Friday, 6 November 2009

The Bishop of Peterborough said what else?

The more I look at this, the more confused I am about the new Bishop of Peterborough. In the Diocesan press release it is stated that,
Contrary to some inaccurate decade-old news reports still in circulation,[Donald Allister] ... never refused communion to unconfirmed children if the parish church has followed the proper guidelines for their preparation [...]. He remains concerned, however, that the rite of confirmation should not be under-valued or down-played.
Now I presume he has not “refused communion to unconfirmed children if the parish church has followed the proper guidelines for their preparation”, because under the regulations of the Church of England, he cannot:
A child who presents evidence in the form stipulated in paragraph 9 that he or she has been admitted to Holy Communion under these Regulations shall be so admitted at any service of Holy Communion conducted according to the rites of the Church of England in any place, regardless of whether or not any permission under paragraph 4 is in force in that place or was in force in that place until revoked. (Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006, para 10, emphasis added)
However, some time ago —I am not sure when, but presumably quite recently —Donald wrote a leaflet for Reform, opposing not only the admission of children to Holy Communion but even the supposition that bishops have authority to grant this:
This present case of admitting children to communion before confirmation marks at least one and probably two further abuses of episcopal authority.
It is doubtful whether bishops really have the authority to admit unconfirmed children to communion. Canon Law (B15A) allows those who are “ready and desirous to be so confirmed” (not just “desirous” as it is often misquoted), and allows baptised but other unconfirmed people to be admitted “under regulations of the General Synod” but does not allow bishops to admit those too young to be confirmed.
But if it is doubtful whether bishops have the authority to admit unconfirmed children to communion it is absolutely certain that they do not have the authority to force clergy or churches to admit to communion those prohibited by Canon Law or by the doctrine of the Church as found in the Prayer Book or by the Bible. In fact the Bible, the Prayer Book and Canon Law make it clear that any such instruction should be resisted.
Incidentally, the only connection with Reform mentioned in the Peterborough press release is that, “Twelve years ago he stepped down from the Council of ... Reform because of its support for parishes which invited overseas bishops to ordain or confirm.” There is no mention of his leaflet-writing activities for that body.
Now I am encouraged that Donald is aware of such abuses of episcopal authority as suspending livings without proper authority or “insisting on ordinands wearing stoles at the ordination service when the rules clearly state that they should have the choice of the traditional reformed preaching scarf instead.” The people (and ordinands) of Peterborough will sleep a little easier, perhaps.
As it happens, I disagree with Donald's Reform leaflet, but there does seem to be some tension between the wording of that leaflet and the press release. In the former, he says that confirmation should be “a requirement for receiving communion”. In the latter we read only that “the rite of confirmation should not be under-valued or down-played.”
Revd John Richardson
6 November 2009
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  1. The Reform leaflet was published in 1997

    As he regarded the experiment as ill advised but not prohibited by scripture, it is quite in order now the practice has become established not to try to turn the clock back but allow parishes to make their own mind up.

  2. Oh dear. John, I dip into your musings quite often because I appreciate your robust defense of scripture and reformed values, and your lucid and (usually) balanced approach. But now the more I look at what you are writing about this, the more I'm confused about YOUR stance (as opposed to 'the new bishop of Peterborough's).

    This appointment is a name you recently suggested as a good candidate for Chelmsford. He is respected in conservative circles and, as you know, has not been afraid to defend reformed teaching across a range of issues. His appointment fits well with your recent calls for evangelicals to lodge their sense of identity in the historic formularies of anglicanism and (presumably) to get involved in the leadership and service of the church.

    Why not, then, just for a while, give him the benefit of the doubt? Why do we, as conservatives, so often create the impression that we are ready to put the knife in?

    No leader worth his salt starts a new task by getting backs up and alienating those he will seek to guide and influence. Do you really think that Donald doesn't understand the distinctions that you are making regarding the way liberals understand and use scripture? He is simply reaching out to those whose instincts are toward suspicion and party-spirit thinking. If you really think that this man, who shares so much with you and who and has worked for so much that you too value, is already 'going native', why not try to discuss with him first, before entering into this public criticism? Or at least take some more time to express a degree of real thankfulness to God about the appointment and assure him of your prayerful support?

    Whatever we think about needs for episcopal roles to be reformed and re-shaped, Donald has to start where he is. Conservatively minded anglicans have an opportunity to support, pray for and encourage him in the difficult ministry that God has now called him to.

  3. Is this one of those fudgy things that evangelicals think they have to say when they get "promoted"? So as not to frighten the horses? Melvin Tinker says some interesting things about liberal evangelicals;
    Those episcopal figues who profess - even firmly - to be "evangelical" are rarely to be affirming the infallibilty of Scripture or the centrality of PSA in the meaning of the Gospel. It's the Anglican fairy tale again, that 'we all believe the same thing.' But what has John Stott to do with Jeffrey John?
    (& Jeffrey John is mild compared to many figures across the Pond!

    Mark B.

  4. Anonymous 07 November 2009 12:04, let me assure you, when I first read the announcement of Donald's appointment on Thursday morning, I was absolutely thrilled to bits, knowing his name and his reputation. It seemed that, after all, Conservative Evangelicals - even those who cannot support the consecration of women bishops (is this not why Donald is on the Manchester Group?) - could still be made diocesan bishops. The Crown Nominations Commission had been listening and anything was possible.

    Then came the afternoon, and first a statement on the Thinking Anglicans website that Donald had "Changed his mind on the ordination of women" and been "big enough to say so." That was a bit of a shock.

    After that, I followed the link to the press release on the Diocesan website, and came away with a profound sense of depression.

    It is one thing to recognize the need for a diocesan bishop to be 'bishop to the whole diocese'. It is quite another for someone who once wrote that "Philosophical and theological liberalism is nothing less than a massive assault on the two fundamental pillars of Christianity (and indeed of the world as we know it): truth and authority," to say what he is now recorded as saying about liberals and evangelism and Bible reading.

    The press release seemed to be a conscious effort to distance him from anything that might be a reminder of his Conservative roots. Where was any mention of his involvement in Reform or Church Society, for example?

    Please be assured, I did not receive the news of Donald's appointment with a 'hermeneutic of suspicion' but with great joy. But that joy has quickly evaporated in the face of public-domain statements.

    No doubt Donald will be aware of these sorts of concerns. I hope very much that he will prove my worries wrong!

  5. John

    forgive the 'anonymous' - i'm sufficiently Luddite not to know how to get a name in there.

    I take your points. For many years I've felt a similar sense of frustration that Bishops from the reformed and evangelical stable can seem all too ready to disown the truths that nurtured their faith and to distance themselves from people who have prayed for them and laboured alongside them. A 'hermeneutic of suspicion' (or as I'd prefer to say a cognitive bias toward suspicion) probably has a reasonable reality base here.

    But it's a dangerous mindset. I think the problem with your approach is the speed and method of your critique. I say this hesitantly, but you are a minister of the gospel and subject to the injunction in Timothy to correct your opponent (presuming that Donald has already been moved into that camp) gently. And the numerous other scriptures that call us to weigh words and arguments before jumping to judgment against a brother (and fellow minister of the gospel).

    Your appeal to 'thinking anglicans' illustrates the point. Yes, initially, the comments, in the binary mode that these discussions tend to follow, placed him in the 'exemplary fellow' camp. But it doesn't take long before he is moved into the 'nutter' category. Do we have to join them in this rush to judgment?

    I fear that your critique risks kindling among your readers the same sort of rush to judgment that Mark B illustrates above. Relationships are a gospel issue too, and surely we have a weighty responsibility to lead discussions in a godly way?

    I don't want to press this too far, because I think you have a remarkable gift for filleting arguments and getting to the point. But I think that Donald deserved better than this, not least a rather longer period of thankfulness and assurances of prayerful support.

    Regarding Donald's statement 'that liberals can read the bible as well'- I'd be inclined to agree that another form of words might have worked better in his attempt not to kick off his ministry by labeling three quarters of his diocese as being on a completely different page to him. But surely we know what he meant- liberals can (and should) read the bible too. He now has- God willing- several years to show, as well as tell them, what that really means.


  6. He has spoken in the past in favour of lay presidency, so as far as I am concerned he has no credibility as a bishop signifying the unity of the church.

  7. Neill, surely what matters is not what he has said in the past but what he holds to in the present. Gene Robinson tells us he 'used to be' a conservative.

    Having said that, I'm all for presidency by any Christian, so I probably wouldn't qualify either. When we grant to anyone the word of God, as Luther said, we grant them the power to do things like forgive, baptize and consecrate.