Next Draft of “Covenant” Released

February 6, 2008

The Covenant Design Group has released their “St. Andrews” draft of the Anglican Covenant here

This second, newer, revised version of the Covenant is the version that will be reviewed at the Lambeth Conference.

Maybe we should give the deisgn group a break because they have an impossible charter in the current political climate.  But nonetheless it is no great compliment to say that the document has improved…

My own thinking has come around to believe that a Covenant could be a good idea, if it does a good idea of defining our Anglican identity– building that around worship practices and the historical Anglican via media.

This document seems to take a more evangelical approach, though– valuing a more doctrinal and prescibed approach to identity than our historic worship and liturgical approach.  Note that in this document our identity is defined first through the Church (whose purpose is worship), then Scripture (as held up by the creeds), then the two sacraments, then the episcopate– and THEN– fifth in the list– are the shared patterns of common prayer and liturgy which form, sustain, and nourish our worship of God and our faith and life together.

Now that might even be fine, until you read the rest of the document– in particular the legalistic proposed procedures (which are not an official part of the Covenant, but only an Appendix to be ratified and implemented separately– but do show the spirit and intent of the writers of the Covenant).  If another province– say Nigeria– doesn’t like the interpretation of a sister province– say TEC– all it need do is say that it threatens the unity of the Communion.  Then a long process begins in which various Instruments of Communion determine who is most appropriately interpreting Scripture and the historic faith, with the ability to kick anyone out of the Communion if they so desire.  This is not the via media– with a range of beliefs carried out through common prayer and worship– this is prescribed religion.

Certainly I don’t know any Anglicans who would argue that Scripture is not important.  But last time I checked, Scripture does not make us uniquely Anglican (are there any Christians who argue that Scripture is not important?).  Our patterns of worship and liturgy are what hold us together as Anglicans– those patterns of common prayer and liturgy that hold us together even when we disagree about how to interpret Scripture.

It seems to me that this Covenant betrays that tradition and heritage in favor of something else. 

I know I’ve had conversations with people from other parts of the Communion who DO hold the priorities elaborated in the order listed here– the more evangelical perspective placing emphasis on the 39 articles.  That is certainly not the case in the U.S.  The comments from the design group indicate that their intent was to give emphasis to some of the points contained within the articles while acknowledging that the 39 articles themselves do not have any ecclesial standing in many parts of the Communion.  It seems that this is the core difference at hand– are Anglicans doctrinal in a prescribed way, based mostly on something like the 39 Articles?  Or are we liturgical, with doctrine based on common worship and having latitude for difference within that liturgy?  Historically it seems to me that our very formation in the Elizabethan Settlement is the latter, not the former.

My grade on this Covenant:  Still a D-.

j

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2 Responses to “Next Draft of “Covenant” Released”

  1. Michael Says:

    Jeff,

    I follow all these developments as an interested — and largely saddened — outsider. I appreciate your perspective and clarity in expressing it for those like me who do not always grasp the various threads of the present Anglican situation.

    Your remarks reminded me of the old cliche, “The family that prays together, stays together” For centuries, Christians of different denominations found it impossible to pray together. Now we find that Christians within the same denomination (communion, tradition) find it impossible to pray together.

    I have taught church history within the Roman tradition for decades. One thing that has always struck me is that there seems to be no parallel cliche that “Families that think together, stay together.” [I know, to make it rhyme they would have to “stink together”, which may indeed what we are witnessing.] Although in the West, emphasis has been on “right thinking” instead of the more Eastern “right worship”, there is no evident this approach to a defined and definite uniformity of inner thought processes has built any lasting Christian unity. Instead, it seems to give rise to ever more splinter groups.

    Many of us give lip service to the idea that the main reason we come together is to worship God. But when push comes to shove, we seem to come together to do obeisance limited human understandings of SomeThing or SomeOne who far transcends that understanding. If any worship is taking place in the midst of the painful debates raging in Christian communities today, I fear it is a form of idolatry directed at ideas that are far less than that mystery we feebly name God.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Hi Michael –

    Thanks for posting.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Let me just also appreciate your reference to Eastern Orthodox traditions, whom I am learning we have a strong connection to in our Anglican history, both liturgically and as we looked to reform our polity. That makes your comments about the Eastern perspective on worship all the more resonant– at least historicaly– and, as you say, saddens me now that we find we can no longer pray together even though that is our heritage and common identity within Christianity.

    j


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