Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Where the African Primates may have got it wrong!

A discussion starter from Peter Toon

As far as I can tell, the majority of African Archbishops believes that, in comparison with other innovations introduced into Anglican Churches since the revolutionary 1960s, the introduction of the blessing of same-sex 'committed' partnerships stands alone as a clear sign of apostasy in the Church which sanctions it. This explains why there has been an international crisis for Anglicans over the last two years or so and why that crisis continues despite the recent Primates' Meeting and advice offered from there.

I want to suggest that, while the position taken against the sanctioning of same-sex partnerships (and the ordaining of persons within them) has all the clarity of being biblical and traditional, it is in danger of providing for the Churches a false understanding of the harmony of divine revelation and the unity of dogma and doctrine in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God.

We are all aware of how interference in an organism (an animal body) or in a man-made item (e.g., a car engine) affects the life and performance of the whole and may cause it to shut down, unless remedial action is taken.

So with revealed truth and defined, received church doctrine. When a jurisdiction or a party within the Church decides not merely to adapt gently but to change radically & quickly the received doctrine and practice of the Church, then the whole life of the Church is affected, particularly within the group that makes the change. The study of Church history can show that when a change is made in a substantial dogma or set of dogmas then other doctrines are sooner or later changed -- and the same goes with practice, e.g., the liturgy. And the sixteenth century with the arrival of Protest, leading to Protestantism, illustrates this well.

After the Reformation the Anglican Way (I would argue) painfully but eventually settled into a form of Reformed Catholic Faith and Worship, and this acquired a rounded consistency as stated by her 'standard divines' in their exposition of her Formularies (BCP, Ordinal & Articles). It could be adapted in minor ways (as when it was received in other countries and cultures than the British) but its substantial harmony of dogmas and doctrines (focused in the historic Book of Common Prayer) remained intact until the revolutionary 1960s.

Powerful centrifugal forces came into play especially in the Western/Northern provinces of the Anglican Family of Churches after 1960 and this led to such things as the slackening of rules for the marriage of divorcees in church, the creation of a stream of new liturgies, the ordination of women, the changing of 'God-language' to accommodate cultural norms and pressures, the adjusting of canon law to be in line with human rights legislation by governments and so on. Further, it lead to new ways of reading and interpreting sacred Scripture and classic dogma, ways that sought to justify the innovations.

No-one seriously today questions the statement that without these 'preliminaries' the move by majority voting in synods to endorse the recent innovations in sexual doctrine and practice in North America would not have been possible, in fact would not even have been on the agenda.

My point is that the unity of dogma/doctrine which was in place in 1960 was shaken apart by the innovations in marriage law, women's ordination, changes in the way God is addressed and named, and the absorption of human rights talk and themes. The relation of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity and of the Incarnation of the Second Person thereof to the great themes of creation, sin and redemption, with the role of the Holy Spirit in the Ministry of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, was 'disturbed' and made (since God does not impose His will) difficult, even nearly impossible.

Putting it another way, you cannot begin to allow the marriage of divorcees (in contrast to the blessing of them after civil ceremony) in church, you cannot alter the nature of the historic Ministry, and you cannot change the way that you interpret Scripture and the way you address God, without causing a major dysfunctionality or a major incoherency or a failure to work well, for you are not merely doing things at the horizontal level, but you are interfering with the divine relations from heaven to earth, from the Holy Trinity to the Church & from God to man and his salvation.

Of course you can go the whole way of apostasy -- as say American Unitarians have done -- and you will have coherency but not of a classic Christian style and type. (Is it possible that the ECUSA has already gone most of the way to apostasy?)

I offer the following for serious thought and discussion.

It may be reasonably argued that the majority of Primates fail in their evaluation of the crisis in the Anglican Family of Churches because they single out the sexual innovations as unique and as the only thing needed to be put right immediately -- as also they tend to assume that putting these right will also put right the place of the authority of sacred Scripture in the Churches. They do not give sufficient weight to the fact of the disturbance of the harmony of Revelation and received Dogma & Doctrine in the last thirty years through the actions of the synods of western churches, and without this foundation being repaired or put right, that which is built upon it cannot be put right!

Added note.

It seems that women can be ordained in Pentecostalist and Interdenominational churches without disturbing the ethos and polity. In fact apparently women can & do prosper in ministry therein. The reason for this is probably that these churches have no received dogma/doctrines and traditions to disturb or to break and so for them women in ministry are not novelties but merely the outgrowth of their modern principles and their way of reading the Bible.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon, March 7, 2005.

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