Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Covenant (good God y'all) what is it good for? Absolutely something ...

Up until a week ago, I was of the view that the Anglican Covenant was a complete waste of time and effort. What had started as a promised way of bringing some kind of doctrinal order and discipline to a fracturing Communion had been delayed past its sell-by date and watered down to homeopathic dilutions.
Well, it seems I was wrong.
There is now an international coalition against the covenant, led by bloggers, no less! And we have a ‘No to the Covenant’ logo turning up all over the place.
Why? Because apparently the Covenant would destroy everything it means to be an Anglican and propel us back into a theological ‘dark age’. (If you think I’m exaggerating, have a look at comments on the topic on the Thinking Anglicans website.)
What this tells me personally, however, is that the Covenant is clearly better than I thought. Of course it will not bring about what the ‘No to the Covenant’ coalition suggests. Their alarmism is, I suspect, just that, and deliberately so. And neither will it achieve what was hoped when it was first put forward, back in the days when there was still some hope of heading off the present crisis.
But it is not the ‘paper tiger’ I’d begun to assume. After all, anything that the typical ‘Thinking Anglican’ thinks must be stopped cannot be all bad.
So let’s bring on the Covenant — not in the expectation that all our problems will thereby disappear, but certainly because it must be good for something.
John Richardson
11 November 2010
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  1. Er, good for what and how, John? Or are you inviting us on a pure mystery tour, and if so, why?

  2. Yes, it's far too uncomfortable being of the same opinion as Thinking Anglicans, even if it is for different reasons. Bring on the Covenant post haste!

  3. Man. You need to hear the truth of the pirate saying,

    "The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend".


    ~ Gurdur,
    Location: Solingen, Germany

  4. Bishop Alan, you may be more familiar with the terms and conditions of the covenant than I am, given that I'd given up taking much interest in it. However, if you read this article by Bishop John Rodgers, it suggests to me that what is actually proposed falls somewhere in a 'Goldilocks Zone' of effectiveness.

    As he says, it is, "Too weak for the Orthodox and too strong for the Revisionists." Bearing in mind that he is proposing attaching the Jerusalem Declaration to the Covenant (and that is never going to happen), whilst the 'Revisionists' want the Covenant dropped altogether, I would venture to suggest it will be good for providing some of what was hoped in terms of (as I put it above) "bringing some kind of doctrinal order and discipline to a fracturing Communion", but not everything that might have been desired on the one side or feared on the other.

  5. Ah har, Gurdur, lad! But the friend of my enemy may well not be my friend's enemy's friend.

  6. Thanks, John. Very helpful ;-)

    Peter O has had a good attempt to talk me through why its necessary on my blog, which hasn't quite floated my boat but did help.

    What I suppose I'd really ike to see somewhere is a non-Romanist Scriptural case for quality assuring denominational alignment on a transnational scale — or for that matter, having denominations at all in our sense. Where do they belong in any NT Ecclesiology?

    (please don't feel you have to answer, but if somebody would, I'd be a much happier bunny about all this)

  7. Hi +Alan,
    One possible response to your query is this: there is a Scriptural case for quality assuring alignment on a transnational scale of the church of God (ut unim sint; one body; etc). Christians serious about working with God on this alignment, yet realistic about the state of the global, visible church, should work towards achievable goals: local church, regional church, national church, global church. But we are divided into denominations, so achieving such alignment within one denomination is a goal on the way to achieving unity between denominations.

    Another way could be to abolish denominations and then see what that means for the next step ... but abolishing the denominations presumes some kind of unified global intent to do so which (IMHO) assumes something like the process envisaged above towards global unity!

    The converse of not working on global Anglican unity (and Presbyterians, Baptists, etc not doing so also) is that we settle for diversity in the visible body of Christ as the best we can do, and have no concern for the universal church: the local church is all that matters. That would raise significant questions about whether we take Scripture seriously which appears to value the universal church and to conceive of the church as diversity-in-unity, not simply as a diversity.

  8. Bishop Alan, I must admit to being so surprised by your challenge regarding a “Scriptural case for quality assuring denominational alignment on a transnational scale”, that I’ve read it several times and I’m still not sure I fully understand the question.

    I think I understand the bit about denominations, but not why this translates into doubts about international ‘quality assurance’.

    As far as I can see, there is indeed no Scriptural justification for denominations, which are a symptom of our failure to know and agree on the truth, rather than a sign of healthy diversity. But then they are therefore hardly an encouragement to more such divisions, whether nationally or internationally!

    Long ago I came across a quote to the effect that the Church of England virtually invented modern denominationalism single-handedly by its intransigence towards its dissenting members. That may be overstating matters (and misrepresenting the original author), but our easy acceptance of such divisions, characterized by the ‘if you don’t like what’s happening you can join another church’ approach today, is a serious departure from the NT priority of unity, and even our own expressed prayers that the church may be “united in the truth”.

    The Church of England, as a body making its own rules, was not, of course, founded as a ‘denomination’, but was conceived of as a ‘particular or national church’ (Article XXX IV). And that understanding of its independence in matters of ceremonies, etc, rested on a view regarding the ‘national’ nature of the Church, which itself related to the Reformation understanding of the rĂ´le of the monarchy.

    No one amongst the English Reformers, however, would have doubted that the doctrines of the Church ought to be essentially the same everywhere. There was to be uniformity in the national Church, and there ought, therefore, to be uniformity in the transnational Church.

    I think they would have agreed this simply on the presumption that there is only one truth. So what was wrong with the Churches of Rome or Jerusalem was that they had “erred ... in matters of faith” (Article XIX).

    But another justification would surely come from the practice of the Apostles. Paul writes to the Corinthians about the rule he lays down “in all the churches” (1 Cor 7:17). And just last Sunday morning I was preaching on how Paul and Barnabas delivered the decisions of the Jerusalem Council to the various churches — surely an example of quality assurance which takes no account of national boundaries.

    Finally — and this is where I was confused — I assumed that the justification for the functions of episcopacy rested fundamentally on the assumption that the visible, physical congregation which gathers in a particular location to hear the word, pray and ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’ is not an independent unit, relating only to Christ, but was itself subject to a translocal discipline. The question to me then is why the translocal should be limited, rather than universal.

    I hope this addresses the question you’ve posed.

  9. Thank you very much, Peter and John for taking this on foursquare in a really helpful way I am almost convinced about... The whole idea of being an Anglican in the modern sense was invented, virtually, by Gladstone in 1838. Before that we were content simply to be a national Church in exactly the way you indicate. I agree we had a hand in creating Nonconformist denominations, but would suggest they did also! The Reformers would each have liked things to be the same everywhere, but knew they weren't — thus were happy to band together in times of persecution. (aside) When people are talking about Ecumenical arguments, why do we always privilege the RC's over, say the Baptists and Methodists or even Quakers, so that they simp[ly get airbrushed out of the Universal Church? I came to faith as a Baptist and it was quite as Christian, if I may say so, as being RC (if not more!)

    I'm intrigued by the Council of Jerusalem because we see in Galatians that it didn't work (in the sense of patching everything up between Peter and Paul) and, of course, the decision to abstain from strangled food has never stuck among Christians. So it was a magnificent diplomatic victory that never stuck — like the covenant?

    I think you're right, the translocal should be universal (or at any rate universalizable), thus we've always ordained into "the Church of God" not the "Anglican Church." Trouble is Universal means Universal.

    I suppose I am still not convinced the game is up for the idea enunciated by Geoffrey Fisher that the C of E should have no defining doctrine of its own apart from the creeds and the Bible interpreted according to tyhe principle enshrined in Article 6...

    As to Covenant, it may well happen, but I have found the teasing out of ideas around it helpful. many thanks to you for your help on this.

    At heart I'm not an Snglican for the sake of being an Anglican. I'm an Snglican because it's my community within which to be a Christian, which is far, far more important. The only point of any notional transnational Snglican Church is as a delivery system for the Kingdom, not as a multinational corporation.

  10. Paul Plymouth

    why RC? Because Quakerism is not creedal Christianity and the vast majority of Baptist Churches would not admit you as a member without full immersion baptism of a adult confession of faith, even the RC think I was baptised! Methodism has been afforded massive ecumenical disussion but cant help feeling its a bit like two drunk men at a wedding, each trying to prop the other up till the last dance, they are possibly more divided and in decline then we are.

    the reason RC/Orthodox are better bets is at least they can say what they think about this and that, not the dancing sands of others normally in more ecclesial confusion than ourself,

    Paul Plymouth

  11. I am not sure Thinking Anglicans, Inclusive Church and the No Covenant Coalition are being deliberately alarmist. I think one of the problems of the Covenant is that we won't really know what it will be like and what effects it will have until we have got it. It MAY have dramatic and far reaching consequences, it may be innocuous, it may be something inbetween.

    I think this complete uncertainty about it may explain why some are projecting the "worst case scenario." Of course, we don't share the same "best" and "worst" case scenarios for the Covenant anyhow. What some people would love to see (ie TEC expelled , or the Communion tied to a particular fundamentalist mindset) others would hate to see these things happening. The difference in peoples' beliefs, hopes, aims, fears and expectations about what the Covenant will achieve mean it will (already is) proving something which can never measure up and in itself will form a focus for our differences - we see this already.

    But for me the number one problem is that we honestly won't know what sort of beast it will be until we've got it. I don't think is fair, right or just to ask different churches and provinces to sign up to something when they aren't sure what it is they are signing up for!

  12. While most Baptist churches do require immersion for membership, many do not and the one of which I am a leader does not. We have a number of former Anglicans in our church who are members but were not baptized in the Baptist sense. Our view is that if they should feel convicted to be baptised by total immersion, then that is a work of the Holy Spirit but should not exclude them from membership provided they are in agreement with the historic creeds of the universal church of which Anglicans and Baptists are mainly in agreement.

    Where I think the real problem in the Anglican church lies is in its episcopal rather than congregational organisation. In a Baptist church there is no episcopal oversight and while there is theological diversity, it does not affect individual churches in the same way as it does Anglican churches. We don’t have to worry for example, about a liberal Bishop being appointed or one who takes the Christian creeds very lightly. Individually, we accommodate women ministers and in this, Baptist churches tend to be self-selecting.

    There are even quite liberal Baptist churches – in fact, many Unitarian churches had Baptist roots. However the influence of the Particular Baptists in the early Baptist movement has helped to ensure that Baptist churches in the main, are theologically orthodox and generally conservative in outlook.

    I have great respect for my Anglican colleagues but as a ‘dissenter’ when I stand outside and look the Anglican church, it looks to me to be a slo-mo car crash in progress. This saddens me as Anglicanism is still very much the ‘public face’ of Christianity in the UK. It seems to me that the Covenant has becomes necessary because a significant part of Anglicanism, particularly in North America and less so here, has moved greatly from the historic creeds.

    Canon Michael Saward an Anglican for who I have great respect, tells the story in his autobiography of one Archbishop talking to a group of ordinands about how they could assent to the 39 articles without really meaning it. Certainly I have had many experiences with Anglican clergy where it has been difficult for me to ascertain what they actually do believe or whether they really assent to the promises made during their ordination. In fact, Saward’s autobiography is very illuminating as to the internal machinations of the CofE and why opponents of WO have much to fear that the so called code of practice would eventually lead to their extinction.

    If Bishops were able to hand over more authority to their local congregations so that Anglicanism adopted a more congregational approach to the running of local churches, then I think a lot of the squabbling between liberals and conservatives would be less divisive. Judaism has managed to do this having reformed liberal Jewish and Orthodox synagogues which while being Jewish have different theological outlooks. Could not one envisage a situation where you have the Liberal Anglican church of St Peter or the Orthodox Anglican Church’s of St Paul? One has a liberal theology and the other a orthodox one. Whether a church was in one camp or the other would be decided by its congregations but at least you would know what was on offer.

    However, this fantasy is unlikely to come about since Anglicans have their diocese and parish system and their historic traditions and with greatest respect to + Alan, for Bishops to support an innovation like this, would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. However radical reform of the episcopal structure may be the way forward and help the Anglican church to survive.

    Chris Bishop (Not an Anglican one)
    South Devon

  13. It seems to me that the Covenant has becomes necessary because a significant part of Anglicanism, particularly in North America and less so here, has moved greatly from the historic creeds.

    Chris, I am a member of the Episcopal Church in the US, and I recite the historic Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, and I mean the words - no fingers crossed. I know a good many fellow Episcopalians who do the same. I know because they tell me so.

    From my experience of many years in the RCC, I'd say that pew warmers are about on par with respect to meaning what they say when they recite the creeds as Episcopalians. I'm truly puzzled why the Episcopal Church gets singled out as non-creedal. We say the creeds every Sunday and many a week day. I don't know who means the words and who doesn't, but it's not my business to ferret out the heretics in my congregation or the congregation of any church which I attend.

  14. Mimi, can I just check with you, because I think of it as something of a 'crux', when you speak of meaning the words of the Nicene and the Apostles' Creeds with "no fingers crossed", does this apply to "born of the Virgin Mary" in the sense in which these words were originally construed?

    I ask this, because I think it is a point of greater difficulty to many people than "on the third day he rose again".

  15. Grandmere Mimi,

    What I had in mind was the Presiding Bishop's statement in an interview on Oct 18th in 2006 on NPR's "Here and Now" when she said that

    “Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. That is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through human experience — through human experience of the divine.” “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine,” the presiding bishop told Time magazine in its July 10, 2006 issue. “But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

    So I would think that a denial of the uniqueness of Christ as the means to salvation seems to me, a serious departure from credal orthodoxy.

    Yet what she said is a classical liberal position. The key difference between liberals and conservatives is that former see scripture as being essentially subjective and provisional at best.

    The liberals task is to free scripture from its obsolete trappings and re-formulate it in the light of modern knowledge and the spirit of the age. For a liberal, the reason for believing something in the Bible to be true is not that Bible, tradition or historical orthodoxy points to it, but that the individual's own reason and conscience commends it. Faith then becomes essentially a matter of being loyal to such religious convictions one has. Schori in her statement is putting scripture in a liberal box. The conservatives box of course is quite different to this.

    What is apparent is that it leads to two different gospels which while using the same words, preach quite different messages. It is difficult to see how the two can exist in the same organisation without fracturing occurring unless some way is found of clearly delineating the two which I suspect, is part of the proposed covenant is about.

    Chris Bishop

  16. It is perhaps the motive behind the creation of the Anglican Covenant that alarms liberal Anglicans more than its actual text. And we all know what that motive is - to provide a formal means of censuring Churches, such as the Episcopal Church of the USA, which fail to hold true to the Anglican Communion's official, disapproving position on homosexuality.

    But there's nothing in the Covenant that dictates a specifically conservative view of Anglicanism. Perhaps, John, you should ask yourself how you'd feel if the Covenant were used to censure, for example, the Church in Nigeria for its failure to ordain women priests, or the Church in Uganda for its active promotion of legal sanctions against homosexuals.

    These things might seem unlikely at this particular moment in time but who's to say what the future might hold? The Covenant, conceived as a rod for conservative Anglicans to beat liberals with, could end up being exactly the opposite. As a liberal Anglican myself, you might think I would welcome such a scenario, but I don't. We are Christians - we should be striving to hold together despite any tensions that might exist between us, not looking for ways to beat each other up.

    There's also the awful possibility that the Anglican Communion could end up developing a culture of complaint and immediate counter-complaint. Not a pretty thought.

  17. John, I give you a one-word answer to your question on the virgin birth: Yes.

    Chris, why in heaven's name would there not be other paths than the Christian way for God's beloved creatures to meet God's very own self. God declared all creation good.

    The liberals task is to free scripture from its obsolete trappings and re-formulate it in the light of modern knowledge and the spirit of the age.

    Chris, you know you're skating on thin ice there. One word again: Slavery. I could go on.

    And what James67 says is exactly right. The tables (or the rods) could turn.

    There's also the awful possibility that the Anglican Communion could end up developing a culture of complaint and immediate counter-complaint. Not a pretty thought.

    The perfect set up to encourage and enable the tattlers and busybodies amongst us. Did too! Did not! You did it, too!

  18. Let us all try to get to know more about the Anglican Covenant before deciding if it is good or bad for us and before we engage in arguments with others. Conflicts arise within us because we usually do not try to understand what others mean about what they said.

  19. I am going to be away from the blog for a few days (thank goodness!!). A couple of comments before I go, however.

    On the Creeds, I would just point to Article VIII 'Of the Three Creeds', which says, "The Three Creeds ... ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture."

    In other words, the Creeds do not stand apart from or over and above Scripture, and in establishing doctrine the priority of Scripture is maintained throughout.

    However, both the Articles and the Creeds are an acknowledgement that decisions about what Scripture teaches on contentious issues can be reached and maintained amongst Christians - it is not just a case of everyone believing what is right in his or her own eyes - and there is therefore a 'translocal' aspect to doctrine, even at the expense of some outward unity.

    Regarding those who warn, therefore, that the Covenant establishes a principle of discipline which can work both ways, that has been true ever since decisions were made about contentious doctrines - ie since the beginnings of the Christian church. It is simply unavoidable! The thing is, to do it with charity where possible.

    However, if - as everyone here seems to be trying to say - we are all agreed on the Creeds, and if (as I have pointed out) Anglicanism finally sets Scripture as the benchmark for doctrine, I would ask what those who are opposed to the Covenant fear it might do.

    If everyone can say the Creeds and abide by Scripture, with the generally acknowledged principles of Anglican doctrine to provide a 'hermeneutical framework', what's the worry?

  20. I don't understand your bit in the heading in brackets - what's all that about then?!

  21. A fascinating discussion has ensued here which has gone (as all the best ones do) well beyond the original subject. Personally, I think that the Covenant is dead in the water, but issues of Episcopal authority and Bishop Alan's invention of the Snglican (I presume that's not a typo, but begs an extra i after the initial S)are much more of interest to the average pew-filler.
    England abounds with local Snglican organisations - they are called 'Churches together in....', or .... Group of Churches', and many others - mostly they have a sound Scriptural basis to them, if they have a basis at all, and mostly they are far more united than the national Anglican church is. This is where we might look for a 'quality-assured transnational church.'
    As for turkeys voting for Christmas, I once asked many members of our congregation if they knew the name of our diocesan Bishop, who had by then been in post for two years. I only got one right answer, and that was from the incumbent. As far as they were concerned, Bishops only appeared for confirmations and interregnums, but leadership? Not a lot of that in the C of E, other than at local level.

  22. The biggest problem with the Covenant is Scripture's consistent mandate not to be unevenly yoked with unbelievers, false teachers, apostates, etc. To enter a man-made Covenant without either confidence in the real and certain consequences for breaking it, or in the motives and good intentions of the other patries, would be a fool-hardy endeavor.

    In the case of the presently modified (gelded) Anglican Covenant, there is neither and no warrant or reason for those who want to guard the deposit of The Christian Faith to do so. NONE.

  23. @David: "War, good God y'all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" Here.

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