Evangelical Revision of the Covenant...watch out!

Stephen Noll, Vice Chancellor, Uganda Christian University and consultant to the Covenant Design Group, has written an evangelically minded revision of the Draft Covenant. He begins by making several comments, among them:

"The events of the past decade in the Communion have made clear, in a way not seen since the 16th century, the need of a strong statement of doctrine and discipline among Christians in our tradition. The question, in my view, is not about the need for a Covenant but about its adequacy to meet the theological, spiritual and missional challenges facing the Christian Church in general, and the Anglican Communion in particular, from within and without.

I offer the comments below to articulate an Evangelical perspective and corrective. I believe that the great debates and events of the Reformation remain foundational for our Christian heritage. In a world where Evangelical Christians are spreading rapidly, including those in many Anglican Provinces, it is important that our convictions be represented in an all-Communion document.

The Draft Covenant is, in my opinion, an orthodox statement of the Christian faith; it is less characteristically Evangelical. I propose that with relatively minor amendment, this document can express more fully the Anglican Evangelical perspective."

If this is the evangelical agenda, meant to be incorporated in the Covenant, it becomes clear that the notion of the Covenant is precisely an instrument for the radical overthrow of Anglicanism. Its replacement, if it were to happen, would be by a "Global Anglican Communion," so named by Dr. Noll. The GAC would be formed around a Covenant that would include both matters of doctrine and discipline. This would mean that certain matters, for example the possibility of blessing same sex relationships or the ordination of a person in any relationship that includes sexual expression other than hetersexual marriage, could be declared off limits for any discussion.

Under the heading of "relatively minor amendment" Dr. Noll includes this:

"(4) uphold the biblical vision of God’s image in humanity as male and female and our Lord’s teaching on the unchangeable standard of marriage of one man and one woman (or abstinence)."

This amendment is not minor. Indeed it is a new section to that part of the Covenant.

Dr Noll also suggests the following is a relatively minor as well:

" (2) uphold the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as God’s Word written and to ensure that biblical texts are interpreted in their plain and canonical sense, through the preaching and teaching of pastors, the regular reading of the people, and the oversight of bishops and synods, building on our best scholarship, believing that scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking"

All of which means that the standard for biblical inquiry will be "plain and canonical" sense. For a considerable period of the Church's history the plain and canonical sense was that the world was created some six thousand years ago. Are we ready for that to return? The plain canonical sense related to the virgin birth, touted by fundamentalists as one of the "fundamentals," if taken as a "plain" sense of "God's Word written," relies on questionable translation skills of those working with Hebrew scripture prophecy and a strong possibility of reading into the prophets the existing veneration of and deep respect for Mary. What if the prophetic prediction was about a young woman, not a virgin who stayed that way even though pregnant? What if it wasn't about the coming Messiah at all, but about someone else? Are we ready to be examined and found wanting on each item of the creed by those who would judge on the narrow interpretation of scripture provided by the keepers of the Truth, who it turns out just know "the plain and canonical" sense if it all?

Well, perhaps some of us are ready. I am not.

These are no minor changes. Dr. Noll is making a last ditch effort to bend the Covenant to the evangelical agenda.


  1. First, I am curious that the statement does not argue that marriage is a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, and that divorce and subsequent remarriage is adultery. This is clearly the view expressed in portions of the New Testament, and has been the dominant understanding of the issue in the Western church.

    But then again, some of the great champions of sexual morality who are seeking to make their parishes part of the Ugandan or Nigerian churches are divorced and remarried. One of these Southern California priests, as I recall, had quite a messy and contentious divorce. This did not seem to matter to the Uganda leadership, however, who were eager to accept the parish.

    Second, I cannot quite understand what this gentleman means by a "plain and canonical" interpretation. I am not aware of anybody who is doing allegorical interpretations of scripture, although there are precedents in Paul's letters for that kind of approach. So all I can think of is that we are being told that the Bible means what the Primates and other church leaders say it means.

    That's not a historic evangelical position. The traditional position is that the Bible is the divinely inspired and therefore inerrant word of God, and that its meaning on all significant topics is clear and unmistakable. As such, the role of the clergy is to proclaim the word, but they are not needed to safeguard any interpretation of it.

    The newer evangelicals, the ones who call themselves "open" in Britain and are part of the "emerging church" here seem unwilling to affirm biblical inerrancy in its classic sense. They are more willing than their predecessors, however, to believing in some kind of synodical magisterium. I wonder if this is because down deep they have some questions as to the nature, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture, doubts which their Victorian forefathers in the CMS would never have entertained for a second.

  2. Mark, I have been meaning to offer my congratulations (condolences?) to you upon your appointment to the Covenant Response Drafting Group. I, for one, am pleased that you are part of that group.

    God bless all of you and give you wisdom as you do your work.

  3. i'm a tad confused about the virgin birth part here. grant, for the sake of argument, that Matthew misread Isaiah.

    how does that change what Matthew, or the independent Luke story say?

    does it not seem more likely that there was an existing tradition of a virgin birth, and Matthew (mis-) appropriated the Isaiah text as a proof-text for it, in his usual style?

  4. FWIW, I am sympathetic to Br Thomas's suggestion on the virgin birth, but my faith in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life does not hinge on the "Virgo Intacta"Perpetual Virginity of the BVM nor would i be quick to excommunicate anyone who saw the virgin birth as a theological statement rather than a literal statement of an historical fact (just sayin').

    But my main reason for wanting to comment was to compliment John Bassett on an extremely acute observation about "open evangelicals" (a term I only noticed quite recently) -- I've always thought that one of the tragedies of the Reformation vision was that the Scriptures "meaning on all significant topics is clear and unmistakable" -- obviously & self-evidently false (alas).

  5. "(4) uphold the biblical vision of God’s image in humanity as male and female and our Lord’s teaching on the unchangeable standard of marriage of one man and one woman (or abstinence)."

    Am I reading too much into this or does this sound like "Defense of Marriage Act" limiting marriage to one male and one female, while at the same time elevating it a creedal position, thus making it impossible for those who differ and do not accept SSBs as an issue of core doctrine to sign the covenant?

    Isn't this an end run around any theological studies that might provide a basis for supporting SSBs and encourage a real listening process? Is that what they are really afraid of, individual Provinces (like individual states) coming to support SSBs, legitimately - on their own, so you make it a federal crime - a covenant breaker instead?

  6. I'm with Thomas on the VB tradition. Matthew's method forces him to find any remote OT hook on which to hang a Gospel event. He would have no reason to dig up this Isaiah prophecy if there were not already a tradition there for him to seek to say, "thus was fulfilled X". Striking, too, in that it stands in some uneasy accord with the whole genealogical passage! (Luke, as usual, handles the matter a bit more elegantly)

    But as to Noll's proposals. Can you say, Dead in the Water?

  7. So, the covenant is to not only toss out the gays, but also the Anglo-catholics. I suppose, he said setting down his rosary, I should pack my bags.

    Of course the i.. err ''right wing ... putsch [I mean,] "push" has been obvious since the 1662 prayer book revision somehow obtained biblical status.

    At least now the vision is clear. These people not only want to dis-affirm lesbians, gays, and (gak!) liberals, they want to roll back the entire Oxford movement and the Elizabethan compromise.

    "Jean Calvin rules!" Now there is a slogan for the ages -- not.


  8. Can someone please explain exactly how people like Noll are *not* fundamentalists?

    They get indignant when you call them that, but this approach to scripture is absolutely identical to the one I encountered in my fundamentalist childhood.

  9. Dr. Noll's version of the Covenant ought to be read in conjunction with Archbishop Orombi's "What is Anglicanism?" ++Orombi says that the Ugandan Church will not attend Lambeth as long as an unrepentant Episcopal Church is also invited. Dr. Noll's draft Covenant indicates the terms of repentance required of the Episcopal Church. If a draft covenant very much like Dr. Noll's is not adopted, and if the Episcopal Church is not "disciplined" by it, then the Ugandans, with the Nigerians and Kenyans and a few others, will set up their own version of the Anglican Communion.

    Whatever --

  10. A TEST - to see if this gets to you. Please let me know. Thanks -
    Natalie KERR (Just in case you know many other Natalies!)
    Bon Voyage & Godspeed!
    The following was in response to Saturday Morning Musings - 07/06/2007:
    Mark -
    This is days late. (No internet in the Adirondacks)
    You have lots of affirmation now, but I still want to add my 2 cents.
    1. You can't begin to know how much I've learned since latching on to Preludium, or how grateful I am. (Guess I thought you knew it by osmosis, so I didn't tell you.)
    2. Some of your poetry warms the cockles of my heart, particularly the one about Sarah. (Guess I thought you knew it by osmosis, so I didn't tell you.)
    3. I thoroughly enjoyed the SPYPR blog! What fun it was to travel with the kids!(Guess I thought you knew it by osmosis, so I didn't tell you.)
    4. You've been particularly in my prayers since you've been a tad cranky for a bit & I sort of thought you were down hearted. (Thought you knew it & didn't need me to tell you.)
    4. Please accept my humble apologies and keep writing!

    Blessings, Dear Soul -

  11. Charlotte,
    I was struck by how very much Orombi's article reminded me of Noll.

  12. I am curious that the statement does not argue that marriage is a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman, and that divorce and subsequent remarriage is adultery.

    Sure you are not suggesting that the church deprive affluent, middle-waged, heterosexual men of their trophy wives! Bite your tongue!

  13. And what if the concept of the Trinity is a bald misreading of the “plain and canonical” sense? What if Jesus was a created being after all, and not co-eternal and co-substantial with the Father? What if he wasn’t really bodily resurrected, but his apostles had a mass delusion? Yes, we should resist being examined and found wanting on each item of the creed by those who would judge. A pity that some, such as Stephen, Peter, Polycarp and Perpetua were too dense to take such an enlightened view, as they might have saved their lives for more rewarding earthly pleasures. Well, we Episcopalians are better than they, I suppose.

  14. Mark -- Thanks for posting this. It has been clear to me for sometime that Noll is in fact one of the few brain-trustees of the realignment community. The fact is this: he's already beyond the Anglican Communion Covenant. He's clearly working on the covenant for the 'Global Anglican Communion.' He's already looking toward the future communion.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.