[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday in the weeks before General Synod, May 2016. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]
In a comment below Malcolm Falloon brilliantly sums up the effect of this section in respect of finding A Way Forward viz a viz the legalities of making change in our church:
"the report pictures our church as being like a
train at a junction of two tracks. No one can understand the lights, but the
very best minds on board recommend that the points be shifted and for the train
to take the fast track. After all, if we meet a train coming the other way, we
can always back up!"
Section 6 is headed "Of "The Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ." It concerns "the question of whether General Synod / te Hinota Whanui may lawfully adopt the proposals contained in this report." It is found on pp. 19 and 20 of the report.
It must have been a difficult section to write because it acknowledges in its preamble that what it proposes may turn out to not be lawful, and it notes that "The members of the working group are not themselves in agreement over the question of whether a rite of blessing of same-sex relationships, which would then be regarded as rightly-ordered, would represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ." Further, precisely on the matter of "Doctrine of Christ", the report acknowledges that we as a church do not understand what this means!
Nevertheless none of this means that this section is full of problems.
First, this section correctly sets out what Te Pouhere (the constitution) says in respect of what General Synod is "bound to hold and maintain." Secondly, this section correctly notes that "change to the formularies is permitted" providing no such change results in a departure "from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as defined in the Fundamental Provisions of this Constitution." Thirdly, I see no difficulty in affirming that the "Sacraments of Christ are Baptism and Holy Communion alone. Marriage is expressly excluded as a sacrament by articles 25 and 39 of the Articles of Religion. The addition of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationship would not therefore have sacramental import." Thus, fourthly, this section (from bottom third of p. 19 onwards) rightly focuses on what "Doctrine of Christ" means and how the report might impact on our understanding of that and the legal consequences and constraints associated with that understanding.
Doctrine of Christ
The report appropriately asks the question what "Doctrine of Christ" means in respect of options such as "a particular body of teaching about Christ, or Jesus' own particular teaching;" or "core matters of faith in Christ as they bear upon the matter of redemption accomplished by and in him;" or "all that we read in scripture regarding the whole of life as lived to God in faithful response to the gospel."
The report then reflects on the fuller phrase from Te Pouhere, "the Doctrine of Christ ... as the Lord has commanded in Holy Scripture." Does this means "that every part of scripture is "the Doctrine of Christ"? Or, does it means "that reading the Doctrine of Christ through the formularies will lead us to understand that Doctrine as involving the essential matters that are dealt with in the Creeds, for example, and that matters outside of these are not covered by Te Pouhere in referring to the Doctrine of Christ"?
It is not rocket science, if some (many?) readers detect a lean in the trajectory of the doctrinal rocket towards placing "blessing of same-sex relationships" as "outside" the Doctrine of Christ. But can this be done?
Quite oddly, in my view, the report misses one of the more obvious points our church has already made about the Doctrine of Christ, a point already cited at the beginning of the section but mostly ignored thereafter.
At the beginning of the section the citation from Te Pouhere talks about "the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ ... and as explained in [my bold] The Book of Common Prayer 1662, Te Rawiri, The Form and Manner of Making Ordaining, and Consecrating Bishops, Priest and Deacons, The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa." In other words, the Doctrine of Christ does not boil down to the creeds, nor is it solely about "core matters of faith in Christ as they bear upon the matter of redemption." Nor any other narrow slice of theology. Rather, the Doctrine of Christ, found explained in prayer books, ordinals and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, is necessarily "all that we read in scripture regarding the whole of life as lived to God in faithful response to the gospel" and "every part of scripture."
Putting that in words relevant to the issue at hand, placing the words of a blessing service into a formulary (i.e. an order of service expressing our understanding of what we believe) must not contradict "the Doctrine of Christ" with that doctrine understood as already explained in the documents listed in the above paragraph.
Putting that another way, if those pursuing the adoption of a formulary for the blessing of a same-sex relationship wish to have it (a) adopted by the twice round process, and (b) either not be appealed against or, if appealed, fend off such challenge, then the arguments in pursuit of adoption at worst need to demonstrate non-contradiction of the Doctrine of Christ and at best need to demonstrate coherency and congruence with the Doctrine of Christ.
Unfortunately for those who want a neat, tidy, efficient way forward towards change, without fear of failure of adoption in the twice round process and with hope of success in the event of an appeal to tribunal, that is, the neatness of GS declaring that (i) Doctrine of Christ = creeds, (ii) marriage and such are not creedal, this is very unlikely to happen. General Synod - like the working group itself - is very likely to get tangled up in a debate over what the Doctrine of Christ means. It is difficult to see either the theologians or the lawyers (professional or amateur!!) or both among GS members agreeing that "the Doctrine of Christ" only applies to some formularies and not to all .
The Church of England Empowering Act 1928
On p.20 Section 6 of the report we move into some "what ifs" re the impact of the Church of England Empowering Act 1928 which specifies an "appeal period ... of up to one year from the date of the adoption by General Synod / te Hinota Whanui of any new formulary" (i.e. after proposed at a GS, approved by a majority of dioceses / amorangi, and returned to GS for final adoption).
I suggest the report makes two observations which are worth making and should be followed up by General Synod / te Hinota Whanui at an appropriate time, that is, with a move to request parliament to amend the Act, if not abolish the Act (with appropriate changes to our General Synod governed processes of legislation and appeal. (The midst of the current debate and process of decision-making is not that time). Those two observations are that the language of the Act is about "the Dioceses of New Zealand" and thus the Act does not reflect our Three Tikanga structure in respect of how we make decisions, and in respect of a possible Tribunal, the Act means the only bishops able to be on the tribunal would be our pakeha bishops.
But there is a further observation which could be made in respect of the 1928 Act and the mutual ties between it and Te Pouhere. As Bosco Peters' at Liturgy has been pointing out (in various posts, but see this one in particular and follow up links within it), over a period of years our church appeared, liturgically, to know not what it was doing. That is, we got confused about which services were which: experimental services, experimental services authorised for use beyond any reasonable period of experimentation, formularies, and "who" could authorise services. Effectively, we have recently clarified that authorised services must be formularies. Thus it appears sure that the 1928 Act does not provide for the possibility that there might be two classes of authorised services:
- those which are formularies, agreed to by due process, and that due process required because formularies express what we believe as a church;
- those which are authorised for use (e.g authorised by a bishop, by a tikanga; for use (say) in special circumstances, on certain occasions only) which would not necessarily express what we all believe but which would express what some believe and by consent of the church were permitted to believe and express in such authorised prayers.*
Now, on closer inspection and detailed argument, we might not want to be a church with two such classes of services. But my point is, we cannot even have the argument with ourselves because we are constrained by the 1928 Act.
Has that Act served its purpose?
And, to those who might (reasonably) say,
"Peter, the Act may be the only thing which stands between our church remaining orthodox and our church deviating from orthodoxy,"
"On matters of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy versus heresy, we should not be relying in the 21st century on civil legislation represented by the 1928 Act in a country which has moved a very, very long way from the vestigial sense of an established church brought over from England to NZ in the first half of the 19th century."
*The proposal of the report, that on a diocese by diocese basis we might choose whether or not to implement and authorise for use the proposed new formulary, is a tacit acknowledgement that we might like to be a church with two "classes" of services: formularies and non-formularies-but-authorised-for-use.
Thus the dilemma at the heart of the report for many licensed office-holders of our church is that the 1928 Act forces A Way Forward to propose formularies which necessarily entail church agreement that "this is what we believe" when clearly we are not a church willing and ready to make that agreement (with some helpful degree of unity) and offers an "opt out"/"opt in" approach solely by way of diocesan choice.
My personal assessment of many licensed office-holders in our church, where "many" is more than "conservative evangelicals", is that our preference would be that we do not attempt to secure agreement re formularies, rather we secure agreement re services authorised for use but which do not make pretence that 'this is what this church believes."
By going the way of formularies, A Way Forward effectively proposes a crisis of conscience for many existing and future licensees of this church.
Conclusion re Section 6
Some important observations and points are made in this section. But the discussion of the key point of the section, concerning the Doctrine of Christ, seems to overlook an important observation about what our church already understands about the Doctrine of Christ.
The report rightly acknowledges the looming presence of the 1928 Act over the situation, observes some difficulties with this Act, but does not push on to observe other difficulties this Act entails in the life of ACANZP.