Global Anglican Future Conference and the interpretation of scripture

by
30 January 2008

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From the Bishop of Saskatchewan
Sir, — It has been observed that Canadians are like vichyssoise — half French, cold, and hard to stir. So I was surprised to find myself cheering as I read the Bishop of Durham’s article (Comment, 25 January) on the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), despite his bluntness with our friends who are organising it.

I know I am not alone in feeling both embarrassment at the organisers’ denials that this is something other than an alternative Lambeth Conference, and sympathy for the Bishop in Jerusalem, who is aghast at the prospect of this event.

Canada, like so many countries, has a good number of bishops whose orthodoxy has never been questioned, who have struggled long for the reform and renewal of the Church, and who are committed to the Windsor process. Some of us have been waiting for ten years to be refreshed and strengthened by the witness and fellowship of precisely those bishops GAFCON looks to divert. Very few bishops in the developing world have the resources to attend two expensive international conferences in a year.

The GAFCON organisers are distinguished and respected Christian leaders. Would it not be a sign of their magnanimity and love for the Church simply to admit that they were mistaken in their timing and choice of location for their conference? A conference on mission which would accomplish the stated goals of GAFCON could be held somewhere else in 2009. I would be the first in line.

ANTHONY BURTON
The Synod Office
1308 Fifth Avenue East
Prince Albert, SK, S6V 2H7, Canada

From the Revd D. B. Webb
Sir, — The great elephant in the room, which the Bishop of Durham seems not to have noticed, is the question, what is meant by “the authority of scripture”? Even the Archbishop himself, in his Advent letter, does not explore what this means, and its limitations.

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From the Revd D. B. Webb
Sir, — The great elephant in the room, which the Bishop of Durham seems not to have noticed, is the question, what is meant by “the authority of scripture”? Even the Archbishop himself, in his Advent letter, does not explore what this means, and its limitations.

Do we accept that God gave “greater Israel” to the Jews, as “an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17.8, etc.)? When the GAFCON bishops meet in the Holy Land to affirm the primacy of scripture, how will they answer questions about this text? Will they see the answer to the problems posed by the original inhabitants of the land (i.e., the Palestinians) is to drive them out (Numbers 33.52)? The Bible is in favour of a little ethnic cleansing in certain circumstances.

Many American Evangelicals accept these texts, and present Middle East problems originate in the efforts of British Evangelicals in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Many things in scripture are completely unacceptable, and are not the mind of God. We need a long and careful discussion about the place of scripture in the Anglican tradition, and the limits of its authority. How does the Bible relate to the authority of the Church? Do we want a Magisterium? We need to consider how the Holy Spirit leads the Church into all truth. He works through our secular society, through public opinion, as well as through church hierarchies.

Religious clichés about the authority or primacy of scripture are part of the cause of our present troubles. What is needed is some thought and study and dialogue. A useful place to start might be a careful consideration of The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome in 1993. The preface is by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
DAVID WEBB
22 Thwaites Avenue, Ilkley
West Yorkshire LS29 8EH

From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy
Sir, — Ian Lane’s letter (25 January) expresses one of the main reasons for the differences of opinion in the Anglican Communion. He makes it clear that he believes that the 21st-century Church should believe just what Cranmer believed in the 15th century, and that change means that the Church “has disowned the doctrines for which its early leaders were ready to go to the stake”.

From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy
Sir, — Ian Lane’s letter (25 January) expresses one of the main reasons for the differences of opinion in the Anglican Communion. He makes it clear that he believes that the 21st-century Church should believe just what Cranmer believed in the 15th century, and that change means that the Church “has disowned the doctrines for which its early leaders were ready to go to the stake”.

It is a common view, and implies that all change is error. It is quite unrealistic. Nobody believes just what Cranmer believed all those centuries ago. Cranmer himself would be the last to expect it.

Contrary to much popular rhetoric, there is no virtue in believing what our predecessors believed just because they believed

it. What does have virtue is the commitment to seek the truth, wherever it leads us; and to do so is to follow in the footsteps of Cranmer at his best.

JONATHAN CLATWORTHY
General Secretary
Modern Churchpeople’s Union
MCU Office, 9 Westward View Liverpool L17 7EE

From Canon Dr John Toy
Sir, — It is sad that Ian Lane thinks that the recipe for the Church in the 21st century is to go back to “its roots in the Protestant Reformation . . . the doctrines of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal”. These are our historic formularies of the faith, to show us where we have come from, not blueprints for how we believe and proclaim Christ now.

From Canon Dr John Toy
Sir, — It is sad that Ian Lane thinks that the recipe for the Church in the 21st century is to go back to “its roots in the Protestant Reformation . . . the doctrines of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal”. These are our historic formularies of the faith, to show us where we have come from, not blueprints for how we believe and proclaim Christ now.

JOHN TOY
11 Westhorpe, Southwell, Notts

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