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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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We have heard a great deal about our unique polity in the Episcopal Church over the last several years. Polity is just a fancy word for how we do things – what rules and principles govern our corporate actions, and what structures are involved in governing. Perhaps more pointedly, the Greek word from which we get our English term connotes the rights and obligations inherent in being part of a larger body. St. Paul uses this very term when he describes the Gentile Christians. Once, he said, we were excluded from citizenship (politeia) in Israel, excluded from the covenants of promise which God had made to them. But now, in Christ, we are made fellow citizens (sumpolitai), fellow members of God’s household.
So what characterizes this “unique polity”? Bishop Garrett understood this polity, this citizenship, in a particular way. “Every Diocese is an independent and sovereign state.”
It is evident that Bishop Garrett did not see this striking statement as something new. Indeed, he looked back to the founding of the Church by her Lord and its spread as the basis for the statement. “Responsibility,” he said, “involves power.” It would have been a vain thing if Jesus had commanded his Apostles to go into all the world and to proclaim the Gospel, if at the same time he did not commit to them the necessary authority to do so. He gave them the right and the power “to teach, ordain, confirm, place, support and [discipline]” within their places of responsibility. This was the mode of operations in the earliest Church – a community of men and women carrying out the work of their Lord in each location, but joined in their common sense of mission.
Sovereignty, the power or authority to work and order a common life in a territory, was based both upon the mission of the Church and in turn the practical necessities of the Church. The mission was to proclaim Christ and to make his saving work known.
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