Sunday, January 16, 2011

I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

By Robin G. Jordan

Ancient Rome is remembered for its emperors, its legions, and its roads. Modern Rome will be remembered for its popes. Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC. The Roman legions would eventually conquer a large part of Britain and turn it into Roman province. Pope Benedict XVI invaded the British Isles in 2010 AD. Will it become a province of Rome once again?

The General Synod is in large part to blame for the latest Roman incursion against the Church of England. It failed to make adequate provision for the opponents of women bishops and took away the provisions made for those opposed to women’s ordination. It left Anglo-Catholic congregations and clergy that could not on account of their theological convictions accept women in ordained ministry no recourse but turn to Rome and gave Rome an opportunity to exploit. Pope Benedict XVI saw the opportunity and seized it. How much damage the ordinariate will inflict upon the Church of England will be revealed in coming months. It may be several years before the full extent of the damage is realized.

This development shows how vulnerable the Church of England is to politics. Politics lies behind the admission of women into the ordained ministry of the Church of England and behind the decision to admit women to its episcopate. The basis for the ordination of woman in the Church of England is not theological. It is political. The passages of Scripture cited in support of women’s ordination really do not support the practice. They are generally taken out of context and then read in such a way so as to appear to offer plausible grounds for women’s ordination. If we, however, we read them in context with attention to authorial intent and regard to their plain meaning, the support they seem to provide for women’s ordination evaporates. We find no real support for women presbyters and bishops in the New Testament. We find very weak support for woman deacons.

This admittedly creates a quandary for a number of us. We recognize that God has not withheld his spiritual gifts from the women in the Church and they make a vital contribution to the life and ministry of the Church. At the same time we do not find in Scripture clear and conclusive evidence that the practice of women’s ordination is agreeable with the Holy Scriptures. We desire to affirm women’s spiritual gifts and their contribution to the Church’s life and ministry but we cannot in good conscience affirm women’s ordination. We are not motivated by chauvinism or misogyny. We have no desire to enslave, oppress, or subordinate women as we are sometimes unfairly accused. The sticking point for us is Scripture and we hold to the rule of faith and therefore we cannot ignore what Scripture says.

What has not helped matters is that women aspiring to become ordained ministers have proven vulnerable to theology that is not consonant with Scripture. From the perspective of Scripture and church tradition women’s ordination, while is has gained acceptance in some denominations, is radical. Openness to one radical idea leads to openness to another radical idea and so on. One set of radical ideas is apt to attract another set of radical ideas. Consequently, in those quarters in which women’s ordination receives its strongest support, one is likely to find strong support for other radical ideas, for example, the normalization of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual relationships, which are also not consonant with Scripture.

While the Church struggles with these difficult issues, those outside the Church seek to influence the outcome in the Church. The teaching of the Scripture and the tender consciences of Christians means little to them. They are not in their own consciences affected by what Scripture teaches and they cannot understand how the consciences of others would be affected. Since their consciences are not troubled, they regard it to be an easy thing for a Christian to disregard the troubling of his conscience. To their way of seeing things the Christian is making too much of a little thing and therefore he must have hidden or ulterior motives. Scripture teaches Christians to be sensitive to the consciences of their brothers and sisters. Modern culture does not. Contemporary notions of tolerance are not the same thing.

The struggle in the Church of England and her daughter churches over these difficult issues present the Church of Rome with a favorable opportunity that it can use to weaken and undermine the Anglican Church, which is its largest rival in Africa and other parts of the world. The ecumenism of the last century may have lulled some Anglicans into thinking that the Church of Rome has no designs on the Anglican Church. However, if we examine the outcome of ecumenical dialogue from that period, we discover that Rome never budged from its positions while the Anglo-Catholics and liberals involved in the talks with the Church of Rome went to great lengths to gloze over the differences between the two Churches. This leads one to question what good was accomplished by these talks. All that was created was a false atmosphere of bonhomie. In the process Roman Catholic liturgical texts and practices were introduced into the Anglican Church, ostensibly to bring the two Churches closer together. The Anglican liturgy began to resemble the Roman Catholic liturgy. Roman Catholics visiting Anglican churches have noticed the similarities between the two liturgies and via versa. These similarities, however, are superficial. They conceal serious differences between the two Churches.

A second effect of the ecumenical dialogue was the greater acceptance of Roman Catholic doctrine in the Anglican Church. Anglicans were misled into believing that the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church had similar positions on a range of issues, which was far from the truth.

Conservative evangelicals would call attention to the differences between historic Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen reminded Anglicans that, while the Church of Rome took a conservative position on a number of social issues like abortion and euthanasia, it had not changed greatly from the sixteenth century and still was in great need of reform. Conservative evangelicals, however, have generally been ignored. What they have said is true but ecumenically correct Anglicans do not want to hear it.

The ecumenical movement would in part spawn the convergence movement that saw itself in the vanguard of a new church order. The Holy Spirit, convergence movement leaders proclaimed, was bringing the sundered Church together. They were in the forefront of a new prophetic movement of the Holy Spirit.

But the convergence movement upon close examination resembles in a number of ways the eighteenth century Usager Non-Jurist movement and the nineteenth century Ritualist movement. It has a romantic view of past. Like these two movements it is prone to antiquarianism and medievalism. It is non-critical in its approach to the Patristic writers and its interpretation of Scripture is highly questionable. Like the Continuing Church, it has been particularly vulnerable to fragmentation. Its blending of Pentecostalism with a High Church style of worship is reminiscent of the Irvingites. It has little use for the Reformation.

All these developments have tended to play into the hands of the Church of Rome.

Yet is the Church of Rome the savior of Anglicans and their patrimony as it seeks to portray itself? The name of the first ordinariate provides the answer—the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The first ordinariate is dedicated to the oldest apparition of the Virgin Mary seen in Northern Europe. The Church of England rejected Mariolatry at the Reformation. Devotions to the Virgin Mary including processions with the statue of Mary and the petitioning of Jesus’ mother for favors has no place in historic Anglicanism. The ordinariate represents a return to the corruption and superstition of the pre-Reformation Medieval Church, to which has been added the innovations in doctrine and worship that Church of Rome adopted from the Council of Trent on.

Those leaving the Church of England for the Church of Rome may be in for some unpleasant surprises. If the creation of the ordinariates does not produce the results that Vatican may be anticipating, Pope Benedict or his successor may disband them and enfold them into the Roman Catholic Church’s archdiocesan structure. Benedict does not offer any guarantees to those accepting his offer and his successor will not be bound by it. After all, they are joining the Church of Rome in which the Pope is the supreme pontiff: he is the final authority on all ecclesiastical matters in the Roman Catholic Church.

1 comment:

RMBruton said...

Very good observations, having been raised on the other side of the Tiber, this will be my thirtieth year free of all that. The other Latin phrase which came to mind is Carpe Diem, for Benedict XVI really did seize the day, but as you indicate his successors are not obliged to honor such arrangements in perpetuity. The other question is that of marital-relations, have these men, and the ones to follow,been given restrictions or prohibitions on marital relations with their wives?