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WHERE IS THE CHURCH?

One of the problems of both extreme Anglo Catholicism and extreme Evangelicalism within our tradition is that they constantly make their appeal to an entity which doesn’t exist and which is external.  Granted there exists within “Catholic” Christendom some pretty fundamental agreements on the nature of the sacraments, of Holy Orders, but when one comes to the nature of the Church, there are very strong differences between Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and the  minuscule Utrecht Union churches.  Where Anglicans look outside themselves for help in settling questions of authority, there “Catholicism” lets them down, for the reason I’ve stated.

In a sense this was Newman’s undoing. He was attacked for his necessary reliance on discovering true Catholicism in the Undivided Church, a deceased body!  And so he took the step, I believe as much cultural as theological, in locating true Catholic “magisterium” in contemporary Roman Catholicism. Indeed he gifted his new home with his theory of doctrinal development, a theory which swiftly came back to bite him in the Dogma of Papal Infallibility. If it bit Roman Catholicism in modern times it has given Anglicanism rabies!

Our Evangelical friends have an even more difficult task because they locate their authority in something called “Reformed” theology: and for historical reasons are as wont to ignore Lutheranism as Catholics ignore Orthodoxy. That for Anglicans, such a theology only existed in an enfleshed form for barely three years during the reign of Edward VI, fought a losing battle in Elizabeth I’s reign, only to rise from its sectarian grave to devour Anglicanism during the Interregnum, remains a problem. And now our Sydney friends, still smarting that Hooker won the argument for us, want to complete the Reformation Travers, Cartwright and their ilk failed to bring about. Both parties refuse to locate “the True Church” within Anglicanism. Catholicism is not of course as an exclusive possession, but may be claimed by Anglicans in the sense that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church exists in microcosm where the biblical, catholic community gathers.

Yes, Anglican structure is not proving adequate to resist the lawlessness which overtook Western culture in the 60s and thus gives license to the “me” generation in TEC, and it would seem Sydney to do as they please. Whether this structural failure is a fatally practical judgement on “Anglican dispersed authority” is quite another matter. To my mind, in theory, our non-coercive model, which expects Provinces to behave with Christian responsibility towards each other and towards the authority of our formularies is adult and mature. A Covenant which clearly commits our Provinces to the principles and mission of Reformed Catholicism is, I admit, needed, but I would put the stress on recapitulating our ecclesiology and essential matters of doctrine, discipline and worship. If immature Provinces can’t stomach that which we espouse as Anglicans, let them go in the corner until they can behave.

It is for this reason that I hesitate to advocate our saddling ourselves with reformed structures which may well prove unnecessary when this silly generation has passed away and sounder and more reasonable attitudes reappear. Dispersed authority still works pretty well in the Orthodox world in which attempts to behave badly are dealt with sternly with the ecclesiastical version of a smacked bottom.

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