This Week at St. Stephen’s–February 07, 2016


The Anglican Church is not a democracy. All churches, according to their highest ideals, are theocracies—faith-based political organizations following the will of God. But things get slippery when they actually go about trying to interpret God’s will. Whose interpretation is correct, and in any case who gets to decide whose interpretation is correct?

For congregationalist churches—churches that have no denominational overseers—God’s will is interpreted by the members of a congregation who presumably study scripture, pray about it, and have theological debates among themselves. In the catholic and orthodox traditions popes and patriarchs presume to settle theological issues and the people are expected to fall into line.

The Anglican Church is governed through a negotiated relationship between bishops and councils—a via media that is sometimes characterized as “episcopally led; synodically governed”—bishops lead us, but we govern ourselves.

The Anglican Church is hierarchical, but in Canada the highest position is not a territorial or national archbishop, but rather a diocesan bishop. That is because our Feb 7church was founded by diocesan bishops who did not want to give up any of their local power when they were establishing a national church separate from the Church of England.

While Anglican congregations are bound to obedience to their local diocesan bishop, they exercise their democratic right to govern themselves every time they meet for General Meetings, as we do this week for our AGM. Such meetings remind us that, while our bishop sets the course, we steer the vessel ourselves.

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