There was a time, not too many months ago, when the realignment crowd would pull out the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church(TEC) and gleefully inform anyone who would listen that if The Episcopal Church were not in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) it would cease to be Anglican. This was often a prelude to a larger argument that somehow not being in communion with Canterbury would mean that (i) TEC would lose its franchise as the US member of the Anglican Communion, and (ii) TEC's leadership would be in violation of its own Constitution and therefore not TEC at all.
But times change. The realignment community is regrouping. It appears that the ABC is not particularly interested in breaking communion with TEC; It is increasingly clear that the Preamble to the Constitution of TEC is not an item of the Constitution that is proscriptive, but rather descriptive; and, most importantly, there is a growing sense by the realignment crowd that being Anglican and being part of the Anglican Communion are different sorts of things.
So we have the following tasty tidbits of new found truths coming from various sectors of the realignment world:
The first is this, posted on the Global South webpages:
"Letter in the Church of England Newspaper July 26 2007
Some recent statements have raised the question of what defines being an Anglican church. It is worth remembering that a number of Anglican churches have already pointed out that Anglican churches have from their beginnings seen themselves as part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. That is much more than a matter of formal conformity with a particular see or institution, or attendance at a specific gathering within the Communion, no matter how venerable. It is, rather, founded on a commitment to faithfulness to the scriptures as the supreme authority in matters of faith and conduct and the catholic creeds. That commitment requires agreement in faith, holiness of life, and biblically faithful teaching. Only thus can the leaders of our churches enable the Communion to remain part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, positioned for global mission.
The Most Rev Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney
The Rt Rev Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and President of the Church of England Evangelical Council
The Rt Rev Colin Bazley, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Chester and former Primate of the Southern Cone
Canon Ben Enwuchola, Chaplain to the Nigerian Community in Britain."
Then there is this, from Matt Kennedy, no shirker in the battles for the hearts and minds etc in a short article of his titled, A Hard Truth.
"And the most profound question is this: Is Canterbury essential to Anglicanism?
My own answer, as you might have guessed, is "no". What is yours?
The way various parties, far more powerful and influential, answer that fundamental question will determine the ultimate shape of the Communion."
Such worthies as the Archbishop of York and Dr. Ephraim Radner raise cautionary flags about separating ecclesiology from Gospel, but the work is already afoot for some of the more strident of the realignment community to suggest that realignment might also mean distancing from Canterbury.
This of course is all pretty much the view of the Global South Steering Committee (GSSC)– which is now, more or less, the core of the group of Primates committed to an Anglicanism purified of Western heresy. The GSSC has adopted "The Road to Lambeth" as their text of the day. It says in part,
"The current situation is a twofold crisis for the Anglican Communion: a crisis of doctrine and a crisis of leadership, in which the failure of the "Instruments" of the Communion to exercise discipline has called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith, as is supposed by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Due to this breakdown of discipline, we are not sure that we can in good conscience continue to spend our time, our money and our prayers on behalf of a body that proclaims two Gospels, the Gospel of Christ and the Gospel of Sexuality."
The GSSC has openly declared its lack of confidence in the "Instruments of Communion," including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Deep in "The Road to Lambeth" there is this important statement:
"We believe that the initiative for the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant should rest with the Global South churches. We do not have confidence that a Covenant produced by those churches that have caused or condoned the theological crisis will reflect the strong biblical and theological core that a reformed Communion needs. In particular, we call on our African churches to lead in sponsoring a Covenant Assembly for the Global South leaders where we may gather and seek God's guidance for the future of the Communion."
The GSSC is gearing up for a some rapid fire actions: (i) an alternative to the process for developing a Covenant based on (ii) a gathering of the Global South so-called "orthodox" Provinces in a "Covenant Assembly" distinct from and perhaps replacing participation in The Lambeth Conference, (iii) the overt call for a "reformed Communion" and (iv) a declaration that being Anglican and being in communion with the now more or less decadent Church of England are not at all related.
So long as the arguments were about whether or not TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada were to be part of the Anglican Communion as currently constituted, communion with Canterbury was seen as essential to being part of the Anglican Communion and being truly Anglican. Now that the arguments are about a reformed Communion (realignment writ large) all bets are off. Canterbury is a growing burden for this second sort of realignment.
Stephen Noll's recently released letter to Network Bishops and Dioceses gives an important glimpse into how the Network and Common Cause Partners play into this "reformed Communion" scheme. Near the end of his message he says the following:
"Finally, a word from the Global South. Bishops of the Global South have stood firm against the heresy of TEC for a decade now. Lambeth 1.10 would not have happened but for their insistence, nor the recent Primates' Communiqué. They have harbored many refugees from our shores and refused money dangled before them by 815 & Co. They expect and deserve your strong and united response."
Dr. Noll may be entirely wrongheaded (and I think he is) but he is no fool. When he says, "a word from the Global South" he is carrying a message for others – the GSSC leadership in particular. The signal that "they expect and deserve your strong and united response" is a reminder of the promises gotten from those who met with the GSSC group last November – promises to act with a united and strong voice, with Bishop Duncan as the lead voice, and to act in concert with the directions provided by the GSSC itself.
So at the moment the question as to whether being in communion with the see of Canterbury is or is not somehow essential to Anglicanism or to a "reformed Anglican Communion" stands. It is increasingly clear that the GSSC and fellow travelers are going to say "no."
If this happens there will be at least two different sorts of worldwide Anglican entities, more if you count some of the currently international but not-in-communion bodies. There will at least be the Anglican Communion as now constituted, but smaller, and a Reformed Anglican Communion (also known as the New Improved Anglican Communion or Revised Standard Anglican Communion or whatever). It will be a hard day for all of us, but then we can get on with the Gospel, working with one another as need and concerns permit, finding in each other the deep reservoirs of prayer and thanksgiving that have always been there, exchanging with mutual regard such elements of missionary energy as seem fruitful, and so on. All our ecumenical skills will be tested, just as they are now in a wide variety of contexts. It will be a new day, but perhaps a recognizable one, a day as always in which the ecumenical pull of the Gospel will work its will.