THE RECENT GATHERING in Toronto of Anglican and Roman Catholic top brass does seem to have raised more questions than it has answered. The fundamental question is what on earth is going on? The Church Times, establishment poodle that it is, dutifully printed a report based on a press release which bore all the hallmarks of Mary Tanner. The result is that we are none the wiser.
Apparently a small committee is to be set up to discuss the way ahead (on unity talks with the Church of Rome) – a committee which seems to sideline many of the major players. The General Synod’s ecumenical body, the CCU seems to be left out in the cold with everything at the Anglican end being handled at Lambeth Palace. Is Ian Cundy, the CCU’s Chairman, involved? Everything in the garden may look rosy to those ecumaniacs but their optimism finds few hard facts to support it.
The ARCIC report ‘Clarifications’ contains some controversial passages and a private members’ motion at General Synod rejecting its conclusions has attracted over 130 signatures. The motion has not yet come up for debate and it is unlikely to in the foreseeable future, but its supporters are numerous and cannot ultimately be ignored.
‘Ut unum sint’ has the appearance of being a softening-up document for non-Catholics. It purports to invite discussion on how the role of a universal primate could be incorporated by non-Roman churches but completely fails to address the yawning chasm between us.
Authority in Roman eyes derives from the traditions of the Church which gives validity to ‘?Scripture’ in the widest sense. The classic Protestant understanding is that authority derives from the revelation of the Scriptures (the 66 canonical books) by which the traditions of the Church are measured. That really doesn’t leave much room for compromise.
On the Roman side, Billy Steel and Bernard Longley understand that all too well. In fact they probably have a much better grasp of the situation than the Anglican negotiators who give no indication that they have the slightest idea of what the Reformers were on about – and in some cases went to the stake for. Esau at least got a bowl of soup for his birthright. Steel and Longley have clearly rumbled that the guys they are negotiating with don’t speak for the Church of England as a whole – and wouldn’t be able to win support for any scheme they come up with.
So they have started talking with other groupings within the C of E who represent a larger constituency than the dwindling liberal Catholic one.
The joint Lutheran–Roman Catholic declaration on the doctrine of justification shows just how beguiling the Roman negotiators can be, or perhaps just how far the Lutherans have drifted from the biblical moorings of their founder.
The divide on justification is quite as serious as the divide on authority. The Roman view on justification sees the sacraments of Rome as imparting Christ’s righteousness to the faithful, and it is exactly this language which the document uses. The Lutherans seem to have swallowed this proposition hook, line and sinker. In contrast Anglicans and other Protestants see justification as the unmerited grace of Christ imputing Christ’s righteousness to the penitent sinner. Once again there is a world of difference which can’t be papered over by honeyed words.
Evangelicals, who are a growing component of the Church of England, have long suffered cheap jibes about “not having an ecclesiology” because we hang loose to the historic episcopacy.
Well, we have got an “ology”. Evangelical ecclesiology is robust, logical and above all – biblical. The apostolic succession we believe in is the teaching of the Apostles handed down to us through the canon of Scripture. Canon A5 states uncompromisingly that the doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures.
So why the post-Toronto rush?
Well, the Bishop of Rome is an old man in a hurry and he is anxious to get an early agreement. He may be keen to get things done, but the present process is hardly likely to be crowned with success, especially if our Archbishop is being manipulated into having discussions behind closed doors.
If the agenda really is to unravel 450 years of the Church of England being reformed and to suck us back into the Church of Rome, then the whole enterprise is doomed to failure and is simply raising false hopes.
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod representing the Diocese of Rochester. He is also a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council.