The Church of England decides – sort of

According to this report in The Age, it looks like the Church of England has successfully applied Perry’s “Fortieth Article” (“There is always a middle way, and it doesn’t have to be logical”) and found a way forward:

After almost two decades of infighting, posturing and politicking over the issue among traditionalists and liberals, a fragile peace has emerged, with both sides accepting that local arrangements should be made for Anglicans wanting to exempt themselves from female leadership.

At the meeting in York of the General Synod, the church’s ruling body, more than 370 of the 480 members voted in favour of diocesan bishops being able to decide what provisions should be made for traditionalists. It was not what the conservative evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics wanted, but after four days of bruising debate, it was all that was left.

Representatives from liberal campaign group Women and the Church said it was delighted with the outcome.

Traditionalists opposed to the compromise nevertheless supported it, fearing that the legislation would contain no provision for them at all. On Saturday, the Synod rejected their demands for extra dioceses and access to a class of male bishop who had never ordained a woman.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say. The Traditionalists have placed great faith in their local dioceses to respect their liberty. Nevertheless, it is good that they have come to some sort of resolution. We will simply have to wait and see how it works in practice.

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11 responses to “The Church of England decides – sort of

  1. Tony Bartel

    What is interesting is that this is what was on the table going into the meeting. Traditional Anglicans said that this was not enough, because they could not in good conscience accept the authority of a female bishop.

    It is a Clayton’s compromise, the compromise you have when you are not having a compromise. What does it mean to say that the diocesan bishop may make alternative arrangements? The diocesan is already able to do that. It is not a middle way, only the liberal way.

    This approach has been tried in the States as DEPO (delegated episcopal pastoral oversight) and was an abysmal failure.

    A similar offer was on the table in Wangaratta diocese. The traditional clergy mostly voted for it because it was better than nothing. There are now only two traditional incumbent clergy left in the diocese and one of those (in his 60s) has told me that he is simply treading water to get to retirement. The law of libel prevents me from saying what kind of priest has been attracted to replace those who have gone.

    What has been offered in England does not mean very much. Many traditional Anglicans will have difficult decisions to make.

  2. Matthias

    anglican Mainstream has an interesting take on this situation,with a look at a book by former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in which he details how the Anglican communion on the Indian subcontinent amalgamated with other churches to form the Church of South/North india under the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This article goes on to say “the Lambeth Quadrilateral spells out the “basic Catholic facts and principles” regarding what constitutes the fullness of the Church: the Scriptures, the sacraments of salvation (Baptism and Eucharist), the creeds, and the historic episcopate. With these four principles in place Anglicans in India and Pakistan were willing to unite with other Christians. Could this be a model for Anglicanism worldwide?”
    Could we see the Jensens agreeing to this?

    • Peregrinus

      Could we see the Jensens agreeing to this?

      Being only a little bit cynical, probably not.

      There are two factors which lead me to this. The first is the particular historical circumstances which applied in India. Within a very short time after the effective collapse of British India, the CofE in India was in a state of acute crisis. Almost a million Anglicans left India within a few years, and they tended to be the wealthier ones – the ones who had sustained the large network of churches and other institutions built up through European patronage over the previous two centuries. The result was that Indian Anglicans had a vast oversupply of aging buildings and other assets, a network of clergy who were accustomed to the more modest end of the range of styles of living that Anglo-Indians enjoyed, but still a vastly better style of living than most ordinary Indians enjoyed, and a huge undersupply of members with money to support the work of the church and to keep its clergy. And the same was true, though to a lesser extent, for the Church of Scotland, the Methodists, and so forth.

      In short, when they suddenly lost the considerable privileges of being (in effect) the established church, some kind of institutional unity was forced upon them by their circumstances.

      The Anglican diocese of Sydney, by contrast, is hugely well-endowed. It is not only one of the most conservative Anglican dioceses in the world, but also one of the wealthiest. It simply isn’t facing the kinds of practical pressures that the Indian Anglicans faced.

      The second factor is that the theological stance of the Jensens makes the project of institutional unity completely unnecessary, and a distraction from the task of preaching the gospel. The only unity that the church needs is the unity of all believers through baptism, and that already exists. The church Catholic, from this viewpoint, is an already-existing reality which has no need of a single institutional structure to make it “more real”. Structures like parishes, dioceses, provinces, churches, assemblies, synods, presbyteries, etc are created by man for their convenience and utility in preaching the gospel; there is no particular reason for uniting them unless there is some reason to think that this will make them more effective – and, even then, only for so long as it will make them more effective. God doesn’t particularly care whether the gospel is preached by a single institution, or a multiplicity of them. The division of Christendom into a variety of church institutions is not inherently scandalous. What is scandalous is if any Christian, or group of Christians, falls away from biblical Christianity.

      I suspect Dr Jensen would see no objection to something like the mergers that formed the Church of South India and the Church of North India – always provided the mergers did not involve any compromise of the principles of biblical Christianity. Given the practical sitution in which the Indian Protestant churches found themselves, the merger was probably a good thing if it enabled them to use their greatly depleted resources to best effect. But it had no intrinsic value.

      The Jensens are happy to work with non-Anglican bible-believing Christians, and often do. One source of dissatisfaction, in fact, is that the substantial funds of the Sydney diocese are used to support non-Anglican churches outside Sydney (and so within other Anglican dioceses in Australia). But Dr Jensen doesn’t seek to establish any kind of structure to unit these congregations to his diocese, or to the Anglican dioceses in which they are located. He just sees no particular value in institutional unity; he would probably see the whole idea as a somewhat “catholic” obsession.

      So, no. He’s no more likely to unit with a conservative protestant denomination than with the Catholics. Why would he?

      • Very perceptive, Perry. I have experienced a kind of “ecumenism” very prevalent among evangelicals and pentecostals which basically welcomes any other bible-believing Christian as a brother or sister, and are very happy to “network” with other Christians, but sees no need for what they call “institutional unity”, or what we would call “visible communion”. This is a major difference in ecclesiology – and is in part due to the common division between the “visible church” and the “invisible church”. It basically makes ecumenism as the Catholic Church understands it a no-goer among these groups.

        The Lambeth Quadrilateral was a bit of an experiment among Anglicans at the time when the Anglican Churches were grappling with their identity as a world-wide communion, and was valued as a sort of “lowest common denominator” of Anglicanism. Unfortunately, since then, the “common denominator” has slipped much lower than those bishops at Lambeth could possibly have imagined…

  3. Matthias

    that’s right as i remember a statement +Jensen made some years ago which more or less implied that Catholics were sub Christian. Thanks for the history lesson Peregrinus . To have unity without a Biblical basis is unity in the dark

    • A one-time Catholic pastor at Watson’s Bay in Sydney attempted to build a relationship with the neighbouring Anglican pastor, only to find that although his Anglican neighbour was happy civil and respectful, the idea that “Catholics aren’t really Christian” was a major block to any real cooperation.

      • Tony Bartel

        An Anglican parish in Sydney used to allow an English speaking Orthodox mission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in their Church on Sunday evening.

        They though it would be O.K. because at least the Orthodox didn’t follow the Pope.

        Then a few of them attended the Divine Liturgy and found out that they were “worse than the Catholics.”

        The mission is still going well, but they now worship in a community hall.

      • Peregrinus

        Mmm. Jensen’s thing is “bible based churches”, and the phrase “bible based” is intended to evoke the sola scriptura/scripture and tradition point of difference.
        Catholic churches aren’t “bible-based” in this hermeneutic; neither are Orthodox churches. In fact, not all Anglican churches are necessarily “bible based” either; only those which are true to their roots in “classical Reformation Anglicanism”. Conversely non-Anglican churches of an evangelical stripe are “bible based”.

        It would be unfair to describe Jensen as “anti-Catholic” if that suggested any kind of personal bigotry against Catholics. There’s no evidence at all of that. On the contrary, he famously enjoys excellent relations with Cardinal Pell, and has no difficulty in practical co-operation in relation to matters on whicgh they happen to agree. And there are many such matters – pre-marital sex, abortion, drug use, gay marriage, gay adoption, the state funding of faith based schools, the treatment of asylum seekers, industrial relation, and more besides.

        But not many of these issues are doctrinal. If it’s unfair to call Dr Jensen anti-Catholic, it’s fair to say that he is very critical of Catholicism. Jensen stresses the Protestant character of Anglicanism and, he makes clear, what Protestants protest against is the claims of the Church of Rome. Jensen, in fact is “convinced that the Gospel itself is at risk in the Roman Catholic church”, though he hopes “that’s not offensive to Roman Catholics”. So he’s not anti-Catholic in the sense of being bigoted against Catholics, but he does hold religious convictions which to which Catholicism is, basically, repugnant.

        It always amuses me to see the suggestions which crop up from time to time that Catholic ecumenical endeavours are more likely to bear fruit with the likes of the Sydney Anglicans, given their fundamental antipathy to Catholicism. Those “conservative” Catholics who make theses suggestions, it seems to me, have fallen right into the error of which they normally accuse “liberal” Catholics – seeing Catholicism as, at heart, the advancement of a particular social agenda.