Where is the Church’s doctrine to be found? As far as the Church of England is concerned, the answer is at first glance simple. Canon A5 states that:
The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
Furthermore the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 notes that “references in the Measure to the doctrine of the Church of England shall be construed in accordance with the statement concerning that doctrine contained in the Canons of the Church of England.”
But it’s not as simple as that, and there is a good section on “Doctrine in the Church of England in an Historical Perspective” in GS 1554. This document contains the proposals for updating the procedures for clergy discipline in matters of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial that were defeated at General Synod in July 2004. I think that one of the reasons for this defeat was the difficulty of saying just what the CofE’s doctrine is.
Article 7 of the General Synod’s constitution requires any “provision touching doctrinal formulae or the services or ceremonies of the Church of England or the administration of the sacraments or sacred rites thereof” to be voted on at final approval in a form submitted by the House of Bishops. Voting must be by houses so bishops, clergy and laity must each approve. As GS 1554 puts it:
All doctrinal and liturgical matters are brought to the General Synod by the House of Bishops in virtue of their role as guardians of the Church’s faith and teaching. The Synod as a whole determines whether or not to give assent. This reflects the relationship between bishops and laity which was clearly set out by Richard Hooker four hundred years ago.
In particular this means that, unless the Article 7 procedure has been followed, a motion passed by General Synod supporting, for example, a resolution of a Lambeth Conference, is no more that a statement of opinion by those present.