A show of hands please: Who knows that this week the Church of England, through its General Synod, will vote on The Covenant? (Don't know what The Covenant is? Here it is. Like a guide? The Archbishop of Canterbury will tell you all about on a YouTube video.)
As the mother church of whatever-we-consider-the-Anglican-Communion-to-be, the vote of the CofE on this will be a statement of sorts about The Covenant.
If it's rejected, perhaps that indicates a wholesale rubbishing of the concept itself, a thumbs-down to the idea that the communion needs a child-minder in the form of a juridical uber-committee. (The 'No Pope' party.)
Or rejection might come because a majority think it too woolly, without enough structure and process built into it. (The 'Not Strong Enough' party.)
Or perhaps a rejection will indicate that the majority disagreed with, say, the use of the participle in 'covenanting church' or the squidgy concept of a 'shared mind' and voted down the whole bit based on poor word choice or dodgy syntax. (The 'Red Pencil' party.)
If it passes, it may suggest that the CofE is tired of the unruly children within the Communion and think it high time that they be told to settle down. (The 'Need Some Discipline' party.)
Or perhaps its approval would suggest that a majority can't bear to conceive of yet another revision, report, or Covenant 3.0™ surfacing in the next few years and just want the bloody thing to disappear. After all, passing legislation, approving reports, and then filing them away has a long and honourable history in our church. (The 'Just Pass It and Forget It' party.)
Truth to tell, people, doesn't it seem like we've been hearing about, reading about, blogging about, fretting about, and rabbiting on about The Covenant™ (or its many forebears on the ancestral family tree) for the past few decades? And here we are, joining the fray.
It shouldn't surprise any of our readers, long-time or occasional, that we look at The Covenant™ with a gimlet eye. We're willing to live with a high degree of tolerance and ambiguity within the Communion and grant a wide berth to the members of the 38 national provinces, through their own structures and governance, to do the best they can to advance the Gospel in their part of God's vineyard.
If we were in high dudgeon, for example, about the decision of a national church to allow lay people to preside at the Holy Eucharist, we should take advantage of all the media at our command to make our displeasure known. But not for a moment would we want an Anglican Standing Committee (or Sitting Committee) in place to discipline, censure, and diminish that theologically muddle-headed province.
And we're quite happy with the Covenant that's already in place in the Anglican Communion. Didn't know we had one? Oh we do: It was assented to by all the bishops who attended the Lambeth Conference of 1888. It's called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. It's spare, clear, and its four premises have served as compass points for the Communion for more than 120 years. You'll recognise it as Anglican. (The, er, new Covenant™? Not so much.)
Who needs anything more?
Here is the second lead essay, for those who are sick and tired of the debate about the Covenant.
A long-time acquaintance of ours, known to us only through the Internet, is a medical doctor. Converting to the Episcopal Church in the USA in the late 1970s, he's a passionate, thoughtful Christian who has this to say about his church:
Since I became an Episcopalian in 1978, the denomination
(1) has never told me anything that I knew was not true;
(2) has never told me I was better than anybody else;
(3) has never told me to hate anybody;
(4) has never told me to do anything I knew was wrong;
(5) has surprised me with the lack of hypocrisy among clergy and laity;
(6) has never pestered me for money.
The denomination doesn't proof-text, embraces natural science, supports a person who chooses a clean-living single lifestyle, treats your private life and your politics as your own business, uses the golden rule as a guide to behavior, regards all people of good-will as friends, focuses on life in this world, and insists that the Gospel faith and the Christian commitment are not merely personal or cultural prejudices.
I say I made a good choice.
In fewer than 150 words, our friend has summarised why his branch of the Anglican Communion is a Christ-centred structure for living his life. We wonder whether this was something that the average person in the pew could do.
If there were a slip of paper in the pew next Sunday that asked you, in 150 words or less, to write why you're a member of, say, the Anglican Church of Canada or the Anglican Church of Australia, could you do that? So often it's hard to think beyond why we've chosen our parish; our immediate context.
Often one hears: 'I attend Saint Swthin's rather than Saint Bede's because Father Bumbleton is such a good preacher'. Or 'We've visited Methodist, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches in the last few months. We'll decide based on the Sunday School times'.
These days it's rare for doctrine and dogma to be the determining factors in the choice of denomination. How many Presbyterians really assent to the concept of predestination? How many Methodists can articulate what distinguishes their church from others? Choosing one denomination over another seems likely now to be based on cultural and comfort factors.
If mainstream churches blend and blur, does it matter? If the boundaries are no longer neat amongst Unitarians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Anglicans, does the Kingdom of God stumble? In the future, the shards of Christendom may slowly — with all the difficulty and emotion that comes from change — become one (as we were, long long ago). Reunification with Rome and the Orthodox? That's a thorny next step, one our descendants will need to tackle.
A good map for any potential merging of denominations was agreed in 1888 by all the bishops at the Lambeth Conference. It's called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Four basic points, non-negotiable. You'll recognise it as Anglican. And we think that's a good thing.
Who needs anything more?