Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Anglican Covenant rears its head against innovation

I shouldn't have been surprised but I was. Two days ago I posted on the appointment of Digby Wilkinson to be Dean of Wellington Cathedral - an innovative appointment, taking a 'hybrid' Anglican priest and Baptist pastor from a Baptist pastorate and placing him into a significant Anglican ministry. Yesterday a friend drew my attention to this Facebook post from one of our parishes/vicars raising significant negative questions about the appointment. [LATER: The post has been pulled]. For those unable to access the post, it begins with this line before linking to the announcement,

"And now for the latest from Disneyland (oops I mean the Bishop of Wellington) we have the prodigal dean."

Further down, the questioning begins,

"I just think it’s bizarre that the Anglican national cathedral now has a dean who knows nothing about Anglican worship, tradition, or the breadth of Anglican theology. I can believe that Baptists help make this world a better place, and can believe that even in Wellington that could be so, but why try this Baptist experiment with the Anglican Cathedral? "

What I was surprised but shouldn't have been surprised about is that the parish is St Matthew's in the City and the vicar commenting is Glynn Cardy.

OK. We live in a free church where questions may be raised about decisions. And 'Disneyland' or 'bizarre' may not be the worst thing ever said about the decisions of Bishop of Wellington. But Glynn's approach raises a few questions about the character of our church.

For instance, implicit (even explicit at certain points) in this Facebook post is a presumption that being Anglican is 'this' rather than 'that'. But what on earth could give Glynn Cardy the confidence that he knows what Anglicanism is and what it is not? Why would 'Anglican worship, tradition or the breadth of Anglican theology' matter, unless he assumes that there is a common Anglican mind, a shared set of Anglican values that these things matter? Against what Anglican 'thing' could a Baptist be a threat? Could it be a 'thing' which Anglicans wish to cherish, to defend and to exclude non-Anglicans from?

My answer to these questions, given here previously (e.g. here) is that an informal, unwritten Anglican Covenant controls significant tracts of Anglicanland. Whenever we Anglicans say something along the lines 'true Anglicanism is this' or 'that doesn't seem to be true Anglicanism' it is implicit that there is an idea or set of ideas which determine what we assert 'true Anglicanism' to be.

The (likely) defeat of the written Anglican Covenant will be a triumph of the unwritten Anglican Covenant.

This unwritten Anglican Covenant is a marvellous document in the hands of the hegemony which adheres to it: as seen here, it can be used to oppose innovation  when it suits, but it can also be used to support innovation when it suits, e.g. innovation about blessing same sex partnerships.

Much better, I suggest, to have a written Anglican Covenant since that is participatory (all may know its contents) and just (people may be held to account to a standard they know in advance). The inherent disturbance to the body politic of an unwritten Anglican Covenant is that it is elitist (it is largely in the hands of a self-appointed hegemonic Sanhedrin of claimants who know what true Anglicanism is), unjust (supporting innovation as it suits and not when it does not), and ill-mannered (so a bishop can be taken to task for appointing a licensed priest to a deanship but a priest can not be taken to task for using the epithet 'Disneyland' to refer to the bishop).

Incidentally, the Baptists, who have obviously lost one of their finest ministers, by contrast have been nothing but gracious, as you can read here.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that if the denomination had not been Baptist -- say it had been unitarian or free thinker, or in NZ even quaker -- the commentator would have overlooked the deficiencies in Anglican protocol. In other words it is not the lack of Anglican street cred that is being complained about, but the character of the difference.

h said...

Re Glynn Cardy comment. The irony is almost too rich to take in. Its all well and good being open and inclusive in respect to things that, as yet, are not actually allowable in the Anglican context, not to mention the scriptures, which I just have, but woe betide if the precious sacred cow of "Anglicanism" is seem to be under threat. No matter that Glynn Cardy's brand is hardly representative of the global stance.

Practice what you preach mate.
Tolerance. What a joke.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous and h,
Please give at least a first name.
Anonymous comments are not guaranteed to be published.

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

I am not sure why you leap right over our agreed Anglican teaching and practice to have us all sign up to a written communion-wide “covenant”. We already vow and sign up to an extensive collection of Anglican beliefs and practices – we do not need a further Anglican Covenant to explain what is Anglican.

I think, however, that it is very important to distinguish two types of Anglican teaching and practices that we vow to and sign we will follow.

Type A Anglican teaching and practice is essential to being church. If a game is going to be called “rugby”, a ball is essential. Type A Anglican teaching and practice, I suggest, includes accepting there are 27 works in the New Testament, using water for baptism, ordaining by laying on hands, using a Eucharistic prayer to consecrate bread and wine, and so on.

Type B Anglican teaching and practice are agreements we make together, but we can alter the details, the specifics. The Hurricanes have different rugby traditions and practices to the Crusaders; a try has had scoring of anything from zero to 5. Type B Anglican teaching and practice means we have a list of Eucharistic Prayers we have agreed to use, and no others; we have a particular rite for baptism and ordination that we have agreed to use, and no other.

If one ministers across two denominations, it makes perfect sense to me if one alters Type B stuff from one context to another. But not Type A. Baptists and Anglicans disagree on Type A stuff. So the better question IMO for bi-denominational ministry is does one believe, practice, and preach Anglican Type A stuff in the Baptist context? One certainly vows and signs that one believes and practices them in the Anglican context.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I find your distinction between Type A and Type B helpful.

I still hold that beyond our constitution and canons ("agreed Anglican teaching and practice") there is an unwritten version of Anglicanism which is being employed to question the appointment of the new Dean (who, after all, is already signed up to that teaching and practice when exercising licensed ministry). It might be helpful if we had that version written out so that we could all work out whether we are agreed to it or not.

The Anglican Covenant in its written form is designed to assist the Communion as a whole to understand what Anglican teaching and practice is. There is, as you known, dispute about that between Anglican churches, so I do not find your critique of the proposed Covenant convincing.

Anonymous said...

The resson we needed the Covenant is exactly because there is so much confusion about what being Anglican means, and because there is so much abuse of the term, as in this example.

We need the Covenant because we are in the ridiculous situation of having ministers in our Church insisting on "tradition" one moment then insisting on ignoring it the next when tradition is inconvenient gay rights.

We need the Covenant because we are in the absurd position of having ministers insist on "tradition" one moment then insist on ignoring Scripture the next and advocating blessing same-sex relationships.

And we surely need the Covenant because the current system of checks needed to ensure ministers really do take their vows seriously has clearly failed.

On the topic of the supposed tolerance, compassion and inclusiveness of the Inclusive Church movement, I have said before that it is a sham, a con job covering up a viscously intolerant form of cultural Marxism that is deeply opposed to any form of "Anglicanism" or any influence from within the Church that takes Scripture seriously or in anyway that suggests that Scripture, not individual subjective experience, is authoritative.

That is the real reason for the "concern" over this appointment. Not sacraments, but the almost paralizing fear in some quarters of the Anglican Church in NZ that someone with influence might think Scripture IS authoritative.

Simon said...

There's a good interview with Dean-elect Digby worth watching here:

Joshua Bovis said...


We have:
1.The BCP
2.The Ordinal
3. The 39 Articles
We also have the Jerusalem Declaration.

The Covenant is not needed I think, also it seriously lacks teeth. Though I do agree with your concerns.


liturgy said...

Yes, Peter, you are quite correct that there is no authoritative agreement on “Anglican”. That is part of being Anglican. It is part of the English tradition. Dispersed authority.

Another example of dispersed authority in the English tradition: unlike other languages and traditions, there is no agreement on when to use a comma, or a capital letter, how to spell words, in which order to put punctuation, or when not to use certain words.

On your site we’ve seen the understanding that the ability to chant is essential to this Anglican position!

I thought we had abandoned the Anglican Covenant being the solution to absolutely everything [even though our church “subscribes to Sections 1,2, and 3 as currently drafted as a useful starting point for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church” NB. Caveat lector: it is an Anglican understanding of the church – not an understanding of the Anglican Church! See my Type A]



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Yes, dispersed authority sounds good. In practice, will certain members of the commentariat stop complaining when their version of Anglicanism is not subscribed to? (ADU will assiduously keep you posted :) ).

Perhaps (he thinks to himself) the Anglican Covenant is not the solution to everything but the starting point for the solution to everything!

Is there a difference between 'the church' and 'the Anglican church'?


Anonymous said...

Hi Joshua,

Your probably right, but I was more defending the general idea than the specific form, and more the idea of a process for boundary drawing, mutual accountability and discipline.

I agree that we do already have a definition of Anglicanism in the Ordinal, BCP and Thirty Nine Articles, but sadly too many ministers consider one or more to he optional rather than authoritative.

That said, the Covenant is likely dead in the water. The Jerusalem Decleration is a good rallying point for the future.

carl jacobs said...


Yes, Peter, you are quite correct that there is no authoritative agreement on “Anglican”.

If this is true, then isn't your 'type A' Anglican teaching precluded by definition? Or are you saying that lack of doctrinal authority requires conformance on externals lest the church dissolve into complete incoherence? It is more than passing strange that a church would strain jot and tittle over the words of a prayer even as it makes no effort to constrain the meaning of those words.


Anonymous said...

English tradition is irrelevant. Most of the Anglican Communion do not live in England or have any real connection to "dispersed authority" which in practice means no authority.

For myself, I supported the Covenant for specific reasons that needed specific solutions, not because I thought it would solve "everything."

liturgy said...


As I explicitly stated, a church straining jot and tittle over the words of a prayer is in Type B.



Lionel Deimel said...

Most knowledgeable Anglicans would agree that a major characteristic of Anglicanism is its toleration of diverse views. The classic example of this is the matter of what “really” happens in the Eucharist. The Anglican Covenant neither precisely specifies a “standard” view of beliefs nor clarifies the limits of variations around that “standard.” The Covenant therefore seems to pin down what Anglicanism is, but a church cannot effectively use it to determine what is or is not acceptable. Rather than providing a useful guide for Anglican churches, it will simply provide a convenient justification for conflict over what the Covenant really means.

In fact, if a certain diversity is fundamental to Anglicanism, it is curious that the Covenant takes little or no notice of it.

Additionally, if you believe that our understanding can change over time—Anglicanism no longer tolerates slavery, for example—you have to be concerned that, between the enormous differences in cultural and religious understandings between Western and Global South churches, combined with the Covenant’s cumbersome mechanisms for dealing with innovation, innovation will become virtually impossible in Anglicanism. There is every reason to believe that, eventually, Western churches will have to choose between dying within an ossified Communion or disengaging from the Communion entirely.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Lionel,
Another view would be that "Most knowledgeable Anglicans would agree that a major characteristic of Anglicanism is its toleration of diverse views ON MATTERS WHICH SCRIPTURE IS IMPRECISE ON. The classic example of this is the matter of what “really” happens in the Eucharist."

Be that as it may, I think you are right that a crunch time for the Communion is coming when the choice will be between an Anglican network whose supreme value is diversity and highest ambition is innovation and an Anglican network whose supreme value is unity and highest ambition is faithfulness to truth handed down through the generations.

Father Ron Smith said...

Lionel D. Is quite correct to remind us that traditional Anglicanism has always, according to the tenor of the times, been more 'inclusive' than most other spiritual entities. While maintaining a basic canonical discipline - based on the creeds and sustainable tradition - there has always been room for movement on adiaphoral matters.

Scripture has always been tested by reason - in accordance with revealed knowledge of human evolution - so that religious understanding can be advanced in accord with perceived reality.

"Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of hearts of your faithful with the fire of your love; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Father Ron Smith said...

re the comment made that "We have the Jerusalem Declaration" - we actually don't - not in New Zealand. We are not party to the GAFCON separatist convention! Nor, hopefully, will that ever happen in my (Anglican) lifetime. ACANZP is still part of the Anglican Communion Family.

Janice said...

Scripture has always been tested by reason - in accordance with revealed knowledge of human evolution

Would you please expand on that Ron? I have no idea what you mean.

Chris Nimmo said...

Interesting that the author of the Facebook post is now leaving the Anglican Church and the post seems to have disappeared!