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Monday, 11 August 2008

Big Issues in the Anglican Communion

This blog is usually seasonal, and tied to the dates & times of General Synod.


However, as the Lambeth Conference draws to a close, hot on the heels of the General Synod in July, and GAFCon in June, it has been a summer for hot debates - even if the British Summer has yet to get going - allowing for some additional inter-synodical posting.

Lambeth had many ‘Big Issue’ debates, or ‘indabas’ as apparently we now call them (though reputedly some debates were not properly had) - covering a number of Communion-splitting issues. They have been well covered elsewhere (for example here, and here and their subsequent links).

At least one of the reasons given by some not attending the Lambeth conference was because ‘the fabric [of the Anglican Communion] had been torn’ by the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2004. This got me thinking about some of the Big Issue debates that the church has had throughout it’s history.

What have some of the church-tearing issues of the past been? Well, before the writings New Testament were even complete, there was the questions about food offered to idols - still a current issue in some parts of the world, such as India, where I grew up as a child; or whether to become a Christian one had to first become a Jew - leading to what became known as the most un-fun sounding ‘Circumcision Party’.

Later, the even more significant church-ripping events were the filioque creedal clause that created the separation of the Eastern church from the West; or the Reformation that caused the separation of Protestant from Roman Catholic denominations, and the later sub-divisions based on infant or adult baptism (the CofE supports both); or even the abolition of slavery debates that John Newton and William Wilberforce were involved in

It is traditional, of course, for any remaining group to belittle the ‘reasons’ that a secessionist group had for splintering, (which is what Anglicans generally do with Methodists, and is one reason why the CofE still has to put up with Henry VIII wives jokes from RC comedians, even though there are Orthodox jokes at the expense of the RCs as well... ). It is easier to jest, rather than trying to understand the often well established thought processes and theological arguments that are the fundamental causes for the divisions, whichever group the secessionists may be:


Lambeth Report video on the Colbert Report

So what might some of the next (God forbid...) Big Communion-Tearing Issues be? Well, I suspect:
  • Lay Presidency
  • the Centrality or Uniqueness of Christ;
and perhaps
  • ‘is the CofE/Anglican Communion “Catholic and Reformed” or “Protestant”?’

It is possible the last of those, Catholic & Reformed or Protestant, has already been answered for us in recent comments by Cardinal Bertone (for the Roman Catholic church) and the Orthodox church, comments summed up by ‘you can never really be one with us if you have women bishops’ - like we had ever even got close before, when we had women priests, or women deacons, or married male priests - or in fact any priests/bishops at all that were not and are not recognised by them, which the CofE never has been. But frankly, even if the Anglican church is not Protestant, it still clearly Reformed, because it saw a need for Reformation from where it had previously been allied; so that distance should not have come as a sudden surprise to Orthodox or Roman Catholics, even if it apparently has this time to Anglo-catholics shocked at Synod’s decision...

Eucharistic Presidency - presiding at Holy Communion is normally a rôle reserved exclusively to priests and bishops. The discussion of whether others not ordained priest could preside at communion services, ie Lay Presidency, was dismissed by the CofE house of bishops back in 1997; however, it is an area that as been raised by the Diocese of Sydney, and has also been spoken of in other CofE circles in the past. For the more catholic elements of both the CofE and the Anglican communion at large however, lay presidency is an anathema.

A contrasting anathema for evangelicals is the idea that the Centrality/Uniqueness of Christ to the Christian faith could be watered down. That was perhaps partly what was behind Paul Eddy’s mysteriously evaporating and controversial (as apparently a majority of bishops were against it) Private Members Motion* that was first on, and then off the agenda for last July’s Synod. Some commentators saw it as a short-sighted and potentially damaging motion that would be detrimental to interfaith relations in the UK and abroad. Others see it as a vital drawing of a line in the sand to make sure that orthodox Christianity is not lost. It is understood that the motion will return to the Synod's agenda in future.

* The original text of Paul Eddy's Motion:
That this Synod request the House of Bishops to report to the Synod on their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain's multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none.

Alastair Cutting GS101

Post Script
This blog normally fluctuates in it's appearing according to Synod dates, and consequently so do it's viewing figures. However this July, with assistance from other posters, and especially Justin's magnificent tour-de-force on the Women Bishop's debate (where I am reliably informed, vote results were going up within 35 seconds of being announced - the fastest on the net!) there was a huge surge in interest. For those interested, the graph below comes courtesy of SiteMeter's tracking: