he was ashamed of Synod for not being
more generous to the conscientious objectors. Both sides in the debate had at one
point or another called for a vote by houses (which means that the item must pass
each house separately and not simply get a majority vote of the two together).
The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds rose to suggest that since the stronger protection
would have passed had that rule not been invoked, the Church should not consider
itself bound by the actual vote. Reportedly, the bishops’ “morning after”
breakfast boiled over with indignation. Later in session, the Archbishop of York
declared that General Synod should “forget governance”, that General Synod was
“just a group of pilgrims.” He quipped, “See what happens when you try to govern
with 500 people! You get a mess!” Later, the Bishop of Chicester was heard to
remark, “General Synod sounds like a good idea, but in fact it’s a mistake.” In
late 2009 or early 2010, the legislative drafting committee was hard at work
formulating the Code of Practice version voted by Synod, when the archbishops
intervened and asked them to draft legislation for the stronger parliamentary
protection instead. After consultation and protests by members of parliament, the
committee reported itself unable to do this. The legislative drafting committee
has now completed a Code of Practice version, which will be laid before the York
General Synod in July 2010.
1.2. Tyranny in Tanzania: In July 2003, the General Convention of TEC voted
to ratify the election of Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, as Bishop of New
Hampshire. Outrage within the wider Anglican communion prompted the Archbishop of
Canterbury to appoint the Windsor Commission whose 2004 report proposed a new
pan-Anglican polity, according to which national churches would be bound to submit
any changes in doctrine or discipline (including those regarding whom to ordain
and whom to bless) to the pan-Anglican “instruments of union” for approval or
veto. The idea of an Anglican covenant was floated, and it was suggested that each
of the legally independent national churches could pass a local canon committing
it to comply. Although the report was hailed as “a way forward” at the Dromantine
primates’ meeting in 2005, its proposals still have no legal status in any
national church. To this day, despite three circulated draft covenants, no one has
officially signed on to anything. Nevertheless, the primates’ meeting in Tanzania
2007, not only accorded Windsor polity pre-emptive legitimacy by acting to serve
TEC with a series of ultimata,<1> but also gave Windsor polity a distinctive
interpretation. The pan-Anglican “instruments” that would serve as judge and jury
would be the primates themselves. The series of covenant drafts have flip-flopped
over what role any non-primatial Christians might play in pan-Anglican
gate-keeping. Frequently voiced has been the view that the primates’ meeting is
the only feasible choice (although the Ridley draft covenant backs off and puts
this function in the hands of the Joint Standing Committee of the primates’
meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council<2>).
II. Theological Rationales:
These episodes illustrate a wider phenomenon, in which English bishops betray
their sense of entitlement to set institutional policy for the Church. Their
feeling is that though they might “take note” of what non-episcopal clergy and
laity say, Synod’s votes (or any other of majority-rule democratic process) should
not be allowed to settle such matters. This sense of propriety dominates behavior,
even when they know that parliament has by law assigned General Synod certain
legislative functions in relation to church affairs. Many other Anglican Communion
bishops take this “right to rule” so much for granted that, at the Tanzania
primates’ meeting, they could wonder whether TEC has real bishops, if its primate
cannot commit the Church all by herself.<3> Nor are such sentiments unprecedented.
On the contrary, episcopal entitlements seem to be multiply underwritten by
Anglican ecclesiology which promotes bishops as essential to the integrity of
2.1. The Doctrine of Apostolic Succession: Bishop Charles Gore did not
invent, but forcefully restates and vigorously defends this theory that bishops
receive distinctive spiritual powers through a chain of consecrating bishops that
stretches back to the Apostles, who were themselves directly commissioned by
Christ.<4> Gore contends that  not only did Christ commission the Apostles,<5>
 He intended to found a visible human society, the Church.<6> Not only did
Christ found a visible human society to be His Body,  Christ founded a ministry
in the Apostles, and empowered them to appoint and ordain successors. Moreover,
Christ did not leave organizational details to merely human social instincts. 
Christ specified “in germ” different offices and functions. Christ Himself
purposed that bishops should be responsible for governance, not only guardians of
doctrine and discipline, but also the fontal source for reproducing Christians,
the only ones empowered to ordain, the ones best suited to confirm and baptize.<7>
 Nor was this to be a temporary arrangement. Christ’s election of bishops for
special spiritual empowerment is permanent.<8>
Gore explains that because the Church is a visible historical society, one
that is not held together by ethnicity or language, it needs some other connecting
link to hold it together through different times and places. Christ Himself chose
bishops to be instrumental causes of Christian unity by virtue of being the ones
who pass on the spiritual empowerment, creating apostolic successions of
episcopally ordained ministry.<9> Gore concludes that the episcopacy is–by
Christ’s own design–essential for the Church (pertains to its esse and not just
to its bene esse).<10> At the turn to the twentieth century, Gore insisted on the
obvious corollary that in ecumenical discussions, Anglicans could not and should
not recognize the ministries of the non-episcopally ordained.<11>
2.2. Gospel-Expressing Polity: Roughly five decades later, Archbishop Michael
Ramsey tries to reconcile Anglo-Catholic preoccupation with church structure and
Evangelical emphasis on the Gospel of God by arguing that the outer structure of
the Church should express by institutionally embodying the Gospel of God.<12> The
heart of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus died twiceover.
In his literal death on the cross, God-Incarnate identifies with the human
condition, with the pain and suffering and death of human beings in this
world.<13> At the same time, the crucified God exposes and judges human sin and
the desperation that drives it to commit such brutal acts. Throughout His human
career, Jesus daily died to self another way, “morally,” through “the abandonment
of all of its claims,” “the losing of His will and His whole being in the Father”
and in humankind. Ramsey here alludes to John’s Gospel, where there is such mutual
indwelling and abiding of the Father with the Son and the Son with the Father,
that Jesus frequently says, “I say only what the Father gives me to say, I do only
what the Father commands me to do.”<14>
Ramsey sees Christian discipleship as a call to die this second way. If the
functional center of the human self is the ego, following Jesus means dying to
self-centered living and requires one to own “that one is, of oneself and in
oneself, nothing.” The gift of indwelling Holy Spirit not only breaks “the
self-centred nexus of appetites and impulses” but resurrects us into life of
fellowship that has “a new centre and a new enviroment, Christ and His Body.”<15>
The Church is the body-politic–the new Israel, the new humanity–of which
Christ is the head. It is “a continuous, visible, historical society,”<16> an
organism that “grew inevitably through Christ’s death and resurrection.”<17>
Conceptually, Ramsey interprets this within the framework assumptions of British
idealism. The whole is prior to its parts, which depend on the whole for their
existence and identity. Just so, the Church is not a collection of individual
human beings (so that the parts are prior to the whole). On the contrary,
Christianity is “the extinction of individualism.” Disciples die daily to any
notion of themselves as “separate and self-sufficient units.”<18> Rising, they
“merge” into the one Body and share in the Spirit’s identification with suffering
humanity and Its efforts to relieve and transform it.<19> What is true of
individuals is true for Christian groups. Christ has one Body. Denominations and
factions must die to their own distinctive identities and rise as members of the
one Body on which each is utterly dependent.<20> The whole Body of Christ is prior
to local churches that represent it.<21> The real union of Christ’s Body is
grounded first of all in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and
ultimately in the unity of God.<22>
If the Church’s outer structure is to express this Gospel of one Body into
which all Christians and Christian groups rise by dying, Ramsey reckons, there
must be a figurehead to symbolize the unity and continuity of the Church by
linking present Body-parts with the historic events that ground that unity. This
function, Ramsey argues, is filled first by the apostles and then by the apostolic
succession of bishops to whom distinctive spiritual powers have been passed
on.<23> Surveying Christian history, Ramsey concludes that “each type of ministry
found its right relation to the whole, and the backbone of the whole was and is
the Episcopate, succeeding the Apostolate.”<24>.
2.3. Trinitarian Ecclesiology? More and more, partly under the influence of
the Anglican-Orthodox dialogue and the writings of Archbishop John Zizioulas,<25>
Anglican documents pledge allegiance to a Trinitarian ecclesiology. It begins with
Relational Trinity Assumption: Godhead is a system of persons
differentiated by ordered relations and joined together in loving communion.
It continues with the
Assimilation Assumption: The outward and visible institutional
structure of the Church should mirror that of Godhead,
just as its activity is to share in the life of Godhead and to spread the love of
God abroad in the world.<26> Moreover, it forwards the
Personal Priority Assumption: The personal is prior to the institutional.
Institutions exist to nurture and sustain the relations of the persons thus
Once again, bishops, by virtue of their distinctive ordered personal
relationships, are identified as foci of Church unity. There are three planes:
that which relates a bishop to his/her people in the local eucharistic community;
that which relates contemporary bishops to one another; and that which relates
bishops of this present age to past predecessors all the way back to the apostles.
Thus, the outward and visible structure of the Church is said to be held together
by episcopal persons-in-relation.<28>
The Kuala Lumpur report, Communion, Conflict, and Hope,<29> addresses itself
to current Anglican Communion sex-and-gender crises, and draws further corollaries
from the Trinitarian model. Perfect unity in the Godhead combines with the
Assimilation Assumption to commend the
Maximum Visible Union Assumption: Christians have an obligation to seek
the highest possible degree of visible union.<30>
The fact that the persons of the Trinity live together in perfect harmony so that
they will one will,<31>combines with the Assimilation Assumption to yield the
Urgent Resolution Assumption: Conflicts within the Church must be
Relational Trinity, Assimilation, and Personal Priority Assumptions seem to imply
that the conflict-solving “instruments” within the Church must not be
“bureaucratic” or consist of institutional due process, but rather of
persons-in-relation.<33> Which persons? You guessed it! The bishops who relate
downward to the priests and laity of their diocese, and collegially to one another
in a world-wide personal network–one would not be far wrong to style it “the
bishops’ club.”<34> Anglican Communion governance by primates who meet together
regularly and get to know each other, who are positioned and disposed to work out
“gentlemenly” agreements with one another, would seem to be just what this
Trinitarian model commends (although the Kuala Lumpur report notes hesitation
within the Communion to draw this conclusion<35> and the Cyprus Agreed Statement
is more focussed on Orthodox repudiations of Roman Catholic world-wide
2.4. Comparisons and Convergence: The Gospel-Expressing and Trinitarian
theories both embrace versions of Apostolic Succession. Ramsey’s claim that
individuals are nothing apart from the Body could be taken as Trinity-imaging,
insofar as the Divine persons cannot exist independently of Trinitarian communion,
neither apart from one another nor from their distinctive relations of mutual
self-giving love. Thus interpreted, the three theories are logically compatible
with one another. No inconsistency would be involved in subscribing to all of them
at once. Nevertheless, the Gospel-Expressing and Trinitarian theories are also
logically independent of each other. No contradiction would be involved in
embracing Ramsey’s theory and not the Trinitarian theory, and vice versa.
All three theories assert that Divine authorization and covenanted
supranatural power attach themselves to human institutional structures. More
recent adherents of all three recognize that these institutional structures were
not “everywhere and always” and are content with the idea that the “three orders
of ministry”–bishop, priest, and deacon–get properly distguished as distinct
orders by the end of the second or perhaps as late as the fourth century.<37> All
agree that the office of bishop has taken on cultural coloring in different times
and places. Dom Gregory Dix is particularly vivid when he observes:
“ In England there is first the stage in which the bishop is a missionary
monk. Under the Heptarch he is not very distinguishable from a tribal wizard;
under the Saxon monarchy a royal counsellor, one of the witan passing by slow
degrees into a great feudal landlord and then a national noble. Among the Tudors
he is the great civil servant, and in the eighteenthcentury a torpid grandee
expected to pay attention to the House of Lords. In the nineteenth he became a
victorian philanthropist and a modern bureaucrat…”<38>
All admit that down through the ages the episcopacy has been embodied in ways
that definitely send unChristian messages: e.g., from sometime in the middle ages,
feudal lord/prince bishops embody the idea that God loves oligarchy and that the
Church is an exclusive club or an oppressive tool of the upper class.<39>
Nevertheless, all three theories insist that the Body of Christ is to be
identified with a visible historically continuous body, and that covenanted
supranatural power has been attached to the office of bishop especially and–at
least after the early post-apostolic developmental period–exclusively. The
episcopate is said to possess Divine authority to ordain, and to be the guarantor
of sound doctrine and practice. These supranatural powers are seen to be conferred
on bishops and not on other Christians. The nature of this apostolically
transmitted power and commission is variously characterized. Dom Gregory Dix says
that the Apostles received and apostolically descended bishops inherit the
commission to act as Christ’s shaliach: that is, not only to act as
representatives of Christ, but to act in the person of Christ,<40> which resonates
with Roman Catholic claims that the pope is the vicar of Christ on earth!
III. Body of Christ versus Visible Historical Society:
I stand opposed to this picture of the Church and the place of episcopacy
within it. 3.1. Over-Identification: The first point I wish to attack is its
over-identification of the Church as Body of Christ with the church as visible
historical society acting through humanly devised institutions. Such
over-identification encourages Gore to reason by analogy: just as the human body
is animated by a soul that floods its organs with distinctive vital powers (vision
to the eye, hearing to the ears, digestive powers to stomach and intenstines), so
the Body of Christ is animated by the Holy Spirit Who infuses distinctive
functional powers into the various institutional offices of the visible historical
society. Such over-identification leads Ramsey to think that just as the whole
body is prior to its parts, in such a way that a hunk of flesh really counts as a
stomach only when it is part of the body, so human beings should die to the idea
that they are anything apart from the ecclesial body-politic, should daily die to
any imagined identities as self-sufficient individuals and rise to exist only as
functional organs of the Body of Christ. Such over-identification gives rise to
the Assimilation assumption that the structure of human institutions can and
should mirror the structure of Divine life. Such over-identification makes the
Vatican confident that Roman Catholic institutions are just what God wants and
that they afford the only (or at least the only reliable) access to supranatural
spiritual benefits. And such over-identification drives ecumenical movements to
the Maximum Visible Union assumption, which takes–not mutual understanding and
cooperation–but reunited institutions as its goal. Even when Anglican authors
equivocate in the face of historical realities, the momentum of their arguments is
that “outer should express inner,” that outward institutional order should express
and/or reflect Godhead and Gospel!<41>
3.2. Drawing the Right Distinction: When Gore and Ramsey identify the Church
with the visible historical society, they mean to reject Calvin’s distinction
between the invisible church known only to God that includes all of the elect from
the beginning of the world, and the visible church which includes a mixture of
good and bad.<42> Gore and Ramsey want to identify the Body of Christ with the
visible Church which we recognize. When they insist that the Church is a visible
historical society, they mean to distance themselves from J.B. Lightfoot’s
contrast between “the Kingdom of Christ, the Ideal of the Christian Church” and
messy realities of human societies and ecclesial institutions, which always fall
short of this Ideal by which they are regulated and towards which they ought
continually to strive.<43> Gore and Ramsey want to insist that the Body of Christ
is real, a somehow continuous historical society founded by Christ Himself.
I also want to focus on realities. My first step is to observe that the same
realities can be simultaneously organized in different ways and infused with
contrasting meanings. What I have in mind is the contrast between Divine
providence and human intentions, projects, and purposes. Think of the Joseph
story, how when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he calms their fears with
the assurance, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen 50:20; cf.
45:5-8) Even where our aim in life is to grow in the knowledge and love of God and
work for Kingdom-coming, the things which we think will most promote it may be
those which in fact obstruct our goals. Gospel Pharisees mean to prepare Messiah’s
way by scrupulous Torah observance, but they defeat their purpose by plotting the
juridical murder of the One God sent. Conversely, incidentals–the cup of cold
water or visit to the sick and imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46)–that failed to loom large
in our plans, may turn out to be the most significant contributions we actually
What I want to urge is that the Church as a historical reality is both human
and Divine. That is, the historical realities of which the Church is constituted
are and always have been simultaneously organized both by God and by human beings.
My contention is that–in thinking about ecclesiology–it is crucial to keep the
two distinct. We may grant–for the sake of argument and for the sake of agreement
with St. Paul–that God is organizing these realities into the organic Body of
Christ.<44> Divine power and imagination guarantee its unity. Divine wisdom
oversees its development towards a not yet reached maturity (the Kingdom is both
already and not yet). Making sure that the Body of Christ survives and flourishes
is not our job. It is something that God alone is able, something that God is
already willing and working to do. Moreover, it is God’s way of organizing the
Body of Christ, not ours, that is essential to Its being what it is. This is
because the Body of Christ is God’s creation, founded by (let us suppose; or if
you prefer, grounded in) God Incarnate, and animated by Holy Spirit.
By contrast, the human institutions through which the Church carries on its
life and work in the world are inessential, context-dependent, and at best
skillful means.  The Assimilation assumption–that human institutions should
mirror the inner life of God–is a bad idea, because it underestimates the
“size-gap” between God and creatures. Merely human capacities for personal
relationship and mutuality are vastly inferior to those of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Spirit. To whatever extent they might be approximated within a
life-partnership or among brothers of a small monastery or the clergy and
congregation of a small village, it is beyond human psycho-spiritual competence to
enter into such levels of intimacy and mutuality cross-culturally on a global
scale. One suspects, even a world-wide club of bishops (such as the Lambeth
Conference) is much too diverse and too large.
 No better is the suggestion that human institutions should try to mirror
God’s way of organizing the Church. God’s ways are higher than our ways. Divine
organization of the Body of Christ is part of Divine providence, which we are
neither smart enough nor good enough to comprehend. Medieval theologians
recognized this when they warned believers not to try to will what God wills (we
are not capable of the knowledge that informs Divine volition), but rather to will
what God wills us to will. God is able to organize anything into a cosmos full of
positive meaning. But to cooperate with God’s purposes for the Church means
housing Christian formation and living in institutions that nurture and enable us
to live out our more limited call.
 Likewise pernicious in human hands is Ramsey’s picture of the organic
body-politic in which individuals lose themselves by merging into a group identity
headed by the bishop. To put it bluntly, this is fascist polity, in which
individuals renounce themselves to follow der Führer. Christians are called to
leave everything to follow Jesus immediately. But the merely human bishop who
participates in our not yet fully sanctified human nature? Surely as an
archbishop, Ramsey knew that not even bishops are good enough or wise enough to be
trusted with that kind of power! Had he been writing ten years later, he would
have had cause to ponder how fascism could come out right in church politics, when
it had proved so disastrous as a way of organizing state. In any event, one
wonders how this thought could have survived in the face of his own harsh
criticisms of the way individuals dying and rising into monepiscopal rule plays
out in the Church of Rome?<45>
Overall, then, the conflation of Divine and human ways of organizing the
Church is idolatrous. Assimilation assumptions at least flirt with idolatry by
vastly underestimating the size-gap between Divine and human organizational
3.3. Visibility? Yet, if the Church is a historical reality organized in both
Divine and human ways, the question of whether it is also visible has to be
reconsidered.  On the one hand, God’s way of organizing the Church is not
naturally visible to us any more than other details of Divine providence are. We
depend on revelation for our organic-body model and for a general sense of God’s
purposes, ways and means.  On the other hand, human ecclesial institutions
should be as visible or invisible as human civil institutions are. Human beings
are politically challenged. All but the simplest political systems spawn side
effects that we don’t recognize, much less anticipate or intend. Human
institutions vary in transparency, depending in part on how explicit and
bureaucratic its policies and procedures are. They are partly visible and partly
To say that human beings are politically challenged is to point to a
dimension of human fallibility. Merely human beings are universally fallible,
cognitively fallible and morally fallible. And human fallibility gets worse rather
than better when we shift from the arena of individual morality to the political
sphere. My contention is–though there is not space to defend it fully here–that
a realistic appraisal of human being as we find it–or to put it theologically, a
sufficient appreciation of human sin and propensities to sin–furnishes a
pessimistic argument in favor of transparent, bureaucratic liberal institutions
for Church as well as state. This is not because democratic majorities are wiser
or make better decisions than benevolent despots would, but rather because human
beings are neither smart enough nor good enough to be trusted with despotic power.
3.4. Permanence? The fact that Gore and Ramsey conflate Divine and human ways
of organizing the Church makes it easier for them to believe that God is committed
to the permanence of episcopacy in institutional forms continuous from the second
or fourth centuries right up to their day. When Divine and human ways of
organizing the Church are clearly distinguished, their case seems underwhelming.
Even if–as Christian faith tells us–God is permanently committed to work with
human beings and so through some human institutions or other, it would not follow
that God is permanently committed to work through anything like the present
English episcopate. There are many kinds of reasons to expect human
societies–even conservative religious societies–to undergo radical upheavals.
For present purposes, it will be enough to return to the fact that humans are
politically challenged. All humanly organized institutions spawn–among the
unanticipated, unintended, and for a time unrecognized consequences–systemic
evils that privilege some at the expense of degrading others. The Gospel of God
calls on Christians to be vigilant in spotting them and vigorous in uprooting
them. Moreover, the Hebrew bible represents God as willing to destroy social
systems in which patterns of injustice have become too deeply entrenched. (This is
one prophetic explanation of Israel’s being overrun by foreign powers.) Luke’s
Gospel contends that Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed a second time because
the hard-hearted religious establishment failed to recognize the hour of its
visitation. History shows how abusive and subversive of the Gospel human ecclesial
institutions can become. Is it really credible that God has made a
for-better-for-worse pledge to stick with an English style episcopate no matter
IV. Indwelling Supranatural:
The Church is Divine as well as human. The Anglican theologies referenced
above explain how the Church is not just one more merely human institution by
identifying the second-to-fourth century episcopate as the office through which
covenanted supranatural power is made available. Dix thinks that where apostles
and bishops are concerned, it is necessary to distinguish between the supranatural
benefits pertaining to their own office distinctively and those transmitted to all
Christians empowering them to do battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
According to Dix, what is peculiar to apostles and bishops is shaliach: Christ’s
own authorization, not just to represent but to act in the person of Christ.
I agree that the Church is Divine as well as human, and that for two reasons.
First, Christ the head is one person with Divine as well as human natures.
Second, the Holy Spirit of God is the ésprit de corps. That is, the Church is holy
because God is holy, and Godhead is really present in the Church, both because
Christ is really present in the eucharist and because the Spirit of God takes up
residence in every human heart.
Put otherwise, I agree with Dix that something like shaliach is essential to
the Church. But shaliach belongs to the Divine-side of the Church, to the way God
is organizing it. It does not fundamentally pertain to social roles in humanly
devised institutions, but to human persons incorporated into Christ’s Body. Nor do
we have to trace the details of Divine providence to learn from John’s Gospel and
New Testament epistles that being “born again” into Christ’s Body involves Godhead
indwelling human persons at the core of their being. Ramsey makes these texts
central to his articulation of the Gospel of God that he thinks the outer
structure of the Church should express: to be a member of Christ’s Body is to
share His death and to be raised into His life. With this biblical
characterization I also agree. But Ramsey reads these passages through the lens of
British idealism and so characterizes the process as one of “self-sufficient
individuals” realizing that they are “nothing” and “merging” into the
body-politic. By contrast, John’s Gospel speaks of Divine-human friendship.
Friendship requires at least two partners. God cannot be friends with a cipher! I
want to relocate shaliach in the status of Jesus’ disciples as friends.
Ancient ideals of friendship (epitomized in Cicero’s treatise On Friendship)
identify paradigm friendships as between peers, who so share a way of seeing and
valuing the world that their agencies become interchangeable. They will one will
(idem velle, idem nolle), they can act on one another’s behalf, so much so that
one could almost say that “there is one soul in two bodies.” Ancient society also
recognize a variety of friendships among unequals–among family members (husband
and wife, parents and children, father-in-law and mother-in-law, uncle, cousins
etc.), teachers and students, kings and subjects, patrons and clients. With
parents and children, teachers and students, it is not a question of equivalent
agency, but of elders nurturing the formation of immature agency towards competent
performance in relevant social roles. Throughout the Gospels, Rabbi Jesus
patiently trains his disciples who display a stereotypical range of failures to
Where friendship with God is concerned, what is involved is something much
more radical than friendship “on the outside” with an unequal other. It involves
the restructuring of human personality into lived partnership with Godhead.
Psychologically, humans move out of the booming buzzing confusion of original
infancy into self-consciousness, and then trace a long period of development
towards adulthood in which the ego acquires ever greater skill in managing and
directing the self and its interactions with the world. Nevertheless, humans were
not designed for “solo” living. No creature can do anything “all by itself.” God
is omnipresent by nature, everywhere and always acting to influence creatures,
both to enable them “to do their thing” and to order them to providential designs.
Where human personality is concerned, indwelling Godhead is required to evoke our
capacity to be personal and to be spiritual, to be able to reach out and connect
with other persons and to enter into relationship with God. Ego-development into
adult competence is key to human personal flourishing. What Jesus’ call to be
“born again” into Divine-human friendship signals is that the self-sufficient ego
as functional center of human personality is not what mature humanity really
consists in. It is not the final developmental stage. We were designed to be
persons in relation to live-in Godhead. We become what we were meant to be the
more we consciously and intentionally allow that friendship with God to be the
functional center of our lives. John’s Jesus models human personality restructured
into partnership, when time and again He insists, “I-not-I-but-the Father do these
things, I-not-I-but-the-Father declare this to you.” Likewise, St. Paul speaks of
“I-not-I-but-Christ in me.”
The language of rebirth, of death and resurrection is appropriate. Just as
the teenager dies to childhood and rises into adolescence, so also and all the
more so Jesus prepares His disciples for the ultimate stage-transition in which
they die to personality managed and directed by their own egos and rise to
personality recentered on friendship with Godhead. In fact, for merely human
beings, this is not a once and for all change. Disciples are called to take up
their cross, to die daily, to rechoose it moment by moment, as gradually
friendship settles in as the habitual way to be.
Friendship with God does not make for interchangeable agency, twice over.
First, because our living into it is always partial and imperfect. Second, because
of the size gap, there is a vast difference in our competencies. God is very much
the senior partner. Merely human beings cannot know the mind of the Lord. To work
with us, God–like the mother baking Christmas cookies with her three year
old–has to over-simplify Divine projects into fragmentary portions, suggestions,
and directives. Even John’s Jesus speaks of obeying the Father’s commands, not
because God is bossy and dictatorial, but because commandments digest Divine
purposes into something humanly understandable and put us in the picture enough to
shape our action towards cooperation.
My contention is that friendship with God is as close as any human
personality can come to shaliach. It is what puts human beings such as St. Paul
and Archbishop Tutu in a position to speak and act on God’s behalf. Not, once
again, that their agency is equivalent to Divine agency. Rather, to the extent
that their personalities are managed and directed by an
I-not-I-but-Christ/I-not-I-but-Godhead-in-me partnership, God is the senior
partner behind what is said and done. Moreover, friendship with God is not
essentially connected with human institutions, but is in principle prior to and
independent of them. God calls Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into friendship when they
are wandering Arameans. Human institutions come into the picture afterwards
because God’s freely chosen plans are social, which itself may be a friendly
accomodation to the fact that humans are political animals. Friendship with God is
the way God organizes human individuals who were functionally ego-centered into
the Body of Christ. And so–pace Ramsey–the parts are prior to the whole!
V. The Episcopacy of All Believers:
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the preface to ordination rites declares,
“ It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient
Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in
Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”<46>
While twentieth century defenders of apostolic succession and the necessity of
episcopacy acknowledge that historically this is not quite true, Gore can still
insist on “the ministerial principle” “that Christianity is the life of an
organized society in which a graduated body of ordained ministers is made the
instrument of unity.”<47> Even though they recognize that the office called
‘episcopus’ has varied considerably through the chances and changes of Western
Church history, they insist that it is the same office (as opposed to a family of
different ones) criterially identified by the power to ordain, to hand on and to
hand on power to hand on Christ’s own authorization to others. In any and every
age (after the second to fourth centuries), an office that possesses that power
counts as episcopate, according to them.<48> For present purposes, I am happy to
go along with this usage.
Dix says that what is important is not episkope, which refers merely to a
somewhat variable package of functions, but shaliach. What makes a bishop a bishop
is Christ’s commission to act in Christ’s name.<49> But if indwelling Godhead
makes shaliach universal, then the three orders of ministry abstract and condense
into distinct roles what are in fact three dimensions of the ministry of every
Christian. Take away the historical contingencies of human institutional
arrangements, and what we have is the diaconate, the priesthood, and, yes, the
episcopacy of all believers!
Personality restructured into functional partnership with live-in Godhead is
the ontological basis of any human being’s acting in Christ’s name. There is,
therefore, no ontological deficit that would prevent any and all Christians from
functioning in any and all liturgical functions now assumed by ordained clergy.
Within TEC, especially in parishes with no assigned permanent deacons, we see lay
persons setting the table, perhaps less frequently but still sometimes reading the
Gospel and distributing the bread. Baptism is long since recognized as a rite that
can be performed by any Christian in extremis. In dioceses with far flung rural
parishes, Title 9 priests have been raised up to preach and preside at the
eucharist within that congregation only. Congregational involvement in confronting
and confessing wrongs is consistent with if not suggested by Matthew 18:15-20.
Once again, since shaliach is universal, it is not ontological deficits that would
stand in the way of members taking turns presiding at the eucharist or in
congregational ordinations in which the whole assembled body as it were laid on
To be sure, context may generate practical reasons for packaging functions
together and condensing them into distinctive roles. Indeed, the above-cited
Anglican authors give extensive attention to the way this happened in the early
centuries of the Church. Again, I am happy to admit that habitual cooperation with
live-in Godhead in certain tasks will give rise to habits, which could be
called–since they involve ways of working with God–supranatural characters.
Conscious and intentional collaboration with Godhead gives us distinctive personal
formation and molds us into saints. What I wish to stress is that ontology alone
does not put it beyond the range of possibility that context should make it
practical for people to exercize diaconal, priestly, or episcopal functions
episodically. This is already happening on more or less ad hoc basis. My point is
that ontology furnishes no reason to resist should it seem more practical to
restructure our human institutions this way.
Certainly, the institutional office of bishop seems ripe for reorganization.
The traditional episcopal portfolio includes governance, guardianship of sound
doctrine and practice, liturgical functions and visitations. It is widely
conceded, not least by incumbants, that in today’s world, this job description
loads on more than any one person can do. Already back in 1946, Bishop Kenneth
Kirk could joke about the administrative efficiency of the episcopal office.<50>
At the end of the twentieth century, a TEC bishop lamented how his positive
projects were frustrated by the time he had to spend dealing with clergy sexual
harrassment cases. Many dioceses have abandoned the ancient model of monepiscopacy
(one diocese, one bishop) to appoint suffragans and/or assisting bishops to cover
the visitations and confirmations and to tend to the pastoral care of clergy.
Moreover, if the sheer volume of work is crushing, the range of required
expertise is daunting. To some extent, this is dealt with by out-sourcing, where
the expert is treated as a consultant, or–if a permanent employee–the analogue
of a civil servant. Thus, when General Synod needs to make a decision about the
church pension scheme, financial advisors are brought in. When the question is
about prisons, the director of her majesty’s prisons comes to advise. When the
issue relates to the media, lifelong employees of the BBC appear; to the arms
race, generals; etc. Present institutions maintain the hierarchical division
between the archbishops who summoned their services and the laypersons or lower
clergy who respond. But how soon will it make more sense to say that when the
financier or prison director or media specialist or military officer is exercizing
her/his episcopacy in providing these services to the Church? Is s/he not thereby
overseeing the household of God?
Again, in the midst of current sex and gender controversies within the
Anglican communion, some bishops want to reassert episcopal prerogative to dictate
what Scripture really means and to rule on what sorts of sexually active
lifestyles are compatible with holiness of life. It has been like pulling teeth to
get language into the draft covenants that acknowledges the obvious: scholarly lay
persons, priests, and deacons may know more about the bible than the sitting
bishops. Any notion that ordination confers supranatural expertise about sex and
gender, is belied by the content of Vatican documents written by celibate priests
telling married people what it is godly to do!
Examples like these are signs that the institutional role divisions we have
inherited from the past are dysfunctional. The Church cannot afford to pay enough
clergy to do all of the work. To carry out its mission to live and spread the
Gospel, the time is coming–maybe now is–when it can ill afford to suppress the
episcopacy of all believers!
VI. Symbolic Function:
All three of the above-referenced Anglican theologies see episcopacy as
essential to the Church as a symbol of unity. Moreover, the symbolic function of
the office is said to depend on concentrating such powers in the hands of the
bishops as enable them to be instrumental causes of the union of which they are
signs. Thus, the bishop’s powers of ordaining and confirming, in some Anglican
provinces, of appointing the clergy to their livings and otherwise taking
responsibility for governance, makes him/her a symbol that the diocese is not
merely a collection of congregations. Likewise, the bishop’s participation in
national and global networks and councils of bishops makes her/him a symbol of
Church union worldwide. Finally, his/her apostolic succession makes him/her a
symbol of the unity of the Church down through the ages, through the chances and
changes of history. Even if dispersed expertise weighs in favor of scattered and
episodic authority, isn’t this consideration obviously trumped by the Church’s
need for unifying focal symbols?
In my judgment, this argument points, not to a merit, but to a danger in the
episcopacy, and that for Durkheimian reasons. Bodies politic are personified by
their heads, willy nilly. But bodies politic inevitably tend to regard themselves,
their survival and well being as sacred. Implicitly and explicitly, they take
themselves as entitled to do whatever it takes to guarantee their security. The
bumper sticker “America, love it or leave it!” says it all: the body politic is
above reproach. To one degree or another, this sacral character rubs off on its
personifying leader. Just how pernicious this is depends upon the relation the
polity sets up between symbolic caché and real power. Henry VIII had both, so that
might made right. Elizabeth II is above reproach but has scant real power, while
the prime minister has enormous real power but is regularly and rigorously
reproached at every question time! At the other end of the scale, Scandanavian and
Dutch royalty have little of either.
Clearly, the notion that bishops should be above reproach is alive and well
in current Anglican communion sex-and-gender controversies. When–at York
2007–the agenda committee put forth the motion that General Synod leave the
Church of England’s response to the Nassau draft covenant to the archbishops, the
Bishop of Durham insisted that Synod “owed this to Rowan,” while lay delegates
rose to declare, “I trust me archbishops!” Two years later, the archbishops were
affronted that a quiet indication–“I would prefer more robust forms of
protection” (for the conscientious objectors against the ordination of
women)–without accompanying arguments, did not deliver the outcome they desired.
Certainly, Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria considered himself to be beholden to none
when–ignoring requests from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop
of TEC–he crossed provincial lines to interfere in the North American churches.
My unsurprizing first reaction is that archbishops should be forced to choose
between real power and symbolic caché. If they–like prime ministers and
presidents–use real power to effect controversial policies, they should expect to
face energetic opposition and criticism. This is not the sixteenth century, and
they should quit trying to have it both ways.
The best remedy for the Durkheimian danger of turning bishops into idols, is
to undermine our idolatry of the institutional church itself. Knee-jerk human
symbol reading takes the head to be above reproach because the body-politic is
sacred. My contention is that holiness pertains to the Church insofar as God is
organizing it, not insofar as humans are organizing it. God is holy, and the real
presence of the Spirit of God in every human heart organizing us into a Church
makes the Church holy. Such “holiness by association” does not, however, rub off
onto the human institutions through which the Church does its work in the world,
in such a way as to make it or any of its offices or office-holders above
reproach. God’s presence within the Church does not award any Divine seal of
approval to ecclesial institutions, any more than God’s real presence with Israel
gave Divine blessing to the policies and practices of Israelite kings. The human
leaders of the humanly devised institutions remain fallible. Indeed, all of the
merely human beings who belong to the Church remain fallible, both individually
and together. In matters of Church governance, all alike are best subjected to the
rough and tumble of approximation and correction. Likewise, humanly devised
institutions best exhibit Christ’s life, not by clinging defensively to what they
have traditionally done, but by repentance and amendment of life. Ecclesia est
reformata et semper reformanda!
Human fallibility implies a further corollary of equal importance: viz.,
that–contrary to the Maximum Visible Unity assumption–the institutional unity of
different ecclesial communions and denominations may not always be a timely goal.
Even God’s friends have difficulty discerning what God really expects from us
(remember Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac). The best way forward at any given
time may be vigorous differentiation that tries incompatible positions on for
size. Contrary to the Urgent Resolution Assumption, a season of spirited
disagreement, questioning and disputing incompatible points of view with
unstinting analytical rigor, may help us arrive at a more complex and nuanced
position that winnows wheat from chaff on both sides. What we need to seek is not
a common mind (so longed for by the Kuala Lumpur report)–usually, there is no
such thing, and when there is it remains fallible–but the mind of the Lord that
always dances out ahead of us with greater subtlety and complexity than we can
grasp. In any event, human beings are politically challenged. Global
empire–whether civil or ecclesial–stretches our competence to the breaking
point, leads to bad government in the middle (consider Vatican authoritarianism),
and collapses under its own weight at the end.
What allows me to view Christian institutional divisions with equanimity, is
my own belief that human ways of organizing the Church are not fundamental. The
integrity of the Church is a function of how God is organizing it. The real
guarantee of Christian unity is the consistency of Divine purpose, and Christ is
the only sacrament (outward and visible sign) of unity that the Church needs.
<1>:The Communiqué of the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam 19 February
2007, secs.17-35, pp.4-7. See also its appendix, The Key Recommendations,
<2>:An Anglican Covenant–The Third (Ridley Cambridge) Draft, Section
<3>:Disturbingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury leant credence to these
criticisms in his Advent Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion
<4>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919), which appeared in first edition in 1888.
<5>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919), V.211-214.
<6>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919), VII.298.
<7>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919),II.53, 56-57, 60-61, 92; VII.299.
<8>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919),II.54; IV.208-209; VII.301.
<9>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919),VII.298, 310.
<10>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
<11>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919),VII.298, 310.
<12>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990). Originally published in 1936.
<13>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), I.4-5.
<14>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), I.4-5.
<15>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), III.32-33; IV.51-52.
<16>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), XII.196.
<17>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), V.66.
<18>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), III.36,38.
<19>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), III.41.
<20>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), IV.44.
<21>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), IV.47.
<22>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), IV.49-50; XI.175.
<23>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), V.61; VI.74-81.
<24>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), VI.81.
<25>:John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the
Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). See also
Episcopal Ministry: The Report of the Archbishops’ Group on the Episcopate
1990 (London: Church Publishing House, 1990), Part II.ii.17.7. Zizioulas’
theology likewise infuses The Church and the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed
Statement of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological
Dialogue 2006 (London, UK: The Anglican Communion Office).
<26>:Episcopal Ministry, I.ii.5.2; II.iii.22.9; II.iii.25.110. See also
The Church of the Triune God, I.3-12.13-15; I.22-26.18-19; V.8.61.
<27>:Episcopal Ministry II.ii.19.8; The Church of the Triune God,
<28>:Episcopal Ministry I.ii.6-7; The Church of the Triune God
<29>:Communion, Conflict, and Hope: The Kuala Lumpur Report of the third
Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (London, UK: The
Anglican Communion Office, 2007).
<30>:Communion, Conflict, and Hope, IV.121.50.
<31>:Episcopal Ministry II.ii.19.8.
<32>:Communion, Conflict, and Hope, For.5, III.110.46, IV.118.49.
<33>:Communion, Conflict, and Hope, Pre. 10.10; III.104-105.45;
III.110.46; IV.124.51; Appendix Two, T4.61.
<34>:Communion, Conflict, and Hope, III.113.47, 115.47.
<35>:Communion, Conflict, and Hope III.105.45; III.112.46.
<36>:The Church of the Triune God, V.22.65; V.25.66.
<37>:Charles Gore, The Church and the Ministry (London: Longmans, Green
and Co., 1919), III.99,148-150, 178, 194; VII.299. Dom Gregory Dix, “The
Ministry in the Early Church c.A.D. 90-410,” in The Apostolic Ministry:
essays on the History and Doctrine of Episcopacy, ed. by Kenneth E. Kirk
(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946), 185-303. Michael Ramsey, The Gospel
and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1990),
VI.63-69. Episcopal Ministry: The Report of the Archbishops’ Group on the
Episcopate 1990 (London: Church House Publishing, 1990), Part I, 13-154.
More nuanced estimates are also found in The Church of the Triune God,
<38>:Dom Gregory Dix, “The Ministry in the Early Church c.A.D. 90-410,” in
The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of
Episcopacy, ed. by Kenneth E. Kirk (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946),
ch.IV, 185-303. See also T.M. Parker, “Feudal Episcopacy,” in The Apostolic
Ministry: essays on the History and Doctrine of Episcopacy, ed. by Kenneth
E. Kirk (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946),ch.VI, 351-385.
<39>:Charles Gore, The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919), II.82-91. See also T.M. Parker, “Feudal Episcopacy,” in The
Apostolic Ministry: essays on the History and Doctrine of Episcopacy, ed.
by Kenneth E. Kirk (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946),ch.VI, 351-385; and
Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA: Cowley
Publications, 1990), XI.162-164, 172; XIII.207, 218-220.
<40>:Dom Gregory Dix, “The Ministry in the Early Church c.A.D. 90-410,” in
The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of
Episcopacy, ed. by Kenneth E. Kirk, (London: Hodder and Soughton, 1946),
ch.IV, 185-303; esp.287, 292-293, 297-298.
<41>:Thus, Gore, in The Church and Ministry (London: Longmans, Green and
Co., 1919), I.36-37, answers “in one way, yes; in another way, no” to the
question whether the Church is simply identical with the kingdom of heaven.
Likewise, Ramsey, in The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), recognizes that institution sometimes breaks
apart from organism, when he notes how Erastianism tended to represent
church as an English institution, even the religion department of the state
(XIII.206-207) and warns that “institutionalism fails, unless it is mindful
of the Gospel which gives it meaning” (XIV.218).
<42>:John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. by John T.
McNeill, trans. by F.L. Battles (Philadelphia: the Westminster Press,
1960), IV.1.4.1016, IV.1.7.1021-1022.
<43>:J.B. Lightfoot, “The Christian Ministry,” in Saint Paul’s Epistle to
the Philippians: A Revised Text with Introduction, Notes, and Dissertations
(London: Macmillan & co., 1878), 181-269; esp.181-182.
<44>:I cannot, however, agree that the Church is an organic body the way
the cosmos is according to British idealists. See Christ and Horrors: The
Coherence of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006),
<45>:Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, 1990), V.65; XI.162-164.
<46>:The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and
Other Rites and Ceremonies according to the Use of the Church of England
together with The Psalter or Psalms of David Pointed as they are to be sung
or said in churches; and the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and
Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1969, 633.
<47>: Charles Gore, The Church and the Ministry (London: Longmans, Green
and Co., 1919), II.78-79.
<48>:Dom Gregory Dix shows sensitivity to the fact that the same name does
not imply the same office and reckons that power to ordain is the heading
under which the differing historical manifestations of episcopate hold
together (“The Ministry in the Early Church c.A.D. 90-410,” in The
Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of Episcopacy,
ed. by Kenneth E. Kirk (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946), ch.IV,
185-303; esp.189, 296-298. After reviewing medieval developments, T.M.
Parker concludes that “it is the same office that undergoes transformation
and that its essence is sacramental and supranatural and does not change”
(“The Feudal Episcopacy,” in The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History
and the Doctrine of Episcopacy, ed. by Kenneth E. Kirk (London: Hodder and
Stoughton, 1946), ch.VI, 351-385; esp.385).
<49>:Dom Gregory Dix, “The Ministry in the Early Church c. A.D. 90-410,”
in The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of the
Episcopacy, ed. by Kenneth E. Kirk (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1946),
ch.IV, 185-303; esp.228-230, 268-274, 297-298.
<50>:Kenneth E.Kirk, “The Apostolic Ministry,” in The Apostolic Ministry:
Essays on the History and the Doctrine of Episcopacy (London: Hodder and
Stoughton, 1946), 3-52; esp. 3-6.