On 31st October 1517, an obscure Catholic monk called Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’, the Castle Church in Wittenberg, protesting at the sale of indulgences and other abuses – an event taken as marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On 2nd May 2017, an obscure Anglican curate called Jonathan Pryke was consecrated bishop under the aegis of Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle, by the extra-juridicial authority of the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (formerly known as the Church of England in South Africa), protesting at the wishy-washy approach to issues of sex, gender, sexuality and marriage – an event taken as marking the beginning of the Great Anglican Schism in England.
Whether this is indeed the beginning of “a new timely reformation” or just an embarrassing ecclesial damp squib remains to be seen. It is worth surveying some useful background analysis (see Ian Paul here and Peter Carrell here), but it seems to this Anglican mind that a rebellious schismatic consecration in the Church of England which isn’t even contiguous with the rebellious schismatic movement in the Church of England is doomed to failure. It isn’t so much that Jonathan Pryke didn’t have the courtesy to inform the Bishop of Newcastle or the Archbishop of York of his intentions; he didn’t even inform GAFCON UK or the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE – on whose executive he sits). If a schism be schismatic against itself, that schism cannot stand. However…
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God (Acts 5:38f)
Jonathan Pryke has been consecrated “bishop in the Church of God” contrary to the laws of the Church of England. Ian Paul believes should be met with a robust response: “..anything less than a serious move, such as removing Jonathan Pryke’s license (sic), could be seen as an institutional failure.” But if this were done under the Clergy Disciplinary Measure, Jesmond Parish Church has threatened “reciprocal heresy trials”, which sound like a jolly good idea. If, indeed, unilateral episcopal consecration constitutes “conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders”, what about those clergy who have refused to obey church teaching on matters of sexual morality (homo and hetero), not to mention those who either repudiate completely or push the boundaries of church teaching on marriage (exclusively hetero)?
The Church of England badly needs credible bishops and faithful clergy, so complementary heresy trials are obviously the way to go. At least the consequences in the 21st century will not be quite as severe as they were in the 16th.