Lib­er­al­ism is frag­ment­ing Angli­can­ism

The Church of England - - LEADER & COMMENT -

News that the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury has de­cided to al­low the Angli­can Com­mu­nion to have much looser ties and mu­tual com­mit­ments comes as no great sur­prise. All ef­forts to pre­vent the con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral prov­inces of the Com­mu­nion re­ject­ing their re­spec­tive teach­ings and prac­tices seem to have failed, de­spite im­mense ef­forts to pro­duce a ‘covenant’ that might com­mand the re­spect and as­sent of all.

The fa­mous Crock­ford’s Pref­ace, 1987, had pre­dicted the ero­sion of the bonds of the Angli­can Com­mu­nion such as com­mon liturgy, con­ser­va­tive pa­tris­tic the­ol­ogy and a re­spect for the church’s history and doc­trine. Ben­nett ful­mi­nated against a lib­eral elite ap­point­ing its own to key of­fices and ex­clud­ing con­ser­va­tives, An­glo-Catholic or evan­gel­i­cal. He lamented the au­ton­o­mous lib­er­al­ism of the prov­inces that had or­dained women against the tra­di­tion and ma­jor­ity of pro­vin­cial prac­tice. And he fore­saw the same sun­der­ing process for the Church of Eng­land it­self in terms of a lack of au­thor­ity and the growth of a sec­u­lar, pop­ulist lib­er­al­ism re­flect­ing the cul­tural changes in so­ci­ety.

While he was wrong over the or­di­na­tion of women, which did not split the Church, it is hard to ar­gue that much of his anal­y­sis was ba­si­cally cor­rect. The Church of Eng­land now seems deeply split over the is­sue of how to re­spond to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, not only the eth­i­cal ques­tion but that of au­thor­ity in doc­trine and ethics. His own An­glo-Catholic party did in­deed erode, many clergy go­ing to Rome and very few now in po­si­tions of epis­co­pal au­thor­ity, with a few no­table ex­cep­tions such as the Bishop of Lon­don.

Like­wise, his view that a lib­eral as­cen­dancy was be­com­ing struc­tural seems true: the tac­tic of sum­mon­ing a civil ser­vice com­mis­sion to re­solve a deep is­sue of the­o­log­i­cal ethics, the Pilling Re­port, con­firms his fears. Like­wise the lack of con­cern for the other ma­jor church com­mu­nions and their teach­ing, the Ortho­dox and Rome, was some­thing he feared as an Angli­can catholic.

The Church of Eng­land is now con­se­crat­ing women bish­ops, deep­en­ing di­vi­sion even if ar­guably cor­rect on bib­li­cal grounds, and it seems to be pre­par­ing the ground to ac­cept the Pilling Re­port, again with no ref­er­ence to ec­u­meni­cal part­ners. Ben­nett would no doubt be hor­ri­fied at the growth of Angli­can multi-faith teach­ing and prac­tice, grad­u­ally con­sent­ing to a kind of re­li­gious rel­a­tivism, avoid­ing the of­fence of the cross, ‘fool­ish­ness to the Greeks and a stum­bling block to the Jews’, as St Paul put it.

This new view of ‘mis­sion’ as find­ing agree­ment with all other faiths also makes it cer­tain that es­tab­lish­ment has to change, prob­a­bly when Charles ac­cedes to the throne: the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the top end of es­tab­lish­ment, in to­day’s multi faith con­text in a sec­u­lar­ist eth­i­cal frame­work, seems dif­fi­cult.

The core prob­lem is lib­er­al­ism and its place in any church of Je­sus Christ. Once or­tho­doxy be­comes op­tional, or even dis­par­aged, no church can main­tain apos­tolic health. A lib­eral gad­fly ask­ing ques­tions is one thing, a lib­eral core is a recipe for chaos.

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