Despite the fact that I posted it almost two months ago, my last entry - "My Parish's Disaffilication with the ACC" - generated quite a lot of discussion of late. I thought I might see if we could continue the discussion in a new thread. My friend and former student, Fr. Jeffrey Steel, SSC entered the dialogue rather late in the game, and he has seen fit to take his old teacher to task. What follows are the questions he asked in his last response:
"Has heresy only become for you anything that is substantially denied in the Creeds?"
No, and I'm not certain where you got this idea. Certainly not from anything I have said on this blog or anywhere else. But note the distinction that I made in my last response to you between heresy and apostasy. In light of that distinction, perhaps a better question to have asked me is whether I think it possible for a church to be tolerant of heresy or even be formally in error at certain points of its teaching and STILL be regarded a true church. I think the self-evident Anglican answer to that question is: YES. This is essentially how Anglicans, since John Jewel and Richard Hooker, have regarded the Church of Rome, and in recent times, how those who deny the ordination of women somehow manage to remain in the Church of England.
"What sort of theological criteria do you use to define something as heretical?"
My theological criteria are very much like yours, I'm sure. My first appeal is to the consensus fidelium. This has been my approach for years, and is what I taught you in the classroom. In one of his responses to my earlier entry, Andy B. went so far as to issue a call for me to return to my "roots." Ironically, I've never left them.
"How far do the goal posts need to be moved before one is on another pitch?"
This is where that heresy/apostasy distinction comes in. I have stated on many occasions that something along the lines of a formal denial of the Trinity would indicate an irreversible departure from the faith and an indication that TEC was no longer a Christian church. It may not be an answer that satisfies you or Andy B., but it is an answer, and it's logically consistent with everything I have ever said on the matter.
But here's the rub: I at least have given an answer with a theological rationale. Apart from hearing the rhetoric that TEC has finally "gone too far," where are the goal posts for those who have or are anticipating leaving TEC?
Is apostasy merely a matter of how much heresy one is willing to tolerate before it becomes unbearable? Is TEC apostate because it has a gay bishop? Or because those who have left over Bishop Robinson simply cannot live in a church that has a gay bishop? Is TEC apostate because some heretical elements have gone so far as to endorse and/or authorize blessings of same sex relationships? Or is it that some simply cannot live in a church that is tolerant of those who endorse and/or authorize such blessings?
And when did/will the Church of England fall into apostasy? Over women priests? Over women bishops? Over gay priests/bishops? Over the official policy of the CoE that turns a blind eye to homosexual lay people who live in committed relationships? Over priests who undergo surgery for a sex-change? Over priests and bishops who are allowed under law to enter into "celibate" same sex unions? When? Where are your goal posts, Jeff?
NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to visit Father Jeffrey's excellent blog De Cura animarum.