What can be done to halt the Liberal drift of the Church of England identified at the post-GAFCON gathering at All Souls Langham place on the 1st July?
The problem with the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration, is that it declares what every minister working for the Church of England is required to declare on their appointment. The core of our faith, according to the Jerusalem Statement, is (with the exception of two words) exactly the same as that found in Canon A5 of the Church of England:
The doctrine of the Church [of England] is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.
Moreover, every Anglican minister affirms at their appointment their commitment to this doctrine:
I, A B ... declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness ... (The Declaration of Assent)
Isn’t that fantastic? Every Anglican minister believes what is in the Bible, and the developments and clarifications of the biblical witness (such as the doctrine of the Trinity or of the one sacrifice for sin made by Christ on the cross) found in the Creeds and our foundational liturgy.
Well, it would be fantastic if it were true, but it isn’t! The fact is that very many of our ministers doubt great swathes of what is stated in the Prayer Book the Articles and the Creeds, not least because, like the head of the Church of Ireland, their view of Scripture is that sometimes it is right and sometimes, since it is the work of human authors, it is wrong.
And far from being loyal to the ‘inheritance of faith’, as they say they do in the Declaration of Assent, they submit, finally, to their own private judgement.
But to go back to our opening question, what can be done? One thing is to use the opportunities presented by being the patron of a parish, or one of the parish representatives, when a vacancy occurs.
A friend of mine involved in patronage work recently asked me what questions he should put during interviews. I said there should be at least one straightforward doctrinal question — a simple question that invites a straight answer. “But,” I said, “Don’t ask them if they believe in the resurrection. Everyone will say ‘yes’ to that. Ask them whether they believe in the Virgin birth.”
It is surely a fair question. I cannot find the quotation, but I seem to remember ABp John Sentamu chiding conservatives over their attitude to divisions in the Anglican Communion by observing that it wasn’t as if fundamental doctrines, such as the resurrection or the virgin birth, were being denied.
But they are. In fact, my friend has followed my advice, and sure enough candidate after candidate openly admits that the Virgin birth is something they do not accept.
Now it might be objected, isn’t the Virgin birth problematic and can we act as if everything hinged on this one thing? And of course it is problematic — so is someone rising from the dead. But the issue is more complex than simply ‘is this believed, or believable’.
The fact is that the Church of England constantly makes confessional statements: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty ...”, “I ... declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures.”
It is not so much that all doctrine stands or falls on this one issue as that where there is one problem there may well be others — see the recent fate of Ray Lewis.
The Liberal drift of the Church of England is not irresistible. If directors of ordinands, or bishops or, yes, patrons and parish representatives, asked a few basic questions at the right time, they might at least discover who was likely to be truly committed to the ‘inheritance of faith’ and who is not. And then they might act accordingly.
5 July 2008No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the policy.