Confessions of an Episcopal Fundamentalist
The Rev. Kenneth D. Aldrich
Fundamentalist: That abominable “f word;” so inimical to polite society in The Episcopal Church; the most offensive term of opprobrium the liberal religious establishment can use to demean its adversaries. It would seem that one may be almost anything in The Episcopal Church today except a fundamentalist.
Even in centers of American Anglican conservatism, this appellation is taboo. Calling someone at Ambridge or Nashotah a “fundamentalist” quite likely could result in your being regarded as a persona non grata on campus.
Over the course of my ministry, I began to notice that whenever my revisionist colleagues were not able to refute an orthodox argument, they could reduce their opponents to embarrassed stammerings of protested innocence, and thereby regain the upper hand, merely by declaring “You sound like a fundamentalist.”
After personally enduring this supercilious put down on a number of occasions, I turned the tables on my antagonists by responding, “Yes, you’re right. What’s wrong with that?” This retort reduced opponents to stunned silence and forced the debate back to a reasoned discussion of the issues at point. The other side could no longer carry the argument by dismissively stigmatizing the traditionalists with a pejorative label.
As time went on, the more I owned up to being a “fundamentalist,” the more comfortable I felt with the appellation. What is so bad about affirming the fundamentals of the Christian faith set forth in the historic creeds of the Church?
Before I spell out what being a fundamentalist means to me, let’s dispel three widely held misimpressions….
I heard Bishop Frey give a talk along these lines about 20 years ago and have, myself, assumed the mantle of “fundamentalist” by others in the past. Once upon a time that was acceptable, however because of its connection with protestantism I now eschew the association in favor of the term “orthodox.”
I have two problems with how Fr. Aldrich limits his definition: first he writes about “what being a fundamentalist means to me.” This is part of the issue. “The word “heresy” comes from the Greek αιρεσις, hairesis (from αιρεομαι, haireomai, “choose”), which means either a choice of beliefs or a faction of dissident believers. It was given wide currency by Irenaeus of Lyons in his tract Contra Haereses (Against Heresies) to describe and discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. He described his own position as orthodox (from ortho- “straight” + doxa “thinking”) and his position eventually evolved into the position of the early Christian Church.“ I agree that each person must acknowledge and give assent to what is believed (that’s a piece of the “personal” part of our faith in Christ); but we don’t get to pick and choose what is core belief and what is adiaphora. That is where The Church comes in. As I understood it that’s what the Windsor process was supposed to help accomplish. (Even though there are many problems with the process; e.g., the non-apostolic and uncatholic polity of ecusa.)
Arius and Marcion wanted to decide for themselves what the faith was. Joseph Smith and Muhammad wanted to decide what the faith was. Jack Spong, Andrew Smith, Katherine Jefferts-Schorri, et al., think they can decide “what Christianity means to me” (or worse: having abdicated their responsibility as bishops (hence the previous remark about our polity), they imagine the Faith is something that can be held up as a democratic decision that everyone can vote on!). But once they/we step outside the one holy catholic and apostolic Faith that has been handed down, they/we have left the Church and the Faith. We desperately need wise and faithful bishops (admittedly, in short supply) to meet as a Council and deliberate what the Anglican Communion shall believe.
The second problem is that Fr. Aldrich erroneously lumps “radical” in with the other “contemporary revisionist” (read “heretical”) positions in tec. IMHO, we need to take our study of “the Faith once delivered” much further back than the English reformers that he likes to read. “Latimer, Cranmer, Hooker, Andrewes, Wesley, Wilberforce, Pusey and Keble” may be important strategists to study in terms of how we win the Church back from the forces of Evil that are holding her in bondage to the Spirit of this Age, but they are not from whom we should be learning the Faith. We should return to Irenaeus, the Cappadocians, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Cyprian, and Cyril of Jerusalem. We should return to the root (radix, radic- Latin for root), the base of the Tree. I believe all of tec’s current heresies (e.g., our endorsement of abortion, same sex unions, and divorce, our deviant and untraditional leadership, the plethora of unorthodox and nonTrinitarian theologies (e.f., adoptionism and modalistic monarchianism), open communion and open baptism, etc.) were addressed by the Ancient and Undivided Church in the first seven Ecumenical Councils (and I would love to encourage us to adopt the 8th as well).
Finally, while I take exception to Fr. Aldrich on these two points, I am nevertheless grateful for how he has articulated the lack of charity from and rank ignorance of the revisionists of tec. While I would wish for him to delve deeper and go further back to the foundation of the Church to discover the real fundamentals of the Faith, I’m happy and confident we can both stand on the same side of the gross divide which is growing greater with each passing day.