WHAT CHOICES DO TRADITIONALISTS IN THE C OF E HAVE?
By Roland J. Morant
Special to Virtueonline
At this time of uncertainty and insecurity for those of us belonging to the Church of England who wish to keep the Faith passed on to us by previous generations, it is perhaps appropriate to ask what choices we now have and in the coming days. Can we remain in the church of our baptism or should we consider moving elsewhere?
We are all aware of the fact that the Church is now in the process of abandoning beliefs and traditions which it inherited from the Early and Medieval Church, beliefs and traditions which it retained until the middle of the twentieth century. We have arrived at the stage when the C. of E. is well set in implementing an agenda (women priests and bishops, homosexual lifestyles and same-sex "marriages", the use of gender-free language in public worship etc.) which is totally at variance with what previous generations of worshippers took for granted.
We must therefore ask what the future holds in store for traditionalists. What can we do? Where can we go? In this article we will rehearse all the possible destinations that might present themselves. They are all based on the assumption that the liberal agenda will continue to be driven forward into the foreseeable future and that traditionalists whether Conservative Evangelical or Anglican Catholic will increasingly occupy a smaller part of the C. of E. For each of these possible destinations we will consider the pros and cons.
Just now the Church is like a ship in distress and about to founder. What choices do the passengers and crew have that will bring about their safety?
A few may stay on board - if crew for reasons of duty, and if passengers because either they think that the information given to them is incorrect and that the ship will not go down, or because they are praying for a miracle to avert the near-certain catastrophe.
If another ship can safely draw near the sinking ship, then some of the passengers and crew still on board might safely be transferred directly from one boat to the other.
Another group will climb into a lifeboat or onto a raft which when rowed away from the stricken vessel, will attempt to find land or make contact with another ship in the vicinity on the lookout for survivors.
Probably in the worst scenario of all, redolent of torpedoed ships in wartime when the cry would go up, "Abandon ship.", survivors will jump into the water not knowing what will happen, but hoping that they can mount a lifeboat or raft or cling to a piece of flotsam.
Let's see how these choices, such as they are, apply to the C. of E.
STAY ON BOARD AND DO NOTHING
We can be sure that lots of churchgoers who claim to be traditionalists will decide - if they have not already done so - to stick it out in their church and do nothing. Many of them will admit no doubt in their heart of hearts that actually it is the church building that retains their allegiance, not the week-by-week message. They say that they have attended it for all or most of their lives and they don't see why they should have to uproot themselves and go to an unfamiliar and more orthodox church, with all the practical difficulties that that might incur (e.g. having to travel a longer distance to the new place of worship, not knowing any of the congregation etc.).
By sticking it out in their original church they can ignore all changes to their worship imposed on them. Women priests and women bishops, priests with homosexual lifestyles can come and go; codes of practice for their protection can be enforced or ignored. It makes no difference to such stalwarts in the pew. "This is our church and we will not be driven out".
Of course a terrible price is paid for staying and perhaps saying or doing nothing. The spiritual and moral integrity of such worshippers is at stake. By saying nothing and doing nothing, the whole of their worship and life as Christians within their parish may easily become a sham. Can they be absolutely sure that the Gospel is being truly taught and proclaimed in its historical fullness? Are they certain that the sacraments being dispensed by their clergy are valid? Are their clergy properly ordained?
We may well suspect that unlike being on board a sinking ship where only a few might wish to remain, in many typical Anglican parishes exposed to non-biblical innovations and sacramental irregularities the number of people wanting to do nothing except continue to attend their church week by week may probably be quite high.
TRANSFER DIRECTLY TO ANOTHER SHIP
This surely in religious life must mean deliberately joining another church. But to which one? There seem to be quite a number of choices available to Anglican traditionalists. Probably the most obvious churches that might provide refuge are: the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church in one of its manifestations (e.g. Greek, Russian etc.), one of the mainstream Protestant churches, one of the continuing Anglican churches (such as the Traditional Anglican Communion). The key thing is that "transferees" will have to accept the type of worship and religious teaching that their new church offers. It is a kind of one-way package deal.
The Roman Catholic Church: For many Anglicans - especially if they regard themselves as Anglican Catholic - the proposition is an attractive one. The C. of E. was hewn from the same stone in Western Europe and culturally its members are very close to those of that great church. In practical terms the RC Church is well placed geographically speaking across England and few members of the C. of E. wishing to "swim the Tiber" would have a problem in finding a church within reasonable distance from where they live.
However there are difficulties - mainly theological I would imagine - which many thinking Anglicans would find hard to come to terms with. We have only to read (or reread) the words of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion to understand that many of the differences that came to separate the C. of E. from that Church in the sixteenth century have not been bridged for many Anglicans. Examples include the real presence at Communion, prayers for the dead, invocation of the BVM etc. These differences have been compounded in the Roman Church since the Reformation by the adoption of new dogma (e.g. bodily assumption of the BVM) to which the C. of E. has not subscribed.
It therefore seems reasonable to assume that the departure by many traditionalist Anglicans to Rome in the foreseeable future is not on the cards.
The Orthodox Church: Until the C. of E. decided recently to reject the unambiguous words of Holy Scripture and two thousand years of tradition regarding the ordination of women, relations between the C. of E. and Orthodoxy were warm and friendly. But a cooling in ecumenical relationships is now unmistakeable (as it is with the Roman Catholic Church).
Leaving aside the cultural gap which is wider for Anglicans looking further east than to the Roman Catholics, there is the problem of finding a suitable Orthodox Church within reasonable travelling distance.
Mainstream Protestant Churches: It is inconceivable that Anglican traditionalists who regard themselves as Catholic would want to join one of the mainstream churches (such as the Methodist or Reformed Churches) for the rather obvious reason that such churches are not episcopally led (with all that that implies). Another problem is that many such churches appear to have gone soft in their biblical teaching.
Although the Baptist Church is not an episcopal church, modern evidence suggests that its number of worshippers remain buoyant. This healthy state of affairs may well be because it continues to offer an unadulterated Gospel, a Gospel undiluted by the liberalism or revisionism that has affected so many other protestant churches. In the event that loyalty to their own churches and dioceses has stretched beyond breaking point, Conservative Evangelicals for whom a lack of episcopacy is not necessarily an obstacle, might be attracted to this Church. Baptist churches in England are numerous, and travelling to them does not appear to be a major problem.
Continuing Anglican Churches: Wikipedia, the internet free encyclopedia, tells us that there are many church-groupings outside the Anglican Communion that claim to belong to the Continuing Anglican movement. Of those that were founded after PECUSA (now TEC) took the decision officially to ordain women in 1976, two in the UK - the Traditional Anglican Church and the Anglican Catholic Church - seem unquestionably to this observer to possess the right credentials for disconnected orthodox Anglicans. The two churches take their stand on the Affirmation of St. Louis (1977) a document that spells out in very precise detail their commitment to the Faith and Tradition as held by the Church from the earliest of Christian times, an Affirmation with which all traditionalists can safely be in accord. These two Churches though are not represented widely in England, and finding a continuing congregation within reasonable travelling distance might be difficult for individuals.
CLIMB INTO A LIFEBOAT AND HOPEFULLY BE PICKED UP BY A FRIENDLY SHIP
In our metaphor here, the lifeboat that comes to mind is the vessel that Forward In Faith and the Act of Synod have been providing for homeless Anglicans - both as individuals and congregations - for the last sixteen or so years. The FIF/Act of Synod lifeboat has provided a friendly and comforting environment in which all traditionalist members of the C of E who have felt marginalised, have been able to join others with similar beliefs.
The key question that has to be asked is this: Is there a friendly ship just over the horizon that is steaming towards the lifeboat, willing and able to pick up those in the lifeboat? At this point the metaphor breaks down, for a ship however friendly disposed towards survivors in a lifeboat, will pick them up on its terms, not on the survivors' terms.
Traditionalists want a home where they can continue to practice their religion as they have done in the past. This is why the concept (and request) for a third province has been so important (as asked for by Forward in Faith and the Third Province Movement). It would have provided the friendly ship that traditionalists so desperately want to board. Recent developments suggest that Forward in Faith has now abandoned its attempts to win a third province for its members (I would welcome contradiction on this point).
ABANDON SHIP BY JUMPING OVERBOARD
This is really the equivalent of committing religious suicide. In practical terms it means that the individual believer stops attending church Sunday by Sunday, not knowing what will happen. Christianity, it has been said many times, is a social religion. Except for the rare individuals who have the spiritual and physical gifts to live as hermits, it is extremely hard if not impossible to practise our religion in isolation. We have to belong to a group of worshipping Christians to serve our Lord fully.
By ceasing to belong to a church congregation (or even an independent house group), the individual is saying in effect, "A plague on all your houses. I want no more to do with organised religion". If we decide to do this, our chances of survival as members of "the household of faith" are rapidly reduced. We have all known people who have just ceased attending church and have not gone elsewhere.
So what will be our best action to take now, or in the near future when the Act of Synod has been rescinded at the end of the current synodical process? It will of course be everyone for him or herself. For this writer, one of the continuing Anglican churches seems the hassle-free best bet.
---Roland W. Morant is a cradle Anglican who has spent his professional life as a teacher, and latterly as a principal lecturer in education in a college of higher education, training students as teachers and running in-service degree courses
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