Thursday, December 14, 2006

Citing Dale Rye with a bit on Authority and Anglicanism

Dale Rye over at T19 made this comment, which strikes me as apt:

The issue isn’t whether the Scriptures are true, but who gets to settle a dispute over what the Bible means. Similarly, the issue in England and the other provinces that make subscription to the Articles mandatory is not whether they are authoritative, but who gets to define their meaning. John Henry Newman could quite happily defend the Articles, so long as he could interpret them along the lines of Tract 90. When his bishop and archbishop denied the validity of that interpretation, he went to Rome. Most members of Reform regard that as good riddance, while most members of Forward in Faith regard it as a tragedy… but both agreed to sign the Articles. Nearly everybody thinks they are in the party that “is on the side of the Articles.”

Most of the disputants in the current crisis would also quite happily agree that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, the Councils, and the Articles are authoritative… so long as they can interpret them along their own lines. That isn’t the source of the conflict. The real fight—as Newman (and the founding Methodists) ultimately recognized—is about ecclesiology. Who is the church, who are its human authorities, how do they make decisions, how far can members go to dissent from those decisions, and what steps can the authorities properly take to manage conflict? Those are concrete operational questions that require concrete answers in a time of conflict.

The traditional Anglican answer was that each political nation-state should have its own autonomous church that could find its own answers about the meaning of Scripture, Tradition, and Truth, after consultation with the broader Christian community. If Reformation-era Anglicans had believed that national churches could only act with the consent of the broader community, the English Reformation would never have happened. Clearly, this traditional Anglican answer has broken down, perhaps irretrievably. The challenge for Anglican reasserters is to find a new answer with a logic that does not lead inevitably to either the conclusion that reunion with Rome is required or the conclusion that there is no divinely-ordained visible church above the local level. These are, of course, the same alternatives that John Jewel, Richard Hooker, and the Caroline Divines sought to avoid.


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