The leadership of the Church of England, and by extension (since the majority are relatively recent products of English missionary efforts) many of the Primates of the Anglican Communion seem to have taken a managerial approach to the development of doctrine and polity within Anglicanism. One might observe this is better than the almost impossibilist approach of the Eastern Church or the heavily top-down of the Roman, but in recent years these leaders seem to have taken their cue more from those directions than from the more traditionally Anglican model of provincial autonomy to innovate and the process of reception over time.
This is not meant to give unqualified endorsement to the Gamaliel principle ("If it lasts, it is of God") if for no other reason than that things of God don't always last, and many things that are downright ungodly seem to endure very well! The danger in the "wait and see" approach lies in the fact that deferring action on what is later judged to have been unjust or immoral puts one in a bad light under that later judgment. C. S. Lewis long ago, in a children's book of all places, denounced the danger of taking a wait and see attitude in which, "The dwarves are for the dwarves." They end up unable to see, having refused to act.
Nor am I endorsing a free-for-all adoption of anything new because it is new. Both antiquarianism and novelty are poor guides to rightness. What I am suggesting is that rather than attempting to manage the process, the Primates and the members of the various Anglican churches allow the process of reception -- or rejection -- to take place over time. We are dealing, after all, not with a core doctrine of the faith, but a matter of marriage discipline -- and one far less troublesome than that of remarriage after divorce which the churches managed to gulp (with some discomfort) while gasping at the "bulk" of the recent gnat.
In the long run, the call to submit to such managerial policies runs counter to the history of how the church has worked over time. Almost exactly a decade ago (June 2006), I assembled the following "chain of events" that explores what might have happened had various parties given in to the putative authorities urging their submission. I don't think anything need be added:
- The General Convention should have listened to the clear directions of the Primates and repented and repudiated all that had been done to offend.
- The Episcopal Church should have ignored the tradition of national church polity and remained as a missionary arm of the Church of England even after the Revolution.
- The Church of England should have listened to the pope and never separated from Rome.
- The Eastern Orthodox should have done the same and submitted to Rome so as not to sever communion.
- The martyrs should have followed Saint Paul’s advice to obey those in civil authority.
- Saint Paul, in the interest of not tearing the fabric of the early church, should have acceded to the circumcision party instead of trusting to his own private interpretation of Scripture.
- The Jerusalem Council should have ignored the anecdotal evidence of Paul and Barnabas — which could only serve to make Law-abiding Jewish converts uneasy.
- Saul should have ignored his personal “experience” on the road to Damascus and followed his orders from the Sanhedrin.
- The other apostles should have ignored Peter’s “dream” and stuck to the letter of the Law.
- Jesus should have heeded Peter’s advice and turned back from Jerusalem.
- He might also have considered more seriously the various options presented to him in the Wilderness Report.
- Joseph should have ignored the “personal revelation” he received — again in a dream, no less — and acted in accordance with the Law, and when he found Mary to be with child by someone other than himself, had her stoned to death, and her unborn child with her.
- Then we wouldn’t be having all these problems with the Anglican Communion.