COMMUNION WITH WHAT?

It seems that some Anglican Primates, members of something called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) wish to replace the primacy of the See of Canterbury with an elected chairman, one of their own number, to serve for four or five year terms. For as long as there has been an expression of Christianity termed ‘Anglicanism’ the primary mark of identification is that a bishop (not a Province) is in communion with the See of Canterbury. The rest of us are authentically Anglican because our bishops enjoy this fraternal relationship. Of the other marks of our unity, termed Instruments of Communion, only the Lambeth Conference of bishops enjoys an historic track record, and the committee of primates is the latest edition to these ‘instruments’. The Lambeth Conference, in that it is a sort of synod, has traction as a body with deep roots in ecclesiology – the teachings about how we recognize the reality of the Church. Committees, however useful, are ad hoc groups, servant bodies of the church. They are not the Church. It is perhaps good that our primates get together to take counsel, but our authenticity as Anglicans in no way depends on such meetings, or with whomever chairs such meetings. Every national church or super-national province in our Communion originates through and by the activity of the See of Canterbury. It’s cathedral is our mother church.

 

The Gafcon primates seem to have concluded that an archbishop of canterbury is a symbol of British Imperialism. It should be noted that their provinces originate in actions finally approved by archbishops of canterbury. It is appalling to see such inverted racism used as justification for dismembering the Communion. These Primates really should come clean. Their proposal to replace Canterbury with a committee chair is really all about power. They have been disappointed by Dr. Williams and they fear that his successor might not be sympathetic to their vision of ‘confessing Anglicanism’. If they had played their part in the drama which has played out in the past few years, their collective authority and weight might well have provided them with most of the things they work for. Instead they have stayed at home and sulked, boycotted the last Lambeth Conference and even the last Primates’ meeting which they would have dominated.

 

Instead they have taken the road of schismatic Roman Catholicism of the type once led by Archbishop Lefevre, who refused to recognize the occupant of the see of Rome as pope. If the Gafcon primates persist in seeking to establish their alternative Communion, led from time to time by one of their own, they will further divide orthodox opinion in the Communion, and particularly those of us who believe that ecclesial authenticity for us is to a large degree expressed by our communion with an historical archiepiscopal see with roots in the undivided church of the first six centuries. Certainly authenticity depends more than on ecclesial genealogy; it depends on Scripture as witnessed by the Tradition and apprehended by sanctified Reason, by faith in God in Trinity through the saving work of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. But ecclesial identity is not a ‘matter indifferent’.

 

Sadly one senses the same sort of ecclesiastical nationalism which typifies those who affirm provincial autonomy over global interdependence and communion. But of course those on the extremes of our comprehension often provide mirror images to each other.

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2 Responses

  1. This line of thinking would have kept the entire Reformation from happening as it went down. The real problem is not so much a matter of GAFCON or others separating from the See of Canterbury but thinking that we must view both sides of this discussion from the standpoint of the underlying presumption presented here-that somehow what makes one Anglican is the episcopal connection between Canterbury and elsewhere. This whole crisis, in fact, teeters on the errant assumption that what defines the church is episcopal leadership.

    Such a construal is not what Cranmer or Hooker taught and goes well beyond any biblical definition of apostolic succession. The whole of the Reformation points us to the fact that institutions and offices are not inviolable or protected from disassociation simply because they are old and well-used in carrying forward the gospel of Jesus Christ at least at one time.

    I would suggest that our immediate concern is not whether or not particular bodies remain Anglican but rather whether or not we remain true to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”. Surely, somewhere there is room to think that real Anglicanism is most assuredly wrapped up in a reformational English expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ more than it might be a particular episcopal See especially when that See has seen fit to largely abandon or compromise the very Anglicanism that has made it what it has been over the centuries. How ironic all this is given that prior to the Oxford Movement real Anglican identity was associated much more with solidarity to the Reformation and classical Protestantism than it was the sort of Anglo-Catholic viewpoint underlying the above post.

    This sort of thing is what GAFCON is reacting against and while I deplore yet another division in the Anglican world we must be ready to see that the real failure between mother and child in any issue concerning continued disobedience largely rests with the mother and not the child. Where, in this post, are the calls for Canterbury and other bishoprics to repent of their compromise and betrayal of the gospel of Jesus Christ in supporting political and other agendas foreign to their very being as ministers of Christ? Even the Scriptures lay out procedures for divorce in the case of an unfaithful wife, why is it we think the episcopal office is somehow exempt from similar treatment? Paul opposed Peter to his face and yet here we’d rather see everyone kiss the ring as if nothing’s ever happened contrary to the teaching of God’s Word. It’s not right and the only way to fix it is to see bishops and their minions repent and return to the gospel. Once that happens, I’m sure GAFCON and others will be more than happy to lay out the red carpet and rejoice that we might be truly one again.

  2. I made it clear that mere ecclesial connection is not sufficient. However you make some assumptions which I would challenge. The first is that the Reformation, rather than the reform of the church, was a good thing, a pattern worth replicating. Your second assumption is that the theologies of Cranmer and Hooker, hardly identical in many aspects, forms the last word on Anglican ecclesiology. As neither lived at a time when the Anglican Communion existed, it’s rather hard to see how their witness is more than wild speculation. Certainly by the time of the first Lambeth Conference, the position of Canterbury as primes inter pares was assumed, even by Americans. Indeed the enthusiasm of Episcopalians in the United States in itself questions whether the primacy of Canterbury was an expression of British hegemony.

    Paul opposed Peter but he didn’t set himself up as a rival or create his own rival church. The Word, as you put it, isn’t some disembodied entity independent of enfleshment. The Word is, of course Christ and the Church is Christ’s Bride. United in Christ in baptism, not only as individuals but as the church (see Cranmer’s consecration prayer in the Eucharist: “we and all thy whole church”) Christians are structured into a fellowship, which has developed, as the Preface to the Ordinal in the old BCP puts it, “from the Apostles’ time”.

    I would suggest that your views are closer to those of the Elizabethan sectaries than to Anglicanism or to Hooker himself, both in your minimal ecclesiology and in your understanding of mission.

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