[In parenthesis, one of those who caught the train to Rome, William Oddie, has written recently written as follows:
Why does the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) still meet, as though Anglican ordinations to their episcopate of openly gay men living with their partners, and also of women to their priesthood and episcopate, despite the warnings of successive popes of the fact that these steps would erect insuperable barriers to unity with the Catholic Church, why do we still carry on with the farce of behaving as though these insuperable barriers just did not exist at all?]
You see, appealing to nuanced distinctions carries a price. It is much more difficult than making a black-and-white clarion call to ‘Come out!’ (even if this also arises from 'nuanced' thinking) or in thinking of the church in terms of 'marks' - the preached word, the ordinancies, discipline. In order for the clarion-call to carry weight there is need for wide agreement on the facts about a situation and the weight that should be attributed to each of them. It’s fearsomely difficult to agree on nuances. So if we are now in the day of nuances, then clarion calls are (for the time being) a thing of the past, yet may be (if circumstances change) a thing of the future. If so, it seems that in an age of individualism ministers and churches of Christ are catching that spirit.
Several different things need to be kept distinct. We should all be able to distinguish large issues from small, in all manner of circumstances. That way we show we are grown-up. That's one element in what for Stephen is 'nuance'. But Calvin (who as he have seen, he cites) had not only this in mind, and (I dare say) not even this first of all, but his approach to what is and is not a church is rather different from that which prevails presently. For Calvin whether a church is a true church or not is a matter of 'marks'.
....we do not deny that there are churches among them. The question we raise only relates to the true and legitimate constitution of the church, implying communion in sacred rites, which are the signs of profession, and especially in doctrine.....Hence, however it is obvious that we do not at all deny that churches remain under his [the Roman Roman pontiff's] tyranny....In one word, I call them churches inasmuch as the Lord wondrously preserves some remains of his people, though miserably torn and scattered, and inasmuch as some symbols of the church still remain - symbols especially whose efficacy neither the craft of the devil nor human depravity can destroy. (IV. 2. 12)
We must agree that there is something rather unbalanced about a church situation in which calls to separation are judged to be sour and negative if not nuanced, and the only alternative is a nudge in this direction or that, a touch on the tiller, in the light of opportunities. Surely the centre-ground should ideally be filled by an outlook on the church and her confession that is more principled than this.
However this may be, Stephen Clark's pamphlet is a good read - well-written, informative, and thought-provoking.