Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For a Theologically Explicit Covenant Process

Lambeth 08 seems to be lurching toward a covenant process concerned primarily with questions of procedure and procedural fairness, a process in which questions of theology about the nature of God, the nature of Christ, the church, and scripture are shunted to the side. That would be tolerable--it's definitely the liberal thing to do--except for the fact that the Communion's procedure-talk makes reference to theological questions of the type I mentioned as if they were settled in the Communion, as if, say, there were a consensus about the doctrine of the Incarnation.

But is there really such a consensus about dogma? If not, then the talk about procedure is empty: make-believe.

Maybe it would be a good idea to compel our bishops to talk theology at Lambeth in their indaba groups, so that they could render a basic, core theology explicit as part of the Covenant process--at least so we could be sure there really is some theological core to refer to here.

I do not picture anything ostentatious, like flowery churchbabble. Keep it simple. Could they agree:

Jesus Christ is the Lord.
Jesus Christ is the Savior??

And maybe even:

Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine.
God is three Persons with one nature.
Christ is one person with two natures??

That would be an awful lot to go on. That might even be enough for Lambeth 08--tears of joy would flow freely throughout the Communion. Indeed: it might calm things down a bit if we could see where the bishops stood.

Maybe some would confess "We do not understand what it means to say God has a nature"--and that would be fine; we would see where the confusion is, and we could also see whether those who would confess the above can defend and explain their confession.

But an admission of confusion is still a far cry from a settled confession to the contrary; it is one thing to say I do not like the word "Lord" and quite another to simply say Jesus Christ is not the Lord--there are others with an equal claim. Still, it would be good to saee how many bishops would choose to affirm contraries to such propositions as those above.

Here's the thing: a process that codifies disciplinary measures to be used against dissenters will be used eventually as a weapon by each side against its opponents, escalating fissiparous pressures rather than soothing them. There is a good chance, it seems, that even if Williams receives the covenant he seems to want, that it will nevertheless be used against the unity of the Communion.

Rather than, as it were, hand feuding parties firearms for settling their dispute, it might be better to let them talk about something substantial at the root of their dispute rather than merely procedural and likely counterproductive. Aren't our bishops capable of doing theology together?


At 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could they not all sign the Apostle's Creed and have done with it? Maybe not.

It is impossible to have a theology-free covenant for, at the very least, there are ecclesiological assumptions. Should there even be such a thing as an international denomination/Communion?

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the suggestion, and, Brian, I think the Creed is just the thing. After all, they (supposedly) say one of them at least once a day, right? Should be easy.

As for asking whether there should even be a Communion or not, seems to be similar (not the same, of course) of exploring the presuppositions between the ancient councils that produced the creed in the first place. How explicit were they in their ecclesiological assumptions that brought them together to have those theological debates?

At 3:11 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Signing on to the Creeds piece by piece would dissolve a GAFCON talking point at home and abroad. That small thing would be worth doing, given the extraordinary hyperbole that gets directed at Episcopalians.

At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assuming that all the bishops signed on line by line, it would indeed stop much of the GAFCONites arguments. However,what would be done with those who couldn't sign on to all the lines of the Creed? I know many people who couldn't.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Lset's distinguish between (1)holding back out of Uncertainty--like over whether there really was a Virgin Birth, where one might purport to understand the claim--or perplexity, say not seeing how Chalcedonian orthodoxy excludes Nestorianism b/c noth notions are very difficult and onscure, and (2)a settled disposition to be Certain that a creedal claim is False; say, one might be certain--and not just suspect--that there was no Virgin Birth at all. I am counting on there being enough intelligent dissent to get a discussion going on the level of the Communion.

My hope is that those who signed on would be obligated to Publicly Defend and Explain their signing to any bishops who find themselves in positions (1) or (2)--as a condition of the validit yof their signing.

That is, a bishop who signed but would not defend or explain would invalidate his or her assent; one who tried but could not do a decent job would be exposed, since the defense/explanation would be public.

Likewise, and who take up (1) or (2) would be obligated to defend and explain their choices in public.

Why all this? It comes with the office. If you can't do it, or won't, you should not be ordained a bishop.


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