Sunday, March 11, 2012

Will someone with real intellectual stature step up for the No Covenant Coalition?

Don't be fooled, ever, by titles such as "bishop" or "professor" or "doctor" let alone "reverend" when it comes to doing good theology. What counts is substance in argument and facility in logic. The No Covenant Coalition has attracted a few titled people to its ranks as patrons and other titled people are putting their names to arguments against the Covenant. So what? They need some good arguments. The No Covenant movement - both the Coalition and others - needs some substantive arguments. Are there any actually out there. Thinking Anglicans currently has a few links to people lining up to take a potshot against the Covenant. Vacuous stuff. No, really it is. Read all these kinds of pieces and ask these simple questions:

(1) Does it foster the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ (the greatest theologian) who prayed that his followers might be one?

(2a) What is the substantial difference between the Anglican Covenant for the Communion and the combination of constitution and canons (including disciplinary canons) for each member church?

(2b) If you cannot find a substantive difference, then ask what is unAnglican, unprecedented, or unbecoming to Anglican life about the Covenant?

(2c) Special question for ACANZP objectors to the Covenant on grounds of a Covenant being unAnglican etc: what is the substantial difference between the Covenant as a covenant between peoples and the Treaty of Waitangi as a covenant between peoples?

(3) Does the argument amount to a preference on the part of the author, as in "I would prefer not to have the Anglican Covenant because it appears to cut against my preference to permit [name preference to be indulged such as preferring not to be told what to do, not to be accountable, ...]"?

(4) Do the fine words amount to an unwillingness to be accountable for decisions made which cut against the grain of the Scriptures and received tradition of the church?

(5) Does the piece you are reading include special pleading about hypothetical circumstances? (This is fairly easily spotted with lines such as "If we had had the Covenant then we would be still waiting to ordain women?")

(6a) Is there a presumption to special knowledge not given to all Anglicans such as "I and/or my member church has received a word from the Holy Spirit about X, Y or Z"?

(6b) On what basis do we know that the claimed word in 6a is true?

If what you read passes these test questions then, fair enough, we might be on our way to a substantive case against the Covenant.

There are intellectually vacuous arguments for the Covenant. The other day here I mentioned one: we must be loyal to the Archbishop of Canterbury. That is nuts. The Covenant is an idea which rests on the importance of gospel truth, shared commitment to that truth, recognition of the seriousness of teaching falsely, and the importance of deepening our love for one another with real content because we understand true Christian love to involve (not exclude) mutual accountability. Loyalty to the truth, to Jesus Christ and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is the only loyalty the Covenant involves.

When are we going to see some real intellectual stature in the arguments against the Covenant instead of the vacuity served up in the guise of eloquent statements of personal preference?

Mind you my request here might be somewhat vacuous itself: if the CofE synods do not reach the number required (22) to send the Covenant legislation back to its GS then the Covenant is dead in the water, substantive arguments or not.

12 comments:

Rosemary said...

I have never written anything about the proposed covenant, and I’m quite sure I’m not going to make the ‘substance’ argument now, but for what it’s worth, I’d like to add my two pennies worth. I’ll answer Peter’s points by number ..

1. “ Does it foster the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ (the greatest theologian) who prayed that his followers might be one?”
He did indeed, but did He pray that we be united before all else? Here I’m going to be what I am, a female. When I became a Christian, there were no obvious divisions between me and my brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe that was just my ignorance!! Nowadays, I’m ‘persona non grata’ to many. Take the reply by Ron to me, or the non reply to me by Suem, who implies that it’s not worth the bother. Take the rush to bring a bishop all the way down here from the North Island because a clergyman had voiced the opinion that women [who SHOULD be in ministry] should NOT be in charge of mixed gender congregations. Take the number of people who were turned down for ordination because they believed as the clergy person above. You see those like me, who have been in this position .. of not being in ‘unity’ .. for over 20 years, have a somewhat different reality. Most of you writing glibly about ‘unity’ and ‘inclusivity’ are the very ones who are behaving towards me and those who believe as I do, with zip unity and zip inclusivity. Great attempts have been made to push us out of the church, or to wait until we die out by not ordaining any more, or to prove us wrong. I have to go to extreme lengths just to get the blog owner here to listen and agree that I DO have a point of view, one that is over 2000 years old. [Tradition for those of you who like the three legged stood.] So Peter, it’s over to you to prove that the covenant will achieve the ‘unity’ you’re talking about, so far, I’ve seen none of it. Rather the opposite, despite wanting to get along with everyone, I find myself painted into a corner, not listened to because I’m people believe I’m wrong, and disenfranchised. Do you call that unity? I know the vast majority of those who count themselves as ‘within’ Jesus’ church, find it hard if not impossible to see this from my point of view, but I once again quote in warning the statement from Pastor Neimoller just prior to the second world war about the differing groups and our inability to see the coming danger. “First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me .. and there was no one left to speak out for me.” [continued]

Rosemary said...

2a. What is the substantial difference between the Anglican Covenant for the Communion and the combination of constitution and canons (including disciplinary canons) for each member church?
What an odd question. Why are you asking it? Do you wish to point out that there is NO substantive difference between the two? Then I must ask, why is the covenant necessary?

(2b) If you cannot find a substantive difference, then ask what is unAnglican, unprecedented, or unbecoming to Anglican life about the Covenant?

Nothing .. but again, why do you think it is necessary? Are the present canons and constitution insufficient in some area? It is you Peter who must answer the question, and convince us of their necessity.

(2c) is irrelevant in my opinion.

3 .. does not apply to me.

(4) Do the fine words amount to an unwillingness to be accountable for decisions made which cut against the grain of the Scriptures and received tradition of the church?

The received ‘tradition’ of the church is not to put women in charge of mixed gender congregations, that is a fact you cannot dispute. The church in it’s wisdom has done so .. I guess that means you must answer the question. I have already expressed both my willingness to work within a church that has made that decision, and had it made VERY clear to me that I am not welcome .. so you tell me! What about the present situation is ‘unified?’ Would Jesus be happy with it? [continued]

Rosemary said...

5 .. does not I think apply to my mostly negative reaction to the proposed covenant.

6 .. seems a silly question, unless you are discounting even more of Holy Scripture. Individuals may and DO hold views about what they believe they have understood from the indwelling Holy Spirit. However, when a church divides in any way shape or form, over two opposite and differing interpretations purporting to be the teaching of the Holy Spirit, then that church must make a decision .. and it must make that decision from our ‘authority’ .. which is Scripture. If, as in the case of the place of women in ministry, as the Eames Report said, a case can be made for both sides, then both sides must be accepted .. totally and freely. If not, then the church must decide from Scripture, and must not be afraid to do so.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I haven't seen anything so far on this thread that meets up with your provocative requirements in your title.

However, I can recommend Paul Bagshaw's interesting(and lengthy) response to the ABCCs latest U-tube defence of the Covenant, which I have posted of kiwianglo.

I'm sorry, too, that none of us - who do not favour the Covenant - meets up with your intellectual standards for the case against; but, so far, neither have I found a plausible intellectual - or even spiritual - defence of the divisive Covenant.

However, I can well understand that the conservatives in the Communion - who are diffident about the inclusive ethic of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada - may want to erect a fence against any modern understanding of gender and sexuality. After all, we don't need to 'frighten the horses' more than they have already been frightened, do we? - Especially when sexuality was given by God only to increase the population of the world to the exhaustion of its resources.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Bagshaw's response includes a whole lot of "I predicts" which is not a substantive way to argue against the Covenant.

There is quite a lot of intellectual rigour here (thank you commenters) but the question is whether there is real substance in the arguments for/against the Covenant.

My main point in this post is that I am not seeing substantive arguments against the Covenant while admitting there are weak arguments advanced by some for the Covenant. But the substantive arguments for the Covenant flow from our Lord's own will for unity in the church. That's a pretty good foundation, I reckon.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
I don't think we are quite as far apart on "unity" as some might infer from your comment (1). I am not saying the Covenant (by itself) will achieve unity. I am saying that the Covenant flows in the direction of unity, responsive to our Lord's prayer, because it does not settle for Anglican unity to national level and who care about the international level. I don't see you saying here that you do not believe in seeking unity in response to our Lord's prayer. I see you as reminding me and other readers that real Christian unity is very difficult to achieve.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
Re your comments on 2-4: I need to make myself clearer about Covenant/canons and constitution. One argument against the Covenant is that it is "unAnglican." My counter response is that it is Anglican to have constitution and canons in member churches and it is quite Anglican to extend the underlying principle to the Communion where the Covenant will function as a constitution and canons for the life of the Communion as member churches relate to each other.

My question in 4 is about people arguing against the Covenant who seem to be unwilling to be accountable for the decisions of their member churches. As far as I know ACANZP is more than willing to be accountable to the wider Communion for its decisions regarding the ordination of women. I would not expect under the Covenant that these decisions would be questioned.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
My question 6 concerns those who are against the Covenant while also claiming that they have had a revelation from the Spirit about X, Y, or Z (though the presenting issue is mostly to do with the blessing of same sex partnership). In my sights here is TEC and its supporters such as Ron who claim that revelation of the Spirit without offering supportive reasoning which demonstrates how global Anglicanism knows this is the will of God.

Father Ron Smith said...

We are - most of us in the Church - all very subjective about our personal understandings of how the Holy Spirit works amongst us. Unfortunately for your argument, there would seem to be no universal acceptance of the 'mind of the Spirit' - otherwise, the Church would have remained 'One'. There would have been no 'Reformation'.

Can not God give enlightenment in the local context of a parish, diocese or local church community - to issue contextual wisdom to meet the local circumstances? This does seem to have worked in Scripture.

This, I believe, is what has happened in those parts of the Communion that have felt God's call to do what they have done in the way of adapting what they see as the Gospel imperative to the local situation.

The question now, for the Anglican Communion, is whether all the Provinces are happy with that - happy enough to agree to differ on matters of local initiatives of inclusion.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I commend you on an excellent reply to my challenge!

Broadly speaking the Spirit does guide us and we receive that guidance subjectively. Thus a calling to become a nurse or a teacher or a priest is a widely accepted example of the Spirit's leading at the level of the personal. A calling of a parish to a new vicar or a diocese to a new bishop could be examples of the Spirit leading at smaller and larger corporate levels.

But such examples involve no change in doctrine and are, in a sense, reversible: if the new vicar turns out to be unsatisfactory eventually a successor will be appointed (and the church might learn from its mistakes and improve its discernment process for such appointments).

The move towards blessing same sex partnerships involves a change in doctrine (not least as we are now seeing such blessings caught up in Western governments attempts to change definition of marriage, often cheered on by sections of the church). This calls for a less subjective, more objective, less local and more global means of discerning whether the Spirit is guiding the church in this direction or not.

I suggest it might also call for more humility on the part of those pushing for change: more "we think this is where the Spirit is leading" and less "I know this is where the Spirit is leading."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I commend you on an excellent reply to my challenge!

Broadly speaking the Spirit does guide us and we receive that guidance subjectively. Thus a calling to become a nurse or a teacher or a priest is a widely accepted example of the Spirit's leading at the level of the personal. A calling of a parish to a new vicar or a diocese to a new bishop could be examples of the Spirit leading at smaller and larger corporate levels.

But such examples involve no change in doctrine and are, in a sense, reversible: if the new vicar turns out to be unsatisfactory eventually a successor will be appointed (and the church might learn from its mistakes and improve its discernment process for such appointments).

The move towards blessing same sex partnerships involves a change in doctrine (not least as we are now seeing such blessings caught up in Western governments attempts to change definition of marriage, often cheered on by sections of the church). This calls for a less subjective, more objective, less local and more global means of discerning whether the Spirit is guiding the church in this direction or not.

I suggest it might also call for more humility on the part of those pushing for change: more "we think this is where the Spirit is leading" and less "I know this is where the Spirit is leading."

Rosemary said...

This is what I tried to say, but John Richardson says it so much better! It's a question those supporting the Covenant MUST answer for those of us who doubt that unity in truth will be the result of such a covenant. May I quote as a teaser, "I could not help feeling that if the Covenant as it now stands would enable the sort of unity that keeps people quiet when they should speak up, then it is something we could do without." http://ugleyvicar.blogspot.co.nz/