Saturday, 11 July 2009

FCA unity and Anglican 'communion'

Just a thought, but one of the objections being levelled against the FCA is that it is an ‘unholy alliance’ of Catholics and Evangelicals, sharing a widespread opposition to ordained women and homosexual practice, but divided on almost everything else that matters, such as ecclesiology, theology of priesthood and ministry, doctrine and use of scripture, sacrifice of the mass, praying to the saints and for the dead, lay presidency at the eucharist, episcopal authority, Mary, etc (I quote from elsewhere).

Now maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t this almost exactly what the opponents of the FCA think the Anglican Communion ought to be —a church which unites people who can disagree completely about absolutely all the above, but who are united in their commitment to the purposes of the Church?

So what is the difference? Isn’t unity in disagreement just what they want from the Anglican Communion? Why does FCA attract the ire of Anglican ‘inclusivists’ for forming an alliance which embraces exactly the kind of breadth they think Anglicanism should include?

My guess is because they can see that FCA types are different from themselves, in that in the different ‘wings’ present at the FCA launch, these things have been seen as issues of what Francis Schaeffer used to call ‘true truth’ —issues on which there is a right or a wrong —whereas for themselves they are a matter, ultimately, of ‘opinion’, where I am entitled to mine and you are entitled to yours.

What annoys them is what they (rightly) see as a possible inconsistency —people who ought to disagree acting as if they agree. And as I have said already, there are deep and serious issues here.

But what they fail to see is their own ‘beam’, that this is just the kind of Church they want: one where we can all ‘disagree in unity’ —with maybe a bit more prominence for women priests and a bit more acceptance of homosexuality, but without even (in some cases) insisting on these. That, after all, would be the Open Evangelical position, would it not?

Perhaps the real difference then is the understanding of truth —that, and the view of what are the purposes of the Church. The real problem is surely that the unity of the FCA is seen as a threat to the unity of those who dislike the FCA. Both want unity, but it is the kind of unity, and the issues of unity, which are creating the hostility.

Revd John P Richardson
11 July 2009

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  1. Dominic Stockford EC-FCE11 July 2009 at 14:39

    Much of the most severe criticism (as set out above) actually comes not from within the Anglican Communion but from those who are in continuing Anglican churches. We just cannot see any sense in this 'union' that the FCA constitutes, given the significant doctrinal differences between all three groups. Having watched with horror the mixture and mish-mash of the ACNA we now see the same going on here - brethren with whom we share so much (conservative evangelicalism) jumping onto a band-wagon with those who teach in complete opposition to Reformed Protestantism.

    I agree that the criticism of those who want to hold the Anglican Communion together come what may comes from a distinct lack of ability to look in the mirror - but that is not and should not be the point. The point should be, should true Biblical Christians be in fellowship with Anglo-catholics and Charismatics (after all, the Bible says that they cannot be).

    In the light of such a dilemna, I was dismayed (for instance) at Richard Coekin's presentation of a question from members of his own congregations ("why are we in the CofE") followed by a failure to give any serious answer to it. I have encountered in the past the same inability to answer this question with a meaningful godly, scriptural answer from such as Peter Jensen when I have put it to them.

    I don't get, and never will, what it is that makes membership of the Anglican Communion, or the CofE so vital to so many that doctrinal compromises are made by them.

  2. Dominic, in one sense I have a lot of sympathy with your viewpoint. There is a case for saying that the Church of England has become much too broad - that it cannot and ought not to embrace those for whom the Thirty-Nine Articles are evidence of error, and for whom the Book of Common Prayer is an inadequate liturgy.

    I have noted elsewhere the unease that many Anglo-Catholics feel about the FCA platform, precisely because it took these things for granted as the basis of Anglicanism (see especially the comments from Bishop Edwin Barnes).

    However, I believe we have to wrestle with the fact that Anglicanism does include this diversity and that there is (for some of us, at least) a sense of 'commonality' between Catholics and Evangelicals, despite their wide differences.

    I do not believe we can simply ignore these differences or 'agree to disagree'. In that sense, I reject the agenda of Anglican 'inclusivism', as I have discussed elsewhere under the subjects of schism and unity.

    However, I do believe it is worth exploring what unites us, as well as acknowledging what divides us. And in this sense, I believe that the doctrinal discipline of the Church of England needs to be tighter than at present.

  3. Revd Richardson:

    In my work on/in the Parker Society series of English Reformers, I continue to be amazed at the inclusion of Anglo-Cathlics within Anglicanism versus Reformed Catholics (like Jewel, will not give up the term of Catholic). I know this has been an historic development for the last 150-years, but that, itself, demonstrated the weakness of C o E.

    If the Edwardian and Elizabethan Bishops were alive and present today, I am not confident that they would support the Romewardizing-faction within Anglicanism. I am not sure they would get promotions or preferrments.

    As to sharing "commonality" with these men, as you allege, that argument might well apply to Romanism. To a man, in the English Reformation (as well as the Continent, Reformed and Lutheran), Rome had a false Gospel. Why are Anglicans so weak on this? Lack of education? Lack of insight? Lack of courage? Or some measure of indifferentism?

    There is confusion and lack of clarity on these matters. I can understand the anxieties of the Anglo-Catholics towards GAFCON and the ACNA. I, a Protestant, Confessional, Reformed and Evangelical Anglican, share the same anxiety.

    (Rev.) D. Philip Veitch
    Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

  4. Perhaps the real issue here is why FCA have apparently chosen as a focus of unity just the single issue of homosexual practice, while tolerating diversity on all the other issues you mention - in fact including ordination of women. No doubt FCA would claim that there is far more that unites them, e.g. the 39 Articles. But for some reason almost no one seems to be reporting any other focus of unity.

    Dominic, where in the Bible does it say that you, presumably a reformed Anglican, cannot be in communion with me, a charismatic?

  5. But Peter, this isn't just about homosexual practice. That has been a precipitating issue, but to get where they are in the USA and Canada there has to have been drift in a whole lot of other areas. What unites people in FCA is that sense of drift and a common sense of urgency, which seems to be lacking amongst opponents, for example in Fulcrum.

    I keep repeating that this calls for some very serious thinking on the part of those FCA seeks to embrace. This would include thinking about, for example, the emphases of the Alpha Course, as well as the practices of Anglo-Catholics or Evangelical disparaging of episcopacy.

    The same 'drift' that has so damaged the Anglican Communion has allowed us to overlook substantial differences in many areas. If FCA is to do any good, it must bring us back to addressing these things.

  6. Yes, John, I'm sure FCA can agree that there has been a lot of drift. But can they agree on which areas they have been drifting in, or on where they want to go back to against the flow? The only clear area of agreement about this drift seems to be the homosexual one. In other areas, some want to row back to Rome and others back to Geneva, and they can't all do both!

    I would suspect that if FCA does start addressing all the other "substantial differences in many areas" it will soon fall apart in disarray, at least into separate Anglo-Catholic, anti-women evangelical and pro-women evangelical wings.

  7. Peter, I think the agreement on drift would be deeper than simply on homosexuality (and do not forget that there are differences in FiF over this issue also!)What I find amongst friends and colleagues in FiF (and I have many) is an agreement over the 'feel' of the Christian faith - that it is about the reality of God, the need for salvation and, in particular, the truth of the Creeds. Indeed, I believe the most useful 'test question' you can ask of any potential ordination candidate or minister is 'What do you believe about the Virgin birth?' I was brought up in an Anglo-Catholic environment, where it meant that Jesus was born of a virgin, called Mary, and I still find that belief shared with Catholic colleagues.

    However, I agree with you that if FCA does what it should, and addresses the areas of substantial disagreement, there is the potential that we may find we cannot agree.

    That does not, of course, mean we cannot form a working alliance. After all, as I have observed, that is exactly what many, including Open Evangelicals, believe the Church of England should be - an accepting and effective alliance of people who disagree with one another on substantial matters of faith.

    However, I do think the disagreements, and potential goings of separate ways, amongst FCA members would be more honest than the 'Rodney King' approach of the institution ("Why can't we all just get along?")

    Actually, what I see on the Fulcrum forum is a 'first order' elevation of women's ordination, such that unless there are women priest-incumbents on the platform and the committee, Open Evangelicalism is actually (and vehemently) 'closed' to acceptance and full cooperation. But at least Reform and FiF aren't claiming otherwise.

  8. Well, if FCA were to present itself clearly as "about the reality of God, the need for salvation and, in particular, the truth of the Creeds", then probably a lot fewer people would have problems with it. Yes, this is where we can I think agree to disagree with the liberals who seem to believe in self-improvement rather than salvation and in a trendy mishmash of religions rather than the Creeds. But I wouldn't want to single out the virgin birth, one of the slipperiest articles of the Creeds, as a shibboleth.