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ACI on its Submission to the Lambeth Commission

ANGLICAN COMMUNION INSTITUTE ON ITS SUBMISSION TO THE LAMBETH COMMISSION

By Andrew Goddard

At their meeting in Kanuga this week the Lambeth Commission received Communion and Discipline a substantial submission from the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI).

This builds on the Institute’s earlier work in True Union in the Body? and Claiming Our Anglican Identity – both on the initial reading list for Commission members. The fifty-page document sets out a strong theological and practical case for the Communion to discipline ECUSA because of its actions at General Convention 2003.

Sketching features of this ‘unprecedented and dangerous moment within the Anglican Communion’, it highlights the need for the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates ‘to bring order into a frighteningly chaotic situation’.

The argument that the Communion has been here before in relation to the ordination of women and that Anglicans are now in a period of ‘reception’ in relation to acceptance of same-sex unions and bishops who live within such unions is firmly rebutted.

Major differences are highlighted between the two issues and in the way in which the Communion reached the point of innovation. Furthermore, the political reality cannot be ignored: in relation to ECUSA’s (and now Canada’s unilateral action) ‘all too evidently we have entered, not a period of ‘reception’, but a process of ‘rejection’’.

The ‘critically significant role that the authority of Scripture plays in the current crisis’ is then examined. The Commission is warned that its response to violations of biblical and Anglican teaching ‘could indirectly result in its becoming the first council to state, even if only by implication, that the Church has no clear sense of Scripture’s teaching in the area of human sexuality; or that Scripture is not clear or has no word to speak; or that Scripture can contain positions which are mutually opposed’.

In order to prevent this it is necessary that ‘those in this Communion who have departed from Scripture’s plain sense and catholic teaching be disciplined’ because ‘If the Church will not express and enact such discipline, it will clearly have surrendered and abandoned the plain sense of Scripture’.

Such discipline is integral to the church’s mission in communion. In fact, discipline ‘represents the absolutely necessary and faithful avenue given the churches of the Communion in the face of their current crisis’. Such discipline is not primarily legal but an act of love aimed at reconciliation in the truth.

It is not exclusion from communion but the form communion takes in the face of contemptuous disregard for Communion teaching and appeals for restraint. In fact, ‘the failure to desire and to enact discipline within the Body of Christ is tantamount to accepting the disappearance of communion itself’.

Drawing on earlier work submitted to the Commission by one of its legal experts, Dr Norman Doe, the Institute highlights the limits to ‘autonomy’ and explores the nature of ‘communion’ and the importance of viewing authority in more than legal terms.

In the light of this it presents a concrete proposal as to the form of discipline which is focussed on invitations to the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting: ‘it would be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury, as primus inter pares, with the Primates to issue no invitation to such gatherings to those bishops who have exempted themselves from the practice of mutual subjection’.

Alternatively, the Primates could allow bishops under discipline to attend Communion councils, ‘but would reduce their status to that of “observer”, without voice or vote’.

This discipline would be lifted when forgiveness had been sought and assurances given to adhere to Lambeth I.10 until such time as the Communion revised its teaching. An appendix offers an ‘example of a restorative statement to be signed by consenting bishops of ECUSA to demonstrate a Christian commitment to reconciliation with the Communion’.

If this has not occurred by Lambeth 2008 then the Primates should ‘request that the Archbishop of Canterbury initiate whatever process is necessary within the Church of England to bring about a formal break in communion between the See of Canterbury, ECUSA, and the Diocese of New Westminster, even as other Primates pursue a similar course within their own provinces’.

During the period of discipline clergy and parishes whose bishops are under Communion discipline will ‘wish to maintain a full connection with the communion through a bishop’ and should be free to ‘seek adequate/alternative Episcopal Oversight (AEO)’. In so doing they should ‘receive the encouragement and moral support of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates expressed in a public fashion’.

Andrew Goddard is Tutor in Christian Ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford

The full text of the document is available on the web at http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.org/articles/Communion_and_Discipline.pdf

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