Table Fellowship & Communion, Impaired and Broken
Reflections to produce better reflections from Dr Peter Toon
Seven or more Primates have at one time or another during the recent Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania (and side trip to Zanzibar) deliberately refused to share in a Service of Holy Communion with their fellow Primates. That is, they have refused to have Table Fellowship with their “brethren,” one of whom is a female.
In their own words from the website of the Nigerian Church, they said:
“We each take the celebration of the Holy Eucharist very seriously. This deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion. It makes clear that the torn fabric of the Church has been torn further. It is a consequence of the decision taken by our provinces to declare that our relationship with The Episcopal Church is either broken or severely impaired.
Scripture teaches that before coming to sit with one another at the Lord’s Table we must be reconciled. (Matthew 5:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) We have made repeated calls for repentance by The Episcopal Church and its leadership with no success. We continue to pray for a change of heart.
We are unable to come to the Holy Table with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of Scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding, “Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith” (Book of Common Prayer, 1662)
This is a painful decision for us and also for our host and brother, the Most Rev¹d Donald Mtetemela. He understands our painful dilemma and accepts our decision. Pray for the Church.”
The story is that, since they are the spiritual leaders of Anglican Provinces which have already synodically declared that The Episcopal Church of the USA is below the standard of faith and morals required of a Christian Church in the Anglican tradition, they are bound to act in accordance with these declarations, and not behave as if they had not been made. That is, they are not in Eucharistic communion with the spiritual leader(s) of The Episcopal Church. However, it appears that they apparently remain in baptismal communion or something akin to it, for they do sit in an assembly where is the lady Primate of the offending Province and where there is Prayer and the reading of the Word.
It is possible that in this Statement, which has now gone around the world, they made in good conscience a mistake in providing the quotation from the Exhortation in the Communion Service of The Book of Common Prayer (1662). It would have been better, perhaps, had they cited biblical verses where the faithful are told not to have fellowship with the apostate—see, for example, Galatians 1:6-9, especially v.9; and also Ephesians 5:11 (in the context of verses 3-21). If it be the case that the lady Primate has abandoned the Faith and Morals of Christ as these are understood in the Anglican Way, then separation from her, until she repents is certainly what the New Testament appears to require. And by repentance they understand that she declare that same-sex unions are always and everywhere contrary to the will of Christ the Lord, and that The Episcopal Church has been wrong and is wrong in supporting such, and ceases to have anything to do with this sinful innovation.
Possibly also they made a further mistake by absenting themselves from the Table of the Lord at all, since the lady Primate was never the Celebrant, either in Dar es Salaam or Zanzibar. If we are to absent ourselves from a Eucharistic assembly because one or two present in it as members of the congregation are, in our judgment, heretics, then we perhaps go too far—especially if their number is only a small percentage of the whole (as it seems to be in this case). To absent ourselves when the Celebrant is a heretic is one thing and in the case of these Primates required, but absenting ourselves if a few members of the congregation are heretics is another. If we all adopt this principle, we need not only to examine ourselves before the Service (as St Paul requires in 1 Cor. 10-11) but also to examine everyone else! And who can truly stand full examination?
All in all, it would seem that the protesting Primates were absolutely right to declare that they were not in Eucharistic fellowship with the lady Primate and that they believe she and her Church need urgently to repent of their erroneous doctrine, morals and ways. However, since she was never the Celebrant, they probably made a mistake in absenting themselves from the Eucharist, for they also by so doing declared by sign, if not by words, that they are not in fellowship with all the others there as well! They chose the wrong occasion to make a necessary protest on behalf of the Gospel and its Morality as it has been traditionally received in the Anglican Way.
We are familiar, since the arrival of women priests, of impaired communion and of traditional Anglicans not receiving Communion from either bishops who ordain women or rectors who employ them—or of course from the women themselves—but this situation in East Africa is different for several of these protesting Primates are all in favor of the ordination of women (e.g. the Primate of Rwanda seems enthusiastic about it!). It appears that for this group of Primates the ordination of women is not a problem—whether they personally ordain women or not— in terms of euchariustic fellowship (as it is for FinF members) but ordaining “gays” is a problem, and the latter is so serious as to merit not only the not receiving Holy Communion from a Celebrant who is a heretic but also the not being seated in the Eucharistic assembly where there is a heretic.
Let us pray for greater wisdom and greater charity to handle all this for it is both a complex and a tender matter.
February 18 2007
The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)
President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA 1-800-PBS-1928
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