Thursday, March 15, 2012

Conservatives shouldn't support the Covenant if a conservatives-only Communion is sought

I am quite unrepentant about urging conservatives to support the Covenant even though a number of important criticisms have come back to me in comments on yesterday's post.

I quite agree that in a number of ways the Communion and its current arrangements (and my own church ACANZP and its current arrangements) have not served conservative Anglicans well, at least in the sense of often appearing to curry favour with the agressive progressive elements in our life, rather than being firm and disciplinarian with those elements.

But Anglican life is not simply divisible into "conservatives" and "progressives". There is a great middle ground in which people have a mix of conservative and progressive views, attitudes and commitments. It is unlikely that a proposal such as the Anglican Covenant will garner much support if it is solely satisfying to only one set of views. If conservative Anglicans would be happy with a Covenant whose text and whose application sorted the Communion out in a conservative manner, what proportion of the Communion would sign up? Just before replying that the vast majority of individual Anglicans are conservatives (true!), we should recall that we are talking about a proposal for member churches to sign to. Again, one could rightly say that the majority of member churches of the Communion are conservative. But in saying that one could and should acknowledge that a substantial minority of member churches are not conservative in outlook but rather a 'mixed bag'. In this category I place (at least) the churches of Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Southern Africa, Canada, the USA and related places, Japan, Brazil and Mexico. None of these churches would sign to a conservatives-are-happy-with-it Covenant. We know that, in fact, several of the above churches are likely not to sign the Covenant because it is more conservative than they want to be a signatory to.

In short, if we want something like the present Communion to sign up to something which is a marker in the ground about doctrine and practice and mutual accountability, it is going to be the Covenant or something like it. But if we conservatives are happy to have a Communion shorn of most of the above named countries then by all means (a) do not sign the Covenant (b) work on other arrangements more satisfying to conservatives.

I for one as a conservative am interested in Anglican arrangements which keep my moderate, progressive and progressive-and-conservative colleagues and friends on board (as far as possible - some progressives are liable to fall outside the limits to diversity!). I say this not because I think opposing points of view can all be true but because I have learnt much from those who are not like me and do not think like me.

One of those things I have learned is that I may be wrong, that not all conservatism is as faithful to the gospel as it thinks it is, or as 'biblical' as it claims to be. It is humbling to realise that one may have been wrong, that one has lots to learn, and that people one thought had jettisoned the Bible in fact have kept reading it, but that has been my experience as a conservative moving in the mixed economy of local and global Anglicanism.


Anonymous said...


What about the Jerusalem Declaration? It is faithful to Scripture and the Anglican formularies.

I have reproduced it below.

in Christ

The Jerusalem Declaration

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua
I will post on the JD soon.
I think it is problematic in a couple of ways.

Anonymous said...

"One of those things I have learned is that I may be wrong, that not all conservatism is as faithful to the gospel as it thinks it is, or as 'biblical' as it claims to be. It is humbling to realise that one may have been wrong, that one has lots to learn, and that people one thought had jettisoned the Bible in fact have kept reading it,"

It would be helpful, Peter, for you to give specific examples of where you have seen conservatives to be "unfaithful to the gospel" (undefined) or "unbiblical". I can't think of any liberal who EVER thinks that he or she is "unfaithful o the gospel", it's just that their "gospel" has an uncertain, reduced or complex relation to the unitary reading of the New Testament that conservatives attempt. What reamins is a generalised account of what happesn to resonate with certain ages - Bultmannism at one time (reemmber that?), liberationism in another, postmodernity in a third.... Lots of people keep "reading the Bible" - often to come up with novel or "subversive readings", as they would put it. But reading isn't the same as believing - otherwise I'll stop reading Homer and Vergil!
so - over to you, Peter!


Peter Carrell said...

Let me see Martin:

I have worshipped in conservative churches which omit the Lord's Prayer ... even in one which omitted intercessions altogether ...

I have been part of conservatism which has overlooked vast chunks of the Bible, fostering a canon within a canon (primarily Paul's letters), avoiding questions of social justice and social responsibility as part of the biblical mandate for Christian action in the world ...

Unfaithfulness to the gospel? Looking back on my life in conservative evangelicalism I see that we have fostered legalism (even when we thought we weren't doing so), we have made 'the gospel' something consisting of rational propositions grouped together in such a manner as cannot be found in our Lord's own annunciation of the gospel in word and deed with the (unintended) consequence of making the gospel something more readily received in the West by the educated middle and upper classes, and we have put up more barriers to the gospel than we have perhaps realised (including in some parts of the world a whole 'evangelical culture' which acts as a barrier to the spread of the gospel.

Sometimes we have realised these faults ourselves and worked on them, sometimes it has taken the critique of those we oppose (Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, Anglo-Catholics) to open our eyes to our unfaithfulness to the gospel.

We are not faithful to the gospel because we say we are faithful to the gospel. We are faithful to the gospel when we open ourselves to the full depth, width, height, and length of the gospel and act, think and speak accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding, Peter.
I cannot speak for your own experiences, but some of the charges seem weightier than others, and others may be how some things seem to you but not to others.
I have no problem with using the Pauline letters as a principal entree to NT theology, not least because they were (very probably) written before the Gospels and provide the context for understanding these 'bioi'. Actually most Protestant theology, whether conservative or liberal, does exactly this. One danger of reading the Gospels without the Epistles (as in catholic and Anglican sermonettes) is that of falling into moralising - but evangelical churches which should know better can make the same mistake. In my soft-left youth, for example, I think I was inclined to charge the (rather prosperous) Brethren with selfishness, though I don't know if I was any more generous with the little wealth I had. Today I don't find questions of "social justice and social responsibility" at all as simple or clear as some think they are. I do know that just wealth must be generated, fair obligations must be paid for, healthy families must be raised, and freedom must be protected, while we guard our hearts against every kind of idolatry. That's my "politics", such as it is. Many groups - left and right - claim to be the 'party of God' (Hezbollah!), but I recognise only one Messiah.
As for "rational propositions" - surely better than irrational ones?!
The "Gospel" (euangelion) simply means all the teaching of Christ and about Christ that is found in the NT - 'the whole counsel of God'. Both liberalism and pop- evangelicalism cut corners and content. Read Jeffrey John's latest faux-catholicism for the former.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, thank you for your honesty, and openness to the fact that no 'party' on the Church is free from guilt about the misrepresentation of the Gospel values of Jesus Christ'

In Jesus, the new Law became 'Love' - a paradigm that, it seems to me, must be treasured above all shibboleths. And I apologise for my own lack of Love towards those of the evangelical strand in the past. I hope to do better in the future!