What Presiding Bishop Michael Curry Means by “Core Doctrine”

After the Episcopal church got spanked by the Anglican Primates over same-sex marriage, and were asked to not take part of any voting on doctrinal issues ( ruling which TEc has disavowed), it was only a matter of time before revisionist teaching as to what exactly constitutes “doctrine” reared its ugly head.

For most of us, doctrines should not only be derived from the Bible but should also be consistent with a plain reading of the texts. The Church has in the past added things such as Purgatory, Indulgences, etc which did not stand the test of Biblical scrutiny and were eventually rejected by reformers.

Today, the idea of “Core Doctrine” has been floated in order to shield the Episcopal church from the separation it faces as a result of its adoption of a new doctrine of marriage that permits same-sex marriage.

Unfortunately for those in the Episcopal church (TEc) there are no reformers left to demand the rejection of false doctrine.

Lacking such voices from within the church, let me quote from S. Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams new book entitled “Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition” as reported at The Gospel Coalition,

“The issue is not whether the Bible addresses homosexual practice: it does. It is not whether diverse interpretations on this issue have existed in the history of the church: they have not. The issue is, rather, what is authoritative for the church in the formation of its convictions and in its practices.”

Is the Bible authoritative for the church or not? That sounds like a doctrinal issue to me. Unfortunately, the use of the term “authoritative” just creates another crack for revisionists to prevaricate over and argue about just as they will do over the words “core” and “doctrine” when used separately or together.

As far as the current issue goes, these authors see no room for compromise for those who agree that the Bible is authoritative for the Church.

“On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because both Scripture and the church have consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church’s teaching. That is where we wish to leave the matter, for that is the point at which some in the church are dividing from the rest of the church universal, from the teaching of the church in other centuries, and from what must indeed be considered the teaching of all Christians.”

In the Episcopal church, people have made the matter much more complicated because the authority of the Bible has been under attack for decades. Rather than trying to support same-sex marriage on the basis of what is found in Holy Scripture, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry claims that it all boils down to “Core Doctrine”.

For me, marriage is not part of core doctrine. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is core doctrine. The doctrine of who Jesus Christ is – wholly God and wholly human – is doctrine. The articles of the Creeds are doctrine. The Holy Scriptures and the Old and New Testament are core doctrine.  Other sections of the Chicago–Lambeth Quadrilateral are core doctrine. Marriage is a sacramental right, it is a solemn and sacred matter of faith and practice.  But it is not core doctrine.

I guess he would throw Marriage into the same basket as Purgatory and Indulgences.

The decision in the 1996 Righter Trial in which Bishop Walter Righter was tried for heresy after ordaining a non celibate homosexual man provides insight into how the Episcopal church twists the meaning of what is not “Core Doctrine” to basically mean “Anything that can be argued about in scripture”, and we all know what that means (in revisionist circles it means everything in the Bible can be disputed).

The following is the court’s not so brief explanation of doctrine which it conveniently splits up into “core doctrine” and “doctrinal teaching” (or not so core doctrine for you simple pewsitters). I have highlighted a few points.

II. Doctrine is the Basic Issue
In a pre-trial hearing held on December 8, 1995, in Hartford, Connecticut, the Presenters and Respondent agreed that the basic issue in this case is the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. The Court gave permission to the parties to submit a paper and cite additional published resources that would guide the Court in deciding the question: ‘What does and does not constitute the doctrine of the Church, particularly as it is binding on what a bishop may or may not teach?’ (Memorandum and Order of the Court, January 10, 1996). The submissions were made and the question of doctrine was the focus of the arguments before the Court in the first session of the trial held in Wilmington, Delaware, on February 27, 1996. The Court has given careful consideration to these arguments, the submissions offered by the parties, the published resources submitted and cited by them, and the Court’s own understanding of doctrine in the Anglican tradition as bishops of the Episcopal Church entrusted with the doctrine and teaching of the Church.

A. The Scope of Doctrine in Relationship to the Church’s Teaching and Discipline

In the case before us the Presenters have argued by submissions and oral argument that doctrine includes the Church’s teaching as well as its Creeds. In their view, all doctrinal teaching comes under the weighty purview of Title IV especially Canon IV.1.1(2) (1994) (cf. Canon IV.1.1(c) [1996]) for ‘holding and teaching publicly or privately and advisedly any doctrine contrary to that held by the Church.’ The Court finds that this is overreaching the Anglican understanding of doctrine. We are not a confessional church which has carefully articulated and identified the entire scope of its teaching and the disciplinary consequences for the violation of its teaching. The Court is bound not to extend this Church in that direction without explicit authority from General Convention of the Church, which is the Church acting corporately.
On the other hand, Respondent makes a sharp distinction between doctrine and discipline. Respondent relies heavily on the close reasoning of the Preface of the Book of Common Prayer which states:
. . . that in his worship different forms and usages may without offense be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that in every church what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people, ‘according to the various exigency of times and occasions.’

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