Skip to comments.Staying together or walking together
Posted on 10/09/2005 5:11:19 PM PDT by sionnsar
What is driving the search for new relationships in the Anglican Communion? What is driving the realignment of the Communion?
Why have people been leaving their current relationships in the Anglican Communion, with their parish, bishop, diocese or province?
The situation of the diocese of Recife is a classic illustration of the situation: here is a diocese which has oversight of parishes in the United States, but itself is now under the oversight of another province than the one where it is located geographically.
Loss of Anglican Identity
The drivers of this change are that people are being dispossessed by bishops of their Anglican identity. Liberal action has actively dispossessed people of their Anglican identity by throwing them out of local Anglican polity in Brazil and Connecticut. Or liberal pressure is putting pressure on them to sign up to things which in conscience they cannot do. The deal offered is compromise or lose your Anglican identity.
Orthodox Anglicans hold that orthodoxy is integral to Anglican identity. They see bishops attempting to re-define Anglican identity as inclusive of everyone without boundaries as opposed to inclusion on the basis of Christian formulations. Identity is a matter of both common ground and relationships. The orthodox cannot accept this new revisionist common ground required by relationships with the current hierarchy, so they retain the orthodox common ground and seek new relationships. This produces a very complex situation.
Responses to the current crisis are based on context, responses and opportunity.
The response of churches has been related to their context. There are churches for whom their local diocese has not been a happy home, often for many years. They have no investment in the local diocese. The diocese basically has functioned without them, and often marginalised them. This is true of many large orthodox parishes. But they do have relationships with other Anglican Churches in other dioceses, through national networks, and in other provinces. The Anglican Communion therefore has made more sense to them, especially since Lambeth 1998, where the adherence to orthodoxy of the Non-Western world in the face of western liberalism became an important factor.
The response has been based on their resources. There are many churches who know that their identity and ministry are secure. Their ministry does not depend on their relation to the diocese, funds from the diocese, or even their property. They do not have large endowments which depend on their remaining in the diocese or on the current property. They can therefore stay and oppose the bishop or go as they choose.
These churches also have very committed lay leaders. They are not a one man show, but have a depth of leadership.
Their response has been based on opportunities to make connections which they see can provide opportunities for growth and a future. To link churches in the wealthy north under the oversight of churches in Africa has opened many peoples eyes to opportunities for new mutual growth and learning.
What are the threats and problems that await these realignments?
In what sense can a church in the USA which is part of the diocese of Recife be said to be accountable to the bishop and the diocese of Recife? What support and guidance can be offered to clergy in difficulties or if legal, economic or relational problems arise? Will these relationships be like friendships acquired temporarily on a summer holiday?
How will churches know they are part of a global community of churches? Are such realignments parasitical on the reality of the whole Anglican Communion hanging together, but with a few exceptional arrangements in different places? If such exceptional arrangements become the norm, then how will anyone identify what the Anglican Communion is?
Is there in fact a clash of two different inclusivities the liberal inclusivity based on the liberal refusal to exclude anyone, as against the orthodox inclusivity based on orthodox inclusivity of all who accept the historic faith and its concomitant lifestyle? What are the boundaries?
We need to keep a clear distinction between the common ground of faith and the structures of accountability.
The current structures of accountability are collapsing. They are collapsing under the weight of globalisation. The understandings of a parish are changing. A parish in the United States is not a geographically defined entity as it is in the Church of England. And in England many people live in one geographical parish but go to church in another. Understandings of episcopacy are changing. For many years John Stott has been the de fact episcopos for many hundreds of evangelical clergy around the world. They looked to him for teaching and counsel and advice. The relationship of the parish to the bishop is changing. For many growing and confident parishes the bishop is irrelevant. This situation has been developing over many years. It will be formally recognised in the Church of England this year as parish and even diocesan boundaries are made subservient to the requirements of Fresh Expressions, keeping the church alive for the next generation.
Structures of accountability are not the common ground. The Historic Faith is the definition of the common ground. The relationship with a bishop or see is a relationship of accountability, not a common ground of faith.
There is a strong move to make structures of accountability the common ground. It is affirmed by some that the bishop is the fount of mission and unity. Others make the common ground of the Anglican Communion the instruments of unity or the bonds of affection moderated by the instruments of unity. Others make the historic relationship with the see of Canterbury the common ground.
Orthodox Anglicans have done right in making a clear separation between the common ground, matters of faith, and structures of accountability. The action of the Province of Nigeria in redefining its constitution was not an attack on the common ground of the faith of the Anglican Communion. It was addressing relationships of accountability in the light of the changed global context.
Nigeria did this because the previous relationships of accountability have signally failed adequately to address the current crisis in the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury insists that he has only moral authority. The Panel of Reference set up by the Primates in February has still not had any case formally referred to it in October. It is only naïve, romantic or downright luddite to say that more time is needed because church disputes took decades in the early church. The early church had neither e-mail nor jet aeroplanes. The current situation looks like fiddling while Rome burns. It is about time some people started dowsing the fires. Therefore it is about time that the accountability processes are re-examined.
Nigeria has had the courage to say that we have a common ground and we will have relationships with those who share that common ground. The Windsor Report of twelve months ago was also a courageous action, but one that would not have taken place without the energy and courage of the orthodox in refusing to recognise heterodox actions.
Moving to the Future
Some have said that in a crisis we must above all else stay together. This is not an adequate response. We must walk together. In walking together we cannot define the goal in advance. It would be premature to define whether there should be an alternative Anglican Communion. We need to allow different relationships of accountability to emerge which nurture the church and its growth rather than prescribe an end. What defines us as Anglicans is our insistence on the primacy of scripture, interpreted in relation to culture ( reason) and the historic tradition of the church; the Nicene creed; the two dominical sacraments and episcopacy.
As we walk together we see how in this very complex and changing world what the fresh expressions of church will require in terms of structures of accountability. This will require making sure that our common ground is affirmed, that there is genuine mutual accountability, and genuine mutual support.
Out of the clash of these two different understandings there will certainly emerge a united world-wide communion based on the historic formularies. There may also emerge in some parts a variety of liberal groupings open to all-comers and at permanent risk of losing their distinctiveness.
And a hat tip to you, too, sionnsar for posting this.
Thank you for helping to lead us out of the wilderness of opinions and into the light of the truth. I really do think there are lots of people who no longer know the difference.
-I really do think there are lots of people who no longer know the difference.-
I seem to meet quite a few of them that equate loving real estate and church buildings to loving Jesus.
I agree. It was not a coincidence that Our Lord told the Rich Young Ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor -- He is perhaps giving the same message to His church?
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