ARCIC – Life in Christ
Life in Christ was the third of five reports which made up the second phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II). The report was published in 1994.
For evangelicals this report is probably the least objectionable of the ARCIC reports on the surface. Where there has been cause to object that others reports undermine the great truths for which our Reformers stood (and died) on moral issues evangelicals often have much closer views to Roman Catholics. This can be seen for example in the initial work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together in North America which only ran into trouble when they tried to reconcile doctrinal differences.
However, the report claims that the more general view is that Anglicans and Roman Catholics ‘are divided most sharply by their moral teaching’. For evangelicals, the perception would appear to be quite the reverse.
The report goes on to explore various theological themes including our ‘common heritage’ in order to seek to explain and find a basis for shared moral convictions. This is helpful, though there are problematic points, and generally the Anglicanism described is more the pragmatic present rather than theological ideal articulated in our formularies. In an early analysis of the report for Latimer Trust, Tim Bradshaw took particularl exception to this characterisation and yet looking back 15 years later it would seem that is not unfair. Anglicanism has become increasingly pragmatic in its morality, largely devoid of any clear basis for making moral decisions other than the desire to imitate the world and the political manouverings of those in positions of authority.
Having looked at some foundations the report turns to consider two issues in some depth where there is disagreement, it is said, between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and then at two issues where it is said that there is more agreement.
The first two issues are divorce/remarriage and contraception. These are issues on which conservative evangelicals also have differing views.
The Church of England, notwithstanding Henry VIII, did not change the traditional teaching on divorce and remarriage. Most other protestant churches allowed divorce and remarriage in the case of adultery, most often arguing that the penalty for adultery was death and therefore the innocent party should not be disadvantaged by the failure of the state to carry out the penalty. But the Church of England did not take that view and in some respects had the most strict form of discipline on these matters until only ten years ago. Conservative evangelicals in the Church of England are also divided and primarily on the way in which certain Bible passages should be understood. In the wider Church of England many likewise favour the traditional view and this is generally true of Anglo-catholics. In the more liberal parts of the Anglican Communion, in particular in North America, all discipline regarding divorce and remarriage has broken down so that it is not unusual to find Bishops who are onto their third or fourth marriage and of course at least one who having divorced his wife has taken up with another man. Rome meanwhile preserves a strong discipline and yet just as the papacy played politics regarding the marriage of Henry VIII it is still perfectly possible for marriages to be annulled if it serves the purposes of the Church.
On contraception most Anglicans follow the pragmatic line of the 1930 Lambeth Conference. This is true of conservative evangelicals too. The Christian Institute not long ago produced a booklet on contraception which drew no objection to the overall principle though there were some who did object to the teaching of the booklet. Rome again preserves a strong stance and to its credit it has not wavered despite increasingly hostile reaction from secularists who mistakenly believe that encouraging contraception and promiscuity will help to combat sexually transmitted infections.
The other two issues mentioned are abortion and homosexual practice. Here conservative evangelicals are united and largely in agreement with Roman Catholics. Liberals by contrast are often strongly pro-homosexual but some remain passionately anti-Abortion.
The report reflects on the fact that Rome has a strong centralised authority which makes definite pronouncements which it holds binding on Catholics, though as everyone knows most Catholics ignore most of what is taught.
Anglicans by contrast have no clear method of agreement and where bodies such as the Lambeth Conference do make pronouncements their authority is purely moral and very weak. Most individual Anglicans are probably completely unaware of any official teaching on the matters. The report does not give sufficient attention to the authority of Scripture because ARCIC has tended to reflect liberal Anglican views.
It is interesting to compare the way in which decisions are reached.
Amongst traditional evangelicals, whatever their denomination, there is a strong agreement regarding certain key doctrines such as justification by faith alone and the supreme and final authority of Scripture. This agreement exists despite any human authority trying to engineer it or enforce it. The reason for this, as is plain to any evangelical, though apparently not to anyone else, is because this is what the Bible teaches plainly and unmistakably. Likewise on some moral issues, such as the sanctity of life and sexual conduct the Bible is plain. People only dissent from the traditional teaching because they find ways of understanding the Bible which turn it on its head. There are some, for example, who claim to be evangelical but consider homosexual practice acceptable, but to other evangelicals their claims are manifestly nonsense.
On other moral issues, such as remarriage and divorce, disagreements arise despite an obvious commitment to uphold the authority of Scripture. Here, the absence of a teaching authority which can set out a particular view may be a disadvantage but since such authorities can easily end up imposing views on which Scripture does not require a particular line to be followed their absence is not necessarily a problem, it may be a positive benefit.
Some specific areas of concern with the report:
- Section 46 – private confession – the report seems to argue that private confession is not only practiced by some Anglicans but actually encouraged by the formularies.
- Section 77 – this speaks about marriage being a sacramental. Whilst with loose use of the term this may be possible to argue the fact is that Anglicans reject the Roman Catholic teaching that marriage is a sacrament. To use such language therefore is at best unhelpful and appears to be down right deceptive.
- As has already been mentioned far too little prominence is given to the importance of Scripture for Anglicans which betrays the generally liberal approach of the Anglican representatives on ARCIC.
This report was used as the basis for discussion groups at the Church of England General Synod in July 2009
See also an article on Private Confession prompted by section 56 of the report.