Friday, April 15, 2011

The Communion as church?

Woven through some exchanges of views to recent posts here re the Covenant is the question of what the Anglican Communion is or is not in respect of the idea of 'church.' One argument seems to go like this:

The Communion is not a church therefore it neither needs a constitution-and-canons to structure its life, nor is it fair to raise the question of consistency of those who oppose the Covenant but live with constitution etc in their own member churches.

A possible response to this is: if we enjoy belonging to a member church of the Communion, why not enjoy belonging to a global Anglican church, part of that enjoyment being the joy of being united in Christ by the things we hold in common as Anglicans?

Another related matter raised recently has been the question of what is 'Communion breaking' behaviour, as in (say) 'diaconal presidency is not, for me, a Communion breaking matter.' The implication is, we Anglican Communion-ites can live with such a wide range of diversity we do not need a Covenant (which is an attempt to limit diversity in order to render 'Anglican' as having some meaning).

I have been thinking about this idea of 'Communion breaking' a little: perhaps a difference between me and some commenters here is that (on balance) I think I am more interested in what 'builds Communion' than in what 'breaks Communion.' I see the Covenant as helping to build the Communion (by building up what we hold in common together) rather than fixing the Communion when something seems to be breaking Communion. In respect of, say, diaconal presidency, the Covenant (on my 'building Communion' approach) asks the question 'whether or not this development builds Communion between one another?' rather than condemns the development because it breaks the Communion.

One of the reasons why I am interested in the possibility that the Anglican Communion becomes a global church is that 'communion' is not a static state: either we are being drawn more deeply into fellowship with one another in Christ or we are not. Communion which deepens is becoming church. Communion which lessens is becoming a something else (alliance, association, loose affiliation). The Covenant, rightly discerned by its critics, is about the question of whether the Communion is becoming a church or not: if the Covenant builds Communion life then the fellowship between member churches deepens and the Communion is becoming a church. (For clarification, this last sentence is about the 'theological implications of the Covenant as we reflect on its meaning and significance', not about revealing secret conspiracies and hidden intents of the Covenant designers).

Even if I get the 'No Covenant Coalition' wrong etc, I remained interested in why we Anglicans (i.e. some or many of us) seem loathe to engage with the theology of Christian unity in Christ (John 17, Ephesians 2, Philippians 2), let alone with the implications of that theology: that a global fellowship of Anglican churches would want to become a united global church, and beyond that, would want to see the unity of all Christians. Is it because we immediately see too many difficulties to make any real progress towards unity? Is it because we can only understand 'unity' as 'uniformity'? Is it because we lack understanding of the theology of Christian unity? Is it because we take an eschatological view: Christ will sort it all out at the end of time?

8 comments:

Suem said...

I've no problem with the idea of unity. I don't think it should mean "uniformity" - in fact I have argued the opposite.We should focus on building up what we do have. I've no problems with the passages reflecting on Christian unity, especially the idea that Christ should be our cornerstone.

Why do you think those opposed to the Covenant are not interested in unity?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
There would be anti-Covenanters who are committed to unity (but not to uniformity) by way of a very very long process of dialogue.

Generally I find the anti-Covenant comments, posts across the blogosphere seem comfortable sacrificing unity for the sake of other goals (e.g. inclusiveness of gays; purity of doctrine).

Father Ron Smith said...

"why not enjoy belonging to a global Anglican church, part of that enjoyment being the joy of being united in Christ by the things we hold in common as Anglicans?" - Peter Carrell -

Precisely, Peter! However, schism has already occurred for those in the Communion for whom this is not enough. They want all Provinces to think as they think and do as they do. That is different from what you are proposing.

If only every Province could live with the reality - that there are matters which are not of 'First Order' importance - about which we can all 'agree to disagree' - without breaking Communion as it has existed for some time now.

The only people to break away from the Anglican Communion so far are those who have engaged in schism.

Andy S said...

The only people to break away from the Anglican Communion so far are those who have engaged in schism.

You couldn't be more wrong if you tried Fr Ron.

Thousands are abandoning or have abandoned the Anglican Communion not as schismatics but just giving up on the Faith all together as the leadership slides into heresy and apostasy and irrelevance.

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

I think that your own words betray your ultimate desire Peter, conformity. You are looking for a Constitution with a very short process of dialog for ultimately determining who can be in and who must be out.

Once you have asked your disguised question of whether something builds communion, you set in motion the constitutionally mandated mechanism to achieve what you really want, which is to determine that something in your opinion breaks communion and so those doing it must be shown the door.

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, David, that is the way to build communion: impute base motives to brothers in Christ; know better than themselves what they are up to. I should have thought of that way myself.

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

impute base motives to brothers in Christ; know better than themselves what they are up to.

That appears to me to be exactly what you do when you criticize the way others of us are unhappy with what we foresee would result if the proposed covenant were adopted.

And this comment astounds me;
"...posts across the blogosphere seem comfortable sacrificing unity for the...inclusiveness of gays..."

I fail to see why it is important to us to sacrifice the GLBT Anglican Christians in our midst to maintain unity with bigoted, homophobic Anglican Christians somewhere else. This makes a concept of something as intangible as "unity" more important than human lives.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I cannot recall an instance where I have thought that opponents of the Covenant were acting and speaking untransparently, let alone from base motives. The criticism has been expressed in words that mean what they say. By contrast you are saying that my arguments in favour of the Covenant are untransparent, flowing from base motives. I think that criticism is unfair. I do not expect you or anyone else to agree with me, but I think it is reasonable to expect those who disagree with me to disagree with what I say and not with what my opponents think I really mean.

The comment you find 'astounding' was made in the context of responding to a particular question in a comment. There was no intention on my part to explore all possible nuances in the matter in a comment responding to another comment. For the record, Anglican unity in terms of the kinds of theological suppositions I am pressing for would need a unity of both mind and heart, of ideas and of attitudes. Homophobia and bigotry are impediments to unity as much as anything else.