Thursday, March 15, 2007

the draft covenant: part I - this is what's wrong with the covenant

This is part one of a two-part analysis of the Draft Covenant. You can read the entire Covenant here. I also recommend highly Eprhaim Radner's comments and Dr. Poon's response, as posted on Whitehall last week, as well as the Covenant Design Group's report.

I decided to split this post in two because there are really two things going on that are of interest to me - one is genuinely an ecclesiological development, and the other is a pragmatic, political matter. Personally, I don't think these two spheres ought to be separated. The church ought always to stive to sbumit real-world practicalities to God's call; we ought ever and always to be expressing in our 'real' world the greater realities of the Spirit. Catholicism IS one of those realities. Ours ought always to be getting purer. Where we divorce the spiritual reality of catholicism from the practical realities of human institutions, we deny the miracle of the Church and pave the way for corruption and innovation, heresy and schism -- 'detestable enormities', all.

But the leaders of the Communion don't seem to see it that way. So the major ecclesiological innovation in the Covenant is tucked away, mid paragraph, mid sentence, barely even more than a reference or implication - not through any practice of deceit, I feel sure, but simply through neglect, which is worse. The first part of this post, below, will be dedicated to fleshing that innovation out. But because Dr. Radner and others have so vehemently denied that there exists any ecclesiological innovation in the Covenant, the second part of this post will be dedicated to proving, from the Design Group report, Dr. Radner's comments on the formative impulses of the document, and the Covenant itself, that there is, in fact, an ecclesiological innovation in the Covenant. And yes, for all of you who thought you've heard me imply it, here at, 'innovation' IS generally a dirty word. At least when it comes to the Church and its faith once received.

So the paragraph in question comes in the 5th section, on "Our Unity and Common Life" and reads thus:

Of these four Instruments of Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, with whose See Anglicans have historically been in communion, is accorded a primacy of honour and respect as first amongst equals (primus inter pares). He calls the Lambeth Conference, and Primates’ Meeting, and is President of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The first sentence here is one of only two times in the document the word 'communion' has real theological content (the other time it refers to sharing the same Eucharist) and is not just the name of the particular group of churches we're talking about. What's wrong with this, despite the proclamation right at the beginning that we "uphold and act in continuity and consistency with the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition . . . ", is that the theological concept of communion, born of the blood and sweat of the Church Fathers, is nowhere mentioned as the foundation for our unity or identity. It only appears here, noted as an historical fact that explicitly has nothing to do with what the Covenant is trying to accomplish. Historically, we've been in communion with Canterbury, but today we Covenant to make that relationship obsolete, at least on the most foundational level of our identity. It's in our past, not our future.

The future of the Anglican 'Communion' seems to be to become the 'Anglican Covenant Group of Churches', an arrangement which may bear some strucutral similarities and historical continuities to an actual communion of Churches but may not be one in actuality.

Let me be clear that the creation of this kind of covenant does not, I think, necessarily destroy the communion we share already as Anglican Churches in communion with Canterbury. It could even, for all practical purposes, enhance our experience of that communion by more clearly articulating our understanding of God's expectations for ourselves and our communion partners, so long as we are clear that the Covenant does not create or define the relationship of communion, but only clarify it to help out infirmities (ahem, TEC). And by all means, let the miracle of communion be the foundaton we build upon, not the stone which the builders rejected.

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