Friday, July 28, 2006

The Anglican Confessional Network?

The Anglican Communion Network is meeting next week. On the agenda are a Theological Statement and a Mission Statement which the Network will consider “for adoption.” The statements were developed by the Common Cause Roundtable, a group of churches and organizations, all with Anglican roots, and all opposed to recent decisions in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglcan Church of Canada. The full text of the two documents is worth reading as an indication where at least some in the Network want to go. I will not respond to the both documents, but had some thoughts about the Theological Statement .

1) We receive the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scripture as the inspired Word of God containing all things necessary for salvation, and as the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.

Note that this differs from the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which speaks of “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” The ordination rites in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) use the same language regarding Scripture as the Quadrilateral. The change of reference to “inspired Word of God” and to “final authority and unchangeable standard” seem a significant departure.

2) We confess the historic faith of the Undivided Church as declared in the Catholic Creeds.

I do wonder whether this will affect discussion with the Eastern Orthodox, for whom the filioque clause has never been part of the “Catholic Creeds.”

3) We believe the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and have been held by all, everywhere, at all times.

I wonder how important the Iconoclast Controversy might actually be to the Common Cause Roundtable. In any case, one can hardly speak of the decisions of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Councils as being “held by all, everywhere, at all times,” as Roman Catholic participation was at best minimal. Those have not historically been held as important for the Anglican tradition.

4) We hold the two sacraments of the Gospel to be ordained by Christ Himself, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, and to be administered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

To speak of the Eucharist as “the Supper of the Lord” does seem to make a significant statement regarding the sacramental theology embraced under these tenets. It does reflect the language of the 39 Articles, specifically article XVIII. One could argue that the Articles, and especially XVIII and XIX describe a receptionist doctrine of the Eucharist.

5) We accept the 1549 through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its ordinal as the foundation for Anglican worship and the standard for doctrine and discipline.

This would, then , exclude any American prayer book, and would seem to undercut the American history of reflecting the Scottish Nonjuror tradition in our Eucharistic prayers. Focusing on the ordinal of those Prayer Books clearly undermines the ordinal of the current American prayer book, including issues of ordaining women.

6) We believe the godly Historic Episcopate to be necessary for the full being of the Church.

I would note with interest the concern to focus on “the godly Historic Episcopate.” This again varies from the language of the Quadrilateral: “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.” Thus, the Episcopate is of the pleni esse of the Church, but with no latitude for local adaptation or of varying needs of different peoples.

7) We affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as foundational for authentic Anglican belief and practice and as correctives to doctrinal abuses.

The crux of the issue, as is often the case, is seen most clearly in the very last words. Many of us see the Articles as “foundational,” without seeing them as dogma. However, to see them as defining what beliefs and practices are authentically Anglican and as “correctives of doctrinal abuses” is to elevate them beyond being foundational to being confessional. And that, it appears, is what many want: a new church, confessional rather than creedal, with Anglican roots. That may or may not happen. However, it is a clear departure from “the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” Well and good, I suppose; but what I have sworn to as a priest is to “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and… to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” And I imagine the bishops, priests, and deacons of the Network once swore to the same.


Marie said...

Yeah, this is exactly what DIDN'T draw me to TEC. This is another faith altogether, with its "you musts" and "you shalls" rooted in 500 year old prayer books. No thanks. If that becomes us (and I'm confident that it won't) then there will be no ordination vows for me. (Well, they wouldn't have me anyway.)

Marshall Scott said...

Nor would they have me, proper plumbing or no. I lived among too many inerrantists as a child to be one of them now, no matter how liturgical the church. Anyway, I've always said I'm "somewhere to the left of Jesus," and allowed others to decide just how much room was there. Those folks, I fear, believe that there is no room to the left of Jesus, even though they believe Jesus is somewhere to the right of - well, if not Attila, at least of W.

Charlie J. Ray said...

It's quite a shame that you don't see the 39 Articles as "confessional." It is precisely here that you betray yourself as an Anglo-Catholic and not faithful to the English Reformation. Cranmer, Parker, and Hooker would roll over in their graves. The so-called Anglican via media is really just a way of saying the 39 Articles are just historical documents with no binding authority and that the English Reformation is irrelevant. It's truly sad that the late coming Anglo-Catholic movement has managed to hijack the English Reformation.

Marshall Scott said...

Charlie, thanks for reading and commenting. I would note that I am really more an old style Broadchurchman - looking at both the catholic and evangelical traditions within Anglicanism, considering them critically, and then trying to apply from both traditions what seems to best present the content and experience of the Christian faith as I have received it.

And that, of course, is pertinent to the discussion. In the Anglican tradition as I have received it, we are not a confessional tradition. That is, we distrust any single understanding of doctrine as likely inadequate, since God is always beyond our comprehension. Further, it tends to suppress, not to encourage reflection and so continued exploration. We hold to Creeds - statements of faith - without embracing confessions - specific and exclusive interpretations - because God can still lead and surprise us.

While clergy of the Church of England have always been expected to sign off on the Articles - and even then, not in the same sense as some sign off on the Augustana or the Westminster - but it has never been required of clergy in the American church. It would indeed be innovation to impose such an understanding now.