Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who gets to decide if particular developments are right?

Suppose that another Letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy is discovered, and all the scholars agree that it is genuine. Suppose it contains some amazingly wonderful uplifting and spiritually nourishing passages, and appears not to alter seriously our existing theological paradigms. Suppose that some Christians think it should now be included in the New Testament and others say it shouldn’t be.

Who gets to decide?

The New Testament is a gift from God that we share with the rest of the Church Catholic. As a tiny minority of the Church Catholic, could the Church of England – or even a Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion – authorise on its own the inclusion in the NT Canon of that newly discovered Letter of Paul? 

Surely in such a basic area as the New Testament Canon our claim to be but part of the Church Catholic would impose serious constraints upon us, even if we ourselves favoured the proposed development. We simply could not say for certain ON OUR OWN that it is right.

Why is it so difficult to understand that this is exactly the issue for many Anglicans with regard to altering the male character of the ordained ministry, a gift, which like the NT Canon, we have always claimed to share with the rest of the Church Catholic?

The truth is that we cannot say for certain ON OUR OWN that it is right. 

In fact, that’s what is meant by an “open process of reception.” Even proponents of women priests and bishops sometimes admit that if this development is not in the end “received” by the great churches of East and West, then the Anglican provinces that have gone down that track will have to say, “Oops . . . sorry . . . we were wrong!” 

At the very least, the theology of “reception” morally obliges provinces with women priests and/or bishops to make “proper provision” for those who oppose the development on the basis that it is has not been discerned as right by the rest of the Church Catholic.

As part of the implementation of women bishops, the Church of England has decided to do just that. Provisions (meagre though they may seem) are being put in place that will enable those opposed on Catholic grounds to be assured in their consciences of an authentic Catholic sacramental life.

It’s the very least that should be done.

The question now is: Will other Anglican provinces throughout the world – including those who have so far acted ruthlessly towards the most Catholic of their people – follow the example of the Mother Church of the Communion?


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