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Source: AAC International Update
The following article by the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey first appeared in the December 4, 2012 edition of the AAC's weekly International Update.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I wish to comment on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion, published December 2 on the Anglican Communion news site. As the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, addressing his fellow Primates for perhaps the last time on the first Sunday of Advent-the beginning of a new church year-it is significant that the Most Rev. Rowan Williams makes the following statement:
"Despite many questions about how our decisions about doctrine and mutual responsibility are made in the Communion, and some challenges to the various ‘Instruments of Communion', the truth is that our Communion has never been the sort of Church that looks for one central authority..."
The crisis of gospel truth that has polarized the Anglican Communion and continues to separate Anglicans stems from a willful, premeditated and deliberate violation of Anglican Communion teaching on human sexuality and Holy orders (see Lambeth Resolution 1.10). For almost 15 years, TEC and other "progressive" Anglican churches in the mostly Western and Global North provinces have openly defied these settled Communion teachings.
It continues to be a sad commentary on the leadership of the current Archbishop of Canterbury that he seems unwilling even to acknowledge the doctrinal issues, much less the crisis, that has consumed so much of his tenure-especially with fellow bishops whose office is to guard the faith and order of our beloved Communion, and among whom are many from the largest Anglican provinces in the Global South who, in the face of this crisis of Gospel truth, found it necessary to provide refuge and oversight for faithful Anglicans in North America. "Some challenges" indeed.
It is also sad to note that, despite Articles XX and XXI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1571), Dr. Williams states that "our Communion has never been the sort of Church that looks for one central authority." What about the central authority of God's word written, the Bible? Thomas Cranmer, who gave shape (and his life at the stake) to the 39 Articles, and other founders of Anglicanism (Archbishop Parker and Bishop Jewell come to mind) would surely disagree with Dr. Williams! For those like myself who need reminding from time to time, Article XX declares that, while the Church has authority to decree rites and ceremonies, "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." (emphasis added). Likewise, Article XXI holds that even councils of the Church can and do err, "even in things pertaining to God":
"Wherefore things ordained by them [councils of the Church] as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture."
Of course, some will say that the whole debate about human sexuality and holy orders is not a salvation issue. But as we have demonstrated in TEC: Tearing the Fabric of the Communion to Shreds, even and especially in things pertaining to God and salvation, a flawed and unbiblical theology of human nature leads inevitably to a flawed and unbiblical--even un-Christian-- theology of God and salvation. In short, Anglicans do have a central authority, and it is the Bible, God's word written.
Now, if councils can and do err, if, as he says, "all forms of human power and discipline can become corrupted," then why does Dr. Williams continue to place his confidence in an institutional system of checks and balances-- as he puts it quite simply, "in the Church we have to have several points of reference for the organising of our common life so that none of them can go without challenge or critique from the others..."
If the checks and balances within the "Instruments" were sufficient, why did Dr. Williams lead us down a ten year period of delay as we described the crisis in Communion governance first in The Windsor Report, and then in very public drafting, re-drafting, and wrangling over the Archbishop's singular initiative-"The Anglican Covenant." This ten year initiative of yet another "point of reference" has now failed. The resolution seeking to revive it never came to the table at ACC-15. And despite Dr. William's hope for the Covenant, which he expressed in his closing Presidential address, there is at least some evidence (see Perfidious Albion by Dr. Stephen Noll) that the Archbishop himself bears responsibility for its undoing.
And if that is so, the Primates of the Anglican Communion have been engaged in a monumental waste of time, postponing a time for setting limits by the central authority of God's word over and against Anglicans who willfully violate the faith and order that flows from such authority.
Of course, there is another possibility. Perhaps the whole Covenant process was designed for another purpose-a purpose which Dr. Williams also hints at in his letter:
"Our hope is that in this exchange we discover a more credible and lasting convergence than we should have if someone or some group alone imposed decisions - and that the fellowship that emerges is more clearly marked by Christlikeness, by that reverence for one another that the Spirit creates in believers."
Was the real design of the Covenant process to "discover a more credible and lasting convergence," a kind of progressive revelation beyond God's word written that could hold us together through endless dialogue, Indaba, new points, counterpoints and syntheses? If so, the legacy Dr. Williams leaves is a further undermining of the central authority of the Bible for all Anglicans.
Is the omega point of truth "that reverence for one another that the Spirit creates in believers?" If that is Dr. Williams' theological benchmark, then the Communion is lost. Because such reverence has not been extended to the majority of Anglicans who believe and act in accordance with the central authority of the Bible. And by weakening the authority of Scripture through process, dialogue, Indaba and progressive revelation, Dr. Williams has made it more difficult to grasp what it means to be a "believer," much less a follower, of Jesus Christ.