Godly Bishops

I have been nominated for bishop in the Diocese of The Rio Grande. Here are some thoughts about the episcopal office that I wrote some time ago.

Godly Bishops

By

The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.

In what follows I am going to take it as established that the historic episcopacy is a continuation of the apostolic ministry which has evolved in the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that therefore an episcopacy which has integrity and authenticity will be self-consciously seeking an ever greater conformity with the ministry of the first Apostles. One way of speaking about godliness in the episcopacy would be to enumerate all the virtues that would go into a truly consecrated character. So we would speak of prayerfulness, learning, humility, the spirit of service, zeal for souls and so on. But how might a bishop find a way into these virtues? How can the motivation to grow in real godliness be sustained? I think by dwelling on the originating encounter with the crucified and risen Lord which propels the Apostles into their ministry. Essential to the ministry of the first Apostles is that they are witnesses to the resurrection and it is in the resurrection encounters that we should expect to find the distinctive shape and power of the apostolic ministry

Three locations dominate my thinking, meditation and prayer about the apostolic office. First there is John 20:19-23. The apostles are really cowering behind closed doors and the crucified and risen one appears to them. He shows them his hands and his side. They are glad when they see the Lord and he then says to them, “Peace be with you, As the Father has sent me even so I send you.” Then the Lord breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” To be an Apostle is to be one who is sent. Jesus is the Apostle of the Father and in his turn the crucified and risen one sends out his own apostles whose mission is to create by their witness a community of witness to the crucified and risen Lord and to the presence of his Spirit. At the heart of this witness is the extension of the reconciliation which has been offered to them. That the Apostles are given the authority to proclaim the reality of reconciliation and to distinguish false from true reconciliation is not some arbitrary power but a personal authority and knowledge that comes from their own actual personal redemption and what they have learned from welcoming and embracing the one who comes to breathe into them God’s peace.

The apostolic ministry originates in a personal encounter with the saviour. There is no way for these original witnesses to claim their vocation without looking upon the one whom they have betrayed and abandoned. They cannot be reconciled to him who holds out his wounded and glorified hands without embracing their own faithlessness and sinfulness. This dynamic is portrayed even more starkly in the encounter between Jesus and Peter on the beach in the twenty first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Peter rushes to the beach where the Lord meets him over a charcoal fire and asks those excruciating questions, “Peter, do you love me?” There by that charcoal fire Peter must think of another interrogation and of his betrayal of the Lord. Peter can only answer the call to go and gather and feed the sheep by embracing the fire of his own sin. The connection between a personal confession of sin and the reception of the call to gather in and feed the flock of Christ that is being driven home to Peter on the beach in Galilee is there as well behind those closed doors in Jerusalem. The reception of the crucified and risen one’s commission to go and tell the nations begins necessarily with a personal sense of sinfulness and failure which is provoked by the sudden breaking in of the undeserved forgiveness of God. I am not speaking so much of a particular type of conversion experience but of the reality of knowing oneself as a betrayer and crucifier of the Lord and knowing oneself as the recipient of an undeserved and costly forgiveness. There is a place where shame and joy grow together, where a growing consciousness of the enormity of human sin and rebellion and a consciousness of the astonishing goodness of the seeking, searching, sacrificial love of God grow together. In this place which is at once a place of deep humiliation and deep peace, the words of the Lord “even so I send you,” can be rightly heard and when heard are an irresistible invitation to return love for love. Here the human race is being remade by a new genesis, a new inspiration of God’s Spirit. From this place the forgiveness of sins can be declared and the lost sheep of the Father gathered in. Here is the wellspring of godliness in the ministry of bishop and shepherd. The way into this place is the way of humility, of lowliness and of deepening repentance.

The third scriptural location I propose is suggested to me by Lesslie Newbigin. It is Paul’s encounter with the crucified and risen Lord on the road to Damascus, recorded in Acts 9. Paul is a persecutor of the church of God and is thrown to the ground by his encounter with the Lord. Lying in the dust he hears the Lord say to him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Here we have the same revelation of sinfulness and of utterly undeserved love and forgiveness which strips Paul of any righteousness of his own. The disciples in Jerusalem, Peter on the beach and Paul on the road all share in the same humiliation which is at once an exaltation, in the same death which is at once life. In Paul’s circumstance an aspect of this originating apostolic encounter is made especially clear. In order to embrace his call to be an apostle, Paul must not only confess himself as God’s enemy but in order to grasp the wounded and glorified hand stretched out to him, Paul must also grasp the hands of those he has persecuted. Paul must recognize the nascent church as the body of Christ. Paul cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled to God’s people. Paul recognizes that God is building a new people which shall be marked off not by the works of the law but by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah. Paul recognizes that God’s promise to recreate humanity, to reconcile the nations in a renewed Israel is coming true in and through Jesus. In Paul’s call we learn that to be a witness to the resurrection is to be at one and the same time a witness to the reality of the new Israel which is the body of the Christ.

Just these few encounters we have considered point us to elements that are at the heart of the ministry of episcopacy and which if they are held fast set a person on the same road toward holiness and godliness trod by the first Apostles. We learn that the apostolic ministry begins with a deep and personal apprehension of the forgiveness of sins by the crucified and risen Lord. That included in this forgiveness and reconciliation with God is the fact of the church and the body of Christ and that the new human life that comes in this encounter by the gift of the Spirit propels one into the life of mission, evangelization and witness.

The witness and authority of the original Apostles is intensely personal. They stand before the world as men personally convicted and personally redeemed by their encounters with the crucified and risen Lord. It is possible for us to distinguish between the evangelical concern for personal faith and the catholic concern for the body of Christ and for the apostolic ministry as a vital organ in the body of Christ, but these elements are encountered in the Bible always simultaneously as inextricably intertwined. The first Apostles are living proof and a sacramental sign of the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation with God and the reality of the one body dependent on its one head, by their very presence. The message authenticates the person and the person authenticates the message.( It is of course possible for those who succeed in this office for this relationship between person and message to be impaired and this is perhaps the source of ungodliness in episcopal ministry.)

We come to our encounter with the crucified and risen one through the testimony of these original witnesses as that testimony is transmitted to us through the Word of God and through the succession of apostolic teaching and witness. The challenge for the contemporary bishop who wishes to stand in the shoes of the original Apostles is to dwell in and upon the Word of God in such a way that this originating apostolic encounter becomes real and personal and having once found this originating moment of encounter to return to it again and again and let it be the engine of the bishop’s teaching, preaching and witness. This call to return again and again to epicenter of the apostolic earthquake is a call to prayer and contemplation. It is a call to a life of study of the Bible and of the faithful teachers who by God’s grace make a faithful succession to the Apostles possible. It is call to mission, to evangelization, to invite others into this encounter (which is bound to come in different ways for different people) with the crucified and risen Lord.

This call is also a call to guarding the unity of the church. The new life with God which the saviour comes to bring us at so great a price is a new life with each other no less than with God. It is the restoration of God’s plan that he should be our Father and we should be his children and loving brothers and sisters of each other. At the center of the apostolic experience of forgiveness is the reality of the one people of God and the body of Christ. The Apostles witness to the reality of the forgiveness of sins not just as an idea, as a teaching of the master, but as something which he has accomplished by his costly work and which has now through the power of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit appeared. The unity of the college of the apostles in witness and in love is part of the Gospel which they proclaim. The Bible already tells the sad story that this testimony can be marred by a lack of unity and by attempts to find the center of the church in anything other than the forgiveness of sins brought by the death and resurrection of the Lord. If the secret of godliness in the episcopacy is dwelling upon the personal invitation to confession and the personal offer of redemption given by the outstretched, wounded and glorified hand of the risen one, then the bishop seeking godliness will want to lead the whole church back to this one cornerstone that it might be built up in unity and by the Spirit of love which is breathed by Christ into his church at just this point. There must be an impatience with anything which would seek to define the church on any other basis and there must be a resolute resistance to any attempt to draw the church away from utter dependence on the actual death and resurrection of her Lord. A godly bishop is one who stands in the center of the church as an authentic and personal sign of the reality of forgiveness and new life with God and among people which comes through the utter dependence of the whole church upon its one head and upon the actual events of the death and resurrection of the Lord.

Quote of the Day

From In One Body Through The Cross: The Princeton Proposal on Christian Unity

71. The disciplines of unity are penitential. As St. Paul teaches, for the sake of unity we must be willing to suspend gospel freedom and conform to the limitations of the weak. This process will ascetical; it will necessarily involve the sacrifice of real but limited goods for the sake of greater good. We are convinced, however, that this ascetical dimension is necessary if the ecumenical project of modern Christianity is to move forward. Unity will require our churches not only to renounce the selfishness and insularity that we all dislike and easily see as sinful. It will also require our churches to embrace a spiritual poverty that has the courage to forego genuine riches of a tradition for the sake of a more comprehensive unity in the truth of the gospel.

Carl Braaten on Theological Roots of the Mainline Crisis

The fifth issue is about the Church as a divine institution and the challenge of the democratic
cult of egalitarianism. We live in a democracy, and we have a right to be thankful for that. Democracy
is a form of government, as Abraham Lincoln orated in his Gettysburg Address, “of the
people, by the people, and for the people.” But the church is not a democracy. It is not “of the
people and by the people.” It is of God! Christ is king, the Lord of the church. Mistakenly we
often take our doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” to mean that we are all equal in the
church. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is important; it means that we all have
equal access to Jesus Christ who is the sole Mediator between God and human beings. It is not a
definition of the church. Ordination is a sign that God calls certain ones to be leaders. Hebrews
13:17 says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.”
Some are shepherds, some are sheep. Authority in the church must be a function of the ministry
to which God has given special responsibility to make the church the church, where the gospel is
truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Gnostics don’t like that and never
have.

Read the whole thing here.

Lutheran Theologian Carl Braaten On The Loss Of Doctrinal Nerve

the ELCA has succumbed to the same ailment as liberal
Protestantism. What is that? Modern Protestantism is an amalgamation of historic
Christianity and the principles of the Enlightenment, its rationalism, subjectivism, and
anthropocentrism. The underlying assumption is the neo-gnostic belief in the innerdwelling
of God, such that everyone is endowed with the inner light that only needs to
be uncovered. The light of truth does not shine through the Scriptures and the Christian
tradition as much as through scientific reason and individual experience. This is what
happened in Minneapolis: appeals to reason and experience trumped Scripture and
tradition, punctuated with pious injunctions of Lutheran slogans and clichés. The majority
won. And they said it was the work of the Spirit, forgetting that the Holy Spirit had
already spoken volumes through the millennia of Scriptural interpretation, the councils
of the church, and its creeds and confessions.

Read the whole thing here

Dr. David Yeago On The Crisis In The ELCA

I hear instead a great deal of scolding about the bad manners and overheated rhetoric of
traditionalists. These are certainly real enough, though not universal. I have counseled
traditionalists to beware the poisonous affects of anger and resentment, and I will continue to do
so. But the demand for civility is a time-honored ploy by the powerful, deliberate or not, to
control or exclude the less powerful: “You don’t get to speak unless you speak politely, and we
decide what’s polite.” This is a distraction from the far more significant question: What will the
powerful do with their power? The future of the ELCA will in large measure be determined by
the degree to which those who support the Assembly actions are practically committed to
retaining fellowship with those who reject them. Traditionalists should be ready to acknowledge
and respect such commitment when it appears, and that will require spiritual discipline and selfcriticism
on our part. But the traditionalists do not have the power to decide whether space will
be provided for them in the ELCA.

Read the whole thing here

Commentary on the Anglican Covenant 2009

Comments on the December 2009 Text of the Anglican Covenant

Introduction to the Covenant Text

The introduction gives a general theological background for the covenant and finds the call both to communion and to covenant in the scriptural story of salvation. An important connection is made between the unity of the church and the mission of reconciliation especially in paragraphs 3 and 4 and a recognition that the disunity of the church contradicts its mission of reconciling the divided human race with the Father. There is nothing especially remarkable or controversial here and many of the most positive themes of contemporary ecumenical thought about mission are echoed. The references to the Trinity, to scripture and tradition and to mission are commendable. I wish there were a more fulsome treatment of the role of the death and resurrection of Christ as the unique and irreplaceable means by which God has reconciled us to Himself. The only way in which the communion of the church can be held together will be by finding again and again the center of its life in the death and resurrection of the Lord. It is the death of the savior that both calls us and makes it possible for us to die to self that we might be reconciled to God and each other.

Preamble

The preamble pledges the covenanting churches to the following “affirmations and commitments.” A rationale is given that the covenant is so that churches “may proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the Gospel.” It seems odd to me that in the preamble of a document that must of necessity treat what is indispensably universal the contextual is being stressed. The North American churches deeply captivated by the philosophy of pluralism have used the rhetoric of contextualization as a major rationale for their innovations. Inevitably one wonders if phrases such as this represent the nose of the pluralist camel poking into the covenantal tent.

Section 1.

Section 1.1 is a reworking of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The classic formularies of the English Reformation including the original prayer books and the 39 articles are referenced as “authentic witnesses” to the received faith of the church. Some will be disappointed that the classic formularies are not recognized in a more authoritative manner, though this statement reflects the reality of the way they function in the different churches of the Communion. The catholic creeds are recognized as the “sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” The problem that the churches of the West face is that it is now possible for those with certain post modern sensibilities to profess the creeds and mean by professing them something less than a universal claim to truth.

Section 1.2.1 commits the covenanting churches to “teach and act in continuity and consonance with Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, as received by the Churches of the Anglican Communion, mindful of the common councils of the Communion and our ecumenical agreements.” This sets a relatively high bar for any innovation, particularly if ecumenical agreements are to be brought to bear as well as Communion councils and agreements. Clearly the recent actions of both The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada could not pass this test. The word “mindful” could become a weasel word for those determined to push ahead of the common mind of the Communion but the results will be evaluated at the same level at which the councils are held. If adhered to in good faith this commits the covenanting churches to a very different process than the current one of churches acting “prophetically” creating facts on the ground and then letting the Communion play catch up.

1.2.2 through 1.2.6 details the commitment of the covenanting churches to “a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition.” In terms of Communion discipline these paragraphs seem less significant to me and somewhat equivocal. They commit the churches to communal bible reading and emphasize the teaching role of bishops and synods and scholars. Mention is also made of openness to “prophetic leadership” which is worry making from a North American perspective. Throughout this section there is language that could be taken as unexceptional teaching about the role of the Bible in the church but likewise could be taken as opening the way for so called “Sprit” led prophetic interpretations and actions such as we have had in North America. 1.2.1 is the paragraph which gives the most hope to traditionalists in this section.

1.2.7 references the “solemn obligation to nurture and sustain eucharistic communion, in accordance with existing canonical disciplines. . .” This cuts in two directions laying on the covenanting churches an obligation not to take actions which are likely to create impaired communion. Likewise it would make so called border crossings done unilaterally a covenant violation.

1.2.8 “to pursue a common pilgrimage with the whole Body of Christ” is a call to ecumenical attentiveness and sensitivity which is entirely wholesome and a mission imperative.

Section 2.

Section 2 is about the “Anglican vocation.” Sections 2.1.1 through 2.1.5 root the Anglican Communion in the ancient church, in the English Reformation and the mission movement which has brought Anglicanism to the Global South. The emergence of a world-wide communion of interdependent churches is attributed to the providence of God and a call to deeper common life and mission is discerned.

2.2.1 through 2.2.5 spell out the common mission to which the churches of the Communion are called, which includes evangelization, catechesis, work for justice and peace and ecological stewardship.

Section 3

Section 3.1.1 through 3.1.3 affirms the desire of the covenanting churches to live “in communion with autonomy and accountability.” Each church is to be self governing through its own laws and governance and bishops in synod. “The Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together ‘not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference”16 and of the other instruments of communion.'”

The vision here is of church order and discipline being maintained by mutual submission of each church to the other and to a common set of values and norms as opposed to the order of the church being imposed by a central executive such as in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a conciliar and synodical vision of church order in which the bishops as designated guardians of the faith and leaders of their local churches must of necessity play a key role. It is a noble vision with deep Patristic roots which depends heavily on the personal pastoral ministry of the bishops and especially their willingness to tackle difficult issues in council and then to stand by their common teaching. For this vision to come to life in the churches of the West will require a renewal of the office of the bishop as a teacher and steward of Apostolic doctrine.

3.1.4 identifies the instruments of unity of the Anglican Communion as 1) the Archbishop of Canterbury is a first among equals of the bishops of the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury gathers the Lambeth Conference, The Primates Meeting and The Anglican Consultative Council. The Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting are designated as the places where the teaching office of the bishops comes to Communion-wide expression. The Anglican Consultative Council is identified as having a “facilitating” and “coordinating” role. This explanation of the instruments of unity gives a priority to the pronouncements of Lambeth and the Primates Meeting on doctrinal and moral matters. This appears to me in line with the traditional understanding of the charism and role of the bishops in the church but will be a disappointment to many in The Episcopal Church who seem to believe that the teaching charism of the church resides in the synod with the most lay representation. The instruments of unity are called to consult with and respond to each other but may also initiate “a process of discernment and direction.” This presumably means that any one instrument may take the lead in responding to challenges and crises in the Communion.

Section 3.2 deals with the interdependent life of the Communion. 3.2.2 commits the churches to uphold each other’s constitutional authority while upholding mutual responsibility to the Communion as a whole. This commitment would call into question both the unilateral innovations and the border-crossing responses to these innovations.

3.2.3 “to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God.” This commits the churches to a willingness to take up on a Communion-wide basis controversial issues but makes action lacking a Communion consensus covenant-breaking.

3.2.6 “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations, which involve face to face meetings, agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through” is significant and likewise would slow down Communion-threatening innovations. In the past secular experts in mediation have been suggested for these mediated conversations. There has arisen in the last several decades an impressive level of expertise in dispute mediation and the church should avail itself of this wisdom but not as a substitute for the personal pastoral role of the bishops who must be the chief reconcilers and peacemakers.

(3.2.7) “to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible.” This statement is clearly a plea to keep communion as a high priority. I think it could be made stronger by more explicitly anchoring it in the theology of redemption that Christ has come to establish the unity of the divided human race with God through the blood of the cross and the disunity of the church is a countersign of the Gospel.

Section 4.

This is the section of the covenant that outlines a process for the resolution of disputes and that has produced the most discussion and disagreement. The commentary by the drafting group says that they took on board the desire expressed by some of the Provinces that the tone of this section should not be punitive or judicial. Nevertheless they have thought that the “relational” consequences of covenant-breaking behavior needed to be spelled out.

4.1.1 uses properly theological language about covenant by defining entry into the covenant as first of all an act of submission to God. Covenants theologically are not merely contractual agreements between equals but an undertaking of faith and obedience to God. This creates an appropriately solemn understanding of the meaning of entering into this covenant with other churches of the Communion.

4.1.3 assures the churches that entrance into the covenant does not compromise the autonomy of any church or submit an autonomous province to the governance of any other church or structure.

4.1.4 defines churches that are being invited to adopt the covenant as the national or provincial Churches which constitute the membership of the Anglican Consultative Council. Examples would be The Episcopal Church, U.S.A. or The Anglican Church of Nigeria. In the commentary it is noted that, unless provincial canons forbid, local dioceses may affirm the covenant as an expression of solidarity but this would have at the present no more than a symbolic significance and would not make them officially members of the Communion in their own right apart from their province.

4.1.5 outlines the possibility for invitation to be extended by the instruments of communion to other churches which are not currently members of the Anglican Consultative Council to affirm the covenant. This would not automatically settle the question of their membership in the Communion which would be handled by the ACC according to the existing rules for adding to the membership. This paragraph provides the possibility for dioceses in provinces that do not affirm the covenant to be invited to sign in their own right and then apply for membership in the Communion in their own right through the ACC. Likewise if the Anglican Church in North America should become a member of the Anglican Communion this would be the mechanism. This is the provision which provides the greatest potential cost to The Episcopal Church if it refuses the covenant. This provision makes possible, albeit after many years of slow-moving ecclesiastical process, a scenario in which there are one or more entities in North America who are in the Anglican Communion while The Episcopal Church is out.

4.1.6 affirms that the covenant becomes active for a church upon adoption and therefore the church is from that moment bound to act in accordance with the covenant.

4.2 outlines the process for the settlement of disputes.

4.2.2 identifies the new Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion which has evolved from the joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates as the body which will monitor “functioning of the covenant in the life of the Communion” and advise the other instruments of unity on problems as they arise. The standing committee is made up of representatives elected from their ranks by the Primates and the ACC.

4.2.3 reminds the covenanting churches that when objections are made to actions which individual churches have taken which are regarded by other covenanting churches or any of the instruments of unity as problematical it is the duty of each church to strive to come to consensus in advance of the invocation of any official process. This amounts to an exhortation to the covenanting churches to abide by both the spirit and the letter of the covenant. Churches are referred back to the commitments of 3.2.

4.2.4 makes the Standing Committee the normal first stop for the handling of disputes and gives to the committee the mandate to facilitate agreement. The committee may ask ACC and or the Primates for advice and assistance. The committee may seek advice about the seriousness of the issue and the relational consequences that might ensue. The Standing Committee thus is charged with making a first determination of whether an issue is potentially covenanting-breaking.

4.2.5 The Standing Committee may ask a church to refrain from a particular action which it regards as having covenant-breaking potential. If the Church in question declines to refrain the Standing Committee may recommend to any of the Instruments of Unity relational consequences which shall be in place while the matter is further adjudicated. This is a provision for a temporary suspension from the meetings and life of the Communion.

4.2.6 “On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant.” The wording here is significant. The Standing Committee makes a determination about whether an action is incompatible with the covenant not altogether on its own but on the basis of advice received from the ACC and the Primates. It is not clear to me what might happen if these advisors disagreed. Perhaps this is unlikely given the overlap in membership between the ACC and the Primates but it seems to me a potential trouble spot.

4.2.7 gives the Standing Committee the ability on the basis of the advice given to make recommendations to the Instruments of Communion and to the Churches of the Communion of the relational consequences that ought to ensue from the covenant-breaking action of any member Church. The consequences are I think kept purposively vague in order to avoid “a judicial tone.” In practice exclusion from the meetings of Lambeth, The Primates and ACC and a declaration that a Church is not a covenanting member of the Anglican Communion are the most extreme actions that can be taken.

Each member Church and each Instrument of Unity is free to decide for itself whether or not it will take up these disciplinary recommendations of the Standing Committee. One can imagine a situation in which for instance TEC refuses the covenant and various Provincial Churches while refraining from covenant-breaking action of their own yet maintain their ties and intercommunion with TEC. Whether the maintaining of ties by a covenanting Church with a non-covenanting Church or a Church determined to have recently broken the covenant will be regarded by other member Churches as covenant-breaking remains to be seen.

4.2.8 Decision making about covenant issues in the Standing Committee and other instruments of unity will be limited to those churches who have adopted the covenant or are in the process of adopting it. This gives some of the Western Provinces an incentive to drag out the time in which they consider the covenant. On the other hand, a Church which has definitely rejected the covenant would not automatically be excluded from participation in the instruments of unity but would not be able to adjudicate issues which come up under section 4 of the covenant.

4.2.9 commits the Provinces to establish structures and mechanisms for supporting the operation of the covenant internal to their churches and able to respond and work with the Standing Committee.

4.3 has to do with withdrawing from the covenant.

4.3.1 makes provision for a Church to withdraw from the covenant. Such a withdrawal does not automatically mean withdrawal from the Instruments of Unity but it may open the Church to a complaint under section 4.

4.4 Concerns the text of the covenant and its amendment.

4.4.1 defines the text of the covenant as the preamble, sections 1 through 4 and the declaration. The introduction is not part of the text but is to be given authority in interpreting the text.

4.4.2 outlines a process for amending the text which can be initiated by any covenanting Church or any of the Instruments of Unity but which will take three quarters of covenanting Churches to ratify.

The Declaration

Declares the churches to be subscribers to the covenant described above for the sake of service in the truth and love of Christ. The document ends with the benediction from Hebrews 13: 20-21.

 

 

My concluding thoughts

The Anglican constitutional and canon law tradition is a minimalist tradition. I remember studying at Boston College, a Jesuit university, during my doctoral work and always being able to find a chair and table in the library’s canon law room which had shelves and shelves of books on Roman Catholic canon law. There was one whole wall devoted to canon law for the various religious societies. In contrast the canon law of The Episcopal Church or any of its dioceses is one smallish book. Our tradition is the minimum of ecclesiastical jurisprudence that is needed to maintain the order of the church. This covenant is in that tradition. I wish that it were more robust in places but I think it adequate to be the basis of an ongoing life of mutual submission and growth in unity and mission for the Anglican Communion but much will depend on the integrity of the individuals who will be because of their office the stewards of this covenant.

When I was a young man and entering into a business contract for the first time, I asked my father for some advice about the enforceability of a particular contract. He told me that if a man’s word wasn’t any good, his paper wasn’t any good either. In many cases the current chaos that we are experiencing in the Churches of the Anglican Communion is not a result of a lack of articulated rules and procedures of church discipline, but is the result of an unwillingness by those charged with the stewardship of the order of the church to enforce such discipline as has already been established. This version of the Anglican Covenant is a minimalist document. It does clarify issues of communion life and order and provide an agreed-upon process for handling disputes. It can be a real instrument for growth in truth, unity and mission, but only if those to whom the responsibility has been given to be stewards of the church’s order have the necessary moral courage to fulfill their office.