The GAFCON Theological Resources Group has generously provided an outstanding resource for those who are following the development of an Anglican Covenant. The idea of an Anglican Covenant was among the suggestions of The Windsor Report. The Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a “Draft Design Covenant” group that produced the original “Nassau Draft.”
This draft was substantially changed once the apparatus of the Episcopal Church entered into the fray proposed a substantially revised draft now called the “St. Andrews Draft.” It is not clear which draft is before the Lambeth Conference. But it’s certainly clear after reading this analysis of the revised version in contrast to the original version that the Episcopal leadership not only know how to revise scripture and tradition, but also draft covenants.
The GAFCON Theological Resources Group opens their resource analysis with an overview of the dramatic changes between the original Nassau draft and the revised St. Andrews draft. This is followed by a deeper analysis of how the revised St. Andrews Draft fails to deliver the original mission.
This is an important resource and we’ve put copies of this resource on all the cafe tables – please read it closely. For Lambeth-watchers at home, it’s important to know the difference between the “Nassau” original draft and the “St. Andrews” revised draft. Remember – a biblical (and now covenant) literate laity is powerful witness, as we saw in Jerusalem.
This Anglican Covenant process has been presented in a less-than-thrilling manner on purpose – so that all of us at home will not pay attention until it’s too late. Remember also, it is in the apparatus of the Episcopal Church’s interests to either push forward the revised draft or have no covenant at all. We are of the thought that if Archbishop of Canterbury is incapable or unwilling to stand up to the Episcopal Church’s innovations that have broken up the Anglican Communion, how would he enforce a Covenant?
If the St. Andrews Revision is pushed forward, what’ the point of having a Covenant at all?
One of the assumptions of a Covenant is that the member provinces are united in their membership, and that is simply not the case. One rarely draws up Covenants when conflict is breaking out on a myriad of fronts. A Covenant is based on a trust and a willingness to live together in one accord, which is simply not the case now. What we need are peace talks, but that is very difficult when we have the leadership of the Lambeth Conference saying “peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
The blinking at reality continues and until the blinking stops and vision is fixed on recognizing that the Anglican crisis is due to the arrogant autonomous innovations inflicted by The Episcopal Church apparatus onto the rest of its own province and the Communion worldwide – with apparently no intention for discipline other than an ecclesiastical slap on the hand by the Archbishop of Canterbury – then a covenant is merely like Don Quixote tilting his windmills. Here is the in-depth analysis of the St. Andrews Revised Draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant:
Changes between the Nassau and St Andrews Drafts of An Anglican Covenant
The St Andrews Draft is not a conservative revision of the Nassau Draft. Its changes are so significant theologically and practically that they completely recast both the grounds of common life together and the process by which the assault upon that common life by TEC and ACoC is to be addressed. The Nassau Draft is a much better document than its successor. The new document is severely flawed and should be repudiated.
1. The St Andrews Draft significantly reduces the attention paid to the authority of Scripture in the Nassau Draft.
2. The St Andrews Draft removes the language of obedience with reference to Scripture which appears at several points within the Nassau Draft.
3. The St Andrews Draft removes all reference to the history of salvation which provides an important foundation within the Nassau Draft.
4. The St Andrews Draft removes the theological anthropology in the Nassau Draft which provided an important foundation for understanding the crisis and the type of resolution that is needed.
5. The exploration of legitimate development in Christian understanding found in the Nassau Draft is likewise excised by the St Andrews Draft which provides no test for what is faithfulness and what is deviation.
6. There is no reference in the St Andrews Draft to the circumstances which provoked the need for a covenant despite the fact that an explanation of those events is an important part of the Nassau Draft. Once again a vital element of any proper response has been removed.
7. The Nassau Draft envisages that discipline is ‘required’ for departure from the apostolic witness while the St. Andrews Draft omits reference to any such requirement.
8 The St Andrews Draft removes the highly significant reference to the accountability of the ‘instruments of Communion’ in the Nassau draft.
9. The St Andrews Draft removes all reference to the legitimate concern to provide ‘adequate care and oversight for all those in north and south who find themselves alienated and abandoned’ which was an integral part of the pledge made in the Nassau Draft.
10. Similarly the St Andrews Draft ignores entirely the Nassau Draft’s insistence that new structures are necessary to support many parts of the Anglican family who have ‘remained faithful to Anglicanism as a valid expression of the church of the Apostles’.
11. While the ecclesiology in the Nassau Draft attempted to correlate the universal church and the local churches, the St Andrews Draft introduces the new notion of ‘autonomous in communion’ and constructs its proposed solutions on this notion.
12. The ACC is introduced into the St Andrews draft and its role significantly enhanced at the expense of that of the Primates..
A RESPONSE of the GAFCON Theological Resource Team to the St Andrews Draft Text of An Anglican Covenant
The idea of a Covenant as a way out of the difficulties in which the Anglican Communion finds itself has been proposed in several quarters. The St Andrews Draft Text of An Anglican Covenant is one such attempt. The GAFCON Theological Resource Team reviewed the St Andrews Draft Text during pre-conference preparations in Jerusalem on 20th and 21st June 2008.
An Anglican Covenant was intended as a response to a crisis in the Anglican Communion which has been accurately described as ‘a rending of the Communion at the deepest level’. Determined departures from the teaching of Scripture on human sexuality by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are the immediate cause this situation. There appears no prospect of repentance from this repudiation of biblical authority on the part of either of these bodies (or from those elsewhere who have followed their lead in endorsing behaviour which Scripture explicitly forbids). Underlying these actions is a long history of marginalising, avoiding and at last rejecting the plain teaching of the Bible. In other words, the issue which we should expect this covenant to address is one of apostasy.
Many attempts have been made to address the breach of relationships caused by the setting aside of biblical teaching by some provinces, dioceses, and individual bishops, beginning at Kuala Lumpur in 1997, at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, and culminating recently, after consistent efforts in the intervening years, in the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam in 2007.
Sadly this new draft of An Anglican Covenant is both seriously limited and severely flawed. Whether or not the tool of covenant is the right way to approach the crisis within the Communion, this document is defective and its defects cannot be corrected by piecemeal amendment because they are fundamental. The St. Andrews Draft is theologically incoherent and its proposals unworkable. It has no prospect of success since it fails to address the problems which have created the crisis and the new realities which have ensued.
This document falls in effect into two parts. Sections 1 and 2 mention some matters of faith, but section 3 is in fact the critical section of the document, because this introduces the thought of Churches as being ‘autonomous-in-communion’. It is on this concept that the proposed resolution of Communion disputes rests.
Our response will confine itself to seven areas of theological concern and will briefly mention two other significant issues in its conclusion.
Serious Theological Flaws
1. A failure to address the issue
Any covenant document has to recognise fully the mischief it seeks to address. This document makes no mention of the crisis which has generated the call for such a remedy, which is a crisis of obedience to Scripture. Further, it fails to recognise that in the eyes of many the ‘instruments of Communion’ (3.1.4) are themselves part of the problem. This means that trying to use such failed instruments as arbiters of a future solution is problematic in the extreme. Put bluntly, this covenant will not allow the real issues to be addressed.
2. An illegitimate notion of autonomy
The understanding of the individual Churches of the Communion throughout this document is fatally ambiguous. The language of autonomy in communion is introduced in 3.1.2., but there has been no justification produced for this concept in the preceding sections. More seriously this language is unqualified and so fails to distinguish between matters on which Scripture is silent (and where there may be legitimate liberty and indeed diversity) and matters on which Scripture has spoken definitively (and where autonomy is therefore a euphemism for sin). Our obedience to Scripture and our responsibility to each other must significantly qualify all talk of ‘autonomy’ with reference to any congregation, diocese, province or, indeed, the Communion itself.
3. No biblical theology
The entire document, and particularly the statement concerning ‘the inheritance of faith’ in paragraph 1, is detached from the Scriptural narrative of salvation and redemption from sin, which Churches in the Communion have seen realised. The principal concerns of Scripture are ignored as the document concentrates on matters which are dependent and consequential upon those concerns. The unity of Christians flows out of the redeeming work of Christ and the incorporative ministry of the Spirit. Any attempt to generate or sustain such unity on our own terms and by our own institutional efforts without reference to this prior and determinative reality must be judged sub-biblical.
4. A faulty anthropology
An Anglican Covenant is primarily concerned with the doctrine of the church. However, any doctrine of the church presupposes a doctrine of humanity. The anthropology implicit in this document fails to capture the reality of any Christian’s life in this world as this is explained by Scripture. Christians are those who are redeemed by Christ but who remain sinful until God’s purposes are brought to their completion when Christ returns. This twofold reality has very significant implications for the life of the church. The reality of temptation and sin, a reality experienced by all no matter what their office in the church, needs to be taken seriously.
5. An absent eschatology
This document fails to adopt an appropriately biblical eschatological perspective. Its preoccupation with institutional processes is at the expense of a proper sense of our corporate and individual accountability to God on the Last Day for proper custodianship of the deposit of Faith. There is no reference to sin, judgement, ‘the coming wrath’ or to God’s provision of a remedy in the cross of Christ and the forgiveness of sins which attends faith and repentance.
6. Neglect of obedience
Throughout this document an attenuated view of biblical authority is presented. A critical element of the Christian response to God and his Word is missing. The Church is called not merely to treat God’s Word respectfully (1.2.4.), but to obey it. The absence of the language of obedience to the Word of God throughout the document is one of its most serious flaws.
7. An isolated and vacuous appeal to unity
Throughout An Anglican Covenant, biblical values are not treated in their mutual relationship. In particular the biblical injunctions to unity are in effect disconnected from the equally serious injunctions of Scripture to preserve the truth given to us. Paragraph 3.2 deals almost exclusively with perceived threats to the unity of the Communion rather than moral and doctrinal error, once again ignoring that our current disunity is the result of departures from the truth taught in Scripture in both of these areas.
Given the profound and fatal difficulties identified in the draft covenant, the legal framework of the appendix will likewise be open to overwhelming objection. The proposed legal framework in any event exhibits the same flaws as the parent document, notably in the way unity is abstracted from biblical faithfulness and no account is taken of the possibility that the instruments of Communion themselves might be the focus of objection. Two other objections must be mentioned. First, the document describes four instruments of Communion, which it proposes will provide solutions to disputes. It fails to recognise the disproportionate influence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who invites to the Lambeth Conference, chairs the ACC and calls the Primates’ Meeting. The problem of this undue influence is compounded by the lack of formal accountability on the part of the Archbishop and the prominence the document envisages for this Primate is frankly colonialist. Secondly, the prominence given to the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates raises problems in increasing further the ability of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC to exercise disproportionate influence over the Primates, thereby tending in effect to silence dissentient primatial voices.
In the light of these considerations we find that the St Andrews Draft of An Anglican Covenant does not meet our expectations or hopes for restoring the broken sacrament of Communion.