Thursday, August 06, 2009

Two styles of Anglicanism: on not being in schism

I have generally steered fairly clear of recent global Anglican politics, and for those interested there has always been plenty of coverage on other blogs. However, I thought I might make a comment on a recent address by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, titled "Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future". In it, he outlines possible implications of pursuing a covenant model of Anglican communion, including the possibility that some churches will signup and others won't, resulting in two kinds of Anglican churches.

23. This has been called a "two-tier" model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a "two-track" model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. [...]

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude cooperation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both "tracks" should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.
This point is worth making and repeating. That we may well end up with two Anglican paths (at a formal level) doesn't mean we all hate each other, or that all possibilities of ongoing co-operation or mutual mission are now closed. It might be sad, but it is not the end of the world, nor even of that thing known as Anglicanism.

I've been thinking recently about the merits and pitfalls of avoiding unnecessarily apocalyptic modes of thought in other contexts and so this quote jumped out at me.

Part of living prior to final judgement is that we are to refrain from judging others (e.g. Luke 6.37). This does not mean we must never make any kind of humble preliminary evaluation about the lives and witness of those who claim to represent Christ, but it does mean that we hold back from doing so in ultimate ways, pronouncing condemnation upon others. If we embrace the goodness of God's action in Jesus, then false teaching that denies or undermines it will need to be gently corrected, but it quite possible to do this without turning everyone with whom we disagree into a diabolical and godless villain.

One implication of this is that I think it is best to avoid using military language and thought-patterns in how we understand the present Anglican crisis. If we want to speak in terms of fighting our enemies, the holy scriptures remind us that our true foes are not those Christians on the other side of this or that issue. Our enemies are spiritual: the spirits of disunity, factionalism, pride, impatience, fear and so on. The Anglicans with whom we disagree are brothers and sisters for whom Christ died and who may well have been blessed with some of the very weapons required to help us fight our own demons.
PS For those struggling to understand exactly what the Archbishop's address means, the Bishop of Durham has published a commentary. There are many other responses in various places, but I post this one because it is as much exegesis as analysis of the Archbishop's text.


Michael Canaris said...

Besides, even if some binary language is sadly inevitable, whatever happened to the prudential maxim "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer"?

Mike W said...

Thanks Byron.
I guess this would extend to those that we have already split from too.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Really useful Byron, thank you.

Anonymous said...

I guess this would extend to those that we have already split from too.

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