"I often wonder whether God actually notices the existence of national churches. After all, in the NT, 'church' refers either to (a) the universal church of Jesus Christ, or (b) the local congregation. No in-between unit (diocese, or national church) seems to be envisioned. And what would Paul and the others think of a movement to establish 'the Church of Pontus' or 'the Church of Macedonia' as independent units with no obligation of loyalty to a larger body? (Note how he always uses the plural for this sort of grouping - 'the churches of Macedonia', not 'the Church of Macedonia')."The gist of a strong Anglican argument against a tighter understanding of "Communion" than Tutu's "We meet" is that we have never been and never should be anything other than a grouping of (more or less*) national churches. Chesterton takes that argument head on. Our pride in being such a grouping, a pride at being autonomous, independent, post-colonial no one tells us what to do churches is not the divine perspective. God has never been interested in national churches and always worked on enlarging the internationalism of the church. The point of being church is, in a beautiful "thick" phrase, "obligation of loyalty to a larger body."
If, for instance, I believe that by baptism I am a member of the universal church of God, the body of Christ which includes the communion of all the saints, on heaven and in earth, then loyalty to that larger body means that my practical daily, weekly involvement in a local expression of the universal church is to work for that church to be attuned in mind and action with the universal church (cf. Philippians 2). If that local expression is the Anglican Parish of X then other loyalties press on me. In what way can X be coherent with the Diocese Y to which it belongs, and how can Y be of one mind and heart with the national/provincial church Z?
If then we ask how Z might be at one with the universal church of God, a practical starting point is to work on how all Anglican churches can work on an obligation to a larger Anglican body, that is, to the Anglican Communion. Sorting that out would be an excellent step on the way to renewing the common mind and heart of the universal church on earth. To give a blunt example, how can Anglicans engage in real steps to Christian unity with the Roman church if it does not know how to express loyalty to its own larger body?
From this perspective the Anglican Communion is an opportunity to grow in unity, to develop the 'larger body' on the basis of shared 'obligation of loyalty.' But reality is tawdry.
The Covenant, a magnificent proposal which takes seriously the obligation of loyalty to a larger body, is in very serious trouble, if not dead in the water (see now a state of the play analysis at Preludium). Bishop Victoria Matthews has rightly analysed an important aspect of the problem, a failure to read the Covenant in plain English. Reader response theory chickens, so lovingly nurtured in our theological colleges, have come home to roost!
The present ACC meeting is a shadow of the reality it could be. Instead of moving from unanimous agreement on a charter regarding care and protection of the vulnerable to consideration of how such unity could be found on other issues, such as our very life together as a global communion, the next network lines up to give its report. Instead of this much trumpeted "we are the only truly representative" Instrument of Unity being what it says, instrumental in Anglican unity and tackling the issues which prevent unity, it chirps along on matters which, to be sure, are important but not half as important as working out how Anglicans show loyalty to a larger body.
Chesterton's comment highlights a huge gap between reality and potential. To an extent the ACC is a meeting which takes place because Anglicans do have an obligation of loyalty to a larger body. People have bothered to show up. But there is no sign that any member of ACC is bothered about the parsimonious nature of the loyalty - a conditional loyalty which never permits any obligation to anything which might trump loyalty to the national church from which they have come.
On the ACC agenda every time should be the question of the evolution of the Communion to global church. What progress has been made in the last three years? What needs to be done in the next three years?
One of the saddest observations in the report of Bishop Victoria's presentation to the ACC is this line:
"She stressed the point that it was not the work of IASCUFO to promote the Covenant, but rather to monitor its reception."For goodness sake, a Communion which took seriously the obligation to loyalty to a larger body would authorise IASCUFO to promote the Covenant not just monitor its reception.
How have we got to this shadow compared with the reality to which Christ has called us? I would stress the word 'we'. All of us have fallen short. Yes, I would urge loyalty to the truth of the gospel, a doctrinal undergirding of Anglican life. But I need to also work on what 'loyalty' means for a body which includes people different to myself, both in belief and in lifestyle: specifically, how can I be loyal to brother and sister Christians who also identify as gay? What do you, dear reader, need to work on to fulfil your obligation of loyalty to a larger body of Anglicans?
By the way, I am not trying to smuggle in a quasi-Roman internationalism with the ABC as an erstwhile Anglican pope. As Anglicans we have a different approach to being the church at large, more emphasis on synod as government than bishops and so forth. What we lack is courage and ecclesiological vision to work out what that might mean on a global stage. If only ACC would show some such courage and vision it might be worth the time and expense which have gone into is meeting in Auckland.
(*Some Anglican churches are international to a small degree, including my own which embraces the group of countries Aotearoa NZ, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga).
ADDENDUM: For a list of participants at ACC, go here.