Amidst the deluge of commentary accompanying the amendments by the CofE House of Bishops to the legislation permitting the consecration of women to the episcopate, the most recent WATCH press release deserves careful reflection. Listing various arguments against the amendments, WATCH notes that acceptance of the amendments may result in "the institution of a permanent state of ‘reception’ for women".
The language of the WATCH press release echoes that of the Archeacon of Richmond:
For 18 years the Church of England has
been trying out an approach that says, in effect, 'both groups are right'. A lot
of us thought we were doing this in the patient expectation that one or other
group would eventually become less sustainable. How else are decisions made and
people able to move forward? You pray, you argue the rationale, you try things
out, you put it to the vote.
18 whole years. What is disappointing is not only the lack of charity towards faithful Anglicans who adhere to the teaching and practice of the Tradition regarding the relationship between gender and the ministerial priesthood. Perhaps more significant is the failure to understand "reception". 18 years in one province does not constitute reception. As ARCIC I's Authority in the Church I stated:
When decisions (as at Nicaea in 325) affect the entire Church and deal with controverted matters which have been widely and seriously debated, it is important to establish criteria for the recognition and reception of conciliar definitions and disciplinary decisions. A substantial part in the process of receptionis played by the subject matter of the definitions and by the response of the faithful. This process is often gradual, as the decisions come to be seen in perspective through the Spirit's continuing guidance of the whole Church (emphasis added).
The Anglican-Orthodox Cyprus Statement provides an excellent summary of what exactly "gradual" means in the process of reception:
Its conclusions are finally expressed by the heads of the local churches as the common faith which, in accordance with the well-known rule of St Vincent of Lerins, has ‘been believed everywhere and always and by all’. Until this point has been reached, the process of reception is not completed; we can speak neither of dogma nor of heresy, in the sense of a deviation from the truth which would justify or even necessitate the rupture of communion. On a sharply controverted issue touching salvation, it may be that only an Ecumenical Council, as the voice of all the local churches, could determine what has been held ‘everywhere and always and by all’. Only then could it be said that the process of reception had been completed.
While the process of reception continues, the theological debate remains open. In this process critique, affirmation or rejection are all possible (Section IX, 19 iv & v).
Against the background of Anglicanism's ecumenical dialogues, WATCH's understanding of reception is woefully inadequate. 18 years in one province - or three decades in North Atlantic provinces - does not constitute reception. The ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood and the episcopate is a significant development. The case made for this development cohering with, rather than contradicting, the Tradition has been accepted over the past few decades by a majority of Anglicans in North America, the British Isles and Australasia. This, however, by no means constitutes "reception" by the church catholic.
For Anglicanism, then, to abide by the understanding of reception which it has accepted in dialogue with its key ecumenical partners, means to charitably continue with the two integrities regarding this development. Invoking voting majorities in diocesan and national synods over a mere three decade period offers a rationale appropriate for the polities of this world - not the church catholic. In the words of the Cyprus Statement:
Reception is a complex and creative process, which can be completed successfully only by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Section IX, 19 v).