Thursday, May 31, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Questions 8 and 9

Well, I'm not going to get them all done, but I've continued to work. You can check my other Study Guide posts under Labels.

(8) Does this section adequately describe your understanding of the history and respective roles of the “Four Instruments of Communion”? Why or why not?

This question relates to the section “Our Unity and Common Life.” The section calls for member Churches to affirm certain structural measures for ordering processes for decision and reception when there are issues of concern in the Communion. It emphasizes the role of bishops as “custodians of faith, leaders in mission, and as visible signs of unity.” Unfortunately, it does so in a way that establishes and consolidates decisional authority in new and unhelpful ways.

To put it concisely, this section asserts authority for Instruments of Communion that they have not previously held: for the Lambeth Conference to “guard the faith,” and for the Primates’ Meeting to “work… in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters.” These gatherings have been consultative, and neither prescriptive nor definitive. At the same time, the Anglican Consultative Council has been limited to coordinating “aspects of international Anglican ecumenical and mission work.” Thus, the one Instrument that represents all orders of ministry in the Communion is largely excluded from processes of consultation and/or reception in any issues “that have Communion-wide implications.”

This, of course, is more than is accorded to the Archbishop of Canterbury. While the office is “accorded a primacy of honour and respect as first among equals,” he is reduced to his functions: “He calls the Lambeth Conference, and Primates’ Meeting, and is President of the Anglican Consultative Council.”

(9) Do you think there needs to be an executive or judicial body for resolving
disagreements or disputes in the Anglican Communion? If so, do you think it should be the Primates Meeting as recommended by the Draft Covenant? Explain.

The most problematic aspect of the Commitments under the title of “Unity of the Communion” is the establishment of the Primates’ Meeting as the gatekeepers for the other Instruments of Communion in determining the importance of issues among Provinces of the Communion. Moreover, the process as outlined is troubling. First, the Primates will determine “that the matter is not one for which a common mind has been articulated,” and only on that basis “seek it with the other instruments and their councils.”

To reach to the Primates’ Meeting might seem convenient. They have met in recent years more frequently than any other corporate “Instrument of Communion.” They have been able to do so in no small part because of their small size, and because they do not have any structure, any constitution, to determine how often they can meet. At the same time, this is not a necessary solution. First, there is no structural reason that the Anglican Consultative Council couldn’t meet more frequently. Certainly, they are somewhat larger; but unlike the Lambeth Conference, not so much larger to suggest they couldn’t meet more frequently. The ACC also has the clear benefits of representation of all orders of ministry; of a constitutional foundation for acting; and of historical seniority.

More important, there is no clear reason that issues dividing Provinces of the Communion need resolution more quickly than the pace of the ACC’s triennial meetings. There is certainly a sense of urgency in our current difficulties; but that has largely been manufactured. If an important (and all too largely ignored) aspect of our current discussions is a listening process, it is our willingness to take time, and not to rush to judgment, that best serves us.

The Primates’ Meeting has been serving in an ad hoc capacity. Unfortunately, much of that “service” has been of questionable value, emphasizing “interdependence” – asserting practical “dependence” – over autonomy, and the Evangelical in the Anglican tradition almost to the exclusion of the Catholic and Latitudinarian perspectives. In light of the results of their ad hoc activities, I would question the value of establishing the Primates as the functional power center of the Communion

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