Friday, March 26, 2010

A conciliar Anglican church

It is quite right and proper, given Anglican history, for Anglicans to voice concern that an evolution of the Communion into a world Anglican church would take us backwards to a papal-led church rather than forwards to fulfil the true glories of catholic and reformed Christianity. I do not think those concerns, however, should be accepted as an evolution stopping argument. We can do better!

Here are some things to consider as we contemplate evolution. The 'we' may be just Michael Poon and me, but that is a start. Here are three things.

Confidence in bishops

There is a tendency in some Anglican circles to dismiss bishops. There have been one or two odd ones through our history, true, but we can forget that bishops are elected or appointed to oversee groups of churches, and thus have extraordinary opportunity to mix and mingle with a wide variety of Anglicans, lay and ordained. Diocesan bishops are capable of representing their dioceses well. There is no intrinsic reason why a conference or council of bishops meeting together for the purpose of governing the affairs of the Anglican church cannot do so in a representative manner. Incidentally, I think consideration should be given to how bishops vote and would commend the possibility that there is but one vote per diocese.

The role of democracy in conciliar life

Democracy is not everything in the pursuit of wisdom. Parliaments in session, nations at a general election can get things wrong, as proven by the inexorable judgment of hindsight. But inevitably some agreed manner of making decisions is required within any human organisation whether small or large. Democracy has proven to be the most agreeable means of making decisions across the widest array of cultures and nationalities. Sometimes it is also agreed that for some decisions there should be a particular kind of majority (say, two-thirds in order to make a constitutional change; or, in recent news, we are aware of the 60/100 majority required for US Senate decisions). There is no reason I can think of why a world Anglican church council of bishops making decisions should not make them by means of voting on them, with the proviso that some decisions might require a two-thirds majority. Certain decisions might also required "twice round" approval: Lambeth proposes, individual General Synods/Conventions confirm, Lambeth confirms.

One of the ironies in the current situation in the Communion is that the considerable majority of bishops meeting in council at Lambeth 1998 to approve Resolution 1.10 has been so de-constructed: it was a bad meeting; I never should have voted the way I did; it does not count (though back in my own member church majorities count); and so on!! A world Anglican church would require a willingness to subscribe to rather than rebel against conciliar decisions.

Working regionally

I put a lot of store in the bishops meeting together at Lambeth as the best conciliar possibility for our Anglican future. For various reasons I won't waste time with here, I am not that fussed by the ACC or the Primates Meetings. Of course a conciliar approach to Anglicanism involves considerable respect and honour for the Archbishop of Canterbury, but one office of the church is not a council.

Lambeth, however, meets once every ten years. That can be a long time even in a glacial approach to decision-making. We could do more work during the period between Lambeth Conferences. In particular we could build greater work regionally. From what I can see, some regional groupings work quite well, at least in the sense that meetings are held, such as CAPA (Africa) and Global South (mostly Africa and Asia). But I know of no regional meetings of bishops in my part of the world (e.g. no meeting of Australian, Papua-new Guinean, Melanesian, Maori, New Zealand, and Polynesian bishops), and I have never heard of the Anglican/Episcopal bishops of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Europe meeting together. What if such meetings were held mid-point between Lambeths, both for the following up of Lambeth business, and for making proposals to the next Lambeth?

Heaps of details to fill in. Other issues to consider. But I think one could build a world Anglican church that was not papal but conciliar in the character of its government!

Such a church would permit Anglicans around the world of instant communication to have greater confidence that the character of world Anglicanism was securely grounded in commonality rather than subject to the distortions of individual member churches or the marginal views of headline-grabbing bishops.


Judah said...

Peter, rather than the bishops representing whatever views exist in their dioceses, and the outcome of a democratic vote be that which influences the path of the church, should not those bishops be searching Holy Scripture instead to apply the wisdom of God and be guided by obedience to Him and His Will, not the will of the people? After all, it is surely God's Sovereign Will we must seek for such direction... not our own.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Judah
Yes, you are right.
The bishop, however, could begin to seek God's will in the context of their diocese before turning up at a bishop's council!