Saints, Structures, and Salvation, Part 2 A Response to Four Questions from an Orthodox Priest

In my previous post, I discussed the first two questions for Anglicans from Fr. Mark Rowe of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). In this post, I will answer the final two questions.

 

Question 3: Why would you risk your salvation?

In the context of the interview, Fr. Rowe indicated that when he was originally asked this question he had already internally come to the conclusion that he belonged in the Orthodox Church. That is, the question presupposes assent to the assumptions expressed in the first two questions. Nonetheless, the question deserves an answer to its own underlying theological foundation: extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, “outside the Church there is no salvation.” This is a phrase from St. Cyprian of Carthage in his third century work, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, a writing against the Novatian heresy. The word “heresy” is key to understanding Cyprian’s argument. While the Novatians were orthodox in most of their practices and beliefs, they rejected the possibility of repentance for those who had denied Christ under persecution, and later for other grave sins. By denying repentance to sinners, they departed from the foundation of the Gospel. That is, they were not merely in schism with the rest of the Church; they were heretics. While both Rome and Orthodoxy use Cyprian’s arguments to make a case for Protestants (and each other, for that matter) to be in peril of damnation by not being in communion with whichever of the Two One True Churches is actually the One True Church, Cyprian is addressing unity based on right doctrine, not political or institutional unity, as Cyprian pre-dates any such major schisms in the Church (I will grant, of course, that Cyprian would probably never envision a time when schism and heresy were not one and the same).

This begs the question: from an Orthodox perspective, are Anglicans heretics? If so, of which heresy are we guilty? As admitted in my answer to Question 2,  while there are certainly heretical elements within the Anglican Communion, others, like the GAFCON movement, and the Anglican Continuum, are valiantly fighting against those elements and standing for biblical doctrines and teaching. Indeed, it is to the Bible that we must turn to determine what beliefs and practices are genuinely orthodox and which are heretical. The English Reformers pointed out that the Church Fathers, such as St. Cyprian, appeal to that same standard. In fact, all of the Reformers considered themselves to be faithful to the Church, even using the above quote from Cyprian in their writings.

To summarize, salvation is a matter of fidelity to the Gospel, and not a matter of ecclesiastical political affiliation, especially in this time of a tragically divided Church.

 

Question 4: If you were at liturgy at the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher, the Tomb of your Savior Christ, could you take Communion?

As the Orthodox control the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and they do not permit non-Orthodox to take Communion, the answer is regrettably obvious. That said, is such fencing of the Lord’s Table biblical? If Anglicans have been baptized into Christ, would Christ forbid them from coming to his Table? Again we see the problem in the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church: by considering itself the One True Church, it cuts off other Christians who have been baptized into Christ from partaking of Christ in the Sacraments. Indeed, within some of the Orthodox world, Anglicans would be required to be re-baptized, contrary to the Scriptures (Ephesians 4:4-6). Furthermore, when we see the context of 1 Corinthians 11 that the root of the judgement or damnation that comes with “unworthy” eating and drinking at Communion is about “discerning the body” with respect to the divisions of God’s people (i.e. the Body of Christ) rather than about one’s sacramental theology. That is, when we close Christ’s Table to members of his Body (i.e. baptized Christians), we are sinning against them and liable to Judgement. Are Anglicans, then, to be blamed for the Orthodox (or Roman) departure from Scripture in this manner?

To summarize, this question is really a red herring. The real question is “Why would you not allow other Christians to take Communion at Our Lord’s tomb?”

 

Conclusion: True Unity

Ultimately, the questions are rooted in the tragic divisions within the Church. Again, I am reminded of the political division of Israel into two kingdoms in the Old Testament:

First, we see that the division was God’s judgement against the Davidic kings for Solomon’s apostasy and the pride of his son Rehoboam (1 Kings 11 and 12). Similarly the great schisms of 1054 and of the Reformation are rooted in both ecclesiastical apostasy and ecclesiastical pride. Like the Old Testament division, the evidence is that the divided Church is God’s judgement and discipline for us. Had we remained humble and Christ-like, and had we kept the truths of the Gospel central with the Scriptures as our final authority, no schism would be possible. There would still be heresy, but like the Arians, Novatians, and Donatists, they would die out, even if their beliefs resurface from time-to-time.

Second, we see that the pervasive idolatry of the Northern Kingdom was rooted in Jeroboam’s fear of his subjects worshiping in the Southern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:25ff). That is, Jeroboam set up idols to keep his subjects from going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as commanded in the Scriptures. But from the perspective of the Southern Kingdom, Levitical priests, and the Scriptures themselves, all Israelites had a share in the Temple regardless of where they lived politically. How much of the departure from Apostolic practices in the fringes of Protestantism are similarly based on the fencing of worship through the Sacraments, whether its from forbidding other Christians from taking Communion with us or forbidding our parishioners from taking Communion with other Churches? Don’t all baptized Christians have a right to Christ’s sacraments?

Third, despite the division of the Kingdom, and the Northern Kingdom departing from the divinely-established Davidic monarchy, we see God taking an active role in choosing rulers in the Northern Kingdom. Similarly, we should not disparage Churches who do not have succession within the historic episcopacy by considering them to be less-than-Churches.

Finally, God promises that one day Israel and Judah will be reunited politically. He also has promised that his Church would be One. We should indeed work toward unity, and trust God to heal our divisions. The problem with both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ecclesiologies is that their belief in their respective inability to depart from truth means that unity can only come through joining one of their churches. This means rather than having true reunion of East and West, we have so-called “Eastern Catholics” or “Western-Rite Orthodox.” Nevertheless, Anglican and Orthodox discussions toward unity have not always been so one-sided. There was a time when our two Churches were indeed in the early stages of talks that may have led to inter-communion rather than subjugation.  Admittedly, it was the Anglicans that ruined things with innovations on Holy Orders. Recently, there have been other hints that this sort of thing could be taken up again, as seen in Metropolitan Jonah’s address to the ACNA inaugural assembly. Indeed ecumenical dialog is at a high point in the theologically conservative Anglican world.

As encouraging as this is, I do think this requires true dialog rather than trolling each other for potential converts. While I do not think that was Fr. Rowe’s intent, nor that of the QCAR hosts, this is something that happens all-too-often between our communions. As Anglicans, we need to be strong and understand our ecclesiology. We are not a halfway house to Rome or Orthodoxy. I give the final word to TNAA contributor, Fr. Robert Hart from the Continuum blog:

We hold to our Article XIX. Regarding the Visible Church, other than the genuine ministry of God’s word and sacraments, what do we need in order to be part of the Body of Christ? These two things, God’s word and the sacraments, in a congregation of faithful Christians, contain all the antiquity necessary in every meaningful way, of the whole Church. We have the past that truly matters: Our church was not born in the 7th century, and certainly not in the 16th century. It was born on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles and other disciples that had gathered in the upper room, and were at that moment in the temple at prayer. Our Church was born in Jerusalem that very day, and it spread out from there to many nations.


Fr. Isaac J. Rehberg

Fr. Isaac is the Canon for liturgy in the Diocese of CANA West, and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in San Antonio, TX, where he lives with his wife, Heather, and daughter, Leah. A bi-vocational priest, he works as a residential real estate appraiser and dabbles in various forms of music. Fr. Isaac earned his BA from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and his Master of Christian Ministry from Wayland Baptist University.


'Saints, Structures, and Salvation, Part 2 A Response to Four Questions from an Orthodox Priest' has 1 comment

  1. November 28, 2017 @ 4:44 pm Answering Some Eastern Orthodox Questions – All Saints Anglican Church

    […] Now that the new website is up, I plan on posting some new blog content regularly. In the meantime, I recently wrote a two-part response for the North American Anglican to some questions for catholic-minded Anglicans from an Eastern Orthodox priest.  You can read part one here, and part two here. […]

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