The nature of religious authority

There has been considerable discussion about the nature of authority in the Anglican Communion, precipitated by the recent Primates’ Meeting. These discussions often focus on the locus of authority (is it the bishop, the national church, the local congregation); less often do they focus on the origin of that authority. The lack of conversation about the source of authority is largely due to the notion of apostolic succession, although the challenge to that idea comes from those who view scripture or adherence to some doctrinal formulation to be more important than a genealogy that can trace authority to the apostles.

It’s interesting occasionally to compare the sources and loci of authority in one’s own religious tradition to those in others. There is currently something of a debate taking place within American Zen Buddhism that can shed light on our controversies. The source of the current conflict is described here. Here’s a call from one Zen practitioner for a “Protestant Reformation.” But the problem in Zen predates the current controversy. There’s a fascinating book that describes similar developments in the San Francisco Zen Center, entitled Shoes outside the Door.

Given the apparent centralizing and bureaucratizing tendencies in the Anglican Communion, it’s important for us as Episcopalians and Anglicans to do all that we can to resist such efforts. An interview with Bishop Mark Sisk of New York details some of the issues, and the cultural/political differences between the American church and other branches of the Anglican Communion.

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