Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Back to St. Andrew's 2

Having taken on the first level of engagement with the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Draft Covenant, let’s start on the second. The instructions begin,

II. Second Level of Engagement with the Text
This level offers a brief introduction to each major section of the Draft Covenant and then poses more in-depth questions for discussion:

Section 1: The document begins with four affirmations based on the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and then makes two affirmations based on liturgy and ecumenism.
Do you find these affirmations a sufficient statement that describes the inheritance of our faith?

First and foremost, then, we need to think about these affirmations

Section One: Our Inheritance of Faith

1.1 Each Church of the Communion affirms:

(1.1.1) its communion in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

(1.1.2) that, reliant on the Holy Spirit, it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear significant witness, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation;

(1.1.3) that it holds and duly administers the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;

(1.1.4) that it upholds the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church;

(1.1.5) that our shared patterns of common prayer and liturgy form, sustain and nourish our worship of God and our faith and life together;

(1.1.6) that it participates in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God, and that this mission is shared with other Churches and traditions beyond this Covenant.

I have already written my concerns about item 1.1.2: that the reference to “the catholic creeds” does not describe with sufficient clarity, or with sufficient respect, the place of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in the life of the Church (nor does it clarify whether the Athanasian Creed is to be included; but that’s another matter). Items 1.1.2, 1.1.3, and 1.1.4 are intended to reflect the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral; but the specifics of 1.1.2 fail on that point. In the Quadrilateral as accepted in the Lambeth Conference, the Creeds are named and their roles in the life of the Church specified: “The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” This notes that the Creeds have a life of their own in the Church, not in contradiction to Scripture, but with some distinction from Scripture. The reference to creeds in the Covenant Draft establishes that the Creeds are subsidiary to Scripture as “the rule and ultimate standard of faith,” for the faith “is set forth in the catholic creeds,” but without any sense that the Creeds represent some development of the faith beyond the Scriptural record. Indeed, if there seems too little distinction between Creeds and Scripture, there seems even less between the Creeds and the “significant witness” of the “historic formularies.”

If the Committee wished to reflect the Quadrilateral, why not do so in the form accepted by Lambeth? My speculation (and I grant that it is only that) is precisely that description of the Nicene Creed as “sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” This speaks powerfully to our concern about Scripture containing “all things necessary to salvation.” If the Creed is “sufficient statement of the Christian faith,” what is not in the Creed is arguably not necessary to salvation; for if anything additional were necessary, it would be included. For those who would prefer a more confessional than relational or structural covenant, this would be a particular issue. If the Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement, is there really need for anything more elaborate?

There is a further concern I have in focusing solely on the Quadrilateral in describing “our inheritance of faith.” The Quadrilateral was not originally understanding the Anglican tradition. Instead, it was something of a “least common denominator” description of catholic Christianity. It was accepted at Lambeth as “a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards Home Reunion.” The description of the Quadrilateral when originally accepted by the Episcopal House of Bishops was more detailed:

But furthermore, we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity . . . can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.

As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following,…

In essence, as originally conceived the Quadrilateral was a description of the basic characteristics of the Christian Church. (Although I said in my earlier post that is was a description of what it meant to be Christian, I think “description of the Church” is more accurate.) It is, of course, essential that we affirm what it means for us to be Church, to be catholic and apostolic (for our holiness is in the Spirit, and not ours to command; and oneness, or lack thereof, is all too clear). However, I wonder whether that is enough to affirm as “a sufficient statement that describes the inheritance of our faith.” The Introduction to the St. Andrew’s Draft speaks of the Anglican Communion having “a special charism and identity among the followers and servants of Jesus.” It seems to me that these affirmations, except in the slight reference to the “significant witness” to the faith of “the historic formularies,” don’t describe anything distinctively Anglican. They don’t identify or define a special charism or identity. Indeed, in a quick perusal of the commitments in Section One and the affirmations in “Section Two: The Life We Share With Others: Our Anglican Vocation,” I still don’t see anything distinguishing us as Anglicans among other catholic and apostolic Christians.

As I look through the rest of the Affirmations in Section One, I don’t see anything objectionable, even if I might have phrased things differently. At the same time, I find the distortion of the Quadrilateral, and specifically the role of the Creeds in our Anglican life; and the lack of anything distinctively Anglican, to be problematic. “Do you find these affirmations a sufficient statement that describes the inheritance of our faith?” As a Christian, yes; as an Anglican, no.

Now, on to the next question.

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