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COMMUNION WITH WHAT?

It seems that some Anglican Primates, members of something called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) wish to replace the primacy of the See of Canterbury with an elected chairman, one of their own number, to serve for four or five year terms. For as long as there has been an expression of Christianity termed ‘Anglicanism’ the primary mark of identification is that a bishop (not a Province) is in communion with the See of Canterbury. The rest of us are authentically Anglican because our bishops enjoy this fraternal relationship. Of the other marks of our unity, termed Instruments of Communion, only the Lambeth Conference of bishops enjoys an historic track record, and the committee of primates is the latest edition to these ‘instruments’. The Lambeth Conference, in that it is a sort of synod, has traction as a body with deep roots in ecclesiology – the teachings about how we recognize the reality of the Church. Committees, however useful, are ad hoc groups, servant bodies of the church. They are not the Church. It is perhaps good that our primates get together to take counsel, but our authenticity as Anglicans in no way depends on such meetings, or with whomever chairs such meetings. Every national church or super-national province in our Communion originates through and by the activity of the See of Canterbury. It’s cathedral is our mother church.

 

The Gafcon primates seem to have concluded that an archbishop of canterbury is a symbol of British Imperialism. It should be noted that their provinces originate in actions finally approved by archbishops of canterbury. It is appalling to see such inverted racism used as justification for dismembering the Communion. These Primates really should come clean. Their proposal to replace Canterbury with a committee chair is really all about power. They have been disappointed by Dr. Williams and they fear that his successor might not be sympathetic to their vision of ‘confessing Anglicanism’. If they had played their part in the drama which has played out in the past few years, their collective authority and weight might well have provided them with most of the things they work for. Instead they have stayed at home and sulked, boycotted the last Lambeth Conference and even the last Primates’ meeting which they would have dominated.

 

Instead they have taken the road of schismatic Roman Catholicism of the type once led by Archbishop Lefevre, who refused to recognize the occupant of the see of Rome as pope. If the Gafcon primates persist in seeking to establish their alternative Communion, led from time to time by one of their own, they will further divide orthodox opinion in the Communion, and particularly those of us who believe that ecclesial authenticity for us is to a large degree expressed by our communion with an historical archiepiscopal see with roots in the undivided church of the first six centuries. Certainly authenticity depends more than on ecclesial genealogy; it depends on Scripture as witnessed by the Tradition and apprehended by sanctified Reason, by faith in God in Trinity through the saving work of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit. But ecclesial identity is not a ‘matter indifferent’.

 

Sadly one senses the same sort of ecclesiastical nationalism which typifies those who affirm provincial autonomy over global interdependence and communion. But of course those on the extremes of our comprehension often provide mirror images to each other.