Saturday, June 28, 2008

the GAFCON Communique: They're Still In

They are still in, and that is all that really matters:

We cherish our Anglican heritage and the Anglican Communion and have no intention of departing from it. And we believe that, in God’s providence, Anglicanism has a bright future in obedience to our Lord’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations and to build up the church on the foundation of biblical truth (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 2:20).

Fine by me.

True, there are some veiled threats further down, but the point is they are veiled, and surrounded by theological mush. For instance:

[I] Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words:[II] The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it. [III] While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Building on the above doctrinal foundation of Anglican identity, we hereby publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of our fellowship.

I've added the brackets. Point [I] reiterates the opening affirmation of Communion unity, and--in virtue of its prominent placement here--should control the rest of the content in the paragraph. The threat, point [III], is not to be seen as contradicting (I): maybe these guys intend, say, to move the Communion away from Canterbury in the covenant process, or further in the future. Of course, in its ambiguity [III] also seems to voice the readiness and willingness of GAFCONites to split, had it been practically possible. The mush is in point [II]; nothing elsewhere in the communique explains what these things are taken to mean. The 39 Articles, the Ordinal, the BCP: what are they trying to accomplish by returning to these, exactly, and not some other formularies?

I suspect there are no other suitable formularies to which a return as here envisaged could be made; their importance at this point comes simply with the gesture of returning from where we are--presumably a very, very bad place indeed--to an earlier, purer time rather than with any special content these formularies have. In sum, the paragraph "turns up the heat" with a threat to the See and some ominous but indefinite mush, but overall it is still fine by me.

After all, they're still in.

On the Jerusalem Declaration
It would have been better for them to have stuck with the Creeds, or failing that, to have proclaimed something ostentatiously simple, like the Quadrilateral. There is a certain unseemly hubris in multiplying unnecessary entities; if the BCP, Ordinal and Articles are the standard, what are we doing with the additional rule? But they just had to have a "rule", so let's take a look at the novelty they cooked up all special-like for the occasion. I take it most everyone will agree with some of this stuff, namely parts (1), (2), (9-10), (12) and (14) of the new "rule":

1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit....
2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation....
9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord....
10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation...
12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters....
14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory....

Some other things in the "rule" are infelicitously put, so although I know what they are trying to say--I think--the words come out wrong; still, no big whoop:

3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.
7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

Again with the Articles, the Ordinal and BCP 1662; there's some possibly tendentious weirdness going on with the allusions to councils and creeds & apostolic succession, but OK. So we're pretty good with (1-4), (6-7), (9-10), (12), (14). That's ten out of fourteen: some substantial agreement, and maybe enough to work with.

That leaves us with some problems.

(5) is innocuous if it is read to leave room for inclusivism and is not meant to enshrine Substitutionary Atonement. Indeed, I read it as neutral on those points, given that Substitutionary Atonement could easily have been mentioned explcitly but was not, and inclusivism could easily have been ruled out by name so as to leave no question, but was not. So I'm fine with (5); good Anglican fudge! That's eleven out of fourteen: praise be to the good Lord and Savior.

(11) and (13) are just plain mean, committing GAFCONites to future strife and scandal:

We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration; this toys with denying the orders of those with whom GAFCONites have ongoing disagreements. In (13) we read "we reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed." The only way that the rejection promised in (13) is logically consistent with their allegiance to the formularies in (6) is if those with whom GAFCONites disagree are not really Christian and do not have churches except in name. Otherwise, they would be doing offense against the Body of Christ, putting their GAFCON allegiance before their allegiance to the
church catholic. Now, I have no evidence this inconsistency between (6) and (13) is intended--remember they are in the Communion in which they have said the Spirt providentially moves. That implies recognition of TEC and the ACC as Christian.

Thus, the inconsistency between (6) and (13) seems to be an instance of mere material, not formal heresy.

It should come as no surprise that GAFCON has--already--fallen into heresy, a heresy whereby they stand in contradiction of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Getting the faith exactly right without some measure of epistemic humility is awfully hard. And note: this is why you should not fiddle around with novel rules and creeds. What we already have is more than enough. While they get their theology together in upcoming months/years, they are still welcome to worship with me at the Holy Altar. We are patient.

With great perplexity I come to (8):

We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

This is a monumental ignoratio elenchii. Same sex unions are not marriages; acceptance of (8) is consistent with GC2003 and with much after. There are liberal clergy willing to bless SSUs and who are clear on SSUs being different from marriages. In fact, is not this what recently passed in the CoE with Father Dudley? If we are to take (8)--and GAFCON--seriously, then TEC is in compliance with (8)--as is the ACC. Are Communion conservatives so tolerant of late that they will let this equivocation slide? Perhaps the wording is not an accident, but is intended: meant to accomodate the CoE evangelicals who might be canonically bound to recognize civil unions of some sort.

Whatever: (8) is confused. To maintain (8) while continuing to hold TEC is at fault for moving to permit the blessing of SSUs and ordaining actively gay bishops is incoherent, immersing the entire controversy over GC2003 et al into a miasma. Again, this is why fiddling with novel confessions is silly: the convocation looks inept.

The controversy has shifted to dealing with borders and limits to bad behavior in the Anglican Communion: how long will GAFCONites persist in the heresy embodies in the conjunction of (6) and (13), insisting on catholicity with their lips while denying it in their works? That is why their still being in the Anglican Communion is important. If they are serious about the Creeds--and I believe at least some of them are--then they will eventually come around to respecting catholicity as their dream of schism fades.


At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John 2007 writes:
When you say "same sex unions are not marriages; acceptance of (8) is consistent with GC2003 and with much after" you miss the mark, I am afraid. For (8) says that the place for sexual intimacy is hetero marriage. So, by allowing other relationships as proper places for sexual intimacy GC2003 and TEC are very much not on the same page whatever word or words you use for SSB's and SSU's. And, of course, we all know that since this is/was the precipitating cause:)

If we look at the statment of GAFCON as a mission statement in parts, and not a creed, it makes more sense, tho' I think creed and mission statement overlap in it.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger RudigerVT said...

We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female

and mistakes. Because as any schoolgirl would tell you (assuming she didn't suffer a lamentable, creationist indoctrination), the male-female dichotomy is a sloppy lie, and a dim misapprehension of reality: of the reality of God's creation.

Just because the human beings who fall outside the (false) male-female dichotomy are small in number, they are not mistakes. And their very existence gives vivid, living lie to this poisonous, pale flat-earth theology.


At 4:14 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

John 2007,

Look at the wording of (8) nwith me again. It says Christian marriage between a man and a woman is "the proper place for sexual intimacy." It does not say any sexual activity outside Christian marriage is a sin; (8) calls it improper. Plenty of things are improper but not sinful: failing to adore the Host, the lector screwing up the lectionary, loudly farting in on a crowded subway.

Presumably the GAFCONites wanted to say sexually active SSUs were worse than farting in public. But (8) does not do the trick.

Now--is that watering down of the trenchant language of Lambeth 1998 intentional, or just plain ineptitude?

At 5:00 PM, Blogger RudigerVT said...

I'm already nervous about my next trip on a subway, lest I......


At 5:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

The only solution: taking the subway to confession.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

Well it does conclude "and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married."
So, since same sex unions are not marriage, then they would have to be abstinent unions.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Yes! The language does permit the blessing of SSUs, provided they are absinent. Maybe that loophole is intended, maybe not. I suspect it is not, but who knows?

Worse though: to call for a commitment to Q is not to forbid the contrary of Q. For instance, the US government is committed to peace and open markets. However, in certain circumstances it will erect tariffs and declare war. Likewise, gays could be committed to marriage and abstinence for the unmarried, while recognizing circumstances in which they are permitted to engage in unchaste SSUs.

In short, there was language available to speak what you wish to say with lucid clarity--but such language was not used: the language of unconditional, absolute command and sin.

It's a language I speak; I am a moral absolutist. It's a language I suspect you might speak. Why not GAFCON?

At 6:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury"

Well duh. It never has been. It remains the case that anglican identity is defined as being in communion with Canterbury. To my certain knowledge, it was Akinola who rewrote his church's constitution to avoid saying this.

The jump from this broken attempt to redefine "anglican" to talk of specific doctrines is completely incongruous to my mind. If I wanted to be a part of a clique of clones unthinkingly believing the same thing, there are any number of other denominations (mostly under the evangelical bracket) that would suffice.


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