Friday, January 25, 2008

On Secondary Matters

It often happens in complex discussions that one side will say "That's just a secondary issue, it's not of primary importance." However, while in some sense the issue itself may be secondary, it may force a position on primary matters. For example, David Virtue interviews J.I. Packer at the current Anglican Mission in America Winter Conference and there is this:

VIRTUEONLINE: On women's ordination. CANA is opening up the subject and AMiA has opened up this subject, do you think that pursuing women's ordination as an issue will eventually bring schism and division among the orthodox?

PACKER: My hope is that the ordination of women will never bring about church division. This is not a part of the gospel, it is a secondary issue rather than a primary one and I would hope that an amicable arrangement, not to everyone's full satisfaction, but a workable arrangement, can be arranged that have differed historically can come together. It is hoped that 10 splinter bodies will come together in the Common Cause diocese.

Now if one assumes that ordained ministry has a prophetic role but not a priestly role and if one agrees with Packer regarding Holy Orders and the sacraments in general, then yes it is a secondary matter. However, by the same token, agreeing that women's ordination is a secondary matter by implication also commits to ecclesiastical and sacramental views that are incompatible with the doctrinal position of the Catholic Church and of the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

While it would be clearer to discuss these ecclesiastical and sacramental positions directly, it is not intellectually honest to dismiss a doctrinal matter as secondary if it has implications that a majority of Christians have considered of primary importance. Although not all news about the Church is good, there is no gospel without the Church as the creeds make clear.

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