Saturday, July 19, 2008

optimus prime on the GAFCON critique of the Covenant

Whoever optimus prime may be, he seems to have a good critical grasp of GAFCON's latest bit; here is the bit from GAFCON dismissing the Anglican Communion's Covenant project, and here I quote optimus prime's point-by-point response:

I will begin with the most obvious critique: the drafters of this response have clearly missed the mandate of the Covenant Agreement (CA). The CA is not intended to address current issues; rather it is intended to provide a framework for establishing definitions of what it means to be in a relationship that is faithful to that which has already been given to us by God in Christ.
Next, the responders critique of the CA document as something “defective and not correctable by piecemeal amendment because they [its defects] are fundamental,” which is “theologically incoherent and its proposals unworkable,” is itself rather incoherent given the vague, broad brushed criticism provided and its already noted lack of understanding of the intention of the CA itself.
Now my critique by points: 1. This point is irrelevant. As discussed above, addressing current issues is not, nor has it ever been, the intended purpose of the document.

2. This issue of autonomy in communion is addressed throughout the document but in particular, it is addressed in the following section 3.2 and in the appendix: [deleted by me]

3. I have no idea what statement 3 is meaning to say. “The entire document, and particularly the statement concerning ‘the inheritance of faith’ in paragraph 1, is detached from the Scriptural narrative of salvation and redemption from sin, which Churches in the Communion have seen realised.” What exactly have the Churches in the Communion “seen realized?” “The unity of Christians flows out of the redeeming work of Christ and the incorporative ministry of the Spirit.” The introduction of the CA establishes this; although it could (and as responses have thus far suggested) be articulated more strongly. The entire document is attempting to argue that any structure we develop is based on the prior determinative reality of what God has done in Christ.

4. No any doctrine of the Church presupposes a doctrine of God. The first two sentences in the response are both misguided. The document has begun with a doctrine of God. These first two statements are liberal hog wash. The remainder of this paragraph is a rather obvious statement and I don’t see its value.

5. “Its preoccupation with institutional processes is at the expense of a proper sense of our corporate and individual accountability to God on the Last Day for proper custodianship of the deposit of Faith.” How does one purport to shape and form a corporate sense of accountability without developing a structure capable of accounting for our still sinful nature. How are we to move forward without institutional process? I would however agree that more should be included in the CA that speaks of our sin and God’s judgment. I would be particularly happy to see more that acknowledges our continual division and self proclaimed righteousness as the sin it is and that God is indeed judging our divided churches; both the liberals and conservatives for our lack of humility and charity.

6. Obedience to the Word of God. What does that mean? Liberals claim they are being obedient to the Word of God and that conservatives are not and vice versa. I am not going to argue that there are not biblical truths that we must obey: I believe there are. But this response provides a vacuous statement; the type the CA has sought to avoid by presenting a framework for the means of discerning the Word of God. Being obedient to the Word of God necessitates being obedient to its discernment within the body divinely given. It cannot mean individual interpretation: that is what has gotten us into this quagmire in the first place. It also cannot mean a propositional set of statements of faith: that does not account for the living dynamic between history, humanity and God.

7. Neither truth nor unity can be pursued in a mutually exclusive fashion as this response seems to imply. They go hand-in-hand. This response is absolutely vacuous in and of itself. It takes no account of nearly 100 years of ecumenical discussion concerning this issue of truth and unity, most particularly discussions at Malines, ARCIC, Ut Unum Sint, BEM. Without unity, the truth is simply obscured by our own shadow.

To summarize: This response is lacking in background, research, and coherent biblical and theological argument. It is clearly driven by a mistaken assumption of the intent of the CA document itself and a desire to set its writers in opposition to the “weeds” of the Church. Look out I say, for that log, it seems dangerously close to poking this group in the eyes. Where I ask, are the suggestions for amendments? Or is this simply a statement to justify a movement toward yet another division in Protestant Christianity? Shall we discuss this sin?

Not bad, though considerably to the right of my own position; this guy should be promoted to "Canon" somewhere. He goes on:

Actually jamesw, it is not; and I have that on good authority. Furthermore, it is evident by its very nature that it is not meant to address present issues but rather has grown out of an obvious and particular recognition of the challenges that lay ahead.

It is of course a document that will enable us to handle Communion controversies; however, its intention is not aimed at addressing crises, rather it is aimed at articulating the manner in which we engage one another in relationship.

Why should the issues be dealt with ahead of time? The Covenant is defining the requirements for living together in mutually accountable relationships that enable the discernment of the Word of God across time. If the extreme right or the extreme left choose not to enter into a relationship that demands charity and humility in articulating (speaking and living) their faith, then no Covenant can force people into this relationship.

Could the Covenant, were it in place 25 years ago, have addressed this issue? That is an interesting question. I would venture to say that it most certainly would. We must remember though, that this document is still in draft stages. To walk away from it is simply shutting the door to the opportunity it presents; it is a response of fear and protection rather than a response of courage and trust. Rather than walk, let us gird up with the faith that has been so graciously given to us, take courage and respond to the document as conservatives so that the Covenant Design Group cannot help but hear a constructive and humble plea for a polity grounded in Scripture and tradition (not an arrogant liberal dismissal - you should hear their arguments against the draft).

If we walk away and simply criticize the document, we will either end up with the route proposed by GAFCON which if you have read or have read commentaries on, is short on substance and practical means of ordering or we will end up with a rather liberal shaped Church. Either way we will shatter into many sects; not a fruitful or faithful way forward.

He writes clearer prose than anyone currently defending the Covenant process at ACI--though for all I know he has already been hired by them. There is more:

Hi Stephen+
[from Stephen]
That being the case, however, it raises the question of whether the covenant is a wise idea right now. A covenant presupposes trustworthiness and commitment on the covenanting parties. That is both the blessing and the deficiency of the covenant as it takes the stage now. It can’t do all that is needed in the communion today.

[from op] Actually I would suggest that this is in fact the genius of the Covenant; that is, the Covenant itself should not be ‘doing’ anything but giving us a Scripturally derived (one that still requires some work Scripturally) framework for what it means to be in relationship. We must then in faith, willingly enter into relationship in which all sides, liberal, conservative and in between must submit to God’s shaping of our discernment process across time. This structure has divine integrity (allows us to be shaped by God) by the fact that it leaves time and space for God to work. The players (all of us) have been limited in our ability to forge ahead with our own ‘vision;’ our power has been necessarily limited as Nicholas of Cusa ("The Catholic Concordance"), a conciliarist theologian of the late medieval Church argued was necessary to allow God to shape us. The Covenant, in following this vision (or so I believe), is attempting to equal the playing field to limit power and yet to also require a humility and self giving in discernment in decision-making.

I think that the only thing that will create (and should create) trust is faith and prayer. I think the Covenant enables us to enter with faith if we are courageous enough to accept. If TEC and the ACoC want to sign onto the CA, they will need to abide by its call to mutual accountability and to not acting according to their own ideologies. Because you’re right, we cannot force relationships (not only does it not work, it borders on Pelagianism). We must enter with trust and I think the CA creates the conditions necessary by limiting power and autonomy while giving us over through time and space, to God’s shaping.

I certainly understand the ‘suffering’ that forms your third paragraph. It is very agonizing. And I do indeed fear you may be right. This is why I so passionately hope and pray that we, as conservatives, might offer response to this document to help strengthen it and amend some sections that definitely need amendment. But to walk away or write it off is to turn our backs both on one another and on God.

And finally:

Allen - The critique, in its lack of offering constructive proposals for amendments, has indeed simply dismissed the Covenant.
Further the critique has erred in identifying what the “task” of the Covenant is. The problem is, predicated upon this faulty understanding, the subsequent critique lacks substantive merit.
But where is the section which deals with the case where a Province does not deal in good faith?
(3.2.5.d) to be willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect of the matter under dispute. While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our Provinces, except where provided in their own laws, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.
(3.2.5.e) Any such request would not be binding on a Church unless recognised as such by that Church. However, commitment to this covenant entails an acknowledgement that in the most extreme circumstances, where a Church chooses not to adopt the request of the Instruments of Communion, that decision may be understood by the Church itself, or by the resolution of the Instruments of Communion, as a relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.
In addition to the appendix which provides the ‘teeth’ you are seeking; the ‘juridical force.’
There is also a background assumption that the Anglican Communon somehow represents the Church Catholic to the extent that a “general consensus” is enough for it to change the definition of “the faith once delivered.” I do not believe that the Anglican Communion can arrogate that status to itself.Nor do I believe that this is a status that the AC can arrogate to itself. Before I comment further, could you please explain how you are using the term “general consensus?” and what you mean by a “definition of the faith once delivered” (i.e. the Kerygma, etc).
If you are concerned that the Covenant would enable a Church subject to the social whims of its members with no conviction of biblical/theological truth, I would ask if you believe then, that the Spirit has abandoned the Church? Scripture tells us that God will keep us in the truth; but does this mean at all times and places? Perhaps the Spirit has abandoned us; but which parts? Just the ones we think are all liberal, but what if there is just one who has faith in those churches, would God abandoned even one of his flock? Perhaps in our divided state, we have all been left to God’s judgment, to suffer the humiliation of our arrogance and sinful division, stuck in a quagmire of unrepentant and continuous division. Perhaps when we’ve divided to the point where we recognize we’re not right but broken, we’ll be open again to hearing his Word and receiving his guidance. Perhaps that is what the Covenant agreement opens us to; recognition that all of us are so devoid of the truth that we are willing to submit not to being shaped by human structures, held back by human structure yes, but held back so we might be in a posture of receipt.

It does not sound like Radner or Seitz--is it Uffman? Who knows?

One oddity in all this is how GAFCON seems intent on splitting Communion conservatives; the GAFCON critique of the Covenant process seems aimed at undermining the efforts of Gomez, Radner et al and prying away institutional support for the Covenant such as may come from Howe and maybe Stanton et al.

But, as optimus shows, if that is the intent, the critique should have been a little more cogent. GAFCON was a gamble borne out of the growing weakness of a fading faction that had insisted on cutting off its own legs by overreaching, a bold attempt to seize lost initiative and change the flow of momentum. I think it is evident the GAFCON effort--so far--has failed. Maybe these documents were part of a continuing effort to assert some cognitive relevance in the Communion, but GAFCON's Primates have succeeded only in marginalizing themselves and their viewpoint, weakening its representation at the level of the Communion--and documents like these critiques of the Covenant process are so weak as to risk rendering GAFCON's viewpoint a laughingstock for anyone with the patience to read them through.

At this point, all that GAFCON has going for it is the power of its numbers, a power that does not depend on the articulation of a coherent and convincing theology for its efficacity. Thus, Williams and others will have to hold their tongues in check, lest the beast be roused to even greater wrath. As far as a credible conservative response to the Covenant process, it seems now that the ACI and Gomez' camp is the only remaining game in town. One must wish them well, seeing that--for some reason--GAFCON seems intent on burying them.


At 2:28 PM, Blogger JimB said...

The primary problem I have with the whole idea of a covenant is that what is going on here is an I hope doomed) effort to set a particullar view in cocrete. Even Rome does not do that, they just ignore the fact of change while they make it.

It is simply a bad idea.


At 1:14 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I think a Covenant could be useful if it were taken more out of the hands of the ACI. A punitive covenant promises more scandal and division. And going by Radner's missives of late, I think the ACI would like to pass a punitive covenant--at least to keep GAFCON interested in the process.

E.g. witness how Wright's Iraq War/Robinson comparison follows on the GAFCON dismissal of the Covenant process--as if to say "See guys, there will be blood." I think the ACI & Wright will be tempted to promise blood to keep GAFCON on board.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The success or failure of Gafcon is measured by something but I am not sure what. If Gafcon is attempting to build an alternative network in the Anglican communion, a few weeks after the conference is surely too soon to judge. If it is to provide a rallying point for conservatives, perhaps we need to wait to see what happens at Lambeth.
As for the Covenant, Gafcon appears to be content to offer criticism from outside the process. As they are unlikely to sign it, it is reasonable for them to sit outside while it is written.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


You seem to fail to appreciate the significance of the contradiction between points 6 and 13 in the jerusalem declaration, and the incoherence of Article XXI--considered as a proper part of GAFCON's formularies.

A contradiction cannot be true--it is logically impossible. Yet God has revealed himself to be a God of Truth--even going so far as to have the Word Incarnate identify himself as Truth. GAFCON is committed to moving in a direction opposed ti God insofar as it serves what is Necessarily False--and this is something we can know even here below with absolute certainty.

To me, being committed to oppose God counts as failure, and by that measure, GAFCON is a failure.

What is it to you?

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for directing us to this.



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