The Way, The Truth And the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage To A Global Anglican Future
By The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.
I have had a quick look at the GAFCON theological document. The first thing to say is that there are no ultimatums. There is no announcement of a new Anglican Communion with a headquarters in the Global South. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not anathematized. Nothing has been said which makes a solution to the present crisis which includes the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth and the existing instruments of unity impossible.
The paper opens with a recounting of the history of the crisis by Peter Akinola. This chronology brings out in a painful way how the actions of the North American churches appear to purposefully contradict and defy the efforts of the churches of the communion and the instruments of unity to resolve the crisis. The unilateralism of the North American churches is put forward in a very stark way.
The bulk of the paper puts forward in broad strokes the outlines of Biblical, Creedal and missionary Anglicanism. Three stream language is used throughout, though the document is clearly dominated by Evangelical Anglican voices. Catholic minded Anglicans will find little with which to disagree but much that concerns them that is not as carefully expressed as they might wish. The section on the sacraments could use beefing up and might sound in some ears as though the sacraments were being put forward merely as sort of audio-visual aids to the Gospel. On the other hand there is an explicit embrace of ecumenical engagement and a stated desire to cooperate with Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians in repairing the divisions in the church. This is I think vitally significant and I commend the drafters for including this statement. There is also a rejection of any superficial distinction between mission as proclamation and mission as practical neighbor love. The term used is from South America, mission integral.
The 1662 BCP, The Ordinal and 39 Articles of Religion are reasserted as the confessional center of Orthodox Anglicanism. The paper issues a call to return to a confession of Biblical faith centered on these formularies and criticizes the move in some provinces away from requiring clergy to subscribe to the articles. I think the critique of using Anglican to mean a style without content is long overdue. I value immensely these traditional formularies but I do think caution is needed here. When I teach theology of controversial issues I make a distinction between interests and positions. The union has a position that it wants an increase of hourly pay for the workers. The company offers profit sharing instead. It is sometimes possible to fulfill your interests with an even more adequate position. The Articles represent the reassertion of very important theological interests. I am not sure that the future of Anglicanism wants to bind itself in exact detail without any room for interpretation to the precise positions taken by the Articles on every issue. We do not I think want to establish the Articles as infallible. For instance with regard to sacramental theology the Articles stake out positions which represent the best way to protect an interest in having an understanding of sacrament that avoided Medieval superstition on the one hand and a Zwinglian emptying out of the sacrament on the other hand. But do we want to bind ourselves forever to the way in which sacramental issues were discussed at the time of the Reformation when all parties could only discuss the question in terms of Medieval philosophical Nominalism or when the notion of sacrifice was hampered on all sides by inadequate exegesis when there now exists a new consensus on the meaning of this Biblical term among both Evangelical and Catholic exegetes. I hope the realigned Anglicanism doesn’t position itself as if no ecumenical theology has taken place since the time of Cranmer. This is not to reject a central role for the classic formularies, just to advocate that acknowledgement of historical context and some freedom of interpretation be given an appropriate role.
Another interesting aspect of the document was the assertion of the reality of the supernatural realm for Anglicans in the Global South and how their encounter with principalities and powers is vivid, and how the anti-supernaturalism of Western intellectual culture creates real barriers in understanding.
I also had a quick look at Bishop Duncan’s opening statement. Again no bombshells were dropped. But there was a sober assessment of the “failure of the Elizabethan Settlement” and a call for “a post-colonial Anglicanism.” The most significant part of Bishop Duncan’s remarks was his expressed hope that given the impotence of the existing instruments of unity to exercise discipline in the church, new post-colonial instruments of unity would emerge out of the gathering of orthodox Anglicans.
I hope very much that the work of GAFCON will result in a strong presence of Orthodox bishops who will put forward concrete proposals for the renewal of the communion at Lambeth and that this gathering of Orthodox Anglicans will rally the vast majority of the communion to a renewed Anglicanism.