Over the weekend, I participated in a 120-comment discussion at TitusOneNine about the bishop of Exeter's speech to the U.S. House of Bishops. On Saturday morning, William G. Witt, previously lauded by no less than Kendall Harmon as one of "[t]he heros and heroines of North American Anglicanism [who] lurk in unexpected places," weighed in. We swapped several messages over the rest of the weekend.
Dr. Witt took the position that the traditionalist and modernist views could not coexist in the same church. He asked rhetorically, "On what possible grounds could we be said to have anything like a common faith?”
I responded: How about a shared commitment to the Great Commandment and Summary of the Law — that is, love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself? Recall that a certain Galilean teacher is reported to have said, "do this and you will live [eternally]."
Too many traditionalists, apparently thinking they know better than Jesus, fiercely insist that a common faith must include more than just loving God and your neighbor. A common faith, they say, absolutely must include the exaltation of Scripture as well as intellectual assent to (for example) the various factual assertions of the Nicene Creed.
If we're forced to accept that definition of common faith, then Dr. Witt is right: we don’t have one. If that kind of common faith were the only way for Christians to remain "in communion" with one another, then the trads and mods should face the facts and go their separate ways.
But must it be that way?
A common faith, I said, could mean simply putting one’s trust in God and being faithful to him no matter what. This is definitely the sense in which Paul seemed to mean “faith.” See his example in Romans 4, where he illustrates the notion of faith by describing Abraham as wholeheartedly putting his trust in and being faithful to God, even at the risk of losing his son. In that sense, traditionalists and modernists who likewise put their trust in and are faithful to God can indeed claim to have a common faith.
(Footnote: In most translations of the Bible, the phrase pisteos iesou cristou, in Romans 3.22 and elsewhere, is said to mean "faith in Jesus Christ." Some scholars, however, say that the better translation is "the faith of Jesus Christ," which they say is closer to the meaning of the original Greek. That makes a lot of sense: under that translation, God accepts Jesus's trust in him, and his faithfulness unto death, as the last sacrificial offering needed to atone for humanity's sin, as the final payment on humanity's debt of guilt, so to speak. Moreover, from a literary perspective, it makes sense for Paul to make his point by using Jesus's and Abraham's trust and faithfulness as parallel examples.)
But here's the catch: Putting one’s trust in God no matter what, necessarily implies remaining open to the truth about God, his will, and his creation, whatever that truth turns out to be, paraphrasing the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. Too many traditionalists aren't willing to do that. They categorically reject even the possibility that there might be more to the truth than what they imagine — that maybe, just maybe, the Faith Once Delivered (FOD) might not be God’s final word to us.
Worse, these FODders seem utterly uninterested in searching for possible common ground with those who don't share their views. Instead, they seem to want to keep dividing the world into Right and Wrong, and of course we know what side they're on.
That's not a good way for people of good will to resolve disputes (at least not amicably).
And I seriously doubt it's what the Teacher would have done.