Stay Focussed

It is not unusual to hear the complaint, even among supporters of Forward in Faith, that we are still focused on the issues of 1992 when we should be channelling our energies into more productive areas like evangelism, spiritual growth, Christian education and the development of an orthodox but creative approach to ethics and social responsibility.

Unfinished business

There are times when we find it difficult not to be sympathetic to our critics. Indeed, those of us who have spent a huge slab of our adult lives in the battle for Catholic orthodoxy at the point where it has been attacked in our Church would love to move on. But we dare not. The fight is not over. The battle is not finished. All along, 1992 was really about women bishops and the resultant diminution of apostolicity with dire consequences for the ecumenical journey to which we were supposedly committed.

So, while not neglecting those other imperatives (and those who travel note that they are, in fact, least neglected in Forward in Faith parishes!) it is important for us in Australia as in the USA and the UK to re-focus for the task that lies ahead if we are to rise above the battle-weariness that can get the better of us in these dark days.

To achieve this we must first of all re-visit the reasons why we oppose the purported ordination of women. Around 1992 it was fashionable for Anglo Catholics to rely on the ‘ecumenical argument’ … that is, Anglican provinces should not ordain women because the wider Catholic Church doesn’t do it. At one level, of course, that is absolutely right and nothing more needs to be said. But in the light of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (John Paul II, 1994) and the CDF’s Responsum ad Dubium (1995) it is important that we are now able to give a proper and convincing theological rationale for our position, to be able to explain why the Catholic Church doesn’t ordain women. This at least means looking again at Inter Insignores (CDF, 1976), together with texts like Steve Clarke’s Man and Woman in Christ and Manfred Hauke’s Women in the Priesthood.

Wider horizons

A fundamental problem in the years leading up to the 1992 vote was the tendency of Anglo-Catholics to be confined to ecclesial and iconographic arguments, leaving evangelicals to expound the Scriptural ones. This had the unfortunate effect of weakening our overall case in the eyes of many church people. We need to redress the situation this time round by taking Scripture more seriously, and looking carefully at the evangelical arguments as set out in texts like Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds) and the papers posted on the Equal but Different website.

A useful weapon

At All Saints’ Wickham Terrace we have found that by far the best theological introduction for lay people covering both Catholic and Evangelical arguments, written from an Anglican perspective, is Women and the Apostolic Ministry (G. Richmond Bridge) published in 1997 by The Convent Society, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Because the ordination of women impacts on most areas of doctrine in one way or another, it is not surprising that those who embark on a fresh and comprehensive study of the topic using texts such as these, find themselves being challenged and renewed in their grasp of the full sweep of Christian theology.

The second thing we must do at this crucial time is to renew our acquaintance with the Forward in Faith Mission Statement: We seek an ecclesial structure in which our children and grandchildren can grow in faith; which will continue the orders of bishop, and priest as the Church has received them; and which can guarantee a true sacramental life.

Impairment of communion

It is so easy to forget this foundational statement of ours, or to push it into the background so as to have an easy time relating to liberal bishops. Indeed, those of us who tenaciously hold to it are regarded as extremists, sometimes even by fellow members of Forward in Faith! Liberal bishops have frequently tried to drive a wedge between us and our more ‘moderate’ members who feel unable conspicuously to support the development of alternative episcopal ministry. We need to remember that the Mission Statement gives us our raison d’être.

The impairment of communion which we experience at the very heart of church life was forecast by Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals alike in the years leading up to 1992. Yet only in England and Wales did the church recognize this and provide alternative episcopal ministry – the possible beginnings of the Mission Statement’s ecclesial structure. In the USA and Australia, members of Forward in Faith have had to depend on informal arrangements with diocesan bishops who have (for the most part reluctantly) allowed visiting or retired bishops to officiate at confirmations.

The UK and Australia are now facing synodical processes designed to result in women bishops. In the USA where a handful of women bishops already exist, disputes over Christology and same-sex unions have brought ECUSA to a real crisis. The fact is that these three national groupings of Forward in Faith are simultaneously looking at how to achieve the goal of the Mission Statement.

The ecclesial future

In England an enormous amount of consultation and hard work has gone into the Free Province proposals. In the USA last year’s Forward in Faith National Assembly chose two godly priests whose names have been offered to the Presiding Bishop for consideration as PEVs. In the absence of a positive response from him, the names of these two priests will be suggested to overseas provinces of the Anglican Communion for election and consecration. In Australia where the Anglican Church is really a federation of autonomous dioceses, Forward in Faith supports the ‘Sydney proposal’ of ‘complete alternative episcopal oversight’ with each parish being able to choose the diocese to which it belongs, with the undoubted result of a number of overlapping ‘families’ or jurisdictions of Anglicans.

Through our fellowship with orthodox primates and other leaders throughout the Anglican Communion these ‘structures’ within English, American and Australian Anglicanism will clearly relate to each other and to the Communion itself – remembering that at the international level decisions taken mostly by liberal first world Christians have resulted in a looser reality that no longer enjoys the basic sign of actually being a ‘communion’ – the interchangeability of ministers.

Cousins not brothers

Archbishop Peter Jensen spoke about this in England recently. He said, ‘I suspect therefore we are on the verge of accepting that episcopacy does not have to be territorial … we are … coming to terms with the fact that, speaking sociologically not theologically, we (Anglicans) are going to have to be ‘cousins’ rather than ‘brothers’ in some situations.’

Given what the liberals have done to Anglicanism, that sounds like maintaining the highest degree of communion possible.

David Chislett is Rector of All Saints’, Brisbane, a Forward in Faith Parish.