Updated with commentary below the fold.
The Global South Primates have spoken.
On the whole their closing document is rather toothless and says nothing that we have not already heard. While there were hints this week that the current crop of Primates in the Global South see a bigger picture than the never-ending Anglican wars, on the whole, we are still a very bad church and should be treated accordingly.
Still, they still want the Anglican Covenant to serve as ecclesiastical traffic cop, with the power to ticket and suspend offenders. They also won’t congress with their counterparts in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada because they believe our churches reflect irretrievably erroneous doctrine that threatens the salvation of all who come near it.
While we can agree that the Anglican Wars have distracted us from our main mission of communicating the Gospel and following the Great Commission, the Global South Primates and Friends prefer a new-style Anglican Communion with both the ecclesiastical cop and an ecclesiastic glazier so they can install windows into the souls of at least bishops as a condition for admission
6. We were appreciative of the greeting given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, by means of a brief video that was shared at the beginning of our time together. We rejoiced in the welcome given to us by Elder Fu Xianwei, Chairman of the National Committee of the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of the China Christian Church and the presence and warm greeting offered by His Grace Bishop Suriel representing His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
16. In contrast, we continue to grieve over the life of The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada and all those churches that have rejected the Way of the Lord as expressed in Holy Scripture. The recent action of TEC in the election and intended consecration of Mary Glasspool, a partnered lesbian, as a bishop in Los Angeles, has demonstrated, yet again, a total disregard for the mind of the Communion. These churches continue in their defiance as they set themselves on a course that contradicts the plain teaching of the Holy Scriptures on matters so fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those involved. Such actions violate the integrity of the Gospel, the Communion and our Christian witness to the rest of the world. In the face of this we dare not remain silent and must respond with appropriate action.
21. Global South leaders have been in the forefront of the development of the ‘Anglican Covenant’ that seeks to articulate the essential elements of our faith together with means by which we might exercise meaningful and loving discipline for those who depart from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints.’ We are currently reviewing the proposed Covenant to find ways to strengthen it in order for it to fulfill its purpose. For example, we believe that all those who adopt the Covenant must be in compliance with Lambeth 1.10. Meanwhile we recognize that the Primates Meeting, being responsible for Faith and Order, should be the body to oversee the Covenant in its implementation, not the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
22. Over the last 20 years we have been distracted by conflicts and controversies that have kept us from effectively fulfilling the Great Commission. While we have been so distracted, Christian heritage, identity and influence has continued to decline in the West. We believe that there is a need to review the entire Anglican Communion structure; especially the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Communion office; in order to achieve an authentic expression of the current reality of our Anglican Communion.
The GS primates and cohorts are showing their evangelical background with the strange Anglican-American mix of Reformed, Puritan and Arminian thinking blended together– as distinct from the more catholic approach that most Episcopalians may be used to. They are saying that (based on their reformed background) that the church reflects the sovereignty of God by adhering to firm discipline relative to doctrine. But they are also saying that one can lose their salvation by holding to erroneous doctrine. They want to adhere to a Arminian (aka Wesleyan or Methodist) approach of saying salvation is by grace and we have an obligation to convey the message of salvation, but they can’t shake the Puritan idea that church discipline and holding to right doctrine is a core expression of the nature of God.
So…in their view, if you are a Christian who follows an erroneous doctrine, you can lose your salvation. This is the underlying charge against the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and against progressives generally…it is the same charge that Protestants used to level against Catholics…that our (erroneous) teaching can not only lead unbelievers away from saving knowledge of Christ, but can lead believers into losing their salvation. This is why a super conservative church can decide to leave a very conservative diocese, they are trying to save themselves from even association with an erroneous teaching that threatens the salvation of the believers in that church.
It is also why they want the Primates to meet without Canada and the US present. It boils down to cooties…but on a cosmic, salvation-affecting level.
This sounds foreign to most of us partly because the way we do theology has changed a tad since the 17th and 18th centuries, but mostly because we base our way of thinking about Church in the catholic notion that the whole ekklesia together reflects the whole body of Christ, and that communion among differing schools of thought or approaches around the One Christ, who share a common Baptism and Eucharist, is more important that adherence to single ideas.
Bishop Behase’s reference to Nicea, as well as the whole of his letter this week is a reflection of this thinking. This is what Bishop Jefferts Schori means when she talks about salvation being found in community. It is not only, or even mainly, about intellectual assent to certain propositions, as the evangelicals in the GSP believe, but about following Jesus in ekklesia. Dean Knisely is fond of quoting Tertullian in this regard: “One Christian is no Christian.”
Benhase’s letter is important because provides a solid theological basis for doing what we are doing. It is not about right belief in the intellectual or dogmatic sense, but it is about ekklesia in communion reflecting the unity of Christ and communicating the Gospel to the world.
Now the RCs (and some Anglo-Catholics) believe that the differing branches of the Body can be united under some kind of existing central teaching authority. In the RCs case it is the Pope. In the case of some Anglicans they’d like that to be The Covenant. The problem is this: to make the evangelicals in the GS happy, the instruments of unity would have to both teaching authority and disciplining authority…the power to ex-communicate for the sake of the rest of the Body. The Catholics in our midst want this to be a sign of our ekklesia, with the “local authority” (provinces and bishops) having this disciplinary authority.
This is where Benhase’s reference to Elizabeth is important. He is saying that our form of catholic faith and order has worked whereas Puritanism and other forms of strict order have failed, with successive divisions over points of doctrine and the fall back on kinds of half-way covenants.
Archbishop Williams basically believes in a more catholic view of the church, but tries to hold the evangelical line by saying we “can’t” do something (like ordain gay bishops) until everyone in the communion agrees. Since he already held beliefs that are suspect to the GS crowd, they don’t trust him to do what needs to be done, which poor Rowan won’t (and can’t) do anyway.
If the Archbishop of Canterbury were to be consistent with his thinking, he would be saying that schism is the worse sin because it breaks up the body and tears branches from the vine. An Elizabethean Catholic approach would require that these bishops remain in communion with us precisely because we differ because our only unity is found in Christ.