Last Friday I posted on the possibility of an Anglican Magisterium, and have been thinking about some comments coming in, for which I am grateful because they are thoughtful and therefore helpful re keeping my thinking on this matter sharp. Well, as sharp as possible for a bear with little brain!
Some responses to those comments:
(1) I continue to think that an 'informal magisterium' operates in Anglican churches, through its bishops, synods and general synods. On the matter of recognition of orders, for instance, a General Synod working on which churches around the world it recognises as being in communion with, is determining that a number of matters are acceptable in respect of theology. Thus other Anglican churches are recognised, as might also be, for instance, an Old Catholic church, but not the Salvation Army, nor for that matter - even though they have bishops - the Mormon church. There is both a general judgment being made that churches X and Y are orthodox Christian churches (however broad that definition of 'orthodox' might be), as well as a particular Anglican judgement being made about the history and nature of the ordering of church Z. The former excludes, say, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses; the latter excludes, say, Presbyterians and Salvation Army while including, say, Old Catholics. Why do we not declare that we, for our part, are in communion with Rome? I presume it is because we continue to disagree with some of Rome's teaching.
(2) My thinking is about an Anglican Magisterium, so I ask that we think about what this might mean in order for it to be an Anglican Magisterium and not a copycat of Rome's Magisterium. It could well be, for instance, that a 'properly' organised and recognised-as-authoritative Lambeth Conference and Primates' Meetings in between Lambeth Conferences becomes our magisterium.
(3) I acknowledge that an important part of the Reformation was a recognition of the importance of the Bible being accessible to individuals (by being translated into their indigenous language, and freely available through unrestricted publication and distribution) and of the right of individuals to form private judgement about the meaning of Scripture. But I do not see that this right is an absolute right in the context of communal life in reformed church. Every reformed church that I am aware of either composed a doctrinal statement or subscribed to such statement composed by others, including the Church of England composing the Thirty Nine Articles. I further understand each of these statements, with respect to the communal life of these churches, places some restriction on the role private judgement might make on corporate decision making. Today, in Anglican churches around the world, the Thirty Nine Articles is rarely if at all the only 'benchmark' for doctrine, being replaced by a larger 'constitution' which may or may not accord some kind of role to the Thirty Nine Articles in expressing the doctrine of that church. But either way, no Anglican church gives free reign to individual understanding of Scripture being supreme when it comes to certain matters of doctrine and practice. An Anglican Magisterium's role would not be to determine every correct thought an Anglican should have [ :) ], but to assist the world Anglican Communion in understanding what its common understanding of doctrine and practice consists of, and, in respect of novel proposals, or departures from existing agreed doctrine and practice, what it does not consist of!
(4) Let me try to turn the tables, so to speak, on my thoughtful critics! What is your proposal for building the common life of the Anglican Communion in respect of doctrine and practice? When agreement cannot be reached through informal means of communication and when that lack of agreement threatens our unity as a Communion, what is your proposal for resolution of that disagreement?
(5) I do understand that around the Communion a number of people, for various reasons, feel strongly that a body with authority to declare what is our common doctrine and practice and what is not, is a bad thing. I simply find it inescapable that continuing lack of this body means we will continue to fragment and divide as a Communion. I think that is a bad thing too!