Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Whither the Church? Will the Church wither?
July 19, 2014, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have noticed a few posts on-line suggesting that after the Synod vote on women bishops, members of the Church of England must now accept the lawfulness of this step. Distinguo (as they say). When the necessary further steps have been taken, the Law of England (and its sub-set, the Canons of the Church of England) will permit this. In that sense, it will be “lawful”. But many things are permitted by the Law of England (e.g. abortion, same-sex marriage) which are not in accordance with the Law of God.

Many years ago, the General Synod decided to treat the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate as merely a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It was overlooked that this decision in itself involved a matter of doctrine, which the Synod was not competent to decide. The distinction between doctrine and discipline (or between principle and practice) can never be merely a matter of discipline (or practice).

The Articles of Religion (Art XXI) state that even General Councils “may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.” It is clearly open to loyal Anglicans to opine that this is indeed the case regarding the ordination of women. Indeed, it has been repeatedly said that both those who accept this step and those who do not are equally loyal Anglicans.

However, it is obvious that those who do not admit its “lawfulness in respect of the Law of God” (let us use the shorthand term “validity”), while accepting its “lawfulness in respect of the Law of England” (shorthand: “lawfulness”), cannot in practice recognise or receive the ministry of women in respect, particularly, of the Eucharist. Ordination is an authorisation by Christ, not simply by the law of Church or State. A woman simply is not authorised to act in persona Christi in this regard. That does not make her ministry unfruitful in other ways, or call in question her personal gifts and talents for preaching, counselling or parish administration.

“Schism” is a deliberate breach of communion with the wider Church. In that sense, the Church of England, first under Henry VIII and then under Elizabeth I, deliberately broke communion with the Churches of East and West (and indeed made it a criminal offence to be in communion with the Western Church). In “excommunicating” Elizabeth, Pius V was merely recognising the fact that she had already “excommunicated” him. We are not in that sort of state within the Church of England today. No-one (I hope) suggests that traditional Anglo-Catholics would or should refuse to give communion to ordained women or their supporters. If they abstain from the altars of such women, that is their right: they are not obliged to receive communion.

What exactly is “the Church of England”? How does it relate to the “One, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” in which we profess our belief in the Creed? Catholic ecclesiology is relatively simple: the term “Church” can be used in its strict and proper sense of the Universal Church, and of a “local Church”, meaning a diocese with its bishop. The term can be used in various extended senses to refer to provincial or national groupings of dioceses, and also to smaller units such as parishes. On the assumption that the Church of England still has a valid episcopate, the Diocese of Bristol (for instance) is a “local Church”. The Church of England is a grouping of a number of such dioceses: it is not the Universal Church, nor is it, as such, a “local Church”. If an individual diocese does not have the authority to decide for itself a matter of doctrine or discipline common to the whole Church (i.e. the Universal Church), then it is difficult to see how a collection of such dioceses can acquire that authority.

Misled by the British Parliamentary model, which does not have to defer to any written constitution, the General Synod acts as if it, too, need acknowledge no superior authority (save that of Parliament, of course). This is not good theology! Unfortunately, the Church of England, which began by acknowledging the over-riding authority of a Christian monarch as supreme Governor of the Church, has not adjusted to the idea that the prerogatives of the Crown are now vested in a non-Christian, secular, legislature and executive. At least in theory, Parliament could alter any and every aspect of the Church of England “lawfully”. This is not a happy position!

Over the last century, the Church of England has steadily weakened its stance on the indissolubility of marriage, and I suspect it is only a matter of time before it capitulates regarding its heterosexual character. What then is the need for monogamy? or marriage itself? It has now abandoned the common consensus of Christendom regarding priestly and episcopal ordination, hitherto shared with Catholics and Orthodox. (The Free Churches do not have the same view of ordination anyhow). How will the Church stand firm on euthanasia? It has not stood firm on abortion. Little by little, a purely secular consensus is replacing Christian witness, in the hope of being “relevant” to the world.

Increasingly, the world finds Christian belief in God, Christ, the resurrection and eternal life incredible. What bearing has capitulation on marriage or the sacredness of life on this? Who says, “I could believe that Christ is God Incarnate, were it not for the fact that the Church will not accept same-sex marriage”? or, “Now that the Church is going to have women bishops, I find the resurrection of Christ much easier to accept”? The Judaeo-Christian tradition has always challenged the presuppositions of the pagan world around it. It will not convert that world by capitulating to it.


1 Comment so far
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I would like to challenge a few points you make in this article.

‘“Schism” is a deliberate breach of communion with the wider Church. In that sense, the Church of England, first under Henry VIII and then under Elizabeth I, deliberately broke communion with the Churches of East and West (and indeed made it a criminal offence to be in communion with the Western Church). In “excommunicating” Elizabeth, Pius V was merely recognising the fact that she had already “excommunicated” him.’

If you are right then you surely have the personal obligation to restore yourself immediately to the visible communion of the pope of Rome?

It seems to me that the Church of England did what was necessary to reform herself in line with Scripture. The Roman church did the opposite and made its medieval errors irreformable at the Council of Trent.

Women bishops seems to me to be a grave doctrinal error, but the Church of England does not claim infallibility for its local synods.

The fundamental problem is this: what is the post-Reformation C of E? Is it the church the Anglo-Catholics believe it is, which retained its sacrificing priests but sadly cut away a lot of the pomp of the old Mass? Or is it fundamentally a Reformed church, whose ministers are essentially pastor-teachers given authority to preach and administer the sacraments? I think the latter is much more credible, especially in light of the changes between the old Pontifical and the reformed Ordinal, and the old MIssal and the BCP (especially the Lord’s Supper), many of which seem to deliberately exclude the medieval doctrines which Trent would codify once for all.

Comment by KM

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