All the major English churches have recorded a steady decrease in membership over the past decade. Of the two that have suffered most, the Church of England is likely to close a third of its theological colleges because of a serious shortage of candidates; Methodists are dismayed because the number of those accepted for training has dropped from 114 in 1957 to a mere 38 last year. Last summer a scheme to unite the two churches, while passed by the Methodists, failed because the Anglican vote fell short of the required 75 per cent majority.
Despite this discouraging background, two Anglo-Catholics and two evangelicals of the Church of England have collaborated in a book, Growing into Union, which gives “proposals for forming a united Church in England” (see “New English Merger Plan,” July 31 issue, p. 37), not restricted to two denominations. The rejected scheme comes in for the big stick: questions of doctrine had been skimped as the negotiators settled for the minimum “that will disarm the contenders.…”
The four writers point out that the original scheme preempted proper theological discussion also at a local level, where Anglicans were at each stage presented with a “this or nothing” choice. They further deplore the tendency in the Anglican establishment to regard “yes” votes as responsible and mature, “no” votes as uninformed and misguided. But they reserve the biggest hammering for the proposed Service of Reconciliation. Appended to Growing into Union is a devastating critique of this service, which is described with wicked wit and considerable justification as “a bog of illogic.”
The book, divided into three parts, first discusses fundamental questions of theology, dealing squarely with those wherein Anglo-Catholics and ...1
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