Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Improving the Jerusalem Declaration? (2)

Yesterday I began a series of posts on the Jerusalem Declaration with a view to pointing out where it needs improving. My starting point, which I was not especially clear about, was a previous post of an excerpt from a recent ACI essay by Philip Turner in which he points out that the Jerusalem Declaration falls short of being an adequate basis for unity among those Anglican churches seeking a renewal of the Communion distinct from the liberal and progressive theologies being dissented from by absenteeing bishops and primates, and (so the argument goes) a better basis than the Covenant itself.

As I understand the arguments in favour of the Jerusalem Declaration they (1) occasionally go like this, 'The Communion should unite around the JD' (which is nuts really, because the tenor of the actual words used in the JD is way too 'conservative evangelical' for the whole of the Communion to gather around them, but (2) more often go like this 'The JD is a totally fine theological document around which Anglicans should be able to unite, but even if it's only conservative evangelical and catholic Anglicans who unite around it (as per the continuing GAFCON movement (assured) and Global South (hoped for), that would be a good thing in the long run (other forms of Anglicanism likely to wither on the vine).'

My point in these posts is that the JD has flaws. They are flaws such that not even (2) above is possible (unless a whole lot of people close their eyes to the flaws ... which does seem a possibility!). In short, the JD is not fit for purpose(s). It is a kind of naivety on my part to speak of 'improving' it, as the kind of document required for the purpose in mind likely needs composing from scratch.

Doug Chaplin at Clayboy has now posted three analyses of the JD and I urge you to read them (and responding comments). Here, here, and here. (I do not agree with Doug on one major criticism he brings, namely to the word 'obeyed' in clause 2. In my experience Anglicans of all shades and stripes happily obey the Bible and use the language of obedience to talk about their actions ('as our Lord has commanded us, we pray ...', 'The two commandments are all we need to live by,'We regularly celebrate eucharist because Jesus said "Do this",').

For myself, today I want to move from yesterday's attempt to embolden the bits of the JD which are uncontroversial (more or less, that is with a little rephrasing here and there, most Anglicans in most places would agree with the emboldened words) to italicise those words which any amount of rephrasing is unlikely to secure wide global Anglican agreement. To these words there would be disagreement, dispute, or deafening clamour to provide something vastly improved if not expanded in order to be widely acceptable. Here goes ...

"In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, have met in the land of Jesus’ birth. We express our loyalty as disciples to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus. We joyfully embrace his command to proclaim the reality of his kingdom which he first announced in this land. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.

1.We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

2.We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.

3.We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

4.We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

5.We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

6.We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

7.We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

8.We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

9.We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.

10.We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

11.We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.

12.We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.

13.We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.

14.We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives."

There are many issues involved in the italicised words. A few of which may involve a more or less simple binary opposition between 'conservative' and 'liberal' groupings in the global Anglican community (e.g. clause 8).

But some issues are issues within the conservative community of Anglicans, especially when we note that the originators of the JD and the continuing promoters of it are conservative evangelical AND catholic Anglicans: are all agreed on the role and significance of the first Four Ecumenical Councils? Are all agreed on ALL 39 Articles as expressing true doctrine AND being authoritative today? Is there really unity around the 1662 BCP as the true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer?

Typically evanglicals have looked in askance at the authority of councils and catholics have looked in askance at the 1662 BCP being satisfactory! Then there are debates over the validity and applicability of all 39 Articles ... (Personally I am a fan of the 39A, the 1662 BCP, and the importance of the Ecumencial Councils, but none of these things is inerrant).

None of these kinds of matters are resolved by blithely touting the JD 'as is' as fit for the purpose of uniting Anglicans, even as distinct a group as 'conservatives.'

There are other problems (as Doug Chaplin is pointing out in the posts linked to above). 'Biblical' is now a vacuous word needing huge definitional circumscribing, because it is easily pointed out that when we claim to be 'biblical' we are selectively biblical; and when we claim that others are 'not biblical' they are biblical in their own way (e.g. Roman Catholics can easily claim to be 'biblical' in their understanding of eucharist by asserting that they take the plain words of Jesus at the Last Supper seriously, "This is my body," etc).

'plain and canonical sense' begs a number of questions about interpretation of the Bible which, unfortunately, are not easily resolved by a rewrite of a short clause. (I actually aim to read the Bible plainly and with its canonical sense in mind, respectful of the church's historic and consensual meaning, but I also know that justifying this approach requires more words than available in the JD as it currently stands).

I suggest however that these difficulties with the JD are minor relative to its greatest problem. More tomorrow (though Doug Chaplin may beat me to it)!


Doug Chaplin said...

Thanks for this. I probably won't beat you to any further reflection.

However, I do note that my objection to "obeying the BIble" was to making "law" or "command" the overarching category, and obedience the paradigmatic response. I have no problem with talking about obedience to specific commands.

Ephraim RAdner said...

Prayers for everybody in Christchurch and the area. May the Lord protect and uphold all of you!

Paul Powers said...

Even the ACNA has tweaked the Jerusalem Declaration somewhat in its Theological Statement. For example, it says the following about the 39 Articles:

"We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1562, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief."

Similarly, it modifies the JD concerning Church councils:

"Concerning the seven Councils of the undivided Church, we affirm the teaching of the first four Councils and the Christological clarifications of the fifth, sixth and seventh Councils, in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures."


I can accept the JD (and the ACNA Theological Statement) as an (not the) expression of Anglican belief. But it isn't scripture. It's not even at the same level of authority as the creeds.

Paul Powers said...

Off-topic, but prayers for the people of Christchurch who have endured yet another earthquake. (I'm not sure which part of New Zealand you're in, so I don't know to what extent the quake has affected you).

Brother David said...


My thoughts and prayers are with the saints and all of the citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand in these moments as you work to recover and also to grieve for the loss of life, property and peace of mind after this large quake.

Father Ron Smith said...

Give me the Good Old 'LAMBETH QUAD'any time. Beats the 39 Articles into a cocked hat.

And as for the Jerusalm Declaration - the only one that counts is that of Jesus: "You stoned the Prophets...". It was in that city that 'Jesus wept".

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Dr. Ephraim Radner, on the subject of our earthquake experience. I appreciate your kindness at a time of contention within the world-wide Communion.

However we might differ theologically, there is still the need for human kindness - even for ones' 'enemies' - although, en Christo, there is no such thing.