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Of "The Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ"

Here's the sixth chapter of the WFWG report

Way Forward Working Group  |  22 Feb 2016

This section addresses the question of whether General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui may lawfully adopt the proposals contained in this report.  The working group does not seek to predict what others, such as a tribunal established to consider the lawfulness of any change, may do.  Rather, the working group explains here how a tribunal may come to think a change is lawful.

Te Pouhere clearly sets out that General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui is bound to hold and maintain “the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as the Lord commanded in Holy Scripture and as explained in

   The Book of Common Prayer 1662
   Te Rawiri
   The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating Bishops, Priests and Deacons
   The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion
   A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa”

Change to the formularies is permitted, but with the proviso that any change “shall not empower or be deemed to empower the General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui to depart from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as defined in the Fundamental Provisions of this Constitution.” 

The members of the working group are not themselves in agreement over the question of whether a rite of blessing of same-sex relationships, which would then be regarded as rightly-ordered, would represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ.  For General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2016 it is on precisely this question that divergent views are certain to be focussed. 

Therefore, for the guidance of the members of General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui, several observations are offered:

  1. The formularies are clear that the Sacraments of Christ are Baptism and Holy Communion alone.  Marriage is expressly excluded as a sacrament by articles 25 and 39 of the Articles of Religion.  The addition of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships would not therefore have sacramental import.
  2. Precisely what is meant by “the Doctrine of Christ” (and what is not meant) is less obviously established.  The phrase may mean a particular body of teaching about Christ, or Jesus’ own particular teaching.  Some might assert it is the core matters of faith in Christ as they bear upon the matter of redemption accomplished by and in him.  Others may hold that the Doctrine of Christ means all that we read in scripture regarding the whole of life as lived to God in faithful response to the gospel.  This last possibility demonstrates the differing interpretations of scripture that are set out in the report of the Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions that was delivered to the Standing Committee of Te Hīnota Whānui / General Synod and the Ma Whea? Commission in March 2014.
  3. Some are likely to understand the phrase “the Doctrine of Christ… as the Lord has commanded in Holy Scripture” as meaning that every part of scripture is “the Doctrine of Christ.”  Others will understand that reading the Doctrine of Christ through the formularies will lead us to understand that Doctrine as involving the essential matters that are dealt with in the Creeds, for example, and that matters outside of these are not covered by Te Pouhere in referring to the Doctrine of Christ.

If the Church, represented by the participants at General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2016, decides that the addition of a rite of blessing for rightly ordered same-sex relationships does not contradict the Doctrine of Christ, then the way forward proposed in this report suggests a process and structure that may serve to achieve this change while upholding the integrity of those who cannot agree.

The working group notes that provision is made in the Church of England Empowering Act 1928 for a tribunal to be formed, should such a decision be reached.  Specifically, there is an appeal period specified of up to one year from the date of the adoption by General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui of any new formulary, its having been approved by a majority of dioceses / amorangi, and returned to a following General Synod / Hīnota Whānui (a “two-round” process that is illustrated further below).

Therefore, again for the guidance of the Church, two observations are made about that appeal process.  Firstly, the Church of England Empowering Act 1928 is legislation of the New Zealand Parliament and has not been updated to reflect the structure of the three tikanga Church.  The requirement to refer any proposed changes to the formularies to all amorangi and dioceses for their consideration is the process that is now followed, however the Act itself refers only to “the Dioceses of New Zealand.” 

The working group’s second observation is made in regard to the composition of any tribunal convened under the Act to consider an appeal to any decision made to change or add to the formularies.  Under the Act, the house of bishops (which sits on any tribunal formed) currently only includes those from the New Zealand dioceses. 

Accordingly, the working group has made recommendations to the Archbishops and Standing Committee to assist with resolving possible issues should this process be invoked.  It is noted that these issues to do with equity and full inclusion of all dioceses, amorangi, and bishops from all tikanga, are a separate concern.  However, it is the expressed view of the group that these issues ought to be resolved regardless of the decisions of General Synod / te Hīnota Whānui 2016 in relation to the rites proposed and the associated canonical amendments.