Monday, May 07, 2012

Article XX: Of the Authority of the Church


Today's article is a relevant now as it was when it was adopted. Protestants have always wrestled with the issue of Authority. This is only more true now than it was then because we live in a flauntingly individualistic society where the cry of the age is "How dare you tell me anything about what I should believe or do with my life!?!"

Again, this section has to do with the Authority of the Church, stemming from reactions against Roman Catholic hierarchy and the Pope:


XX. Of the Authority of the Church
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority- in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.


Basically, the argument of this article is as follows: Expounding on yesterday's definition that the Church is that place where the true Word of God is preached and the Sacraments duly administered, this same Church apparently has to power to decree Rites or Ceremonies and has authority, except for a few exclusions. In other words, Rome can go stick its Canon of the Mass some place, preferably where the sun don't shine, provided our church meets our own definition of what the Church is.

Basically this article says we, having already defined what the church is, can give this newly defined church power to be a judge in controversies of faith, except in cases of "Void Where Prohibited," as legal disclaimers used to read. In theory, the Bible and the Church are "witness and keeper" to one another. However, this is circular in actual practice: We interpret the Bible and we are judged by the Church except when the Church is contrary to our interpretation of the Bible.

I think this framework is at play in the current fights over sexuality and the Bible in the current day. The wider Anglican Communion is largely on one side of the issue, the Episcopal Church (and a few other Provinces) are largely on another. We are all about living in community and being part of the Baptismal covenant, so long as The Episcopal Church gets to do what it wants when it wants, but how dare some other Province or Archbishop of Canterbury dare tell us what to do? At which point our community and understanding of "What is the Church?" starts becoming very localized indeed.

The problem with all this is that Scriptural warrant has been left by the way side. One side is saying that it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Written word. The other side is saying, We have the power to decree Rites or Ceremonies and authority. The same circular argument that is inherent in this Article is the same circular problem we have today.

I believe this is the inherent flaw of Anglicanism. We don't have a hierarchy or clear doctrinal committee or Congregation of the Faith that can adequately deal with doctrinal crises. Some say this is a strength, but I have trouble with that because Scripture is suppose to be the benchmark. But both sides have basically thrown that under the bus, so what's left? My more cynical answer involves theological anarchy.

I honestly don't know if I have a less cynical answer because, frankly, I'm just tired of arguing about sexuality issues because both sides have their "talking points" and neither is really willing to engage the other or be open to changing their minds. Until that happens, I think we are at an impasse.

I could go on, but this is my day off. I don't feel like I am being particularly coherent, but then, neither is this article. I'll try again tomorrow.

1 comment:

The Underground Pewster said...

The problem is the admonition to not ordain anything "contrary to scripture" part. Who decides when someone or some church is ordaining or in the process of doing just that. At present, in the Episcopal church and in the Anglican Communion there is no body with such authority. Many balk at the idea of such a structural change, but it certainly appears that something is needed.