I have to confess that I enjoyed the “Ugley Vicar” John Richardson’s exposition on women bishops in the Church of England as it relates to the CoE’s relationship with the state. I recommend it highly, especially to my American readers, who generally don’t think in terms other than the construct we have. (And that, sad to say, goes for just about everything in life, including civil marriage…)
In any case, let me outline the takeaways I got out of this:
- In the beginning, the Church in a pagan nation like Rome was pretty much on its own. As he quotes Thomas Cranmer: “And at that time, forasmuch as the christian people had no sword nor governor amongst them, they were constrained of necessity to take such curates and priests as either they knew themselves to be meet thereunto, or else as were commended unto them by other that were so replete with the Spirit of God, with such knowledge in the profession of Christ, such wisdom, such conversation and counsel, that they ought even of very conscience to give credit unto them, and to accept such as by them were presented…”
- The development of a Christian society in Europe led to the development/possibility of the “Christian prince,” who could take a leadership role in the life of the Church. As noted in Article of Religion 37, “… which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.”
- The temporal power held by the Pope necessitated the transfer of the headship of the church from the Pope to the King (or Queen) of England, which led to the situation the Church of England has today. That wasn’t a universally admired solution at the time (Martin Luther didn’t like it) but in the end neither Luther nor Zwingli nor Calvin nor most of the other Reformers come up with anything much different in practice.
I’m not really sure what Richardson’s point is about this and women bishops in the CoE, probably became I’m not a participant in some of the more arcane aspects of Anglican canon law. But I have noted that the above leaves two important questions unanswered:
- Why can we have a female “Lady and Governor of the Church” (which is headship) and not have women bishops exercising headship as well?
- Why can’t Parliament, if it so chooses, acting under the Queen’s “broad seal” simply shove women bishops (along with gay ones, etc) down the CoE’s throat?
Given this, Richardson is beginning to have doubts about the Church of England’s basic construct:
But might it not be time to question the whole enterprise?
We are, after all, “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). Our being under the ‘law of the land’ regarding the implementation of our theology, then, is an anomaly, brought about by the peculiarities of Anglican history and theology, but hardly intrinsic to the nature of the gospel.
Moreover, the arrangement under which that operates is increasingly dysfunctional. The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament clearly thinks it has a right to hold the Church to account regarding its ministry. Would that Committee be equally willing to convey to Parliament the Church’s reproofs and rebukes — for that is what the Henrician settlement would envisage?
Our difficulty constructing a satisfactory law to cover the present need is perhaps an argument in itself that the whole enterprise is reaching its ‘sell by’ date. Perhaps the opponents of Clause 5(1)c are more right than they realize — perhaps it is time to let grace and goodwill be the rule itself.
That’s the conclusion that we came to in this country when we passed the First Amendment. The effort for same didn’t come from just Freemasons, deists and atheists: it came also from dissenting churches who wanted to worship as they felt God had instructed them to. Things move a little slower in Albion than one would like, but evidently they’re moving.
The really sad part of this is that we as Americans, having set up this construct and run it successfully for more than two centuries, are unconsciously abandoning it. From the theonomistic tendencies of some Christian leaders to the reflexive bullying of people and institutions that don’t toe whatever “politically correct” line that’s being pushed from the top, we need to wake up to our own heritage before we lose it for good, and end up with not-so-Christian princes making decisions for our citizens and churches that they have no real right to do.