The Church is in a full-blown civil war over doctrine, as Dan Hitchens observed earlier this week in a carefully argued and fully evidenced article. Coincidentally, the Church of England’s doctrinal civil war has taken a new turn at the latest sitting of the General Synod, with heated debates over same-sex relationships. Michael Fabricant MP suggests in the Telegraph that Anglicans should jettison their “conservative” wing. In the same newspaper, the devout and passionate Andrea Minichiello Williams makes a convincing case for Christian tradition.
The Williams article makes one very important point: “The Church can’t give its blessing to same-sex marriages when its sole source of authority does not.” She is completely correct to pinpoint the question of authority as crucial. If anyone is proposing change, one must ask by what authority do they act? When a change cannot be backed up by Scripture (crucial for all Christians) and by Tradition and the Magisterium (especially crucial for Catholics), then there can be no presumption that change is right. When Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium are not merely not silent on the matter, but explicitly forbid what is being proposed, then the matter is even more clear-cut.
This is not “fundamentalism”, a charge often levelled at people like Andrea Minichiello Williams. If the Scriptural foundation of the Church’s teaching – any Church’s teaching – is removed – then it follows logically that no teaching is to be regarded as absolute, and thus no teaching is to be regarded as worthy of belief, for all teachings are from now on, in theory at least, open to radical revision.
If we look at the sort of Church that Michael Fabricant is envisioning, it is a Church without any foundation at all, except the vagaries of public opinion. Contrary to what he thinks, such a Church would simply fade away. It would, for a moment, seem terribly up to date, but that would last merely a few years. It would come to look increasingly desperate as it struggled to keep up with every vagary of public opinion, which is hardly coherent and ever fluctuating.
Catholics cannot be smug about this, for the same pressures that afflict the Anglicans are now being brought to bear on us. Those who are proposing change need to be confronted with the question of authority and challenged to show us where in Scripture, where in the Magisterium, and where in the Tradition is there anything that can be used to justify communion for those living in irregular unions. They would have a hard task to find any useful evidence for their position. Moreover, they have advanced no argument of merit, as far as I can see, that suggests that change in this matter is desirable or necessary.
Meanwhile, Catholics should look at the Church of England, for what is happening there today represents our future too unless we are not merely careful, but faithful to what we have received. The Anglican civil war began at the Lambeth Conference of 1930. Ours is just beginning, and will, perhaps, run for many a year yet.