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Video lecture: Dr. J.I. Packer on the theology of the Church and Schism

July 26, 2009

Dr. Packer lecturing

Dr. J.I. Packer recently lectured Oak Hill College (UK) on “The Church and Schism.”

Dr. Packer is one of the world’s best-known theologians, whose influence reaches so far beyond the Anglican Communion that many pastors who have read his works aren’t even aware that he is Anglican. Nor that his bishop has “kicked him out” of his church, as Packer rather flatly puts it.

This being the situation, Paker wastes few words complaining about the situation; he simply states what’s the case. His lecture dwells more on the notions of love, grace, salvation, and being alive to God – notice his care in explicating the word “charis” – than he does in dealing what has happened to himself and his church, or even in dealing with the word “schism” (which only comes at the very end).

Dr. Packer does not even mention that the Anglican Church of Canada has been attempting to throw the congregation out of its church building and seize its bank accounts and trust funds, to which it is now claiming complete ownership, though I have not yet seen any evidence that the Diocese or the Anglican Church of Canada paid anything toward this property, its maintenance, or the church’s financial resources. I find this a very refreshing change from representatives of The Episcopal Church, who are engaged in legal challenges to render church families (parishes and dioceses) homeless and penniless, and often take on the position that they themselves are “the real victims,” sometimes even engaging in rather caustic and vituperative language aimed at creating this impression that their church is the “real victim.” Much work is needed to bring both of these churches to a more reasonable and just point of view, as they seem to be currently blinded by their own dogmas regarding ecclesiology and property. The Episcopal Church in the United States is going so far as to spend millions of dollars in court to prevent legal settlements following ordinary state law, and requiring courts to use their own strange church doctrine for settling these matters, which is based upon a unilateral trust.

(Unilateral trust: when property is removed from one person, and given to another person, by that same person, and without the owner’s consent – a “principle” which obviously could not be upheld in normal law. I cannot put your house in trust for myself without your permission, since this would effectively transfer ownership to me, and I could then kick you out – but The Episcopal Church of the USA apparently believes that it is able to do this, and does not believe that a unilateral trust is illogical or unjust.)

Forgive us if we’ve gone at some length here describing the situation – but I think it’s necessary to understand, in order to appreciate Dr. Packer’s relative silence regarding the actions of the Anglican Church of Canada upon his own congregation, and himself, which many consider to be draconian and predatory.

Packer reveals how he came to know the book of Ephesians so well, having taught seminary students Greek by helping them translate this book – and his intimate knowledge of this book gives him also a very thorough understanding of what God says about ecclesiology and the sad issue of Schism.

Schism, as derived from the Greek, points to a “tearing of the fabric” – this is presumably why the Primates of the Anglican Communion chose this word when, in their emergency meeting in October of 2003, they unanimously issued a warning to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada that the Episcopal Church would “tear the fabric” of the Communion if it went ahead with actions which the Communion condemned. This document was also affirmed by the Primates of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. and the Anglican Church of Canada, so all Anglican churches are officially agreed that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada were involved in schismatic actions (though of course individuals are free to dissent to the official viewpoints of their own churches).

[ link to Oak Hill College with the rest of the videos of Dr. Packer’s talk ]

So clearly some schism – or tearing of the fabric – has already taken place within the Communion – no province of the Anglican Communion disputes this. What happened, additionally, is some churches in the United States and Canada (including J.I. Packer’s church) decided to remove themselves from the oversight of their bishops, and join other provinces of the Communion which were not schismatic in this sense.

Thus there was an additional tearing, but this one more final – within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada – however the question remains: is this a tearing only with respect to these individual churches, but also with respect to the Communion?

And of course there are further questions.

Dr. Packer only addresses these questions at the very end of his lecture – in order to arrive at them, he brings us first through a rather full-bodied presentation of what Scripture has to say about the church, or ecclesiology.

Whether one agrees with the Anglican Communion on “who is engaged in schism” or not, or even if one is entirely uninterested in the notion of “schism,” this is a very enlightening lecture, and Dr. Packer does an excellent job explaining a “full-scale theology of the Church as such,” the Body of Christ.

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