Monday, 6 October 2008

Declaration of Assent (Revised)

I am still fairly new again to Anglicanism, and despite a stint in it in the early to mid 1980s and then the early 1990s, the mid to later 2000s (is there a pattern emerging here?) has introduced me to more of the politics and rules than I have ever noticed before. This is because of the Internet and events most visibly but not exclusively in North America.

It is also because I am more involved. In the early to mid 1980s, despite being in the Fellowship of Vocation in East Yorkshire, I was kept apart from the rural folk of the church into which I had boundary crossed (Sunday mornings involved cycling down a five mile ex-railway track out of Sutton-on-Hull and then down to an isolated church which still had its occupied part time vicarage alongside). In the early to mid 1990s I was a non-communicant hanger on, made good relations with the Rector, as I also attended a Western Buddhist group. Now, boundary crossing again, I have an involvement which has been many times weekly and also providing some creative input: archival, intellectual and artistic. I have sorted and presented a church history of the early 1970s and around, I am writing and actually present theology to a group, I have reproduced an old dissertation into an academic standard of presentation, and I have provided numerous artistic and related items including a set of Easter narrative paintings.

Still, some things strike me as very odd, and one of those is the promises made by the new Deacon, as by any new Deacon. The service of her ordination included a statement from the Diocesan Director of Ordinands that she had made these promises. I thought, 'Oh, that's how they do it then.' No, because she then went on to make these promises again (or assume the same). Then an evening service a week later and she made them again.

If I make a set of promises I make them once, and once is enough. If I am asked to make them again, I say I already have and that they still apply. Presumably the idea is that the new Deacon keeps making them to potentially different people at different services.

The person reading the preface to the declaration includes words that the Church of England professes the faith:

  • uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures
  • set forth in the catholic creeds
  • proclaim afresh in each generation
  • borne witness to Christian truth in its:
  • historic formularies
  • Thirty-nine Articles of Religion
  • The Book of Common Prayer
  • Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons

This bit might give some wriggle room:

In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance?

Now inspiration and guidance is not exactly assent and consent, is it?

So what does the Deacon say. He or she does not simply say Yes. If she or he did then I could sign up. She says that she does so:
  • affirm and accordingly declare my belief in the faith
  • revealed in the Holy Scriptures
  • set forth in the catholic creeds
  • the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness

Plus she declares only to use the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon in public prayer and administration of the sacraments.

The historic formularies do bear narrowed (even distorted) witness to that faith, and if you pass the other tests this one is little problem. The Thirty-nine Articles are lumped in with these, though not so lumped in the question (indeed, to equate the question and answer arguably leaves out the Thirty-nine Articles in the reply - so they are either subsumed or lost). I think Theophilus Lindsey would be happy enough with developments that have reduced down the importance of the Thirty-nine Articles.

Now the answer has this thing called 'the faith' which the reply says is revealed in the scriptures but not uniquely revealed. Set forth suggests a thrust forward of the creeds as an overall package related to the faith in the scriptures, rather than in the details of the creeds, though on the other hand nothing is negated. But on the other hand again, it clearly allows symbolic interpretation, so long as nothing is rejected.

Saying it afresh gives some space to find new forms of expression, so long as nothing is negated. So, actually, I don't get much further with the afresh bit. It seems that everyone, however, should proclaim the faith afresh, and I wonder whether this rules out repetition? Surely it isn't enough that people die and new people come along and hear what their forebears heard. You have to keep changing the wrapping paper leaving the same gift inside.

Having heard these declarations I took the view that I was clearly on the outside of the boundary. Having looked at them more forensically (and we are entitled to ask what is being asked precisely) I am probably nearer the boundary but just on the outside.

Clearly the Holy Scriptures are unique from any other (they are so different from the Bhagavad Gita or Buddhist Suttras), but the faith revealed is far more pluriform than many will accept. I'm quite convinced, for example, that the synoptic gospels are classically unitarian and that John's gospel is Arian (the divinity there includes subordinate statements relating the Son to the Father - this is not the faith of God the Son). Paul's Christ is that of God's sole worker, like the secretary through whom all must pass and through whom all instructions are made, the boss being around but unseen but the Holy Spirit puts the wind up believers. There is no doctrine of the Trinity in any part of the Bible; there is only something like an occasional arrival at a baptismal or blessing economic Trinity that is undefined.

This creates a double bind for me regarding the Creeds. First of all, they do not set forth the faith of the scriptures. They set forth one potential of the faith of the New Testament scriptures, one that is yet to escalate further towards what the creeds set forth. It is the other way around: it is Creeds that reveal the faith to which the New Testament bears potential witness. Secondly, I think that whereas I might represent the Creeds symbolically in an overall sense, there are parts I do want to reject, nor do I think the Creeds do a particularly good job at setting forth what is in the New Testament. The Apostles' Creed is easier to stomach than the other two main creeds, as it is just sub-trinitarian itself.

As for bishops, priests and deacons, well the deacon and the bishop is set up fairly early on in Church history, but the priest as distinct is not. The bishop is like the Presbyter. However, I wouldn't want to make too much of this. In the end the priest is just the representative of the bishop in any one place, and the only thing the priest does not do is make more priests. The bishop is like a piece arriving at the end of the draughts board, and ends up being able to make more priests and more bishops - deciding and doing. I think there is a good case for the United Reformed Church basis too. It is only the (British) Methodists who can't make up their minds: they have missing bishops.

No doubt if I acquired any preaching to teaching role inside the Church of England I would instantly be labelled as a false teacher by some and would face their isolation. However, such will also happen to those far more acquiescent than me.

All I am saying here is that the boundary is a bit fuzzier than my recent reactions, but I still think I am on the outside.

I would presently reword the Assent texts into something like this, fiddling with some words a little bit more:

The Church of England asserts that it is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes faith as set forth in the Catholic Creeds and in part revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which faith should be told somewhat differently in each generation. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian belief in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing what we understand as the grace of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?

Declaration of Assent

I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my inspiration and guidance rooted in the faith, which is set forth in general in the Catholic Creeds and found within the Holy Scriptures and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England have attempted witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon.

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