I was just reading through the Church of England’s response to the Draft Anglican Covenant, and was pleased to see that in a number of respects they raised some of the same red flags that I had. Among these is a sensitivity to the extent that the Primates or other Instruments have authority to intervene in the internal affairs of individual provinces. (The Church of England report on one hand seems to think this might be appropriate in extraordinary circumstances, but notes on the other that it simply wouldn’t do were England itself to become the object of such tender mercies. It depends upon whose unicorn and lion are being gored, I take it.)
However, there are a few truly odd sections in this response. The one that most surprised me was the objection to the language of section 2 paragraph 3
that it [the member Church] holds and duly administers the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself — Baptism and the Supper of the Lord — ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him
in raising the specter of the old battles over the number of the sacraments. But this clause is straight out of the Lambeth Quadrilateral; and hardly likely to create a fuss now if it hasn’t for 120 years!
Of greater concern is the pernicious doctrine alluded to in the first comment on the Preamble:
Are the churches of the Anglican communion, properly so called, the thirty eight national bodies that belong to the Communion or are they the dioceses of the Communion gathered round their diocesan bishops? This is not just a theoretical ecclesiological question, but also a practical one since it raises the question of whether the bodies that should subscribe to the Covenant are the national bodies or the dioceses. This issue does not require a revision of the text, but it is something that needs to be addressed.
You bet it does. This notion that the individual dioceses of a national church somehow relate directly to the Primate of All England is also suggested by His Nibs Himself in his letter to Bishop Howe. This novelty (apart from the invitations to Lambeth, which are of course the domain of the Archbishop) appears to have arisen as kind of Alexandrine Gordian Knot solution to the problem of “Windsor” bishops within “non-Windsor” churches — allowing them to remain somehow part of the Transcendental Anglican Communion even while the church of which they are a part is excluded or demoted.
This is indeed not just a theoretical question, but a very practical one, and it utterly undermines the concept of provincial identity (to say nothing of autonomy!). Let me say this just once more: while the sacramental fullness of the church subsists in the community of the faithful gathered around its bishop, the basic unit of the church is not the diocese, but the Province. The former is a matter of sacramental theology; the latter concerns church polity. And ignoring this distinction between the two is creating a great deal of confusion. If dioceses are free to affiliate without regard to their participation in a Province, why should not the diocese of London, for example, bypass its participation in the Province of Canterbury and affiliate with the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East? Shall we end up with an Anglican Communion that is a patchwork of embassies on foreign ground?
This uneven performance even by the Church of England strengthens my misapprehensions about the Covenant Process as a solution to our presenting problem. While I am committed to seeing it through, I urge further caution and postponement of any final action on this matter at the upcoming Lambeth Conference. Let us work through this without rushing to Law as a solution when Charity seems weak. As I noted in a comment to the Diocese of NY response to the Covenant last spring:
How does a Covenant solve the problem? If folks are unwilling to abide by informal agreements, can they be expected to abide by a contract? The old idea that Philip Turner once advanced (vows empower people to keep them) is on the basis of prima facie evidence quite false. And speaking as a pastor, it would be unconscionable to advise an engaged couple who were having difficulties in their relationship to “go ahead and get married” — as if that would solve, rather than multiply, their problems.
Tobias Haller BSG