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By David W. Virtue

CHARLESTON, SC--There is a need for mechanisms of order and discipline in the Anglican Communion if it is to survive, says the president of the Anglican Communion Institute, Dr. Christopher Seitz.

Addressing several hundred attendees at a conference here, Seitz, Professor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, Scotland said, "one can actually hear the timbers of our Communion boat creak, and there seems to be little sign that the winds are calming. The Communion has been hit by a tsunami, and we are salvaging what we can and hoping things have not gone beyond the possibility of repair."

At virtually every level of our life, we have been affected by the events of the past six months. The stress and strain has left no one-lay person, clergy, theologian-untouched, he said.

"We are heeled way over, shipping water, the seas are rough, we are working hard on deck, there is much activity, much worry, much concern, some people have been washed off deck, some have jumped into lifeboats, the boat is stretched to the limit, and there is concern about sustainability: of the boat and of ourselves."

Seitz told the conferees of theologians, Episcopal clergy and concerned laity, that any talk of a federation must be rejected. "We are a Communion, unlike the Lutheran World Federation, which consists of independent national churches. Anglicanism has found its life and mission in a genuine Communion of accountability and interdependence. Within the US, we have tried to emphasize this with the language for a network now forming: Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes."

"If some leaders in ECUSA wish to be a local American denomination, one among many others claiming new truth in a New World setting, we at ACI have maintained a different vision: an Anglican Church true to its Communion past and present as the Body of Christ, and not an assemblage of body parts with different goals and different Masters."

Seitz expressed puzzlement, though not surprise, at the failure of the "post New Hampshire episcopalianism" to declare itself no longer bound by the promises and responsibilities of Communion life.

"With all the talk of fresh insight and conviction and new Holy Spirit teaching, why does this talk not find its logical end-point: a kind of "declaration of independence" from Communion promises and common life? Since its actions indicate a wish to be independent, logic would demand that talk of a genuine Communion-a single body in Christ, as He is our single and only Lord-cease. And indeed, after New Hampshire, it is hard to imagine that next year's Primates meeting, or the Lambeth Conference in five years, will look as they once did, ever again."

"We are facing an unprecedented moment in the life of the Anglican Communion. At no point in its long history can a direct analogy be found which would help us determine what kind of response is required. We are at a moment of reckoning with fateful consequences for the identity of Anglicanism as an international Communion of Churches."

Seitz expressed concern that the Communion would devolve into a federation of independent national bodies internally divided and denominated according to individual preferences and wishes.

Dr. Philip Turner, former Yale theologian and Episcopal priest asked, "will we divide into two bodies - one composed in large measure of white people from the United Kingdom, North America, Australia and New Zealand and another composed in large measure of people of color from the Global South?"

Turner argued that it was still possible to have a Communion of churches that was self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. "But unless the Archbishop of Canterbury and the primates are willing to impose some form of discipline on the Diocese of New Westminster and ECUSA, there is virtually no hope of maintaining Anglicanism as a communion."

Turner said the actions of New Westminster and ECUSA constituted a direct attack upon this tradition, and in so doing threatened to subvert the basic identity of the Anglican Communion.

Turner argued that Anglicanism could remain a communion if "ecclesial integrity and tolerable diversity" could be maintained.

Citing reasons against that possibility, Turner said using Scripture "proofs", formularies, creeds or confessional statements, political or legal authority, Episcopal, canonical or otherwise, or referring to historical or social developments would not work.

"But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ecclesial integrity and tolerable diversity could be sustained if the whole of the Bible and historical circumstances functioned in an ordered fellowship of worship and prayer, disputes were resolved through shared will to unity and shaped by the cross, free and open theological debate with mutual correction, inhibited changes in practice until wide agreement about "novelties" is reached and that there are limits upon the "autonomy" of any given parish, diocese or province within the Anglican Communion."

Turner cited Cranmer (rather than Hooker) as his model, saying that Cranmer grounded his vision of the prayers of the church in Holy Scripture and the practice of the early fathers rather than in ecclesial authority, doctrinal propositions, or canon law. "Cranmer insisted on the communal reading of Holy Scripture in the context of ordered worship which lead to edification and Godliness."

"I believe that ecclesial integrity and tolerable diversity are best held in balance by communal reading of Holy Scripture in the context of worship and the ancient prayers of the church, and by the ordering authority of bishops who insure constancy of practice in the midst of a communion of people whose lives manifest the virtues present in Christ's own life."

Turner rejected the Roman Catholic answer, which combined the notion of the development of doctrine with Papal teaching authority. He also rejected the Lutheran and Presbyterian notion that sought to bridge the gap between the original witness of the Apostles by means of doctrinal summary of Scripture's witness as well as the Evangelical answer in the reading of Scripture controlled by a fixed interpretive grid.

Drawing on the history of Cappadocian Trinitarianism, Scottish theologian Dr. Thomas Smail said that the future of Anglicanism, "is learning to live with the Holy Spirit, is the particular challenge that is confronting us now and will continue to confront us in the years ahead."

"A Cappadocian Trinitarianism (as opposed to an Augustinian Trinitarianism and the West with its relativizing of the distinctiveness of the divine persons) opens the door to a recognition of the distinctive ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This has implications for theology, for pastoral practice, for worship, and gives us hope that through the confrontation of clashing convictions, the Spirit will yet lead his people into all the truth that the Father gives us through the Son."


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