January 4, 2008

An Informal Poll

The Church Times is taking an informal poll on whether the proposed Anglican Covenant is the best way to achieve unity. I invite you to go to the article, and then to cast your vote by clicking on the tiny "here" towards the bottom of the article.

I make no secret of being opposed to the specifics of the proposed Anglican Covenant; though not opposed in principle to a covenant based on ministry and mission and with no "pre-nuptial" provision for dissolution of communion. The current proposal is still light on the former and heavy on the latter.

If what is really wanted is simply a mechanism for dealing with conflicts and disagreements when they arise, I think it would be easier simply to codify the already existing powers that the autonomous provinces possess. That is, for example in the present conflict,

  • No other province (indeed, no other individual diocese) need permit Bishop Robinson (or any other Bishop) the exercise of Episcopal function within its borders.
  • Provinces are not forced to have any more to do with each other than they choose to do.
  • Individual parishes within dioceses, and dioceses within their provinces ought to respect the legitimate authority of their superior synods, and not seek to become independent from them.
  • Nor should bishops from outside a province interfere in the internal affairs of that province. (The response from the C of E noted that as far as England was concerned this was not only illegal, but probably immoral and fattening as well.)
So, as I see it, the long and the short of it is this. Cut the high-falutin' language (the C of E already saw the wisdom in dispensing with the decorative scriptural citations at the head of each section) and focus on the concepts that
  • Communion in Christ based on baptism is irrevocable;
  • Our call is to mission (unity of all people in Christ) and ministry (you know: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting and healing the sick, comforting those who mourn; in short, loving our neighbors as ourselves and doing unto others as we would be done by.) and
  • Affirm the fact that a covenant is not something to be broken when tensions arise, but the means by which we remain together "for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health" -- and that these principles apply first and foremost to the church, that holy and sacred mystery.
Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

They forgot an option. It should be "Yes", "No", and "I thought we were Anglicans, not The Unity Church."

Jay Phillippi said...

Well, heck if you're going to be reasonable, intelligent, adult and fair we're never going to get anywhere!

Wonderful thoughts. I'm reading a book (Blue Like Jazz) where the author says that all the great theologians were simple thinkers.

Hmmm, maybe time to get you fitted for the ceremonial robes.


W said...

as of today, 10% yes and 90% no. well done, Tobias!


Chris Jones said...

Communion in Christ based on baptism is irrevocable

With respect, Fr Haller, I think this is silly. Communion in Christ is not based on baptism alone, apart from loyalty to the Catholic faith into which one is baptized. He who departs from the faith once delivered (traditioned) to the saints has himself "revoked" the communion into which he was baptized.

We cannot simply stand on our baptism while each of us does what is right in his own eyes, whether in doctrine or practice. Otherwise Christianity is no more than what we make of it and baptism is an empty ceremony.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Chris Jones, what you present is, to my mind, a very Protestant view of things. Baptism does not become efficacious based on continued right-belief: this seems some strange form of Receptionism. I am affirming the catholic (and biblical) doctrine of baptismal regeneration. I am affirming that "what God has joined together is not by man to be put asunder."

Nor am I suggesting that we abandon the teaching or the faith -- but I affirm that this begins and is rooted in Baptism, which is the foundation of faith. And our errors, no matter how bad, cannot destroy that baptismal unity -- for it comes from God; it is not our own doing, and therefore we cannot undo it.

Chris Jones said...


There is nothing whatever Protestant about my views. I yield to no one in my devotion to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration; but it seems to me that you have turned baptismal regeneration and the objective grace of the sacrament into a sort of Catholic version of "once saved always saved."

Baptism is objectively efficacious, but it is also possible to fall away. And baptism is foundational to our unity, but it cannot be seen apart from actual unity in the faith. Arius was baptized, but he departed from the unity of the Catholic faith. To make of baptism the sole and (in your words) irrevocable ground of unity in Christ is to deny the possibility of apostasy and, like the Calvinists, to leave no room for human freedom.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Chris Jones,
I don't disagree with how you phrase things here; I fear we have a confusion of terms, however, and I'll expand a bit on it in a separate post. In short, it seems there are two kinds of "unity" -- the "unity in baptism" that is irrevocable, and the "unity in faith" that is indeed breakable, as differences of doctrinal or organizational principle arise.

What I am saying here is that we need to begin with a recovery of the organic unity in baptism which is a divine grace, and then acknowledge the lack of unity and division that results from our exercise of free will.

You will note that even the maligned draft covenant begins in the same way. As with ecumenism, I want to start with what is, to my mind, beyond question: the indelibility of baptismal grace, and take that, rather than structural or doctrinal matters, as the primary principle of unity in Christ: that it is ultimately not our work, but God's; we can only obstruct God's grace, we cannot generate it.

Marshall Montgomery said...

Dear Tobias,

I like your distinction between "unity in baptism" and "unity in faith," and am interested in how you would develop the relationship between the two.

I, too, believe that "we can only obstruct God's grace, we cannot generate it." The problem, then, is in how to allow God's grace to remove the obstructions we perpetually throw in the way of God's grace!

As you know from your participation in The Seminar on Conflict Ecclesiology, my goal has been to articulate that we need to maintain unity in baptism even when unity in faith fails to exist, in the hope that unity of faith will be re-established (by God) if we are faithful to our unity in baptism. This is what I've been calling "basic commitment," and like you, I draw parallels between the indissolubility of this commitment to each other rooted in our baptism and the indissolubility of the commitment that two people make to each other in marriage.

I will likely blog more about this at my place.

Thanks, as always, for stimulating reflection.