Report Number: 006 document 6

A Response to the “Six Propositions” of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission.

Document 6

1. General Impressions and a Comment Regarding Process:

This document appears to lack unity in its composition. It reads as if three different groups of people had composed the three components of each section without benefit of common discussion or consultation. The “propositions” would seem to be a continuation of the curia-building arguments advanced in the Virginia Report. The “questions” invite contribution to a discussion which would be meaningless if the substance of the “propositions” were to be generally accepted. The “bible-study” section sandwiched between the “propositions” and “questions” does not make much in the way of significant connection to either, and in almost all instances runs the risk of being a non-sequitur. In short, the document is fragmentary in its presentation and reflects, perhaps, a profound lack of unity in the body which has created it. The tone of this document leads one to suspect that the IATDC, or a certain faction thereof, is presently engaged in a “going-through-the-motions” exercise of consultation, and that the conclusions of the enquiry have already been determined

The manner in which the present document and its predecessor (the “Four Questions”) are addressed to the entirety of our worldwide communion, with no reference to the competence, jurisdictional or theological, of potential respondents, is troubling. How are responses to be given proper context and credibility if they do not arise from officially sanctioned sources within each of the provinces of the communion? Is a submission from the House of Bishops of the Province of the Southern Cone to be read with the same weight as that of a sub-section of the Mothers’ Union of Lower Bogwash? One suspects not - but the process, ill-defined as it is at present, would seem to suggest that this might be the case. Democratisation is, in many contexts, a noble ambition. But there are times and places for seeking the contribution of persons whose authority and competence serve to make their submissions definitive and useful, as well as representative of the parts of the communion in which they live and practice the faith. Further iterations of this process should be properly addressed, via the primates, to persons or groups authorised by same to respond on behalf of their respective provinces.

2. Biblical Texts and Their Use in Dispute Resolution and Discernment

Once the disingenuous and vaguely prurient veneer of concern regarding the blessing of same-sex unions has been set aside, the question of the place, use and authority of the Bible remains as the “issue” which confronts and potentially divides the Anglican Communion. Some members of our church would appear to have embraced a “sola scriptura” position, after the manner of the Puritans and other radical protestant sectarians of the 16 th and 17 th centuries. Others would seem to have so relativized the Bible as to see it as simply one among many legitimate and sometimes conflicting sources of revelation. One would hope that most members of the communion are still to be found somewhere between these two poles, striving to apply a hookerian via media which asserts the dynamic interaction of biblical witness (mediated by careful exegesis and contextual interpretation) with the community of the church (tradition) and the supportive gifts of reason and experience. Both Fundamentalism and Neo-Liberalism share a common failing, in that both reject a humble and lively engagement with the Holy One in our midst, preferring to ineffectively attempt to bind God to the service of pre-ordained ideological constructions, thus rejecting the promised Comforter, who, according to our Lord Jesus, has been sent in order to guide us “into all truth.

This leads us to consider what is perhaps the “question behind the question” of the use and authority of scripture, which is that concerning the manner in which our church discerns and corporately validates the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit. One will look long and hard to find members of our communion who will flatly deny that biblical sources have any place within the resolution of moral, theological. pastoral or ecclesiological disputes. But what we tend to disagree about is the manner in which the scriptures act as part of a dynamic relationship of revelatory guidance in which the Spirit precedes, guides (and sometimes drags) the church into the pilgrimage of history. Put simply, do we really believe that God ceased to have anything meaningful to say to His church at the time of the closing of the canon of scripture? Were the promises of Jesus concerning the Comforter only valid for the apostolic and perhaps the patristic periods of our life as a church? Are we engaging in a suitably pious but fatuous conceit when, at ordinations, consecrations, synods and other suitably oriented moments of corporate discernment, we sing “veni creator spiritus”? One does not think so. One certainly hopes not! But our treatment of scripture, particularly when we mine it for proof-texts justifying the persecution or suppression of persons whom the dominant culture around us deems deviant would suggest that this might indeed be the case. So does setting the biblical text on the shelf in favour of uncritical use of sources from the social sciences. Both convey the impression that God, in the manner of a grandfatherly presence at the table, has been either silent or incomprehensible for some time, and is not likely to contribute much to the present discussion. Is it perhaps the case that in this matter of biblical sources and their use, the IATDC is asking the wrong question, or perhaps the right question from the wrong perspective. Perhaps this line of inquiry might more usefully seek to develop a new understanding of how biblical witness, tradition, reason and experience can be discerned as means by which the Spirit of God is always dynamically engaged with the life of our church.

To some extent in anticipation of disputes like that which has arisen as a result of the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster’s decision to ask that its bishop authorize a rite for the blessing of same-sex unions, the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a Jurisdiction Task Force to consider how such matters might best be resolved. In its deliberations, the task force gave some considerable consideration to the issue of discerning the revelatory guidance of the Spirit and the role of sources and synodical bodies within our church. A copy of the task force’s report to the Canadian House of Bishops and the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada is appended to this response in the hope that it may prove useful.

3. Unity, Koinonia and Inter-Provincial Intervention/Interference

As has been recently asserted in his paper presented by our new Archbishop of Canterbury to the primates’ meeting of 2002, the unity of the church is a gift, given by God through Christ Jesus. The opinions, morality or practices of any part of the church may strain its koinonia, its ability to live “in communion”, but there is nothing that any of us can do which will either destroy or re-create the unity of the church of Jesus Christ. To say, therefore, that this or that practice, opinion or position “threatens the unity of the church” is a nonsense. It is worse than a nonsense, it is in fact a form of blasphemous fearmongering. Persons who glibly delineate the limits of communion as being contiguous with this or that issue are usually delineating their own limits for charity and forbearance, and not those of the One in whom the unity of the church eternallyexists

Disagreements may impair, and sometimes even suspend our ability to live “in communion” with one another. But that ought only to apply to matters deemed “necessary to salvation” and not, (again in the language of Richard Hooker) to “matters indifferent”. In its brighter moments (and this writer attests to there not being many of these) the Virginia Report affirmed what it referred to as the “principle of subsidiarity” as illuminating the goodness in having matters “indifferent” which affected the mission and ministry of local churches being decided at (or as close as possible to) the local community in which practices were going to be applied. This, it was acknowledged, might result in a necessarily acceptable difference in practice and discipline between provinces of the communion, and, one might suggest, even between parts of provinces themselves. In accepting this principle, does it not logically follow that when a province or sub-section of a province enters into discussion and even into experimental action concerning a particular issue, there needs to be space allowed for the local church to work out the consequences of the change envisaged? This is precisely what the Anglican Church of Canada is attempting to do with reference to the actions authorised (but not yet actualized at the time of writing of this paper) by the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster. But the behaviour of certain primates of our communion, and the statements of the previous incumbent of the see of Canterbury have, to put it gently, been less than helpful. Jurisdictional boundaries have been ignored and interference promulgated of a sort which the perpetrators would certainly not have tolerated should the situation have been reversed. Would the Church of England tolerate intervention from the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada on the basis of concern regarding the validity of episcopal ministries which have their origins in parliamentary committee and royal fiat? The rest of the communion elects its bishops through synodical process, and there are indeed many of us who wonder how it is that the Holy Spirit’s guidance can be enshrined in a conge d’elire. In point of fact Canadian Anglicans generally accept the electoral vagaries and eccentricities of the Church of England as matters of historical accident. We choose not to make an issue of the Church of England’s compromised erastianism because we understand this as a matter “indifferent” and therefore covered by the principle of “subsidiarity”. Many of us may continue to pray that this part of our communion may at some point find the spiritual and moral courage to shake off the shackles of establishment, but we stop at that, leaving it to the church of that province to discern for itself the guidance of the Spirit in this matter. Should not such a courtesy and generosity work both ways? One would hope and pray that this might be so, but recent actions suggest otherwise.

Recent actions and statements by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, and by some primates of the communion betray a dangerous misunderstanding of the nature of the Anglican Communion and the basis of its koinonia. The communion is a confederation of independent provinces, bound together by a mutually acknowledged historic tradition and theological/ecclesiological tradition. That tradition has its roots in the affirmation of “local option” and provincial integrity in living the consequences of the gospel for which reformers like Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer died martyrs’ deaths. The present trend towards curial structures and centralized control in the interests of theological or moral conformity may well be a betrayal of these roots and those who died that they might be established.

The Rev. Canon Kim Murray, Ph.D.
Anglican Identity Working Group
Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee,
General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada