Bowman Walton’s comments here at ADU are much appreciated by me - he puts into words I myself do not (yet) have, clear thinking about what it means to be Anglican in the 21st century. (All comments here a much appreciated but not every comment is equally able to help me clarify my own muddled thinking!).
I cite here, from a Waltonian comment to the previous post, words which remind us that the strengths of Anglicanism (e.g. bishops, “reformed and catholic”) are accidents of history (i.e. driven more by the politics of England in the 16th and subsequent centuries than by clear sighted theological vision):
"[Developing observations about a statement by Michael Bird on why he is an Anglican] But this is precisely an apology for others; it will not do as a self-understanding for actual Anglicans. On one hand, it airbrushes away the monarchy's deep involvement in the Church of England as the wet dog who should not have been in the wedding picture, even though that is the historical reason why a via media happened in England but not elsewhere. For example, Anglicans have bishops because Elizabeth I and her successors insisted on them for the good of the realm, not because they would be helpful to denominational piety a few centuries later. And Catholic and Reformed are anachronisms of later centuries, not what Luther and Calvin got out of bed to be every morning. The theology of Anglican churches cannot be reduced to the political history of modern England, early and late, but neither can it be abstracted from that history. Doing so renders the civic engagement of Anglicans from then to now meaningless.
Yet that civic engagement is meaningful precisely in light of the apostolic faith in Jesus. At their best, Bird's Baptists are wonderful at acts of charity that bring Christ's love to strangers in need, and this is reason enough to respect their pietism. But the Bible's horizon is far wider than our interpersonal relations, although it surely includes them. Idolatry, personal and social, has disfigured the human community that God created, worship of the Creator-Messiah regenerates that community, and what we call church is just the first fruits of that new creation. According to the scriptures, the Christian hope is not that individuals will travel to a far-away heaven when they die, but that all flesh shall be raised up to see God in the New Jerusalem. All of our private concerns are summed up in it, of course, but this is a public future. If this does not affect our actions in the present, then what do we mean when we say that we believe?
Put another way, when Bird's "gospel people" struggle to make sense of the catholic practice of the Catholic-and-Reformed hybrid of Anglicans, they are trying to find the motivation in Christ for that more-than-individual scope of the biblical narrative itself. Proof texts from the Bible do not help them much unless and until they see the canon as a whole narrative from creation to new creation, garden to city. Once one does see that narrative as the context for those proof texts-- and for the ways in which Jesus and the biblical writers themselves handled scripture-- then, at least intellectually, it all falls into place. Usually, this does not so much solve their problem as reveal it to be a part of a bigger, uglier one-- many of us are alienated from the civic life that God intended for humanity. As in the C1, this alienation is the personal and social fallout of idolatry.
To do missions with + Victoria or evangelism with + Peter is to present Jesus in a way that heals that alienation. Again, Anglicans are not the only Christians who have some resources for doing this work-- Catholics have the social magisterium; Lutherans, a robust two-kingdoms doctrine; Methodists, the example of John Wesley, etc-- but Anglicanism is the only Western tradition that is incomprehensible apart from some political theology."
This citation - noting the role of politics in Anglican decision-making - chimes in with some of the disturbing revelations I am having as I continue to read Michael Massing’s book Fatal Discord about the lives and impacts of Luther and Erasmus on the European and English Reformations. Chief disturbances in recent reading:
1. That Luther was so wrong on a number of matters, some of which had violent, fatal consequences as uprisings and the putting down of uprisings led to terrible, bloodthirsty, rapacious acts of war and terror. To the extent that we appeal to Luther as an authority in Protestantism, why should we treat this (actually) Trump-like* figure as any kind of authority?
2. What on earth were the Reformers doing when they responded to the realisation that their divergences in understanding of Scripture required invocation of authority to settle matters by determining that “princes” and “magistrates” should be that authority?
Sure, we easily get it that the contemporary corruptions of the Papacy meant there was not going to be a “return to Rome” when the question of authority arose (Luther v Munzer; Luther v Zwingli; Luther v Erasmus, etc), but was not the invocation of princes and magistrates by the Reformers merely an alternative papacy (or, more accurately, set of regionalised popes)? The English Reformation may have saved bishops for a church which would come to see itself as "reformed and catholic" but along the way it invested extraordinary authority in the English Parliament and the English sovereign. What was that all about?! (Other than keeping civic order).
Authority in Western churches, post-Reformation
Four to five centuries later the problem of authority still troubles churches with roots in Western Europe. In today's news, for example, we finally get to learn of Pope Francis making a (well overdue, so many commentators) decision re an abuser: Cardinal McCarrick will be defrocked. But the machinations going on inside the Vatican on this and other matters these days remind (Protestant) observers that no matter the theological strength of claims for Roman primacy, the notion of one centralised ecclesiastical authority is fraught with risk that not only may poor decisions be made, but also (again, so many commentators on aspects of Francis' papacy) indecision will reign.
Meanwhile, here in Anglicanland, as the clock ticks down towards Lambeth 2020, eminent pundits are having a go at what might work for ++Justin and the conference design group. Essentially, the question they raise is both what kind of Communion we are becoming and what kind of authority governs it.
Ephraim Radner offers six proposals for Lambeth Conference 2020. Is he being realistic? (Does he have the ear of the design group? His friend and colleague, +George Sumner is on the group.) Who would be going into exile on the basis of these six proposals? Ephraim or me!?
Then there is a twinned essay from Andrew Goddard here. Goddard highlights different approaches from ++Williams (Lambeth 2008) to ++Welby (Lambeth 2020) in respect of how they are authorising what happens (i.e. is intended to happen) at a Lambeth Conference.
A specific instance of Anglican authority at work in the run up to Lambeth 2020
Intriguingly (and hitherto unknown to me), one subtle application of a form of authority in the Communion (referencing Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 on marriage) is in the fact, revealed here, by Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, that:
"Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies." (My bold).That is creating some consternation in the socialmediasphere.
On the one hand, Idowu-Fearon informs us that the design group is logically, Anglicanly (Resolution 1.10) consistent in its approach to invitations. Also the group is quite subtly moving beyond the 2008 situation in which, readers here may recall, +Gene Robinson was not invited though was present at fringe events.
On the other hand, this approach will create some - no doubt - angst. Some conservatives may be troubled by the fact that same-sex partnered bishops are invited to Lambeth 2020. Some progressives may be troubled by the fact that partners of such bishops are not invited to Lambeth 2020. Boycott, anyone?
Thoughts, dear readers? [Strictly: thoughts about Lambeth. This is not an invitation to rerun the You Know What arguments.]
Now to be clear: I am going to Lambeth 2020 whomever is or isn't invited and whomever is or isn't taking up their invitations. If the Communion (in whatever shape, size, system) is to have a future, we need some global conversation. If the Communion (in whatever ... ditto) is not to have a future, we need to end well with a global conversation. I would like to be part of such conversation!
Back to Anglican (and Protestant) authority/"authority"
I am glad that Anglican churches have bishops (and not just because I am now one). God through history, Israelite history and church history, has invested authority in individuals (Moses, David, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, etc) and individuals have capacity through experience, wisdom and gifts of grace to lead, discern, judge, teach and proclaim, with that capacity offering expeditious solutions to questions and puzzles which otherwise might languish in committee processes.
Yet such leaders can go terribly wrong (Moses and David made mistakes, Paul likely got it wrong when he fell out with Barnabas over Mark, Peter was a very slow learner in respect of critical gospel issues). Bishops can go wrong (cf. McCarrick above). So the question of guardianship of bishops is critical to the matter of authority in the life of the church.
A Roman answer to that question is to have a hierarchy of bishops with a most trustworthy one at the top of the hierarchy (i.e. the Pope). History has not judged that process well (taking all popes into account and not selectively admiring the many good Popes). And presently a lot of Catholic-based questioning of the current Pope is going on.
An Anglican answer within England itself, as I noted above, has been to have the common sense of the English people (represented by the Parliament) as guardians of the bishops. The Anglican answer outside of England (developed as much in NZ by Bishop Selwyn as anywhere else in the globe), and more recently within England, has been to elect/appoint synods/conventions so that the common sense of the whole church is represented in the governance of an Anglican church.
Yet the 39A remind Anglicans that we think councils can err and thus synods/conventions are not themselves the failsafe means of ensuring the good of the church according to the will of God. What is to be done? Some kind of wider council has been the Anglican response (i.e. Lambeth conferences, recalling that the first one was called to countenance an alleged heresy), and in making this response, Anglicans have called on a long and wide church history of great councils. Even great councils may err but great councils bring together a wide body of knowledge and wisdom, with a greater chance of transcending narrow "local" concerns and pressures such that any national church (or small international church such as ACANZP) might fall under. Thus great councils have given us the Nicene Creed, resolution of major theological issues and many things followed to this day by the majority of Christians.
The potential authority of the Lambeth Conference is immense. But its potential cannot, of course, ever be reached if individual bishops and individual provinces of bishops within it pay no attention to what is resolved (so 1998 Resolution 1.10) or if, as at 2008, no resolutions are made. Even better is a Lambeth Conference which resolves X and has a uniform response from each Anglican provincial synod that X will be thus and so.
Is this a scenario which can reasonably be conceived for the Anglican Communion and its provinces today?
The run up to Lambeth 2020 is going to be, to say the least, interesting.
*Whenever Luther was recommended to go lightly on his opponents, he nearly always "double-downed" on his invective and mockery of them. A lot of Massing's material about Luther reminds me of Trump's approach to conflict. Nevertheless Luther was different to Trump in important ways.