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Is Meaningful Lay Involvement in the Church That Bad?

Every now and then I run across an article that has me saying to myself, “What is going on here?” One such piece is Ben Jeffries’ Abiding with Error in the ACNA. There’s a great deal to unpack here, but I’m going to try to focus on one thing: his idea that easing the laity out of the meaningful life of the church is a plus.

Let’s start with a liturgical issue, he notes the following:

1907 — General Convention loosed the ancient discipline that made ordination a required qualification for preaching a sermon in the midst of a liturgy.

Back in the Old Country, the 1662 BCP had provision for lay people to celebrate Morning Prayer. With that is the implication that the lay person doing this might say something outside of the liturgy. That never quite made it into the American prayer books, but since the 1662 book has a special place in the life of Anglicanism, that should not be discounted or classified as a “wound.”

Of course I’ll bet that Jeffries may be thinking that such a provision was the “camel’s nose in the tent” for something like lay presidency, which the ACNA’s allies in Sydney have advocated. In turn that assumes that the Holy Communion is the normative/only service on Sunday. He should be informed that it’s not just Anglo-Catholics who advocated for that: liturgical movement types such as William Palmer Ladd did the same thing. And I’m also sure that there are many in the more traditional parts of the ACNA who feel that the results of the liturgical movement are a wound in a league of their own.

There are some (wounds) that were inflicted while we were still a part of The Episcopal Church, which would have been fatal to us had they not been treated and healed at our founding, e.g. the consecration of women as bishops, the consecration of openly gay persons as bishops, or the laity having authoritative voice in council on matters of faith, etc.

Let’s look at the last one: easing the laity out of their “authoritative voice.” The first thing that statement assumes is that the laity were responsible for the rot that engulfed the Episcopal Church. I rather doubt that; the vast majority of lay people had neither the inclination nor the education to take on such a task. The rot in the Episcopal Church started in the seminaries with the introduction of Higher Criticism of the Bible, going back to the latter part of the nineteenth century. While that isn’t as significant as it is for, say, the Baptists, it’s a start. The Episcopal Church was led down the path of its own destruction by its own ministers, and Jeffries would do well to acknowledge that.

I’ve spent most of my life in churches where the ministers pretty much ruled the roost, and the lack of accountability that results from that can have some unpleasant results, such as we’ve seen in the Roman Catholic Church with Bishop Stika in Knoxville, to say nothing about my own church. Concerning the last, I’d like to repeat an observation I made:

The second is that (with exceptions) our ministers and academics alike have a “trade union” mentality, that thinking and speaking/preaching of the deeper things of God is “bargaining unit” work and that the laity (“scabs” in union terminology) don’t have any business delving into this kind of thing on any level. Sometimes it’s framed as a replication of Roman Catholicism’s view of the priesthood, but that’s too high of a view of what’s going on.

I definitely get a strong whiff of the trade union mentality in Jeffries’ piece.

As far as the other issues he deals with, I’d like to go back to a piece I did in 2008 when the ACNA was in the process of its formation:

There are several items that tell me that Anglicans better be in for the long haul on this one:

The difficult process of recognition, as Conger outlines.  That speaks for itself.

I don’t see any Archbishop of Canterbury, either the present occupant or any successor that a British Government might suffer, recognising this province.  They can talk about the ACC or the Primates all they want, but unless the Archbishop of Canterbury gives the high sign, real entry into the Anglican Communion is impossible.

The issue of women’s ordination (WO.)  There’s simply no consensus on this issue, irrespective of which side you take.  That goes to the heart of the apostolic succession issue, which is key for a proper Anglican church.

The resolution of the seceding dioceses, which will involve the U.S. court system.

The real possibility that our government, in its desire to be politically correct and its need for revenue, will begin revoking tax-exempt status for churches that do not embrace homosexuality.  That will doubtless be coupled with a legal assault based on anti-discrimination legislation and all of the other legal tools I outlined in my 2007 piece Waiting for the Cops to Show Up.

The many “wounds” that Jeffries describes were and are not bugs in the ACNA: they’re features, there from the start. That’s especially true with WO. Either he was and is naive about the reality of, say, WO in the ACNA or he and people like him went into it with the idea that they would be able to beat it into submission.

Either way, I think it’s safe to say that Jeffries would be better off in a Continuing church from a doctrinal and practical standpoint.


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