September 16, 2005

The Other Shoe

So as many have noticed the Church of Nigeria has amended its constitution, in exactly the way expected. But I think it is very important to note that the Church of Nigeria has not quite disassociated itself from the Archbishop of Canterbury... yet.

Note the wording from the press release of earlier in the week:

The hierarchy of the Church of Nigeria has not ruled out a major constitutional amendment to give legal effect to some new positions likely to be adopted by delegates to the General Synod.
So only the first shoe has dropped at this point: the Constitution has been amended in a major way. Reference to Communion with the See of Canterbury as a defining characteristic of the Church of Nigeria has been deleted, replaced by a list of requirements involving conformity with the Articles of Religion, the 1662 BCP, and so on, such conformity to be determined, it seems, solely by the Church of Nigeria.

However, unless something happened at the Synod that has not yet been reported (or that I have not yet seen, to be more precise) the other shoe still remains to be dropped. What "new position" remains to be adopted? Nigeria no longer requires itself to be in communion with Canterbury, but has yet to place itself out of communion with Canterbury. If and when they do that, we will all have to wrestle with the concept of what it means to be Anglican in a communal, rather than in an historical sense.

I have noted elsewhere that I see this as a movement from a Communion of autonomous churches sharing a common heritage, into an international Confessional Church. Some may think that to be a very good thing. I do not.

Rather, I favor the good old Anglican minimalism that keeps confessions neat and concise (like the Creeds) and bears with them lightly. I have no beef with folks who want to be part of a Confessional church in the strict sense; or a church that emphasizes a central authority as the determiner of "who's in, who's out" (as King Lear said). But I prefer the elastic charity of classical Anglicanism. I think when the dust has settled we will find the bulk of the present Anglican Communion still willing to abide by that principle. If not, it will be a sad day for the loss of a church bold enough to admit that churches make mistakes.

In the meantime, watch out for falling shoes.

4 comments:

bls said...

" If not, it will be a sad day for the loss of a church bold enough to admit that churches make mistakes."

Well, I think that church will be around in some form or another, because it's needed in this world. And because we desire it.

If it's not called the "Anglican Communion," it'll just have another name.

J-Tron said...

"I have no beef with folks who want to be part of a Confessional church in the strict sense; or a church that emphasizes a central authority as the determiner of "who's in, who's out" (as King Lear said). But I prefer the elastic charity of classical Anglicanism."

What do you mean by confessional? Following a specific confessional document, like the Westminster Confession or the Augsburg Confession? Considering that Windsor has been treated as essentially DOA, I'd say the likeliness of this happening is minimal.

I agree that the center of our faith, the things we subscribe to that bind us and define us, must be limited to essentials. That has certainly been the historical practice. Anglicanism has minimal dogma, and yet a fullness of dogma in that we feel no need to add to necessity. But as things stand, we lack any authority at all to make determinations about what we believe communally, even in relation to core elements of the faith like the divinity of Our Lord. We operate in a free for all. I'd like to see us recognize that there is some glue that holds us together, something we can identify as distinctly Christian to which we make common appeal. If there's not, then we have simply a sham comprehensiveness, a mush of contradictory beliefs. The latter, if it stands, will be our undoing. Why go to a church where every belief is optional? I can do that just as well from home and still get a chance to sleep in.

Tobias said...

J-Tron, I think we are fundamentally in agreement. Where we disagree is in your assertion that we "lack any authority to make determinations about what we believe communally." We do have such an entity: it's called the General Convention. We also have eccelesiastical courts for matters that rise to that level of concern.

I think we have to distinguish between real "lack of a central authority" (as in, say, the Quakers) and a central authority that rarely makes doctrinal statements (the GC). We have the Lambeth Quadrilateral as a statement upon which our ecumenical discussions go forward (or backward!).

It is important to distinguish between violations of the rules and the absence of rules. Yes, lately folks have been collecting lists of various "wacky" things said and done by "liberals" -- but many of these things are violations that go unpunished (which is not to say they could not be addressed), and some are misunderstood or misrepresented by the "conservative" spin doctors of the church.

If you'd care to read more on my views on ecclesiology, in particular in the contrast between two models of church doctrinal standards, take a look at this essay on Fr Paul Wattson and Wm Reed Huntington: Shadows of Unity.

*Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

Your distinction was what I was about to post in response to J-Tron. Glad I waited. We do have authority to take care of matters when basic doctrine is thrown out. Here in this diocese many a priest candidate doesn't make it because she/he cannot pass the theological exam...most falter on Christology.