In case there are readers who think the only thing going on in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church is the mighty row about gay people in the church or the force of Scriptures or the terrible Episcopal Church and its unorthodox ways, here is a bit of concern drawn from the mostly unnoticed effort to find some principles of canon law in the Anglican Communion.
The Anglican Communion Legal Advisers Consultation put together a paper for the 2008 Lambeth Conference. That paper, as revised by the Conference conversation itself, is being published in two parts in The Philippine Episcopalian. Apparently the Episcopal Church in the Philippines is taking this paper seriously as informing to their own members. There has been virtually no conversation elsewhere in blog land about this text and I cannot find a full version of the revised text anywhere. I am sure learned readers will point me to a copy.
The paper is organized in sections and each section continues the numbering of principles. Principle 48, on the sources of doctrine, struck me as interesting.
Principle 48: The sources of doctrine
1. The faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ is taught in the Holy Scriptures, held in the
Primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the ancient Fathers and
undisputed General Councils.
2. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary to
salvation and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
3. The Apostles` Creed represents the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed is recognized as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
4. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal1662 are grounded in Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to Holy Scriptures.
5. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal 1662 represent the historic sources of lawful doctrine for a church.
The language is not particularly helpful. "The faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ" could be a reference to His faith or to the faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ as expressed by those who are his followers. I believe this section is referring to the latter.
Section 2 is a repeat of the first statement of the Chicago - Lambeth Quadrilateral, Lambeth version.
Section 3 refers to the Apostles' Creed as "the Baptismal Symbol." Again an odd usage, requiring liturgical and theological discussion of the term "symbol." Still, we get the point - it is the faith as pointed to and affirmed when a person is baptized. There is of course no mention of a baptismal covenant, such as we have in the 1979 BCP in The Episcopal Church. That is too bad. The notion of covenant in baptism is already there in previous liturgies in the renunciations and affirmations made prior to baptism. The Baptismal Covenant spells out what those renunciations and affirmations look like in practice.
Section 4 makes the case that the Thirty-Nine Articles, the BCP and Ordinal 1662 are grounded in Holy Scriptures and the Ancient Fathers and Councils. This is the wind up for the pitch, which is Section Five.
Section 5 then states that the 39 Articles and the BCP/Ordinal 1662 "represent the historic sources of lawful doctrine for a church." The chain is Word-Word written-Scripture-Creeds-39 Articles and BCP 1662-lawful doctrine.
It may be that the 39 Articles and the 1662 BCP/Ordinal are "historic sources" materials for lawful doctrine, but on the grounds admitted in the Articles themselves, all councils may err including the ones that produced the 39 Articles and the BCP 1662. So does "historic sources" mean? Surely they are not the sole sources of doctrine? Of course not. But that is not clear from the proposition, and further, given the wind up for the pitch, it would seem otherwise.
It is also important to note that the sources for "lawful doctrine," do not include sources that arise out of the practice of people... the source that arises from people praying, witnessing, sharing, coping, etc. People and their practice are not part of these "principles," in part because the possibility that people's theology and doctrine are to be judged by the linkage that gives us the 39 Articles and BCP as authoritative, rather than judged by the faith in Jesus Christ directly. Doctrine is authoritative for people's faith, not because of people's faith. Nothing in this principle addresses doctrine as a product of practice.
It is unclear just how these Principles of Canon Law might be modified or by whom. But it is clear that as they stand they are not clear enough.