Sunday, June 29, 2008

Closing Thoughts on GAFCON

In spite of all the trouble that the Communique portends, I cannot help but feel rather pleased with the outcome of GAFCON.

It seems to me some comments--from those sympathetic to GC2003--correctly anticipate stepped-up, shameless efforts to split parishes and dioceses from the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and perhaps others. The Jerusalem Declaration promises more border crossing: newly minted American purple (CANA, AMiA, et al) needs feeding. I suppose that is something to be upset about; after all, TEC has no sustainable protocol for handling separatist actions. Schori's ad hoc handling of Schofield and the DSJ points up shortcomings in the canons; recourse to the courts may end up undermining catholic ecclesiology in the eyes of the law. TEC will have to come up with sustainable procedures for easing disaffected reactionaries off to Africa, the Southern Cone, or wherever. But I assume that can be done; I have seen how it could be done in Central Florida with Howe. Working out such procedures should be a primary task of GC2009.

What's so encouraging about GAFCON then? I take no pleasure in what seems to be the inept phrasing of (8); I know the GAFCONites do not really intend to be as tolerant as (8) sounds. What then? They are still in the Anglican Communion. The very fact that the Communique makes GAFCON's essential activity out to be catholic border crossing & poaching shows that GAFCON is too weak to sustain schism at the level of the Communion and that right wingers in the US and Canada are too weak to sustain schism on their own without help from abroad. The best that can be done--after five years of turmoil--is a redoubling of efforts to create a vampire, a province in North America "parallel" in some sense to those already there whose life comes from stealing the life of the provinces already there.

Why is the existence of such a vampiric parasite encouraging? The weakness, the inability to point out any new kind of essential activity beyond the formation of a new bureaucratic institution--a Primates Council or some such entity--and the inability to offer positive content for self-definition show a movement that has lost initiative in the Anglican Communion. It is open for others outside GAFCON to seize intiative by offering the AC a positive form of activity--outside that of watching the parasite at work and cheering or hissing. This is Lambeth's task: what accessible positive form of activity is there? The answer is obvious: writing the covenant. You may frown, but hold on and see where I am going with this. If you disagree, you are free to come up with an alternative.

A second point: as I've mentioned before, the Jerusalem Declaration is heretical, at least in a material sense. Given the inept wording of point (8), one cannot--alas--credit the writers with surplus acuity. In particular, points (6) and (13) contradict, implying that the Declaration is theologically incoherent. So what, you ask? Ideally, the positive form of activity the AC takes up could press GAFCON on this incoherence, forcing GAFCONites to make a choice between different forms of coherence: (1) give up catholicity in order to pursue parasitism, (2) give up parasitism in order to remain catholic. My bet is some GAFCONites, those whose purple depends on parasitism, will opt for (1)--but many who can live well enough without parasitism will opt for (2). In other words, GAFCON can be split in the formation of a covenant on the question of catholicity.

What's the tension between (6) and (13), exactly? (6) commits GAFCONites to catholicity through allegiance to the Creeds contained in the traditional formularies to which (6) refers. (13) commits GAFCONites to denying the authority of those churches in the AC with whom they disagree.

Please note as an aside that the wording of (8) is so weak, it leaves the cause of border crossing unclear, inasmuch as TEC and the ACC have not violated (8) as it stands; unless (8) is amended, on its own grounds the Jerusalem Declaration implies the border crossings are unjustified. However, let's put that point aside for the sake of argument. I expect claims of rational consistency will not move GAFCONites to restraint.

Authority is a mark of the catholic church: if X is a church, X has authority, and if X has no authority, then X is not a church. It follows if TEC is a church, TEC has authority, and if TEC has no authority, it is not a church.

But is permissible to deny that TEC has authority only if TEC has no authority. That is, anyone wrongly denying the authority of TEC ought to say otherwise. Since (13) commits GAFCONites to denying the authority of TEC, and presumably the GAFCONites mean well, it follows they are committed to TEC not being a Christian church as a condition of the permissibility of their denying TEC's authority.

But the Episcopal Church is a Christian church; the members of TEC are Christians who ordain and are ordained, who baptize and are baptized, who give thanks in the Eucharist and most importantly, in their worship they accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. Moreover, by remaining part of the Anglican Communion, GAFCONites remain members of an organization that recognizes member provinces--still including the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church--as Christian churches. If they disagree with that assessment, it would seem GAFCONites would be obliged to say so; they would be obliged to say the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are not Christian churches. But they have not said so. Sure, they have come close, but merely coming close does not count.

So on the one hand, by denying TEC's authority, GAFCONites are committed to TEC not being a Christian church, but on the other hand, TEC is a Christian church, and the GAFCONites' continuing membership in the Anglican Communion confirms their agreement with the claim the TEC is a church and is Christian. That is, the GAFCONites are committed to an absurdity: TEC is a Christian church and it is not a Christian church. The same goes for the ACC.

That absurdity is manifest in the praxis promised by the Declaration: border crossing treats the Episcopal Church as no catholic church should be treated. The Declaration's pet praxis denies in action what GAFCONites have committed themselves to in words by their allegience to the ancient creeds. What if in effect the Declaration rationalizes sin against the Holy Spirit--as the creeds name the Spirit as the agent of ecclesial catholicity--in the name of the Holy Spirit--as GAFCON explicitly claimed the Spirit was acting in its deliberations? Perilious indeed.

I believe GAFCON's Communique leaves their movement open to a crippling response via the upcoming covenant. Any covenant that refuses to take catholicity seriously, thereby colluding in GAFCON's attempt to rationalize--even institutionalize--sin against the Holy Spirit should be rejected out of hand. Any church submitting to such a covenant would have compromised its catholicity, thereby putting its very being as a church in peril. A proper respect for catholicity would seem a minimal condition of the covenant's acceptibility. It would seem a "no-brainer": the covenant should punish border crossing, implicitly recognizing the bankrupt ecclesiology of the Declaration as the theologically incoherent fraud it is.


At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AS, as a point of reference to your comments here: do you consider the Donatists of the ealry centuries to constitute a catholic church? Did the Nestorians constitute a church? The Marcionites?

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Marshall Scott said...

Scotist, recall that the Statement outside the Declaration states that the leadership of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are preaching a "new gospel." They declare us apostate; and while it's outside the Declaration per se, it clarifies the context and consensus understanding they have of Declaration paragraph 8.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I'm trying to look at the Declaration clinically, with as much detatchment as I can muster, in order to discern the logic of their case as clearly as I can.

It is not made clear anywhere in any document that came out of GAFCON that the claims they make about the Episocopal Church and The ACC imply we are not a Christian church.

P: TEC preaches a new gospel and is apostate.
Q: TEC is not a Christian church.

They asserted "P" but did not assert "Q". "P" and "Q" are not obviously equivalent--that is in fact one major issue here. Thus, where is the bridge claim. "If P then Q"? There is no such bridge claim. We are left to wonder whether they meant to assert "Q"--but I do not read minds. In the absence of "Q" we are not entitled to infer it:

I do not know whether they hold Q; thus, they hold Q

is invalid.

The same thing goes for (8). You and I might have expected language at least as harsh as 1998--but GAFCON did not deliver such harsh language in (8).

(8) is considerably weaker than GAFCON seems to need. Well, too bad for GAFCON.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I am led to belive God is free and omnipotent. With due respect to his ordained power, I do not dare assert necessary conditions for a body being a church--of course I do not mean to say there are no such conditions.

Nevertheless, I am happier stating sufficient conditions: any body that holds the first four ecumenical councils, and the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, Scripture as the rule of faith.

I am not sure whether there are other conditions sufficient--only that these are enough. Thus, I am not quite sure what to say about Nestorians, Arians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, the Word-Faith movement, and others.

But I do not have to judge them to know TEC satisfies sufficient conditions for being church.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Strong words and an excellent posting. I was particularly struck by the way you laid out the GAFCONites' commitment to an absurdity.

At 1:54 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks, but I wish it weren't so; I wish GAFCON had resulted in something simpler: say, a commitment to evangelize the North *within* the structures and norms of the Communion, along with an open commitment to the covenant process.

The way things turned out, there will likely be more needless wreckage.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Fr. Bryan Owen said...

I share your desire about not wanting this to be the way things have turned out. I wonder, though - if you're right about a performative contradiction at the heart of the GAFCON "project," might part of the wreckage be amongst the GAFCONites themselves? If there is theological (and, more pointedly, ecclesiological) incoherence and contradiction at the core of what they're up to, are the GAFCONites a house divided against themselves?

At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Gafcon itself might have wished for something simpler like a commitment re-evangelise the North Americans and within the communion norms. That seems to be the Gafcon intention in England.
But Gafcon has made a judgement that the leadership of TEC has moved to promote a false gospel and realignment in your province is therefore required.
It is not a judgement that every member of TEC is apostate, but that false teaching is allowed to flourish within it.
If they had not come to that point of view, there would have been no need for Gafcon at all.
One thing we all have in common is a wish that it was not (seen to be) needed.

At 4:10 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Good question; I can only guess.

It seems to me maybe they wanted to have their cake and eat it too--remain in the Communion while working for schism in one of two ways over the long term. Way (1): changing the structure from within over time to force the liberal provinces out; way (2): gain enough strength to make a clean break and survive without the office of the ABC. I'm guessing--from the alacrity of the recent, ongoing post-GAFCON effort to subvert the ABC in the CoE--that way (2) is the preferred course.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


There are good things that have come out of GAFCON--including most of the Jerusalem Declaration. Nobody is arguing with what they seem to do very well: evangelism, preachng the Gospel, making converts and disciples.

But nobody here below is perfect--including the GAFCON leadership. It is hard to see how a church that confesses Jesus is Lord and Savior, that baptizes in the name of the Holy Trinity, that administers the Eucharist, that reads Holy Scripture together, that confesses sin and asks for ansolution together, that leads a sacramental life together could possibly be preaching a false gospel.

Pointing out that persons in the clergy or laity make mistakes about the faith seems liek grotesquely insufficient evidence, particularly in view of the manifest worship life of the church.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I guess that I just don't see why now Jesus is not enough--to put it simply.

Why wasn't GAFCON satisfied with worship and preaching of Jesus alone--why feel compelled to celebrate an additional effort to subvert TEC & the ACC?

Why isn't the worship and preaching of Jesus as Lord and Savior sufficient to establish the bona fide position of TEC and the ACC--why all this additional stuff: the 39 Articles, the 1662 BCP, the Oridnal...yesh, the Ordinal???

Whether its GAFCON or General Convention wandering away from Jesus, the consequences of getting lost are considerable.

At 6:01 PM, Blogger JimB said...

Thanks for your note on incoherence. I see the problem as you do, at least a bit. The desire to have and eat the same cake. Our universe simply does not work that way.

Incidentally, I added your blog to my links.


At 7:59 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks Jim.

I have a feeling this whole thing will soon get even more interesting.


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