THE VISION OF THE ICCEC
2007 SOUTHEAST PROVINCIAL CLERGY LENTEN RETREAT
THE MOST REVEREND DAVID R. SIMPSON
It is my honor and privilege to speak to you this morning on the subject of vision. Not simply vision in general, but the vision of the ICCEC in particular. Especially considering the recent shaking and sifting which has taken place in our Communion, at least in the United States, and the resultant loss of clergy and congregations we have suffered as a consequence of this shaking and sifting. All of which may well have been an unforeseen aspect of the tsunami vision given our leadership several years ago, for indeed, the landscape has changed, dramatically and permanently, though not, perhaps, precisely as we had envisioned it. And yet, in His providence, this is where God has brought us, and in faith, we trust that though this shaking has indeed resulted in much painful loss, it will also result in much glorious blessing; for the tsunami vision is not only about the shaking, but also about the anointing.
That being said, it is clear from the scriptures, that disorder and confusion are not of God (1 Cor. 14:33). Even though, again as of late, and again at least in the United States, there has been a good deal of both disorder and confusion in our Communion, much of it concerning our identity; who we are and who we are not. Some of which may even be legitimate; for as a young communion, which we are, there certainly are areas of our life in which we are still finding our way, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we shall most certainly do so.
Some of this confusion, however, is not legitimate at all; for it is nothing less than a challenge to the vision given to us by God from the beginning, and enshrined by us in our founding documents. And while we may not know everything, we most certainly do know some things; in fact, we know quite a bit about God’s vision for our Communion. Thus is it important to take this opportunity not only to clarify our vision, but where necessary correct any misunderstanding of our vision. Thereby hopefully reducing any confusion, controversy, or conflict, which may still exist in at least this part of our Communion, as well as encourage all of us to be about the business of fulfilling God’s vision for our lives.
The principle of vision, of course, transcends the CEC; it is a kingdom principle: “Where there is no vision, the people perish/case off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18). At every level of the church, therefore, vision is absolutely crucial and critical. Vision gives focus, identity, motivation, unity, passion, excitement, stability, blessing, health, and life; from congregation to communion. And it is the responsibility of leadership at every level to cast and recast the vision, over and over and over again, as necessary; and to do so clearly and consistently. For not only do people tend to lose sight of the vision, the vision itself is often revealed and fulfilled progressively not instantaneously.
Hab. 2:2: “Write the vision; make it plain upon tablets so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
Life in the Kingdom of God is all about faith. And without clarity of vision, people tend to get sidetracked, unsettled, lazy, confused, and lost; but with vision, they are much more likely to stay focused, motivated, excited, faithful, and blessed – at least they can, if they embrace and honor the vision. Indeed as a Communion, our founding vision is the very reason for our existence. It is what makes us unique and distinctive among the many other communions within the Body of Christ, with whom we also share many aspects of the Church universal in common: the sacraments, holy orders, and liturgy with some; charismatic worship and spiritual gifts with others; and the bible and the basic doctrines of the faith with all; at least all those who are orthodox. What makes us unique, however, and in my opinion, justifies our very existence, are 2 distinct pillars - convergence worship and consensus government; and upon these two columns the CEC either stands or falls.
Listen to this statement from the Declaration of the First Synod of the Charismatic Episcopal Church of North America, dated June 26, 1992: “Our founding vision is to make visible the Kingdom of God to the nations of the world; to bring the rich sacramental and liturgical life of the early church to searching evangelicals and charismatics; to carry the power of Pentecost to our brothers and sisters in the historic churches; and finally, to provide a home for all Christians who seek a catholic, evangelical, charismatic church and a foundation for their lives and gifts of ministry.”
Clearly our vision is a kingdom vision: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). We seek to manifest, release, and advance God’s power and presence to all the nations of the world; suchwise that the sick might be healed, the lost saved, the captives delivered, the hungry fed, and the dead raised. Hopefully we have come to a place where we can stop spending so much of our time putting out fires, and more of our time being about the business of the kingdom.
Our vision is also a universal vision fulfilling the Great Commission, which has never been recalled nor retracted: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19). We are not simply an American Church with an international mission, we are an international church with an international vision; indeed this is the only way we can truly be catholic, in this case meaning universal. Our desire to embrace this universal aspect of our vision with greater clarity and consistency is reflected in the more international membership of the Patriarch’s Council, the highest council of government in our Communion.
Our vision is also an Incarnational vision. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father.” (John 1:14). That is making visible the void. As Jesus was THE manifestation of the kingdom of God on the earth, as His body we are the extension of the Incarnation; thus it is now our privilege and our responsibility to go and do likewise; representing the King and His kingdom, both personally and corporately.
Thus each and every congregation in the CEC is to be a kingdom center, a healing center, a life center, a ministry center, a worship center; places where people can come and their lives will be touched and changed both temporally and eternally. Places wherein the kingdom of God is manifested and the king is exalted, particularly, though not exclusively, through the proclamation of the word, the celebration of the sacraments, and the ministration of the gifts – this is convergence worship.
Our vision, however, is not only to impact the whole world, but also the whole church, particularly through convergence worship. To searching evangelicals and charismatics, on the one side, we seek to bring the rich sacramental and liturgical life of the early church; to the historic churches, on the other side, we seek to convey the power of Pentecost. And to Christians everywhere we seek to be a home for those who desire to flow fully in what we call 3 streams Christianity; evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal; or whatever other terms we might happen to use. The one corrective is the use of the term catholic in our founding documents to describe one of the three streams, when in truth it is a description of the river; for the whole church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic; the stream is sacramental.
Again from our founding documents: “The Charismatic Episcopal Church finds itself placed by God in a unique position. We believe that God has established us to be a bridge between the historic churches with their rich tradition of meaningful liturgy, sound theology, and apostolic ministry, and the charismatic movement of our own generation with its willingness to move forward with the Lord. We find ourselves “on a journey.” It’s a pilgrimage that some describe as a “convergence of streams” - a uniting of the charismatic, evangelical, and sacramental tributaries of the Church universal into one “river whose streams make glad the city of God, the Holy Place where the most High dwells. (Psalms 46:4).
This passage of scripture is the key to understanding our vision of convergence worship. It is not, for example, a buffet wherein we embrace certain aspects of the 3 streams and eliminate others depending on our personal preferences, or even worse, public preferences. It is a banquet wherein we embrace a full 3 course meal; fully sacramental, fully charismatic, and fully evangelical. Even though at times, converging the 3 streams may well prove challenging both to the clergy and to the congregation; it is a nonnegotiable part of the vision; no convergence no CEC.
The biggest challenge being the temptation to compromise. Either for the sake of time, as it takes more time to consume a banquet than a buffet. Or for the sake of expediency, as one must be willing to surrender personal preferences whether clergy or congregation. Or for the sake of popularity, as convergence worship is most definitely not the style of worship to which the masses are flocking at this particular time in this particular culture; perhaps in Africa, but most certainly not in America.
If however, our services are not 3 streams, they are not convergence services; they are not the vision of the CEC, and they are not manifesting the Kingdom of God such that we are making glad the city of God, the holy place where the most High Dwells.
Our philosophy of worship is most definitely not, therefore, seeker-driven; it is Spirit-driven, or at least it ought to be. Seeker friendly, to be sure, as we ought to be friendly not only to seekers, but even to members. But not seeker driven. In fact, as seeker is but another name for unbeliever, such as these are the last people on the face of the earth who should be telling us how to worship the Lord – they do not even know Him. It is not they who should be telling us, but we who should be telling them how to worship; indeed visitors ought to sense and see another world in our sanctuaries, a heavenly one, yea, the kingdom of God upon the earth. For when the presence of God is manifested in power, that is when people’s lives are going to be changed; the lost saved, the sick healed, the captives delivered, the hungry fed, the dead raised.
Perhaps some of the confusion has come as a result of the use of the terms, “bridge” and “journey, ” in our founding documents. The term, bridge, however, does not mean that we, as a communion, are crossing over to someplace else. We not on a bridge, we are a bridge; a connection between the sacramental and the evangelical churches; much like the Anglican Tradition views itself as a bridge between the Catholic and the Protestant. In fact, from the beginning, our founding fathers clearly saw us as part of the historic Anglican Tradition, not the Anglican Communion organizationally, but the Anglican tradition spiritually.
"Our Anglican heritage provides a bridge between protestant and catholic formulations of the Faith. Anglicanism stands at the crossroads of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Reformed perspectives. As Anglicans, this “via media” or “middle way” allows us to celebrate the essentials of orthodoxy as they are expressed in the great traditions of the Church. Although the Anglican tradition is “roomy” in this sense, the room does have walls. We cannot walk in fellowship with those who deny the essentials of the Faith or those who would “move an ancient boundary stone.” (Proverbs 22:28).
As can easily be seen, our communion deliberately and consciously places us in the historic Anglican Tradition as opposed to the other 3 great traditions represented at this particular time in the history of the church. Which is not to say that we merely embrace everything Anglican, rather that this is our ethos. And as we continue to mature, we trust God to help us further clarify our identity as it relates to all things Anglican, such things as the 1979 BCP, the 39 Articles, and the Prayer Book Catechism, all of which have been adopted by our Communion provisionally, though not necessarily eternally.
But this is who we are, and have been since the beginning. Understanding, however, that the term journey has nothing whatsoever to do with a journey to the Anglican Communion; nor, for that matter, Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. The journey to which our founding documents refer is not a journey into any church organization, but a journey into convergence worship.
The CEC, therefore, is not a stage in the journey, but the goal of the journey; this is our home, at least it is mine, and I, for one, am here for life, unless God forbid our communion abandon the faith once delivered to the saints. Thus, while there may well be individuals who come to us who are still on a journey, and use us as a bridge into other communions, we as a Communion are not going to Rome, Canterbury, Constantinople, Geneva, or Cleveland, Tennessee. We are going to Jerusalem, the Heavenly City, the place where the Most High dwells.
Indeed, if anything else were God’s plan for us, it would have been so from the beginning. Surely He did not need another denomination in order to fill some quota so that Jesus might come again; on the contrary, there are already far too many denominations and far too much division in the Body of Christ. Yet we believe that He has raised us up at such a time as this for His plans and purposes; given us a legitimate place in Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; and in His providence entrusted to us vision with which to bless the entire body of Christ.
What is interesting is that of the two pillars of our vision, the one most tested most recently has been consensus government; yea, it has been tested at the highest levels of our Communion, and this testing has had an adverse impact on our entire Communion. Which is humbling to say the least, and should serve to remind all of us that the vision must be cast over and over and over again, lest we forget it, if not by design, most certainly by default.
In an effort to so recast this aspect of our vision, it is good to revisit once again our founding documents:
“The following summary of the organizational structure of the Charismatic Episcopal Church of North America is, first of all, an outgrowth of our Lord’s leading to create a structure that is both biblical and apostolic. Church organizations through the years have had a tendency to adopt historically conditioned and current governmental and business models of organization. However, rather than borrowing a model from government or business, the House of Bishops has sought to devise an organic, relational structure that is consistent with what is contained in scripture, evident in the operation of the early church, and proven to have apostolic precedent. Secondly, this organizational structure grows out of the attempt to embody certain core values of which the following are examples: servanthood, collegiality, consensus, recognition of spiritual gifts, recognition of spiritual callings and anointings, every member ministry, mutual submission, accountability, responsibility and spiritual authority. Two other core values of note are first, the aim to have lay participation at all levels of church government so that the gifts, talents, and ministries of the whole church can be utilized for building up the Body of Christ and fulfilling the Great Commission; and secondly, the aim to see a restoration of the offices of presbyter and deacon to their biblical and apostolic functions.” Guidelines for Government by Consensus of the Charismatic Episcopal Church
Convergence Government is founded upon the principle of delegated spiritual authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18). The true head of the church is, of course, the risen, ruling, reigning Lord Jesus Christ, it is His Church, and in His Church, He delegates to His representatives an appropriate measure of spiritual authority by which order might be brought to His Body, and blessing imparted to His people. And whenever the principles of biblical government are followed, there will be order and blessing, for the anointing flows in and through the unity of the leadership; as, unfortunately, something else flows when the leadership is not in unity, and it is not the oil of anointing. Thus in an effort to strengthen this aspect of our vision, we reexamine 3 of the principles of biblical government embraced in consensus government.
One, Consensus Government is patriarchal: “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Adopting the biblical model of male headship, the vision of the CEC is to restore and redeem the ministry of genuine fatherhood both in the family and in the family of God. Which is both a blessing and a burden to those of us called to biblical fatherhood, for the burden of leadership falls on us and remains on us, not our wives and not our congregations and even at times not our clergy. So much disorder, confusion, heartache, conflict, and distress could easily have been avoided, and should have been avoided during this season of shaking and sifting, if only men in leadership had acted like the men God has called us to be, covering our wives, congregations, and clergy, instead of confiding in them inappropriately, and talking out of school.
Two, Consensus Government is hierarchical: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17). At every level there is a ruling elder, and every ruling elder has an authority over him; thus are we men like the centurion, men with authority and men under authority, and all under the authority of Christ. This form of government is not a matter of human representation but of divine revelation; leadership seeking the mind of Christ, not the mind of the congregation; not democracy, the government of people, but a theocracy the government of God. We do not, therefore, elect people to represent our interests, God selects people to represent His interests; it is His kingdom that is to come, and His will that is to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Three, Consensus Government is collegial. “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.” (Proverbs 11:14). This conciliar aspect of our government is an important balance to the hierarchial aspect of our government; this is not a government of one man rule, an autocracy, but a theocracy, a government of one God rule. Thus it is the responsibility of the appropriate jurisdictional council at each level of government to collegially determine the will of the Lord in consensus. Which is why relationships are of primary importance in consensus government; relationships among those in leadership is the foundation from which both spiritual authority and spiritual covering are properly exercised. And though our form of government is not easy, it is sound; and when we honor it, it will bless the church for it provides peace and stability to the body of Christ.
Conclusion: When I initially encountered the CEC, I was grateful to find a communion wherein the bible was truly preached, the faith was truly embraced, and the truth was truly upheld. But what really excited me about the CEC was the vision: a vision of worship that was full and rich, and a vision of government that was biblical and spiritual. It still excites me; it is a great vision, and I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this great move of God upon the earth in our generation.
This has not been an easy time in our Communion, but the promise of God remains the same, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Already good things are being produced out of this season of sifting and shaking; not the least of which is a strengthening of the vision, and the restoration of the foundation upon which our Communion is built.
Thus is my attitude that of St. Paul: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14). I hope you see fit to do likewise.