There have been some strange goings on amongst evangelical Anglicans in Newcastle in recent days. Peter Carrell, who is Director at Theology House and Director of Education in the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, offered this succinct summary, together with his reaction to the events, which I reproduce here with permission.
In the last few days Anglican news has taken an unexpected twist and turn. About a week ago the GAFCON Primates announced that they were thinking of ordaining a bishop for the British Isles. Cue wondering who that might be, which country they might come from, where their support would be and whether or not they would in some way be recognised by the powers that be.
But a couple of days ago it was announced that a senior priest/presbyter in the Jesmond Parish (Diocese of Newcastle, England), Jonathan Pryke, has been ordained a bishop by bishops of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa [REACH SA] (formerly known as the Church of England in South Africa [CESA]). This church, for the record, has orders recognised by the CofE.
At this point, because you will be bursting with episcopathological fervour to know more (sometimes also known as epistemology), I need to point you to some articles and press releases and what have you, because “why” Jonathan has been ordained a bishop, “where” his territory (or even simply his focus) will be, “what” his relationship with his licensing bishop (as a priest/presbyter) will be, and “to whom” he will be accountable as a bishop, to say nothing of “whether” he will be disciplined and “by whom” is quite beyond this bear of small brain.
Try here, here, here and here. Also, fascinatingly, here for the relationship of REACH SA, CPSA and the CofE. Note also this report which suggests that despite ad hoc action(s) taking now or proposed now, a larger plan is being worked out. Also Andrew Brown on the case here.
But here is what I do get about this situation, as an evangelical Anglican I am embarrassed that:
- Other evangelical Anglicans have taken unilateral action ordaining a bishop without transparently informing proper authorities (the Bishop of Newcastle, the Archbishop of York) of intention to do so. Does not basic courtesy and commitment to living in the light require that?
- When GAFCON and its English partner, AMiE, had another plan, this action is unilaterally taken against that plan. What is it about fraternity and coherency that these English and other evangelicals do not get?
- Also, in terms of walking in the light, how could Jonathan Pryke, on the executive of AMiE, not inform his fellow executive members of what was going to happen? Are they not on the same side? Why hide things? In what way does such manner of doing things enhance the reputation of evangelical Anglicans?
It is not unknown for evangelicals to operate factionally rather than coherently, it is a bug in the feature of the Reformational DNA which spawned evangelicalism!
I think in this situation there are also significant episcopathological questions about what we Anglican evangelicals understand ecclesiology is. I will leave that for another post, save for this teaser: Is it not strangely “Catholic” rather than “Anglican” when we go outside our national church boundaries to secure the ordaining hands of another bishop in order to have a bishop “of our own”?
Peter Carrell’s comments above say almost everything that I would want to about the event itself. But there are some wider issues that it is also worth reflecting on.
First, I get the impression that those supportive of a GAFCON move to consecrate a bishop in England from within the Anglican Communion look on the events with a mixture of disdain, frustration and probably some anger. Whereas they had a considered plan which operated within the Communion as a whole, this move has jumped the gun without proper consideration or consultation. And I suspect that GAFCON supporters hope that everyone can see the difference between the two initiatives. But they won’t. Most of those within the Church of England will not be able to tell the difference, and the same will be true of all of those outside the Church. Both initiatives will appear to all but the best informed (and most highly motivated) to be petty, fracturing and unhelpful interference from people outside the Church of England. (I am not claiming that this view is correct—just that this will be the widespread perception.)
Secondly, it is becoming abundantly clear that this sort of approach to dealing with the perceived drift in the doctrine and teaching in the Church is singularly unhelpful. For one thing, no new line has been crossed: canon law has not been revised; the liturgy has not been changed; nothing formal has changed in the Church’s teaching. If some are unhappy with the drifting practice of the Church, then they should probably have left the C of E in the 1960s, when, if anything, both practice and teaching were more heterodox than they are now. But the bigger question for evangelicals in the Church of England is: Why adopt a strategy of institutional separation rather than continue to engage and lobby from within? If evangelicals believe that they are the ones who are being faithful to the actual, historic teaching of the Church, why simply hand that to others by engaging in this ecclesial jiggery-pokery? The appointment of Rod Thomas as Bishop of Maidstone looked to many like a significant concession to conservative evangelical views, and these other episcopal moves look very much like evangelicals wanted to have their ecclesial cake and eating it—in another venue of their own choosing. You only have to look at the mess that is TEC in the United States to see that this strategy is not the way to go.
But, thirdly, I think the Diocese of Newcastle and its bishop need to think very carefully about what action to take in response. At one level, anything less than a serious move, such as removing Jonathan Pryke’s license, could be seen as an institutional failure. The problem is that this will then play straight into the hands of those who want to see more splintering. If the Church fails to remove the licences of those who teach contrary to core doctrines of the Church (such as members of the Sea of Faith movement, who don’t believe God is ‘real’) or those who are living in contravention of the teaching of the Church on marriage and sexuality, then it proves to those in Newcastle and their supporters that the Church is more concerned about ecclesial form than doctrinal substance.
To all involved here: handle with care.
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