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ANGLICAN CONCILIARISM - The Church Meeting to Decide Together

ANGLICAN CONCILIARISM - The Church Meeting to Decide Together
By Canon Phil Ashey
Anglican House
296pp 2017 $24.50

Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
August 8, 2017

Conciliarism was a reform movement in the 14th-, 15th- and 16th-century Roman Catholic Church which held that supreme authority in the Church resided with an Ecumenical Council, apart from, or even against, the pope. The movement emerged in response to the Western Schism between rival popes in Rome and Avignon.

Fast forward to the 21st century and Canon Phil Ashey would like to see an Anglican conciliar council to sort through the mess that has become the Anglican Communion.

The question now is can the Churches of the Anglican Communion find each other around a common confession of faith and doctrine in a coherent way that is Biblical, apostolic, catholic and classically Anglican. The premise of Ashey's book is simple: Conciliar decision-making (placing final ecclesiastical authority in church councils) has never been practiced at the international level of the Anglican Communion. To date the Communion has been united by "bonds of affection" with only a nod towards a shared faith and doctrine.

Since the middle of the 19th Century we have seen the Church's departure from its conciliar past. The Lambeth Conference's deliberate choice to call itself a conference (with no power to guard its teaching) rather than a council or synod having authority to set and enforce limits.

As Paul Valliere's book on Conciliarism notes, that from the original call for an Anglican Council came a conference, and from a conference (came) consultative "instruments," and from a covenant came a committee.

A true consensus collapsed during the 20th Century, so that very survival of the Anglican Communion is now in question.

But Ashey asks the question "What would it look like if, at the international level, Anglicans were to make decisions together in the same conciliar way of decision-making that is found among the national Anglican Churches and their sub-jurisdictions?" He begins by examining and "extrapolating from below" the laws of various Anglican Churches to identify the common principles and practices of the "Church meeting to decide together."

This begs the question whether such a Council can come to fruition if it cannot find consensus on the besetting issue of human sexuality: Would or could such conciliar decision making be enforceable?

As I read Ashey's critique of the Anglican Communion's "non-practice" of conciliarism at the global level, it seems that he understands that such a Council will be rejected by Canterbury, the Anglican Communion Office, the Episcopal Church and its proxy provinces. He seems to take that as a given in his closing section on what the new structures will look like around the GAFCON 2008 Jerusalem Declaration as a sufficient confession, and around the Global South-South meetings as a prototype for a Global Anglican Synod.

When I asked him specifically about his hopes, Ashey said, "Under the structures I propose, the Global South and GAFCON would come together under an agreed upon Confession (incorporating the Jerusalem Declaration), and become the rightful Communion of Anglican Churches with increasing recognition ecumenically from Rome and the Orthodox, among others." In short, what he is proposing is to assume by these structures the rightful mantle of Anglican Conciliarism up to and including Lambeth 1998, after which everything broke down (finally) under relentless pressure from TEC, its money and the Hegelian worldview of Rowan Williams.

The "Canterbury-led Communion" will become like the "British Commonwealth"--largely symbolic, and with increasingly revisionist dominated meetings that are largely irrelevant to the missional needs of the majority world Anglicans

But the Communion of Anglican Churches around the structures which Ashey proposes, will be, increasingly, the majority of the Anglican Churches where mission, faithful doctrinal development, discipline (if necessary) and the revival of Reformational Anglicanism take place.

In sum, this book proposes that the established theory and practice of Anglican Conciliarism can be a viable organizing principle for the entire Communion of Anglican Churches -- and does so from a canonical approach, that is, from an examination of the laws of Anglican churches. In his own words, it is "an ecclesiology from below." The book also includes an Appendix where he compares and contrasts the laws of the Churches in North America -- The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church in North America, and two of their dioceses each -- around the same Eleven Principles and Practices of Anglican conciliarism that Ashey identifies throughout the book.

Canon Ashey's unwavering commitment to Anglicanism has found its apogee in this book. He has performed a fine, invaluable service in penning this book at this particular juncture in Anglican Church history. I cannot recommend it too highly for those interested and concerned at the present state of the Anglican Communion and its future prospects.


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