THE General Synod has approved the setting up of a new Faith and Order Commission, and created its standing orders and constitution.
Introducing the debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Synod might want to reflect on the purpose of theology and theological resourcing in the Church of England. The Church had been served by the Doctrine Commission (which had not operated in recent years), the Faith and Order Advisory Group, and the House of Bishops Theological Commission. Bringing these together would provide for a more focused handling of discourse.
Numbers would be smaller than the combined membership, at 16: six bishops, and ten clerical and lay theologians. Scholars would be invited for particular pieces of work. Cost savings were expected.
The Revd Richard Hibbert (St Albans) hoped that the Synod members could suggest suitable members of the commission, and also consultants.
The Revd Dr Roger Walton (Methodist Church) gave the encouragement of the Methodist Church for the new commission. It should allow for easy collaboration.
Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (Ripon & Leeds) urged the Synod to move to putting theology more fully into practice.
Canon Richard Franklin (Salisbury) asked for reassurance that the new body would not become a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He also questioned whether it would be able to fulfil all the roles of the three bodies, which had different functions.
The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, who chairs the Council for Christian Unity, suggested that the Bishops’ and Faith and Order bodies had overlapped for years. The new commission would have the flexibility to commission pieces of “Doctrine Commission-shaped work”.
When the debate was resumed on Monday, two amendments were carried.
Clive Scowen (London) moved a further amendment, which called for appointments to the new commission to be ratified by the Synod.
Professor Anthony Thiselton (Southwell & Nottingham) said that the Synod made its will known through the Appointments Committee, whose fairness was beyond doubt. How well could 450 members determine theological expertise?
Dr Williams said that the specialist knowledge needed was not necessarily possessed by Synod members. “We’re talking about the need for the best specialist help we can find.”
Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) urged rejection, as it would not facilitate the best use of theological expertise. It was not the most attractive option to “have your name and career potentially exposed even to a well-intentioned body”.
Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) observed that the Synod did not make the best use of theological resources. He asked that it could be enabled to enrich debates.
Bishop Hill urged resistance to the amendment, and it was lost.
The Archbishop’s motion to establish the commission as proposed in GS 1782 was carried.