The debate about ministry and orders after Rowan Williams confusing everyone, has something of the anorak about it, but going by the various blogs it does have some legs.
The issue is the bishop who oversees a diocese as the key person of communion in that area, but being part of a named Church. Those in that Church are in complete communion with one another, and can arrange to share the altar table, though priests come under the bishop and having been ordained by the Church then need permission (licensing) by the bishop. The bishop is a prince in his own territory.
Over at Fulcrum there has been an interesting side discussion on whether there are two orders or three. Anglicans say three - bishop, priest and deacon - whilst the Presbyterians say two - presbyter and deacon. The presbyter is the overseer. So here we have why Methodists will contemplate taking bishops back into the system, and the United Reformed Church won't.
Both claim biblical warrant for these orders, so there is a disagreement and the Bible is, as often, ambiguous. Furthermore the Catholic view makes ministry ontologically different - transforming the person under these orders so that they can never be removed - whilst the Protestant view (whether of three or two orders) will promote fully and completely the priesthood of all believers (some independent Catholics will, but do so by ordaining everyone!). Of course the Bible is to be interpreted, and if by the Church that means it can add to it, though most Anglicans are not allowed to contradict its statements necessary for salvation (rather difficult when it contradicts itself), according to its own Church statements.
A question arises for myself why I should be too bothered by all this potentially anorak-like argument. I never used to be. When I was at Unitarian College I did a fairly long piece (that was ignored) against the concept of the priesthood of all believers. As far as I was concerned, Unitarians did not gather on the basis of one belief or another, so that the priesthood of all believers (popularly and often expressed) was meaningless. Professional ministry, I thought, should be based on educational theories (and counselling) of facilitating, encouraging, and training. I did believe in bishops, in that the Unitarian ministers could be functional bishops - centrally paid and regionally organised to then co-ordinate churches and encourage effective lay leadership. Also they should contain and understand the evolving Unitarian traditions. These would be functional, like the two that do exist in Hungary and Rumania.
The key here is that whereas Presbyterians continue to ordain, the Unitarians (who were once Presbyterians without presbyteries) largely have given it up. Even congregationalists ordain via their ministers, though the congregation is in charge over everything.
The difference is that whereas most Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican bishops keep a record of who consecrated them, as they go on to consecrate others, for reasons of apostolic succession, most Presbyters and congregational ministers do not, and do not keep a record of the line going back. The anti-superstitious streak in Protestantism meant that the non-episcopal stopped recording hands on heads.
Incidentally there is no difference between ordaining and consecrating, so a bishop is ordained as well as consecrated. So the Presbyter, only ordained, is still potentially a bishop-equivalent.
Then there is the case of Methodism and the missing bishops. John Wesley could not get anyone to consecrate a bishop for his movement in the United States, so he did it himself. Thus there are bishops in Methodism in the United States. However, they have no apostolic succession and so are not of the Order of bishops. In the United Kingdom there are none at all, but they ordain one another, which is the function of bishops, but neither are their ministers considered of the highest overseeing order. However, Chairs of districts are considered to be the equivalent in function of bishops. If Methodists take episcopacy back into their system, then what they will do is effectively plug a gap. The gap is whether all their ministers are lay people, and if not what sort of ordinations have taken place down the ages since they were cast out from the Church of England (after Wesley's death).
So the Methodists might get taken over (which is what it would be - there would be new cultural and practice variations for Anglicanism, but it would otherwise be a takeover), but if the United Reformed Church was to come to merge with Anglicanism then, presumably, every URC minister would end up as a bishop.
Alternatively there would be a lot of reordaining into the episcopal system for Methodists and for URC ministers. How complicated it is; and this is the reason why the belief differences of conversionism and moderate liberalism and radical liberalism that divide these denominations but run across them cannot reorganise these old denominations into new denominations. There is a blockage in the plumbing, and the pipes go in old directions.
Meanwhile Anglicanism has communion agreements with the Old Catholic Church Utrecht Union and with Lutheran Churches. Most recently we have had Anglicanism treated by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a centralised Communion, when not only has this been protested against on Catholic grounds, that the Churches are the key and the communion is but a loose set of bonds of affection between culturally similar Churches, but protested against by Protestant Anglicans who see fellowship based on shared belief.
Catholics do not share belief - they accept the findings of Church Councils that make statements about belief. This is a subtle and important difference: everything about Catholicism is about the institution, a system inherited from an imperial geographical system - an incarnate system of Church in the world.
So why isn't the Anglican Communion a full blown communion, everyone recognising everyone else - the only limitation being the prince bishop in his area? Well, just as one Church decides to have women bishops and another does not, so the woman bishop in one Church is not in another - and so on. The driving force against gay relationship priests has been mainly Protestant, that the Bible has verses only against homosexuality. So one Church excludes another from fellowship on the basis of false belief and teaching. However, the Catholic side - the idea that there is the centralising Communion is based on process, and that the Covenant will outline a process whereby the whole Communion can come to a decision that accepts (or does not accept) actively gay bishops. There are two drivers going on here, and there is huge confusion between them.
The biggest confusion is that the Anglican Communion should have a position at all. It is the Churches that have a position.
More interesting then is the position of all these tiny Churches that make up the world of the Episcopi Vagantes, the wandering bishops. Here they have it right (once you take Catholic assumptions) - because they put a great deal of stress on Catholic logic.
First of all, they consecrate according to lines of apostolic succession. Indeed they do this with some enthusiasm and repetition, taking on many lines of succession through added consecrations sub conditione. Then, however, they do not usually have communion between these bishops, despite accepting that they are wholly legitimate lines of succession. The bishops do not share their altars with others [see the correction offered in the comments and also see later entry Spiritual Freedom]. What they usually do is incardinate, that is bring the other in. The bishop shares with other bishops of the same (mini) Church, and priests are incardinated under them. To connect one Church with another is to develop a close relationship, one being the senior partner of the other.
This is why The Liberal Rite does not even share communion with the Liberal Catholic Church International, even though the LCCI was involved in consecrating those bishops who make up The Liberal Rite [This is not quite so: again see the comments and also see the later entry Spiritual Freedom]. Then there is the Independent Liberal Catholic Fellowship, but it is only a setting for fellowship between the various groups, if administered by one of the bishops of The Liberal Rite (thus a definite connection). Meanwhile, it is up to each of these Churches what councils and doctrines it accepts, and there is huge variation. Sometimes a Church may put itself in direct connection with another named Church - the British Orthodox Church has done this, and it has Episcopi Vagantes origins. It is somewhat stronger than Communion - of course these Churches remain and can break the recognition they have of each other - in that one Church is the senior Church and the other comes under its wing. One has a degree of authority over the other. This autonomy is crucial and born in the rejection of papal authority over all Catholicism, and therefore every Church is its own master.
Interestingly as an aside to this some Unitarians do get ordained - some do by virtue of working for the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland. When a few get ordained episcopally (that is, seek it out - some Unitarian ministers start as Catholic or Anglican priests) then they are doing something new, along the inspirational lines of the Free Catholic Unitarians in the early twentieth century - W. E. Orchard, the Congregationalist, made sure he was episcopally ordained, and Ulric Vernon Herford was a Unitarian who became, in effect, Liberal Catholic via consecration and consecrated and ordained others. I don't know what happened with J. M. Lloyd Thomas - whether he ever became episcopally ordained, although his inspiration was Richard Baxter and James Martineau, both of whom were Protestant based, the latter subjectively.
So back to the Anglicans. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no authority over Swedish Lutherans (say) or the Old Catholic Church Utrecht Union. But also, and this is the point, he has no authority over Anglicans outside the Church of England either (and his place in the Province of York is only so because of the British State and the synodical structure). So when the Communion starts taking powers to itself, what it is doing is creating a new Church. One reason why this process based Covenant should fail is because it is altering the Anglican Communion into something it was never intended to be, and which many would feel uncomfortable about. Protestant Anglicans should feel uncomfortable, and not be seduced into thinking the Covenant is a doctrinal measure - it is not, but rather a means that the Communion should move together, to do the theology before provinces make decisions. They can decide whatever they like - but would do it at the speed (presumably) of the slowest.
So this centralisation is effectively another form of Roman Catholicism. It is not Orthodoxy, where the Churches decide with whom they have recognition. It is not, either, as in the Independent Sacramental Movement. The Instruments of Communion would be Roman Catholic alternatives.
Perhaps we should thank the Archbishop of Canterbury for the insight that is now coming about. This insight is unravelling the Anglican Communion, however, because the national Churches will simply not accept this usurping of themselves. Plus it is causing the Protestant and Catholic mixture to be unravelled too. The Anglican Communion cannot take the centralisation: the load will break it.
So it may be for anoraks, all of this, but it has to be looked at in such detail otherwise the institutions will not know which coats they are wearing, and they will all get very cold.
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