Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We are a communion of Churches, not a global church

Thank God for the Irish.

What follows is an editorial from the Church of Ireland Gazette.


The Archbishop of Canterbury, in responding to a Times report last week on correspondence in which he engaged some eight years ago on the issue of homosexuality, affirmed his acceptance of Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference "as stating the position of the worldwide Anglican Communion on issues of sexual ethics". Dr Williams continued: "As Archbishop, I understand my responsibility to be to the declared teaching of the Church I serve, and thus to discourage any developments that might imply that the position and convictions of the worldwide Communion have changed."

This statement raises questions about the role of the Lambeth Conference itself and, indeed, the ecclesial nature of the Anglican Communion.

The Lambeth Conference is, precisely, a conference. It is not a synod. To that extent, its resolutions do, indeed, carry great moral weight, but the Lambeth Conference’s decisions are neither definitive nor binding in the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

Typical Anglican Church governance, including the definition of doctrine, is exercised by bishops, clergy and laity in synod. The teaching role of Anglican bishops is to teach the doctrine that has been decided in this synodical manner. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is, again, not a synod, but precisely a consultative body, nor has any combination of the ACC, the Lambeth Conference and/or Primates’ Meeting been authorised to act as a governing synod. None of these bodies, or combination of them, should be referred to as a ‘synod’, however loosely the term is employed and, indeed, Dr Williams did not use that term in his statement.

It is also important to emphasize that the Anglican Communion is not, as Dr Williams did at least suggest in his statement, a Church. It is a communion of autonomous Churches. If the Lambeth Conference were empowered to speak for the Anglican Communion as a whole, it would have been astounding that, at its recent two and a half week meeting - at a cost of some £5m - it did not issue any resolution and was reportedly boycotted by between one-fifth and one-quarter of its members.

However, as a conference, it is appropriate not to have resolutions, and members of a conference are free to attend or not to attend or to ‘boycott’, as they wish. If one has a role in governance, however, one does not have that choice.

Certain current proposals in the Anglican Communion would tend to lead towards a ‘global Church’ model. However, any such proposals will need to be the subject of very careful consideration and scrutiny, and cognisance will need to be taken of the fact that, according to our Preamble and Declaration, the General Synod is the chief legislative and administrative body in the Church of Ireland (BCP, p.777, Section IV). It should remain so.

(Emphases are mine.)

We Anglicans suffer from an oft-repeated and well-constructed fiction that the Anglican Communion is a Church. Much work has been done to transform the Anglican Communion into a global Church, with much re-writing of history and creative readings of the polities of the 38 Churches that make up the Communion.

It is good that the Church of Ireland to remind us that this is not the case. The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have been at the recieving end of this fiction, but the Irish (and the Scots and the Welsh) know that they could be swept up in this as well.

Read the original here.

Thinking Anglicans has it here.

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