I watched today a video of a press conference in which the President of the House of Bishops and members of her Council of Advice reported about a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury held at General Convention now in session.  Bonnie Anderson stated that the Council explained to the Archbishop in a short meeting that TEC has a particular and novel ecclesiology which affirms that reactions to requests by Instruments of Unity may only be made by resolution of General Convention. No one may speak for TEC except the General Convention is session every three years. Specifically our bishops as a House may only speak as one House and not for the Church.

If this were the case in matters of negotiations between countries, and countries whose legislature only meets once in three years, what would be produced would be diplomatic paralysis. Yet there is something more vital here than “process”. Years ago I wrote an essay entitled “The General Convention Church” which may still be accessed at “Anglicans Online.”  What seems to be advanced here is a notion once embraced by non-episcopal denominations who advanced egalitarian and non-sacerdotal or episcopal doctrines and were free to do that which their governing bodies decided. Anglicanism at the Reformation stood against such notions even in their most reformed moments.

No one surely doubts that if one wants to know about TEC’s views of global warming, MDGs, even the war in Iraq, on its budgetary priorities, or even its mission priorities, the decisions of General Convention are the literature to access. However if one reads the Ordinal, the language of the service for the ordination and consecration, one reads language which affords to the bishops, individually in their dioceses, collectively in TEC and further in the wider church, for us the Anglican Communion and to the rest of Christendom and the world certain specific duties. They are to “guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church”. Note the capital “C”. They “share in the leadership of the Church (capital “C”) throughout the world.”

Nowhere in the Baptismal, Confirmation, Reception, or ordination to the diaconate or priesthood is such language used or description of Apostolic function and ministry afforded or described.

Historically the House of Bishops is described and limited adjectivally in its present form in the great compromise which was framed to reconcile New England High Churchmen who were “Episcopalians” with Latitudinarian Southern Church people who thought that bishops were not of the “esse” of the church. The House of Bishops may block resolutions from the House of Deputies. The same is true in the other direction. Yet the veto power of the Deputies in no way compromises the Apostolic duty of the bishops to guard and defend and proclaim the Faith of the Church. Bishops collectively have the special charism to authenticate and proclaim the Faith the whole Church, capital “C” has received.

Of course bishops traditionally share this authority, or rather are advised by priests in their dioceses, and take note of the counsel of theologians and spiritual advisers.

All this is far from the dramatic claim that a synod of a “particular church” alone may exercise an authority which is essentially episcopal. The essential authority of the episcopate is not merely sacramental, as our polity affirms in diocesan government, but is also doctrinal, in matters of essential discipline, and in worship.

If indeed only General Convention,  disturbingly described as self-validating and omni-competent ( “no Supreme Court” as a member of the President’s Council of Advice smilingly advanced in the press conference) what was proposed to one of the most learned scholars of ecclesiology, Rowan Williams, was a form of particularism which is not only novel but thoroughly uncatholic – I here refer to basic teaching and not theological opinion – and unanglican and I would propose a form of ecclesiology much more radical than that embraced by the founders of TEC. In short the compromise embraced to include Seabury Anglicans is now being abjured. In matters of faith the House of Bishops is the Supreme Court.

I find this fundamentally more disturbing than matters of same-sex blessings and the ordination of gay bishops in sexual relationships. The Church has survived all sorts of novelties but in this case, as with much of Mutual Ministry theology we are being pulled far away from Anglicanism and into a quaint form of Puritanism.

One Response

  1. Well, Bonnie Anderson is both right and wrong. Affirmative actions require the consent of both houses of GC. But there’s nothing in our polity that stops the bishops from unilaterally deciding or agreeing that they *won’t* do something.

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