10/24/2006

High Protein Food for the Anglican Mind

In the past week several high protein intellectual meals have been served up for those of us needing to feed the little grey cells. In particular I wish to point to two essays, one from the Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (IATDC), titled, “Responding to a proposal of a covenant - October 2006 and the other an essay by Bishop Joe Doss, titled “The Anglican Constitution” and published on The Episcopal Majority web site.

Both are worth a solid read. Neither is on the surface exciting, but each will feed further thinking. They are in some ways like materials from Ephraim Radner, my favorite writer from wherever he stands, mostly across the divide from me. They both feed and confound, give energy and some light, and mostly further conversations.
The IATDC document gives some thought to the matter of covenant. I pull several tasty bits from it to encourage further reading:

“1.10. The notion of ‘covenant’ has not been prominent to date within Anglican traditions of polity and organisation (‘covenantal’ language has, of course, been familiar from teachings on, for instance, baptism and marriage). But the picture of the church developed by the sixteenth-century Reformers, by great theoreticians like Hooker (who explored the notion of ‘contract’), and by many subsequent writers, sets out models of church life for which ‘covenant’, with the biblical overtones explored briefly above, may serve as a convenient, accurate and evocative shorthand. Recent discussions of Anglican identity, addressing the uncertainty as to how Anglicans are bound together around the world, have explored the notion of ‘bonds of affection’, the powerful though elusive ties that hold us together in friendship and fellowship. This kind of relational bonding, we believe, remains central to any appropriate understanding of our shared communion.”

For prideful reasons, namely that I have suggested contract rather than covenant language myself, I like this paragraph. But more, the document addresses the possibility of relational bonding as core to our common life and central to any idea we might have of covenant.

“2.3 A covenant for the Anglican Communion should reflect the memory of Anglican historical traditions and also summarise our present understanding of ‘the Anglican way’. In addition, it should provide a way forward, a way of re-committing to the whole project of an Anglican Communion understood as God’s gift and God’s commandment: a vocation to be realised rather than a fact already achieved. The covenant as a vision for mission both stresses the importance of the work to be done and binds its members to one another for greater effectiveness in accomplishing it.”


This suggestion that an Anglican Covenant ought to concern our understanding of “the Anglican Way” leads nicely into several tidbits from Bishop Doss’s essay. The matter of an Anglican Way gives rise to an interesting question, one which is at the core of the essay, “The Anglican Constitution.”

I have slid too easily into thinking that just because there is no written Constitution for the Anglican Communion that there isn’t one. Bishop Doss is quite correct to remind us that there can indeed be a Constitution, an unwritten one, made up of elements some of which Bishop Doss enumerates early on in his essay. He writes:

“The articles of the Anglican Constitution currently under attack are:
  1. the interlocking traditions concerning Anglican comprehensiveness, the via media, and lex orandi lex credendi

  2. the authority of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition

  3. baptismal bonds and community as communion

  4. episcopal oversight and jurisdiction, provincial autonomy, and the diocese as the basic and local unit of the Church in relation to congregations, the province, and the Anglican Communion

  5. the mission of the Church, especially in terms of justice.”
Bishop Doss is particularly sensitive to an international element of the sixth of the items listed, “the mission of the Church, especially in terms of justice.” He states,

“The underlying, although perhaps dominant, issues in the present conflict reveal much deeper resentment against Western powers and Western culture, caused by colonialism and the dominating wealth, power, privilege, and international standing still enjoyed by the industrialized West. The need is to satisfy deep-seated frustration over many forms of repression, condescension, and cultural destruction and to change the moral order that has allowed it. The Western churches are obliged to engage, with manifest and genuine humility, those Anglican provinces that emerged from colonies in the more difficult conversation about Western dominance, but our conversation begins with our acceptance of minority status within the Communion, together with the minority status of certain theological innovations conducive to Western cultural adaptations. The impact of the new relationships and the constitutional dynamic within Anglicanism will be much like the relational and constitutional developments among old colonial powers and emerging non-white nations within the international community of nations, that is, in international constitutional law.”


His cautionary tale here is that the Anglican Constitution, unwritten as it is, must be seen as a parallel to international constitutional forms, not national ones. The Anglican Constitution concerns matters of sovereignty as well as the necessity for common practice and life.
About that he later says,

“…faithful witness demands critical examination of assumptions and values of that culture in light of the Church’s mission.
This is so clearly the experience of the Church in all times and in all places that we must read Scripture with a watchful view to the culture’s failure to carry out the mind of Christ. The message of the prophets influences our reading of all Biblical revelation: God is vindicator of the oppressed. God’s word stands against all ideology and all cultural institutions that serve the interests of the powerful in ways that harm the less powerful. Jesus joined with the powerless, the slaves, and the outcasts. Consequently, authentic Biblical witness defies any theology of dominance. Of course, as a human witness, the Bible also carries within itself coded oppression; it too, is a bearer of ideology.”

All I can offer here is a taste. For a full meal go to:
IATCD’s article HERE. And
Bishop Doss’s article HERE.

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