Monday, July 2, 2012

Church of England, Fidelium & General Synod

The last few years have seen a great deal of soul searching on the part of Anglicans who witness to the historic faith and order of the Church. Quite a number have been received into the Roman Catholic Church, especially since the Ordinariates have come into being. Others are remaining where they are. This has given rise to occasional unkind public remarks (from both "sides") as old friends even question each others' integrity. Thank God that, mostly, kindness and prayer has continued to bind us together in the love of Christ.

One of the things that encourages me is the emergence in the UK of FIDELIUM. Originally "The New Oxford Movement" (referring to a throw-away line of Cardinal Kasper at the 2008 Lambeth Conference), FIDELIUM is an expanding network of young people who believe passionately in the renewal of the Church of England in the Gospel and the Catholic Faith, and they have committed themselves to mission, evangelism and theological engagement, not least in the universities.

Go to their website HERE. (They are also on Facebook).

Even the secular media in the UK have remarked on the emergence at General Synod level of this new generation of orthodox young people, including young professional women (some of whom were not out of kindergarten when the ordination of women legislation was passed almost twenty years ago) who are firmly opposed on theological gounds to the ordination of women as priests and bishops.

It is hoped that members of the English General Synod meeting later this week (i.e. Friday 6 July until Tuesday 10 July) will remember that it was largely on the basis of the theology of reception that swinging voters in Anglican Synods all over the world were persuaded to support legislation for the ordination of women. According to this theology, because either side of the debate might be right, no-one will really be able to say that women priests and bishops are definitely God's will for the Church until the innovation has been "received", not by a church of the Anglican Communion, not by the Communion as a whole, but by the wider Catholic Church with whom WE have always claimed to share the apostolic ministry.

Those who innovate on the basis of the theology of reception, then, are logically obliged to provide for the ongoing sacramental life of those who in conscience cannot accept the development, a point that has been lost on leaders of most first world Anglican provinces where people of our persuasion have been “brought to heel" theologically, or driven out. In the Church of England, however, the “flying bishop” system came into being, which, while not perfect, created “sacramental space” for the consciences of all concerned.

A lot has been said recently in terms of how representative General Synod and the Diocesan Synods are of churchgoing Anglicans in England. We all know that representative democracy can be less than truly representative, even when deliberate manipulation of the process hasn’t taken place. So it is interesting to note that a recent survey by Christian Research has found that 69% of C of E members surveyed wanted to see women bishops, and 75% wanted to see proper provision made for opponents so that they are not forced out of the Church of England.

Even at the General Synod level there are those in favour of women priests and bishops who understand both the implications of the theology of reception and the feeling of churchgoers on the ground. Back in February, for example, it was Archdeacon Cherry Vann of Manchester who moved a motion seeking legislative provision for traditionalists. In her speech she pointed out that, “Many who want to see women as bishops, remain profoundly uncomfortable with legislation that will mean that some faithful clergy and laity sense that they no longer have an honoured place in our church.”

In light of the pressure being placed on the House of Bishops and the General Synod this week by WATCH, GRAS and the other extreme groups who have obviously abandoned anything looking like a theology of reception, let us pray that any legislation permitting women bishops in the Church of England will protect - by enshrining in law as a legitimate theological conviction - the position of traditional catholics, thereby enabling us to have bishops ordained into the historic episcopate as the Church has always understood it.

So I ask all readers to pray for English General Synod members preparing for this crucial meeting.


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