Thomas Lindsay insists that we need to make it clear we would rather leave the CofE than abandon the Catholic faith
I wonder if I might offer some reflections on David Nicholl’s article Stop Dithering! last month? There is much within his article with which I found myself in agreement, but I came unstuck when he said, ‘The threat of leaving for another communion, even if not made explicitly, is deeply damaging.’
It seems to me that, sadly, we must be talking of the possibility of having to leave the Church of England. Why? Because it is a possibility. A statement like ‘When women are made bishops, only a new province will do for traditionalists’ surely means ‘If there is no new province when women are made bishops, traditionalists will be unchurched.’ Since Guildford has failed to find a miraculous new solution, honesty requires everyone to face this fact: without a new province, traditionalists (if they hope to remain traditionalists) will be unchurched. Traditionalists have a duty to make this clear to others, for this scenario will affect the whole of the Church of England.
If there is a danger of traditionalists being unchurched, then they have an evangelical duty to say so. The Church of England says it believes in the sufficiency of Scripture. That is to say, it claims that it will not impose any belief on its members which it cannot prove from Scripture, neither will it ‘ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written.’ So, for as long as the Church of England admits that the rightness of women’s ordination is uncertain, it has no authority to impose women’s ordination on any conscience.
If it ends up imposing women’s ordination because it bungles the provision, then this principle of the sufficiency of Scripture will have been destroyed. When one considers that the Church of England has justified its separate existence from Rome on the basis of the sufficiency of Scripture, it is clear that kicking us out will mean cutting off the branch it is sitting on. Even Evangelicals who support women’s ordination will have been unchurched – a synodical majority, not Scripture, will be the ultimate authority in the Church of England. We should surely be warning people that this is what they are doing if, by inadequate provision, they make acceptance of women’s ordination mandatory.
If no structural solution means faithful members of the Church of England are in effect kicked out, and faithful clergy and their families lose their homes, they should say so. Those who support Guildford’s inadequate provision need warning that their use of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation is doing unjust violence to those whom the Church of England recognizes as faithful Christians. When individuals abuse others they always injure themselves too.
We must speak out
On the other hand, I do not think it is politically damaging to state that inadequate provision will result in our ejection. Most members of the Church of England simply do not understand the theological issues at stake. But many see something is seriously wrong when the CofE harbours those who do not believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection, the incarnation, and the existence of God himself, but kicks out those who say the Church should remain faithful to the example of Christ on the matter of the apostolic ministry. When people recognize that clergy families are facing losing their homes and incomes over this uncertain innovation (despite the fact that traditionalists have been promised a secure place within the Church of England) they can see how corrupt it is.
If we say ‘When women are made bishops, only a new province will do for traditionalists’ but then we give the impression we will remain even if we do not get one, we do ourselves no end of damage. Why should we be given a new province if we don’t really need it? One of the weaknesses of our present position is that the masters seem to think we will simply accept whatever mean scraps they allow to fall from their tables. For the sake of the Church of England as much as for our own sake, we need to make it clear that we would rather leave the Church of England than abandon the Catholic faith.