THE CHURCH REFORM SCHEMER.
THE Bishop of Worcester has at least the credit of having grasped the need of the time in relation to the Church with that force and breadth which will recommend what he proposes, —and what the Cambridge Heads of Houses and Professors also propose, while the scheme of the seven Deans and the Oxford Dons omits to propose it,—to Churchmen at large. " I am satis- fied," he says, in a letter to the Archdeacon of Coventry, " that nothing can prevent the disruption of the Church of England and all its attendant evils, but the institution of a General Church Council in which laymen, duly elected to represent the lay members of the Church, shall have a substantial voice, and which shall have authority as well to regulate matters of internal administration as to prepare such schemes for greater changes as may be thought necessary for the sanction of the Crown and Parliament. It is certain that Parliament as now constituted will not undertake the full discussion and prepara- tion of such measures of Church reform as are urgently needed, and without such a general Council as I describe, I do not see how the National Church can stand. I deplore the continued existence of our Convocations of Clergy. They are in no sense Synods of the Church. The rulers of the Early Church would have laughed to scorn such a constitution of Synods, with their two Houses framed in imitation of the secular Parliament. The Diocesan Conferences and Church Congresses, of which, alas ! we have had experience in late years, are, to my mind, an almost unmixed evil. The laymen who take part in them are in no sense representative of the laity of the Church of England, and the perpetual agitation of contro- verted questions, without any power of settling them by legislative means, can only be full of mischief." With the exception of the last sentence,—in which we do not wholly agree, because, though quite concurring with the Bishop in thinking the recent Diocesan Conferences in no sense truly representative of the laity of the Church of England, we do not see that these discussions have done anything at all to lead public opinion astray,—this seems to us a pithy and most weighty summary of the chief points of the ecclesiastical situation. The so-called Convocation is a real mischief, because it affects to represent the Church, while really representing not even the Clergy of the Church ; for without insisting on the inadequacy of the representation, consider only how differently the Clergy would act and speak if they had had the advantage of hearing, month by month and year by year, the discussions of a lay assembly of their own Church on the matters with which they now deal in a sort of dim ecclesiastical twilight. Then, again, any scheme of Church.reform which, like the Dean of Wells's thoughtful and, so far as it goes, reasonable scheme,— we refer to his paper in the current number of the Contem- porary Revietc,—leaves out all proposals for a single lay representative body to express the views of Church laymen as a whole, leaves out, in our opinion, the very key of the situa- tion ; for Parliament, as the Bishop of Worcester says, will cer- tainly never sanction any scheme of reform at all which has not been well thrashed out by a lay body of representative Church- men. The Dean of Wells's scheme, so far as it suggests the formation of a Parochial Council which might have power to interfere with unsuitable presentations to livings, and so to limit the abuse of patronage, may be a very wise one. But. does the Dean of Wells think that Parliament will ever sanction even that part of the scheme, without obtaining first the approval of a general Lay Council for that proposal ? There might, and we think there would be, danger of localis- ing the Church far too completely in the parish and the diocese if SU312 Parochial and Diocesan Councils as the Dean of Wells suggests were called into existence and encouraged to act on their own counsels, without the aid of a larger and more central representative body, which would collect and concentrate the thought of the Church, and exercise a restraining influence over the provincial and parochial politics of the smaller bodies.
To our minds, the schemes which Mr. Fremantle, Mr. Barnett and others hare put forth for popularising the Church in the parish, have this grave defect, that while they would undoubtedly popularise the Church, they would popularise it so thoroughly as to destroy its character as a Church altogether. We do not mean to say that the Dean of Wells's scheme is open to that criticism. It is much more guarded and statesmanlike. But still, it stops short at the very point at which, in our belief, the greatest need is felt for a new departure. What we want is some trustworthy, popular, deliberative body which will pre- pare the way for Parliament in its dealings with Church questions. It is certain that Parliament, competed as it now is, of men of all sorts of creeds and denominations, will not touch Church questions of any wide significance at all, unless it has some authoritative guidance as to what Churchmen really want. Even as regards the limitation of patronage, Parliament will say,' This scheme may be reasonable enough, or it may not. We do not know. We do not know what Churchmen in general want. We have no commission to speak for Churchmen ; and though we have perhaps received a fair warning that we are not to begin any destructive work, we have certainly no authority to begin a reconstructive work without first hearing what Churchmen in general wish.' We do not believe that even a scheme which aimed merely at the removal of the greatest mischiefs caused by our present system of patronage, would be accepted by Parliament without the sanction of such a body as we have supposed. It might sanction the appointment of Parochial Councils and Diocesan Councils ; but if it did, it would only be for the purpose of getting by their means a central Church Council which might advise Parliament on the powers to be given to these subordinate representative bodies, and the mode in which they should be exercised. Parliament would not commit itself to the character of those powers at all without first knowing the mind of the Church,—both lay and clerical,—as to the scope to be given to them, and the conditions under which they should be placed. In short, in our belief, the creation of a trustworthy representative body, and a trustworthy central representative body, must precede the definition of the power to be conferred on any local representative body, however limited.
And surely this is the statesmanlike view of the case. If the Church is to be reformed, the Church must be con- sulted as to what it needs ; and the Church cannot be consulted as to what it needs without giving both laity and clergy an adequate representative organisation. The worst vice of "The Radical Programme," was its apparent intention to disintegrate the Church into parishes without first asking what the mind of the whole Church is craving. The notion of collecting into a Parochial Canneil a number of people of all shades of religious convictions, without excluding atheists, agnostics, Mahommedans, Buddhists, or any other of the innumerable sectarians of this vagrant-minded age, and then submitting the character of the services to be held in the parish church, and the Church work to be done, to that assembly, is a notion which only those can favour who either think all creeds pretty much on a level, or who wish to subordinate creed altogether to practical work. The difficulty of this last view is that you cannot even decide what practical work you will undertake unless you are pretty well agreed on the moral and spiritual aims to be embodied in it; and you cannot agree on your moral and spiritual aims without a very considerable harmony of belief in matters supernatural. The Church of England is not, perhaps, based on any coherent scheme of doctrine. No one can pretend that the Thirty-nine Articles are wholly consistent with the Prayer-book; nor is it quite certain that all the rubrics in the Prayer-book are perfectly consistent with each other. Still, take it all in all, the Church of England is a Church with a Christian creed, and a very reasonable and noble creed, on the deepest matters which concern the Christian revelation. That the Churchmen of the various parishes of that Church should be.authorised to act for them- selves without restraint from any central body, and not only so, but to take into partnership a number of aliens to the Church who are wholly out of sympathy with its character and .organisation, seems to us but a. proposal for complete disin- tegration in disguise. No scheme of Church reform is, in our opinion, either wise or possible which does not introduce froux the very first a central government, representing bath Clergy and laity, and which does not subordinate all that is to •be done in the parishes to the general control of that central government.