Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Towards an Anglican Magisterium?

Last Friday I posted on the possibility of an Anglican Magisterium, and have been thinking about some comments coming in, for which I am grateful because they are thoughtful and therefore helpful re keeping my thinking on this matter sharp. Well, as sharp as possible for a bear with little brain!

Some responses to those comments:

(1) I continue to think that an 'informal magisterium' operates in Anglican churches, through its bishops, synods and general synods. On the matter of recognition of orders, for instance, a General Synod working on which churches around the world it recognises as being in communion with, is determining that a number of matters are acceptable in respect of theology. Thus other Anglican churches are recognised, as might also be, for instance, an Old Catholic church, but not the Salvation Army, nor for that matter - even though they have bishops - the Mormon church. There is both a general judgment being made that churches X and Y are orthodox Christian churches (however broad that definition of 'orthodox' might be), as well as a particular Anglican judgement being made about the history and nature of the ordering of church Z. The former excludes, say, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses; the latter excludes, say, Presbyterians and Salvation Army while including, say, Old Catholics. Why do we not declare that we, for our part, are in communion with Rome? I presume it is because we continue to disagree with some of Rome's teaching.

(2) My thinking is about an Anglican Magisterium, so I ask that we think about what this might mean in order for it to be an Anglican Magisterium and not a copycat of Rome's Magisterium. It could well be, for instance, that a 'properly' organised and recognised-as-authoritative Lambeth Conference and Primates' Meetings in between Lambeth Conferences becomes our magisterium.

(3) I acknowledge that an important part of the Reformation was a recognition of the importance of the Bible being accessible to individuals (by being translated into their indigenous language, and freely available through unrestricted publication and distribution) and of the right of individuals to form private judgement about the meaning of Scripture. But I do not see that this right is an absolute right in the context of communal life in reformed church. Every reformed church that I am aware of either composed a doctrinal statement or subscribed to such statement composed by others, including the Church of England composing the Thirty Nine Articles. I further understand each of these statements, with respect to the communal life of these churches, places some restriction on the role private judgement might make on corporate decision making. Today, in Anglican churches around the world, the Thirty Nine Articles is rarely if at all the only 'benchmark' for doctrine, being replaced by a larger 'constitution' which may or may not accord some kind of role to the Thirty Nine Articles in expressing the doctrine of that church. But either way, no Anglican church gives free reign to individual understanding of Scripture being supreme when it comes to certain matters of doctrine and practice. An Anglican Magisterium's role would not be to determine every correct thought an Anglican should have [ :) ], but to assist the world Anglican Communion in understanding what its common understanding of doctrine and practice consists of, and, in respect of novel proposals, or departures from existing agreed doctrine and practice, what it does not consist of!

(4) Let me try to turn the tables, so to speak, on my thoughtful critics! What is your proposal for building the common life of the Anglican Communion in respect of doctrine and practice? When agreement cannot be reached through informal means of communication and when that lack of agreement threatens our unity as a Communion, what is your proposal for resolution of that disagreement?

(5) I do understand that around the Communion a number of people, for various reasons, feel strongly that a body with authority to declare what is our common doctrine and practice and what is not, is a bad thing. I simply find it inescapable that continuing lack of this body means we will continue to fragment and divide as a Communion. I think that is a bad thing too!


Zane Elliott said...

Hi Peter,
Excellent questions, which seem to be more about unity than a controlling body.

Your concern for unity is something which I always find a challenge (I hope in a good way). Sitting at the more 'reformed' end of the spectrum my tendency is to want to divide further, so that I am freer to hold to the Truth of the gospel. Your encouragement to find a tangible way to hold together is reminiscent of the subject matter I'm working through on an exegetical essay on Philippians 2:1-11 In the first two verses in particular '1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.'

I fear that the 'one purpose' is overridden by the personal agendas Paul and Timothy go on to decry - mine as much as the next persons.

How do we maintain unity when our purpose is so different? That's the question I come back to time and time again..... One I will be pondering in my new position!


Peter Carrell said...

Congratulations on the new appointment!

There is very little, if any, long-term strategic success for churches which divide then divide then divide then ...

Aim for unity :)

liturgy said...

Scene 1: For those who are magisteriumphiles – sorry – tell me, Peter, how many Roman Catholics you personally know who actually abide by that very-well-defined magisterium? Let me help here – it will be well under 1%. Breaking news: 21st century, post-modern people just don’t abide by decisions of a magisterium.

Scene 2: Don’t know why you call the magisterium of a General Synod “informal” – that’s about as formal as it gets! People make public vows and sign that they will abide by this magisterium. Now here’s the rub (see Breaking News in Scene 1 above): in NZ what percentage of Anglicans follow that magisterium? Breaking News: At the last meeting of our General Synod – they didn’t even abide by their own rulings!

Scene 3: So if strong magisteriums don’t work, and voluntary magisteriums are ignored by those who sign up to them with strong vows voluntarily, now you want the Lambeth Conference to suddenly be a magisterium. Eg. all of ACANZP is against something strongly (including you) – and 50% plus one vote for it at Lambeth – you will abide? Read my lips: I don’t think so. Let’s not even go to the nature of primates in our ecclesiology…

Scene 4: Why are we not in communion with Rome? Nothing to do with their doctrines – we recognise the validity of their orders (which was your original post) a RC priest joining ACANZP is not (re)ordained. But that’s not mutual. Note: it’s not the Anglican Communion that is in communion with another church – that is done province by province.



Brother David said...

Why are the Anglican churches of the Anglican Communion not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church?

You need to go research Rome's idea of just what being in communion with Rome requires. You will find it under Rome's concept of Ecumenism. There are no Anglicans of whom I am aware willing to make that submission.

JimB said...

I suppose I am magisteriumphobic (Sorry Fr. Bosco!) Let me tell you why in a traditional way -- a parable.

Once there were delegates from 12 communities that shared a sea coast. The met to discuss the need to regulate trade in a way that would let all participate equitably. Recognizing that they would not be able to think of every problem and that if the succeeded, other communities might want to either discuss agreements or steal, they decided that in addition to the agreement to have mutual respect and free trade they would create a central body to settle disputes and make rules for disagreements.

They all agreed that their individual communities were sovereign and would remain the primary units of their secular lives. They called their new body a "confederacy."

Years later, in a small town in Pennsylvania a man in a black suit rose and said, "Four score and seven years ago..." and the very grammar of English changed!

For years when the new central body and its obviously needed successor decided something, recognizing that the individual nations were acting together, the citizens said, "The United States are acting to....." but after that speach, they said and say to this day, "The United States is acting...."

The first usage is of course grammatically correct. But after Gettysburg and the War Between the States, the second usage is reality.

She who has ears, let him hear.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi All,
Thanks for spirited comments! I note that none so far has proposed another, constructive route for holding the Communion together ...

Some brief responses:
(1) In all sorts of ways magisterium in RC and Anglican churches is observed. Lack of adherence in some instances is not in itself an argument against having a magisterium. [In another post I shall attempt to provide evidence for the assertion here].

(2) I agree that General Synods are more 'formal' than 'informal' as expressions of magisterium. It is just that we Anglicans do not tend to talk about the formal role of GS as magisterium.

(3) Is full communion with Rome simply a matter of their accepting us? Is there nothing in Roman doctrine that Anglicans disagree with which is, from our viewpoint, a stumbling block?

(4) yes, provinces make decisions about communion with other churches, but high level ARCIC conversations with Rome are Communion-based conversations complementing local provincial based conversations. But guess which conversations are more important for any real progress!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, we in Waiapu are prayerfully with you and all our Cantabrian brothers and sisters, having our own not-so-distant earthquake memories in mind.

On your ever-current topic of Anglican Magisterium, you write, "Thanks for spirited comments! I note that none so far has proposed another, constructive route for holding the Communion together ...". This is your frequent plaint, and one also-frequent response from me and others goes like this:- The problem driving Communion members apart is essentially relational rather than organisational. So work on the relationships!

You don't seem to take much notice of this response, or to count it as significant enough to work as the "constructive route" you demand. Please explain!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
First, thank you for your and the Diocese's prayers: we need them. There is lots to do and some are feeling the strain of the extra work, extra wisdom, and extra patience required.

My response to your query I think is this: relational work is very important for the present and future of the Anglican Communion. It is not intended that anything I say here diminishes the importance of working on our relationships. But when one party to a relationship is saying that the other party is doing, saying or believing something which is 'unAnglican', and the other party says, 'No, we are not.' or even, 'No, we are not. In fact it is you who are 'unAnglican'.' then it would be useful to have an authoritative body which helped both parties know what is and what is not 'Anglican'. In fact when the magisterium has done that piece of work we might all get along better :)

Howard Pilgrim said...

Given that relational problems are all essentially a working out of family dynamics (my psycho-dogma coming through), I question your assertion that when two family members are arguing about whose behaviour is in accord with their family's values, "it would be useful to have an authoritative body which helped both parties know what is and what is not 'Anglican'."

My analogy is this:- Children grow up in families with parents providing that useful authority to settle sibling disputes. As they reach adulthood, they perceive the weaknesses and limitations of the parents, and take on responsibility for their own lives. Any disputes between siblings will now have to be resolved by mutually respectful negotiation, which excludes getting other family members on your side to form a majority declaring your opponent wrong. There can never be another "authoritative" voice to settle disputes once all family members are adults. Any attempt to impose one, in the form of a family council say, will only result in the disputant judged to be wrong walking away from family closeness. In really disfunctional families, they may even be declared no longer members. Mature families come to realise that what holds them together and makes the family of ongoing mutual benefit are the "bonds of affection" built up during their formative years.

With the ABC's parental authority on the wane, the worldwide Anglican family has only one way forward, which does involve getting back in touch with our bonds of affection and does not involve any attempt to replace parental authority.

The parents themselves know this is the path their adult offspring must take. Here is a parental message for us ..."When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,

It is simply wrong to say "the worldwide Anglican family has only one way forward, which does involve getting back in touch with our bonds of affection and does not involve any attempt to replace parental authority."

There is at least one other way forward and that is for each member church to walk away from one another.

You make much of the analogy with 'family' but what if we are not a family? What if we are individual organisations facing squarely the question whether we wish to be one larger organisation, and thus on what grounds that organisation would be based, and how that organisation would deal with differences of view?

But if you wish to persist in using the family analogy, perhaps you could ponder a large and extensive family contemplating a family reunion. Who will organise it? At which place of significance for that family will it take place? What will the event consist of by way of meals, parties, and church services? Will someone publish a book of momentoes? Who will determine what will go in it?

At some point this family would be wise to set up a committee to run the reunion!!

Howard Pilgrim said...

A good response, Peter. I was not contemplating a complete family dissolution, so perhaps I should have phrased it as "There is only one viable way for this family to remain in existence ...".

I am happy you have taken up my family metaphor to some extent. Yes, a reunion of a large family requires some organising, and that needs a temporary committee or delegation of organising authority to a local member or two. But such get-togethers only happen when family members are in a state of reasonable peace with one another, or wanting the gathering in order to re-establish their bonds of affection.

In our Anglican family, some members have refused to attend some gatherings because other members would be there. Others came but refused to build closeness, going away to gossip about how impossible other members are to deal with. In such a situation, how effective would some permanent adjudicating authority be? And how would all parties ever agree on its establishment? They certainly would not accept the organising committee in that role, from my experience! Apart from some neutral siblings encouraging the alienated parties to re-establish their bonds of affection, there is no viable way forward.

We cannot substitute organisational structures for emotional and spiritual work. For me, the fact that we have gone so long with such informal Communion structures is an indication not of ecclesial deficit but of our maturity as an extended family within the Body of Christ. This is why I hear your call for a formal Anglican magisterium as a backward step, away from the network of equal relationships based on affection and mutual respect into which we are called as members of Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
An Anglican magisterium could be a backwards step, and the situation is quite likely to prove to be one of complete dysfunctionality, that is, one where neither adjudicating authority or relational work is going to be agreeable to all as a way forward for the whole. Thus, there is a high chance that nothing can save the Communion from formal break up. But while there is a small chance I am prepared to put forward proposals!