Stand together

A member of Reform finds hope in the recent discussions with FiF

 

Last month an extraordinary group of clergy met for the day at Pusey House in Oxford. The clergy were made up of representatives from Forward-in-Faith and Reform, and we were convened by Cost of Conscience.

The meeting was significant in that it not only allowed for a frank exchange of views over a range of issues, it also highlighted the growing conviction amongst traditionalists of all types that the theological innovations which they shall have to confront, when the Church of England attempts to consecrate female bishops, is of such a nature and order that it will have a dramatic effect not only upon authentic Anglican Catholics but upon full-blooded Anglican Evangelicals as well.

Given this situation, when two doctrinally committed groups within the church are fighting for their very survival, the necessity of co-operating with each other in the overall war becomes an imperative.

Natural allies?

From the outset it needs to be admitted that on the surface the prospects of a deeper level of co-belligerency do not look promising. First of all, meetings between Anglican Catholics and Evangelicals over the years have been few and far between, with the result that ancestral feuds have not been adequately addressed and deep suspicions, often based on hearsay, rumour and exaggeration have been allowed, if not positively encouraged.

This is a great pity, which should provoke repentance on both sides, for if what we are confronting is the complete reshaping of Christianity itself, it seems to be bordering on the absurd for the two credal and orthodox groups in the church to be struggling against the same enemy, but in splendid isolation from each other.

For all sorts of reasons such a state of affairs ought not to exist, for on strictly theological and ecclesiological grounds it ought to be remembered that both the leaders of Reform and Forward-in-Faith are inextricably bound to each other, as both have received the same Orders from the same Bishops, and they have both been welded by the same oaths into the one Church of England.

On this level we ought to appreciate that we are, nil we will we, in full and unimpaired communion with each other. To be sure, there are significant and deep theological differences and emphases between Reform on the one hand and Forward-in-Faith on the other, and these need to be confronted openly and respectfully. But the point to grasp at this juncture is that in our common resistance to an aggressive God-denying liberalism, we need to rediscover together the true genius of Anglicanism which is nothing less than Reformed Catholicity.

Work to be done

To my mind this will of necessity mean that some members of Forward-in-Faith will need to listen more carefully to the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles (rather than wistfully attempting to embrace specifically Roman doctrines) and some members of Reform will need to embrace more fully the insistence of the Ordinal upon the role of Episcopacy (rather than wistfully looking towards Sydney as the new Geneva).

If we are to do this it is obvious that we can only do so together. And it is here that the real danger lies. For whilst it would be safe to say that Reform as a whole is opposed to female presbyteral ordination, coming into existence immediately after the 1992 vote to permit female presbyters, she has been so far unable to coalesce coherently around any planned strategic opposition to which all can assent.

The result has been that although Reform knows what she is against, she is powerless to articulate what she is for, and as time has gone on and the churchís disobedience has grown more blatant, her members have found themselves trying to fight on all fronts at once, with the inevitable result that she has been able to achieve less and less, at the very time that apostasy in the church has been realized more and more.

It is precisely at this point that Forward-in-Faith has been able to devote much concentrated, high-level, theological thinking. Having suffered far less from the all too pervasive evangelical weakness to simply regard the Church of England as the best boat to fish from, she has been able accurately to evaluate the ecclesiological, legal and theological incoherence that will be introduced into the Church of Englandís life once female bishops are introduced.

A new province

As a consequence much energy and thought has gone into the creation of a new province, and all this has been comprehensively spelled out in Consecrated Women? To my mind this is a rational, sane and deeply attractive response to the chaos that will soon engulf the Church of England, should she continue on her present course, but what is more to the point is that those who seek to embrace the new province, as envisaged by Forward-in-Faith will not be required to embrace anything that is not fully consonant with a Reformed Catholicity that was bequeathed to all of us, both Reform and Forward-in-Faith, by the magisterial Reformation as it found expression, by Godís grace, in England.

But, and it is a big but, if we are to embrace this future together we can only do so by becoming vulnerable to each other, and both sides must be prepared to reject anything that is not fully compatible with the doctrine of the true Church of England as it is articulated in the Scriptures, Prayer Book, Ordinal and Articles.

If we are willing to do this it may be that our children and grandchildren will be able to inherit that which was first of all passed down to us.

 

Nigel Atkinson is Vicar of Knutsford and Toft

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