Lead Story

The Columba Declaration

David Mumford on problems of jurisdiction and doctrine

The Columba Declaration, a joint agreement between the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, was approved by the General Synod in February by 243 votes to 50 with 49 abstentions. Many members of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) – including the Primus – had expressed serious reservations about the declaration, and had hoped that the General Synod would defer giving its endorsement to the document until

there had been further discussion with the Scottish Episcopal Church. The declaration raises major issues both of jurisdiction and of doctrine.

Background

The Reformation in Scotland had nothing to do with Henry VIII. In the 1550s and 1560s it had more to do with the preaching of John Knox (who was offered but declined an English bishopric), and strong pressure for reform from some of the Scottish bishops. For the next 90 years ecclesiastical governance of the Church of Scotland wavered between Episcopalians and Presbyterians. There was then a Cromwellian interlude, after which Episcopal governance was re-established under Charles II. In 1689 James II and VII fled, to be replaced by William and Mary.

The Scottish bishops had sworn oaths of allegiance to James and – like the Non-Jurors in England – they considered themselves bound by them. William decided to support the Presbyterians, and over the next 15 years Episcopalians were slowly expelled. The fact that many Episcopalians chose to support the losing side in the 1715 and 1745 rebellions led to anti-Episcopalian penal laws, and it was only after the death of Charles Edward Stuart that Episcopalians were willing to pray for the Hanoverian monarchs.

The penal laws were eventually relaxed, and those Anglicans in Scotland who worshipped in ‘qualified chapels' – communities who had not embraced the Jacobite cause and whose clergy had been ordained in England or Ireland – sought to come under the authority of the Scottish bishops. The SEC is now an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion.

Where to worship?

The Columba Declaration blurs the very real differences between the SEC and the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland is the national church and has parishes. In my ministry in Scotland I regularly had to explain to Anglicans who had moved from England that the parish church was Presbyterian, and that it was the SEC that was part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. SEC clergy are episcopally ordained, and the SEC proclaims its commitment to apostolic order on the signs outside each of its churches.

Part of the Columba Declaration states that the Church of England and the Church of Scotland wish to welcome one another's members to each other's worship as guests; and to receive one another's members into the congregational life of each other's churches, where that is their desire. People will of course make their own choices. But the fact that such a statement is made at all suggests that the Church of England will respond warmly to the idea that its members will worship in Church of Scotland Churches when in Scotland. Yet the Church of England's Anglican Communion partner in Scotland is the Scottish Episcopal Church and I would hope that Anglican churches would encourage their members going to different provinces to worship in an Anglican church.

Sacraments and Priesthood

The second provision is that the partners will ‘enable ordained ministers from one of our churches to exercise ministry in the other church, in accordance with the discipline of each church’. This is in the context of an earlier acknowledgement that the partners ‘look forward to a time when growth in communion can be expressed in fuller unity that makes possible the interchangeability of ministers'.

The declaration states that ‘We acknowledge that in both our churches the word of God is truly preached, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered.' If Episcopal ordination is not needed for the right administration of the Eucharist, then how does that square with the Lambeth Quadrilateral and with Canon B12 of the Church of England? The Church of England in its relations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Old Catholic Churches has been clear that it stands within the historic episcopate. It would also be interesting to know how the Church of Scotland will square the Westminster Confession's view that there is no sacrificial element in the Holy Communion with the statement in the document that in the Eucharist Christ unites us with himself in a full and sufficient sacrifice.

One of my eye-opening experiences was the first Church of Scotland communion service that I attended. At the end of the service what was left over of the wine that had been used was poured back into the bottle to be re-used at the next communion service, and the leftover bread was thrown away. At that point I recognised that what I believed about the Eucharist and what my Church of Scotland colleague believed were clearly not compatible. I am not arguing that the grace of God is bounded by the sacraments, and I would willingly look for the presence of the Holy Spirit in a Church of Scotland communion service – but it lacks the sacramental assurance of a Eucharist celebrated by an episcopally ordained priest conscious of the Real Presence and the need reverently to dispose of unused consecrated elements.

There is a serious lack of clarity in the document about episcopacy, priesthood, and the sacraments.

A Scottish Sacrament Henry John Dobson (1858-1928)

 

Jurisdiction

The question here is not whether the development of ecumenical relationships is desirable – of course it is. Rather, the question is about whether that development can take place respectfully and in good order. The SEC now seems to be faced with the possibility that Church of England clergy will minister in Scotland under the authorisation of the Church of Scotland, and without reference to the SEC. But the Church of England and the SEC are partner members of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion in Scotland is expressed in the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Scotland is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion and the Church of England has no jurisdiction in Scotland. How would members of the CofE feel if the SEC opened talks with the United Reformed Church and resolved that, although its ministers were not episcopally ordained, they could with full sacramental assurance celebrate the Eucharist – and without the oversight of the relevant diocesan bishop?

Problems over jurisdiction are one of the main issues that the worldwide Anglican Communion is dealing with presently. It is contradictory for the Church of England on the one hand to wish to uphold its own jurisdiction, and on the other hand to move towards recognising the orders of Church of Scotland ministers in a different province.

There is a real risk that the actions of the CofE bishops and General Synod will be seen as typifying a colonial mindset that is wilfully blind to the existence of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and which ignores the SEC's commitment to apostolic order and evangelical truth. ND

The Very Revd David Mumford is a former Dean of Brechin.

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