Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Lambeth Conference as a basic cause of Anglican problems: Will the application of the brakes slow down the Anglican train?

The Anglican Way as one autonomous National Church, with the Christian Monarch as its Governor under the Most High God, began as Ecclesia Anglicana and in the late 1540s became The Church of England and issued the Bible and the Prayer Book in English. Over the centuries other National Churches have been formed from or by the English Church to practice the same form of the Christian Religion—Reformed Catholicism—and in recent times this association or fellowship of national or regional Churches has been called ”The Anglican Communion of Churches.” However, it is only very recently, because of internal crises, that the Churches in this “Communion” have been required to begin to face the question(s): “As a national or regional Anglican Church, are you not only autonomous but also interdependent? And are you willing to sign An Anglican Covenant which clarifies what interdependency means in practice? That is, are you willing to do what it takes to participate fruitfully in a truly conciliar polity involving all the Anglican Churches around the Globe?”

The process of answering will take not months but years. However, the process may be speeded up by actions taken, and advice given, by the so-called Instruments of Unity—The Primates’ Meeting, The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Anglican Consultative Council and The Lambeth Conference of Bishops (due July 2008). Until there is consensus and the terms of a Covenant is agreed—perhaps in late 2008—there will be continuing uncertainty and anxiety especially in the West of the “Communion;” and, importantly, there will be the risk that the Churches of the Global South will lose patience and act unilaterally. And, at the end of this process—if it is ever reached—it is more than likely that the “Communion” will have less members than it presently has, for the terms of An Anglican Covenant may be too tough or traditional for the progressive liberal provinces of the West to swallow. It is also not improbable that before or at the end of the process what is now a 38-member “Communion” may divide into several parts—regional and or doctrinal—and that in one geographical region there will be present two or more of those parts. (Indeed, it is also possible that the present fragmented state of Anglicanism in the USA will become a model for what occurs in other regions!)

Looking back over the recent history of the Anglican association of Churches, it is easy to see that the central claim of Anglicans to have the basis of a conciliar Anglican polity in the regular meeting of “The Lambeth Conference” of all serving Anglican Bishops, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as Chairman , has been both a sign of unity and interdependency and also the means of creating forces which may be called centrifugal and thus actually work against unity and interdependency. And we must remember that this Conference has been dominated by “open-minded” bishops from the West until the last Conference in 1998, where what is now called “The Global South” made its mind, voice and votes known, especially in the matter of sexual relations between human beings.

1. As a Body, by majority vote, the Conference commended the use of artificial birth control in 1930 and thereby (apart from provoking a famous reaction from the Vatican) began a process of changing the received doctrine of Christian Marriage as it had been known and taught, especially in terms of the relation between marriage and procreation. In the West, the Anglican Churches liberalized their canon law and pastoral policies with respect to marriage after World War II (and preeminently so in the USA). The Lambeth Conferences did nothing to seek to halt the development of this new doctrine of marriage which is widely and generally accepted in the West and may be found in liturgical form in the 1979 Prayer Book of The Episcopal Church and in canon law form in the Episcopal Church canon of 1973.

2. Again the same Conference voted in 1968 to encourage each Church/Province to begin the process of creating new forms of service, not to replace the One Book of Common Prayer then used everywhere and by all, but to exist alongside it and to provide variety for people living in the new era of change and prosperity in the West. Instead of their being cooperation by Provinces in the production of these “Books of Alternative Services” each Province which had the money and available scholars (the Western ones obviously and only) did its own thing and began a process and movement that has not ceased to this day. The Anglican Churches are swamped by new and progressive and innovative liturgies and these have overwhelmed the One Book of Common Prayer! In the West no one seems to know any more what is Anglican worship for the variety is overwhelming!

3. With respect to the ordination of women and their consecration as Bishops, the Lambeth Confernce invented the specifically Anglican doctrine of reception in 1988 in order to deal with a situation of its own making (see my Reforming Forwards? The Process of Reception…., The Latimer Trust, London, www.latimertrust.org). It had not opposed and did not oppose this innovation, which had been given the go-ahead by the Anglican Consultative Council between Lambeth Conferences. However, by its acceptance of the presence of ordained women (even if their whole ministry is an “experiment” being tested) the Conference in effect, and for all practical purposes, gave the green light to the claims coming into the Churches from the growing emphasis and presence of human rights in society—in this case equal rights for women.

4. At the last Lambeth Conference of 1998, that green light was turned off for a while because the presence of the basically “fair-minded liberalized Western bishops” was less in numbers and determination than the biblically-based and evangelistically motivated bishops from the Global South. I was there to see this new phenomenon when a new united voice was heard at Lambeth and it was a voice that challenged assumptions previously taken for granted by so many bishops in the West. It was primarily seen in the adoption of a resolution on sexuality, where traditional understanding of the relation of man and woman in marriage was preserved and declared. And this has proved to be a massive challenge and barrier to the onward march of the human rights movement within the Western Churches with regard to sexual relations between persons of the same sex. It was, as it were, putting on the brakes that were taken off in 1930!

However, since the brakes had been off for so long, many people in the West especially had got used to their “freedoms,” the “exercise of their rights” and the recognition of “their dignity,” and the application of the brake has caused what is now generally agreed to be a crisis- a crisis of Identity- for the people called Anglicans. Not only are same-sex blessings and marriage being opposed but also serious thought is now being given, at last, to the liberal attitude towards serial monogamy, the deployment of divorced and divorced/remarried clergy as pastors in the churches. Further, the proliferation of liturgical texts is being challenged and the idea of having One Prayer and One Version of the Bible is now a respectable thing to talk about! A shake-up has started which is affecting all parts of the Anglican Family. Whether it will create centripetal forces for unity and renewal in unity we shall have to wait and see, for over the last fifty years it has been centrifugal forces that have dominated the Anglican scene especially in the West.

Finally, let us spare a moment to think about the devoted, faithful church member in rural America, rural Tanzania or anywhere around the Globe whose only desire is to serve the Lord faithfully day by day by doing his will and loving Him and his people. Let us pray that the failures of the Shepherds of the flock of Christ will not do serious harm to these “saints” of God.

All Hallows Eve, 2006 drpetertoon@yahoo.com

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