Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Archbishop of Sydney comments on the REFLECTIONS of the Archbishop of Canterbury, sent to all the Primates - June 28, 2006

A few comments from the Revd Dr Peter Toon


Response to the Statement “Reflections on the Anglican Communion”, released by the Most Rev Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

“All members of the Anglican Communion welcome the statement from Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr Williams has done us a great service in these reflections following the recently held General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States. I offer my own response to his statement.

Among other things, Dr Williams has recognized the following:

First, a separation within the Communion is inevitable. To use an analogy, partners have separated although they have not divorced. This is recognized in his categories of constituent churches and churches in association with the Communion.

Second, the Archbishop has made it very clear that this whole controversy is, at a fundamental level, about the authority of the Bible, and the way in which we learn and follow God's will in fellowship with each other. The presenting issue may be human sexuality but the real issue remains the word of God.

Thirdly, the Archbishop has spoken of the need of a covenant to hold the constituent churches together and for new institutions to develop. In talking like this he seems to be more optimistic than I would be. Rather than looking into the mid-term future with hopes for the development of new covenants and institutions, I think we need to be looking at the realities of the present situation, and recognising the need to accept the new relationships that have occurred. Like him, I am not without hope that our future relationships can be sustaining and enriching. Unlike him, I think that the Communion has already become a looser network of churches with much in common but, unfortunately, much that separates.

The Archbishop remains concerned that our life together remains a valid and vital way of presenting the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. I think that his summons for us to listen to the word of God enables us to continue to have a future. Just as Archbishop Williams does, I also pray that it may be so.”

The Most Rev Dr Peter F. Jensen

Archbishop of Sydney, 28 June 2006

1) Dr Jensen is probably right in his assessment that there is already a division in the Anglican Communion and that the only way to keep the present 38 Provinces together is by having two levels of membership in the Communion. One would be full membership committed to the historic Christian Religion and one would be partial association, without rights to attend meetings or to vote, and only loosely committed to historic Christian Faith.

2) Dr Jenson is wholly right to state that the matter of same-sex unions is the presenting problem and that the real basis for the growing separation is the presence of two views of authority and the Bible. The view of the progressive liberals is that the Bible is authoritative in that it is, for them, unique in the sense that it is the first record of human reception of divine revelation; yet, at the same time, it is not the final and the last such record, because their God, the God of evolution and progress, is continually revealing Godself, and has done so much recently in human experience of rights, of freedom, of self-realization and of sexual activity. So the God of 2006 has updated what he/she/it was and made known in biblical times and thus there are changes in faith and morals.

3) Dr Jenson is right to point out that to create a covenant that will acceptable to all Primates and then will be approved by all the Synods of all the Provinces is to aim at the near impossible, not least because of the complex legal issues that such a proposed covenant would face within given provinces – not least Australia.

4) It is surely sensible, reasonable and morally right that provinces which come from the same roots and share the same basic Faith should restore and cultivate genuine cooperation and fellowship in the Gospel and thereby testify to the unity for which the Lord Jesus prays as the High Priest. (It is a great pity to note that what bound the provinces together in bonds of affection for many years is not mentioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury as a basis of unity – i.e., the classic Formularies and the regular use of the Book of Common Prayer all over the world.)

5) Dr Jenson does not mention(because he was being deliberately brief) the ordination of women as that which divides Anglicans one from another, though Dr. Williams does refer to it. However, if the projected, new form of the Communion is composed of those who reject same-sex blessings and the like, it will still be divided over whether it is God’s will to bring women into the Historic Ministry, and very particularly over whether they should be made Bishops. In Sydney, there are no ordained women priests and the doctrine of headship, espoused by the archdiocese, prevents any move in that direction. But in other parts of Australia no such doctrine is confessed.

6) Also Dr Jenson does not mention that the great variety of liturgical forms now being used in the Anglican world (not least in Sydney!) makes unity more difficult to achieve and manage, for we not only to have to deal with the permanent realities of language and cultural differences, but also with both different churchmanships (an old problem) and a vast spectrum of forms of service (a new problem).

7) What I would like to see alongside the Instruments of Unity (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council) is the restoration of the classic Formularies (BCP, Articles of Religion and Ordinal) and the harmonizing of the canon law of the various provinces in matters that deal with relations one to another.

Certainly the Anglican Way is now being challenged in ways that would hardly have been envisaged a few years ago. If it has in God’s providence anything to share in the long term with other jurisdictions within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, it will need to be brought by divine guidance and grace, through the difficult years ahead, to stability in the Faith and a unity in worship together with a genuine comprehensiveness in membership and mission.

In an appendix below the Response of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church of the USA is provided. His province would – on present insights – be not in full membership of the Communion but in associate, that is partial, membership.

The full text of Griswold's statement follows.

I am greatly encouraged by the Archbishop of Canterbury's timely call to the provinces of the Anglican Communion to join together in exploring our Anglican identity. I am one with him in his desire to develop a covenant capable of expressing that identity amidst the complexities of the world in which we live. I believe it is possible for us hold up a renewed vision of what it means to be Anglican Christians.

The Archbishop's has helpfully raised up in his text the constituent elements of classical Anglicanism, namely the priority of the Bible in matters of doctrine, the Catholic sacramental tradition and a "habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly." This both reminds us of the tradition that has formed us and points us to the future.

The conclusion of this lengthy process is now unknown. Therefore is it misleading that some, in responding to the Archbishop's lengthy theological reflection, have focused their attention on speculations about a yet-to-be determined outcome. And, as we enter into that process of discernment, we must never forget that God can always surprise us, and that the church is not our possession but is an instrument of God's reconciling love in the world.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
June 28, 2006

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