Wow. What a week it’s been for discussion on Church Unity. This post is published in the week that Holy Trinity Brompton’s Leadership Conference was held on Church Unity, and when it has been announced that Rev Rod Thomas has been appointed as the Bishop of Maidstone for the conservative Evangelicals who cannot accept women bishops. I wasn’t at the HTB leadership conference, but I’ve been watching for comments on Twitter and Facebook on the conference, as well as comments about the appointment of Rod Thomas. I’ve not been disappointed. There have been tonnes of comments about both on social media. Some good, some not so good.
The Church, it seems, is obsessed about unity at the moment. And I suppose it’s not a bad thing to want to be unified. But, where once upon a time not so long ago it was seemingly easier to be unified, certain pressures over certain issues in the Church are causing people to reconsider. Yes, we all want unity, but the question on everyone’s mind seems to be “At what cost?”
I share in that question. But I want to go further. Who decides what the price is? Who decides on the criteria which deems someone “in” or “out” of the Church?
The Anglican Church in particular is dealing with the problem of unity at all costs at the moment. The Anglican Church is committed to being a “broad church”, and being broad makes up part of the very nature and identity of Anglicanism. But when does one get so broad that they become unorthodox?
Doctrine and theology, despite what people may say about the Anglican Church, suddenly starts to become important to Anglicans. Well, doctrine may…
Now, we’ve already seen an appointment of women bishops, we’ve seen the appointment of a conservative Anglo Catholic Bishop, and we’ve seen the appointment of a conservative Evangelical Bishop. And everywhere, people are upset and “disappointed” with these appointments. Well, one cannot have one’s cake and eat it.
At the end of the day, it’s my belief that whatever happens, someone is going to get hurt. And unity at all costs is also hurting people. Thankfully, we have good old Scripture, Reason and Tradition to help us out with these various issues that we struggle with.
People don’t want to listen to Scripture, Reason and Tradition anymore do they? After all, culture was so different “back then”, and the writers of the Bible were completely ignorant.
As for us, we’re far more superior to them. We have so much more knowledge so that we may lean on our own understanding of how to run Christ’s Church. And it’s not just about knowledge. It’s about what we feel is best, no matter what that annoying scripture, reason or tradition may say.
And anyway, love doesn’t just cover a multitude of sins… it covers a multitude of unorthodoxies, right?
But then we also have the problem between deciphering “unquestionable, unalterable doctrines” and “doctrines of conviction and opinion”. Who gets to decide on which doctrines fit in to either category, or a different category?
It’s been difficult to write this post without giving examples of what I deem to be the unquestionable doctrines, and doctrines that I can live in disagreement with. Unity needs to come from a place of love for Christ. And so relationship is key to unity – between human and God, and between human and human. But doctrine is also important… it needs to be looked at, studied, and argued over.
It’s my opinion that there is such thing as “orthodoxy”, or “absolute truths”… no matter what society and culture say to us. But how we get to orthodoxy can be complex, and often bruising. Nobody wants to be told they’re wrong, or that they are not being obedient to Christ. But if we are pursuing God, and we genuinely want to follow Christ as best as we can, then we need to get it right, don’t we? Christ didn’t simply allow people to go on sinning when they had an encounter with him. If I read correctly, encounters with Christ ended with a changed lifestyle, or a command to “go and sin no more”.
Maybe our questions about unity and doctrine should come out of an examination of the “broadness” of the Anglican Church. What does being broad mean? Is it about worship style, or is it about theology? If it’s about theology, then what theology, and how much does it affect salvation and relationship with God? Does the Anglican Church need to be so broad now that it’s not the only Church in the country?