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INCOMPETENCE

Until perhaps thirty-five years ago the standard text for part of the Doctrine component of a seminary education was Bicknell on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Back then the Articles were described by our Constitution as being “in use” in all dioceses and missionary dioceses and commentaries on Canon Law suggested that the oaths clergy then took included the Articles in their orbit. Bicknell was first published in 1919. My copy is the one revised by Harry Carpenter, Bishop of Oxford in the 1950s. Of course Evangelicals in those days preferred a commentary by Griffith Thomas. I have no idea what is used today. I have Alister McGrath’s “Christian Theology” – he doesn’t mention Hooker even as a foot note! – which one supposes is in succession to those useful manuals once authored by people such as CB Moss and Francis Hall. I’m also fond of Geoffrey Wainwright’s “Doxology” and to return to the Articles proudly possess a copy of Bishop Forbes’ “An Explanation of the Thirty_Nine Articles: which he dedicated to Dr. Pusey. I digress, but only to make the astounding suggestion that a study of the Articles once gave us some inkling as to the levels of competence and incompetence enjoyed by the various levels of the Church.

I have no idea what texts were in the hands of our bishops when they attended seminary, or whether any sustained, systematic study of “Dogmatics” was presented to them. I have a lurking suspicion that for the past number of decades, any attempt to provide theological students with a curriculum based thoroughly on Anglican texts and of course fleshed out with other bodies of divinity has been absent. Anecdotally I am struck by the number of bright theologs I know who have stumbled upon classical Anglican authors by accident rather than intent.

In my day the onslaught on the authority of Scripture was in full swing, but study of Patristics, Church History and Anglican Doctrine Discipline and Worship hadn’t yet reached the point where any “traditional” approach to anything was deemed suspicious, and that which emerged from the Conciliar period “dissed” as the triumph of the “winners”. Mind you the present “winners” and their version, it is assumed, is pristine in its conclusions and not at all influenced by contemporary power blocks or socio-political considerations!

I bore you with all this because I am amazed how easily we all seem to speak from a level of incompetence. By “incompetence” I do not mean ignorance, but rather our asserting an authority we do not possess. Clergy and vestries make decisions to permit rites which are not permitted, or to “leave the church” as if they had the moral and spiritual competence to make such a collective decision. Bishops and diocesan officials plan to secede, nominating committees include candidates for election to the episcopate unqualified by Canon, General Conventions assume that they may do as they please, given the requisite majority vote, protesting a level of particular competence of astounding audacity. Groups of Primates presume to speak for the Communion, trotting out pious statements about fidelity to the Gospel, as if, when one feels sufficiently provoked, one may take a scalpel to separate the Gospel from the Church in order to create an ecclesial association of the like-minded.

Even Colenso, or the Kenyan Bishops in the Kikuyu Controversy, the Bishop of Hong Kong and astoundingly, the Canadian and American Churches over the ordination of women, were unable to provoke their opponents to the measure of incompetency we now encounter almost every day. One can only conclude that as no one much is intentionally formed in the basics of what Evangelicals and Catholics alike once called Churchmanship, now all may win and all may take the prize, all are competent to take what action may be deemed expedient as long as God, or the Bible or some other standard are invoked. Our new Anglican mission statement is surely the last verse of the Book of Judges!