Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scriptural unity for the Anglican Communion

One of the phrases of Anglican life which we can neglect occurs in the Thirty-Nine Articles. It is 'contrary to God's Word written', in Article 20, Of the Authority of the Church. The full article reads:

"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 anything 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 any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."

Whatever view Anglican churches around the Communion take on the role of the 39A, the fact is that we all adhere to Scripture as the document at the heart of our life, especially of our weekly liturgical worship and the daily office. Scripture is only meaningful if it is not only read, but also applied to our lives. Fundamentally, to live Anglicanly 'contrary to God's Word written' would be to unravel Anglicanism.

Hence it is crucial to the future of each Anglican church as well as to the Communion as a whole that we not only read Scripture, but also live by it, which necessarily means we do work on interpreting the Bible so that we live consistent with Scripture and not contrary to it.

Thus we observe the following taking place around the Communion at this time. (1) Some situations in which Anglicans are waking up to the fact that this work has been neglected and must now be done before it is too late: Bishop Pierre Whalon, in a post noted below, is the siren sounder on this for TEC. That TEC is not as far down this pathway as some of us have supposed is intriguingly represented by the ifs, buts, and maybes of this resolution of the Diocese of Virginia! (2) Robust debate on the internet (at least) about whether ordaining women as presbyters and bishops is contrary to Scripture or not, with this bite to the debate, How will the Church of England introduce women bishops into its life?

With respect to that question for the C of E I suggest it would be timely to renew engagement with the scriptural basis of Anglo-Catholicism. I should quickly say that much of Anglo-Catholicism (as with much of Roman Catholicism) is consistent with Scripture. But is it all? I raise this question because if the way forward for the C of E introducing women bishops is also to preserve a request for at least two sectors of its life (e.g. Forward in Faith, Reform movements) to not have to experience the sacramental or preaching ministries of women bishops, a bare minimum reason for positively responding to the request is that Anglo-Catholicism adheres to the spirit and principle of Article 20, that we should do nothing contrary to God's Word written.

Mutatis mutandis, the question needs to be asked of Reform, in the light, for instance, of Tim Harris' comment in a post below, whether it is in fact ministering contrary to God's Word written, at least inasmuch as it may sincerely but mistakenly believe that the principle of male headship is taught in Scripture. Is the establishment of a ministry based on the principle of male headship, allied with a request to the church to preserve this ministry consistent with Scripture or contrary to it?

There is work to be done. Careful, painstaking exegetical and hermeneutical work. But it would be worth doing. Christian unity, ultimately, is unity around shared truth. The distance, for instance, between Reform and the (general tendency of the) Church of England might be better overcome by returning again to the study of Scripture rather than by legal arrangements made under the threat of withdrawal of funding.

In one sense I agree with those critics of the Covenant who say that it will not bring about unity in the Anglican Communion. True unity in the Communion will not be achieved while individual member Anglican churches are not united. The unity of the Church of England and the unity of Anglicanism in North America is a concern for us all. A key step forward is to return to the study of Scripture. My general point here is that we may need to study it with greater intensity and care than we have hitherto done so.

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