Tuesday, March 08, 2016

What Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Means by "Core Doctrine"

After the Episcopal church got spanked by the Anglican Primates over same-sex marriage, and were asked to not take part of any voting on doctrinal issues ( ruling which TEc has disavowed), it was only a matter of time before revisionist teaching as to what exactly constitutes "doctrine" reared its ugly head.

For most of us, doctrines should not only be derived from the Bible but should also be consistent with a plain reading of the texts. The Church has in the past added things such as Purgatory, Indulgences, etc which did not stand the test of Biblical scrutiny and were eventually rejected by reformers.

Today, the idea of "Core Doctrine" has been floated in order to shield the Episcopal church from the separation it faces as a result of its adoption of a new doctrine of marriage that permits same-sex marriage.

Unfortunately for those in the Episcopal church (TEc) there are no reformers left to demand the rejection of false doctrine.

Lacking such voices from within the church, let me quote from S. Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams new book entitled "Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition" as reported at The Gospel Coalition,
"The issue is not whether the Bible addresses homosexual practice: it does. It is not whether diverse interpretations on this issue have existed in the history of the church: they have not. The issue is, rather, what is authoritative for the church in the formation of its convictions and in its practices."
Is the Bible authoritative for the church or not? That sounds like a doctrinal issue to me. Unfortunately, the use of the term "authoritative" just creates another crack for revisionists to prevaricate over and argue about just as they will do over the words "core" and "doctrine" when used separately or together.

As far as the current issue goes, these authors see no room for compromise for those who agree that the Bible is authoritative for the Church.
"On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because both Scripture and the church have consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church’s teaching. That is where we wish to leave the matter, for that is the point at which some in the church are dividing from the rest of the church universal, from the teaching of the church in other centuries, and from what must indeed be considered the teaching of all Christians."
In the Episcopal church, people have made the matter much more complicated because the authority of the Bible has been under attack for decades. Rather than trying to support same-sex marriage on the basis of what is found in Holy Scripture, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry claims that it all boils down to "Core Doctrine".
For me, marriage is not part of core doctrine. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is core doctrine. The doctrine of who Jesus Christ is – wholly God and wholly human – is doctrine. The articles of the Creeds are doctrine. The Holy Scriptures and the Old and New Testament are core doctrine.  Other sections of the Chicago–Lambeth Quadrilateral are core doctrine. Marriage is a sacramental right, it is a solemn and sacred matter of faith and practice.  But it is not core doctrine.
I guess he would throw Marriage into the same basket as Purgatory and Indulgences.

The decision in the 1996 Righter Trial in which Bishop Walter Righter was tried for heresy after ordaining a non celibate homosexual man provides insight into how the Episcopal church twists the meaning of what is not "Core Doctrine" to basically mean "Anything that can be argued about in scripture", and we all know what that means (in revisionist circles it means everything in the Bible can be disputed).

The following is the court's not so brief explanation of doctrine which it conveniently splits up into "core doctrine" and "doctrinal teaching" (or not so core doctrine for you simple pewsitters). I have highlighted a few points.

II. Doctrine is the Basic Issue
In a pre-trial hearing held on December 8, 1995, in Hartford, Connecticut, the Presenters and Respondent agreed that the basic issue in this case is the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. The Court gave permission to the parties to submit a paper and cite additional published resources that would guide the Court in deciding the question: 'What does and does not constitute the doctrine of the Church, particularly as it is binding on what a bishop may or may not teach?' (Memorandum and Order of the Court, January 10, 1996). The submissions were made and the question of doctrine was the focus of the arguments before the Court in the first session of the trial held in Wilmington, Delaware, on February 27, 1996. The Court has given careful consideration to these arguments, the submissions offered by the parties, the published resources submitted and cited by them, and the Court's own understanding of doctrine in the Anglican tradition as bishops of the Episcopal Church entrusted with the doctrine and teaching of the Church.

A. The Scope of Doctrine in Relationship to the Church's Teaching and Discipline 
In the case before us the Presenters have argued by submissions and oral argument that doctrine includes the Church's teaching as well as its Creeds. In their view, all doctrinal teaching comes under the weighty purview of Title IV especially Canon IV.1.1(2) (1994) (cf. Canon IV.1.1(c) [1996]) for 'holding and teaching publicly or privately and advisedly any doctrine contrary to that held by the Church.' The Court finds that this is overreaching the Anglican understanding of doctrine. We are not a confessional church which has carefully articulated and identified the entire scope of its teaching and the disciplinary consequences for the violation of its teaching. The Court is bound not to extend this Church in that direction without explicit authority from General Convention of the Church, which is the Church acting corporately.
On the other hand, Respondent makes a sharp distinction between doctrine and discipline. Respondent relies heavily on the close reasoning of the Preface of the Book of Common Prayer which states:
. . . that in his worship different forms and usages may without offense be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that in every church what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people, 'according to the various exigency of times and occasions.'
Once you make the argument that your issue is a controversial area, you have moved the discussion away from core doctrine, all you need to do next is get enough votes (common consent in TEc lingo) at General Convention in  order to do the next new thing.
(Book of Common Prayer, 9). Standing alone this language would seem to deny the force of doctrine to anything other than creedal formations. Indeed Respondent argues that doctrine is limited to statements about God and not about human relationships. (Transcript of the Record, February 27, 1996, 131, 134-35). Making this sharp distinction ignores the broader context of Anglican thought and practice.
The Court is guided by what we understand to be a broader Anglican tradition. In doing so, we follow a more flexible course. We hold that doctrine involves more than creedal affirmations, and that it involves a spectrum which includes not only faith and belief, but morals and practice. In affirming this, the Court understands that the issue before us is not a general definition of doctrine and its scope, but rather the question of what doctrine is protected by Title IV.
"We follow a more flexible course." This gives wide latitude for all kinds of deviations from traditional interpretation of scripture.

B. Core Doctrine
Within Anglicanism there is a long tradition of appeal to fundamental doctrine as supplying a basis for reckoning a Church to be a true Church. This 'Core Doctrine' of the Church arises out of the Gospel itself, and is rooted and grounded in Holy Scripture.
It is the story of God's relationship to God's people, and has been entrusted to the Church as the people of God, the bearers of God's mission to 'restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.' (See 'An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism,' Book of Common Prayer, 855). 
The Court holds to the ancient distinction between the Core Doctrine which is derived from the Gospel preaching, kerygma, and the Church's teaching, didache, of those things necessary for our life in community and the world. The kerygma is found in the life and teaching of Jesus and the preaching and evangelistic action of the Church revealed in the New Testament and other early Christian documents. Sound and trustworthy biblical scholarship has identified the basic contents of the kerygma. See, for example, C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching (New York and London: Harper & Bros., 1936). They are:
God in Christ fulfills the scripture.
God became incarnate in Jesus Christ.
Christ was crucified.
Christ was buried.
Christ rose again.
Christ was exalted to God.
God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
There will be a day of judgment.
Therefore repent.
That leaves a whole lot of "stuff" out of TEc's definition of core doctrine. Most importantly, forget Jesus' teachings, and forget anything about our sinful nature without which we wouldn't need a saviour.

This kerygma evolved during a period of controversy which culminated in the first four General Councils of the Church, and was given expression in particular through the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, in agreement with the formula of St. Vincent of Lerins, the so-called Vincentian Canon: 'What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.' (See F.L. Cross, ed., Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church [London: Oxford, 1957], 1423). Core Doctrine is understood as of the essence of Christianity and necessary for salvation, and is therefore binding on all who are baptized. Core Doctrine, therefore, is unchangeable.
Since it is unchangeable, the court must be careful to exclude any of Christ's teachings that have to do with human sexuality, because this court's goal was to justify homosexual behavior.

C. Where is Core Doctrine to be Found? 
Anglicans have important grounds for viewing the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888 (see Book of Common Prayer, 876) as a reflection of this understanding of Core Doctrine, one which sets forth what we hold as essential to the restoration of the unity of the Church. This Quadrilateral describes not only articles of belief but a way of life. The use of scripture and the creeds in worship, the centrality of the dominical sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Eucharist, and the practice of episcopal government represent elements which seek to ensure the transmission of orthodox apostolic doctrine, not solely to propound it. We are guided by the Anglican understanding of lex orandi, lex credendi, (the law of prayer, the law of faith). Worship, when faithful to Holy Scripture, expresses the kerygma as the living dwelling place of the Church's Core Doctrine. It is this tradition of 'continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship' which we pledge to continue in the Baptismal Covenant. (See ibid., 304).
When applied to the present issue, same sex marriage rites are clearly not faithful to scripture, and any teaching that same sex marriages are blessed is not "continuing in the apostles' teaching and fellowship", and is a violation of the holy cow of the Episcopal church, their "Baptismal Covenant".

It is this Core Doctrine, and not the broad definition urged by the dissent, which is protected by the Canons of the Church, particularly Canon IV.1.1(2) (1994) (cf. Canon IV.1.1(c) [1996]) which we have before us today. Teaching contrary to this Core Doctrine is constrained by this Canon. This understanding of the doctrine of the Church, protected by canon law, is consistent with the holding of the Court of Review in In the Matter of the Presentment of Bishop William Montgomery Brown, Decision and Opinion, Court for the Review of the Trial of a Bishop, January 15, 1925, 15-18, affirmed by Opinion and Decision, Court of Review for the Trail of a Bishop, 1925, Archives of the Episcopal Church (hereinafter 'Bishop Brown Case'). Among other things, the Court of Review affirmed the holding of the trial court that:
The doctrine of this Church is fixed by the whole Church, acting in its corporate capacity, and not by the individual opinions or interpretations placed upon any documents supposed to contain the Church's doctrine, by any bishop, priest or deacon speaking individually . . . .
The question has been asked by counsel as to where the doctrine of the Church is to be found. In reply the Court expresses its opinion that such doctrine is to be found in the Book of Common Prayer as adopted and established by the Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. It is perhaps superfluous to state that the most important formularies of doctrine are the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds.
Since doctrine is found in the BCP, this is why present day Episcopalians are planning to create a new Prayer Book that will include gender neutral language and/or a same-sex marriage liturgy.

It is a matter of common knowledge that the doctrine of the Church is not formulated in the Holy Scriptures, but is in all cases to be supported by the Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Church in its corporate capacity.
The corporate capacity in the case of TEc means its own General Convention and does not include the rest of the Anglican Communion or any other entity.

(Bishop Brown Case, Transcript of the Record, Court for the Trial of a Bishop, May 29, 1924, Archives of the Episcopal Church, 133-34). This Court reaffirms the decision of Bishop Brown Case in holding that the 'doctrine of the Church' as the term 'doctrine' is used in Canon IV.1.1(2) (1994) (cf. Canon IV.1.1(c) [1996]) and Article VIII of the Constitution, is the Core Doctrine as set forth by the court in the Bishop Brown Case. We agree with and reaffirm the holding in the Bishop Brown Case that this doctrine is not found but rather is grounded in Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture is the story of our relationship to God. It is not at heart a rule book of doctrine or discipline. It is the foundation on which and by which all doctrine and tradition are to be tested.
If this were true, then Bishop Righter's action failed the test of scripture as does Presiding Bishop Curry's stance on same-sex marriage.

D. Theology is Different From Doctrine
We also agree with the holding of the Bishop Brown Case that doctrine in the Anglican sense is to be established by the whole Church acting in its corporate capacity. Doctrine is not to be confused with 'theology' which is prayerful reflection on scripture and Core Doctrine in the light of the Christian experience. While such reflection has helped to form doctrine, theology may also offer diverse understandings of Holy Scripture and doctrine. It is a reflection upon and guidance for Christian life and practice. The Anglican tradition has encouraged theological diversity and supports faithful exploration in developing theology rather than a confessional definition. Nevertheless, all theology is in the end to be subordinated to the Core Doctrine of the Church's faith.

E. Count One Dismissed
Accordingly, the Court holds that the protection afforded by the disciplinary canons of Title IV to matters of doctrine is limited to what we describe as Core Doctrine. The Court finds that there is no Core Doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate, homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex and therefore the Court dismisses Count 1., ,
On that ruling hangs all the revisionists and visionaries.

III. Traditional Doctrinal Teaching
A. Respondent's Motions Regarding Count 2
The Court has decided it has full jurisdiction of all issues encompassed in Count 2. The discussion of the Court's decision on the issues raised regarding its jurisdiction of Court 2 is set forth at pages 21 to 26 below. 
B. Traditional Teaching
Alongside the Core Doctrine through the ages has stood the Church's teaching, the didache. Various sources, including documents submitted to the Court, call this teaching 'doctrine,' 'doctrinal teaching,' and 'traditional teaching.' The terms are frequently used interchangeably. For instance, we speak of the Church's 'doctrine of marriage;' sometimes this 'doctrine' is referred to as the Church's 'traditional teaching.' In every instance, it is intended by the Church to be an expression of the contours by which faithful Christian marriage is to be lived.
Marriage has been relegated to "teaching" which as we saw earlier is something that is subject to change by popular demand.
As another example, we speak of the 'just war doctrine' in attempting to offer ethical and moral standards to guide us in deciding whether or not to go to war. Doctrinal teachings as illustrated by these examples are used by the Church to guide its members in living the faith day by day in the Church and the world. Doctrinal teachings, grounded in Holy Scripture, seek to interpret the Holy Scripture, the Core Doctrine described above, and the Church's tradition, that the people of God may understand and faithfully live out the mission entrusted to us. As the dissent points out, there are other examples of teachings that are referred to as 'doctrine' such as the 'doctrine of episcopal collegiality.'
Doctrinal teachings are of vital importance for the life of the Church. They are the deposit of the Church's tradition from age to age, understood and expounded by the gift of reason which integrates the lived experience of the people of God in particular times and places, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 'Doctrine' in this sense consists of 'communally authoritative teachings regarding belief and practice that are considered essential to the identity and welfare of the group in question.' 
Traditional teachings give guidance to the Church and focus its life and that of its members. They contain the patterns of interpretation and ethics that guide us amid the challenges and decisions that pull and tug at the disciples of Jesus the Christ. The history of Anglicanism has from the sixteenth century to the present been marked by an effort to understand the relation between traditional teaching and the demands of life within changing social, political, and theological understandings and realities. 
It is significant that both Presenters and Respondent have sought support for their position in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity of Richard Hooker (1554-1600), a work which has shaped Anglican theology to the present. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Folger Library Edition of The Works of Richard Hooker, 1977-1993). Hooker is at pains, in the controversies with Puritan elements in England, to shape and defend a church polity within which there is a unity of vision linking scripture, tradition, and reason. No church polity is good, he argues, unless God is its author. But God is present as author either by light of the scripture itself, or by the natural light of reason guided by the Holy Spirit. Although scripture is the source of many laws, there are 'laws for the Polity of the Church [which] may be made by the advice of men . . . those Laws being not repugnant to the Word of God are approved by his sight.' Thus, there are matters for which the scripture hath not provided by any law, but left them unto the carefull discretion of the Church: . . . and what is so in these case, partly scripture and partly reason must teach to discern. (Ibid., vol. III, intro. and ch. ix. 1.). For our purposes, it is enough to note that Hooker's effort at comprehensivness has shaped a tradition extending through such figures as Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Gore in the last century, and William Temple and Michael Ramsey in our own. In From Gore to Temple: The Development of Anglican Theology between Lux Mundi and the Second World War (London: Lonmans, 1960), 27, Ramsey wrote:
There is . . . a distinctive witness still to be borne by Anglican theology out of the depths of its own tradition. . . . There is here a task that Anglican theology can yet perform, by keeping alive the importance of history in the manner of its great divines of the past, by strenuous attempts to relate Biblical revelation to other categories of thought in the contemporary world, by striving to integrate dogma with spirituality in the life of prayer, by presenting the Church as the effectual sign of the supernatural in the midst of the natural order.
The Court understands that doctrinal teaching in the broad sense includes belief, practice, faith, and morals. Stability of doctrinal teaching is important for the order and unity of the Church. Nevertheless, the context in which we live, worship and carry out our ministry does change. As the context changes, the Church's teaching may also change in order to guide us in living the Christian life as we face new circumstances and understandings. Changes in doctrinal teaching must always seek to be in conformity and obedience to the Core Doctrine as interpreted by the Church in its corporate capacity. 

C. Changes in Doctrinal Teaching
The Court notes that development and change in the Church's doctrinal teaching has occurred in various aspects of the Church's life. For example, for most of its history the Church understood slavery as normative in society and acceptable within Christian life and practice. Gradually, we have come to accept that the enslavement of human beings violates the Gospel's gift of freedom and dignity to every human being. The continuing struggle to understand and overcome the effects of racism in contemporary culture indicates that this work has not yet been completed, nor have we fully grasped its implications for faith and morals.
I was wondering when the slavery argument would show up.

On to divorce and marriage,
Similarly, the Church for generations also interpreted New Testament passages on divorce and remarriage as a fixed and unchangeable law which prohibited remarriage in the Church after divorce. We have come to see and understand that marriages can die and even be places of destruction which may justify their termination. Furthermore, as the Episcopal Church now recognizes, remarriage in the light of the Gospel can be a new beginning grounded upon God's forgiveness and reconciliation. Again, as revisions in the Book of Common Prayer make clear, the Church has changed its teaching on the emphasis placed on the several purposes of marriage. With a dramatic decline in infant mortality, greatly extended life expectancy, and a worldwide population explosion, the focus on procreation of children has been subsumed in many places by a heightened emphasis on marriage as a union of husband and wife for their mutual joy and support. This shift has been accompanied by a strong acceptance of family planning and the use of contraception, views strongly resisted within the Anglican communion a generation earlier. 
This reshaping of the doctrinal teaching of the Church in the face of new historical contexts and in the light of reason and faithful reflection on experiences was at the heart of the Report of the Advisory Committee of the Episcopal Church chaired by Bishop Stephen F. Bayne, Jr.. (See 'Report of the Advisory Committee on Theological Freedom and Social Responsibilities,' reprinted in Journal of the General Convention of the . . . Episcopal Church [New York: General Convention, 1967], app. 6 [hereinafter 'Bayne Committee Report']). The Bayne Committee Report was a response from within the House of Bishops to the controversial teachings of Bishop James A. Pike. The summary from that report provides sound guidance for the Church of this day as well (with apologies for the report's use of gender, itself a note of contextual change):
God makes men free. It does not behoove His Church to try to hobble their minds or inhibit their search for new insights into truth. The Church not only should tolerate, but should actively encourage, free and vigorous theological debate, application of the Gospel to social wrongs, re- statement of Christian doctrines to make them more intelligible to contemporary minds, and experimentation with new forms of worship and service. Any risks the Church may run by fostering a climate of genuine freedom are minor compared to the dangers it surely will encounter from any attempts at suppression, censorship or thought-control. The Church can command the respect of modern man only if it has the confidence, courage, and honesty to test its faith in the free-market place of ideas.
I think the court made a terrible error here and unleashed the demon of revisionism to ravage the Episcopal church, its seminaries, its clergy, and its pewsitters for decades to come.
We believe that the historic Christian faith can stand that test, and are not afraid to have it subjected to the most searching scrutiny. To that end, we recommend the establishment of institutes and seminars and provisions for new training which will enable laymen and clergymen to participate more positively in theological discourse. We recommend a new design for meetings of the Bishops to give more opportunity for theological discussion. We recommend the formation of a Standing Commission on the Teaching of the Church.[]
While we affirm the right of every man to choose what he will believe without any kind of coercion whatever, we also assert the right of the Church to maintain its distinctive identity and continuity as a community of faith centered around the historic revelation of God in Christ. Although we certainly do not uphold a narrow verbal orthodoxy which requires a person to give literal assent to some particular formulation of doctrine, we do believe that if an individual finds himself unable, in good conscience, to identify with the living tradition of the Church, reflected in the Bible, the Creeds, and, especially for Anglicans, in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, he should as a matter of personal integrity voluntarily remove himself from any position in which he may be taken to be an official spokesman for the whole community.
Without censuring or condemning any individual for his ideas, the Church may find it necessary, on occasion, to dis-associate itself publicly from theological views which it considers to be seriously subversive of essential Christian truths. But this should be done in a positive and constructive way, and with scrupulous fairness to those concerned, by explaining what the Church does believe. The best answer to bad doctrine is good doctrine.
Don't hold your breath waiting for good doctrine to come out of the processes of the Episcopal church. It has been twenty years since the Righter trial, and it would seem that General Convention after General Convention has been trying to answer bad doctrine with worse doctrine.
'Heresy trials' are anachronistic. Although the Church may feel that it must maintain a last-resort power to deal juridically with Bishops or priests who publicly engage in persistent and flagrant contradiction of its essential witness, we strongly recommend that initiation of this process be made extremely difficult. To that end, we propose a drastic revision of canon law, to insure that no charge of deviant teaching may be put forward by only three bishops, and that no such charge may proceed to the stage of a formal trial without the advance concurrence of two-thirds of the House of Bishops.
We do not believe that there are many who willfully set out to destroy the Christian community. We are prepared to say that there are many ideas and speculations which fail to do justice to the acts by which God gave us the Church in the beginning. We agree that it is essential that the Church make its own judgments as to those ideas and speculations. But, in all this, we pray that the Church may not act as less than what it is -- the community of those who know, have accepted, and mean to show, the love of God and His supporting grace for all who mean to bear honest witness for Him.
(Ibid., app. 6.23-6.24).
It is clear that Presiding Bishop Curry is making the same error that the court in the Righter trial made in 1996. Through revision of the definition of doctrine, and playing word games with "core doctrine" and "doctrinal teaching" almost anything can be justified thereby opening the doors of the Church to all manner of heresy.

Lord have mercy on the Episcopal church, it knows not what it is doing.

Addendum: After completing this post, I see where Canon Phil Ashey posts similar comments in a shorter format. I have included a large swath of the 1996 document for completeness. 

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting how sins that preclude one from entering the Kingdom of God are not considered 'core' to such persons. Thanks for this discussion.