Reform Ireland Conference 2004
An address by Melvin Tinker, Vicar of St John's, Newland, Hull at the Reform Ireland Conference, 11th November 2004
Any attempt to summarise a carefully worded document of over 80 pages long is liable to lay itself open to the charge of simplification, generalisation and so misrepresentation. That, however, is a risk we will have to take. We hope to offset such tendencies by quoting the findings of the commission itself, whilst always being careful to pay due regard to the context in which those statements are made. However, in order to avoid tedium and simply reproducing large chunks of the report en masse we will summarise parts of the document to convey the salient points being made.
The Current Crisis
The great cause for concern for many is the degree of disunity, hurt and frustration that exists at present resulting from action taken by certain parts of the Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality. The immediate background is the 1998 Lambeth Conference and resolution 1:10 which clearly states that same sex genital acts are seen as sinful and require repentance and a change in direction. The Primates unanimously upheld the resolution as the standard of Anglican teaching on the matter in their statement of October 16, 2003: "We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues." Yet running alongside this are two controversial issues which have not been laid to rest by such resolutions:
- Whether or not it is legitimate for the church to bless the committed, exclusive and faithful relationships of same sex couples, and
- Whether or not it is appropriate to ordain to the Episcopate persons living in a sexual relationship with a partner of the same sex.
The unilateral action of two Dioceses in this direction precipitated the present crisis. The Diocese of New Hampshire in the United States proceeded with the consecration of Gene Robinson, a divorcee and practicing homosexual. The 74th Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) also declared that, "local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." (General Convention 2003, Resolution C 051). The Canadian Diocese of New Westminster formally approved the use of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions. What is more, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada issued a statement affirming the integrity and sanctity of same sex relationships. To the dismay of many, this development occurred after the Windsor Commission had been set up and after there had been a call from the Archbishop of Canterbury for there to be a time of calm for quiet reflection. These actions have simply been presented to the wider Anglican Communion as a fait accompli with no theological justification at all, a point made by the Commission, 'The first reason therefore, why the present problems have reached the pitch they have is that it appears to the wider communion that neither the Diocese of New Westminster nor the Episcopal Church (USA) has made a serious attempt to offer an explanation to, or consult meaningfully with, the Communion as a whole about the significant development of theology which could justify the recent moves by a diocese of a province." (Paragraph 30 p.20)
The seriousness of these actions has been recognized by the Anglican primates: "It is feared that these actions "might tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level." (Statement by Primates, Lambeth 16th Oct 2003), thus underscoring the point made earlier that the crisis is being perceived mainly as one which threatens the unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
But of course, there was disunity and consternation being caused at the local level by such actions. This is the way the Windsor Report describes the situation: "Within the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster themselves, several moves have been made by dissenting parishes and groups to distance themselves, in a variety of ways, from the dioceses, bishops and provinces within which they are geographically located. In some cases this has involved them in appealing for help to the Archbishop of Canterbury; in others, in seeking Episcopal oversight by bishops or archbishops from other dioceses and/or provinces. In many cases, it has simply meant bewilderment and uncertainty as to the present and future Anglican status of those who dissent to the innovations." (Paragraph 29 p.18) Following these events some Primates and other bishops took it upon themselves to, "intervene in the affairs of other provinces in the Communion." (Paragraph 123, p51,). This action was deemed by the Commission to contribute to the breakdown of relationships within the Anglican Communion, although it does recognize that, "The overwhelming response from other Christians both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard these developments (New Hampshire and New Westminster) as departures from the genuine, apostolic Christian faith (Paragraph 28 p.18).
The upshot of this sorry state of affairs is that it has left some Anglican parishes and Provinces in impaired communion with these two Dioceses. As we shall see, it is the question of unity and what is considered to be due process operating within the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is the main burden of the Commission.
The Windsor Commission's Mandate
In the introduction to the report by Archbishop Eames, we are told that, "This Report is not a judgement. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation. The proposals which follow attempt to look forward rather than merely to recount how difficulties have arisen." (p. 6). More specifically the mandate given was, "to examine the legal and theological implications flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church (USA) to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishop, and the Diocese of New Westminster to authorize services for use in connection with same sex unions.", as well as looking at, "the ways in which provinces of the Anglican Communion may relate to one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican Communion.' (Paragraph 1, p8.). However, it is also important to stress, as does the report, what lies outside the mandate: "We repeat that we have not been invited, and are not intending, to comment or make recommendations on the theological and ethical matters concerning the practice of same sex relations and the blessing or ordination or consecration of those who engage in them." (Paragraph 43 p.24.). As we shall see, it is a combination of faulty premises and inadequate parameters which determine the conclusions drawn by the Commission and expose its most fundamental weaknesses.
We now turn to some of those premises which relate to the theological undergirding of the report and its understanding of the nature and functioning of the Anglican Communion.
Theological framework and ecclesiological understanding
Key to the Commission's understanding of the nature of the Anglican Communion is its ecclesiology - its doctrine of the Church. This is what the report says: 'The communion we enjoy as Anglicans involves a sharing in double 'bonds of affection': those that flow from our shared status as children of God in Christ, and those that arise from our shared and inherited identity, which is the particular history of the churches to which we belong. This is a relationship of 'covenantal affection'; that is, our mutual affection is not subject to whim and mood, but involves us in a covenant relation of binding mutual promises, with God in Christ and with one another. All those called by the gospel of Jesus Christ and set apart by God's gift of baptism are incorporated into the communion of the Body of Christ." (Paragraph 45 p.26) It then goes on, "When "the Anglican Communion" describes itself as such, it is self-consciously describing that part of the Body of Christ which shares an inheritance through the Anglican tradition…" (Paragraph 46, p26). Prior to this the Commission seeks to root its theology in Scripture with special reference to the letter to the Ephesians and confidently asserts, "The church, sharing in God's mission to the world through the fact of its corporate life, must live out that holiness which anticipates God's final rescue of the world from the powers and corruptions of evil (Eph 4.17-6.20)" (Paragraph 2, p.11). Even more emphatically, " It assumes… that this unity and communion are meaningless unless they issue in that holiness of life, worked out in severely practical contexts, through which the church indicates to the world that a new way of being human, over against corrupt and dehumanising patterns of life, has been launched upon the world. In other words, unity, communion and holiness all belong together. Ultimately, questions about one are questions about all." This, therefore, makes it surprising to many that homosexual practice is still open to debate. This is just one example of the many inconsistencies and double thinking we find in the report.
What, then, is the Anglican Communion? "The Lambeth Conference has described the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of churches in communion with the See of Canterbury." (Paragraph 48, p.25). This leads to the question being asked: how are the various members of this body to relate to each other and do theology?
The Commission does stress that the supreme authority is Scripture, (Paragraph 43, p.23). It goes on to describe what it understands by the term 'authority', "The phrase "the authority of scripture", if it is to be based on what scripture itself says, must be regarded as a shorthand, and a potentially misleading one at that, for the longer and more complex notion of "the authority of the triune God, exercised through scripture." (Paragraph 54, p.27). A further attempt to elucidate what this means is later made, "it must be seen that the purpose of scripture is not simply to supply true information, nor just to prescribe in matters of belief and conduct, nor merely to act as a court of appeal, but to be part of the dynamic life of the Spirit through which God the Father is making the victory which was won by Jesus' death and resurrection operative within the world and in and through human beings." (Paragraph 55, p.28). As we shall see, this is a rather mischievous and inadequate understanding of the nature and purpose of Scripture.
Who is responsible for teaching the Scriptures to ensure that we can 'discern the will of God' on any particular matter? The answer: the church's leaders and especially the Bishops: "The place of Christian leaders - chiefly within the Anglican tradition, of bishops- as teachers of scripture can hardly be over emphasized. The 'authority' of bishops cannot reside solely or primarily in legal structures, but, as in Acts 6.4, in their ministry of "prayer and the word of God." (Paragraph 58, p.29). However, the way the Bishops who made up the Commission handle Scripture in the report does not give us cause for confidence in this area. For example, much is made of what is called 'adiaphora' (literally 'things of no consequence') to explain why there is a degree of variety of belief and practice within the Anglican Communion. It is rightly stated that this does not mean a 'free for all' interpretation so that the Scriptures can be relativised and we become captive to the spirit of the age, "Paul is quite clear that there are several matters - obvious examples being incest (1 Corinthians 5) and lawsuits between Christians before non-Christian courts (1 Corinthians 6) - in which there is no question of saying "some Christians think this, other Christians think that, and you must learn to live with the difference". On the contrary: Paul insists that some types of behaviour are incompatible with inheriting God's coming kingdom, and must not therefore be tolerated within the Church." (Paragraph 89, p.39). One cannot help but notice the most glaring omission which could have been mentioned - homosexual practice- 1 Corinthians 6:9. One wonders why 'incest' is an' obvious example' but not same sex genital relations? Later a window is left open for those who would argue that homosexual practice within a committed same-sex relationship is permissible when it is stated: "When we put the notion of 'adiaphora' together with that of inculturation (that is the legitimate cultural expression of our faith which will vary), this is what we find: "in Paul's world, many cultures prided themselves on such things as anger and violence on the one hand and sexual profligacy on the other. Paul insists that both of these are ruled out for those in Christ. Others prided themselves on such things as justice and peace; Paul demonstrated that the gospel of Jesus enhanced and fulfilled such aspirations. The Church in each culture, and each generation, must hammer out the equivalent complex and demanding judgements. Even when the notion of 'adiaphora' applies, it does not mean that Christians are left free to pursue their own personal choices without restriction. Paul insists that those who take what he calls the "strong" position, claiming the right to eat and drink what others regard as off limits, must take care of the "weak", those who still have scruples of conscience about the matters in question - since those who are lured into acting against conscience are thereby drawn into sin. Paul does not envisage this as a static situation. He clearly hopes that his own teaching, and mutual acceptance within the Christian family, will bring people to one mind." (p.39ff). One does not have to be a prophet or a son of a prophet to see how this will work out in practice. Those in favour of the revisionist agenda will argue that it is precisely a matter of justice that gays should be made bishops for not to do so is rank discrimination. They can claim they are 'strong' and so if they were to hold back from taking things further; it is not because their position is not theologically acceptable, but it is not the right time because of the position of the weaker brethren- those who are currently orthodox.
This possibility is given more force when we see how the Commission sets out its view on how the members of the Anglican Communion are to relate to each other and may come to a common mind on matters of doctrine and practice.
It is recognised that there is legitimate autonomy within the Anglican Communion but what this autonomy consists of is carefully explained by the report, "A body is thus, in this sense, 'autonomous' only in relation to others: autonomy exists in a relation with a wider community or system of which the autonomous entity forms part. The word 'autonomous' in this sense actually implies not an isolated individualism, but the idea of being free to determine one's own life within a wider obligation to others. The key idea is autonomy-in-communion, that is, freedom held within interdependence." (Paragraph 76, p.35). According to the Commission what binds the Anglican Communion together, and so facilitates interdependence, are its historic episcopate, the so called instruments of unity; namely, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council (which involves the laity) and the Primates meeting, as well as its synodical life, with Scripture being the constant factor (paragraph 70, p33). The way in which fresh developments are then to be dealt with in terms of proper procedure involving the above structures, is by way of applying what is called the principle of reception. The sequence to be followed is: theological debate, formal action and increased consultation to see if the formal action settles down and makes itself at home. (Paragraph 68, p.33). But the Commission does declare: "We should note, however, that the doctrine of reception only makes sense if the proposals concern matters on which the Church has not so far made up its mind. It cannot be applied in the case of actions which are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and/or of individual provinces. No province, diocese or parish has the right to introduce a novelty which goes against such teaching and excuse it on the grounds that it has simply been put forward for reception." (Paragraph 69, p.33).
It is a failure to follow this procedure which is seen to be the real sin of the revisionist dioceses. For example, showing how this principle worked itself out in terms of the ordination of women priests the Commission writes, "The precedent that could have been set by this procedure has not, unfortunately, been followed in the matters currently before the Communion. This, we conclude, lies at the heart of the problems we currently face." (Italics mine- Paragraph 22, p.16). The implication is that if the revisionist dioceses had only 'played the game' we would not be in this position. There is also the further implication that if only they were to resume playing the game then their position might well be acceptable in due course. This implicit possibility running throughout the report is made explicit in the recommendation at the end when it says that the Episcopal Church (USA) should, "be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges." (italics mine, Paragraph 134, p.54).
Recommendations for action
First, there are recommendations regarding the Instruments of Unity. It is proposed that there should be a clearer understanding over what is expected in the way provinces relate to these. It is also proposed that the Archbishop of Canterbury should play a more central role within worldwide Anglicanism and to assist him a Council of advice should be set up. To both clarify and strengthen these instruments an Anglican Covenant is proposed which could deal with: "the acknowledgement of common identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes)." (Paragraph 118, p.48) This would be implemented by a short domestic 'Communion law" for each Province.
Whilst all that is very much focused on the future to avoid similar situations occurring again, recommendations are made with regard to the present crisis.
As far as the election to the Episcopate is concerned, it is proposed that: "the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion. Pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators o Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We urge this in order to create the space necessary to enable the healing of the Communion." (Paragraph 134, p.54)
Also, as we have already noted, a moratorium should be introduced on such further consecrations until a new consensus has been reached within the Anglican Communion.
Turning to the matter of the blessing of same sex unions we read, "We call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion." (Paragraph 144, p.57)
The difficulties facing dissenting groups are recognized and appropriate action called for, namely, "In these circumstances we call upon the church or province in question to recognise first that dissenting groups in their midst are, like themselves, seeking to be faithful members of the Anglican family (an over- charitable assumption if ever there was one!-author) ; and second, we call upon all the bishops concerned, both the 'home' bishops and the 'intervening' bishops as Christian leaders and pastors to work tirelessly to rebuild the trust which has been lost. In only those situations where there has been an extreme breach of trust, and as a last resort, we commend a conditional and temporary provision of delegated pastoral oversight for those who are dissenting. This oversight must be sufficient to provide a credible degree of security on the part of the alienated community, so that they do not feel at the mercy of a potentially hostile leadership. While the temporary provision of pastoral oversight is in place there must also be a mutually agreed commitment to effecting reconciliation." (Paragraphs 149-151, p.58)
Then we come to part of the report which has understandably outraged the Nigerian Bishops, that those bishops who have intervened to assist the disenfranchised orthodox parishes, should:
- Express regret for the consequences of their actions;
- Affirm their desire to remain within the Communion and
- To effect a moratorium on further interventions. (Paragraph 155, p.59).
In conclusion, the Commission calls upon all parties involved to seek ways of reconciliation in order to heal our divisions. However, it does go on to offer this warning: "There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart. We would much rather not speculate on actions that might need to be taken if, after acceptance by the primates, our recommendations are not implemented. However, we note that there are, in any human dispute, courses that may be followed: processes of mediation and arbitration; non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings; invitation, but to observer status only; and, as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership. We earnestly hope that one of these will prove necessary." (Paragraph 157, p.60)
In a report of this length from a group made up of diverse views it will not be surprising to find much with which one can agree as well as disagree. But as a whole the report is highly unsatisfactory and we hope to show why.
Earlier we mentioned that the basic premises with which the group has worked, as well as the parameters within which it operated, have to a greater or lesser extent determined the conclusions reached and consequently the recommendations made. Let us unpack this further.
One major premise which is stated from the outset concerns the Commission's ecclesiology.1 As is evident from the Commission's use of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, the Anglican Communion in general and each province in particular is being viewed as a 'church'. In the case of the Anglican Communion it is stated that it is a 'communion of churches' (p.12) and 'part of the Body of Christ.' (p.25) What is more, it is an 'organic body' (p.14). Accordingly, the high theological language the Scripture uses when it speaks of the church together with all its associations, when applied to this international ecclesiastical structure inevitably draws from us the responses which the Scripture deem appropriate - maintaining unity, avoiding dissension, showing charity to one another and so on. Therefore, it is not surprising that the main concern of the Commission is with unity and procedures which will enhance and facilitate that unity. If, as the Commission states, all Anglicans are 'children of God' (p.24) incorporated by baptism into 'the communion of the Body of Christ', then this adds further pressure to treat each other in a certain way which would not pertain if things were to be viewed differently. So given this outlook, even if a Bishop denies some of the basic tenets of the Christian faith and has a lifestyle incompatible with that faith, he is still to be thought of as a Christian rather than as an unbeliever. Acceptance of this immediately takes us a long way down the road of having to concede that certain practices are to be at least considered acceptable by some Christians, rather than raising the uncomfortable suspicion that such people may not in fact be Christians at all which would explain their behaviour.
What we have in this report is an example of 'theological inflation'. Concepts and ideas which are applied in the Bible in one context are taken and illegitimately applied in an entirely different context. The result is that certain views are given a high theological credence they should not have.
Of course if the Anglican Communion is part of the Body of Christ, and all that the apostle Paul says in Ephesians applies to the Anglican Communion to a large and specified degree, then disunity is a terrible thing and the most strenuous efforts must be made to offset that. Consequently, the tendency will be to focus on those parts of Scripture which deal with those issues to the neglect of other parts of Scripture which deal with other matters (such as fidelity to the truth). This is what the report in fact does. For example, in its treatment of 1 and 2 Corinthians we read : "Whatever problems there are in the community - and Corinth had more than its fair share, from personality cults and social divisions to immorality and unbelief - Paul begins by addressing them as those who are, despite some outward appearances, already set apart by and for the love of God. This does not hold him back from administering severe discipline in the case of scandalous behaviour (ch.5); but this too, as 2 Corinthians 2 indicates, is held within the larger context of pastoral and reconciling intent. At the climax of this letter, after dealing with all these problems, we find Paul's longest exposition of what it means to live as the Body of Christ, united in diversity (ch.12), with that unity characterised not by a mechanistic or formal structure but by that all-demanding and all-fulfilling virtue which the early Christians called agape, love (ch.13) As we Anglicans face very serious challenges to our unity and communion in Christ - challenges which have emerged not least because of different interpretations of that holiness to which we are called, and different interpretations of the range of appropriate diversity within our union and communion." (p.12). But it is obvious from reading 1 Corinthians that Paul did not view the members of the church as being in Christ by virtue of their baptism, as do members of the Commission (1 Corinthians 1:17), but by their being united to Christ after responding in faith to the apostolic Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:1) as well as maintaining that clearly defined faith (1 Corinthians 15:1ff).
But what if the Anglican Communion is not part of the Body of Christ and its provinces and dioceses are not churches? Then a massive paradigm shift occurs. Maintaining such unity will be seen as not being such a big deal from a spiritual standpoint. Then one can allow for a messier situation with parallel jurisdictions (which the report strongly speaks against). It enables different parts of the Communion to sit lightly with other parts and to work more closely with those who are of an orthodox frame of mind as well as those outside the Anglican fold. The disunity which is of such great a concern to the Commission then becomes no different from the tensions and fragmentations which can occur within a purely secular body like the United Nations. It may be distasteful and more than a little unhelpful in terms of function, but it is hardly disastrous to the Kingdom of God. We may prefer it to be more harmonious but it has none of the connotations Paul speaks of when he talks about destroying the body of Christ as he does in 1 Corinthians chapter 3.
We would argue that the ecclesiology of the Commission is fundamentally flawed and this in turn leads to flawed recommendations. The church of which the apostle Paul speaks as the Body of Christ is not a transworld denominational structure, it is a congregation. By definition, that is what the word-church' (ekklesia) - means .Without going into all the details, the biblical view is that a gathering of believers is church (as an event) which is the Body of Christ in that place at that time (1 Corinthians 12:27) and is itself an expression of the heavenly Body of Christ, the church gathered around Christ's throne (cf. Hebrews 12:18ff; Colossians 3:1). It is this heavenly invisible Church which is the one, holy, catholic apostolic church of which each local church is a visible manifestation in space and time. This is where the organic nature of the unity of believers is to be displayed (1 Corinthians 12).
This means that the congregations of faithful believers and their welfare become our primary concern. This is what the Nigerian bishops saw so clearly and why they felt they had to respond to the call of individual churches and groups of churches faithful to the Gospel. What is a scandal is not that the Anglican Communion is dysfunctional in that its instruments of unity have not been used properly, it is that good Christian people, local congregations, are being abused by powerful non-church groupings (read 'Diocese and Synods') masquerading as churches. These are people who are being threatened with the confiscation of their property and the denial of biblical ministry. It is precisely the body of Christ understood in this sense, as a local congregation that the apostle Paul is concerned to jealously guard, such that to destroy this- God's temple- is to run the risk of being destroyed oneself (1 Corinthians 3:16). It is because the local church is the Body of Christ, witnessing to a watching world that the apostle Paul, unlike the Commission, focuses not upon proper procedures, but purity of practice and the need to watch out for deceivers within the church. We should note what he says in Ephesians 5: 3, 'But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…No immoral, impure, or greedy man-such a person is an idolater- has any inheritance in the kingdom of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.' The Commission not only allows us to be partners with such folk but insists upon it for the sake of unity. It is therefore understandable that Bishop Gene Robinson being interviewed for the BBC 'Sunday programme' in October 2004 could say that the Anglican Communion has always put unity above heresy.
Interestingly enough, the Windsor report on several occasions quotes with approval the Lambeth quadrilateral which was originally made in 1888 and later modified in 1920 within the context of denominational reunion. It was Dr D.B.Knox who ably demonstrated its fundamental weaknesses which are simply repeated here. Knox remarks: "We have three great errors which underlie the Lambeth contribution to the ecumenical movement.
- A mistake about the nature of the visibility of the church.
- A mistake about the nature of the unity of the church and in what it consists.
- A mistake in thinking episcopacy is the unifying principle of the church.'
He then goes on, 'a fourth great error…from which all the other errors flow is to mistake the nature of the church and, a consequence, to mistake the nature of the visibility of the church, and the nature of the oneness of the church. When the essential nature of the church is apprehended from Holy Scripture (in the way we have briefly outlined-author) the whole ecumenical movement will be seen to be wrongheaded and mostly irrelevant." That judgement can also be applied in the case of the Windsor report.
In short, the Windsor Commission has made a fundamental category mistake, attributing to the Anglican Communion what can only rightly be attributed primarily to the local church and the heavenly church. If the commission saw the church as the New Testament sees it, then it would have concentrated its efforts on the root of the problem which is perverse belief issuing in perverse behaviour.
This leads us on to consider the parameters of the commission. As with the premises, which we have shown to be faulty, the commission has been consistent to some degree in following through their brief which is how the members of the Anglican Communion are to relate properly to each other. By excluding from their brief at the outset the theological and ethical considerations of those practices which de facto have given rise to the present crisis, namely, same-sex genital relations- the Commission (or at least those who set it up) are guilty of a serious dereliction of duty. It is like a doctor who from the outset refuses to consider cancer to be the main cause of the symptoms being displayed in a chronically ill patient but who instead chooses to focus on management of the symptoms alone. Such a doctor would be hauled before the General Medical Council and disciplined. How much more serious a situation when, at least in the opinion of many, a spiritual cancer is not being considered?
It strains credulity to the limit to see how the Commission studiously avoids all biblical references to same- sex relations (as we have seen with the deliberate stepping over of 1 Corinthians 6:9) and subtly engages in a theological softening up process by linking the present debate with other debates such as polygamy and the remarriage of divorced persons (p.16) and the ordination of women to the priesthood; the implication being that since we have learned to live with these differences why not this one too? Here we have the opposite of what happened with the Commission's handling of the doctrine of the church, namely, theological deflation. Matters considered of primary importance in Scripture are minimized.
The way in which the authority of Scripture is treated is all part of the softening up process which appears to present a high view of Scripture with the one hand only to snatch it away with the other. Certainly it is the case that 'the purpose of scripture is not simply to supply true information, nor just to prescribe in matters of belief and conduct, nor merely to act as a court of appeal….' but surely it is no less its purpose to do these things. If it pronounces negatively against same-sex genital relations then no amount of hermeneutical sleight of hand should be allowed to silence that. For all the Commission's talk about authority, it is the homosexual issue which exposes that this is the underlying problem which needs to be addressed as is highlighted by the present crisis: 'This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity. The only alternatives are to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else the Bible is simply wrong.' So writes Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch. (Reformation, Allen Lane, London, 2003, 705).
It is not enough to speak highly of Scripture, so did the Pharisees and they were roundly condemned by Jesus because they failed to put it into practice by allowing the traditions of men to effectively silence the Word of God (cf Mark 7).
If the members of the commission were to have followed Scripture, rather than the traditions of Lambeth, they may have asked themselves the question, 'How, according to the New Testament, is fellowship (koinonia) expressed between churches? And so the follow up question, 'How should we follow suit?' Had they done so they would have discovered at least two things:
First, there was the sending of apostolic delegates with a teaching role to ensure the maintenance of the spiritual health of the congregations (men like Timothy and Titus). What they were to teach was 'in accord with sound doctrine' ( Titus 2:1). It could be argued that this was a means of facilitating contact between the networks of churches which were being established in relation to specific apostles: the Pauline churches, the Johannine churches, the Petrine churches and so on, whilst also recognising a certain degree of interdependence between them all. A parallel could be drawn with the way within the Anglican network or federation bishops could function. But it is to be noted that it is not the individuals like Timothy or Titus themselves or their association with Paul which gives them their authority, it is the teaching they bring. A major part of the problem facing the Anglican Communion is a refusal to deal with those who, when allowances have been made for adiaphora and inculturation, are allowed to teach things contrary to the apostolic tradition. Therefore, until the matter of discipline is willing to be faced, it would seem quite proper as a means of expressing fellowship within the Anglican network of churches for orthodox bishops from elsewhere to exercise oversight through teaching without having to seek the approval of the revisionist bishop's who by their teaching and example have forfeited their spiritual position. Also, given the need for pastor-teachers within congregations (Titus 1:5) it would be right and proper for such bishops, acting in concert with other bishops, to ensure that such ministry is provided for where needed and where requested.
Secondly, fellowship was expressed through the giving of aid (Philippians 4:10ff; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). It would be highly appropriate therefore for individual churches or associations of churches to express fellowship in this way by giving money to those who, because of their orthodox stand, are suffering. This may include the offer of assistance for those churches which are under financial pressure because of the tyrannical actions of their revisionist bishops or those churches in Africa which have refused to receive aid from ECUSA as a mark of their break in fellowship.
Given that the Commission goes out of its way to acknowledge the 'hurt' and 'strength of feeling' that is around because of the present crisis, the degree of pastoral insensitivity displayed by the report is simply staggering. The Commission writes: "Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our current difficulties is the negative consequence it could have on the mission of the Church to a suffering and bewildered world. Even as the Commission prepared for its final meeting the cries of children in a school in southern Russia reminded us of our real witness and ministry in a world already confronted by poverty, violence, HIV/AIDS, famine and injustice." (p6.) Think of the irony contained in that statement. Christians in Nigeria and Pakistan for example, are subject to the most appalling acts of violence committed against them by Muslims. Such anti- Christian sentiment is inflamed when statements are made and actions taken which promote homosexual practice. This places effective anti-Christian propaganda material right into the hands of their opponents. The 'hurt' caused here is physical and spiritual not merely emotional.
What is more, it is incontrovertible that homosexual men are at a significantly higher risk of HIV/AIDS as a result of their sexual activity. Therefore, not to address this is to add duplicity to hypocrisy. On the one hand, high sounding 'concern' statements are made about the needy world and yet by refusing to state categorically that immoral behaviour is a major contributory factor to that state of affairs is simply to make the situation worse. We would therefore, agree with the Commission when it says, 'Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our current difficulties is the negative consequence it could have on the mission of the Church to a suffering and bewildered world', but not in the way the Commission envisages.
However, insult is added to injury by the way the Commission presents the damage caused by the actions of the revisionists and the perceived 'hurt' caused by those who have transgressed ecclesiastical polity by offering Episcopal oversight to the alienated churches in ECUSA, as being of equal weight. Both parties are called upon to express their regret for the consequences of their actions, affirm their desire to remain in the Communion and effect a moratorium. But this is the logic of the faulty premise and the wrong parameters with which the Commission began. The primary concern throughout is with order not with the substantial moral and doctrinal issues which precipitated the present crisis in the first place. Even if one were to follow the Commission's own deliberation on the question of what constitutes adiaphora-matters of no consequence- surely the matter of irregular Episcopal intervention would fall into this category, whereas it is the contention of the majority within the Anglican Communion that the matter of same sex-genital relations and appointing to leadership those who are in such relations is a matter of first order importance- a salvation issue according to 1 Corinthians 6 and Ephesians 4.
A consequence of this is the inappropriateness of the language used by the Commission. Whereas it may be appropriate to ask those who have been forced to intervene in another province to express 'regret' (in that it is regrettable that such action had to be taken at all, not that it was morally reprehensible), in the case of ECUSA and New Westminster, what is required is 'repentance.' Of course, if the primary problem is one of procedure (Paragraph 22, p16) the repentance language has no place but has to be replaced with weasel words such as 'regret'.
Even on its own terms it is difficult to see how the recommendations of the report will succeed, especially with its emphasis on the principle of reception, that through a process of theological debate, reflections, prayer a consensus of the faithful can be reached. There are two reasons to cast doubt upon the likely success of following this route.
First, there is a contradiction in the Commission's own understanding of the principle. As noted earlier, the writers state: "the doctrine of reception only makes sense if the proposals concern matters on which the Church has not so far made up its mind. It cannot be applied in the case of actions which are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and/or of individual provinces." Many would be of the view that the Church had made up its mind on this issue long ago and that the actions of the revisionists are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion if, at the very least, Lambeth 1:10 is to be given any credence.
But, secondly, even if this were matter for further consideration, at what point is a decision made that it is not acceptable? Who will blow the final whistle and call the process to an end? One suspects that it will either simply be a matter of attrition until a revisionist minority changes the long held view of the majority, or, (as is more likely the case), some will go ahead and implement the revisionist agenda whilst others will withdraw from it and there will be a realignment within world-wide Anglicanism.
If a patient is ill and the diagnosis proffered is incorrect then it is inevitable that the treatment will be ineffectual. Indeed, it may exacerbate the problem. The Windsor report fails at this most fundamental level of diagnosis. It is difficult to see how it can succeed with the provision of an unstable gentleman's agreement in the form of a covenant to enable the Anglican Communion to remain intact. One fears it will be little more than a piece of paper ensuring, 'peace in our time' and will eventually suffer the same fate as the Munich agreement. One also suspects that the time required to set up the structures suggested by the Commission will be of such a length that the Communion will be overtaken by events which will further escalate the crisis. It is also very doubtful that an appeal to the central role of the Archbishop of Canterbury will be of any value given that he holds views on homosexual practice which are at one with the revisionists and at odds with the majority of Anglicans which now lie in the South. A procedural rearrangement as being suggested by the report is woefully inadequate, a spiritual reformation, however, is absolutely vital.
1 See Melvin Tinker: 'Towards an Evangelical View of the Church' in Evangelical Concerns, Mentor,Christian Focus Publications (2001), p223ff. Also, Melvin Tinker, 'Reforming the Reformers: a Theological Response to 'The Anglican Understanding of the Church', Churchman 116/2 ,p137ff (2002). 11th Nov 2004