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The Covenant

So far reaction to the final version of the Covenant has been predictable.  Those opposed to its adoption on the left mutter about TEC cutting off funds to the Communion.  Those who think it a weak document seem to relish the idea that it may fail in its purpose.  Those who line up behind these alternative reactions have one thing in common. They yearn for freedom to do as they please, either in terms of absolute Provincial autonomy or in the establishment of a world-wide Gafcon communion.

In practice there’s not much to choose between the ambition of a worldwide TEC and a worldwide Gafcon. Both abandon any pretence to unity in diversity, a hallmark of Anglicanism. Such a unity, at least historically, is not advocated in terms of doctrinal indifference. It distinguishes the unity of the Church in “matters essential” and diversity in “matters indifferent”.

It is important to distinguish between the two.  Some argue that the doctrine of Matrimony isn’t core and therefore slide it into the “matters indifferent” column.  Yet the Church’s doctrine of Marriage is deeply Christological, portraying not only the union between husband and wife but also between Christ and the Church.  It is little wonder that those attempting to alter the “matter” of the sacrament of matrimony have little trouble in altering the “matter” of the sacrament of the church. the primary sacrament from which all other sacraments flow.

I have yet to encounter an articulation of a theology of the Church which supports provincial autonomy or the creation of a replacement pure body. Certainly as heirs of two enormous divisions in the Church, that between East and West and later the Reformation, we can extol our independence and make virtue out of schism, just as a divorced couple may proclaim how right they are and by inference how wrong the other partner was!  In my more romantic moods I can sing the praises of Anglicanism with enormous gusto and by inference or comparison thwack Roman Catholics.  Yet the truth is that our pasts, the pasts of all Christian bodies are not articulations of biblical ecclesiology but excuses for violating that ecclesiology.

It seems to me that the draft Covenant calls us all to a more robust biblical doctrine of the church. If indeed it puts provincial autonomy in its right place, the duty to evangelize and provide pastoral opportunities mindful of speaking and worshipping “in a language understanded of the people”, adjusting in order to speak to and by the conscience of a culture, so much the better.

In that the onus is placed on the provinces to live into interdependence, it is both biblical and Anglican. The Covenant acknowledges that there will be differences, points to Christian means of resolving conflict and realistically acknowledges that individual Provinces may be so sure of a unique revelation from God that they feel call to walk apart from the fellowship by their own volition.

I am also delighted that approving the Covenant is a right open not only to the Provinces but to all who see in it something akin, in fleshed out terms, of that which was offered to Christendom in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.  I see the text as a formidable gift to ecumenism and hope that it will be read and considered in that wider context. Some opposed to the Covenant, obsessed with their own narrow vision, seem threatened that the Covenant is being offered to Christendom.  A reactive Covenant narrowly focused on contemporary Communion discord would have been unworthy. The draft now before us I believe is a wonderful example of something entirely virtuous emerging from something temporarily necessary.

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