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Uniformity of belief and practice?
The Confessing Reader ^ | 3/30/2005 | Confessing Reader

Posted on 04/01/2005 7:50:59 AM PST by sionnsar

The March edition of Cathedral Notes, the parish magazine of the Cathedral of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, leads off with an article by the Very Rev’d Mr Christopher Dalliston, Dean of the Cathedral. (If, as time passes, you are unable to access the article at the Cathedral’s website, the entire text is also posted at Titusonenine.)

I should be clear from the outset that, though I will offer a critique of certain points in Dean Dalliston’s article, I must nevertheless recognize the truth of what Dean Dalliston asserts when he writes, “Truth might be the first casualty of war; love seems the first casualty in ecclesiastical controversy.” In our zeal to correct and to guide - and today, just barely a week after washing one another’s feet in the Maundy Thursday liturgy - we must not forget our Lord’s commandment to love one another.

I have no objections per se either to Dean Dalliston’s framing of the present situation within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion nor with his assessment that, “One can’t help thinking there must be some better way to handle these issues, but perhaps a patient teasing out of every argument and a gradualist approach is the only way forward for an old church like ours, although its striking how swiftly Jesus acted and how much happened in the three years of His earthly ministry” - save to object that a “gradualist” approach need not in and of itself lead to “inevitable” changes that may compromise the Gospel and the evangelical call to transformation and newness of life. Indeed, a patient teasing out of every argument is very much what conservatives have been calling for with the successive innovations in Anglican life, from prayerbook revisions to the ordination of women to matters of human sexuality. As the Rev’d Dr Ephraim Radner writes in Hope Among the Fragments,

[O]ne of the gifts of remaining [in The Episcopal Church] will be an openness to God’s own teaching. While it is hard for me to believe that there is some new truth yet to be revealed about, say, sexual behavior that will overturn the basic traditions of the Church’s doctrine, nonetheless we must acknowledge the possibility of still learning something we did not know before on the matter. And where else shall we learn this than with those who challenge us about our exhausted outlooks?

(Parenthetically, I would note that I have yet to read something written by a progressive or revisionist Anglican or Episcopalian of Dr Radner’s theological stature who would suggest their willingness to have “exhausted outlooks” challenged by “the basic traditions of the Church’s doctrine".)

We conservatives have objected only to that sense of inevitability to which Dean Dalliston refers, a sense bolstered by a history of progressive impatience at “being stalled” followed by progressive action before consensus had been reached on the basis of careful theological argument (e.g., the ordinations of “the Philadelphia Eleven", the election and consecration of Gene Robinson, the diocesan-approved blessings of homosexual relationships). Our objection has been that progressives have assumed that, having made an argument (not necessarily a compelling argument on the basis of Holy Scripture, catholic Tradition, and reason), that the Church can proceed - as though the innovation had been granted an inevitability simply because someone in the Church had thought it the right thing to do.

What I do find more objectionable is Dean Dalliston’s summary of Anglicanism in these words:

There seems an increasing tendency to expect of the Anglican Communion a uniformity of belief and practice to which it has never previously aspired. Indeed the whole point of Anglicanism is surely that unlike the Roman Catholic Church it has no magisterium and the Archbishop is no Pope. However messy it may seem to the tidy minded, however frustrating it may seem to many of us at times, the diversity that certainly has characterised the Church of England since its earliest days and which has steadfastly resisted repeated efforts to regularise, is ultimately its strength and glory.

(We will set aside, for the moment, whether those Catholics persecuted by Elizabeth I, or those Puritans hauled before the Star Chamber by William Laud, or Richard Baxter and the several thousand ministers ejected from their parishes after the Restoration, or the Wesleys and other Anglican evangelists denied Anglican pulpits for their revivalistic preaching, or the AngloCatholic priests brought up on ecclesiastical charges for ritualistic deviations like candlesticks on the altar would agree that the Church of England has “steadfastly resisted” efforts to regularise its ecclesial life. We will also set aside, for other commentators or for another time, the assertion - quite a wild one - that “the whole point” of Anglicanism is to have neither magisterium nor Pope.)

I suspect that those who hold Dean Dalliston’s view, that this present-day expectation (among conservatives, of course) of uniformity of belief and practice is distinctly “unanglican", would appeal to Article 34 ("Of the Traditions of the Church") in the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion:

It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.

Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

But is it true to assert that the conservative insistence that the blessing of homosexual unions (or indeed, the blessing of any sexual union outside the marriage of man and woman) and the ordination of persons in sexual relationships outside of marriage not be allowed in the Churches of the Anglican Communion is an imposition of “a uniformity of belief and practice to which [the Communion] has never previously aspired"? Granting lapses which are recognized as such, does not the blessing only of sexual relationships within marriage, and the ordination only of persons who are known to be celibate or chaste within marriage in fact describe Anglican praxis for the past four and a half centuries?

True Union in the Body, a paper commissioned in 2002 by the Most Rev’d Drexel Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies, and which as “a contribution to the discussion within the Anglican Communion concerning the public blessing of same-sex unions” is exactly in keeping with the “patient teasing out of every argument” noted by the Very Rev’d Mr Dalliston, addresses the matter of innovation with specific reference to Article 34:

With quite remarkable relevance, Article 34…addresses the situation when innovation is being considered. Although elements are clearly rooted in its historical context, it contains much wisdom for our current situation in relation to the proposed ceremonies for the blessing of same-sex unions (especially where appeal is often made to the possibility of ‘local options’): [the text goes on to cite Article 34].

The current traditions and ceremonies of the Church (in relation to the right ordering of our sexual desires and relationships) have been subjected to various critiques but they certainly have not been shown to be ‘repugnant to the Word of God’. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Anglicans believe that it is the proposal to bless same-sex unions which would be ordaining something against God’s Word. Following this Article, therefore, there is a need for some system of ‘open rebuke’ to be established within the Anglican Communion in order to address a situation where Church traditions and ceremonies are being openly broken by some within the Church.

I believe that we can regard the Windsor Report and the February Primates’ Communiqué as at least halting starts toward such a system of “open rebuke", and perhaps it is such a system that has the Dean of St Nicholas’ Cathedral concerned, but note: the system of open rebuke is meant to address those who openly break an existing consensus on traditions and ceremonies. The innovations do not express a pre-existing Anglican diversity; indeed, the innovations transgress against an existing Anglican consensus and yes, uniformity, of belief and practice.

Advocates of same-sex unions, however, will insist that ‘the Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies’ (Article 20). Granted - but if they do so, then they must also give due respect to the Anglican understanding of how this should be done. This is authoritatively expressed at the end of Article 34a:

Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

The writers of True Union in the Body go on to state that there are three political challenges to those Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury: the locus of authority to ordain or change ceremonies; the limits to the rites which the Church has authority to change; and the purpose of changing rites.

Of the first, the locus of authority to ordain or change ceremonies:

this is said to lie with ‘particular or national‘ churches. Although there is room for debate as to what the contemporary geographical equivalent of this shared common life would be, a strong case can be made that it should be represented by the Anglican Communion as a whole. Certainly, any decision at a diocesan level (such as in New Westminster or Kansas) amounts to a break in historic Anglican polity.

The call for the Anglican Communion as a whole to deal with innovations or with doctrinal crises is not a new one. John William Colenso, the first Bishop of Natal (appointed in 1853) provoked the criticism of orthodox Anglicans by not requiring polygynous baptizands to divorce their supernumerary wives and by publishing commentaries which denied eternal punishment, rejected much traditional sacramental teaching, and challenged the historicity of the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua. In 1863 he was deposed by his metropolitan, Bishop Robert Gray of Cape Town. Colenso refused to recognize the Bishop of Cape Town’s jurisdiction and appealed his case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (of the United Kingdom). The Privy Council delivered sentence in Bishop Colenso’s favor, and Colenso maintained his position and by a series of judicial decisions secured the cathedral and the endowments of the diocese of Natal. Undeterred, Bishop Gray solemnly excommunicated Colenso in 1866.

Pressure mounted among Anglican bishops the world round for an international synod to deal with Colenso’s teachings and to clarify the canonical and legal standing of overseas provinces of the Anglican Church. (Somewhat ironically, it was the Synod of the Anglican Church in Canada’s sending a formal request to Archbishop C T Longley that led to the such a synod’s being called!) In 1867, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Longley, issued the invitation to all Anglican bishops (except Colenso) to a conference in Lambeth Palace.

In the February 2004 edition of New Directions, Rodney Schofield examined these beginnings of the Lambeth Conference in an essay entitled, “The Colenso Affair“:

In the following year the Archbishop of Canterbury did indeed invite all bishops, with the exception of Colenso, to Lambeth. It was to be, he insisted, deliberative, consultative and advisory; but not a legislative council with any binding powers. In the event only half of those invited actually attended, some failing to do so because of the impracticality of travel, others (including the Archbishop of York) fearing a weakening of church-state links that might, for example, be incurred if the Privy Council’s declaration for Colenso were to be contradicted, others yet again deeply suspicious of the Archbishop’s intentions. The declaration was made that the diocese of Natal was vacant, with the predictable consequence that Colenso – as was his legal right – continued in office, and was shadowed by a Bishop of Maritzburg consecrated by a frustrated Gray to administer much the same territory. The anomalous situation continued until Colenso’s death in 1883, at which point it took a further decade before the warring constituencies in Natal were more or less reconciled. Gray’s crumb of consolation was in achieving independence for metropolitans as a result of the Colonial Clergy Act of 1874, namely, the abolition of any canonical oath of obedience – even to the Archbishop of Canterbury!

While this conference and “the Colenso Affair” eventually resulted in the autonomy of metropolitans (archbishops) of the provincial Churches of the Anglican Communion, we should note that this “deliberative, consultative and advisory” body did declare the See of Natal vacant, suggesting a consensus on Anglican teaching at the time, or at least a consensus among those bishops who were present for the conference.

A measure of consensus, or indeed of uniformity in faith and in practice is not an unanglican innovation. Rather, I would respectfully suggest to the Dean of St Nicholas’ Cathedral that doctrinal pluriformity and the practical chaos created by progressive impatience and schismatic action is what Anglicanism has never aspired to.

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant
KEYWORDS: angpost1

1 posted on 04/01/2005 7:51:00 AM PST by sionnsar
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2 posted on 04/01/2005 7:51:25 AM PST by sionnsar (†† || Iran Azadi || Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?)
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