Monday, 15 October 2012

A leaner, fitter Church?

Since more than a few hints in this direction from Pope Benedict, there has been much talk among [Roman] Catholics about the future of the Church as becoming a smaller but doctrinally more orthodox  body of believers - not because of a misguided (and heretical) search on earth for the 'pure' Church, but because only doctrinal and pastoral orthodoxy has a hope of engaging successfully in an authentic evangelisation and making converts from the world. In the western Anglican provinces, despite all our constant talk about 'mission'  we are only too aware of the results of an increasing accommodation with the spirit of the age.
But whatever might be true on the 'other side of the Tiber', the reverse I suspect is the case with regard to 'Anglicanism.' The more the ecclesiastical institution collapses onto its inner core, the more heterodox the result will be, as our theological minorities (once perhaps, even if only for a short time, the orthodox majority) are shunted from being honoured and respected to the intermediate situation of mere toleration and marginalisation in which we find ourselves now and, finally, not too long away I suspect, to being forced to leave altogether. 

Ancient Briton has this post on the revival of the pan-protestant idea  in Wales, something which last saw the light of day with the ill-fated and theologically misconceived 'Ministry in a Uniting Church' report in the 1980s and the equally doomed 'ecumenical bishop' project of 2002.  On both occasions  the Church in Wales' Governing Body had the sense to vote the measures down, but who would be willing to predict that outcome now, in the wake of serious numerical decline, the significant undermining and weakening of the catholic integrity within the province, and the recent inappropriately de haut en bas recommendations of the Harries Report?
Without doubt, the final result of any such 'united' protestant venture will be an ecclesial body which will be leaner, as it sheds those who dissent from it,  but by no means necessarily fitter; far from halting decline, one can only envisage that decline accelerating precipitately. If contemporary liberal theological trends continue both within Anglicanism and its only likely remaining ecumenical partners (and I can see absolutely no cause for optimism here as theological training in Wales , contrary to the intentions of the founders of St Michael's College, Llandaff*,  is now entirely under the control of the revisionist establishment) the subsumed remains of Anglicanism in Wales will simply waste away or at the very least become part of just another gathered sect, in thrall to a theologically discredited and irrelevant modernist agenda.

I have to admit to a fascination at present with the life and works of the German Lutheran theologian and 'martyr,' Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One should not dare to make glib comparisons with the struggles of those who strove to hold on to Christian orthodoxy in the face of totalitarianism, the cost of which many of whom, like Bonhoeffer, paid with their lives. 
We have it easy; we face indifference, marginalisation and at worst unemployment rather than hatred, violence and death. Yet we are undoubtedly engaged in a struggle for the future of the Church and its apostolic integrity - its difference, and its divine origin and destiny - in the face of an overwhelming desire on the part of the majority of those who are our ("western") Anglican brothers and sisters in the faith to conform the Church to the spirit of the present culture and transform it into something radically at odds with what has been revealed by God both in Holy Scripture and sacred tradition.
"..Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate..."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 'The Cost of Discipleship'
 “Christian community is like the Christian's sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 'Life Together'

* St Michael's College which, interestingly, on its website gives no information either on its history or the Tractarian / Anglo-Catholic vision (in fact, it expressly repudiates both) of its principal founder and benefactress, Olivia Talbot, a good friend of Fr Arthur Stanton., whilst advertising - astonishingly given the Welsh Province's treatment of orthodox ordinands  - its  "generous inclusivity (extended ecumenically, in inter-faith dialogue and more widely)" - whatever that means...
now a  "Vicar Academy" indeed.


  1. >>St Michael's College, Llandaff, is now entirely under the control of the revisionist establishment<<
    Having watched the first episode of Vicar Academy I see what you mean Father. The Church in Wales has completely lost the plot.

  2. You will recall, Father, reading that the then Bishop of Llandaff inhibited Fr Stanton from functioning in his diocese. Plus ça change ...

    1. Yes, indeed, it was Bishop Ollivant; things have certainly turned full circle.

  3. Thanks for the quote on 'cheap grace' ... at the moment in my parish I'm on a bit of a 'push' to get those in my care to understand that in order for their sins to be forgiven they must first accept they have committed sins, ask God's forgiveness for them, and truly commit to turn away from them ... I suspect many of them think that the Confession and Absolution in our BCP services is a quaint hangover from less 'enlightened' days.

  4. Dear Fr. Michael
    Well said!
    You may remember back in the distant past of 1981 when we were at the College a similar BBC Production was made. It was broadcast if my memory serves we well on the Sundays of Lent. It featured Addresses given by the then Warden John George Hughes. The worshipping life of the College from Ash Wednesday and through Lent was a backdrop to these addresses.

    I have asked the Principal if the College has a copy of this film – he has kindly responded that he will try and find one even via help from the BBC.

    To be able to see this again after 31 years should make for interesting viewing! Can you imagine JGH's reaction to this BBC production. The title alone would be enough to raise his blood pressure. I do recall him telling us that he never ever wanted to hear it said of us that we were 'trained' for the priesthood at St Michael's – rather it should be said that we were prepared there for Ordination. Perhaps we should have a past ordinands evening and re watch the 1981 film?


    1. Sounds like a good idea - the necessary antidote to 'Vicar Academy'


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