3/03/2010

Stephen Noll declares for an Anglican coup.

The American Anglican Council (AAC) has "released" an article, "Communion Governance: The Role and Future of the Historic Episcopate and the Anglican Communion Covenant" by the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll, Vice-Chancellor of Uganda Christian University. If you want to read the whole thing it can be found as a PDF file HERE.

The credentials of the AAC seem to be at this point that they are the overlap into The Episcopal Church of a circle of religious folk most of whom are now part of the Anglican Church in North America or of some other jurisdiction in the Anglican Communion, or both. Not all ACC members are part of ANCA, but its leadership is.

As for the good Rev. Dr. Noll, Vice-Chancellor, etc, he is Vice to the Chancellor, The Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi. (pictured to the left...cool hat, yes?) According to the web pages for UCU, "Uganda Christian University has one Vice Chancellor (President in American speak) and three Deputy Vice Chancellors (DVC)." That makes the Archbishop more or less chairman of the board.

The UCU is explicity Christian and apparently can deny students who are not Christian. "Students are admitted to the University regardless of race, ethnic background, gender, or physical disability." The "Rule of Life" makes it explicit that students "...shall shun all sexual immorality, polygamy, adultery, fornication and homosexual practice."

Noll comes to his academic qualifications to speak on the issue of Communion Governance by way of having been in the past Academic Dean and Professor of Biblical Studies, Trinity School for Ministry. He is a missionary in Uganda with Global Team Missionaries. Fulcrum describes Noll as the "the key GAFCON/FCA theologian." Reading this mess of an essay leads me to believe his talents are highly overrated and his sense of Anglicanism profoundly warped.

Like the Archbishop, he gets to wear funny hats.

This latest offering on Communion Governance is no help at all. It is a retread of his earlier thinking on what would improve the Covenant, what will make for a better Communion and just how strongly he believes The Episcopal Church ought to be barred from Anglican Communion affairs. It is thin gruel spread out over fifty pages of text. Read it if you must, but perhaps it is enough simply pass on by, there being very little new to see or contemplate here. It is a rant.

The rant is this (with the helpful gloss by the Rev. Phil Ashey):

Noll writes:
  1. The conclusion of this essay is that the one matter of principle that cannot be abandoned without abandoning our particular catholic and Anglican heritage is the responsibility of the ordained and bishops in council in particular, to rule and adjudicate matters of Communion doctrine and discipline.

  2. If this is true, then the Lambeth Conference and the Primates' Meeting (with the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding as primus inter pares) must be seen as the primary organs to deal with articulation of the faith, as happened at Lambeth 1998, and with breaches of the faith, as has not happened since then.

  3. There must be only one track: those who adopt the Covenant are members of the Communion; those who do not adopt it are not. Bp. Mouneer Anis is right: when a sufficient number of Provinces have adopted the Covenant, the ACC and its Standing Committee should stand down and be constituted solely from Covenant-keeping Provinces. (pp. 48-49)


Where in the world did Noll get this stuff?

Concerning item #1... There are no "matters of Communion doctrine and discipline" to be adjudicated. There ARE matters of doctrine and discipline for every member church and considerable and good argument for saying that there is a body of affirmations, baptismal, creedal, sacramental and canonical that are shared among all churches in the communion. But it is the national or regional church that determines compliance and adjudicates. The history of the Lambeth Conference and the careful wording of the initial call for meetings of the Primates clearly point to these meetings as advisory to and supportive of the ministries of the attending bishops and their churches and not as sources for judgment.

Concerning item #2...The statement, "the Lambeth Conference and the Primates' Meeting (with the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding as primus inter pares) must be seen as the primary organs to deal with articulation of the faith..." is, to put it plainly, garbage suitable to the primary organs responsible for waste disposal. His use of the phrase, "primary organs responsible" is unfortunate at best.

The articulation of the faith is indeed organic but not in the way Noll would have us believe. The faith is articulated primarily in the living of that faith by the people called into the body of Christ. The articulation of the faith by episcopal committee or primatial board is as likely to stupidity as is the workings of a local vestry, but since it is more likely that local vestry has to live on a day to day basis with the faith decisions that are articulated and result in actual practice, I would suggest they carry the greater weight and witness. I say that knowing how awful vestries can be.

The elements of common binding, found in articulated faith, are pretty well listed in the Anglican Covenant, parts 1,2, and 3a. I believe most of us can live within a community called to live into the content of those parts of the Covenant. But articulation of just how that faith is to be presented is everybody's work, not the bishops or primates alone.

Concerning item #3... Well, there is the crux of the issue, yes? The deal is, when a sufficient number of Provinces buy in they will constitute a majority and disband the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, establish a new central authority of the pure and undefiled. We may suppose the matter of sufficient will be of some interest to the Global South folk gathered in a few weeks. Is it a majority of the Provinces, say 19 or 20? or is it when the claimed membership of those agreeing to the covenant surpasses, say 60% of the total supposed population of the Communion? Either way, the proposal is to cut off those who do not sign on.

Of course the Anglican Covenant itself indicates nothing of this. It states that, "(4.1.6) This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons." There is nothing about any sort of majority of present members of the Anglican Communion taking control of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, by that or its new name, "The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion." (which is in the Covenant and not subject to revision as churches enter the covenant.)

I must say, however, that I share some of Dr. Noll's concerns about the invention of new roles for the Standing Committee. It is one of the reasons why we must look with great care at the implications of parts 3b and 4 of the Covenant. What is this thing? An uber-instrument of communion? Careful conversations need to take place, all the more reason to take our time in looking at this Covenant.

But here is the thing:

What Dr. Noll is suggesting is another attempt at a coup, this time not concerning the replacement of The Episcopal Church with the Anglican Church in North America, but about the replacement of The Anglican Communion as a communion of churches with a new improved Worldwide Anglican Church, righteously led by the pure.

Don't take my word for it. Read what Phil Ashey says in summation in his essay:

"Dr. Noll's essay is a breath of fresh air in our deliberations over the Covenant and the future of the Anglican Communion. This essay establishes a robust ecclesiology and model for governance that will sustain the Anglican Communion in the years ahead. We hope and pray that it will inform the prayerful deliberations of the Primates of the Global South as they prepare to discuss the adoption of the Anglican Communion Covenant and the future of Communion governance."

This paper is meant for the Primates of the Global South and outlines a way for them to argue that the only way to save the Anglican Communion is to kill it.

This is a mad and foolish essay. It would be dangerous except for the fact that it points to a world wide church that at least some of us have no intention of joining, a church with the sort of robust ecclesiology meant to replace the service which is perfect freedom with service which is, well, slavishly bound to the judgment of self appointed ecclesial masters.


7 comments:

  1. Mark

    You can disagree with Dr. Noll all you care and write about it in the strongest terms but to personally attack him using slurs like "talents highly over rated", "sense of Anglicanism proundly warped", thin gruel spreadout over fifty pages" and "It is a rant" is beneath a man of your knowledge and experience in global Anglicanism. I am sorry.


    Further, I have visited UCU,and I can tell you they do not deny non-Christians admission as students. They have a fair number of muslim students. The faculty and staff, and BOT however, must be professing Christians and sign a Statement of Faith.

    UCU has grown from 150 Divinity students in 1997 to almost 10,000 multi-discipline stdents today as the second largest University in Uganda. Its goal is to transform a nation through higher education ---and it's working. You would do well to visit UCU, Steve and Peggy Noll have done a wonderful work for the people of Uganda. They will be retiring from missionary service in August of 2010 and it is their hope and plan that the next Vice-Chancellor is an African if not a Ugandan. You can hear Dr. Noll speak at the New Wineskins Missionary Conference April 8-11 in Ridgecrest NC -- about a 6 hour drive from Lewes DE.

    ReplyDelete
  2. David Wilson... I too have visited UCU, back when it was Bishop Tucker and I agree, Dr. Noll has done a remarkable job in expanding the College into a creditable university.

    The UCU webpages do not appear as open as you claim the school to be. I once was asked to serve on a committee at Trinity School for Ministry and was told I had to sign their Statement of Faith. I responded that I already did so in the form of the Nicene Creed, and would that suffice. The answer was no, but I could be on the committee as a non-voting member. Since the committee did things by consensus it worked fine. We never voted.

    As to my grumpy remarks at the beginning, Dr. Noll's essay is a replay of things he has been saying for several years and it is clear to me that this is a restatement for the upcoming Global South meeting as an proposal for them to consider. It is un-Anglican to the core.

    I ask forgiveness for being grumpy, but I stand by my sense that Dr. Noll is doing the Anglican Communion no service in this.

    Again, I do agree with him that the Standing Committee idea is pretty awful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In order to be truly Anglican, in these days, one must advocate strenuously for a structure for the Communion that is quite un-Anglican. To "save" Anglicanism, one must become un-Anglican.

    Don't we see this same thinking among the American Relgious-Right? Take, for example, the arguments put before the courts to justify retaining the cross at Mojave National Preserve. The cross isn't really a Christian symbol at all, it seems. In order to justify keeping the Christian cross on federal lands, we have to deny that the cross really represents anything Christian. Steven Cobert (The Cobert Report) does a great bit on this. Don't know if you've seen it, but here is the link.

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/252639/october-13-2009/the-word---symbol-minded

    ReplyDelete
  4. Forgiveness asked for and forgiveness given. We all have strong feelings about stuff as Anglicans. I am a guilty as anyone in firing bullets over the internet at times.

    As you most probably know I am a graduate of Trinity. Stephen Noll was my professor of Biblical Studies and faculty advisor. I have a great deal of affection and respect for him. I have experienced him as a man of integrity but also a man of strong opinion. I beleive you're that type of man as well.

    I had to sign on to the Trinity Statement of Faith when I was a student but that was fine since it was something I agreed with theologically in addition to the Creeds.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It seems to me that at least one of the conflicts over the Covenant centers on how much authority/power will be granted to lay people and clergy in the “lower orders.” Noll’s proposal would give the Primates a much greater control over the amending process than in the present Covenant draft. While I am open to arguments in favor of this, my initial reaction is negative. As I have asserted - perhaps ad nauseem - the idea that the Lambeth resolutions are the mind of the Communion should not go unchallendged. When Arbp Williams recently described a statement of the Primates as the position of the Communion’s Bishops, I could only imagine Bishops throughout the Communion wondering when they had decided that the Primates spoke for them. Finally, Noll seems to be deeply suspicious of the polical process in the Communion and its member Churches:

    "While dooming the idea of a bicameral Communion Council, the ACC politicians proposed amending the Constitution to add five members of the Primates Standing Committee to the ACC plenary and Standing Committee (Resolution 4b and 4d)."

    I find the disdain with which he views those who were elected to represent their Churches not at all surprising, but more than enough reason for me to view his entire proposal with the greatest scepticism. Perhaps - and here I know I am being a tad snarky - Noll’s next essay can be on The Divine of Kings.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I posted the following on a similar thread at Thinking Anglicans. It might be relevant if a bit lengthy here. Given Noll's words about lawsuits, I found his participation in the Presbyterian lawsuit, totally gratuitous, telling:...

    When considering this work, it is important to remember who Stephen Noll is, his beliefs and contacts.

    It is important to remember that it was he who co-authored the draft of the CAPA Road to Lambeth document. This document approved by the Uganda House of Bishops, two years after Noll's arrival, was clear that the Road did not need to run through Canterbury.

    It is also important to remember that Noll served as associate pastor of the charismatic Truro Episcopal Church, (a now CANA congregation and principle in the Virginia cases litigation).

    It is also important to remember that, prior to moving to his current position as Vice Chancellor at Uganda Christian University, he was for several years, dean of academic affairs at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, ...clergy in good standing with his bishop Robert Duncan. At every level, then, Noll is wired into the networks attempting to influence the theology and governance of the Anglican communion. His position at Uganda Christian, like that of his colleague in Primate Orombi's Office, Alison Barfoot, is likely funded with US dollars. Uganda Christian University Partners, a fund-raising organization whose Executive Director is Mrs. Diane Stanton (wife of Dallas bishop) clearly works with Noll.

    The following, taken from the Institute for Democracy's comments on Presbyterian issues, 1999 , discusses Noll's appearances as an expert in their legal matters and his theology:

    "Charismatics, some with a bent for spiritual warfare, are playing a prominent role in the conservative movement's efforts to enforce the ban on gay ordination through the church judicial system. One of the four cases backed by the Presbyterian Coalition's task force on church discipline in 1999 was brought by Rev. Samuel Schreiner, who has been active in PRMI.15 In another of the four cases, Rev. Stephen Noll, an Episcopal priest and advocate of spiritual warfare, testified as an expert witness. Noll was put on the stand by Julius B. Poppinga, counsel for the complainants in the case against the Presbytery of Hudson River, which has resolved to allow "holy unions," same-sex partnership ceremonies, in its churches.

    In his recent book, Angels of Light, Powers of Darkness, Noll declares that "hedging out the demons is a particular responsibility of the church in its mission strategy and its inner discipline."16 He agrees with Peter Wagner's belief in the necessity of spiritual warfare to eliminate 'territorial spirits' in the mission field as well.17 Noll is especially interested in apocalyptic scenarios in which the 'active role in holy war' is transferred from 'the angels to the Christian believers.' He writes, '[Angels] convey our prayers and cheer us on, but it is our special calling to share in the bloody victory of the lamb.'18
    Posted by: EmilyH on Thursday, 4 March 2010 at 6:46pm GMT

    ReplyDelete
  7. The Instruments of Communion as instruments of governance - what a sad thought

    ReplyDelete

OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.