What is the authority of the General Synod of the Church of England?

by
28 September 2018

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Your answers: 

What is the authority of the General Synod of the Church of England? Is it greater than an ecumenical council such as Nicaea, AD 325? Is it able to contradict or overrule holy scripture? What or who is the final arbiter of doctrine in the C of E?

Speaking generally, the authority of any institution like the General Synod derives from its members and whatever previous or existing bodies pass on or concede to it. The latter is often called mission creep, as the institution accumulates to itself powers and influence that it initially did not have.

Some of the powers now exercised by the General Synod came from the two Convocations, yet, where they got them from is a matter of mission creep, as “The Convocations in their origin, were only for the purpose of taxation, and they continued to act as taxing bodies for the clergy down to the time of Charles II” (page 23, Church Acts and Measures, Butterworth, 1969, where the petitions of the Convocations, original Constitution, Enabling Act, etc., mentioned below are also to be found).

To put the General Synod in context, in 1919 the Convocations of Canterbury and York separately petitioned King George V to establish the unincorporated association known as The National Assembly of the Church of England, commonly called the Church Assembly. The constitution of the requested body was appended to the petitions, which were substantially identical.

After the granting of this, the Church Assembly was deemed to exist, and the Enabling Act — The Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 — clothed it with civil powers and privileges. The most important of these was to request Parliament to pass Measures that had the authority of other statutes. Thus, with the concurrence of Parliaments, the Church Assembly could increase its own delegated authority.

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As a result of the Synodical Government Measure of 1969, in 1970 the General Synod, with its completely new constitution, became the legal successor of Church Assembly.

Thus to conclude and answer the original question: authority in the Church of England is a network of separate charities and institutions, of which the General Synod is but one. It is primarily a body of delegated civil authority for dealing with Church of England charitable property generally. It provides the civil constitution under which that property may be lawfully used. When, with the consent of Parliament, it authorises a change in doctrine, in reality, it is authorising the Church to continue to use its historic accumulated property despite any alteration in its doctrines.

In a real sense, General Synod-originated Measures are similar in scope and authority to the Methodist Church or United Reformed Church Acts, or Charity Commission Orders or Schemes that allow charitable property to be diverted to some variant of the original purpose as necessitated by changes of views and circumstances.

Alan Bartley
Greenford
 

Your questions: 

Why do some clergy preach a sermon at “the eight-o’clock” on Sunday mornings? Many of us want a short service of holy communion, be it from the Prayer Book or Common Worship.

D. J.

Our historic place of worship, although unlisted, is sited in a conservation area, and currently requires extensive maintenance work to weatherproof the roof. As caretaker, I wonder whether readers have experience of VAT exemption obtained through builders engaged to undertake the necessary works? Any relevant guidance would be most appreciated, since the overall cost needs reduction to become affordable.

R. K.

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