This is part four of a continuing commentary on the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant (RCDC). Part one is HERE. Part two is HERE.Part three is HERE.
Section 3, Unity and Common Life.
This section begins with an affirmation of Baptism and Eucharist as the basis of being part of the body of Christ and for working to be together. Quickly, however, (3.1.2) matters turn to the episcopal character of the way we work together.
Here the Anglican Communion is viewed as a "Communion of Churches," and "churches" here mean a collection of dioceses in synod. "Each Church, with its bishops in synod..." All seems well until the last sentence, " 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," and of the other instruments of Communion."
The "instruments of Communion" get in the door by way of "bishops in conference" by which is meant, of course, the Lambeth Conference. It is, then bishops who are the basic structural link that makes the Anglican Communion a covenanted community. It is their mutual loyalty that is viewed as the basic linkage that are at the core of the "Instruments of Communion by which our Churches are enabled to be conformed together to the mind of Christ."
3.1.3 Continues the affirmation of the central role of bishops in the Anglican Communion, this time affirming the "historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons." It is they who "call all the baptized into the mission of Christ." The laity are called by the ordained into the mission. Here the notion that mission is to the Mission of God and, as understood as the Mission of God in Jesus Christ, is the purview of the whole people of God falls away. Baptism as the context for call to mission is not mentioned.
3.1.4 Spells out a set of affirmations related to the Instruments of Communion. We are called on to affirm their importance. They are seen as a way of discerning our common life and mission from episcopal synod to local witness. They are the familiar four: The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conferences, The Anglican Consultative Council, The Primates Meeting.
Much has been said about these Instruments and this section at least may be credited with trying to sort out matters of authority and function. But there are some pitfalls.
(I) The Archbishop of Canterbury "gathers ad works with the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting, and presides in the Anglican Consultative Council. Note "gathers and works with" in relation to Lambeth and the Primates. There is no sense here that he determines who is invited or presides. This is a bit of a step down from current practice. When the argument comes for electing the chair of the Primates Meeting or the one presiding and guiding the Lambeth gatherings, there will be no help from this Covenant.
(II) the Lambeth Conference and (III) The Anglican Consultative Council are true to the realities. The ACC description is pretty lame, given that the ACC is the driving force behind very good and important work done in the Communion, and in particular the support of various networks of interest.
(IV) "The Primates Meeting is convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury." Here what was not affirmed by (I) is at least recognized as a fact on the ground. The matter of the PM authority is grounded in the authority each Primate brings as head of church. They are described as "representatives of their Provinces." ("Provinces" replaces the word "Churches" here.) As "representatives" it could be argued that they are empowered thereby to vote on matters in the name of their churches, subject to the authority granted them by their own synods.
Here an interesting problem arises: several churches, those with Moderators and some with Presiding Bishops, do not grant their heads of church the Metropolitical authority to commit their churches to particular actions or positions. They are therefore not representatives empowered to commit their churches. It may be that none of the Primates have such power, but the matter of representation raises a concern about the decision making possibilities of the Primates.
The last paragraph of this section is the lead in to the matters that will be discussed in section 4. The instruments are all meant to support one another, and any may "initiate and commend a process of discernment and direction for the Communion and its Churches." This is of course the source of power granted the instruments, and affirmation of this section is an affirmation for the instruments to conduct hearings, investigations, etc, at will.
This section which spells out the functions of the Instruments of Communion, would have been a no-brainer, but the very clear stress on unity as a matter of the episcopacy and the jump from there to the authority of the Instruments of Communion as an extension of the centrality of episcopacy, is a reach. The conclusion of the affirmations is to affirm the notion that any of the instruments can initiate and commend, etc.
I give this section only two flamingos. The affirmations will require considerable clarification if they are to be made at all.
3.2.1 We have to commit to "have regard for the common good of the Communion in the exercise of autonomy," meaning that we ought not exercise it under certain circumstances, pay for the work of the Instruments of Communion, and pay attention to their work and counsel, and accommodate their recommendations, i.e. we commit to giving up autonomy for the common good, period.
3.2.2 The same thing said in other ways, this time stressing "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ." (MRI)
3.2.3 The commitment to spend time in discernment is the "teeth" to the notion of moratoria. They are instituted in order to give time for discussion and discernment. (See the Windsor Continuation Group Report.) So in committing to spending time we would be committing to the requests for moratoria when made by any Instrument of Communion.
3.2.4 The commitment to seek a shared mind with other Churches again is a commitment to holding back, to "gracious restraint," based on the possible inconsistencies in understanding of "Scripture, common standards of faith, and canon laws of our churches." Here for the first time the matter of "regard" is extended to the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion. The Commissions would include, for example, the Lambeth Commission on Communion which produced the Windsor Report. That Report has become an idol by not too easily justified political processes within the Primates Meetings, by what is spoken of as unanimous consent, being part of various communiques of the Primates Meetings.
3.2.5 calls for the commitment to "act with diligence, care and caution." This is the call to prudence, which unfortunately trumps compassion or prophetic action at every turn. This is the life for the Church and death for faithful living.
3.2.6 commits the churches to mediation and opens the door to the commitment to Primatial Visitations.
3.2.7 commits to holding the "highest degree of communion possible." It tells us nothing about what that means.
This section reflects the Windsor Continuation Group's work and opens out to commitments to include many of its recommendations. For this reason agreement to the Anglican Covenant now embroils us in the recommendations of the WCG's paper, which paper is not part of the Covenant. This is a Trojan horse. This section commits the churches to moratoria, prudence, mediation and measured process. It does not commit any church to respect the uneven processes as a challenge to new life, although in 3.2.3 there is an observations that "Some issues, which are perceived as controversial or new when they arise, may well evoke a deeper understanding of the implications of God's revelation to us..." There is nothing that commits us in any way to this observation.
This section gets NO flamingos. If this section of commitments were in place, the ordination of women to the priesthood would not have occurred thirty years ago, there would be no women bishops and it would be inconceivable that there would be a woman as Primate.