Synods by Gerald Bray Reviewed by Edward Keene


Gerald Bray

Latimer Trust, 2019 (ISBN: 9781906327576, 70pp)


The word ‘synod’ may evoke a range of reactions; apprehensions of dull ponderous deliberations on obscure points of church law; irritation at a body which presumes to ‘command the prophets’; adrenaline-fuelled zeal to contend for the truth. Whatever the preconception, Gerald Bray is an authoritative voice to bring clarity to the haze, with a wealth of experience in matters of church history and law. The exposition Bray provides of the development of the modern synodical system is informative and well-paced. With synodical government only having arisen in England from 1970, many of the major developments have occurred within the author’s ordained ministry and perhaps for this reason he feels a freedom to employ only the lightest use of referencing. 


Though modern synodicalism is a novelty, the earlier conciliarism (or lack thereof) in England is also reviewed. Insights such as Cardinal Wolsey’s role in developing synod, the reasons for the abeyance and revival of the convocations, and on the early Irish adoption of synodical government, are worthwhile. In a short booklet, there will always be tangents the reader wishes had been more deeply explored and the tantalising discussion of the term ‘synod’ is one such, with the politics of the nineteenth century adoption of it lying just out of reach.


Bray laces his text with opinion and warning regarding the existing system. Most seem sage, though a few beg further justification. The suggestion that Rome could not hold a third Vatican Council without formally involving other ‘ecclesial communities’ is intriguing. Meanwhile, the idea of granting the senior suffragan from each diocese a seat on synod Bray himself admits may be ‘uneconomical’ but does also seem unnecessary. 


Not content merely with the past and present of synods, Bray also looks far into the future, with optimistic recommendations, not least as to how a synodically governed church can keep itself within the bounds of received Christian faith. There is strong argument that recent revisionist moves have already moved the Church of England beyond these bounds, but at present there are no hard or soft official safeguards against further travel in a heterodox direction. Equally, Bray raises the spectre of malevolent secular intervention, perhaps on the claimed basis of defence of human rights. 


Bray’s introductory remarks on principles of church government arising from Acts 15 show that a sharply defined system of church government is not provided by scripture. Whatever system is adopted behoves all those involved to heed the call of faithfulness to Christ. When this vocation is honoured, great prospects open to any church, including those with synods!


Edward Keene, Little Shelford