Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The paradox of the Covenant

Some Anglicans are saying with straight faces and confident hearts:

(1) It is un-Anglican to have a Covenant (because, e.g., its not the way we have done things before, or we already have enough binding documents, or Anglican simply have fellowship together without basis in written documents).

This seems to imply that there is something about being Anglican which is unchangeable.

(2) It is Anglican to embrace change - we did it in Henry VIII's day and have been doing it ever since - so it is merely another change to embrace a revised doctrine of marriage.

Propositions (1) and (2) cannot be reconciled. Either Anglicanism contains within itself mechanisms for change or it does not!

It is in fact true that to be Anglican is to embrace change. But change, according to the model laid down in the Reformation, should not be repugnant to Scripture. Thus when disagreement arises about what is or is not repugnant to Scripture, then some arbiter needs to be found. The events of 2003 exposed the lack of an Anglican arbiter. It is proper for Anglicans to respond to this deficiency and seek to remedy it.

The Covenant is the Anglican response; it is a proper Anglican course to pursue it's establishment. We should agree to it, and then embark on a comprehensive discussion of the doctrine of marriage held in common across the Communion according to the parameters set by the Covenant.


Howard Pilgrim said...

Nice move, Peter, but it doesn't quite work. The flaw in your argument is that the Covenant is the-Change-to-end-changes.
In the(shortish) history of the Anglican Communion as such, we have coped with changes instituted by various provinces by means of mutual respect and tolerance of differences, without the need for a central authority to put the brakes on and make us all feel safe. Until now, that is. Until some intolerant members of the club threaten to leave, or disown the others. Now we must dance to their tune? It is they who will decide which proposed changes threaten the unity of the whole and are thus subject to wider approval... which is to say endless disapproval.

Have you ever come across A.N Groves' letter to J.N Darby? You can find it at Well worth a read on the matter of how liberal consciences are frequently subjected to those of more strict disposition. This principle has stuck in my memory for years:- "the most narrow-minded and bigoted will rule,
because his conscience cannot and will not give way, and therefore the more enlarged heart must yield".

Enough said about Brethren history. Anglicans, on the other hand, have generally had a much more open attitude to change, and to the bonds of fellowship that allow it. The proposed Covenant seems out of character with our history, in that respect, and cannot be represented as just one change among others.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
You are a 'nice mover' yourself, but not, in this case, moving a convincing argument!
(1) The Covenant is not the Change-to-end-changes. (It is the change to ensure less unilateral change and more consultation).
(2) it is one thing to 'have coped with changes' in the past; it is another thing to have a change people are not coping with, ergo a new mechanism is required to help us.
(3) 'Our history' has included constitutions and articles, creeds and statutes. In what way is a 'Covenant' out of character with our history?
(4) 'out of character with our history' could have been used to deny the ordination of women ... fortunately it was not :) (or, not in every province!)

I note your concern for 'intolerant members of the club threaten[ing] to leave'. Fair enough. But might other Anglicans, who do not threaten to leave the club, have (vocal, Covenant-raising) concerns about member provinces who (e.g.) revise norms concerning episcopacy, pursue the possibility of lay presidency at communion, turn the baptismal discipline of the church on its head with 'open communion'?

Or, do those of us with such concerns have no means of restraining doctrinal innovation in the Communion? Do we simply allow innovation because it is un-Anglican to have a means to say 'no'?

I do not think raising such questions charts me on a course to Darbyism!!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Let's just consider your points, in reverse order.

1. I would never mistake you for Darby or one of his followers, Peter. More like J N Groves, perhaps, a gentle and liberal soul who found himself in a union with harder men that was just a little too close for comfort. As he pointed out, ruefully, the hard noses usually get their way, not because they are right as they suppose, but because others are too accommodating to their unyielding temper. This is what i think is happening to ++Rowan right now, and those who follow him into this Covenant will find that when it comes to negotiating specific issues, the important ground is already occupied ... by those who are able to declare that they are ready to disrupt the fellowship rather than defer to those who want change. The status quo, as they define it, will have privileged status.

2. The ordination of women would not have happened under the Covenant. Not here, not anywhere. Convince me otherwise, please.

3. Our "constitutions and articles, creeds and statutes" are all provincial, founded in the realities of our own life and mission. We can bring change to them by processes validated by that common life, not the life of another province halfway around the world. When we are ready to make a change here, our synodical processes make that possible. Others overseas who do not share that life may wonder what is going on, and we can hope to convince them that our decisions are blessed, What we don't need is their approval in order to govern our own life, and nor do they need ours. That is the established character of the Communion that is under threat from this Covenant.

4. Who is not coping with current changes? How is their not-coping problem different from that which they faced with earlier changes? Why are they suddenly allowed to claim victim status over current changes when that never happened before? I have some hypothetical answers, but what are yours, given that you are convinced that a new mechanism is needed? Are you saying that it would have always been better to have had this mechanism? (Surely not! See 2 above)

5. My point about the Change-to-end-changes is not asserting that no changes will ever be allowed, but rather is a counter to your argument that those of us who resist this big Change are being inconsistent, given our enthusiasm for other changes. There is a difference in kind - this Change is a way of resisting unwanted changes, not on a level with them at all. Ergo, no inconsistency Your Honour.

Grace and peace ... and changes.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
All in a friendly spirit, graciously and pacifically ...!

I am not convinced that it is all about hard nosed people: it might, might it not, be about faith seeking understanding in a genuine spirit of enquiry?

If it is about hard-nosed people trying to turn the head of ++Rowan then I find (say) American bishops and Nigerian bishops equally hard-nosed, who is to say which should have the decisive say? Well, perhaps the Covenant could help out!

It is hypothetical how a Covenant (a la 2009) would have played out in, say, 1975 re the ordination of women. It's tempting to say we know what would have happened, but the fact is, we do not!

I think your (3) betrays a common misunderstanding about the role of the Covenant in the life of the Anglican Communion.

Let me try to explain. Member churches through their synodical processes are free to decided just about anything their common life determines. Many such decisions will not cause the Communion to blink an eye. But some of those decisions will raise the question whether that member church continues to share common characteristics which inform the reality of being a Communion which is Anglican, and thus, logically, raise the question whether some such decisions might lead to a change in status of membership (e.g. from 'full' to 'associate').

Two examples make the point, neither has anything to do with human sexuality. Our own church's decision to break new episcopal ground re the development of a three tikanga constitution led to the Primates disputing that this was a right and proper thing for 'Anglicans' to do. Also close to home, if the Anglican Church of Australia were to accept the formal of existence of lay presidency in its midst (most obviously because the Diocese of Sydney finally promulgated it) that would raise the question whether ACA could continue to be a full member of the Communion (since 'lay presidency' is a contradiction of a fundamental element of being Anglican, the way we order our ministry).

The point of the Covenant (in my view) would not be to restrain a member church from doing what it was determined to do (but that may have consequences); but it would constrain a member church desiring to order its own common life in coherence with the common life of the Communion.

Your questions in 4 are profound and need more than (even a long) comment to answer them, suffice for now to say that whether or not we understand what is different about the situation today, there are many many Anglicans saying the situation is different and needs a new mechanism.

To be honest I find your point 5 muddled re change wanted, change unwanted and so on. My point remains, the Covenant could assist us in discerning what changes should be made and which should not.