EAMES’ OPTION FOR MESSY CHURCH
WHEN REFORM initiated the call to the Bishop of Ripon to discipline heretical Bishop Derek Rawcliffe for suggesting, via a homosexuals’ newspaper, the lowering, if not the abolition, of the age of consent for homosexual sex, it took around 24 hours for Bishop David Young to issue a terse press statement saying Bishop Rawcliffe’s commission had been withdrawn.
The Rev Philip Hacking, Reform’s chairman, who has been on the fastest learning curve of any clergyman in the Church in recent years in his relationship with the media, was far away from Sheffield conducting an evangelistic mission at Bishop Hannington Church, in Hove. Rushed into BBC studios in Brighton, Philip Hacking made his observations – included in the Sunday Programme – and returned to the Christian ministry he most revels in, doing evangelism.
Such has been the speed of Reform’s emergence in the Church and on the media as the voice of evangelicals, many people, including its fiercest critics in the hierarchy, perceive it as a perfectly-formed, tightly-knit, highly-sophisticated, financially well-heeled grouping. That is the myth. The reality is that Reform is, if not quite two-men-and-a-dog, a still relatively small grouping which generates a good deal of inner tension, holds its unity gratefully if precariously, prays without ceasing, and is learning every day how to handle its opportunities more effectively.
Thus the repeated charges that Reform is “a single issue hard-line group” or is “splitting the Church of England” or “going for a Church within a Church”, though rejected repeatedly by Reform, have only just been rebutted in terms of theological definition from an Anglican Communion perspective by David Holloway, of Jesmond, Newcastle, who explains why Reform pleads not guilty to such charges.
Using the Eames Commission model which argues the Anglican Communion might have to live with its profound interior disagreements, David Holloway notes Eames says impairments in communion, reduce “opportunities to participate in each others’ ministries”. He deduces the future in the Church of England may be “rather messy” but it can still operate within the Eames’ perception of being in impaired communion, rather than out of communion altogether.
So Reform’s suggestion that evangelical parishes – and doubtless many others without that label but who uphold traditional Christian moral teaching – might not invite their diocesan or suffragan/area bishops to Confirmation services is impairing communion, not withdrawing from it. In the interests of pastoral care in parishes, and to protect the pulpit and teaching ministry, bishops who cannot subscribe to the three-fold declaration relating to sexual morality, will not be “banned”; rather, koinonia with them will be impaired…. but it can be repaired. If the bishop has a change of mind and heart and says he can uphold biblical and Christian teaching, then the invitation back into full communion is immediately issued. Or, when his successor arrives and proves to be orthodox in belief, then no problem remains and communion is restored.
As David Holloway deduces “the bishop is not banned – that is juridical and ultra vires. Rather it is a matter of invitation and welcome. Any subsequent non-diocesan Confirmation would be “valid” but `irregular. He adds “Nor is this petulant. Serious issues are at stake Reform is going the way of koinonia, not the courts.”
The question of where bishops will be found to conduct such valid-but- irregular Confirmations is not one that troubles Reform. There are retired bishops in the UK, but more excitingly there are great numbers of orthodox, believing bishops in the worldwide Communion who are only a plane journey away. Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, they are aghast at the crisis of confidence in the Gospel in their “Mother Church” and have said their help is available.
But there is no blueprint for all this, nor a long-agreed agenda. That is the myth. The reality bears repeating: Reform depends daily on God’s grace and wisdom, is stretched to the limits of all kinds of resources, its strategies only now veering from the reactive to the proactive. The prayers and active support of its 1300-plus membership continue to be its most-prized assets.