No Change?

The Ma Whea? report detailed in the Foreward what the Commissioners believed to be the ‘backdrop’ for their work.  By quoting a truncated piece of thePreface to The Proposed Book of Common Prayer (1928) the Commissioners understand this to be the themes of ‘Legacy and Change.’


It appears part of the aim was ultimately to provide a way for change to be possible, through inclusion and accommodation of those who would like to see the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the ordination of those in same-sex relationships, whilst retaining our legacy, that is the traditional doctrine of the ACANZP on the nature of marriage being between one man and one woman.


Through these themes of Legacy and Change the Commissioners have attempted to provide a way for the ACANZP to have its cake and eat it too.  All we need to do is pick one of the four recommendations the Commissioners make (options C, D, F, or I).[1]


These four options seem attractive, especially for those of us who want to see our Church hold together and for no one to be disenfranchised.  Couldn’t we somehow let some bishops, or some dioceses, determine their practice for themselves and just live happily ever after?  Couldn’t we leave the doctrine alone to keep the traditionalists happy and just let a few people in same-sex relationships be quietly blessed and a few people in same-sex relationships quietly ordained?  Surely we could just change the practice in one or two places where they want to, as well as letting those who aren’t so happy with the change get on with business as usual?


Whilst Options C, D, F and I look like they will let us have our cake and eat it too, they are based on a flawed premise which the Ma Whea? Report disturbingly inserts in the outline, that is: ‘The central reality we confronted is that on the issue of same gender relationships the Anglican Church is in fact more than one church.’ (page 3)


There is no denying that at the moment our opinion is divided as a Church, although not as divided as perhaps we’ve been lead to believe – based on submissions to the commission we can see that the majority of Anglicans who submitted are overwhelmingly in favour of no change ‘There were 199 submissions from individuals and from groups of individuals. 198 people, 9 parishes, 1 Archdeaconry and 1 Diocese supported no change. There were 9 neutral submissions. 72 people, 1 parish and 2 Dioceses sought change.’


That majority aside, even in the midst of our division we are One Church.  We are united by one Anglican identity set out in the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles and the Ordinal.  These have formed the basis of our Canons that hold us together.  These formularies also articulate the ‘Doctrines of Christ’, which the Commissioners rightly recognise cannot be changed by the church.


For us to have our cake and eat it too we must necessarily become two churches.  For our practice will alter our doctrine.  In one place one thing will be done, it will be blessed and it will be described as very good.  In another, the opposite will be true.  Therefore, our doctrine will be changed, not by canonical change (although I’m certain this will come later), but in reality by our varying practice.  The saying Lex orandi, lex credendi articulates the idea that the church’s belief is lived out in its worship and practice.  We pray what we believe – that is, our prayers (and liturgical life) give expression to our doctrine.  So to alter the churches practice will necessarily redefine it’s doctrine, even if the canons aren’t altered.


If we allow our practice to change, in certain locations, or on a trial basis, we redefine our doctrine and create two churches.  Despite the Commissioner’s very best efforts when it comes to a change in doctrine, we can’t have our cake and eat it too.


Rev. Chaplain Zane Elliott.

Zane is a Chaplain in the New Zealand Army, & a member of Latimer Fellowship.


[1] Option C: Bishops to Determine What Equals Right Relationships

Option D: Delegate to Diocesan Synods/Te Runanganui Power to Determine Right Relationships

Option F: The Anglican Church Having Two Views

Option I: Anglican Church to Add a New Rite of Blessing by Priests of Those in a Same Sex Relationship


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