Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Crisis, what crisis?

Anglicans have barely begun to engage with Supranational Ecclesiology (no, it is not a fancy titled pension scheme). With a hat tip to Mark Harris at Preludium for the alert, here is an excerpt from Ephraim Radner's reflection on the Toronto pan Anglican Congress fifty years ago in 1963. A Congress that thought the Communion was in crisis. How little did they know!

"In this light let me suggest several possible new channels of communion:

First, diversity requires a clearer mode of mutual engagement. MRI was significant, because it put this reality and call squarely on the table. And we have seen its demand: not “partnership” in some kind of contractual mode, but “mutual subjection” in the body of Christ, as Paul speaks of it in Ephesians 5:21. That presses towards an ecclesiology that is more than the sum of its national parts, indeed that is explicitly “supranational” — something Bayne still could not countenance. We need “supranational” structures. MRI, in its deep sense, implies that the churches of England and of Canada and of Nigeria and of Ecuador and of the U.S. are not “whole” as they stand and act alone; they are whole only as they subject themselves to one another, in the form of spousal life, as Paul writes. We need to look at the ways that “sovereignty” can creatively and responsibly be broken down. Political scientists and legal scholars and policy-makers have been doing this, in the wake of things like the European Union, Kyoto, human rights law, and so on (see Anne-Marie Slaughter’s work). The Church, and the Anglican Communion of course, is not a political entity, though many of its decision-making forms function politically. But churches, we can be sure, are not “sovereign states,” and this whole idea that we are needs to be thrown away. Speaking personally, the Covenant is still the most creative means we have on the table in this direction. And I will argue this with anybody.

Second, it is true that a static prayer book cannot become a substitute for the revelation of Scripture and the priority of the gospel. But the prayer book’s scriptural structure, its formative application, and its embedded provision of the Church’s “traditions” are essential to Anglicanism’s missionary life. Prayer book revision has been driven by local incoherence. This is a central reality that must be engaged now, and not later. But working this out will require that the political issue be pursued first.

Finally, the missionary character of communion cannot be let go. It must inform both church politics and the prayer book, even as its own form must be shaped by them also. This is the deepest lesson of looking at the substance of the Toronto Congress and MRI. And it is why we are not political nations, but the body of Christ with a gospel to proclaim and share. Every decision about political structure and doctrinal form must be subordinate to this reality of Christ’s mission within and as his own body to peoples and a world that must be drawn into his embrace."

With thanks to The Living Church for the whole address here.


Bryden Black said...

Martin K√§hler a hundred years ago claimed that “mission is the mother of theology”. To be sure, quite a lot depends on how one then goes on to view “mission” - for as Stephen Neill once said, if everything is mission (as some seem to want, just as others seem to reduce mission to evangelism only), then nothing is effectively mission.

Radner’s highlighting the missionary context of these remarks on MRI and Toronto 1963, which too is therefore the context of Anglican ecclesiology, is especially helpful. The key reason I suggest is that any Communion theology and praxis thereafter is suitably grounded in the very God of Mission, whose triune nature is furthermore the foundation of ecclesial communion. This is all one a piece - or should be so seen!

That is also why the actual text of the proposed Covenant will not merely disappear: it is rightly, profoundly trinitarian, starting with the Introduction. Objectors to any serious Section 4, the stumbling block to date for some, need to finally realise too this basic reality: the triune God’s essential nature is also profoundly kenotic, with each Person desiring the Glory of the Other(s). That is, to conclude, the idea of mutual submission with real interdependence - theologically and practically, and so ecclesiologically - is de rigeur. That is, if it is duly Christian! Cries of “autonomy” are rather from ‘the world’.

Anonymous said...

"Prayer book revision has been driven by local incoherence."

He's obviously read Benedicte O Aotearoa.