Skip to comments.Stephen Noll: The Global Anglican Communion: A Blueprint
Posted on 01/22/2006 11:17:59 AM PST by Huber
The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are in crisis. If you do not think this is so, then may I respectfully suggest that you don’t belong here. Or perhaps I don’t belong here. I address you as one who was saved and baptized in the Episcopal Church as a university student. I use that salvation language because that is the way my colleagues in Uganda would put it and because it is the truth: I once was lost but now I’m found. Praise the Lord! Jesus saved me in the context of the Anglican tradition, which I cherish. I love its history, its liturgy, its reasonableness and moderation, its “mereness.” We need to recall that this mereness has been sealed in the blood of martyrs – whether in England or Uganda and elsewhere – who in times of crisis cried out “Play the Man, Master Ridley” or “Here we are at Heaven’s gates. In the twinkling of an eye, we shall see Jesus!” Hence in our context today, I interpret the conference title “Mere Anglicanism” to be a kind of battle cry like “Back to the Sources!” or “Here I Stand!” or “Remember the Martyrs!”
In September 1997, I gave an address in Dallas, Texas, titled “The Handwriting on the Wall” to a gathering of American and Global South bishops. This was, I think, one of the first such global gatherings of Anglicans to face up to the coming crisis. With the failure of the Righter presentment, the faithful Episcopal bishops had exhausted the internal avenues of discipline. With Lambeth 1998 approaching, they turned to the international church and the Global South in particular for help. My address was an indictment of the Episcopal Church’s acceptance and blessing of same-sex relationships as a breach of essential Christian identity (or, if you wish, of Mere Anglicanism) on three counts: rejecting biblical authority, dishonoring the institution of marriage; and embracing a false Gospel and spirituality. I described the chaos already present in the Episcopal Church and went on to predict that this pandemonium would spread to the larger Communion, unless its leaders spoke and acted forthrightly:
I subtitled this talk “Why the Sexuality Conflict in the Episcopal Church Is God’s Word to the Anglican Communion,” and I conclude with a warning that failure to deal with the crisis in the Episcopal Church will endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion…. This is a question that cannot be delayed. What will become of Anglican unity if the American church breaks into two bodies out of communion with each other, with one body officially linked to Canterbury and the other officially committed to Kuala Lumpur [i.e., the Global South]? If Anglican leaders look the other way in 1998, such a situation is distinctly possible.
Anglican leaders, led by the Global South, did speak clearly and forcefully at Lambeth in Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality, but they have not yet followed up by exercising discipline of those Provinces that have flouted the substance of the Resolution. It is of course proper that any fateful action like the excommunication of a Province should proceed deliberately. The Windsor process, however compromised it seems to some of us, does give time for the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada to ponder the consequences of their position and to repent.
They will not repent: I think we all know this. The Episcopal Church for one is too deeply immersed in the gay-rights ethos to turn back corporately at this point. So the question is, what comes next? The Primates may well carry through with their threat and cut these churches free to walk apart. But there is another course of studied inaction which I think equally likely; indeed it seems to be the one contemplated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his 2008 Lambeth Design Team. That scenario involves a “business-as-usual” Lambeth Conference, with North American churches present, where we change the subject and just move on. Brothers and sisters, the latter course will, I predict, incur the judgment of God and effectively put an end to the Anglican Communion as a serious, respected Christian body. Look at it in these terms:
Lambeth 1998 wrestles with a central issue of Christian identity – human sexuality - and produces a clear Resolution, several Provinces defy it, enacting contrary legislation and confirming a gay bishop, other Provinces break Communion with the flouters, emergency meetings are called, a year-long study results in a 100-page report, warnings are issued, conventions held, statements of “regret” are parsed, clergy are defrocked and congregations walk away from cherished property and affiliate with overseas Provinces… And what do you get? An all expenses-paid trip to Canterbury and a tea party with the Queen!
If that’s your idea of “mere Anglicanism,” you can have it. My comment on such a scenario is: “This is the way the Communion ends, not with a bang but a cuppa.”
The Anglican Communion is in crisis, possibly a terminal crisis. The exodus and exile are already underway. But along with exodus and exile may come a new Covenant and with it “hope and a future” for a new or renewed Communion. The initiative for such a Covenant and Communion must come from the younger churches of the Global South, who constitute the vital center of the Communion. Hence in what follows I refer, as a matter of convenience, to a blueprint for a Global Anglican Covenant and Global Anglican Communion.
A Theological Covenant
Talk about an Anglican Covenant appears to be rather recent. The Windsor Report proposes such a Covenant to deal with the errant Provinces; even more recently, we have the proposal of another “Covenant for the Communion in Mission.” The South to South Encounter also issued a call for a Communion Covenant. While the merits of individual proposals are various, the idea of a Covenant is not foreign to Anglican history and is greatly needed at the present moment.
The Anglican Covenant concept can be traced back to the infancy of the Communion in 1886, with the so-called Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral was, to be sure, minimal and descriptive, but it did seek to set forth to the world and in relation with other churches the identity of the various churches of the emerging Communion. Its language was fundamentally theological: Scripture, Creeds, sacraments and episcopacy. If not a Covenant, it appears to be the Preamble to a Communion Covenant that was never enacted.
Going back even further, one might suggest that the Articles of Religion were part of an Anglican Covenant before there was a Communion. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer intended the Articles to distinguish the English Reformation over against the Roman Catholic Church on the one hand and the radical Protestant sects on the other. He hoped that the Articles would help form the basis for an ecumenical consensus among the churches of the Reformation. It is therefore not accidental that most of the daughter churches of the Church of England adopted the Articles into their constitutions, along with the Book of Common Prayer, as part of their heritage.
So the idea of an Anglican Covenant has a history. It is also politically relevant, being called for by thoughtful observers of the current Babel of Anglican beliefs and practices. Most importantly, however, it might address the theological confusion – let’s call it by its proper name, heresy – that is the chief cause of this ecclesiastical disorder. The crisis of the Communion is profoundly theological, caused by an open repudiation of the teaching of Scripture and the historic Church. This crisis can be met only by a covenant that is, first and foremost, theologically motivated.
In what follows I hope to prepare the way for a Global Anglican Covenant. I am not offering an actual draft but the necessary framework for a draft, using the Lambeth Quadrilateral as a guide. I hope to fill in the foursquare of the Quadrilateral with further theological detail and hence produce a blueprint for a Global Anglican Communion.
The Role of Scripture in the Church
The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as the revealed Word of God (CLQ), containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and standard of faith.
It hardly needs repeating that the foremost objection of the Global South to the homosexual agenda is the fact that it is “contrary to Scripture” (Lambeth 1.10). In my judgment, there is no reasonable doubt that the Global South is correct in this regard. Robert Gagnon has demonstrated comprehensively – and without serious rebuttal – that homosexual sexual relationships are contrary to God’s will as expressed throughout the Bible. Equally, homosexuality offends Christian common sense, the plain logic of creation. This logic I have called two sexes one flesh, and it has been so, our Lord says, from the beginning (Matthew 19:4). The Windsor Report details the stubbornness of the revisionist North American churches in refusing the clear warnings of Communion bodies, but the true offence, from the viewpoint of the Global South churches, is their taking what Scripture calls disorder and sin and calling it good and blessed (cf. Isaiah 5:20).
Since the impending break-up of the Communion has to do with the rejection of Scripture by some of its members, any Anglican Covenant will need to provide a thorough affirmation of the primacy, unity, clarity and sufficiency of the Bible as the Word of God written. In this regard, we can learn from the Protestant Reformers, who faced a similar challenge in the 16th century.
The Primacy of Scripture. Lambeth 1998 passed Resolutions affirming the primacy, or the primary authority, of Scripture in matters relating to Christian faith and life. Primacy is not a call for bare submission to a sacred text, as in Islam, but includes several closely associated principles. • The Word as medium of the Gospel. The Reformation began with a dynamic sense of the recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a verbal revelation, originating in God Himself as the Word (John 1:1-18). • The self-authenticating character of Scripture. Although the Bible is an accommodated form of God’s revelation, God “lisping” to us (as Calvin put it), it is self-authenticating and cannot be “proved” by human science or argument. • Scripture as a means of grace. The Word of God presented in Scripture convicts and creates faith in hearers. The same Spirit that guided the authors testifies in the heart of readers.
• The Unity of Scripture. The Reformation also declared that, despite the differences within and between the Testaments, a fundamental consistency undergirds the various books of the Bible. • Mystery and unity. As God’s triune nature is a transcendent mystery made known in the fullness of time (1 John 1:1-4), so biblical unity can include paradox and progressive development, without causing confusion in its overall message. • Hermeneutical center. The center of the Bible is the Gospel of Christ himself. A biblical theology must be evangelical, acknowledging the role of the Old Testament as preparation and of the New Testament as fulfillment, avoiding Old Testament-based legalism or New Testament-based libertinism. • Harmony of Scripture texts. The principle of “Scripture interpreting Scripture” is found in Cranmer’s Collect which urges ordinary Christians to “mark” i.e., compare, various passages in the Bible. As for the Church, it may not “so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another” (Article XX).
• The Clarity of Scripture. The clarity of Scripture was the basis on which the Reformers insisted on a vernacular Bible that could be read and understood by the simplest “ploughboy.” • Simplicity of Scripture. The Reformers recovered the “plain sense” (sensus literalis) of the Bible. Simplicity is not anti-intellectual. In fact, it is an invitation to study original languages and historical and social context. • External and internal clarity. External clarity is the way Scripture conveys the Word publicly to all who would come with a seeking heart. Because of the blindness of the human heart, internal clarity is required through the grace of the Holy Spirit. One must “have ears to hear.” • Exposition. “How can I understand unless I have an interpreter?” (Acts 8:31). Bible reading must be accompanied by expository preaching and teaching. Even mature Christians move “from the truth to the whole truth” through regular Bible study.
• The Sufficiency of Scripture. The idea of the “sufficiency” of Scripture asserts both its unique efficacy and its limited focus. • The End of Scripture – salvation. Sufficiency looks to the end or telos of Scripture, which is salvation in Christ alone (John 20:31). Any Church which is ashamed of this salvation cannot be using Scripture rightly. • Appropriation by faith. Just as the Spirit gives inward clarity, so the means by which salvation is grasped is faith alone. Only then does reason interpret Scripture and works of love apply it. • Trustworthiness of Scripture. Scripture cannot err in the sense that it is an infallible guide to salvation and a holy life. In this it diverges both from liberal caricatures and fundamentalist simplifications of fallibility and inerrancy.
Given the popular idea of an Anglican tripod of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, a Covenant will need to address specifically the different roles of these sources, along lines laid down by Richard Hooker:
Be it in matter of one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth. (Laws V.8.2)
The Covenant will also need to address the role of modern “higher” criticism, along lines of the Vatican II “Constitution on Divine Scripture.” Renewed awareness of the shaping of Scriptural canon and the historic tradition of exegesis should allow expositors and theologians to move beyond the arid “assured results” of higher criticism or the carnival of postmodern “readings” to a more fruitful method of theological interpretation.
The Church’s Historic Formularies
The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol (LQ); and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith. “The voice of the Church,” as Hooker put it, has always been important for an Anglican Christianity that sees itself as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church upholding “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Reformation Anglicans tended to look to particular classic periods as sources of authority, such as the first five centuries and four Councils. In addition to mining these periods for particular texts, they included creeds in the liturgy as classic confessions of faith. They also identified their own day as a God-appointed time to reiterate the biblical faith in contemporary terms. Hence, along with other Protestant bodies, they produced a series of confessions, which culminated in the establishment of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as an instrument of English law.
We are at another historic moment when the Church must articulate its faith in the light of modern and postmodern developments both outside itself and within. But, I would also argue, because the rot of modernity has eaten its way into the infrastructure of Anglicanism, especially in the West, we cannot reconstruct authentic Anglican doctrine unless we go back to the sources, namely to the Thirty-Nine Articles and Book of Common Prayer.
The impetus for reform will come this time from the Global South. At the recent South to South Encounter in Egypt, Global South leaders identified their churches with the creedal “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” and with decisive biblical periods – the Exodus at the Red Sea, the Sojourn of the Christ Child in Africa, and the role of Alexandria as a centre of orthodoxy during the patristic period. Shortly before this Conference, the Anglican Church of Nigeria amended its constitution to state that it would “be in communion with those who uphold the historic faith, as expressed in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Ordinal.” Some critics claimed that these statements and actions are regressive, even schismatic. To my mind, they are just the opposite: conservative yes, but pointing the way forward for a Global Anglican Covenant.
The Role of the Thirty-Nine Articles In order to get back to a common theological starting point, we need to revive the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles in contemporary Anglicanism. In a sense, these Articles have never died, being included in many Provincial constitutions, and are the only globally accepted statement of Anglican doctrine. So it is imperative, in my view, that affirmation of the Thirty-Nine Articles should be a part of the Covenant.
Why is this so important? I would say it is because the Articles enshrine within our tradition the Scripture principle enunciated in the section above and endow it with the capacity for “local adaptation,” which is necessary given the passage of time and the spread of the worldwide church. Ashley Null, in his recent Janani Luwum Lecture at Uganda Christian University, expresses this capacity in this way:
The Articles present no stumbling block to Anglican multiculturalism. After all, it is the Articles themselves that insist on cultural sensitivity. It is the Articles themselves that assume a wide diversity in church practices, as each nation develops those rites and ceremonies appropriate for its own context. Yet, the Articles also insist on an underlying unity of Christian churches, and that this unity is none other than agreement on the essentials of salvation. Moreover, the Articles also make clear that these essentials are found only in one place – Scripture understood in its plain sense and interpreted in the light of the entire canonical witness by the rule of non-contradiction.
I believe the Articles can accommodate much of the theological diversity that has emerged during four centuries of our history. Evangelicals may find themselves most at home with the Articles, but sacramentalists of an Anglo-Catholic or Lutheran mind can find comfort in Article XXV ‘Of the Sacraments’. Article XVII ‘Of Predestination and Election’ can accommodate, in my opinion, a Wesleyan-charismatic understanding of the operation of grace and free will. Even classic liberals – and here I would name C.S. Lewis and Oliver O’Donovan – can find shelter in the shade of the Articles. The reason they can is that there is a liberality to the Articles and to the Anglican tradition which does not push doctrine beyond what can be “proved” by Holy Scripture and which acknowledges the critical distinction between essentials and adiaphora.
If the Articles were included in a Global Anglican Covenant, would that make the Communion “confessional”? I guess that all depends on how one defines confessional. My own view is that the Articles, under the Scriptures, should be the touchstone of Communion doctrine and discipline, but that individual Provinces might administer this doctrine and discipline differently. At the same time, I think there is an urgent need for a “conversation” with the Articles, as they are clearly dated and deficient in some respects. Article XXXV itself provides a method for this conversation by approving “homilies” based on the Articles. The example of Vatican II and the papal encyclicals of John Paul II may provide a model for formulating authentic contemporary statements of Anglican doctrine.
The Role of the Book of Common Prayer Thomas Cranmer’s genius was to see that “praying shapes believing” and to use this reality to instruct the faithful through the rites of the Church, and his language continues to resonate in such great prayers as the Collect for Purity, the Prayer of Humble Access, the General Thanksgiving and the Litany. More pertinently, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer fits the theology of the Articles hand in glove. So, as with the Articles, I think the classic Book of Common Prayer should be acknowledged as the gold standard of Anglican worship but should be subjected to critique and revision from Scripture and from contemporary knowledge, as is clear from Cranmer’s own successive revisions. Legitimate insights from liturgical research and ecumenical dialogue are not inconsistent with the Prayer Book standard. Furthermore, the missional situation of each Province should dictate adaptation of the classic creeds and liturgies both in terms of translation to the vernacular and enculturation of local tradition.
Finally, we acknowledge that the Prayer Book and the English musical tradition have trained up a rich school of Anglican spirituality and song. Again, while this tradition – the prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, the poetry of George Herbert, the masses of Byrd and hymns of Wesley, Neale, and Cecil Frances Alexander – should be cherished, we need not force it onto a generation that is devoted to rock music or to call-and-response choruses in the vernacular.
The Church’s Mission and Sacraments The two Sacraments – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
The “two sacraments” plank of the Quadrilateral seems uncontroversial, unless you are a Tractarian or a sectarian seeking to add to or subtract from them. At the same time, we must wonder that the Quadrilateral chose the “two-ness” of the sacraments, or the sacraments at all, as distinctive of Anglican Christianity. It is true that one can find baptism and Eucharist in all Anglican churches, but that includes churches where baptism is utterly disconnected from evangelism, and some where the weekly Eucharist is accompanied by empty or false preaching and others where the Eucharist is celebrated infrequently and tacked on at the end of a long service. So rather than be satisfied with our nominal fulfillment of the Quadrilateral on this point, we should ask if the plank itself is in need of reform.
I would propose that sacraments should be understood within a theology of mission. The Reformation in general and the Church of England in particular seem to have been deficient in articulating a proper theology of mission. For all their virtues, the Articles of Religion have no single reference to Christ’s Great Commission to evangelize the nations. The problem is not merely one of word but of deed also. The English church evangelized the colonies and the Empire more by default than by plan, as Anglican mission societies operated on the fringes of the official church, and often with active interference from the Establishment. By the grace of God, Anglicanism has flourished, though at times the daughter churches have replicated the staid hierarchies of the Mother Church.
In the context of state churches, the sacraments have often been regarded as rights and rites of national identity. This was not true in the apostolic church, nor does it work today (e.g., what does it mean that the Church of England claims 26 million members?). So I propose that the Covenant take a dynamic approach to the Gospel sacraments. This approach is not really a stretch, once we think of the missionary setting of the church. Concluding his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter said to the crowd:
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:38-47)
From this passage, I think we can identify the following marks of the missionary church:
• The Church preaches the Gospel to its own children and to those who are far off - to the churched and unchurched, to the youth of the next generation and to those whom we today call “unreached peoples.” • It calls people urgently to be saved from the idols of the present age in expectation of the imminent return of Christ. • Baptism is a response to preaching, and it signs and seals individuals as members of the Body of Christ. • It expects believers individually and the whole Church corporately to be filled with the Holy Spirit. • It expects and experiences healing and miracles in its midst. • It is growing in numbers, often with remarkable leaps forward. • It is devoted to apostolic doctrine, koinonia, worship and Eucharist. • It is committed to radical sharing of goods and hospitality. • It respects authority (the temple) but circumscribes that authority in view of the ascension and reign of Christ.
Rather than focus the Covenant on sacraments per se, I would urge drafters to expound on the missionary character of the Church. When it comes to formulating a mission statement, we already have at our disposal the Lausanne Covenant on world evangelization, whose principal author, John Stott, happens to be foster father to many global Anglicans. It is not necessary, in my view, to reinvent a distinctive Anglican mission theology and strategy. Let us humbly offer ourselves and our resources to the already developed networks of mission and cross-cultural ministry in the Evangelical world today.
If the Anglican Communion can orient itself to our Lord’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, perhaps it can also reorient its sacramental heritage to convey the eschatological presence of Christ with his Church. Another gap in Anglican theology and practice – not unconnected with its lack of missionary zeal, I suspect – is the conviction that Jesus Christ will return, suddenly and imminently, to judge the living and the dead. As eschatological signs, the sacraments should be seen as incandescent badges of Christian identity: incandescent both in the sense of aglow with the Spirit but also as antagonistic to the world. Is it not the case that one receives either the seal of the living God in John’s Apocalypse, or the mark of the beast? Is it not true that the first Christians were marked out as “atheists” by their love feasts, and that even today Christian converts are disowned by their Muslim or Hindu families by baptism? If the sacraments are reoriented as dynamic signs of the Reigning Lord who is about to return, surely the pastoral discipline of the Church will also be reoriented. What would be our attitude toward those who routinely present their infants for baptism or those who idly “press with their teeth” the sacrament, if we believed that we would be held accountable for failing to warn them of the consequences of disobedience? What would be the attitude of bishops who fail to break fellowship with false “brother bishops” just to get along?
Finally, let me say that eschatological signs must be accompanied by the eschatological Spirit of Christ. Sacraments should be responsive to the power of preaching and prophecy, the prayer of healing and exorcism, and the sacrifice of service and martyrdom. I came into the Episcopal Church on the wave of the charismatic renewal. We did many funny, even harmful, things in those days – in part because we got little guidance from the Church. But one mark of the genuineness of that movement is the fact that many of us understood and still understand that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of witness (martyria) and that we are impelled to follow Christ whatever the cost. This same Spirit can be found among the global churches today (one thinks of the church in China, for instance), including many of the newer Anglican churches (such as Nigeria and Sudan). A Global Anglican Covenant that wishes to recover its apostolic fullness will need to look not only for faithful administration of Gospel sacraments but for signs of the Spirit and power that accompany it (Mark 16:15-18) .
A Church Governed by Bishops
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
The Historic Episcopate seems the surest way to identify Anglicans today: “Ye shall know they are Anglicans by their bishops’ purple shirts.” At the same time, this final plank of the Quadrilateral seems oddly fitted with its mates. Is it really true that bishops in apostolic succession are as necessary as the Bible or the Creeds or the sacraments? Are we prepared to unchurch or belittle those who have a different polity and do not keep genealogies? Is the threefold order of ministry an essential of the faith or is it adiaphora?
Anglicans can rightly uphold episcopal governance and the value of the historic continuity of its ministry. For all the failures of bishops, we cannot blame the office; indeed we can argue that a rightly ordered episcopacy has provided stability and faithfulness over the centuries. The second clause of the Quadrilateral – “locally adapted” – qualifies a rigid view of prelacy and specifically relates it to global mission, “the varying needs of nations and peoples called” into the Church. As an example of the latter, one thinks of the Church of Nigeria’s strategy of sending missionary bishops into under-evangelized portions of its own dioceses, or even of another jurisdiction.
The primary role of a bishop is that of a shepherd, serving the flock willingly (1 Peter 5:2). Episcopal authority is not the same as episcopal totalitarianism. The church is made up of subsidiary units – congregations, parishes, dioceses and Provinces – which must be represented in its governing structures. Episcopal polity should be a “mixed regime,” with representation from laity and clergy, parishes and dioceses. But I would like to put forward the proposition, that when one reaches the level of Communion governance, the bishops are the true and best representatives of the Church.
If this is so, then bishops will exercise a lopsided dominance among the “Instruments of Unity.” At the same time, it is necessary to take a second look at these Instruments, which have only recently been recognized as normative, and see whether and how they represent proper episcope in the worldwide church.
The Lambeth Conference of Bishops The Lambeth Conference is the fundamental constituent body of the Anglican Communion. Historically, it is impossible to speak of the Anglican Communion without the Lambeth Conference. While it is true that the Lambeth Conference was first called into being by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1867 and that he has ever been accorded the status of host, the Conferences became quickly established in themselves, and successive Archbishops of Canterbury have felt compelled to hold the decennial meetings. Clearly, the conferences are also the chief organ expressing the ecumenical and global character of Anglicanism.
Politically, the Lambeth Conference is a council of elders meeting as equals under a presiding officer. As noted above, bishops are the natural representatives of the churches. Collective oversight by bishops has a long heritage, rooted in the Bible and the conciliar tradition of the Church. I see no reason, at the global level, to try to include other constituencies in the governing structures of the Communion. Assemblies of elders necessarily must be limited in number if members are to govern genuinely. The current size of the Lambeth Conference is unwieldy and lends itself to political manipulation. Some form of representation needs to be devised that will allow Provinces to be represented so that the bishops may say on behalf of the whole Church: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). Some weighting of large and small provinces makes sense, as well as recognition of regional clusters such as the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) and the new Council of Anglican Provinces in the Americas and Caribbean (CAPAC).
The work of the Lambeth Conference, in my opinion, should be primarily theological and missiological, in keeping with the priorities outlined above. The idea of Bible study, prayer and teaching for the bishops in conference is a good one, with opportunity for input from non-episcopal theologians. The problem of tepid Bible studies and teaching at recent Conferences has been due to the appointing powers, not to the form itself. A Bishops’ Conference is not merely a refresher course for those in purple. The bishops should study and learn in order to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the specific needs and problems facing the Church in the world. For this reason, the object of the Conferences should be missiologically expansive and theologically conservative. One might recall the role of the Jerusalem Council in Acts, which both endorsed Paul’s innovative missionary activity as blessed by God and set forth some concrete ecumenical conditions under which the mission was to be conducted. The Pastoral and Catholic Epistles, written in response to rapid church growth, are filled with admonitions to hold fast to the teaching which has been received in order to preserve the fruit of mission (1 Timothy 4:16).
Now we come to a final question. Does the Lambeth Conference have to be held at Lambeth, or Canterbury? Can it rotate to different Provinces of the Communion? The plan to hold Lambeth 2008 in South Africa, while politically motivated and then aborted, indicates that it need not be held in England. My home campus in Uganda, for instance, can offer facilities equal to those of the University of Kent and has a nearby martyrs’ shrine every bit as sacred as the one dedicated to the holy blissful martyr of Canterbury.
The Primates The emergence of the Primates’ Meeting as an instrument of Anglican identity is recent, although one might argue that, with 38 Primates, the meeting is closer in number to the original Lambeth Conference of 76 bishops than the mammoth conferences of recent years. Be that as it may, there is clearly a connection between the Lambeth Conference and the Primates. The Primates are chosen to represent the bishops and dioceses in their Province. It is thus appropriate that the Primates’ Meeting should function as the executive council of the Lambeth Conference.
A key function of an executive body is to carry out Resolutions of the larger assembly, to prepare for upcoming conferences and to deal with issues that arise in the interim period. It is at this point, I think, that the most serious distortion of Communion governance has occurred: the Anglican Communion secretariat. I say distortion because the Secretariat has operated as a separate branch of government. So if the Primates are to govern effectively, it will be necessary for them, or perhaps for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops itself, to choose an executive officer who will reflect the will of the Communion. A new Secretariat will have to learn to live modestly, but perhaps in return it can become a servant, rather than a manipulator, of the Primates and the Lambeth Conference.
The Archbishop of Canterbury When we come to the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Global Anglican Communion, we arrive at a junction of history and present-day reality. No one can dispute the historic role of the Church of England in making Anglicanism what it is. Its formularies still hold a pride of place in the Global Communion. There is even a sense in which Anglican churches have had a special influence globally deriving from British and now American cultural and linguistic dominance. And historically, the Archbishop of Canterbury has served as prime representative of the Church of England – and hence the Communion which looks to the Mother Church.
However, the times they are a-changing, as our liberal friends often remind us! And in certain key respects, it seems to me the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury is outmoded and even dangerous to the flourishing of a global communion. Over the past fifty years the churches of the Global South have grown and matured, even as the state churches of Europe have declined. To speak demographically, the Church of England can no longer pretend to represent the people of England. When the Church of Nigeria has grown from 6 million to 18 million in 20 years and the Church of England has declined over two centuries to one million church-going members, we have a situation like that of the Pauline mission, where the vital periphery shows respect for the alma mater in Jerusalem, but does not cede initiative.
The Establishment of the Church in England is an anomaly among the churches of the Communion which increasingly confuses and compromises their identity and action. The recent decision of the British Government to enact legislation undermining the Church’s clear teaching on marriage and sexuality is a signal that it no longer looks to the Church, or even Christianity, as its spiritual guide. Is it therefore wise to have the Presiding Primate of the Anglican Communion appointed by a secular party leader who may not even be a Christian? Even if these problems did not exist, it would be necessary to reform the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury alone can determine who is in and who is out of the Communion is a remnant of a bygone colonial era and hardly conforms to the idea of constitutional government. A Global Anglican Covenant will need to spell out the method by which a presiding primate is chosen and a way of admitting or excluding provinces other than the unilateral decision of a particular individual.
In my opinion, the theo-political position of the Archbishop of Canterbury presents an insuperable obstacle to a fully empowered Global Anglican Communion. This obstacle could be obviated in one of two ways: either by internationalizing the See of Canterbury or by making it a titular office. In one way or another, the office of Presiding Primate must be opened to bishops from all regions of the world. The Roman Catholics can do it; why can’t we? Is the Anglican Communion so stuck in its ways that it cannot see the need for genuine diversity in its leadership?
At the recent South to South Encounter, Rowan Williams commented to the effect that if the Archbishop of Canterbury is a servant of that unity; and that if this office ceases to serve as such, then that raises a serious question for the Communion. It seems to me that the gracious thing for the Church of England and the British Government to do is to disestablish the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and offer it to the worldwide Communion.
The Anglican Consultative Council As for the Anglican Consultative Council, I fail to see that it fits into the authority structure of a Global Anglican Communion. This is not to say that the ACC or something like it may not have a function as a committee of the Lambeth Conference or the Primates, but it should not be part of the Covenant or the essential governing apparatus. To paraphrase a certain bishop, “the Communion created the ACC, the Communion can uncreate it.”
From Blueprint to Reality
I have attempted to sketch a blueprint of a Global Anglican Covenant that will embody the best elements of our tradition and mobilize Anglicans to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. In order for this sketch to take life, political steps will need to take place. The initiative for these steps I expect to come from the Global South.
At Lambeth 1978, Joseph Adetiloye, Archbishop of Nigeria, stood at the microphone for a long time, waiting to be recognized. (This is the Primate under whose leadership the surge in growth in Nigeria began.) When the Chair tried to say, “That portion of the debate has ended,” Adetiloye refused to sit down and was finally recognized. He had this to say:
For more than 20 minutes I have been standing here and you did not want to recognize me. In ten years, when African bishops come to the microphone at this conference, we will be so numerous and influential that you will have to recognize us. In 1998, we will have grown so much that our voice will determine the outcome of the Lambeth Conference.
Adetiloye was himself instrumental in passing Resolution 1.10 in 1998. His successor, Peter Akinola, has also been a leader of the Global South Primates, as head of the Council of Anglican Bishops in Africa (CAPA) and the Global South Leadership Team. So I think it will fall to the bishops of the Global South to take the initiative on a Global Anglican Covenant. It seems to me the opportune time to confer on this issue is prior to Lambeth 2008 rather than after it. If a draft Covenant were available, the Archbishop of Canterbury could then decide whether he wants the Lambeth Conference to contribute to the adoption of this Covenant or leave it to others. In any case, the drafters would be in a position to move forward to enactment.
The Covenant would contain a mechanism for ratification according to which various jurisdictions would be acknowledged as constituent members of the covenant community or network. This community might exist side by side with the Anglican Communion, with bishops finding themselves functioning in both structures. However, it seems likely that eventually the new wine would no longer fit in the old wineskins. So either the two entities would separate or amalgamate. In either situation, the goal of the new entity would to become a real koinonia, like the apostolic Church, being of one mind and one spirit (Acts 4:32). Then it would indeed be the Global Anglican Communion, both in name and in substance.
My belief that a future Global Anglican Covenant and Communion is likely is based on one sociological observation and one theological conviction. The sociological observation is this: liberal Anglicanism is reaping the harvest of unbelief. Though flush with funds, the Episcopal Church USA is a graying, declining body. The elderly will gradually pass away, leaving the endowments only for window dressing. Not only is liberal Anglicanism dying out, but it will hasten its own demise by increasingly outrageous and self-destructive policies. Therefore any patch-up job within the present structures will fail. Lay people disillusioned with the drift of the churches will vote with their feet, and overseas “companion” churches will either die along with the parent body or act independently of it.
In the near term, I cannot say where the exact fault lines in Anglicanism will end up – whether the North American official churches will be cut loose to go their way, or whether a Mammonic Anglo-American alliance will prevail for a time. I do not know whether the parting of ways will happen in two years or two pieces, or ten years and ten pieces. What I do know is this: if Anglicanism is to experience a rebirth, it will take place in a radically de-centered and re-centered Communion, de-centered from the sceptered isle of its birth and re-centered in the rude cradle of the Global South.
Here is where my theological conviction comes in. Jesus Christ is Lord and His kingdom reigns over all. The gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, which is His Body. Once we lift up our eyes from our own troubles and look at the worldwide scene, we shall realize that the Gospel is not in retreat but is beckoning to the uttermost corners of the globe. As Anglicans we have a stake in the global mission of Christ, and we have something to offer it from the riches of our heritage and our worldwide fellowship of churches.
Brothers and sisters, remember Lot’s wife. The present order is passing away. Behold the Global Anglican Communion is coming.
–The Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll is Vice Chancellor, Uganda Christian University, Mukono, Uganda; this talk was given as part of the Mere Anglicanism Conference this morning
This entry was posted on Friday, January 20th, 2006 at 6:50 pm and is filed under ANGLICAN, Windsor Report, ECUSA GC06, Rowan Williams, Scripture, Nature of Communion, Global South, Anglican Covenant. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.