Friday, 24 August 2012

A word to Bishop Alan Wilson

Following Alan Wilson's comments made public via YouTube in support of defining marriage to include same-sex relationships, the words of Richard Hooker seem appropriate. I am not sure how many of his presbyters Bishop Wilson has consulted, but he and others would be wrong to assume that Anglican tradition allows them simply to disregard their presbyters' views.

"The ruling superiority of one bishop over many presbyters in each church, is an order descended from Christ to the Apostles, who were themselves bishops at large, and from the Apostles to those whom they in their steads appointed bishops over particular countries and cities; and even from those ancient times, universally established, thus many years it hath continued throughout the world; for which cause presbyters must not grudge to continue subject unto their bishops, unless they will proudly oppose themselves against that which God himself ordained by his apostles, and the whole Church of Christ approveth and judgeth most convenient.  On the other side bishops, albeit they may avouch with conformity of truth that their authority hath thus descended even from the very apostles themselves, yet the absolute and everlasting continuance of it they cannot say that any command of the Lord doth enjoin; and therefore must acknowledge that the Church hath power by universal consent upon urgent cause to take it away, if thereunto she be constrained through the proud, tyrannical, and unreformable dealings of her bishops, whose regiment she hath thus long delighted in, because she hath found it good and requisite to be so governed.  Wherefore lest bishops forget themselves, as if none on earth had authority to touch their states, let them continually bear in mind, that it is rather the force of custom, whereby the Church having so long found it good to continue under the regiment of her virtuous bishops, doth still uphold, maintain, and honour them in that respect, than that any such true and heavenly law can be shewed, by the evidence whereof it may of a truth appear that the Lord himself hath appointed presbyters for ever to be under the regiment of bishops, in what sort soever they behave themselves.  Let this consideration be a bridle unto them, let it teach them not to disdain the advice of their presbyters, but to use their authority with so much the greater humility and moderation, as a sword which the Church hath power to take from them." (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, VII.v.8)

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  1. Any chance someone could modernise and shorten this so that a dyslexic can get the gist of what was said? I failed after the first "hath"!

    That said, I think that the Bishop of Buckingham is a bit of a plum!

  2. "While the principle of having bishops was established by Jesus, he did not order that this had to carry on forever, and irrespective of how bishops behave. Instead, having bishops is a custom, that the church has found good to continue over the years. It would do bishops good to remember that they are there by common consent, to listen to the ministers they oversee, and generally to carry out their role humbly and with moderation"


    1. Jesus established Bishops - REALLY chapter and verse please.

  3. Nice one Chris
    & that the church may get rid of their bishops. Cyprian gave guidelines as to when to lump them & when to dump them.

  4. Chris has summed it up well. I don't see Hooker as a 'second scripture'. Just because he says something doesn't mean it is true and to me he represents the 'establishment' (in every sense) view of the Church. But if even Hooker says bishops should watch what they say, then there is some reason to suggest that they indeed should.

    Furthermore, Hooker is careful to say that the bishops' powers could only be taken away by 'universal consent' of the Church, and it is hard to see how that could happen if the bishops were themselves the problem.

    Nevertheless, one can only urge bishops to take note when he says, "Let this consideration be a bridle unto them, let it teach them not to disdain the advice of their presbyters ..."

  5. This is a lovely quotation; but I think so far the summaries have neglected the first half of the 'deal', namely: 'presbyters must not grudge to continue subject to their bishops, unless they will proudly oppose themselves to that which God himself ordained...' I have absolutely no sympathy for this Bishop's video post, and if I were a presbyter under him I would tell him so; but if, over the previous few years, I had not been submitting to him in other ways (eg paying the parish share, obeying the canons, using authorised liturgy, etc.), then, on Hooker's analysis, my objection would be significantly compromised.

  6. Mark, I think Hooker exaggerates the case for 'bishops' of the Anglican variety - not surprisingly in view of his historical context and the fact that he is disputing with presbyterians.

    However, you are right to observe that if we abstain from involvement in the fellowship of the denomination in other ways, it compromises our ability to critique the institution when necessary. If you read my book on changing the denomination you will see I have been advocating a different approach on this for a long time.

    Having said that, if I were in the Oxford diocese in general or the Buckingham episcopal area at the moment, I would find myself in a very difficult position indeed.

  7. John, thank you, that's a very fair and helpful response - is there any apparatus for disciplining errant bishops - and who would do it?! It seems to me he is clearly in contravention of, for instance, the canon setting out how the CofE defines marriage (B30).

  8. "if I were in the Oxford diocese in general or the Buckingham episcopal area at the moment, I would find myself in a very difficult position indeed"

    Interesting that you say that. I was under the impression (possibly from a conversation with Darren, assuming I have him as the same Darren Moore that was at All Saints, Peckham) that Chelmsford was the most liberal diocese in the CofE. Of course, that could have been a while back and may have changed since.
    Or is your comment more to do with the outspoken nature of Buckingham's comments?

  9. I don't think Chelmsford is now a particularly problem diocese. It was different when Darren was at Peckham.

    To Mark - the problem is there is no Clergy Disciplinary Measure for doctrine. We were promised one back in 2000 but (surprise, surprise) it never happened. Instead, we have the situation we're in now.

    The only way a bishop could be disciplined is for dereliction of duty, which unfortunately doesn't include 'false' teaching.

  10. I'm intrigued, Youthpasta knows who I am, but I don't know who he is?

    I don't know much about Chelmsford Diocese (I gather there was a time it wasn't great). Southwark was (is?) pretty liberal. I'm now a Presbyterian Pastor... I read Hooker a while ago... it didn't make me more Anglican. BUT, Episcopal or Presbyterian, Ministers are meant to act together. A Bishop can (surely) only be a chair of Presbyters in an area, same as a Presbyterian Minister is only the chair of his local session. So they can't say outrageous things without consulting their co-Presbyters. Anything else is a lack of integrity, surely.

  11. Darren, my name is Phil Taylor. I joined All Saints in the autumn after Frog became vicar. I helped Olly with a discipleship group, did the projector and also helped out with the Thursday nig youth club. Think tall (6'4") with dark hair (possibly in a ponytail by the time you left for the Wirrall, if I recall correctly). Beyond that I can't place me any better.

  12. My church, which is in Alan Wilson's patch, issued a statement in the notice-sheet 2 weeks ago making clear their position due to the confusion he has caused. Our church is with the CofE's official statement on this matter, and plugged the C4M petition. The statement also wanted to make clear that our Rector has spoken to him on this issue, but from the statement it seemed to be after-the-fact of his letter to the Times, though I'm not sure of the timings of the youtube video.

    Perhaps he took our Rector's view as one of the "it's about Theology, not Justice and Equality". Which seems to me to be liberal (social and theological) code for "meanie who's up an academic tower" - describing our Rector this way is absurd.

    If you go to Alan's blog, the latest post is "how to change your Vicar (part 1)" - if he's OK with changing Vicars, I wonder if he's OK with changing Bishops...

    Simon Hollett, Amersham

  13. Thank you Simon. Changing your bishop is indeed difficult! I suspect that what Alan Wilson has done, without realizing it, is to stop his relationship with many of his clergy dead in the water. That is what happened here under the previous Bishop of Chelmsford and, despite several face-to-face dialogues, it stayed like that until he retired.