A NEED FOR THEOLOGY

Spiritual Renewal requires theological input, argues John Broadhurst

MANY ARE SAYING to me that things are looking better. Certainly among traditionalists there is a new mood of optimism. Two recent potential ordinands conferences run by Forward in Faith have produced numbers that few would have thought possible. This is particularly significant in a Church where ordination figures have plummeted in the last few years. I attended both conferences and there was a sense of adventure abroad. Young men with a real sense of Gospel commitment were willing to go ahead in spite of, or even because of, the present state of the Church. We will all watch their progress with interest.

For me personally a recent highlight was the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday at Christ the King, Gordon Square. 120 priests gathered with me to re-dedicate their ministry to service of the Lord. I found this a very moving experience. Any doubts I may have had about accepting an episcopal ministry evaporated. There is a job to do and I am needed.

Another highlight was the London regional Forward in Faith pilgrimage to Boulogne. 600 people out for the day together for worship and fun was an expression of incarnational religion at its best.

I also recently went to the Caister conference. This was a very worthwhile experience. Interestingly nearly all those present were involved in the work of Forward in Faith and many were from PEV parishes. This conference was organised by the Bishop of Horsham and concentrated upon the real need for spiritual renewal. A series of devotional addresses challenged the hearers to deeper devotion and an increased faith. The worship was a treat, and though obviously not to everyone’s taste, few could have failed to have been aware that God was alive and present.

At this conference two highlights for me were the theological content of sermons by the Bishops of London and Richborough. The Bishop of London preached on the need for Catholics to have a holistic and theological approach to the faith. I was amazed and disturbed when some privately suggested that this was not what they wanted to hear; rather they wanted mere encouragement.

They have to be wrong. Mutual encouragement is part of Christian discipleship but it is not an either\or choice. ‘Feely-touchy’ revival can work for a while, but it needs to be part of a wider revival of faith and order if it is to have lasting effect. What has happened to the Church of England is surely not a punishment for our lack of holiness, or lukewarm approach to the Faith. On the contrary, Garry Bennett was right in his analysis. We are where we are because we have failed to take history and theology seriously.

Opposition to the ordination of women is not defensible or sustainable if it is simply based upon a feeling that 'it is not right', or we have 'always done it this way', or even worse ‘women cannot do the job’. The only acceptable grounds for opposition are that it is contrary to God’s will, and therefore based upon a false theology. It was always a difficult debate because it touched nearly every possible area of theology and continually changed its ground. Christology, ecclesiology, creation, sex and gender, priesthood, ministry, vocation and countless other areas came into focus with confusing rapidity, and just as they were beginning to be addressed they disappeared again, only to re-appear later in another guise. This whole debate has been one of unresolved discussion, and unaddressed points. No one, for example, has even attempted to reply to the definitive textbook from a traditionalist viewpoint (Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1988 ). In what other area of theology would a major work last ten years without any attempt to answer it?

The Catholic revival in the Church of England worked because it was firmly based theologically and faced relevant contemporary issues. It was Spirit filled, it did challenge life styles, it did promote holiness and it was relevant to the world in which it found itself. Without this relevance it would not have been Catholic. The Christian faith is incarnational, and therefore always grounded in the real world. What is needed urgently is for us to tackle the major theological issues in a way that will be relevant for the whole Church. I am pleased to say that I am not alone in thinking this.

As part of the preparation for ‘Christ our Future’ Forward in Faith has organised three consecutive July conferences. These are at York University (around General Synod time). The first is this year, July 7\9, and its subject is Christology. Speakers this year are Fr. Jeremy Sheehy, Dr. Peter Toon, and Fr. David Ousley. Next year the conference will be on Ecclesiology, and the year after on Spirituality. I warmly commend these conferences and hope all who can will attend.

Cost of Conscience has organised a series of day seminars on the great heresies (which are all alive and kicking), and these also should be well supported. This is the second series they have run, and this year they are in the regions.

Finally the CU Theological Committee is running a Conference on the 11th\13th September at Canterbury on the subject ‘The Catholicity of Anglicanism’. Again this has a list of substantial speakers. All three conferences merit our support and details will be published in New Directions, or can be obtained from the FiF office.

It has long been a source of regret that we have still not delivered the promised papers for Clergy Chapters to work through these issues. Perhaps these conferences will do the job better, but they can only work if we are willing to put ourselves out and attend. It is often said that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. Personally speaking the silver lining of the last few years is that it has opened up theology in a real way and made me think again on matters I thought I could put aside on leaving University. I cannot be alone among the Clergy in finding that!

John Broadhurst is Bishop of Fulham and Chairman of Forward in Faith

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