Thursday, November 1, 2012

ACC: a shadow of the reality it could be

Tim Chesterton, commenting on an earlier post here, hits an important nail on the head:
"I often wonder whether God actually notices the existence of national churches. After all, in the NT, 'church' refers either to (a) the universal church of Jesus Christ, or (b) the local congregation. No in-between unit (diocese, or national church) seems to be envisioned. And what would Paul and the others think of a movement to establish 'the Church of Pontus' or 'the Church of Macedonia' as independent units with no obligation of loyalty to a larger body? (Note how he always uses the plural for this sort of grouping - 'the churches of Macedonia', not 'the Church of Macedonia')."
The gist of a strong Anglican argument against a tighter understanding of "Communion" than Tutu's "We meet" is that we have never been and never should be anything other than a grouping of (more or less*) national churches. Chesterton takes that argument head on. Our pride in being such a grouping, a pride at being autonomous, independent, post-colonial no one tells us what to do churches is not the divine perspective. God has never been interested in national churches and always worked on enlarging the internationalism of the church. The point of being church is, in a beautiful "thick" phrase, "obligation of loyalty to a larger body."

If, for instance, I believe that by baptism I am a member of the universal church of God, the body of Christ which includes the communion of all the saints, on heaven and in earth, then loyalty to that larger body means that my practical daily, weekly involvement in a local expression of the universal church is to work for that church to be attuned in mind and action with the universal church (cf. Philippians 2). If that local expression is the Anglican Parish of X then other loyalties press on me. In what way can X be coherent with the Diocese Y to which it belongs, and how can Y be of one mind and heart with the national/provincial church Z?

If then we ask how Z might be at one with the universal church of God, a practical starting point is to work on how all Anglican churches can work on an obligation to a larger Anglican body, that is, to the Anglican Communion. Sorting that out would be an excellent step on the way to renewing the common mind and heart of the universal church on earth. To give a blunt example, how can Anglicans engage in real steps to Christian unity with the Roman church if it does not know how to express loyalty to its own larger body?

From this perspective the Anglican Communion is an opportunity to grow in unity, to develop the 'larger body' on the basis of shared 'obligation of loyalty.' But reality is tawdry.

The Covenant, a magnificent proposal which takes seriously the obligation of loyalty to a larger body, is in very serious trouble, if not dead in the water (see now a state of the play analysis at Preludium). Bishop Victoria Matthews has rightly analysed an important aspect of the problem, a failure to read the Covenant in plain English. Reader response theory chickens, so lovingly nurtured in our theological colleges, have come home to roost!

The present ACC meeting is a shadow of the reality it could be. Instead of moving from unanimous agreement on a charter regarding care and protection of the vulnerable to consideration of how such unity could be found on other issues, such as our very life together as a global communion, the next network lines up to give its report. Instead of this much trumpeted "we are the only truly representative" Instrument of Unity being what it says, instrumental in Anglican unity and tackling the issues which prevent unity, it chirps along on matters which, to be sure, are important but not half as important as working out how Anglicans show loyalty to a larger body.

Chesterton's comment highlights a huge gap between reality and potential. To an extent the ACC is a meeting which takes place because Anglicans do have an obligation of loyalty to a larger body. People have bothered to show up. But there is no sign that any member of ACC is bothered about the parsimonious nature of the loyalty - a conditional loyalty which never permits any obligation to anything which might trump loyalty to the national church from which they have come.

On the ACC agenda every time should be the question of the evolution of the Communion to global church. What progress has been made in the last three years? What needs to be done in the next three years?

One of the saddest observations in the report of Bishop Victoria's presentation to the ACC is this line:
"She stressed the point that it was not the work of IASCUFO to promote the Covenant, but rather to monitor its reception."
For goodness sake, a Communion which took seriously the obligation to loyalty to a larger body would authorise IASCUFO to promote the Covenant not just monitor its reception.

How have we got to this shadow compared with the reality to which Christ has called us? I would stress the word 'we'. All of us have fallen short. Yes, I would urge loyalty to the truth of the gospel, a doctrinal undergirding of Anglican life. But I need to also work on what 'loyalty' means for a body which includes people different to myself, both in belief and in lifestyle: specifically, how can I be loyal to brother and sister Christians who also identify as gay? What do you, dear reader, need to work on to fulfil your obligation of loyalty to a larger body of Anglicans?

By the way, I am not trying to smuggle in a quasi-Roman internationalism with the ABC as an erstwhile Anglican pope. As Anglicans we have a different approach to being the church at large, more emphasis on synod as government than bishops and so forth. What we lack is courage and ecclesiological vision to work out what that might mean on a global stage. If only ACC would show some such courage and vision it might be worth the time and expense which have gone into is meeting in Auckland.

(*Some Anglican churches are international to a small degree, including my own which embraces the group of countries Aotearoa NZ, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga).

ADDENDUM: For a list of participants at ACC, go here.



What I think is actually going on here is that there are two Anglican Communions: one in Bishop Matthews' head and the other one that has actually read, marked, learned, inwardly digested and rejected the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Peter Carrell said...

Very droll, Susan.

Father Ron Smith said...

"And what would Paul and the others think of a movement to establish 'the Church of Pontus' or 'the Church of Macedonia' as independent units with no obligation of loyalty to a larger body?" - Tim Chesterton

Yes, indeed, Tim. What would Paul have thought of ACNA, AMiA, AMiE, CANA, GAFCON and The Diocese of South Carolina, all asserting their independence of the 'larger body'?

What is important though, is that Paul did distinguish between the different national Church bodies. He spoke of 'the ChurchES in Asia, Macedonia, Pontus' etc.

What Paul would have been against was schismatic movements away from the larger, national, Church body.

hogsters said...

Re What I think is actually going on here is that there are two Anglican Communions: one in Bishop Matthews' head and the other one that has actually read, marked, learned, inwardly digested and rejected the proposed Anglican Covenant.

One could also say there are those who have actually read, marked, learned, inwardly digested and accepted the proposed Anglican Covenant......

Tim Chesterton said...

Ron, you miss the point. Paul spoke of 'The Church in Rome' or 'The Church in Corinth' (singular), or 'The Church of the living God' (i.e. the universal body of Christ around the world). He did not speak of 'The Church in Macedonia', but the 'churches' (plural) - rather as the Pentecostals in Canada call their denomination the 'Pentecostal Assemblies (not 'Assembly') of Canada.

The implication is clear. Your local congregation is a Church. The universal Church of Jesus Christ is a Church. But the Anglican Church of Canada is not a Church, neither is the Church of England, or The Episcopal Church. If we were being true to the NT vision, my denomination would be called 'The Anglican Churches of Canada'.

Anonymous said...

I think Bishop Victoria has a far better grasp on the real Church than many of those who claim to have read and digested the Covenant, but who in truth never had any intention of letting anything, let alone accountability to the wider Church, get in the way of their agenda to replace the Christian Faith with cultural Marxism and Christian virtue with pro-abortion and pro-homosexual political ideology.

Bryden Black said...

If we were to tease out Tim’s observations a little more.

Yes; there is an interplay among Paul’s letters, especially re their addressees, regarding church and churches. Though the list of Greetings at the end of Romans has occasioned many a comment upon numbers, relationships, households, etc., as well. However, my main point concerns bishops.

Time and again this office is mentioned with scant regard to sociology. That is, how many bishops (NB plural) were in the Church at Philippi? How many households comprised that Church? What was the tie up between bishop and household? And recall the household of the day was not the nuclear family of mum + dad + 2.4 children (less if you are German ...). Then there’s the singular use of “the bishop” in 1 Tim 3:2. But what are to make of this reference exactly?

All in all, the role of bishops as this office evolved across the Ancient Mediterranean needs to be related directly to population size as well as other social units. For example, Cyprian could muster 87 bishops from the Roman Provinces of North Africa, Numidia and Mauretania, in the autumn of 256 when they had to consider the status of the “lapsed” and of “heretics”. We simply do not know how many Christians let alone specific congregations these 87 ‘represented’. But I can bet you the ratio was vastly different to that of present day bishops and their dioceses across the Anglican world, where the number of bishops are so few and Christian individuals so many. The ratios are even more skewed in African churches given their conversion rates - even as the Nigerians for example continue to create more dioceses with their bishops.

So my concluding point, in line with Tim’s observations, is this. If we were to hold the role of a bishop to be amongst others to act decidedly as a beacon of unity - as surely we must as Anglicans - then Lambeth would become ... 50 times larger? 100 times? 500 times? What number? How might Anglicans truly relate across Regions, if not Nationally? The Church Universal is no mere abstraction; its Lord is the Incarnate One. Finally therefore, how might we concretely express our collective “obligation of loyalty”, given both due ecclesiology and due sociology?! Over to you Tim and Peter!

MichaelA said...

Yes, the argument that St Paul recognised the concept of national churches is heroic, but not in the least convincing!

Peter Carrell said...

We might express our loyalty concretely to those bishops who hold the same version of the Communion as Susan Russell says is held in +Victoria's head ... And avoid those bishops who have put the Covenant in the WPB!

At times it feels like there are only about 87 of +Victorian bishops around these days :)

Bryden Black said...

In Swift terms (just to be clear!):
And those 87 were ruling furthermore between reinstating those in "error" (about minor matters) and evicting "heretics". If one may hold the Nicene Creed "loosey goosey/Lucy Goose?", as I've heard from an official TEC senior rep, then clearly there are no heretics left - only those in error, to be gently corrected (by deposition?).

Peter Carrell said...

Evicted, Bryden? I hear that on some farms if there are too many geese about, then the shotgun comes out ... evisceration (not eviction) then leads to a nice roast :)

Bryden Black said...

Only is the case of Canadian geese chez nous!

Father Ron Smith said...

I see, Peter, that the 'World-Wide Orthodox Anglican' web-site, called 'virtueonline', is reporting its own version of what has been going on at ACC15. Now although it's under your friend David Virtue's signature, I'm not sure whether its him or Phil Ashby, his usual correspondent, giving out 'the goss', but it doesn't sound too positive - a bit like your own assessment, really.

I do hope they're not following the Archbishop of Canterbury down here to Christchurch. But if they do, perhaps you could get a bit more information from the horses' mouth, as it were. (I don't mean the mouth of the ABC, of course.)

Tim Chesterton said...

Bryden, I've thought that for a long time - that ancient bishops were a lot more like modern regional deans, each with their own churches to look after but also extending oversight to a small group of churches around them.

We've shot ourselves in the foot by requiring (a) a cathedral with a throne, (b) a large staff, and (c) world travel.

To smugly say 'We have the apostolic succession and the ancient threefold ministry', without reflecting on the fact that our bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise very different ministries than those in the early centuries, seems to me to be a spectacular example of self-deception!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim,
I quite like the "large staff" bit - it has gainfully employed me these last 12 years :)

Anonymous said...

As a slight aside, I read recently an interesting article about the split between Old Believers and the Russian Orthodox Church. Apparently one of the issues that fed the conflict was differing understandings concerning the role of the Bishop. According to the Old Believers it was the head of the local monastery that was the primary head/leader of the local churches, with the Bishops role being largely symbolic. The Bishop still ordained ministers, but real authority was held by the head of the monastery.

The Old Believers strongly opposed elevating the Bishop over the monastery and creating a new level of Church beurocracy under him.

Clearly the exact role of the Bishop has differed and changed over the centuries, and from place to place.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Tim for corroborating the basic understanding.

Of course the struggle to keep matters theological from abstraction reduces, as we've seen this week alone, often to anthropology. I doubt though that we'll ever see a return to the theological/sociological dynamics of the Early Church. It would devalue episcopal currency too much!

Bryden Black said...

Actually, Shawn; your “aside” manifests an age old tension - between episcopal authority and that of “the holy man”, which ran throughout much of Late Antiquity, and on into the Middle Ages here and there in the West, but notably in the East. Your example just displays this tension.