Monday, 15 February 2010

No sects please, we’re Anglicans

When I first heard a few years ago the proposal advanced at our Diocesan Synod in Chelmsford that the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 should be abolished, I genuinely felt a cold chill. This was not because it presaged the arrival of women as bishops. Rather, it was because it heralded the potential end of the Church of England as I knew, and loved, it.
I argued then, and I am convinced now, that such a move would give the Church of England the character of a sect, by introducing preciseness of belief and practice in this one area, in a way comparable to nothing else that has recently been discussed or debated.
This was brought home to me by the recent experience of a friend who is being interviewed for possible ordination. One of his interviewers asked him what he thought about women bishops. My friend answered that personally he disagreed with it, but that the Church of England allowed for different points of view.
“Oh no,” said the interviewer, “That only applies to people who were ordained in the past. Everyone coming in now will have to accept women bishops. There will be no provision for those who don’t.”
Now this is interesting, and it relates directly to the question of what sort of church the Church of England is — or intends to be.
As the Manchester Report observed, the introduction of women bishops without acceptable provision for those who cannot agree with this (acceptable, that is, to those with the reservations) would change the very nature of the Church by narrowing its membership where previously it had maintained some breadth.
Now there is, perhaps, something to be said for narrowing, if not the membership of the Church of England, certainly the range of those admitted to its ministry. Is it acceptable, for example, to have clergy who doubt the physical resurrection of Jesus, who reject the Virgin birth, or dispute the ‘reality’ of God? Such do exist, though one hopes that these days they would not get past the selection process.
But are there not other areas where, whilst the Church has standards, it also, rightly, has flexibility? The heart of the Church of England’s official doctrinal position is admirable, at least from a Protestant perspective:
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation. (Article XX)
Yes, the Church of England can declare a position on a controverted issue of Christian belief. But it has disqualified itself from doing so in any way that is either directly contradictory to the Bible, or which relies on artificially setting one part of the Bible against another. And it cannot therefore require people to go against biblical teaching.
Now of course the problem on women’s ordination is that there are, until now, loyal Anglicans who believe that Scripture stands in the way of consecrating women as bishops. Moreover, the Church of England has not, as far as I am aware, decided that the issue is settled against them. That is to say, it has not declared that their take on the Bible is a misunderstanding (remember that we are still, officially, in the ‘period of reception’ on this issue).
However, it does seem now prepared to say that, nevertheless, you can only be a full member of the Church of England, eligible for its ministry, if you take one view on this and not the other.
In other words, it is prepared to narrow its membership not at a point of settled biblical doctrine, but at a point of hitherto-disputed practice.
Moreover, it is choosing a slightly bizarre point at which to do this. My friend, for example, is a committed ‘Thirty-nine Articles’ Anglican. He is an enthusiast for parish work, and is entirely positive about the structures that this entails, up to and including recognizing the office of the bishop. That is actually why this matters to him!
But what if he, and his like, are unacceptable for Anglican ministry? If that is the case, then in future, the key definition of a ‘full’ Anglican will be that you accept women bishops. That will become our litmus test, for you will apparently be able to accept all the former definitions of Anglicanism, but if you will not accept this then you will not henceforth be as welcome.
To me —and this was my worry all those years ago —this no longer looks like what I have tried to maintain that the Church of England should be: the Church, of England, as close as we can possibly maintain it to the ideal of the one, undivided, Church Christ intends.
Imposing women bishops without due provision for opponents will, undoubtedly, divide the Church of England. All sides, I think, recognize this. Moreover, it will divide it at a point which will, henceforth, become definitive, and yet which the proponents do not argue is the settled sense of Scripture. When people ask, in future years (as they ask me now about differences between denominations) what is it that divides the Church of England from whatever offshoot body this creates, will we have to answer, “Well, it’s really just about women bishops”? And will that make us proud?
For the sake of preventing that situation, I think the present moves ought to be resisted.
Revd John Richardson
15 February 2010
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  1. As an RC I probably display a frustrating amount of naivety on this issue (I know it sounds terrible, but when things are settled you tend not to bother considering them) but I'll ask the most obvious question away, and hope you might be patient with me - if as a Church, you have already accepted female priests, then what really stands in the way of female bishops? Or archbishops, come to that.

  2. Michael, at one level the answer is, of course, there is no problem. But the Church of England went down the route of ordaining women on the clear understanding that it included in its ranks those who disagreed, and it gave commitments at the time, crucial to securing the vote to go ahead, that their position would be honoured for as long as it was desired. Those commitments have now been discarded, and that is also part of the problem. Saving the Church of England from becoming a church you can't trust is also part of the deal (although as an RC you may feel it is a bit late! ;-) )

  3. John, your appeal to Article XX seems very strange. Of course no one, I hope, is suggesting women bishops as a "thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation". But "The Church hath ... authority in Controversies of Faith", and to the extent that this matter is such a controversy it is for the church as a whole to pronounce on it, presumably through its bishops and/or its General Synod. Of course in any matter of controversy, by definition, there are those who take a different view, and in church matters these people are bound to defend their view from Scripture. But you really cannot complain if for once the church actually does what it is supposed to do according to this Article, by taking a definite decision on a hitherto disputed matter.

    But I am shocked by the response given to your friend. Of course the church should have the right to decide who to accept as its ministers. But the response should have been more like "So what will you do when the Church accepts women bishops, as it probably will within your lifetime?" If your friend said "I'll live with it - I'll submit to a woman bishop if necessary and keep my reservations quiet", then that should be acceptable. If he said "I will demand certain assurances and if not satisfied I will leave", then of course it would be clear that this is not a person that the church should waste its training funds on.

  4. Dear Fr John,
    Thankyou for your post.As a catholic anglican I feel increasingly unwelcomed in the new church of england,instead of being an inclusive church it is now an exclusive church whereby a beleif in the ordination of women as both priests and bishops over rides any beleif in the tenets of the creeds.Religious persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries took the form of burning at the stake or hung drawn and quartering,now in 21st century england it is more refined,subtle and incidious.The general synod is just a reflection of the corrupt palace of westminster and sadly the c of e is just now a spiritual extention of it,as one comment I read recently "the spiritual arm of new labour".
    Personelly I am very sad and spiritually low.But even though I may find it hard to stay within it's fold or dictates I have to witness to my Lord and bear what pain I can for him.
    It would be easy as a layman to run off to rome or orthodoxy.In a small way I will remain to be a light to light someone elses candle in an ever increasingly dark world.
    May God be with you.
    yours in Christ

  5. Hi John
    Peter Kirk hits an important nail on the head (in my view): one is entitled to have theological reservations about women bishops, but is one entitled not to submit to the authority of one's bishop should the person in that office be a woman? An Anglican church which wishes to have women bishops should be inclusive of those who have theological reservations, but are those with theological reservations going to be inclusive of women bishops!? As I read various discussions it seems as though the compromise being demanded is one way: 'make provision for the reservationists', when it would be helpful if the reservationists could let us know what provision they might make for women bishops. That is tricky, I know, with significant theological differences between Anglo-Catholic reservationists and Evangelical reservationists. (I read those differences as meaning Evangelicals have more potential to find a compromise than Anglo-Catholics). (Male) PEVs might be that compromise, but in the long term that kind of compromise is actually a one way street: the church accommodating the reservationists, not the reservationists accommodating the church.

  6. To both Peter's, I think the key issue is that the Church of England is choosing to change not only its practice but its character over this disputed point of doctrine.

    It has been acknowledged all along that there are faithful Anglicans who continue in the tradition - what used to be called one of the two 'integrities' - at this point.

    That was understandable in a Church that, as a matter of deliberate policy, had taken a 'broad' approach to many matters of faith and doctrine.

    Now, it is going to be narrow at this one, particular, point. Thus, no matter how 'Anglican' you may be in other respects, this will become the 'Shibboleth'.

    Of course, a church may choose to do this. But it would be unbelievably foolish, in my view, for the Church of England to do it at this point in this way. If it does, then there will simply be no more Conservative Evangelical Anglicans in a couple of decades time.

    We are, in all seriousness, at a 1662 moment. And whilst it is fair enough to ask what the reservationists would do for the others, were the shoe to be on the other foot, it is not, and this is therefore the situation we have to address.

    To take the step now being urged on us, given the known outcome, would, in my view, be to reduce the Church of England from the national church to a 'mere' denomination (with the loss, as in 1662, of some of its best members).

    It is the sheer magnitude of what this entails which I think people on both sides are failing to appreciate.

    To give another historical comparison, it is like the proposal to divide the United States which led to the American Civil War. There is a union - in this case the union of the body of Christ - for which it is worth fighting, and fighting hard if need be, and it is the willingness of Peter Kirk to let good people go that I find so dispiriting.

    Baden- please pray for me, and us.

  7. Dear Fr John,
    You are in my prayers.

    with my very best wishes and regards.


  8. John, your comparison with the American Civil War is an interesting one. In either case the majority has decided that a long established discriminatory practice is wrong and should be ended, and a minority insists on maintaining the practice. It is true that in America the majority did not let the minority go but fought to keep them in the Union. But they didn't do so by surrendering their principles, or allowing the minority to keep their slaves by some sort of back door method. They did so by waging all out war followed up by a literal scorched earth policy. The equivalent of what they did was to railroad through women bishops with no concessions made and to evict clergy and congregations who didn't agree, not even allowing them to set up independent churches - like the 1662 evictions or worse. In fact even equivalent to bulldozing their church buildings and vicarages. There would be no place for Reform or Forward in Faith in that scenario, and nowhere else for them to go. Is that what you want? At least you are being offered the chance to secede quietly, to Rome or FCA or wherever.

    It's not that I want anyone to go. But the church has to have its principles, and it should quite reasonably expect those in leadership within it to at least not publicly go against them.

  9. Peter (Kirk), my comparison was that they fought for the Union. Freeing the slaves was actually a secondary consideration. I consider the unity of the Church worth the fight.

  10. I'm glad to see that Peter Carrell says that a church with women bishops SHOULD have a place for those with reservations in regard to that issue. That is a change of position for Peter.

    However, there are few that hold that view, and only one Bishop have I known who permitted those reservationists to hold office or indeed be encouraged to enter the ministry. The reality is, despite the fact that the issue is never raised at Synod, nor indeed ever preached about, that we are considered to be wrong, and are therefore VERY unwelcome, and made to feel we should minister elsewhere.

  11. James Noble, Wellington16 February 2010 at 08:20

    John writes:

    Imposing women bishops without due provision for opponents will, undoubtedly, divide the Church of England.

    but on the other side, it is equally true that:

    Imposing women bishops with due provision for opponents will, undoubtedly, divide the Church of England.

    because as FiF has made clear, only a "third province" - effectively an entire separate church with its own Primate to the councils of the communion, is "acceptable to those with reservations".
    This third province, this other church, would, of course, not be in communion with the woman-ordaining church: members of that church would be able to communicate in the third province, but members of the third province would. quite soon, not be able to communicate in a church whose priests and bishops and sacraments
    they were unable to recognize.

    Logically, any consecration of women bishops will therefore split the CoE. All that remains is what kind of split is best: and the feminists have decided the first kind: force women bishops, make no provision whatsoever for Anglo-Catholics or true Evangelicals.

  12. What Peter Carrell seems to be saying is that submission to women bishops is the articulus stantis aut cadentis of his church. There is an archdeacon, Glen Cardy, in Auckland who believes very little of the Creeds and even puts out blasphemous publicity on his church noticeboard - and he is presumably in good standing. But man who affirms all the Creeds and the 39 Articles but doubts - with strong traditional and biblical reasons - that women are called by God to the episcopate is not acceptable. What is this but the most sectarian of Protestant sects?

  13. James, you are right that a split is inevitable, because FiF and Reform have decided to force one. The difference is that if the Church makes arrangements acceptable to FiF and Reform, then it is splitting itself, whereas if it simply allows women bishops without any special arrangements then it is those who leave who will be responsible for the split, in other words they will be the schismatics who have rejected the properly and legally constituted church authorities.

    That is what this is about, authority. No organisation can have within its ranks, I mean as authorised and (usually) paid representatives (clergy), those who claim the right to pick and choose who they will accept as their line manager. The rest of us are sick and tired of offering special arrangements to the dissidents only to be told that they are not enough and all that will be acceptable is complete surrender. That is blackmail, now with financial threats as well (from Reform), and the church is not going to bow to that kind of immoral pressure.

  14. Peter, I'm sorry, but to me your post is saying that if I fart in a room and you leave, it is you who are being impolite.

  15. John, if you are working for a company and they impose a new management structure that you don't like, then you can hardly go around insisting on keeping your job but not recognising your new manager. If you are nice about it you might be able to negotiate a transfer to somewhere acceptable, or a good redundancy package. But if you take the kind of attitude I am seeing at the moment, simple insubordination, all you can expect is to be fired.

    It is not the church which is farting in the room, it is you guys, by the rude way in which you are insisting on your own way.

    Now the church isn't a company, I know. So you can hope for a more Christian attitude. But don't presume on it and then be rude.

  16. Peter, the theme tune seems to be "We'd hate to lose you, but we think you ought to go". Now tell me who is forcing the split.

  17. No, John, I'm not saying you ought to go. I'm saying you ought to accept the bishops who are legally and properly assigned to be your line managers. If you have issues of conscience over that, then you have to make that decision.

    I objected, as you did, to our last diocesan bishop because of his views on homosexuality. But we didn't have the option to choose another bishop we approved of. We had to put up with the one assigned to us - or leave. Why should you expect different treatment because your objection is about gender?

  18. Peter, we need to recognize it's not 'about gender', any more than with John Gladwin it was 'about homosexuality'. It is, rather, (for evangelicals) about Scripture - as, incidentally, the debates in the Church of England's councils have generally recognized, though this does not carry over to (or from) all those advocating change.

    This is why it is, to me, so important to try to stay if possible. It seems almost self-evident that if the Church of England carries on down the present path it will be undoubtedly less scriptural - and, for the same reason, would rapidly shift on the homosexuality issue as well.

    On the 'can you pick a new bishop?' front, the answer, I believe, is "yes", if theological push comes to doctrinal shove.

  19. Yes, John, I see that it's about Scripture - even though your interpretation differs from mine. So doesn't that mean that your issues with John Gladwin and your issues with a woman bishop will be of the same kind, and should be resolved in the same way?

    Don't you realise that if you insist on picking a new bishop, not the one the Church of England has put over you, that you are effectively leaving that church? You can't be in it if you do not accept its authority structures.

  20. Don't forget, Peter, that the lawful authority of the Anglican bishop derives from the Crown, not the bishop. But this is about seeking to save the Church of England.

  21. "Saying that women Priests/Bishops is a matter of salvation is exactly what people are saying... even if they don't realise it. Kevin Giles for example speaks of all the nasty Trinitarian heresies that one commits if you don't except his take on ordination. What Traditionalists are saying is: "We think you're wrong", what Modernists are saying is: "You are sub Christian"

    What Peter might be confusing is 2 different uses of "accept". Romans 14 & 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 (which is probably what article XX is picking up on) speak of Christians doing things because they are convinced and not impossing things on them they are not convinced. In fact doing so causes them to "stumble" - a big issue when you look at how Jesus uses the word. So FiF and REFORM etc. do accept that +Women are inevitable and have been more tolerant of Women Priests than many have been of FiF or REFORM. But can you make someone just "believe" in something different when your arguments from the Bible and history just haven't been able to convince them.... even though they really wanted to be convinced?

    And as John has said, why this and not say, Penal substitution, the Trinity or Imputation?"

    Darren Moore, Tranmere

  22. Well, Darren, despite the wording of the "Athanasian Creed" I don't think anyone in the C of E is teaching that intellectual acceptance of a perfect doctrine of the Trinity is essential for salvation. So the Kevin Giles point is irrelevant. Indeed no one should be saying what people must believe. What they are saying is that priests must accept the authority of their legally appointed bishop.

    John, there is a further irony, or I could even say hypocrisy, in your appeal to the authority of the Crown. The ultimate authority in the Church of England is, and has been for nearly 60 years, a woman. How can you accept that, and then not accept that Her Majesty has the right to appoint women as her bishops?

  23. Peter, because "we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word or of the Sacraments" (Article XXXVII). What the Queen gives to the bishops is "public authority ... in the congregation to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard" (Article XXIII). But in all things we are (supposed to be) governed by Scripture.

  24. So, John, if you don't object to a woman having ecclesiastical authority over you as long as you "give not to [her] the ministering either of God’s Word or of the Sacraments", then why don't you accept a woman bishop's authority but not allow her to preach or celebrate the sacraments in your churches - the same response that I think you made to John Gladwin? That would at least be a practical way forward for you Reform guys, allowing you not to break your principles without completely leaving the C of E.

  25. Peter, I would simply say in that case, why don't the voting majority in Synod vote for something which would make that possible, with episcopal oversight from someone we recognize scripturally as belonging in the post?

    If it is that easy, let's do the easy thing.

  26. Yes, but as Peter says, its a question of how you interpret scripture, also of seeing scripture as written and interpreted by men thousands of years ago..Many people view St. Pauls' teaching as culturally determined.. Women are called to preach and minister in the same way that men are, John!. Nevertheless, the church should make provision for those unable to accept the episcopacy of a women bishop...

    Alison R

  27. Hi Alison, I presume by those "those unable to accept the episcopacy of a women bishop" you mean those who do not see scripture as being limited by the fact that it was "written and interpreted by men thousands of years ago" or who do not "view St. Pauls' teaching as culturally determined" - in other words, true Anglicans ;-)

  28. Dear John

    With friends like these who needs enemies! It seems more a case of: 'Stay or go: we're really not bothered which you choose.' To quote from memory a line from A Man for All Seasons, 'Our friendship up till now has been mere sloth.'

    TJC Ward
    A real vicar

  29. John, surely we can all aspire to be seen as 'true Anglicans', we merely interpret the bible differently. I would hope that the church can accommodate a breath of different views and still endeavour to maintain unity in Christ...


  30. Peter Kirk, It is not that we WONT accept a woman bishop it is because we CANT.

    Basically my objection is not that +Linda is a woman (I like women and view them as my equals) my objection is that the C of E has no authority to proclaim them as bishops. And if she is not really a bishop then how can I possibly accept her sacramental ministry?

    John - your fart analogy had me roaring with laughter!! Quality. Hasnt a lot happened since we met for lunch five years ago.....

  31. I can't help wondering if the rest of us who come to this blog will lay bets as to whether Peter or John will leave the CofE first...

    Chris Bishop

  32. Ed, who gives the church authority to proclaim anyone as a bishop? First you need a clear theology of orders. Forward in Faith may have one, but Reform doesn't.

    Anyway, my last suggestion was to accept that women in the position bishops are your line managers but not accepting their sacramental ministry. If you can't accept a woman as a line manager, then that is a separate issue, and you had better leave a church whose Supreme Governor is a woman.

    Chris, I'm sure I'll leave first!

  33. John,

    If you read Philippians 3:13 (NIV) then it exhorts us strongly to avoid flatulence if at all possible. But getting back to the issue, I have always thought that the CoE could avoid many of its schisms if it devolved more power to its congregations and less to its Bishops.

    In the Baptist Church of which I am a part then the Baptist Union accepts women ministers in positions of authority. However not all Baptists agree with this. Because the governance is mainly congregational then what you find is that the Baptist churches become self-selecting. Those that agree with women ministers will have them and those that don't do not.

    Funnily enough, this does not seem to stop Baptist churches of different persuasions working with each other. There is a much greater level of harmony.

    If I was Archbish Rowan then I would be pushing for a cut in the number of Bishops and more power to the congregations to take their own decisions as to who would be their Shepherds.

    But then I guess this would be the Anglican equivalent of Turkeys voting for Christmas.

    Bishop Chris (not a CofE one)

  34. Ah but Bishop Chris this only works as a congregational use for those of us who to whom God has given Catholic hearts and ecclesiology... truth I think it is over. Hence I ponder the future carefully. Alas the C of E is determined to end its time as a Church as it transforms into a liberal and fascist sect