By Canon Gary L’Hommedieu, Virtueonline
In the Episcopal Church the "issue that won’t go away" is the ordination of women (WO). It might better be called "the gift that keeps on giving", because the precedent set in legislating new forms of ministry in the liberal churches has served as a basis for theological method in what is now a post-theological Christendom.
THE PROBLEM OF THEOLOGY
Western Christians no longer theologize. That is, they no longer expound a Sacred Deposit of axiomatic doctrines received as divine revelation. For a Christian community to do theology there must be some agreed basis for receiving a body of doctrine as revealed truth. The Roman Catholic Church has such an institutional basis for expounding doctrine, as do the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Protestant churches have a basis for expressing doctrine only so long as the given church stays together. This is another way of saying that they have no basis for doctrine but only for theological speculation. "Church" here really refers to a collection of likeminded individuals. Doctrine is understood from the standpoint of the individual and his conscience.
It is not sufficient to invoke the Bible, because the Bible does not interpret itself. If it did, then the present divisions within the churches could only be thinkable as deliberate mischief. It is not altogether honest for Christians to claim the Bible as the operative authority in the church but remain silent as to how that authority is expressed. Protestants will not give credence to that word "tradition" or to any other term which givers shape to doctrine. It is important that their reading simply be "biblical".
When evangelicals claim the Bible as their authority, what they usually mean is "my reading of the Bible". Indeed, what else could they mean? When a conservative Bible scholar publishes a book with proof texts for the doctrine of the Trinity, thus proving it to be biblical, he is himself posing as the authority. This he would rather do than give credence to the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople. On the other hand, what would he say to the great heresiarchs who opposed the doctrine? Their arguments were also biblical.
The Anglican Churches in their discussion of the covenant may move into a framework where an appeal to doctrine would be possible and not merely a matter of habit–one which, as we have become painfully aware, can all too easily be broken and replaced by others. This is, no doubt, entirely the reason why some of the Anglican Provinces resist the covenant. Covenant means accountability.
The Episcopal Church pays lip service to "core doctrine" but this core is on display under glass. TEC threw out the doctrinal baby with the ecclesiastical bathwater in 1996 when Bishop Walter Righter was exonerated in an ecclesiastical trial on heresy charges in the ordination of an openly gay deacon. The majority opinion of the court was that the ordination violated no "core doctrine", as in the dogmas enshrined in the major creeds. The implicit doctrines of the Nicene Creed, for example–the Trinity, creation, incarnation, redemption, the Spirit’s inspiration of the prophets (i.e., canonical scriptures)–none of these were deemed relevant to the doctrine of human sexuality implicit in Righter’s action.
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