Monday, June 7, 2010

The Centre of Anglican Life

Challenging the recent letter of the Presiding Bishop (itself responding to the Pentecost letter of the ABC) in respect of its lack of a scriptural argument for her main thesis raises the questions whether I am (a) demanding a ‘Scripture alone’ argument from her, and (b) misunderstanding the centre of global (and local) Anglican life.

I think I am not guilty of the first charge, for reasons about to be given. I could be guilty of the second charge, though I think it worth running the risk of such guilt in attempting to understand the centre, because the centre is the key to the future unity of the Communion (and, locally, of my own church).

For the sake of clarity let me say, with different words, what I have tried to say in comments to my posts re the PB’s letter: I think her letter simply as a letter to TEC is perfect; it speaks to the centre of that church (as far as I can discern from afar). From that place it has received great applause. The shortfall I am drawing attention to is in respect of whether it is likely to shift the centre of the Communion towards TEC’s theology, grounded in its view of the baptismal covenant, or to leave it unmoved from the position in which the centre is supportive of the ABC’s measured response to actions breaking moratoria.

To Ask For Scripture Based Arguments is Not Necessarily To Take a ‘Scripture-Alone’ Position

The Anglican church (each Anglican church, the Anglican Communion) gives Scripture a central place in its life. It reads it multiply through Sunday services and daily offices. It has a theology of Word and Sacrament, and of Word and Spirit. The former expressed in the general character of Eucharistic services (ministry of the word followed by ministry of the sacrament); the latter expressed in commitment to theological education and ministry formation. (I speak, of course, in general terms: examples of eucharists without sermons and uneducated priests exist, but not in such a way as to overturn my point as a general observation of Anglican life). Further, in many parts of the Communion, evangelical Anglicans, by which I mean Anglicans who go beyond a general position in which Scripture has a central place in our life to Scripture is (ought to be) authoritative for our life, to say nothing of other Anglicans who might not wish to identify themselves as ‘evangelical’, play an honoured, and sometimes even majority role in Anglican life.

Thus to ask that any revision of Anglican doctrine, and any attempt to persuade Anglicans of some significant change in practice and custom should make reference to Scripture is not to take a ‘Scripture-Alone’ position. Rather it is to acknowledge the important role that Scripture plays in Anglican thinking, both in the centre of Anglican life as well as in distinctive parts of Anglican life such as ‘evangelical Anglicanism’. Bluntly, an argument from Scripture is more likely to carry the day than one which is void of Scripture. The argument may be encompassed by arguments from reason and tradition – most theological arguments about change in the church are! Obviously an argument from Scripture minimally encompassed by arguments from reason and tradition is more likely to sway evangelical Anglicans; also obviously, those evangelicals who are ‘Scripture alone’ evangelicals are unlikely to be persuaded by anything other than a purely Scriptural argument (suppose such a thing exists!!). But my point here, in the context of the robust conversation between the ABC and the PB via letters, is that some attention to Scripture is important if one is seeking to sway the centre of Anglican life (to say nothing of the region inhabited by evangelicals and others who go beyond Scripture playing a central role, to taking an authoritative role).

Understanding the centre of Anglican life (in the Communion and in my own church, ACANZP)

There are many ways to assert a basis for claiming an understanding of the centre of Anglican life. My way, at this juncture, works like this. Across a variety of communication points (accessible via the internet, expressed through news releases, journal/magazine articles and editorials, blogging) viewpoints are expressed. On a continuum of ‘left’ to ‘right’, some are readily identifiable as ‘left’, some as ‘right’, some as ‘centre left’, ‘centre right’, and even as ‘centre’. Thus if a view is expressed which is (say) trashed by the ‘right’ and celebrated by the ‘left’, it is reasonable to suppose that the view is ‘left’ rather than ‘right’. But also reasonable, I suggest, is if a view is proposed which is criticised by both ‘left’ and ‘right’, then it is in tune with the ‘centre’! Some confirmation of this tuning into the centre of Anglican life is then found if (say) the view is picked up and openly supported by (say) a majority of primates, or bishops, or by a meeting of the ACC. At this point I am speaking about Communion life, but locally in the ACANZP, we can attend to what our GS says (or does not say), or what the bishops agree to in their meetings, or what a majority of synods and hui amorangi determine.

So what is going on at the centre of the Communion, and at the centre of ACANZP?

Some care to hold people together, to journey with as many Anglicans as possible, by constraining tendencies to force either/or decisions, with determination to expel no one from our fellowship in Christ.

Yes, I think that sentence above is a summary of what is going on at a global level, and, at least in the instance of ACANZP, at a local level (but replicated in places such as Australia, England, Ireland, Wales, and South Africa; question marks re Canada (watch its GS meeting right now) and Scotland). Whether we look at ways in which the Covenant is being discussed in formal environments such as General Synods, or the content and tone of the ABC’s Pentecost letter, or the process in the C of E re women bishops, or the intriguing absence at ACANZP’s recent GS of any motion directly concerned with homosexuality, I think that sentence above reflects what is going on at the centre of Anglican life.

What do you think?

No comments: