Friday, December 14, 2007

Lambeth Resolutions and Reports: What Permanence do they have?

A reflection to aid better Reflections.

Many of the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference from 1867 to 1998 belong to the space and time when passed and become irrelevant as the years pass by. This is especially so with Resolutions addressed to pressing social, economic and political matters. The same applies to the Reports on these matters which go before the Resolutions.

Some Reports and Resolutions do, however, have a more permanent character—e.g., those to do with Doctrine, Liturgy, Polity, Ecumenism and so on. The effect of some of these is that by their regular statement they have the effect of creating “an Anglican mind” –and this is especially so when they are made part of the received teaching of local Provinces through synodical action. One example is the general agreement set forth after World War II for there to be alongside the one Book of Common Prayer, local, provincial alternative sets of Services to be used under the doctrinal authority of the same Book of Common Prayer. (Thus the Church of England produced The ASB 1980. But what The Episcopal Church did was not in accordance with the Lambeth mind in that it created in 1976/9 a Book of Varied Services and called it The BCP, putting the received, classic BCP in the archives! Here lies one of the major sources of the present TEC’s dysfunctional nature.)

One would expect that a Report and Resolution to do with heresy would have a permanent aspect to them. But this is not necessarily so.

Take the decision made at the first Lambeth Conference of 1867 publicly to support the Metropolitan of Southern Africa, Robert Gray, in his condemnation and deposing of the Bishop of Natal, John William Colenso—even though the Privy Council in England had declared the condemnation null and void. Colenso taught that there was no hell, no everlasting punishment; and he also denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and made the Torah in effect to cease to be Word of God. In 1867, the 76 Bishops at Lambeth agreed with Gray that Colenso was a heretic and ought to cease to be a Bishop, and said so.

In 2007, one hundred and forty years later, one may safely say that many Anglican Bishops—especially in the so-called West or North— do not believe in either everlasting punishment or that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. And such beliefs are regarded as “normal” and “acceptable” generally in educated Christian circles.

In the light of this, one hears today the strong suggestion that though same-sex covenanted, faithful partnerships are seen as immoral and heretical by a majority today, in twenty years time (after the greater spread of human rights and therapeutic views of the human person in Africa) this position will be reversed, just as in the case of Colenso’s heresies. Maybe so!

To continue: One would also expect that a Report and Resolution to do with basic Polity—the organization of the Church geographically into Provinces with Dioceses—would be fairly stable. And so it was and seemed to be from 1876 until the last decade of the twentieth century!

In 1867 there was a carefully drafted Report which made suggestions how missionary Bishops from two Provinces working in the same general territory and area could plan their activity so that that the unity of the Church was maintained both in the present and for the future. Since 1867 the unity of the Church and the respect for provincial boundaries has been emphasized and agreed upon often. So to enter another Province a Bishop has sought the permission of the local, resident Bishop, who, in the bonds of affection, grants it. But he did not enter to cause dissension but to edify.

This long established custom has been severely challenged in North America from the late 1990s.

Within the territory of The Episcopal Church of the USA [TEC] and the Anglican Church of Canada, there has been in the last decade a series of “visits” by overseas Primates and Bishops, with the intention of creating secession from TEC and a re-alignment with their provinces. Rwanda began this crossing of boundaries to establish The Anglican Mission in America, with a growing number of Bishops (all part of the House of Bishops of Rwanda); and it has been followed by Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda also with their Bishops—and in a slightly different manner the Province of the Southern Cone of America is joining this crossing of boundaries, but coming up from the South, rather than crossing the Atlantic. None of this crossing has been approved by TEC and in fact TEC has not been asked to approve it. When TEC has protested it has not been heard. When the larger Anglican Family has protested it has also not been heard.

Thus the new (as yet minority Anglican) position—not discussed yet at a Lambeth Conference—favored by the Global South provinces appears to be that any province has the right to determine if another province is doctrinally sound; and; if it judges in the negative; then it has the right to enter that province to cause secession and re-alignment, and create an extension of its own church there.

What confusion Anglicans have put themselves in, first in North America and also increasingly globally.

Happily the same Anglicans have declared that even General Councils may err—and if they may err, then so may the Lambeth Conference in any or all of its Resolutions. With this in mind any Resolution planned for 2007 hardly merits excessive zeal or intense support!

The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon November 28 2007

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