Some of us are working on initial responses to the Draft Covenant for the Anglican Communion. This “covenant” is one of the ways forward proposed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to hold our fragile worldwide family together. I am basically supportive of such a process — not because I want the Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Communion, to become a “confessional church” bound together by narrow statements of belief (other than the Creeds!) — but because I have seen how effective ecumenical “covenants,” concordats, and agreements can be in establishing full communion relationships.
I would cite, for example, the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholics, the Concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church, or “Called To Common Mission” with the Evangelical Church in America. They are relatively brief; define common doctrine in broad, basic strokes; and open up the possibility for common mission in the name of Christ.
I do have some concerns. The name “covenant” seems a bit lofty for this effort. A covenant is something God initiates, not Primates. However, that train is already rolling down the track so the term “covenant” may just have to stand.
I think the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral should be named in its entirety in any such Covenant and — with its emphasis on Scripture, the Creeds, the dominical Sacraments, and the historic episcopate — should be sufficient as doctrinal statements. If those things are adequate to establish full communion relationships with other Christian bodies, they should be sufficient for us to hold in communion.
Secondly, one of the geniuses of Anglicanism is that we are “episcopally led, but synodically governed.” That means, in this instance, that if any of the four so-called “instruments of unity” (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting), it should be the ACC. That is because only the ACC, of all these bodies, is made up of lay persons, bishops, priests, and perhaps even a deacon or two.
The mind of Christ is to be discerned in the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ is made up of all the ministers of the Church not only bishops!
Finally, while a process of “mutual affirmation and admonition” (terms found in certain ecumenical agreements) probably need to be part of this Covenant, steps for exclusion or marginalization need not be. We certainly need a clear process for vetting major decisions which will effect the whole Communion by the whole Communion and we need processes for feedback and dialogue. We do not, in my opinion, need “excommunication” as a tool for closing off debate.
Again, the genius of Anglicanism has been our ability to remain together in Word and Prayer and Sacrament…and in common mission…while allowing wide space for theological diversity, cultural adaptation, and freedom for the local church (read, “diocese”…and then “province”).
I believe that Anglican experiment is worth working for. We already have one branch of Western Catholicism with a top-down, infallible head. We know that it “works” (after a fashion!). Orthodoxy and Anglicanism have always offered another way.
Let’s not give up on it because it is messy!