Thursday, 25 February 2010

Anglicanism, Authority and Ordination

Ministry, Catholic and Protestant
As I outlined in an earlier post, there are within Anglicanism basically two views of ordination, which may roughly be termed the ‘catholic’ and the ‘protestant’. (It is, incidentally, in my view, not worth quibbling over whether the Church of England is or is not technically ‘protestant’. The Articles and the Prayer Book are quite robust in their attitude to Rome and ‘Romish doctrine’, and the Church of Rome has, until now, been equally robust in return.)
The ‘catholic’ view regards the threefold order of ministry (bishops, priests and deacons) as emerging in the providence of God, rather than being found ‘full blown’ in the pages of the New Testament. But it regards those orders as subsequently embodying and preserving what the Church is — they are of the esse, the very being, of the Church.
The ‘protestant’ view, however, regards the threefold order as being less intrinsic to the Church, more open to question. And it is on this latter view that I want to focus in this post, where I will consider the implications it might have for the future regarding conservative evangelicals within the Church of England.
Evangelicals, then and now
Unfortunately, one can no longer simply talk about an ‘evangelical’ view of the ministry. The days when Michael Green’s Called to Serve could act as a primer for any evangelical considering ordination sadly no longer apply. Nor would it be possible to gain an evangelical consensus for the view expressed in paragraph J6 of The Nottingham Statement, issued after the 1977 National Evangelical Anglican Congress (an event that history will surely show was the high-water mark of post-war Anglican evangelicalism):
We repent of our failure to give women their rightful place as partners in ministry with men. Leadership in the church should be plural and mixed, ultimate responsibility normally singular and male.
To many contemporary evangelicals, of course, this is a contradiction in terms since, to them, the ‘rightful place’ of women is in taking that ‘ultimate responsibility’ which the Statement reserves (normally) to men.
By and large, then, supporters of women’s ordination have joined together what the Nottingham Statement puts asunder — namely ministry and authority. And I would venture to suggest that, for evangelicals specifically, the opening up of the ordained ministry to women has been the cause of confusion rather than the result of clarification on this issue.
Authority, A and B
In 1976, a year before the second NEAC, John Goldingay, then lecturing in Old Testament at St John’s College, Nottingham, published a Grove Booklet titled Authority and Ministry. In it, he identified two kinds of authority. Authority A is the institutional kind possessed by the centurion, who said to one man “‘God’ and he goes, to another ‘Come’ and he comes.” Authority B, he said, is the kind possessed by Jesus who, “spoke with authority because he was in touch with God and with truth” (8).
Goldingay then went on to consider the implications for the church’s ministry, with the following observation:
... in the church it is the position of elder-presbyter-priest/bishop that has become, as it developed clearly into two offices, the most important locus of Authority A in the church. (22)
Goldingay’s distinction may be criticized in the details of presentation (did Jesus not possess an ‘Authority A’, precisely as recognize by the centurion?), but it is helpful in considering the nature of authority itself, particularly as it applies to the ordained ministry. For what many members of the Church of England do not realize is just how much the authority of their ‘hierarchy’ is an Authority A, not B.
Dominion, Popish and English
To be pushed through (and in the first instance it was pushed through) the English Reformation relied initially on a number of legal Acts designed to break the link with Rome: the Act for the Pardon of the Clergy (1531), in Restraint of Appeals (1533), for the Submission of the Clergy and Restraint of Appeals (1534), Restraining the Payment of Annates and Concerning the Election of Bishops (1534) and the Ecclesiastical Licenses Act (1534).
All these culminated in the Act of Supremacy 1534, which in one magnificent sentence of 275 words (give or take!) famously declared that
... the King our Sovereign Lord, his heirs and successors ... shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England ... (Gerald Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, 113-114)
Now as I have painstakingly tried to show on repeated occasions, this did not create a unique relationship between the monarch and one particular ‘branch’ of the Church within his realms. Rather, it formally stated what was taken to be the existing right of the king’s rule to include the Church. Thus, as the Articles of Religion carefully explain,
Where we attribute to the King’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers. (Article XXXVII)
The point is made even clearer by the next sentence:
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.
The engineers of the 1534 Act of Supremacy viewed it as a tidying-up operation, not so much extending of the rule of the monarch as removing the interference of the Pope.
Power, ecclesiastical and civil
All this, however, this had substantial implications for the Church of England, insofar as its hierarchy was now seen to be exercising the authority of the King himself. This is stated clearly by Thomas Cranmer himself, in response to some questions about the authority of the ministry:
The civil ministers under the king’s majesty in this realm of England, be those whom it shall please his highness for the time to put in authority under him: as for example, the lord chancellor, lord treasurer, lord great master, lord privy seal, lord admiral, mayors, sheriffs, &c.
The ministers of God’s word under his majesty be the bishops, parsons, vicars, and such other priests as be appointed by his highness to that ministration: as for example, the bishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Duresme, the bishop of Winchester, the parson of Winwick, &c. (‘Questions and Answers Concerning the Sacraments and the Appointment and Power of Bishops and Priests’ in Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, Ed J E B Cox [Cambridge: The Parker Society, 1846, reproduced by Regent College Publishing], 116)
In short, there is an exact parallel throughout the administration, from ‘the lord chancellor’ and ‘the bishop of canterbury’ at the top, right down to the local ‘sheriff’ and ‘parson’. Both are the King’s own ministers, appointed by him, since godly princes are responsible for “the whole cure of all their subjects” (ibid).
No king, no bishop?
It is a magnificent (if perhaps optimistic) view of one nation truly under God, taking Romans 13 to its furthest possible extreme. But of course it is quite different from the idea that the hierarchical rule of the Church is intrinsic to the Church’s own orders of ministry. On the contrary (as we have observed before), the Book of Homilies asserts boldly that,
Our Saviour Christ ... [forbade] his Apostles, and by them the whole clergy, all princely dominion over people and nations: and he and his holy Apostles likewise, namely, Peter and Paul, did forbid unto all ecclesiastical Ministers dominion over the church of Christ. (Sermon Against Wilful Rebellion)
The same attitude is also seen in the careful wording of Article XXIII. ‘Of Ministering in the Congregation’:
It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching or ministering the sacraments in the congregation, before he be lawfully called and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation to call and send ministers into the Lord’s vineyard. (Emphasis added)
Those men who have ‘public authority ... to call and send ministers’ are, of course, the bishops, but as we have seen above, that public authority is ‘given unto them’ —at least in this realm of England — by the King who “must have sundry ministers under [him], to supply that which is appointed to their several offices” (Cranmer, op cit).
The lawful authority of the ministers of the Church of England, then, is in Goldingay’s terms entirely an ‘Authority A’, and the minister’s ‘Oath of Canonical Obedience’ is thus an oath of loyalty with respect to this authority vested in the Bishop:
I, A B, do swear by Almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of C and his successors in all things lawful and honest ...
Obedience is thus not ceded to ‘my bishop, right or wrong’, but to that authority, in law, which the bishop is by law entitled to exercise.
Obedience, canonical and spiritual
And this is where the exercise of ordained ministry in the Church of England is so fraught with complications, for the present structures instantly confer on the ordained person an ‘Authority A’ — a legal, institutional, authority — which is not possessed by the layperson who may, nevertheless, have more Christian experience and maturity, and indeed (these days) more theological education, and hence more ‘Authority B’, than the minister set over them.
In an ideal world, of course, the Church would only and always confer the rights and privileges of Authority A on those who had already developed Authority B. Canonical obedience would then only be demanded for those who deserved spiritual obedience.
In reality, to quote a well-known advert, “It doesn’t work like that,” and of course, it specifically does not work “like that” for conservative evangelicals regarding women bishops. Not that they might not recognize the presence of ‘Authority B’ qualities in an individual, but that the superimposition of ‘Authority A’ creates an irresolvable tension.
In short, it is matters of law, as much as matters of spirituality, which are creating the present difficulty. It is the refusal of the General Synod to grant legally supported alternatives for those who cannot accept women bishops which is at the heart of the problems for the latter. And yet the good news is that therefore the current impasse need not be regarded as a theological inevitability.
Ironically, as I suggested earlier, it is arguable that the admission of women to the ordained ministry has constrained, rather than liberated, our thinking at the present time. Without endorsing it, let me end with a long quote from Goldingay’s booklet, which sets out a vision held by many in the mid 70s, just before the apparent triumph of evangelicalism turned into division and decline:
The church ... has to ask questions about the crisis over authority; the individual Christian may not be called to submit to the fiat of Authority A ... but has to resist the temptation to rationalize his obstinacy over doing his own thing by aspiring to ‘Here I stand; I can do no other’. As we return to scripture, we find that it is not less radical than the questions of the day, but more so. It still contains a rich inheritance for us to enter into, not least in this vision of the Christian congregation, under the lordship of the Spirit as this is manifested in scripture, in the word of its bishop, in the ministry of its prophets, and in the corporate leadership of its elders, growing into maturity in Christ, and more powerfully itself exercising the authority of Christ in the world. (op cit 24)
John Richardson
25 February 2010
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  1. I have no problem with the view that in the church "ultimate responsibility [is] normally singular and male" - because Jesus Christ is "singular and male" and only he should have "ultimate responsibility". On that understanding I can fully affirm the 1977 statement. But if that statement is understood as teaching that a singular (and male) leader should have "Authority A" over each individual congregation, I completely reject the second half of it. After all, that is precisely what "Peter and Paul, did forbid unto all ecclesiastical Ministers".

    Meanwhile a question for those of you who object to women having authority in the church: are you referring to "Authority A", or "Authority B", or both? Could you accept that in future women bishops might have legally given "Authority A" over you, while not recognising their "Authority B"? Is that a way in which you might be able to remain formally within the C of E?

  2. Peter, your response raises a number of complex issues. One is that, in Anglicanism, a measure of 'Authority A' is indeed conferred to singular ministers regarding individual congregations, in that there are a number of things that the law entitles the incumbent or priest-in-charge to do, which laypeople are not allowed to do - eg to decide on the suitability of plays to be conducted in church!

    We cannot avoid Authority A in Anglicanism, indeed my point is that there is a good deal more of it around than we think.

    The point about whether a woman bishop could be regarded as having Authority A whilst not recognizing B is worth considering.

    The problem with it, I think, is that it would make the bishop into effectively not much more than a glorified archdeacon (following Phillip Jensen's famous assertion that "Bishops are deacons and priests are bishops").

    This might actually be acceptable! But I can see two problems. One is that a key issue in all this is succession to parishes. We already hear of pressure being exerted on conservative parishes to change to a more 'open' position when a minister leaves. It would not be acceptable to move to a situation where that became even more of an issue.

    Secondly, however, I do not think the women bishops-to-be would accept this curtailment of their authority. After all, what is the point of being a bishop if you cannot 'bishop' people?

  3. Well, of course women bishops wouldn't like it. But they won't be able to do much more about it than John Gladwin could when people were similarly not letting him 'bishop'. Of course they can only appoint incumbents who accept them as full bishops, but then that is part of their "Authority A" - and as you have long accepted the right of a woman to exert "Authority A" in the appointment of bishops, then you should have no objection to women also appointing priests.

    Of course the end result will be that your tendency will be squeezed out of the Church of England. But if that is done by the lawful "Authority A" of your sovereign over the church, then who are you to complain? When she says "Go", you must go, and when she says "Come", you must come.

  4. "Authority A is the institutional kind possessed by the centurion, who said to one man “‘God’ and he goes, to another ‘Come’ and he comes.” Authority B, he said, is the kind possessed by Jesus who, 'spoke with authority because he was in touch with God and with truth.' "

    I am not sure I understand this distinction. Any authority finds its ultimate source in God - even the Roman Centurion. The Lord Jesus obviously had authority because of Who He was. So both ultimately appeal to the same source even if the Roman Centurion didn't know it. Going a little deeper, then, we might suggest that the distinction between authorities A and B is found in the difference between Hard power and Soft power. Authority A compels whereas Authority B proclaims. But this answer does not satisfy, either, for authority implies the right to compel obedience. Both Jesus and the Centurion had the right to compel obedience, but there is nothing that says compulsion has to be immediate. Men will be held accountable to the Words that Jesus proclaimed. The Soft power of proclamation eventually gives way to the hard power of judgment. The Lord Jesus will return and He will enforce his word.

    So where then do we end up? I think the distinction between A and B turns upon visible access to temporal power. The prophet speaks with authority, but on his own can do nothing. He must instead wait for God to compel when in His providence He sees fit. The Centurion can immediately enforce his own authority by appeal to real temporal power. People in this life are free to ignore the prophet without the specter of immediate consequence, but they are not free to ignore the centurion. The two types of authority aren't really differentiated in terms of nature so much as they are in terms of consequence. It's the same authority. One is simply much more immediate.

    The Christian is to obey an authority so long as that authority does not exceed the limits which God has allocated to it. The state cannot countermand the commands of God. As Peter said "We must obey God, and not man." To submit to the authority of a woman in the church on the assumption that she only holds authority A is really to submit based upon a false distinction. The church has exceeded its authority by placing her in such a position, and the man of God is required to reject her authority in those areas where she operates in contravention of the Word of God. One cannot obey her in spiritual matters and still claim that she is devoid of true Authority B. If she is so devoid, then the only reason to obey her is to avoid the consequence of the real power she may employ because she hold Authority A, and that in and of itself is never a sufficient reason for obedience.

    carl jacobson

  5. Carl, I understood Authority B as being more like the authority we all recognise as being possessed by someone who knows what they are talking about and presents it authoritatively. This is the kind of authority which the crowds recognised in Jesus in Matthew 7:27-28, although they did not at that time recognise his authority as divine Lord. Of course Jesus also had Authority A, but he renounced exercising it at least during his life on earth, see Mark 10:45.

  6. These capricious boxes are inadequate for a response, so I put mine here.

    I see that some of the issues I touched on surface in your next post on the subject.