Dear Father Kim,
You ask me to comment on TO MEND THE NET ....
Those of us, led by Bishops Sinclair and Gomez, who produced the book, TO MEND THE NET, made a submission in 2004 to the Lambeth Commission which included a development of the original strategy for renewal. This document is entitled HOLD THE HELM! and its last part contains specific suggestions. Here is that last part. You will notice that there are three aspects to the recommendation.
OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO THE COMMISSION IN MAKING ITS PROPOSAL TO THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY AND THE PRIMATES MEETING
5.1 In this present submission we have highlighted some of the developments in the controversy which forms the context of the Commission’s work. We have also attempted to review the most critical issues underlying and overlaying this Anglican dispute. On the basis of these we comment now on some of the choices the Commission will have to make in deciding its recommendations to the Primates Meeting. In doing so, we bear in mind the specific instructions given to the Commission. We can identify three course of action which the Commission may commend to the Primates.
1. An appeal for a voluntary renewal of mutual accountability:
5.2 Mutual accountability between member churches in the Communion and the collegial loyalty between bishops and primates has been badly weakened as this controversy has taken its course. The restoration of these relationships is not only highly desirable, but actually necessary for the future of the Communion. The Church by its very nature is voluntary, in the sense that its members offer a heart obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. A voluntary and Spirit prompted godliness and mutual submission is indispensable.
5.3 This first appeal should we believe be an essential element in the recommendation made to the Primates. To be valid it should point to a return to a way of being church in which our liturgies and orders of service are consistently and deeply Biblical and our theological debates relate seriously to what is affirmed in the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Anglican Formularies. Mutual accountability does of course mean that novel positions adopted in these debates, but lacking wider consensus and the seal of the Spirit, are not then introduced into the common life of the church, much less imposed within it.
2. A harmonization of the Constitutions and Canons of the Member Churches of the Communion:
5.4 We note that the Primates’ Commission has been asked to undertake legal as well as theological reflection upon the dangers currently facing the Communion. This relates to work previously requested from the IATDC on “the parameters of identifiable Anglican common law and how an understanding of such common law can enhance our global communion.” That the present commission should be looking for a “canonical understanding” of both impaired and broken communion represents necessary ground clearing. Also highly relevant is the question about communion and autonomy and the extent to which they may be compatible.
5.5 It may well be the case that the respective constitutions of our member churches do reflect a very strong common identity and a firm anchorage in Anglican history and tradition. ECUSA has a constitution which identifies it in very conservative terms. The way the individual constitutions are then safeguarded by the canons of the different member churches may vary more widely, and modifications bringing a greater measure of consistency are surely to be welcomed. The canons of course make provision for synodical decisions which may alter church order and possibly church doctrine. There remains therefore the question of how positive modification can be encouraged and allowed, while restraining mistaken change that may be unacceptable to a minority within a given member church and to a majority in sister churches in the Communion.
5.6 Do the proposals following the examination of constitutions and canons contemplate the creation of juridical authority above the level of member churches? If this measure is not introduced, then it is hard to see that by itself a rationalization of constitutions and canons will effectively prevent the introduction of changes which may subvert Anglican identity and compromise Anglican witness. How this level of juridical authority may be introduced should, we believe, be governed by the inclusion of a third proposal, which now follows.
3. An Exercise of Discipline applied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates’ Meeting to Dioceses and Member Churches that after due warning have in their synods taken steps that the wider Communion has declared to be contrary to Scripture.
5.7 The Proposal contained in To Mend the Net did not explicitly elaborate the recommendations that have just been described. They are, however, included in or consistent with what was published that document. We want to positively affirm them now, but at the same time insist that without the acceptance of this third recommendation they will prove inadequate.
5.8 This recommendation responds to the questions directed to the Commission concerning the “extra-ordinary ministry” that the Archbishop of Canterbury may assume in the internal affairs of a province. It also relates to the inclusion among the responsibilities of the Primates’ Meeting “intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within Provinces” specified in resolution III.6 of Lambeth ’98. So does this ministry and this intervention include the exercise of discipline?
5.9 There are essential as well as contingent reasons why a minimal but nevertheless adequate exercise of disciple must be available at every level in the life of a communion of churches. Entry into this communion is voluntary, but if communion is to remain communion there must be a binding loyalty not only to its Head, Jesus Christ, but to its standard of teaching, the Apostolic testimony to Jesus. During the life-time of the Apostles they set this standard for the infant church and protected it from false teaching. There is no reason to imagine that the Church no longer needs protection from heresy, nor that those who introduce false teaching no longer require discipline. Distaste for the wrong kind of heresy hunting gives no justification for failing to preserve essential loyalty to dominical and apostolic standards. Discipline should not be viewed negatively. Ultimately it is restorative. To the extent that the church has lost the capacity for godly discipline, it has no alternative but to learn to exercise it again.
5.10 There is though, a further question: are the revisions currently being introduced in the area of human sexuality of a degree of seriousness that justifies the disciplining of those who through their synods introduce them? In reviewing the issues that are inextricable from those of human sexuality, we gave reasons why contradictory positions on sexuality cannot be held together in the same Communion of churches. The underlying theological divergence is very great, pastoral care, evangelistic outreach, ecumenical and interfaith relations are all place in jeopardy, unless such revisions are held in check. To achieve this necessary restraint the revisers have in this instance to be disciplined. Free running revision is demonstrably fatal to communion. It is insufficient for the Primates meeting to declare that the teaching of the Anglican Communion has not been altered by the innovations relating to sexuality introduced in some member churches, if the meeting cannot bring itself to exercise discipline. While those revisionist member churches or dioceses remain in good standing in the Communion then ‘de facto’ the teaching of the Communion is being changed: a situation which as we have seen is intolerable for other member churches.
5.11 It is our conviction that these three recommendations - renewal of mutual accountability, harmonization of constitutions and canons, and exercise of appropriate discipline at international level – work together. The recent history of refusal against the repeated appeals of the Primates Meeting proves that unless this instrument of Anglican Unity can match godly discipline with godly admonition, the Communion remains at the mercy of any local option however prejudicial it may be to its global witness. To Mend the Net offers a way in which this discipline can be wisely exercised. The harmonisation of constitutions can then provide a complementary juridical basis for this action by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting, matching the authority its President already possesses: to call bishops together or to withdraw that call. These disciplinary and legal steps are necessary, but neither are they sufficient. The life of the Communion must continue to be sustained by a willing mutual accountability and by Spirit inspired virtues, without which communion is in any case hollow. There is no question of a total regulation of the Communion either on the basis of enforced discipline or codified law. These two requirements provide a necessary last line of defence against subversion and disintegration, but the first is a necessary condition for flourishing.
A CONCLUDING OBSERVATION
6.1 What is happening at this time in the Anglican Communion requires on the one hand prompt action, and, on the other, careful working out of long term measures to help to sustain and make fruitful its ongoing witness. Even while the Commission is doing its work in the appointed twelve months, a revisionist member church and diocese are pursuing their chosen course, orthodox dissenters in those areas are re-grouping, and provinces in Africa and Asia and Latin America are declaring impaired or broken communion with the innovators. It is evident that the ship has to be refitted and redirected in a storm.
6.2 Because of the speed of events the Archbishop Canterbury and the Primates Meeting faces a stark alternative. Either a decision is made to discipline ECUSA and New Westminster or else through lack of that decision the communion is allowed to divide into two parts: one tolerating the North American revisions and the other dissociating itself from changes which fatally compromise its Christian witness. The Commission might want to limit its recommendation to damage limitation, but damage to the life of the Communion has already been extensive, and more than damage limitation is now required. In the last analysis, if the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting as a body do not take upon themselves the duty of discipline, then a number of Primates with their Provinces will repair their omission. That though will represent a healing but at the cost of division.
6.3 We conclude with the figure of the ship in the storm. It is significant that a word used for church government in the New Testament also applies to the steering of a ship. Steering becomes critical in turbulent waters. We are saying here as clearly as possible that in the actual storm buffeting the Anglican fleet it isn’t enough to lower some of the sails or nail down some planks on the decks. Those called to exercise enhanced responsibility in the Communion today have to grasp the rudder and restore straying vessels to their Christ appointed course. Nothing less than such a restoration of direction will preserve intact this family of churches. The dangers to which the brief of this Commission allude are real. We submit that the Commission must point the Communion not only to ways of true safety but also to ways in which it can fulfil, by God’s grace, its true potential.
As you know what worries me - even if the Lambeth Commission adopts these suggestions -- is that a presenting problem in North America will be treated as if it were the real problem (that the fruit will be confused with the root!). Though of great seriousness, the homosexual innovations are one sign amongst several of a basic apostasy in the Episcopal Church, and to deal only with one sign is to miss the opportunity to worship and serve the LORD in the beauty of holiness. And to exascerbate the general situation all of us are involved in one way or another in this apostasy and therefore all of us are called to repentance, reform and renewal.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)