When will the Church of England be disestablished?

What is an established church?
A Church that is officially recognized as a national institution
Erastianism: The faith of the ruler is the faith of the people.

State (Roman Empire) – State religion (worship of the emperor and tolerance of local practice).
The small Christian communion was sometimes tolerated and sometimes persecuted

Pliny, Letters 10.96-97,
Pliny to the Emperor Trajan
It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny
You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

Constantine (312 Battle of Milvian Bridge)
Old Testament theocracy,  King - Priests (prophets), seen as model for relationship between the Emperor - Bishops.

Conflicts between Church and State
1.      Morality. Bishop Ambrose and Theodosius. Following massacre of Thessalonica (390AD). 7000 people killed. Ambrose refused to celebrate communion in Emperor’s presence, until Theodosius repented and agreed to introduce a law which required a 30 day delay from the passing of a death sentence to its execution.

2.      Doctrine and worship. The emperors presided over the councils of the Bishops
-          Arian controversy
-          Iconoclasm
If someone was guilty of ‘heresy’, it meant that they were guilty of treason.
So, for instance, Maximus refused to recant of his teaching that Christ had both a divine will and a human will. He was initially exiled, and then had his right hand and his tongue cut out.

3.      Appointments. Papal conflicts with rulers about who has the right to appoint Bishops and Abbots.
1353 The Statute of Praemunire prohibited the assertion or maintenance of papal jurisdiction, imperial or foreign, or some other alien jurisdiction or claim of supremacy in England, against the supremacy of the monarch.

Henry VIII, Cranmer and all that
Henry wanted a divorce. The pope could not give him one. So Henry, encouraged by Cranmer – who saw in this situation an opportunity for the Reformation to gain a foothold in England - adopted an Erastian position: that the ruler of the nation has the right to choose the religion of the nation.

Erastianism is named after C16th Swiss philosopher and Zwinglian theologian, Thomas Erastus – although Erastus only argued that the state had both the right and the duty to punish all offences, ecclesiastical as well as civil, wherever all citizens adhered to a single religion.

Erastianism says that the needs of the church and of the state had become fused within the
overarching concept of the Christian Commonwealth. A view held by most reformers.
-          Developed notion of the godly prince, divinely appointed and who had to be obeyed.
-          Rediscovery of Patristics and Constantine
The needs of both Church and State could be provided by the Prince alone:

Cranmer writes, “All Christian princes have committed unto them immediately of God the whole cure of all their subjects, as well concerning the administration of God’s word for the cure of souls, as concerning the ministration of things political and civil governance.”
But he writes to Mary: “But I fear me that there be contradictions in your oaths [to the Pope and to the Crown] and that those which should have informed your grace thoroughly, did not their duties therein. And if your majesty ponder the two oaths diligently, I think you shall perceive you were deceived; and then your highness may use the matter as God shall put in your heart”.
Cranmer’s dream of two kings contending with each other for his soul. One was Henry and the other was Jesus

·         To be accused of heresy was to be accused of treason
·         Baptism was not only admission into the church, but admission into citizenship.

1.      Appointments. Henry took to himself the right to appoint Bishops.

The Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 (still stands today).
Before the Act, the dean and chapter of a cathedral held an election for a new bishop and customarily chose the candidate supported by the King. The Act bound the cathedral chapter to elect the candidate whom the King selected in his "letter missive". If the dean and chapter declined to make the election accordingly, or if the bishops of the church refused to consecrate the King's candidate, then they would be punished. The Act therefore established royal domination of the election of bishops as an enforceable legal right with a heavy penalty.

“Your Grace, I exhibit my proxy for the College of Canons and make myself a party for them. I present to you the Letters Patent of Our Sovereign Lady The Queen issued under the Great Seal of the Realm requiring the Confirmation of the Election of the Right Reverend Justin Portal Welby, Bishop of Durham to be Archbishop and Pastor of the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ Canterbury.”

The Act still stands today, although penalties for chapters who went against the will of the crown were only abolished in 1967. 

2.      Allegiance of Bishops and clergy to the crown

I, A B, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, according to law: So help me God.

When James II was run off the throne, 7 bishops were unable to swear an oath of allegiance to William and Mary (because they had declared their oath of allegiance to Charles). Called Non-Jurors

Defender of the Establishment: Richard Hooker (1554-1600)
Argued for scripture (absolute authority when it spoke plainly and unequivocally), Church tradition and Reason (when scripture and tradition were not clear).
The core of his thinking on church and state was his emphasis on unity. He argued that the Puritans adopted an impossible position when they claimed to be loyal to the Queen while repudiating her church. By law and reason the people of England must be Anglican, pledged to serve Elizabeth as supreme magistrate of country and supreme governor of the church.

Church government
Convocations of Canterbury and York go back to 733. Synods composed entirely of bishops, but in C13th more clergy were cited. Their purpose was to approve canonical legilstaling and discuss amount of tax to be paid to the crown because the clergy were taxed independently of Parliament.
1534: convocations subject to control of crown.
1603/4 they approved consolidation of laws into the Canon law of the CoE
1661 – approved text of BCP before it was submitted to parliament
1665 – agreed to surrender right of clergy to tax themselves
After 1717, meetings limited to formal sessions required at beginning of  a new parliament.
Effectively Parliament became the legislative body for the CoE


1. Synodical government
If the state = the church, then every person in the parish is a member of the church. So everyone can choose the churchwarden. ‘Vestry’ meeting.
1894: establishment of parish councils which took over the secular responsibilities of the vestry meeting.
In 1919, the enabling act, gave the CoE a new national assembly and a new pattern of self-government.
Question of who would represent the church at lay level? Need for electoral roll from whom and by whom requisite elections could be made.
Two views
a)      Henson (Bp of Durham 1920-39). Opposed any move to distance CoE from State. He resisted idea of electoral rolls and two tiers of members. ‘The voluntarily enrolled would have pretensions to be the Church and would therefore ‘unchurch’ the merely passive parishioners.’
b)      Gore (Bp of Oxford). Anglo-Catholic background. Alarmed by minimal inclusion requirements to go on electoral roll (baptism). Wanted to ensure that the roll only included people who had been confirmed and were communicants.

2. Conflict with Parliament over the Prayer Book.
1926-27 The new synod introduced a revised version of the BCP. Rejected by Parliament (twice), because it was perceived to be too ‘catholic’.
The 1928 Prayer book was never fully authorised, but bishops could give ‘dispensation’ for those parishes which wished to use it.
Worship and Doctrine measure (1974). Parliament gives up its right to legislate on matters of worship and doctrine – allowing synod to introduce new forms of worship.
Parliament gives away right to divide up dioceses (1978)

3. The appointment of Bishops
Gordon Brown (2007) stated that he would only receive one name nominated by the Crown Nominations Commission for bishops (up to this point the PM could choose between two names)

Colin Buchanan in his Cut the Connection (1994) argues for disestablishment.
1.      There is no justification for establishment. Decline in numbers of people who would profess to be members of the CoE. Fewer come to the church for occasional offices (less than 30% of funerals are conducted by CoE churches or ministers. 2016: number of people attending Sunday services is 752460.
2.      Return to NT church: ‘An international society which sits within Roman Empire, ready to normally obey laws, pay taxes and honour authorities. But for the life of its ecclesial society it makes its choices, sends out missionaries, arranges priorities, appoints ministers and views itself as accountable to God’. It is not ‘owned or directed by the state’.
3.      Establishment leads to a confused theology of baptism and membership. Who is a member?
The establishment model says that everyone is a member, unless they choose to opt out. But many would reject the idea that they are ‘Christians’ unless they have opted out. 
Many still see baptism as an entry point to becoming a good citizen, which also includes admission into the church. People do not perceive a need for faith, or for regular worship.
4.      State interference in Church affairs. Some legislation passed by Synod needs ratification by parliament
5.      It hinders mission – if everyone is a member of the church, to whom is the mission directed?
6.      It hinders ecumenism – because of the CoE’s favoured status.
7.      Power corrupts the Church
8.      It puts a future monarch in a potentially impossible situation – as head of a church of a faith in which he or she does not believe. The 1688 Act of Settlement requires the monarch to be a Protestant, although the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act permits the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic.
The monarch swears, ‘to maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof, as by law established in England’

1.      The Church does not now need disestablishment. It effectively has full autonomy. De facto if not de jure the state has ‘cut the connection’. The state can interfere in the life of the CoE (eg women bishops, gay marriage, prevent strategy), but only in the same way that it might interfere with any voluntary group.
2.      Bishops in the House of Lords. ​Lord Hennessy described the Archbishop's speech to the House of Lord's following BREXIT as one of the best speeches that he has ever heard in the Lord's.
3.      It can be an instrument of patriotism and a licensed critic of government policy
4.      We punch above our weight, and can bring people together.
5.      Involvement of Church in education
6.      Many other faith groups and churches welcome an established church, because it gives them a voice they would not have if they were treated like any other voluntary body. Tariq Madood, ‘the minimal nature of an Anglican establishment, its proven openness to other denominations and faiths seeking public space, and the fact that its very existence is an ongoing acknowledgement of the public character of religion, are all reasons why it may seem far less intimidating to the minority faiths than a triumphal secularism’. It is a position that can be used for the benefit of all
7.      Maintains a link between a (currently) popular monarchy and church
8.      It enhances mission. There are still many who have no faith who see the Church of England as their church – and therefore it offers tremendous opportunities for evangelism. There are places where civic/mayoral services still offer benefits for the proclamation of the gospel.
9.      Legally it would be very difficult to do (think how hard it has been to reform the Lords)
10.  The nation needs to be reminded that the origins of much of our legal system is Christianity.

Disestablishment would be the nation formally repudiating its Christian heritage.
Frank Field: ‘It keeps the rumour, that mystery of God alive’
Michael Allison: ‘The state in all Western societies now is becoming increasingly secularized, increasingly the victim of pressure groups of every sort from every side. I think the state needs the support and interaction with the church more than ever before in our history’.

The danger of establishment for the Church
1.      Power can corrupt the Church
2.      The Church may be compelled to buy into the State’s overriding agenda for unity and inclusiveness – to the extent that we could be forced to abandon ‘exclusivist’ doctrines about the uniqueness of Christ.

The Church is not financially dependent on the State (in contrast to many established churches in Europe)

If de jure disestablishment does come, it will probably be before a coronation. But I suspect the legal and constitutional issues will be too complicated, and I wonder whether there will ever be a legal divorce. The state wants to be free of the church so that it can have multiple partners; but because divorce is too costly, it will settle for separation. The church wants a good relationship with the state because it still loves the state, feels it can help keep the state from foolish over-indulgence, and for the sake of the children.

Cut the Connection, Colin Buchanan, DLT 1994
The Established Church, Ed Mark Chapman, Judith Maltby, William Whyte, T&T Clark International


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