I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended , what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
What's your opinion on the tax rates in this country? Do you think them to be too high and that we're being taxed to the hilt? Do you think that high taxes are necessary in order to provide good public services and to fund important community building projects? Of course your opinion matters, and we all have a social duty to express our opinions at the ballot box.
What's your opinion of 4+5? Is it always 9? Or do you think that it should be something else?
Well, no matter how hard you hold your opinion, if you hold to the standard rules of arithmetic that we are taught at primary school, 4+5=9, and there is no argument. Indeed we can say this absolutely infallibly that within the numbering system that we use, 4+5=9: to say otherwise is incorrect.
Now this is the content of the troubles that are affecting the Anglican Church: what is fixed and what is opinion? St Paul tells us that we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. Now is Paul expressing an opinion, or is he telling us the truth? Well, if we are Christian then we hold to the infallibility of Scripture - it is not opinion. The big problem is how to interpret it.
It would be easy for us to use scripture to prove anything. The Bible says:"there is no God." That would cheer up the Atheists wouldn't it? However, Scripture would also disprove it pretty quickly, especially if we complete the verse: the fool has said in his heart "there is no God". The Moslems read our scriptures and when they read that Jesus said "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. " (Matthew 5:18) then they read St Paul saying that the law no longer requires men to be circumcised, and all they see is contradiction. So to a Moslem, our scriptures cannot be true because they contradict each other. However, as Christians we know that Moslem interpretations cannot be true reflections as to what is being said by Holy Writ. So how can we be sure that we are being given the right teaching from scripture?
Well, this is the problem. If we glibly regard all religious differences as being merely differences of opinion, then we enter a world of relativity and nothing is certain. If it were based only on opinion, then would the Church ever have got going? Highly unlikely! Even the phrase "Jesus is Lord" can be interpreted according to different opinions as the Arians, Apollinarians and Nestorians demonstrated. In seeing everything as opinion, we become, as St Paul says, blown about by any wind of teaching. One person's words influence us one week, but the next week the opposite opinion prevails. St James asks how can we hope for anything if we cannot be sure about the Faith that we have received from God?
In the world of the relativist, it's easy for any church leader to get up into the pulpit and proclaim his own interpretation of Scripture one minute and then change his mind the next. Just because it suits him, such a leader chooses his own patterns of worship to force onto the people rather than follow the pattern that Church has used for centuries: these patterns can change from week to week under a relativist. Words of hymns don't matter to the relativistic leader because all hymns are equal in their standing: they have only a relative value and that is to keep the congregation happy. The result is doctrinal instability because the people hear one message one week, and the opposite message the next. The people lack stability and thus cease to care about anything because it doesn't matter. Result: lack of substance, lack of growth, lack of mission.
Furthermore, relativists actually destroy unity, since "all views are equally valid" they choose their own way independently from everyone else, and we can see these effects in Africa where the African Anglicans are holding to the traditional doctrine unlike the West in which each priest is encouraged to take his own interpretation and force it upon their congregations. No wonder the Anglican Church is breaking up. As we see from the vote at General Synod, it is the relativists who force Traditionals out of the Communion because they block the channels along which Traditionals travel. The Relativist will accuse the Traditional of "throwing his toys out of the pram" but the Traditional cannot operate in that culture. It's like blocking the "earth" hole in a plug-socket and then telling a three prong plug to fit into it. The irony is that the relativist is more dogmatic than the Traditional because he follows his own personal dogma as true. The Traditional has no choice but to check everything up against the standard of the Catholic Faith, the relativist listens to either side of an argument and chooses the side he likes best.
It is also the relativists who accuse people who hold firm beliefs as being oppressive, fundamentalist, narrow-minded, dogmatic or intransigent. The Pope is seen an oppressor because he says that contraception is a sin. However, notice that relativists do not understand the issue properly. It isn't the Pope that says that contraception is a sin, it's the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church! In this instance the Pope is merely acting as a voice box declaring the truth of the Church. Whilst the Roman Catholic Church may not be united as it thinks it is, it still presents its doctrine carefully using liturgy, catechism, and community. The same is true with the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Traditional (Continuing) Anglican Churches of all persuasion.
In his last sermon as Cardinal Ratzinger, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI said
How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by very wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.
If we believe in a Catholic Church, as we say we do in the Nicene Creed (if your parish ever says that properly and doesn't replace it with some watered-down "Affirmation of Faith"), and we believe that we are part of that Catholic Church, then we have to be Catholic, i.e. conforming to the whole Church not according to the vision of the Church that we might hold in our heads.
If we say "I believe that 4+5=8", well that's fine. We can accept that as an opinion - it is a perfectly valid opinion and everyone has the right to believe that 4+5=8. However, would you trust an accountant who held that belief?
We can be absolutely sure that we are right when we conform to the Catholic Faith - how the relativists would hate for this to be true if they understood it. This requires much work, and no-one, not even the Pope speaks the Catholic Faith all the time. However, we have the Catholic Canon which will always correct us if we are willing to be corrected. Our required humility is that we recognise this and continue to study God's words as revealed in Scripture and Tradition with the judicious use of Right Reason.