Skip to comments.A Covenant for a Confused Church
Posted on 01/05/2007 6:25:21 PM PST by sionnsar
A Covenant for a Confused Church
By Chris Sugden
A Covenant for the Church of England (CCE) has put the proper Episcopal care of churches faithful to the biblical and Anglican tradition of the Church of England as a major issue to be addressed before the February Primates Meeting.
The framework of this debate is war for the soul of our national culture. Its Christian basis is being undermined at every turn - Winterval not Christmas, no public display of crosses, partners rather than husbands and wives and particularly the undermining of Christian marriage.
Those promoting this agenda know how to undermine the church and especially the evangelicals who will be the hardest core of resistance.
How undermine the CofE? Play on its Erastian tendencies. Give it Civil Partnerships as a fait accompli and watch it take the role of chaplain to the nation, to ameliorate its worst excesses. This confirms people in relationships that scripture calls sinful and hinders the missionary role of the church to bring redemption, release and freedom. The strategy has succeeded!
Evangelicals do not fall for that strategy. So divide and distract them by getting them to talk about evangelical unity. Unfortunately the Fulcrum initiative has made an impact. I did ask Bishop Wright (NTW) the day before his article appeared not to rush into print. But maybe the train ( driven by others?) had already left the station. NTW claims that the doctrine of the CofE has not changed. No, not officially and it never does till it does. It is the last thing to change when it is changed, like the law, to catch up with current practice. Culturally the train has left the station. Those who think that nothing has fundamentally changed in the CofE and that nothing needs to be addressed will only have the station to get comfortable in. We are seeking to keep the church growing and strong to continue to deal with the challenges of the culture, currently in relation to the SORs and other challenges to freedom of speech and belief from the liberal agenda on human sexuality issues. For that, we need oversight that takes the bible and the teachings of the Church seriously. CCE shows that large numbers of evangelical Anglicans have had enough of dodgy bishops and their own evangelical tendency to ignore the structures of the church. They are taking them seriously. By asking for proper provision they are asking for the compliment to be returned. But is there even a common ground of doctrine in the CofE to change? No. Common ground is not only what we formally affirm as belief, but we apply in ethical decision making. Disputes remain unresolved over the ordination of practicing homosexual clergy and their appointment to senior positions, over bishops being patrons of organisations committed to that end, over collusion with the government in changing the CofE's doctrine and practice of marriage, such that the House of Bishops Guidelines allow for civil partnerships which everyone but the CofE regards as marriage. The strategy of the establishment is that evangelicals should live with all this, and those who do are rewarded.
Even if we agree on the common ground of biblical truth and Christian principles, there are disagreements on the implications of those common ground truths. NTW's article, into which documentary evidence exists that Fulcrum claims significant input, contains many phrases such as "looks as though", "reads as though", "appear to mean", "what it must mean", "seems to mean", "appears to be" from which firm conclusions are drawn. This style of argument belongs to the more tendentious end of sceptical biblical scholarship of the last century which NTW has done much to discredit. We cannot move forward under a continuous hermeneutic of suspicion.
At the Reform Conference in 2004, the Director of New Wine John Coles apologised in public for not having thought or said the best about Reform. The Chair of Reform David Banting responded immediately by apologising for not having thought or said the best about New Wine. Alice DeMoss, visiting from the US, remarked that God works when people say sorry to each other and forgive each other. And the Word focus and the Spirit focus have worked together since that time and produced this Covenant.
The bitterness with which the CCE group has been attacked comes from wellsprings of suspicion and distrust that need to be cleansed and forgiven. Sorries need to be said all round.
Who's it for?
The Covenant is designed to help three groups of people: first, those who are working under revisionist bishops and so have their gospel ministry hampered. Already some have expressed delight that they will have the support of other orthodox church leaders, and now know they need not be cowed by a campaigning revisionist.
Those who disagree on the strategy because they aren't being resisted or undermined by their Bishop, are asked to understand that some are, and that for their sakes we have done this. It is not possible or proper to put into the public domain the details of situations where there is such impairment, formal or informal because congregations have to live with the bishop and the rest of the diocese. If Fulcrum and NTW are comfortable with things where they are, God bless them in their labours. They are not asked to sign up to CCE. However many with acute problems of conscience are not comfortable and ask for provision.
Second CCE is designed to help the Episcopal leaders of the Church of England know there is a groundswell of opinion amongst ordinary church leaders that 'enough is enough'. If NTW's project to transform the CofE and the Communion was succeeding, why has the Panel of Reference signally failed, and the problems associated with the Civil Partnerships Guidelines and the indiscipline of the clergy continued unchecked?
We believe the best way of keeping the CofE together is if proper provision is made for the Episcopal leadership of the orthodox. If not, the church will begin to disintegrate as in the USA. Nine congregations - the equivalent of 16 dioceses- left The Episcopal Church in the USA (TEC) in the week before Christmas. "What we are seeing today in Northern Virginia is the result of the failure to make adequate provision within current church polity - relief delayed is relief denied," says Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council. The key question is "If you were in the USA now where would you be TEC/ or the Common Cause partnership?" Why didn't we seek the counsel of more evangelical bishops before we published CCE? We briefed the Bishops of Winchester, London, Chichester, Chester, Willesden, Maidstone and Ebbsfleet, and consulted continuously the Bishops of Lewes and Rochester as well as the Primates of the Global South. We were also afraid of potential leaks if we consulted more widely. We have circumstantial evidence about how the leaks happened. Now that we have a simple statement which unites many church leaders we are better placed to discuss possible ways forward with our evangelical bishops at a meeting which has now been planned. Third CCE is designed to help the Archbishops from the Global South realise the size and strength of the orthodox in England. They do not want to come into England as they have done in USA. They have asked us to work with Bishops to provide an English solution to an English problem. Why now? We wanted to talk to our Archbishop before the House of Bishops meeting early in January. The Primates Meeting will address the issue of the 'tearing apart of the fabric of the Communion'. Decisions will be made over the inclusion or exclusion of TEC from Lambeth 08. That decision will tell us whether the CofE will belong to the monocultural and revisionist Episcopal Communion, or an orthodox Anglican Communion in which the Africans and Asians play a full part. We have no doubt as to which is the vibrant growing orthodox part of the Communion and the one to which we want to belong!
Is the situation really this bad?
NTW wants to downplay the difficulties of the present situation, and claims it was worse a generation ago. But his argument is from the position of hegemony - this gives special status to a way of talking about a problem. Every challenge to the way the problem is discussed is considered to be merely political, not theological. NTW tends to dismiss the many views he has in common with the CCE, and regards the CCE challenge as basically insubordination. He applies far more criticism to the evangelicals he agrees with than the incoherent liberals with whom we both disagree. But the incoherent liberals are his colleagues in the house of bishops. This is the culture of the prefects' room at an English public school. The prefects may hate each others guts, but they collectively hate the guts of the pesky lower fifth more.
In some ways Evangelicals have never been as strong on the ground in the C of E as now, with over 34% in churches self-identifying as evangelical. But strength on the ground is not matched by strength in visible and vocal leadership. In the Civil Partnership Guidelines from the House of Bishops, evangelical bishops did not speak up for orthodox causes.
There is a serious inbuilt imbalance of power and representation. We need procedures that address the imbalance of power between a bishop who uses his office to try out interesting innovations, and congregations who find themselves embarrassed, their consciences seared, their mission hindered and their members dispersed by Episcopal indiscipline.
The common ground for Anglicans can no longer be the liberal consensus. The Global South has made sure of that. That is why TEC is pushing for The Episcopal Communion which at least 12 English Bishops and most of the Scottish ones want to join. Who will provide the new consensus? It will not just be a matter of writing a theology or covenant that all can agree and everything will work. NTW's project will not deliver the goods. It is not possible to solve these problems by getting agreement on the substance, on one agreed theologically orthodox correct statement. What is needed is a procedure to address indiscipline and failure to live, work and teach according to biblical teaching.
The CCE is a procedural document that sets out a process for addressing the problems we face. It takes for granted a lot of the substance of theological argument which can be referenced in many works that demonstrate our faithful Anglican approach. NTW suspects the substance because he does not trust the people and networks linked with it. He confuses the procedure (in CCE) for the substance. But the procedure takes seriously the needs and problems of the church.
The local church is the key. This is where the action takes place. Successful mission in the Anglican communion is rarely by the diocese and even less by the province as a whole. The parishes do mission and produce ministers of the church. Where the diocese is successful, it provides not only the environment but the right kind of support for the local church. We are trying to address the situation where, instead of being provided with the right kind of support, the local church is undermined.
The diocese provides the environment not generally the leadership. Dioceses are like governments. Governments have realized they cannot make every provision but rather must facilitate others. An adequate theology of the church must give due prominence to the significance of the concrete life and rights of each local church. But parishes are not sufficient unto themselves. CCE is needed to provide a basic provision of the right kind of fellowship with oversight for local churches so that they do not become unsuitably congregationalist.
Are the structures and systems of the CofE appropriate for mission today? Hardly anyone would agree that they are. We need a process to change them. Large numbers of the present Episcopal leadership are hardly the missionary bishops envisaged in the Lambeth Report of 1998. The system does not allow them to be. The corporate world has mechanisms to deal with non performing leaders and more particularly leaders who have become a liability. The church has none. The appointment of leaders in the CofE is unconnected with the stake holders.
History shows that the church will die without a wholehearted commitment to biblically orthodox doctrine, ethics and mission. People will die in their sins if we do not tell them of the forgiveness made available only in Jesus. The moral and spiritual revisionists have declared war on the orthodox. Unless we stand up for the truth, and are prepared to do so with some who will disagree with us on secondary issues, complacency will kill us all.
What about the poor?
Is this a rich churches' Covenant? Money is part of our responsible stewardship. Gospel based orthodox churches generally give more per capita than other churches. They would give even more to Anglican mission in UPA's if they knew it would not be 'wasted' subsidizing the ministry of liberal clergy who by their preaching and practice are proclaiming a different gospel and even sometimes attacking the churches whose funds support them. Archdeacon Bob Jackson in the go-ahead Diocese of Lichfield calls the holy grail of the quota system "chaos" which is accelerating the spiral of decline and needs to be abolished. (The Road to Growth, CHP, Part 4).
Some CCE churches are in the Diocese of London. 10,000 people ( half the "membership" of an average diocese) are estimated to be in church plants in greater London. London's significance for the future of the church can be gauged by the fact that 57% of people between the ages of 20-35 in the UK Church are in London ( from where many will disperse to other parts of the country).
The two page Covenant is short on detail. It sets out neither a clear strategy or careful ecclesiology. People under threat do not discuss ecclesiastical niceties or prepare detailed shopping lists. Only those who are free and resourced enough to shop, prepare lists. This is an emergency due to the actions of a few. We ask that something is done and that moral and spiritual indiscipline does not spread further.
---Canon Dr Chris Sugden is Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream
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