Friday, June 20, 2008

Confessional or Conciliar: the GAFCON dilemma

If you read GAFCON's "The Way, the Truth, the Life" (484kb PDF) and Bishop Duncan's opening address, "Anglicanism Come of Age: A Post-Colonial and Global Communion for the 21st Century" (100kb PDF), you will encounter what can be regarded as one very significant contradiction: The writers of "The Way, the Truth, the Life" state, "The Anglican Church has always been a confessional institution..." whereas Bp. Duncan says, "Anglicanism is neither papal, nor confessional, it is rather apostolic and conciliar."

GAFCON's detractors may well see this contradiction as an opportunity to allege that those who are busily involved in crafting a new global Anglican future cannot even agree on the nature of Anglicanism's past and present identity. And, of course, there are those, from both the liberal and Anglo-Catholic camps, who have never liked the idea of Anglicans being a confessional people. It was considered a virtual article of faith in the Confirmation class I attended that the Articles of Religion (the 39 Articles) were in no way to be viewed as a confession of faith, such as the Augsburg Confession is for Lutherans or the Westminster Confession is for Presbyterians.

Such a view denies the obvious role that the Articles of Religion have played in both defining and describing the nature of a Reformed Catholicism that was no longer Roman. The fact that assent to the Articles is still required of those being ordained in the Church of England, and that, until 1824, assent was even a requirement for holding civil office in England, makes the Articles the nearest thing to a confession of faith possessed by the Anglican tradition.

But what about the future? Is the future of orthodox Anglicanism to be seen as confessional (as suggested by the authors of "The Way, the Truth, and the Life") or should it be viewed as conciliar, as articulated by Bishop Duncan in his plenary address?

I would argue that this apparent contradiction need not be an actual one. There is a strong case to be made that the two views can be reconciled, and the future identity of orthodox Anglicanism will be stronger and more complete if this happens.

Anglicanism should be seen as confessional in this sense: Can anyone imagine an orthodox Anglican future that is not grounded in the 39 Articles? If a movement is to be recognizably Anglican, it must stand in the theological tradition of historic Anglican norms. Those norms should then be expected to form the boundaries that determine who may participate in the councils of Anglicanism and what subjects may be considered.

To draw an analogy from history: Can anyone imagine that someone who did not subscribe to the doctrinal outcomes of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils (Nicea [325] and Constantinople [381]) would have been invited to the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus [431])? Would those who failed to assent to the previously established consubstantiality of the Son with the Father have been permitted to engage in further discussions of the nature of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity? Neither were later councils free to reopen these decisions or go beyond the boundaries (in the sense of straying from the confessional declarations) set by the earlier councils.

Thus, the two models of being both confessional and conciliar worked together in a complementary fashion as godly leaders, united in the confession of one Faith, led the Church in its Gospel mission.


TLF+ said...

Thank you, Dean Munday, both for pointing this out and for your helpful analysis.

Anglicans need to express this somehow - "Our confession guides our councils; our councils apply our confession."

Kevin said...

Nice article! I do pray this attitude wins the day, history has been pessimistic on this topic, but we are the ones who make history of tomorrow by our actions of today. I pray your voice is heard in these discussions.

Becket said...

Dean Munday, thank you for your concise but well-articulated and intelligent analysis of the very NOT-concise document that I have scanned, but not yet read in earnest.

I agree that the 39 Articles have to be part of any realignment of Anglicanism (and I am an Anglo-Catholic, though I place evangelization among our highest priorities). They have to be because in most of the Communion, they retain the same status they have held for 400+ years; and also because when the American church deep-sixed them in 1979, they didn't replace them with anything else. We don't have much that defines our boundaries as Anglicans. Scriptures (which apparently we can re-write according to some), Creeds, Tradition (which is debatable in many cases), and that document from which Anglican theology has always come (since the 16th Century anyway) - the BCP (lex orandi lex credendi, the law of prayer is the law of belief, praying shapes belief, etc). Well of course the 1979 BCP has SO much in it that one could argue just about anything under the sun. And now, indeed, they are. Should we be surprised?

On that front, while qualifying that I was not an Episcopalian in the 1970s, and not old enough to really understand or care what was going on even if I had been Episcopalian, hindsight leads me to believe, with all due respect, which is a LOT of respect for MANY great men in the Church, that the catholics within Anglicanism were so excited to get the catholic additions (more like restorations in most cases from pre-Reformation liturgies) to the book, that they accepted a Trojan Horse, overlooking (or being willing to live with) the tragedies in the book, while either being glad or indifferent about the Articles being deep-sixed.

The Articles are not perfect. They comprise a document written in a time of turmoil, in reactionary manner, and for the most part they accomplish their goal of not being exclusive except on the essentials, but in a few cases, in my opinion, they do wander into some emotionally-charged and unnecessary language.

All the same, I'm fine with them and willing to assent to them, because I have no problem whatsoever reading and interpreting them in a catholic manner.

More to the point though (which is not me), the 39 Articles are not perfect, but they were/are better than nothing. For example, how might the present situation in the U.S. be different, from an accountability and disciplinary standpoint, if all parties had to be accountable to the Articles? I think it might make a bit of a difference.

If/when a new Anglican jurisdiction, or a re-worked Anglicanism is firmly established, then she may begin to redefine her boundaries, if she so chooses, in such a way as to make clear those areas of the Articles where some Anglicans take issue in good conscience and, in their opinions, on the basis of Scripture, Church Tradition and Reason (not experience, but Hooker's objective definition, tied to Natural Law, and not unlike the Vincentian Canon).

But we have to have a starting place, and the bottom line this: the 39 Articles are not perfect, but they are FAR superior to what we have now, which is virtually nothing. That was the true in 1979, and it is true today. Hopefully lessons have been learned from history.

There are only a couple of points in your excellent piece with which I respectfully take a slightly different view.

First, while true that all Clergy were to assent to the Articles at Ordination and annually thereafter, I am not aware of any requirement...and I hereby go on record humbly acknowledging that if there was/is such requirement of which I am simply ignorant, said ignorance is 100% the fault of The Rev'd. Dr. Tom Holtzen :-) ...for the Clergy to teach the Articles to the people. Assenting to them was, as much as anything, assurance of not betraying the throne and the C of E. I do not know of any requirement of the laity to learn them or assent to them or even acknowledge them. On that point, if I am correct, there would be at least one huge difference between the Anglican model and that of the Westminster Confession (with which I grew up!) and Augsburg.

And my second point is one of semantics, and one with which I do not think you disagree. You referred to Anglicanism, and spoke of her history as though it began at the English Reformation. Technically, with the title "Anglicanism," perhaps that is true. But just as I am uninterested in any plot to merely turn the TEC clock back to pre-GC 2003, I likewise am uninterested in any model of Anglicanism that ignores the history and tradition of the Church in the British and Celtic Isles, going all the way back to at least the 2nd Century, before Augustine of Canterbury, and even before Patrick. Our history is rich, and it has its place in the history (and hopefully, future!!) of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

God is working in HIS Church, and the Holy Spirit is doing things that we cannot even imagine. (Or to borrow from Lewis, "Aslan is on the move.")

Regularly, I have parishioners ask me questions that boil down to, "How do you do it? With all this stuff going on? How do you keep going?" My answer is simple, and always similar. I have read Church History, and know that things have been worse, and that nothing in the Church happens fast, and that in the end God and his Church always prevail. And I have read Scripture, and I know who wins in the end. Precisely how we get there is a bit more of an unsolved mystery! But I do know that we, the Church, are the warriors who, through God's mercies and grace, will prevail in the end.

I do not know whether Anglicanism or the Episcopal Church will survived. God never promised such a thing. I do think there are some particular things about Anglicanism worth saving, and I think God knew what he was doing when he allowed this church to develop in the direction that she did; we do have things to offer to the Church Catholic. But whether or not this group or that group survives, we really shouldn't care. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, and thus we must see that we remain faithful soldiers in His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, not for our pride (whether personal or jurisdictional), but for His Glory.

May we ALL be one, even as the Father and Son are One.

And may I one day learn to be both concise and eloquent as you. ;)

Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Pax Christi,

Bill Estes+