Saturday, May 19, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 4

And the beat goes on....

Let me continue my reflections on the Draft Anglican Covenant. (You can look in the Labels under "Study Guide" to see what I've written already.)

(4) Do these six affirmations adequately describe The Episcopal Church’s understanding of “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith”? Why or why not?

This question refers to Section 2 of the Draft Covenant, titled “The Life We Share: Common Catholicity, Apostolicity and Confession of Faith.” The section is short enough that, once again, I will quote it in full.

Each member Church, and the Communion as a whole, affirms:

(1) that it is part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
(2) that it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures 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, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation;
(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;
(4) that it participates in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God;
(5) that, led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons 1;
(6) our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guidance under God in
bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to our
societies and nations.

The footnote for question (5) is included in the draft, and says, “This is not meant to exclude other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorised [sic] for use throughout the Anglican Communion, but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion.” (Question (5) and its footnote are the specific focus of Study Guide question 5, and I will come back to it in responding to that question.)

Let me say first that the scriptural citations are not that helpful, although that’s largely because they’re confusing rather than problematic, with one exception I note below. There are some that seem meaningful in asserting faithfulness to the faith once received. Some seem remarkably oriented toward the ministry in the world that the Episcopal Church has worked to highlight (in contrast to the calls from other provinces for doctrinal purity), but perhaps that addresses “the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.” Most citations seem poor or unclear choices for the topic at hand.

The Study Guide, in setting up questions 4 and 5 notes that “Items 2-3, affirm the first three points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, specifically: the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, and the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist.” In looking at the items of the Draft Covenant, it is worth noting the intent of the Quadrilateral. The Resolution of the House of Bishops, in speaking of pursuing unity, spoke of

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.

It then described the four marks of the Quadrilateral as “inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 877)

If we will stipulate that as the position of the Episcopal Church on the Chicago Quadrilateral (to distinguish it from Resolution 11 of the 1888 Lambeth Conference, which endorses the Quadrilateral, but without context or explanation), failure to include the historic episcopate is worth noting. Looking ahead, the Draft Covenant in fact embraces the historic episcopate, and does so in the language of the Chicago quadrilateral. However, it separates it, speaking to the symbolic unitive function of the episcopate. Does this mean that the framers of the Draft Covenant do not consider the historic episcopate part of our common catholicity and apostolicity?

That seems an even more remarkable in that so much of our current disagreements are about the episcopate, and the qualities, role, and functions of bishops (and especially primates). Now, we may argue about whether the disagreements are about sex or power or scriptural hermeneutic or ecclesiology. However, the issues we fight about have to do with the episcopate. The tipping point was the election, confirmation, and ordination as a bishop of a gay man in a committed relationship. (And, really, the issues regarding blessing same-sex unions in Canada have caused nowhere near the same stir. Whether they would have without that election is moot.) And the other critical steps in the division of the Anglican Communion have involved bishops:
  • the election of the first bishops of the Anglican Mission in America (even before Bishop Robinson’s election);
  • efforts to redefine the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates, and the Primates’ Meeting;
  • arguments within the Episcopal Church whether a bishop can take a diocese out of the Episcopal Church;
  • disagreements whether to accept the election of the first woman Presiding Bishop and Primate;
  • disagreements whether a Primatial Vicar is acceptable (to dissenters) if vicarious of the Presiding Bishops or (to the structures of the Episcopal Church) if somehow vicarious of the Primates;
  • the incursions of foreign bishops to support dissenting congregations in the Episcopal Church;
  • the address of the Tanzania Primates’ Meeting to the Episcopal House of Bishops, rather than to the General Convention;
  • and most recently the election and installation of a bishop for a missionary district of another Anglican province to serve within the territory of the Episcopal Church.
Whatever might be the causes and causes celebre of our current disagreements, the critical events, whether in perceiving division or possible courses for reconciliation, are all about the episcopate. (Perhaps this is the context in which we should consider the inclusion in the scriptural citations of Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you” – consider and worry.)

Considering the efforts made by the Episcopal Church, once separated from the Church of England, to have not only episcopate but the historic episcopate received through the English succession, no Episcopalian can dismiss the importance of the episcopate as part of our common catholicity and apostolicity. William White, in “The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered” (1782; see Documents of Witness, Armentrout and Slocum, eds, pp. 2-14) argued that the episcopate was so important that they should be elected by presbyters until such time as they could seek the Anglican succession. The Church of England did not provide bishops to serve in the colonies; and so it cannot be argued the Episcopal Church chose to be Episcopal either from convenience or habit. (Nor, of course, was it through the Church of England that the first Episcopal bishop was consecrated. Bishop Seabury was consecrated by Nonjuror bishops in Scotland.) If the American church limits the functions of bishops in ways that perhaps other provinces do not, neither do we take them for granted. We might argue whether bishops are of the esse or the bene esse or the pleni esse of the church. We do not argue that we can or should have a church without them.

Thus, from an Episcopal perspective, this section is deficient. The historic episcopate is, we believe, part of the faith as we have received it. We must surely see it as part of our “common catholicity, apostolicity, and confession of faith.”

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