6 MAY 1972, Page 11

l l he Anglican

Methodist vote

4IWard Norman

Week the Church of England takes. 114"e °IT from congratulating Mr ffrench igtagh on his lucky escape from South Qin justice in order to vote on a rtlatter °f remarkable gray' y. The Arch i setip"P of Canterbury's proposal s that the Man.-111e of union between the Anglican and q..‘.'iodist Churches be approved by he Synod. reuttic.-:.1.e and proper though the idea of Were Is, the hidden issues in the vole resaiv ort to leave a lot of matters u to eu Whichever way the Synod decided no fault of the Synod, or of thorp. It Was to4tt-„, Who directed it, that weighty bkia`rs Were somehow to remain in the roeciciee while the simple issues of the . this wanks of reunion were determined tota..„"as an accident of time — it is now 11141v/ears since the scheme was first forAnd although the Methodists have tig[a,,',t, consistent support, the Church of is divided. In consequence. Party te;"!s Managed to obscure some of the the eTaLgsues involved. Questions raised by „ketlprn-Tc}lic order of the Church tended to i1114tet the problems implied bya reconstruction of the Church's rkiviishiP to the State, though quite `i tviaipa.111cloted in 1968, have dropped from Only one observer outside the oad ;noticed the magnitude of this Q.Ittila„,"ssue, and he, unhappily, got rather ntta about it. This was Dr Northcote, Ntij An the Tetegraph a week before the t vote; he, at any rate, did point out ikPoravreat truth: that should the union be My, ed it of would be a new 'governing Nth the Church, composed both of odists trik and of Anglicans, which would Qtto rte 1.1 e future relationship of the the State e eve 0 tilt', Mist rklueb the idea of an AnglicanOsiaap„teorlion deserves approval the go of sorne of its exponents did at O tt ithitssictlittle far. It is a thing desirable , ktikl. Th he ending of an unnecessary Ree scheme of reunion, the ' Serv0 o NL tta„,k of :nciliation ' which was at the Di ty a w'.4e controversy over the vote, is j ett have 18e and charitable solution. But r Virtit NS"; n it as a first step to a wider 110 1.1 retie° ntryllm'°11 of the Protestantism of itOt i r'fl° wiii°W that is a concept really lh,1 ,.,111181,' difficulties, and involving 0114 q div,s'os about the actual differences 0 '14°c*1 ide th v ,ktaii,1 of ci, e Churches. The British ■ LtIrches has gone on record as 110 A qii ion b; sObstantial measure of general -Ltribh,,e tli34,,1e. end of the 'decade. They Pr 6 1 0 1 (# kr,4t4te thvt'ornted. It is only too easy to t ende e ineffectiveness of all cor Pr 6 1 (# kr,4t4te thvt'ornted. It is only too easy to t ende e ineffectiveness of all cor ilc't 14l rs; it av . ° urs to some division in their 1 ilc't 14l rs; it av . ° urs to some division in their 1 yrise 13; certain that regeneration will Sie4ssiNiatt,he Mere devising of struck h 4re 1°ns, Momentary boosts to 4 unli k 1 11 i.15ersn,, e.Y to be sustained in the -uotit' -betive. Any body of serious the Ultimate explanation of things, if they are worth anything at all, will appeal to different men in different ways. Cultural circumstance and diverse temperament divide men: one of the great enrichments of human life which the Creator provided. It is no scandal if institutions are sufficiently realistic to accommodate to these necessities. Political creeds have not shown themselves any less susceptible to fragmented variation. Confession of a common ultimate Authority and the recognition of a diversity of gifts, are greater bonds of union than any unrealistic attempt to pretend that men are all the same. Some Churches have been admirable in the candour of their internal diversity: the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Communions are all, in their ways examples of this; and although they may easily be made to look a shambles at times, the experience of men of different temperaments working satisfactorily in accord within them is salutory and Christian. Yet even the great comprehensive Churches at times divide. As far as the Church of England at the present time is concerned, it still looks as if any general scheme of union with the Protestant churches is inappropriate. It is important to realise, however, that the Anglican-Methodist reunion was not really a step to wider unions at all, however much some may have entertained the notion. The two Churches have no difference of doctrine or even of ecclesiastical discipline. Most of the larger problems of church unity — many of which are due to social facts — are not pertinent to the relationship of the Church of England and the Methodists. A lot has changed, it is true, since the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when the Methodist congregations finally separated themselves from the Establishment. The Anglicans have rediscovered, through the Oxford Movement and through the experience of quasi-autonomous ecclesiastical government, a sense of discipline and apostolic authority which has actually tended to strengthen their comprehensive claims. The Methodists, though eventually adhering in part to the nineteenth-century nonconformists' espousal of anti-Establishmentarian polemicism, did manage to avoid sliding into what social scientists call the 'sect ideal' in religious consciousness. A reunion at this stage ought _to have been welcomed every where.

But one great issue was left out of the calculation which hedges the vote. This was the supposition that the scheme of union might involve more extensive reconstructions of the Church of England than at first seemed likely. The distinct possibility of far-reaching readjustments of the relationship of Church and State, and the exact nature of any new 'governing body' for a reunited Church, are matters that have been left unclear. Certainly the reservations of some High Churchmen about Methodism might have diminished at the prospect of attaining some future measure of Disestablishment: this is something many have sought, finding the traces of Erastianism incompatible with Catholicity. It may well be that the time of Disestablishment is at hand. This is to be regretted for some reasons and welcomed for others. At the present time it is probably the State, rather than the Church, which benefits from Establishment. It enables a pragmatism at the centre of legislation on moral questions which it might not otherwise enjoy. If the connection between religious belief and public life — which is what the Establishment of religion secures — came to an end, then someone would have to define exactly what the moral basis of the law is. The problem has recently been realised in the United States, and is already producing considerable discord. It is the genius of English government to avoid too close a definition of the ethical basis of its laws: the surviving, still popular, if anomalous belief that this is a Christian constitution manages to allow us all to avoid distasteful ultimate questions. The historical advantages of Establishment to the Church of England, on the other hand, have for a couple of centuries, been negative ones. The control of Parliament over its discipline and formularies has spared the Church from just those resorts to sectarian enthusiasm and theological extravagances which are now, unhappily, beginning to appear within its ranks.

Disestablishment, nevertheless, might free the Church for better prosecution of its spiritual mission. If that is the case then no argument for the maintenance of Established status ought to prevail. But is this what the authors of the AnglicanMethodist reunion scheme had in mind? The matter has never been clarified. It is only a little over a year since the Archbishops' Commission on the relations of Church and State (the Chadwick Report) unfolded an impressive case in favour of the maintenance of the State connection (though with some modifications, notably in the matter of the appointments of bishops). But if some hugely more extensive readjustments were in the minds of the authors of the Anglican-Methodist scheme, then it is important that they should be laid before the public. Did they imagine that once the reunion was in operation the Methodist element in the Church would provide a built-in majority for Disestablishment? Nobody is to blame for not wishing to confuse matters still further by raising such large issues at the time of the vote, but the result will clear the air, and the time for spelling them out has now arrived. The future will be no more certain after the vote than it was before,