Saturday, December 11, 2010

A TEC-shaped Communion or a Communion-shaped Communion?

Philip Turner offers an excellent analysis about the 'deep' level of what is going on in current Communion machinations re the role of TEC in respect of the Primates Meeting and the Standing Committee. The race is on for the prize of a Communion with two integrities rather than two tracks. Here is a slice of the larger analytical pie:

"Sensing the radical implications of what TEC seems to be up to, there has been considerable push back from around the Communion. In response, TEC not only continues to assert its autonomy, it also aggressively argues that the basis of communion is not so much common belief and practice as it is common mission understood primarily as the alleviation of human suffering and the pursuit of greater social justice. The doctrinal aspect of communion is reduced to a list of talking points, namely, the outline for ecumenical discussion set forth in the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. The heart of communion on this view comes down to perpetual dialogue coupled with “mutual ministry,” understood largely in moral terms.

The problems with this view of communion are numerous and fatal. First, as previously noted, by placing unity in faith at the margins of communion, TEC has taken a stance in direct contradiction to its own history and to the position it has assumed in its ecumenical conversations. Thus, for example, in TEC’s own foundational documents and in her conversations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches communion is understood first as communion in Christ expressed in common belief, order, and worship.

Second, the Quadrilateral, which TEC’s defenders hold up as a sufficient standard of faith, was never intended as an adequate statement of Christian belief. It was formulated as an outline by means of which ecumenical conversation could be focused and (it was hoped) moved forward. To say, for example, that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith says nothing about the way in which they are interpreted. Again, to say that one believes the Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of Christian faith says nothing about the way in which its various articles are understood and exposited. In short, TEC proposes as an adequate statement of belief, an agenda for a conversation about adequate belief. This is precisely the position she takes in the councils of the Communion. Communion is a matter of sustained conversation–an extended indaba process.

Third, communion is defined largely in moral rather than theological terms. This position follows naturally enough from the reduced role of common belief just set forth. No one wishes to underestimate the importance of shared ministry in service to the poor, but it is hard to see, when push comes to shove, why communion as TEC defines it is communion in Christ Jesus. In the end, Jesus is no more than a good example that might be replicated in many other historical figures. He is more an example of a moral ideal than he is a savior apart from whom we can neither know nor serve God as God wills."

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