November 28, 2010

The Way Forward?

The Church of England moved closer to adopting the Anglican Covenant this past week as its General Synod voted overwhelmingly to send the Covenant to the dioceses in ignorance of the fact that the GAFCON Primates’ Council had just issued a statement embarrassing the Archbishop of Canterbury and dismissing the Covenant. Paragraph 5 of the so-called Oxford Statement declares
For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland. And while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.
Just as conservative malcontents in The Episcopal Church sought support for the wider Anglican Communion, the Primates’ Council has now reached beyond the Communion in an attempt to press its case within the Communion. Here is Paragraph 6:
We also acknowledge with appreciation the address to the Nicean Society meeting in Lambeth Palace on September 9th of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. We welcome his call to all churches of the Anglican Communion to step back from the abyss of heresy and reclaim the revealed truth that is at the heart of our historic understanding of Christian faith and moral order. We share with him the conviction that failure to do so will endanger our common witness and many important ecumenical dialogues but we would also point out that there are many within the Anglican Communion who have not ‘bowed the knee’ to secular liberalism and who are determined to stay true to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ whatever the cost.
I won’t attempt a complete analysis of the Oxford Statement here, but there are a few additional aspects that require comment. The Council declares the Covenant “fatally flawed,” yet it does not identify the nature of its flaws. From what has been said elsewhere, it is a reasonable inference that Section 4 of the Covenant is, as I have described it elsewhere, insufficiently draconian. In particular, it does not put discipline of member churches exclusively in the hands of the primates.

Rather more interestingly, the Statement makes it clear that the Jerusalem Declaration should specify the doctrine that must be enforced by the Communion as normative. (The Declaration is mention twice in the introduction to the Statement and twice in the Statement itself.) This would appear to indicate that the Primates’ Council (and much of the Global South and the Anglican Church of North America) not only rejects Section 4 of the Covenant, but also is unwilling to accept Sections 1–3.

The timing of the release of the Oxford Statement is interesting, given that the meeting whose sense it purports to reflect actually took place in early October. Bishop Martyn Minns’ insistence, in a BBC Radio 4 interview on the Sunday Programme this morning, that the release of the statement minutes before the General Synod vote was simply a coincidence strains credulity. The Primates’ Council, I suggest, was looking for maximum exposure for its announcement. It achieved that. The lead in most stories was not that the Covenant received an endorsement from the General Synod or that the liberal campaign to prevent such an outcome was a failure, but that Global South primates had rejected what has been described consistently as the only way forward for the Communion. Whether exposing the Archbishop of Canterbury as a gullible fool was an objective or merely epiphenomenal is unclear.

The Oxford Statement contains many hints that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is intended eventually to become an alternate communion, whether actually separate from the present Anglican Communion or a virtual and distinct communion within it. If indeed the current Anglican Covenant is the “final text” to be considered, then the covenant process and the Windsor process of which it is a part is dead. The attempt by some in the Communion to placate the implacable has failed.

It is time to admit that the Anglican Covenant was never “the only way forward” and now is not a way forward at all! That many of the most radically disaffected primates have promised to absent themselves from the January Primates’ Meeting in Ireland, an unexpected opportunity has presented itself. The primates of the more liberal Western churches, presumably excluding the Church of England, should insist on issuing a communiquĆ© at the end of their meeting declaring the drive for an Anglican Covenant at an end. The primates should also repudiate any authority over churches other than their own, a statement that should be applied to all primates, explicitly including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The way forward, of course, is for each Anglican church to preach and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it understands it and to keep its ecclesiastical nose out of other church’s business. The trust necessary to implement this program may be in short supply, given the bad behavior the Communion has experienced in recent years. If we want any Communion at all, however, we need to give such a program a try. If we fail, it will not be a tragedy, even though Rowan Williams may lament any new order “in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly.”


  1. So the way forward is to act like Christians? That is not gonna sell to the uber-holy!


  2. It is a sad state that the church that I have loved for so long has fractured once again.

    Having been ordained an Anglican Priest in Eastertide of 1989 and nominated a bishop in 1992 by His Grace Bishop Carey, I've seen the good and the ugly taken the church. Especially having been transferred to the states where the Episcopal Church here should and must be tried for heresy at the least and blasphemy against the Holy Scriptures at the most.

    I've joined a handful of my brethren in creating a small devote network of home churches that we pray will one day be the New Church of England. We are the Canonical Anglican Church.


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