Thursday, April 26, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 2

(2) How closely does this view of communion accord with your understanding of the development and vocation of the Anglican Communion?

This question is responding to “An Introduction to a Draft Text for an Anglican Covenant,” a brief theological reflection. It is, as the Study Guide says, an “initial theological introduction to the Draft Covenant which is to follow immediately afterwards.”

Perhaps the goal of the Covenant Design Group was explicitly brevity. Sadly, as a result of the brevity, this Introduction says almost nothing about the actual development of the Anglican Communion, and little about the Communion’s vocation.

Indeed, this Introduction would apply equally, I think, to all Christian bodies; and certainly to any that would fall within the historic bodies that might meet the standards of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. It asserts a “Communion of Anglican churches,” through which we are provided “with a special charism.” I think for all of us who would call ourselves Anglicans we believe these statements to be true. However, there is nothing in these assertions that distinguishes our “special charism” or even the parameters of our “Communion of Anglican churches” from the charisms of the communions of Roman and Uniate, or Orthodox, or Lutheran churches.

Perhaps there is more specificity on these questions in the further development of the Draft covenant. Still, it would seem to me that our understanding of our charism would be critical in developing the content of an Anglican Covenant. To give an (admittedly overly simplistic example), such possible perspectives as “to bring the world to Christ,” or “to participate in the building of God’s kingdom, “ or “to be co-creators with God in the restoration of creation” are arguably all connected, and perhaps inextricable. However, each statement predisposes a different understanding of mission, and of means. We have long spoken of ourselves as a “bridge,” embracing both catholic and reformed elements within the Christian tradition. However, we have wrestled for four centuries on how to balance those catholic and reformed elements. Those different perspectives, reflecting different approaches to Biblical hermeneutics, to understanding history and our place in it, and to the formation of theology and doctrine, are not clearly reflected in this brief Introduction.

Thus, the contrast is unclear between the “coherent testimony” that “our faith embodies, “ and “the wider Church.” Since the implication is that “the wider Church” is the body of Christ beyond the “Communion of Anglican churches,” and since the Introduction asserts “interdependence among ourselves and [also] with the wider Communion,” distinguishing our “special charism” and our “coherent testimony” would seem particularly important.

The Introduction asserts together, and implicitly equates, “the need for mutual commitment and [also for mutual] discipline.” We wrestle now with the question of just how much mutual discipline is necessary to demonstrate mutual commitment. Thus, it seems presumptuous to link the two without qualification. I would indeed agree that we must work out together how we will “be faithful to God’s promises through the historic faith we confess [as loaded as the word 'confess' might be here], the way we live together and the focus of our mission.” However, I believe we must be clear that the most important expression of “the faith we confess” must be “the focus of our mission;” and that it is out of that emphasis that we then determine “the way we live together.” That, I think, would be the proper sequence, and not the sequence as expressed.

Again, all these questions may arise out of the intent that the Introduction be brief. They will, I expect, be addressed in the body of the Draft Text. However, to respond to the Study Guide question as stated: I do not believe this Introduction clearly addresses the “development and vocation of the Anglican Communion.” The lack of even minimal specificity about what it might mean to be Anglican in the context of “the wider Church” prevents this from being adequate.

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