An Episcopalian’s Appeal to Authority Falls Flat

Although I’m sure his Presiding Bishop finds this post suitable for framing, somehow Episcopal minister Frederick Schmidt’s appeal to the authority of the church doesn’t quite connect.

Let’s start with the issue he uses to illustrate his point: the proper colour for Advent:

In a recent dust-up over liturgical colors, a colleague of mine was challenged on her decision to use purple instead of blue during Advent. Only in an Episcopal Church.

Of course, colors are never about color. And I am fairly sure that the parishioner who took her to task had concerns that go well beyond liturgical propriety. But the case that she made for using blue over purple was telling. “Purple is hierarchical,” she complained.

Well, duh, yes it is. Kings, royalty, all that jazz. And, by the way, so are some shades of blue.

When I grew up in the Episcopal Church, purple was the colour for Advent.  So by whose authority did TEC change this?  And why?  Did they want to de-emphasise the penitential aspect of Advent?  Did they want to honour the Virgin Mary, whose traditional colour is blue?  (Why would they want to honour any virgin, given their current stances?  And do they really believe that she was a virgin, either before, during or after her pregnancy?)  Or is it a hidden hat tip to the Lodge, whose defining colour is also blue?  Fortunately Advent candles are beyond the domain of TEC, and they faithfully preserve the reality of purple as the true colour of Advent.

The whole business of authority is problematic in Protestant churches and especially Evangelical ones, as I discuss in Authority and Evangelical Churches.  The Church of England and its progeny, the product of state-induced rebellion against the duly constituted ecclesiastical authority of the day, are subject to the same objection, although they did preserve the apostolic succession.  The whole drama of Anglicanism in North America in the last decade can be seen as an appeal to the authority inherent in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, although the current holder’s own philosophies on the issues at hand is an open secret.  TEC’s current representation of itself as a “hierarchal church” like its Roman Catholic counterpart is not really faithful to the desultory and inconsistent way the church developed in the U.S. after the colonies severed their own relationship with the Lord and Governor of the Church of England.

The serious question that those who invoke the authority of the church should answer: how have we and our church been obedient to the authority of God?  Had many in TEC and other Main Line churches thought about that a long time ago, they would not be facing the inexorable decline they are now.

HT to Dan Tomberlin for putting me on to this.

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