“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph” – T. S. Eliot
Has that strange sound from beneath the high altar of St. James’ Anglican Cathedral in Toronto finally ceased?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The forty-second General Synod of the Canadian branch of the Ecclesia Anglicana convened in Vancouver, British Columbia on the tenth of July. Prominent on the agenda was a motion to alter the canon governing holy matrimony to allow for the performance of same-sex marriages. Canon law requires that such a motion pass two consecutive General Synods. At each of these Synods it must receive a two-thirds supermajority from the lay delegates, from the clergy, and from the episcopal college. It received this, albeit through some questionable shenanigans, at the last General Synod in Richmond Hill, Upper Canada, three years ago. This year, however, while it received 80.9 percent of the lay vote, and 73.2 percent of the clerical vote, it was defeated in the House of Bishops who gave it only 62.2 percent, with fourteen bishops voting against the motion, and two abstaining.
It was this motion to which I alluded when I suggested in the concluding paragraph of my Dominion Day essay that John Strachan, first Bishop of Toronto, was probably spinning in his grave. While it is good that the motion was defeated it is important that we recognize that although this was a defeat, of sorts, for liberalism it was not a triumph for orthodoxy. Had orthodoxy triumphed we would be talking about a liberal motion that never made it past its first round through Synod because it was voted down by lay, clerical, and episcopal supermajorities larger than those required to pass it. The reason it is important to recognize this is because the temptation for the orthodox faithful in the Anglican Church of Canada will be to look upon this as the end of a decades long battle of which they are already weary. This is not the end, but rather the beginning. The liberals may not have had the numbers to overcome the constitutional roadblocks that were wisely placed in the way of quick and easy changes to canon law but they clearly outnumber the orthodox and they are not giving up. Indeed, it is quite apparent that they came to Synod with their Plan B already in place in the event they lost the vote. Their Plan B is basically to treat canon law in the same way in which they have long treated the Holy Scriptures, the Creeds, and the traditions of the Church – as texts that can mean anything, which is another way of saying they mean nothing, and therefore mean whatever they want them to mean. It is this sort of thinking, rather than the mere symptom which is their desire to redefine marriage to suit the alphabet soup crowd, that is the essence of the cancer of liberalism that has been eating away at the Church.
Indeed, the breakdown of the vote reveals that the path that lies ahead for the orthodox faithful will not be an easy one. The duty of the orthodox, when a portion of the Church has fallen into grievous error, is to win those who have strayed back to the truth. This is never easy, but it is much more difficult when those who have fallen away have the larger numbers, and especially when they are a majority even among the bishops, those to whom the specific duty of safeguarding the faith had been passed on by the Apostles. It is interesting that the motion received a larger percentage of the lay vote than the clerical vote. Twenty-one years ago Rev. George R. Eves in a book which addressed the growing divide between liberalism and orthodoxy in the Anglican Church of Canada at a time when the battle over same-sex affirmation/blessing/marriage was in its early stages (1) observed that the clergy were a lot more liberal, both theologically and politically, than the laity. If the vote at General Synod accurately reflects the thinking of clergy and laity today – and this is a big if, since it may simply suggest that liberals had control of the lay delegate selection process – then this would appear no longer to be the case. The laity are the largest segment of the Church and if they are also now the most liberal it will be that much harder to reclaim the Church for orthodoxy.
In light of this, the orthodox faithful would do well to remember the words of our Lord and Saviour as recorded in Luke 18:27 “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
The fight for orthodox Christian truth has being going on since the very founding of the Church – the Apostles first encounter with Simon Magus, to whom the Fathers of the second and third centuries traced the origin of the heresy of Gnosticism, (2) is recorded in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts – and will continue, according to prophesies made by both Jesus Christ and His Apostles, until the Second Coming. Explicit warnings against false doctrines and/or exhortations to remain true to the Apostolic faith are found in almost every book of the New Testament. With regards to the outcome of this ongoing war and the battles within it the faithful have both the assurance of the Lord Jesus Christ that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church built upon the Apostolic faith (Matt. 16:15-19) and the warnings given to particular Churches about the judgment that will come if they fall away from the faith. The letters to the angels – which in this somewhat singular use of the term means bishops – of the seven Churches of Asia Minor in the second and third chapters of Revelation are a particularly good example of this. Note the warning to the bishop of Ephesus: (3)
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent (Rev. 2:5)
The falling away that is addressed here was less than the abandonment of the faith for which the term apostasy is usually reserved. Had the Ephesians been guilty of apostasy the warning would hardly have been lesser.
The assurance of Matthew 16 and the warnings of Revelation 2-3 do not contradict each other. The former is made to the catholic Church, the latter to particular Churches. The gates of hell, of which heresy and apostasy are weapons, shall never prevail against the catholic Church, that is to say, the entire or whole Church, but particular Churches within the catholic Church - and, sadly, Church history demonstrates that this is as true of entire dioceses and provinces as it is of individual parishes – can fall to heresy or apostasy. Fortunately, the same history also provides examples of particular Churches that have been recovered from heresy. (4) The orthodox must be ever vigilant for the “faith once delivered unto the saints” but must not succumb to despair when error appears to be in the ascendancy. The present situation in the worldwide Anglican Communion is a particular smaller-scale illustration of this point. However much the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Episcopal Church in the United States have been permeated by the leaven of liberalism, orthodoxy prevails in most of the other provinces of the wider Anglican Communion.
There are those who would object to depicting the marriage debate as one between orthodoxy and heresy. The grounds for this objection, when it is based on something more than mere squeamishness over the use of strong language, have only the most superficial sort of validity. That same-sex marriage has never been formally condemned as a heresy by an ecumenical Council is due entirely to the fact that up until the last twenty to thirty years or so nobody would have ever dreamed that the need for such an anathema might arise. That the Creeds do not contain a line to the effect of “and I believe in one holy, sacred, matrimony between man and woman” is not because this is something about which there has been no “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus” consensus among the faithful, but because like many other truths about which the Scriptures are clear this one would be out of place there. Creeds, as the formal affirmations of the Church’s faith, are not intended to be comprehensive lists of all the truths she adheres to but of those upon which she rests her confidence in God’s grace. (5)
There is, however, a sense in which the objectors are right, but to the opposite effect of what they intend. The ancient heresies were affirmations of the Christian faith that deviated from orthodoxy on some essential point because of an overemphasis upon another. Sabellianism emphasized the unity of God to the point of denying the Trinity, whereas Tritheism was the reverse of this. Arianism denied the full deity of Jesus Christ, whereas Docetism and Apollinarism denied His full humanity. If this is what heresy is, liberalism is something much worse. Keep in mind the point made earlier about the push for same-sex marriage being merely a symptom. (6) The disease to which it points is a way of thinking in which individual wish-fulfilment is the highest good, truth can be discovered or created by majority vote, and every affirmation of the Creed, every tradition of the Church, and every statement of Scripture is open to an infinite number of re-interpretations to bring it in accordance with these ideas. Heresy affirms the Christian faith while distorting its truths, liberalism denies the Christian faith under the guise of an affirmation. It is far more dangerous than any mere heresy.
This does not make our duty to contend for the orthodox faith against liberalism any less than against heresy. If anything, the duty is greater. The same Scriptural warnings apply – but mercifully, so do the Scriptural promises.
(1) The book entitled Two Religions – One Church: Division and Destiny in the Anglican Church of Canada was self-published by Rev. Eves in 1998 and has just been revised and updated for this year’s General Synod. The updated version is available here: https://georgereves.com/books/two-religions-one-church/
(2) St. Justin Martyr, Apologia Prima, 26, St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, I.23. St. Hippolytus of Rome, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium, IV.51 and VI.2, 4-15.
(3) At the time the Book of Revelation was written, this would have been St. Timothy, the same St. Timothy whom St. Paul recruited to join his evangelistic mission from the Church in Lystra in Acts 16 and to whom he later wrote two canonical epistles. Since St. Timothy was bishop of Ephesus until his death in 97 AD, he would have been the one addressed regardless of whether St. John’s exile to Patmos took place under Nero or Domitian.
(4) Take the history of the orthodox Church’s struggle with Arianism in the third and fourth centuries, for example. Several provinces which accepted or leaned towards the heresy condemned by the first ecumenical Council in 325 AD were later brought back into communion with the orthodox Church. There was a period, however, not long after the Nicene Council, when the Arians very much appeared to have the upper hand.
(5) Peter Toon made this point with regards to other truths. “Neither the Apostles’ nor the Nicene Creeds mention hell or Satan. To add to either of these the words, “and in one devil, tempter and enemy of souls; and in damnation to hell everlasting,” would sound odd; belief in Satan and hell is of a different nature than belief in God and heaven. The contents of the creeds point to realities which are to lay hold upon us and grip us in faith and love: Satan and hell are to be avoided, not greeted.” Austin Farrer said something that was very similar in Saving Belief: A Discussion of Essentials, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1964.
(6) An even more serious symptom is evident in the apology retiring primate Fred Hiltz made on behalf of the Church to Canadian aboriginals at General Synod and in some of the articles regarding dialogue with the Jewish community that have appeared in recent issues of the Anglican Journal. While dialogue and better relations between these communities can hardly be viewed as a bad thing per se, liberalism is willing to sacrifice the truths of the Christian faith to achieve these goals. One such truth is that there is only one true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The idols of pagans – whether we are talking about the gods such as Zeus and Odin that European peoples worshipped prior to converting to Christianity, the gods that North American aboriginals worshipped before being evangelized, or other pagan deities of other peoples – are demons. Another such truth is that the saving grace of the one true God is only available through the Redeemer He has provided for the fallen race of mankind, His Son Jesus Christ. Liberals appear to be willing to sacrifice both of these truths to achieve “reconciliation” with the aboriginals, and the second of these truths to achieve dialogue with the Jews. Stephen Roney, who is a member of the Roman Church, has pointed out how a denial of these truths is latent in Hiltz’s apology. For why the second truth should not sacrificed to the goal of better dialogue with the Jews see the chapter on evangelizing the Jews in Suicide - The Decline and Fall of the Anglican Church of Canada?, written by the “Anglican Billy Graham” Dr. Marney Patterson and published by Cambridge Publishing House in Cambridge, Ontario in 1999.