Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear of the Covenant

Following debates here, there and elsewhere, re the Covenant, Anglican doctrine: unique/not?, and the nature of the Communion to which we belong, I am struck by the vehemence of opposition to the Covenant in some quarters, aptly represented in the title of Mark Harris' current post at Preludium, "Why the Anglican Covenant sucks."

Ad fons, back to the source. What does the Covenant actually say? Here is a bit which makes me wonder whether some are fussing over nothing.

"4.1 Adoption of the Covenant
(4.1.1) Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the Covenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God. Each Church freely offers this commitment to other Churches in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of national or regional Churches, in which each recognises in the others the bonds of a common loyalty to Christ expressed through a common faith and order, a shared inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life.

(4.1.2) In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches.

(4.1.3) Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion."
Fussing Over Nothing?

For some the fuss seems to be, If we sign the Covenant we will hand over our autonomy, we will be submitting decisions made (say) by a disciplinary tribunal in our church to the higher power of the Communion's Standing Committee ... that is scary, and at all costs to be fought against. I cannot square that fear with 4.1.3.  Can you?

For those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and love his church, what is in the Covenant which is fearful?

Take 4.1.1. What is objectionable here to a Christian who reads Scripture obediently as it presents Christ praying for the unity of the church, Paul expounding the unity of the body with its diverse members, the writer to the Hebrews urging readers to meet together, and various writers urging Christians to love one another? Is it not intrinsic to being 'in Christ' that we wish to grow more deeply into that state, both by becoming ever more loyal to Christ, and ever more deeply bound to those who are in Christ with us, our brothers and sisters in God's family?

Is it possible that Anglicans as a group of Christians have a particular deficit of knowledge of the theology embedded in 4.1.1? Has, for example, the concept of a 'national church' and of 'autonomy' limited our frame of reference and our horizons in respect of the possibility of commitment to the aim 'to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence'?

When we love the Lord Jesus Christ we love everything about him: what he teaches, who follows him alongside us, what he is making of those who love him, ut unim sint. Nothing in the citation above from the Covenant is inconsistent with this love.

Perfect love casts out all fear. For those who love the Lord Jesus and love his church, there is nothing to fear in the Covenant.


Suem said...

There is a big difference between trusting God and trusting the Church! I agree that if the Church displayed perfect love, then there would be nothing to fear!

“I could believe in Jesus,” declared the poet, Shelley, “if only he did not drag behind him his leprous bride, the church.”
If you think the Church is a perfectly reflects the love of God to the world - well - I think you are sadly mistaken! It is an institution governed by fallible humans and deeply flawed by us all.

Peter Carrell said...

All the more reason to have the Covenant, Suem: to constrain our fallibility!

Battersea Boy said...

Thinking back to the beginnings of the Church of England, surely it was all about moving away from pan-national human authority (the Pope with his college of cardinals) over the established church?

If there is an overwhelming desire for Anglican Churches worldwide to move from their existing relationships as a networking body (i.e. the Anglican Communion) then, in the spirit of reconciliation, the way to go would be to embrace the Ordinariate?

Peter Carrell said...

That would depend, BB, on whether distinctives in Anglican theology could be retained ... so far I do not think that is possible!

Andrew Reid said...

Peter, perhaps you could do a follow up post for those of us evangelicals whose fear is not that the covenant wrecks autonomy, but that it allows churches to remain too autonomous? Some evangelicals might have been signed up to the covenant draft presented to ACC-14 (can't remember its official name) that contained more serious consequences for provinces that strayed too far from the apostolic faith. Not to mention our other fear that the Covenant won't be worth the paper it's written on, because ACoC and TEC have already broken a number of verbal and written commitments not to take the path they have since taken. This breakdown in trust is mentioned time and again by the Global South primates as the deal breaker for them.

Suem said...

Trouble is, Peter, I believe the covenant is about those who think as you do trying to constrain what you think is the "fallibility" of those who think like me! I believe the covenant itself rises out of fallibility. I see the desire to constrain the freedom of conscience of others and threaten them with "relational consequences" as a form of fallibility.
It is interesting that you do admit the covenant is about control (constrain) though?

James said...

Fr. Harris's impassioned plea does, I think, speak more greatly for a dissolution of the Communion than it does for rejection of the Covenant.

You've said something similar in your comments, Peter, to which Fr. Harris has responded:

I have spent a considerable part of my life trying to build up relations around the Communion, some not between TEC and other churches, but between other churches. I believe the Anglican Communion is a vital and important way for Christian churches to relate as a worldwide community. On Executive Council I support our church's engagement with the whole Communion.

This reminds me of American soft imperialism of the pocketbook. It dramatically resists what it calls "authoritarian" measures based upon law and principle suggested in the U.N. But in the meantime: it takes unilateral actions which have a profound effect on the rest of the world. It speaks of "friendship," "building relations," and "engagement" with its large pocket-book and under-the-radar means of engaging, like Encounter Magazine (on the part of the CIA), the meeting of bishops in Tanzania on sexuality in February, and the arrest warrant for the Tanzanian primate due to a claim about a falsity concerning the age of a priest in a recent election of a bishop (see George Conger & Kevin Kallsen's latest Anglican Report video on these two last items - likely things with TEC involvement - which, if this be the case, makes one wonder about TEC's many "justice" claims, given the PB's election irregularity).

If Fr. Harris wishes to continue TEC "engaging" the rest of the Communion, I would suggest - until we have some sense of what our common goal is, and how we are to go about such engaging - as long as it's all "fudge," obviously the player with the most money to spend, and who has the least scruples in tempting the vulnerable, will be at a terrific advantage at molding that fudge into his own image. We are seeing more and more about a general lack of scruples in TEC with regard to "vetting" and honesty, if there are perceptions that the action will somehow support the institution. I don't know if the Covenant will help this, but we obviously need something.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
Absolutely the Covenant is about constraint - as is every Anglican document concerning governance, management, discipline, and polity. We do not have freedom of conscience as Anglicans: whatever gave you that idea?

As an Anglican priest in my church Down Under, for example, I am required to obey the lawful instructions of my bishop, to baptise infants when asked by believing parents, to uphold the constitution of my church (which includes an episcopal structure which some believe contravenes ancient Nicenian canons) and so on ... matters on which other Christians have crises of conscience over.

This is the bit I just do not get about Covenant objectors such as yourself: you live happily within your own church, which has myriads of rules and regulations (some of which are invoked in a statement in last twenty-four hours about the presence of AMiE in the land of England), but as soon as the Communion wants to draw up a statement of agreed boundaries to global Anglicanism ... it is a big deal!!

Father Ron Smith said...

Perhaps, now that GAFCON have announced their intention of undermining the Church of England - by the erection of the A.M.i.E. - the Covenant process will be seen to be as useless in the U.K. as it is seen to be by the more liberal Provinces?

Surely, such border-crossing will be seen to be more of a threat to the Church of England than any other provincial moves to allow for the ordination of LGBTs in other Provinces?

Border-crossing - such as is now to be evidenced in the U.K. by GAFCON Provinces - is clearly a breach of the Windsor Report; every bit as much of a threat to Communion solidarity as has been alleged to have been committed by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in their more liberal attitudes towards gays in the Church. However, ACO and the ABC seem to be taking GAFCON's piratical action very calmly.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,

AMiE will not amount to much. It certainly will not undermine the Church of England, not least because if it takes off it will become a separated church, perhaps akin to the Free Church of England.

In the ABC's statement it would appear that Kenya was misled by the English proposers of those ordained out there.

LGBT ordinations are always a larger question to ponder than border-crossings: the former raises questions about the Scriptural and traditional authority by which the church acts; the latter does not raise any particular Scriptural questions.

Father Ron Smith said...

"...but as soon as the Communion wants to draw up a statement of agreed boundaries to global Anglicanism ... it is a big deal!!"

However, Peter, those 'agreed boundaries' would seem only to be for certain provinces of the Communion. They do not, for instance, seem to apply to border-crossing - like ACNA, A.M.I.C, or - the most recent ploy of GAFCON in the U.K. - the A.M.i.E.!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Those boundaries do and have applied re border-crossing:

(1) (Without having chapter and verse at hand) the ABC/ACO have applied the same sanction to border crossing member churches as to TEC re membership of Communion bodies.

(2) Last time I looked, ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion.

(3) The Lambeth statement re AMiE is precisely a statement about boundaries.

(4) As far as I can tell, the panel of AMiE bishops is a panel of bishops within the bounds of the C of E (though I may be wrong about that, but, in any case, this panel, so far, has not engaged in any border-crossing).

(5) AMiE's stated aim is to work within the Church of England. Whether we believe that to be true in the long-run or not, the least a Christian can do is not to pre-condemn them for border-crossings they have not undertaken.

Paul Powers said...

"(Without having chapter and verse at hand) the ABC/ACO have applied the same sanction to border crossing member churches as to TEC re membership of Communion bodies."

The Southern Cone has been sanctioned for border crossing. Nigeria and Rwanda have not. TEC has been sanctionned for going forward on "the issue." Canada hasn't been. I'm not sure whether the ABC or ACO has explained the distinction.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Perfect love casts out all fear."
- Peter Carrell + Scripture -

In the same way Imperfect Fear (of LGBTs) casts out Love!