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The Church of England stress-tested

[ by Charles Cameron — of integrity and flexibility in that most curious chameleon of a religious institution, the Church of England, of which I am still fond at a distance ]


The Church of England is run, if that’s the word, by the three houses of its General Synod, and just this week the the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted to approve the ordination of women bishops, while the House of Laity voted against the idea — and since all three houses have a veto, carried the day.

Be it noted that there are in fact women priests in the Church of England, and women bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion of which the Church of England is the mother province.

In the Church of England, however, a woman is still barred from being ordained a bishop.


There’s a Church of England blogger I follow to catch the more conservative slant on things — he calls himself Archbishop Cranmer after a celebrated Anglican divine — and in a recent post titled Church of England remains a bit more Catholic, His Grace remarked:

The Church of England is historical and so mortal. It is a creature of continual creation; of adaptability in religio-political fluidity. It opposes immutability in theological expression, recognising that mobility is intrinsic to mortality: as believers are continually converted to God, there must be continual conversion to the nature of the Church, and those confessional bodies must be mutable, for none possesses exclusive ownership of the identity of Christ.

The Church of England was never designed to be Protestant, though it has elements of that movement within it. And it was certainly not Roman Catholic, though it drew on the strengths of that denomination to manifest the Church in a visible society. Its struggle has ever been how to permit freedom of the Spirit within ancient structures: how to put new wine into old wineskins.

This is why the Archbishop of York is right when he says there will be women bishops, because Anglicanism is a communion, and in that koinonia is toleration of mutual exclusives.

That’s an interesting formulation: toleration of mutual exclusives.

Cranmer winds up that particular post with the words:

You may hear talk of splits and schisms, but these are nothing more than the spats of human mortality. For as long as we can examine what sort of church we are and question our core principles and values, there will be discussion, debate, tears and joy. The moment we cease to disagree and hurt each other is the moment the church ceases to be church.

And that too is interesting — especially in view of St Paul‘s exhortation in Philippians 2:2:

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.


I believe Cranmer is right, and that the Church of England was indeed intended to house a variety of views, some of them tending Catholic, some tending Protestant.

But what I find most interesting here is his sense that the church quite properly opposes immutability in theological expression, recognising that mobility is intrinsic to mortality — because here we are coming very close to Christ‘s identification —

I am the way, the truth, and the life…

read in the light of Lao Tse‘s dictum —

The way that can be put into words isn’t the true Way.


And remembering always that CS Lewis once asked:

Is not the Tao the Word Himself, considered from a particular point of view?

and that Fr. Thomas Merton quotes with approval Dr Wu‘s “well-known Chinese translation of the New Testament” in which the Prologue to St John’s Gospel begins:

In the beginning was the Tao.


One other point.

A day or two after the vote in General Synod, His Grace posted an extensive excerpt from the parliamentary questions raised for Sir Tony Baldry MP to respond to, as Second Church Estates Commissioner. One such question was raised by Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): ‘

Does he agree that when the decision-making body of the established Church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society that it represents, its position as the established Church must be called into question?

To my minds, that’s an extraordinary question, and in the comments section of His Grace’s blog, one D. Singh said:

Your Grace

It is written: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’

Romans 12:2

One would have thought that after the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the hands of the Nazis for his unwillingness to go along with “decision-making body of the established Church” — in his case, the Lutheran Church in Germany at the time — a little more thought might need to be given before such a question was raised…


Oh, and somewhat amusingly, if you are inclined to be amused at such things — when Sir Tony Baldry addressed the House of Commons on the topic of women bishops — an idea whose time he clearly believed was long overdue — he was wearing the tie of London’s distinguished Garrick Club.

A private club close to London’s theatrical district, where:

‘actors and men of refinement and education might meet on equal terms’, where ‘patrons of the drama and its professors were to be brought together’, and where ‘easy intercourse was to be promoted between artists and patrons’…

Oh, and which to this day does not admit women as members.

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