Friday, November 23, 2012

Erastian Edicts and Popular Principles

"When the decision-making body of the established church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society which it represents then its position as the established church must be called into question." Eleanor Laing MP
Thus speaks a member of the British House of Commons following the Church of England's failure to reach agreement on the legislature on women in the episcopate. There are several rather interesting questions that arise from Ms Laing's statement:
  1. What does it mean for a Church to represent a society? To whom is that society being represented?
  2. What are the "general principles" of the British Society? Are they Christian? How are these "general principles" made and who has the authority to make them?
  3. Is the British Society actually sufficiently Christian in the first place? Does the idea of Established Church make any sense to those who do not live in a Christian milieu?
The problem is that there is an cognitive dissonance inherent in the (famously uncodified) British Constitution between what is truly authoritative, Church or State, and it is the archetypical Erastian dilemma. It is because of this dissonance that the Established Church has come under fire following the failure to provide coherent legislation to allow women to "become bishops". The voices that make the loudest railing against the CofE are those who believe that the principles of Society must be the principles of the Church. The CofE Traditionalists say that the reverse is true, that the principles of the Church must be the principles of Society. The dissonance goes away if the principles are truly agreed by both sides. Clearly, they are not otherwise this furore would not exist.
Our Lord Himself says:
"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (St Luke xvi.13)
So are there two masters here? There are certainly two sets of authority that potentially vie for obedience: State authority and Church authority. Now the Christian believes that the Church does hold all the doctrine necessary for Eternal Life - extra ecclesia nulla salus. The Church will be saved through the blood of Christ, but only God decides who is truly within it because Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church. The State controls the legislation and enforcing of those laws. What it must do is be clear as to what the principle sources of legislation are. If there is a State Church, then the implication is that there is some confluence between the principles of legislation and the Moral Doctrine of the Church. Where there is a divergence, there must be dissonance and the Christian finds himself presented with two authorities. The Lord bids him to go with the Doctrine of the Church.
Well, what are the General Moral Principles of the Church? What does the Lord command us?
"Thou shalt love the Lord thyGod with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it , Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (St Matthew xxii.37-39)
St Paul tells us, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Galatians v.14) but he is not decoupling the second commandment from the first as he is already talking to Christians for whom the first commandment is a given.

These are the General Principles of the Church: love God first, then men. Perhaps this is rather better expressed as: love men by loving God. It is God which is the source of love and who is also the source of true authority. Thus any agenda must be ratified by God first, for, if loving one's neighbour is a necessary condition, to ratify it through God as principle of Love first will be to ratify it through the second commandment too. God defines what "to love" means and then bids us demonstrate it to our neighbour. How does God tell us how to love? Well, God shows us how by example - just look at the whole life of Lord Jesus!

To remove the existence of God from the equation means that the principle of what true love is has been removed, and thus the possibility of noble sounding but potentially erroneous principles can be added. Without the Authoritative word of God, the principles become questionable and indeed questioned. As the U.K. has become a multicultural, and subsequently pluralist, and then secular society, the principle of God as an authority is indeed being removed. It is true that the legislature of the British Constitution no longer requires attendance at Mass because of the freedom of expression of Christianity different from the Established Church. With the influence of other religions and the freedom to believe in no god at all, the primary Commandment of the Decalogue ("I AM the Lord you God. Thou shalt have no other God but me") is breached. Already there is a dissonance between Church and State.

The Principles have changed and that is the key. Democracy is now the major authority, and any word of God is assumed to speak through the democratic process.

To have an Established Church means to have an automatic presence of the Church Hierarchy in the governing body and legislature qua Christian Governance. This essentially means that the Prophetic ministry of the Church has an automatic place in Government. Unless the principles of legislation are Christian, there will be dissonance between what the Church says and what the State says. This cannot be avoided. To assume, therefore, that because the Church dissents from the principles of government imposed by the State does not mean that the Church dissents from its own principles. The Government may push for some res nobilitatis but if there is no adequately corresponding concept of this in Church Doctrine, then it will mean nothing beyond trying to foist temporal philosophy onto Eternal Truth. Many will try to reconcile the philosophy with the Truth, but in so doing they will ultimately find themselves trying to serve two masters.

To criticise the decision processes of the CofE from outside the CofE is not entirely fair if one does not hold to the Governing principles of the Established Church. One might as well criticise an apple for not holding to orange principles. Whatever one might wish the CofE to do, the CofE will only truly accord it if it adheres to CofE principles. However, it is clear from the results of the General Synod's vote on Tuesday that the CofE herself is not entirely sure what her principles are. Her understanding of what ordination is is at least 75% Protestant and it is not clear whether the remaining 25% ascribes to a properly Catholic understanding of ordination.

Nonetheless, the Established Church has, largely through her own capitulation to Democratic Doctrine, been the butt of many a hysterical outburst from those who really really do not understand the problem largely because they either catcall from the outside or grouse as they try to serve two masters on the inside. It is, however, interesting how the General Principle of Charity is the first to go. May the CofE be guided along the right path by Almighty God, and by Him alone.

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