Friday, 9 September 2005

Doctrine in the Church of England

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.

Posted by Peter Owen on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 2:04pm BST
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

Sometimes I wonder: how much of this hierarchy and imposed structure does one actually *need* in order to serve God best day to day?

Posted by: Tim on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 2:14pm BST

Tim, an individual needs the support of a community. This is primarily because any individual needs a community to reflect back his attempts at discernment. Attempting discernment without a supportive community can lead to bizarre, non-inspired "callings".

But any time you try to work with aggregations larger than that, you need *some* kind of hierarchy structure. People are just that way.

Posted by: ruidh on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 4:03pm BST

I suppose that is the logical formulation (Bishops propose, Synod approves) for a church that is supposed to be episcopally lead and synodically governed. However, seeing the dead end that ECUSA has walked into, I think we need more focus on the fact that we are a Church of the Living God.... not a voluntary association of religiously inclined humans. To be a Church we have to follow Christ; the Bishops and Synod should not feel that they have a free hand.

We are not our own! We are His; or we cease to be a Church.

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 4:05pm BST

We've walked into a dead end? Gosh, then what's the long road I've been walking on since I joined the Church that seems to stretch out as far as the eye can see?

Posted by: Patrick on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 5:23pm BST

Pax, Patrick: Pontius Pilate thought he was sending Jesus on a "dead end," too. As Episcopalians, it's just our job to "labor in the Father's vineyard" . . . and not to worry about all our would-be coroners. ;-/

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Sunday, 11 September 2005 at 3:58am BST

ECUSA is half the size it used to be and dwindling rapidly. The average age of an ECUSAN (last time I heard) was in the upper 60s. Now it is in the midst of a denomination-wide split that will further drain people and resources. ECUSA may not have reached the end of the line yet, but facts like these are certainly food for thought. Do I foresee a dead-end? Not yet, there's too much money and property to be drawn on and liquidated. The ongoing slide into obscurity and cultural irrelevance will continue and accelerate, but it will be a long time before the last ECUSAN turns out the lights. So take heart, the road is stretching out in front of you.

Steven

Posted by: steven on Monday, 12 September 2005 at 3:28pm BST

Just to reinforce what I was saying about Bishops and Synods not having a free hand, here are some quotes from GS1554 .. one stating that everything must be in accordance with Scripture, one stating that people should be allowed to hold alternative views if they are a reasonable interpretation (of the formularies of the Church of England.. but could apply to Scripture too?) and one stating that there should be a place for tradition and enquiry::

CANON A5: “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."

Comment on a Judicial ruling (SECTION 32): "In doctrinal matters the law permits a considerable degree of liberty, and where two interpretations are possible either is permissible."

SECTION 43:"There must always be a place in the life of the Church for both tradition and enquiry"

To respond to Patrick and JCF's defence of ECUSA. The Doctrine of the Church is not grounded in Enquiry... and should at least make space for Tradition. (Space acceptable to Traditionalists that is; not Space that Innovators *think* Traditionalists should accept!!)

Posted by: Dave on Monday, 12 September 2005 at 10:42pm BST

The only genuine doctrine in the Church of England these days - and I speak as long-time Licensed Reader involved in planting and running two churches - is: 'anything goes' except fidelity to God's Word (ie. what he actually says in Scripture).

Sincerity and liberal thinking may dominate the Anglican Church but as God requires fidelity to his Word along with the first and hates the second, 'wasting' and 'breath' come to mind.

He has long since departed much of the Anglican Church. Hence its severe decline and fragmentation. Why should our Father bail out an institution that cares little for his instruction?

Reform or die would seem an appropriate response. But I doubt most in the Anglican hierarchy can even hear any more.

Posted by: Peter C Glover on Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 7:35am BST

"The only genuine doctrine in the Church of England these days... is: 'anything goes' except fidelity to God's Word (ie. what he actually says in Scripture)"

Dear Peter, I must say that I think you hit the nail on the head; though I think some CofE Bishops are fairly true to the faith once given.. but a rather smaller proportion than clergy or church members! What a terrible situation the church is in!!

Regarding the fudged HoB statements (that can usually be taken at least two ways) I suspect that some sort of "Episcopal collegiality" is the driver - which means that, as the liberal's move away from Biblical morality, the church tends to drift that way too.

I think this is also what happened in ECUSA, til the General Convention (Synod) was also majority liberal and the (declining number of) more conservative Bishops were no longer able to go any further collegially.. and had to watch the rest walk away!

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 16 September 2005 at 7:33pm BST
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