Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) Not Competent to Handle Covenant & Discipline, Says College Principal
Christina Baxter, Principal of St John's Theological College, Nottingham in an address to the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association at St Michael's, Galleywood
November 29, 2008
The Anglican Church: Where now?
(NB: These are notes taken at the meeting by Rev. John P. Richardson and can only be taken as indicative of what was heard to be said. A recording of the talk should be available later.)
What has helped me learn about Anglican Communion?
A long time ago got onto General Synod, then Standing Committee. Was asked to go on ACC and was thus at Lambeth 1998. Now off ACC, but has been teaching about Anglicanism at St John's Nottingham.
How did we get where we are now? The history.
No human person ever designed the Communion. CofE was full of people with missionary zeal and gave birth to Christian leaders with a passion to take gospel to other parts of the world, leading them to many different places, not at formal behest of Church but through voluntary mission agencies.
Those agencies had different complexions, reflecting different revival movements in Anglican church. They took gospel in the form they knew and loved. Anglican churches they planted round world were of different complexions.
It went through missionary endeavour and process of lay people engaged in business throughout world, wanting to take their faith throughout the world. Eventually they wanted oversight and therefore episcopacy.
We are now reaping the results.
We grew like an overgrown family and only now are beginning to regulate how we are.
Strong connection to England and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In early days big debate about whether ABp should call bishops from throughout the world. Some strong voices against that before first Lambeth Conference.
First Conference so small it met in Lambeth palace. There are recordings of all Lambeth Conference proceedings up to, but not including, the last one.
Almost all names to begin with are British/European. Over years, names begin to reflect local leadership.
Only in recent times have many church leaders been educated entirely in own countries. Many African and Asian bishops understand their own and Western culture in ways that Western bishops do not.
Disappointed to discover in 1998 how little people from N America and UK understood other, Third World, cultures.
Anglican Communion was never a body which could decide anything for areas from which the bishops came. This became important as independence grew. Anglican Communion decided church should not be governed from UK. Provinces became independent and had their own constitutions.
Some provinces are large, some are small, some nations have more than one province. Governance varies across the Anglican world.
Only in last 10 years or so has any serious study been done on how each church has set itself up. Each church has had to do this in relation to whatever government it relates to. None of the churches is established apart from the Church of England. But every church has to comply with local laws and regulations.
Though they are characteristically 'Anglican', they are not all the same and are all self-determining and may have changed regulations on a number of occasions. The societies differ also.
For example, at ACC in Panama (9 or so years ago), genocide in Rwanda had recently happened and they were trying to establish a sense of normality. Anglican church in Rwanda has suspended its constitution. Most of Bishops and Archbishop had fled Rwanda, some under suspicion of complicity. Representatives from Rwanda came to ACC, but had no bishop. New government in Rwanda asked ABC who were genuine Anglicans. Answer was, "Don't know, exactly." George Carey therefore had to act unconstitutionally, deciding that ACC needed whole session on this, not organized in advance and fairly chaotic. Applied rule to Rwanda that is in constitution of many Provinces, that a bishop can be regarded to have resigned if he has left his diocese and not returned after a long enough time. ABp of Rwanda was deemed to have resigned and ABC sent someone out to Rwanda to work out way of starting structures up again.
Churches therefore have quite different ways of being organized, and even about their faith. The basis of the Church of England used to be common. Not all independent Provinces have kept those things in their declaration of faith. Liturgy has changed.
Different Provinces face different issues. In India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka Christians came together. Anglicans worked with Christians from other parts of the world, beginning in early 20th century. Some churches were thus able to come together in one church, so that from 1947 there was Church of South India, recognized as part of Anglican Communion, but not only Anglican - includes Presbyterian and Methodist former members.
Important because Anglican Church has traditionally made modest claims about itself, and if God should dispose of Church of England in order to extend mission of God, then Church of England is willing to dissolve or disappear. Church of England is not essential in the purposes of God. We differ from Roman Catholics in this regard. We believe we are part of God's providential arrangements. So in S India, Anglicans ceased to be just Anglicans and became Christians with others.
Hard work was done there on what are the essentials - Scripture and Creeds, but also whether particular pattern of ministry was really essential for church life.
In 20th C Christians have held different views of what is appropriate pattern of ministry, and what part ministry plays in the being of the Church. Some say it is of the essence, others that it is for the benefit of the Church, but doesn't matter what kind you have.
In Church of S India debates, it was agreed that in the Scriptures there is oversight ministry called episkopoi, and that new church would have that oversight and call them bishops, but not like then was practised in England (or even now). Recognized that in Reformation some churches abandoned bishops because of the corruption of the office. Church of S India did not try to square all circles before coming together in mission and worship. Local churches from Anglican church retained their orders, other churches retained their (non-episcopal) orders, but from then on all ordinations would include bishops.
We need to remember this bit of our history, because future may be very different for us as we work together here and elsewhere to get on with mission and evangelism. Church of S India story tells us Anglicans may not exist forever and that we can give up some of what we've got so as to work with others. But it threatened to split the Church of England at the time. In the end, though, the Anglican Communion stayed together over this.
Post-war, it became clear that Lambeth Conference was not enough to hold Anglican Communion together. Each decade, Conference came back to same questions, eg polygamy, contraception, place of women and laity. The Conference decided there should be an Anglican Consultative Council. Meets about every three years, with representatives of bishops, priests and laity from each Province. It is very unwieldy and not easy, but only thing we've got.
Doesn't have equal representation from each Province. Big Provinces send three reps, medium send two and small send one. They can pick-and-mix what that person is. There is no single language. Most of dialogue is in English, but Anglican Communion is poor in money and so translation provision is not always good. Sometimes translation is literally done by whispering in someone's ear during a presentation. Same is also true of Lambeth Conference, though there is some translation there.
Until very recently, ACC didn't have a Constitution. There wasn't even proper minuting going on at Panama.
ACC can decide about money, most of which comes from a few Provinces. Problem is that those who pay the piper call the tune. It would be better to do less and not take the money. ACC oversees budget of Anglican Communion. Has a very slim staff. Tries to forward any matters on which Lambeth Conference has asked for more work.
ACC takes immensely significant decisions without really being qualified to do it. Eg at my first meeting in South Africa, ACC was asked to strike out filioque clause from the Creed for all future Anglican Communion meetings. What was worrying was here was a group of people, some working not in own language and without theological background. Debate was chiefly between George Carey and me.
Eventually it was taken back to England and debated in General Synod. In Common Worship there is a Creed without it in, for use on ecumenical occasions.
ACC meets and makes progress reports, does work for Anglican Communion. Most presiding bishops don't go. ABC is always there as he calls and chairs it. Generally others are not there.
You might be the one person who has gone from your part of the world, eg as a layperson from Japan, and you alone speak for your Province at the ACC. You are struggling to understand. You are a senior layperson, but your Province may not have Synods as frequently as we do, you may not be familiar with your own Province's personnel or policy. But this is the group which, under proposals of the Covenant, would have to make difficult decisions. It is not fit for purpose.
Because of weaknesses of ACC, Donald Coggan called first meeting of Primates. This has been crucial in helping people understand one another and work on issues facing Anglican Communion. It has no legislative power - it is a consultation.
Anglican Communion is facing many things, many challenges, growing in some places, declining in others, making decisions which offend some parts of Anglican Communion and lacking opportunities to dialogue.
Who is an Anglican? Answer, "Does the ABC recognize you?" He only recognizes bishops, by inviting them to Lambeth. Problem for ABC, if he doesn't invite a bishop, what does it say about the people in that diocese?
ABC has lots of influence, but no power. If a Bishop is behaving notoriously, he cannot remove that person. He can only talk with ABp or Primate of that area and plead with them.
ACC is in same situation. It has influence but no power.
Lambeth Conference is the same. It has influence, but it has no power.
The Primates' Meeting is in the same situation.
Where we are now
We need to understand that a lot of the things I've mentioned have developed out of need rather than policy. Only in last 10 or 15 years has Anglican Communion done any serious reflection on itself and its structures.
The Virginia Report gives voice to these considerations. It is a good document in stating theological foundations to which we can all adhere. It begins its understanding in the doctrine of the Trinity, which is where ecclesiology starts today. The church takes its origins in the Trinity and manifests unity (God is one) and diversity (God is three) and abiding love (the relationships of the Trinity). The Virginian report looks at what holds us together as Anglicans. The structural basis is the four instruments of unity, plus other bonds - the foundations in Scripture, Creeds, liturgies, commitment to Communion.
One of things that hasn't been fully thought through is how we define what it is to be in communion with other people. We have assumed we are in Communion with every other Anglican congregation in this land, but know we are not in communion with every other Christian to the same extent. Anglicans differ on this. Evangelicals would find it easier to receive communion from non-episcopally ordained
We are free to participate in other Anglican congregations across the globe. Here, until the 1980s, every minister from the rest of the Communion would have been received here. It has been complicated by the ordination of women. Church of England would not receive priestly ministry of ordained women from other parts of Communion. It was not a 'going out of communion' with these other part.
Also, we are in full communion with other parts of the church, eg the Lutheran churches through the Porvoo Agreement.
'Full communion' is thus not only about receiving ministers and ministry. Quite a lot of debate about this. People talk about being 'partly in communion' or even 'out of communion'.
Stresses and strains began to be exposed in decisions about women's ordination and were heightened by debates about sexual ethics. Legal decisions of some Provinces caused problems and put enormous stresses on the Communion as a whole. Question was whether these decisions had involved sufficient consultation with other Provinces.
How could you take consultations of that kind? Our decisions to go with Porvoo upset other parts of the Anglican Communion, because it seemed we were doing things which affected them.
We are in difficulty now, ironically, because communication is much faster. Understanding and real dialogue are becoming less and less. Sheer volume of information creates difficulties.
Even if Anglican Communion had wanted to do something about this, there is no legal way of preventing or slowing down these developments. Became clear that those who were pressing ahead with revisionist ethical stance were not always clear about implications for those in other parts of the Anglican world, eg that it would provoke persecution of Anglicans by those of other faiths.
However, in the opposite direction, Conservatives (of which I am one) have not always given credence to 'revisionist' Provinces with a concern for mission.
The Communion set up a group to work on a possible Covenant. We are learning here from Christians who have been working with one another in different ways. Churches have often entered into Covenant with one another on the way to unity. Sometimes it has been local, sometimes a denomination. Anglican Church here is in a Covenant with the Methodists which commits us to working together.
It was suggested in Windsor Report that we need this in the Anglican Communion. Would set out where we agreed, and what we would do if we disagreed. We are near end of this process.
There are those (mostly Liberals) who don't want a Covenant at all, don't want Provinces to be bound at all. There are those who want a Covenant with teeth and want to know how Provinces would be expelled or called to account. And there are those in the middle. All trying to make something which will work.
Covenant will come back to Provinces for final say-so some time in Summer next year, at which point each Province will give its verdict.
Covenant has developed from first draft quite significantly. Will say things we can confess together. Hard thing to sort out will be how we resolve issues, and what will be penalties or consequences of not resolving issues. I think it should be the work of the Primates to resolve issues. I don't think ACC is competent to handle it. There is talk about Pastoral visitors who will resolve issues.
In North America there are parishes which have not been able to accept decisions of TEC. Legal action has been taken against them and against bishops. They have sought episcopal oversight elsewhere.
Problem also that bishops from one area have acted in geographical region of other Provinces. That has been taboo in Anglican Communion up until now. Windsor Report seemed to say both were equally bad. Are they? Seems some would want to find ways of staying Anglican, even though they can't do it within their own Province.
Problem for ABC was who to invite to Lambeth Conference. In the end he decided to have a Lambeth Conference with no resolutions because, as he saw it, talking is more important than making decisions. He also decided who to invite and aimed to get as many there as possible.
He was criticized for inviting people who had consented to consecration of Gene Robinson. As a result, large numbers of bishops and Provinces felt they couldn't be there, as the consecrators had disregarded Lambeth 1998 and other requests of Communion.
Most of the absentees went to GAFCON. Some of these also went to Lambeth. Most English bishops went to Lambeth but not all, some because they believed they would thereby be in communion with people teaching things contrary to the faith. Many felt they needed to be there to advance the arguments.
GAFCON produced the Jerusalem Statement and a decision to set up a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Not all Anglicans will feel themselves able to be part of that, even if they adhere to basic principles of Anglican church and Christian ethics. What does it mean to be an Anglican, to whom is this responsible, what are you to do as a 'member'?
The debate is very much still with us.
About a fortnight ago there was a National Evangelical Anglican Consultation in London - one of several that have taken place. First, I think, was in Keele, which decided to take full part in Church of England. Subsequent congresses have come together, spoken with one voice, made decisions.
At present we seem to be incapable of speaking together. Blackpool NEAC passed no resolutions. London NEAC was not helped by decision of CEEC to put only one motion and not allow us to amend it. I am not sure we should have been passing motions as that meeting, as we weren't representative. At present we have no organization whereby we can come together to make statements.
We used to have the AEA [Anglican Evangelical Assembly] which used to meet, discuss and pass resolutions. It was difficult, but it held us together and allowed us to make statements. We have somehow lost that. We are not noticing that in a postmodern world people work differently, don't pass resolutions, network.
We are not making the contribution we should. We are in a bit of a state of disarray.
Where is the Anglican Communion going?
It will continue to grow and continue to make Jesus Christ known. I hope and pray that through the Covenant process we might be able to hold to a united course around Anglicanism as it has been taught. I fear we won't stay together. I will work as hard as I can to try to keep Anglicans together through the Covenant process.
I hope we won't fracture. Many of GAFCON Provinces are most lively and we need to learn from them.
What about the Church of England in this land?
We have a lot of hard work to do. I believe in bringing the gospel to the whole of the land. My anxiety is that if some big churches pull out of the Church of England and take their funding with them, that ministry to every part of the land will be put in jeopardy.
I believe under God we will continue to make the gospel known in this land. I hope this will not be in separation.
---Dr Christina Baxter is Principal of St John's Theological College, Nottingham, and Chairman of the House of Laity of General Synod
On the Mainline
Worship with us:
Sundays at 4:00pm.
210 S. Wayne Ave, Wayne, PA