show of hands please: Who knows that this week
the Church of England, through its General Synod,
will vote on The Covenant™? (Don't know
what The Covenant™ is? Here
it is. Like a guide? The Archbishop of Canterbury
will tell you all about on a YouTube
As the mother church of whatever-we-consider-the-Anglican-Communion-to-be,
the vote of the CofE on this will be a statement
of sorts about The Covenant™.
If it's rejected, perhaps that indicates
a wholesale rubbishing of the concept itself,
a thumbs-down to the idea that the communion
needs a child-minder in the form of a juridical
uber-committee. (The 'No Pope' party.)
Or rejection might come because a
majority think it too woolly, without enough
structure and process built into it. (The 'Not
Strong Enough' party.)
Or perhaps a rejection will indicate
that the majority disagreed with, say, the use
of the participle in 'covenanting church' or
the squidgy concept of a 'shared mind' and voted
down the whole bit based on poor word choice
or dodgy syntax. (The 'Red Pencil' party.)
If it passes, it may suggest that
the CofE is tired of the unruly children within
the Communion and think it high time that they
be told to settle down. (The 'Need Some Discipline'
Or perhaps its approval would suggest
that a majority can't bear to conceive of yet
another revision, report, or Covenant 3.0™ surfacing
in the next few years and just want the bloody
thing to disappear. After all, passing legislation,
approving reports, and then filing them away
has a long and honourable history in our church.
(The 'Just Pass It and Forget It' party.)
Truth to tell, people, doesn't it
seem like we've been hearing about, reading about,
blogging about, fretting about, and rabbiting
on about The Covenant™ (or its many forebears
on the ancestral family tree) for the past few
decades? And here we are, joining the fray.
It shouldn't surprise any of our
readers, long-time or occasional, that we look
at The Covenant™ with a gimlet eye. We're
willing to live with a high degree of tolerance
and ambiguity within the Communion and grant
a wide berth to the members of the 38 national
provinces, through their own structures and governance,
to do the best they can to advance the Gospel
in their part of God's vineyard.
If we were in high dudgeon, for example,
about the decision of a national church to allow
lay people to preside at the Holy Eucharist,
we should take advantage of all the media at
our command to make our displeasure known. But
not for a moment would we want an Anglican Standing
Committee (or Sitting Committee) in place to
discipline, censure, and diminish that theologically
And we're quite happy with the Covenant
that's already in place in the Anglican Communion.
Didn't know we had one? Oh we do: It was assented
to by all the bishops who attended the Lambeth
Conference of 1888. It's called the Chicago-Lambeth
Quadrilateral. It's spare, clear, and its
four premises have served as compass points for
the Communion for more than 120 years. You'll
recognise it as Anglican. (The, er, new Covenant™?
Not so much.)
Who needs anything more?
acquaintance of ours, known to us only through
the Internet, is a medical doctor. Converting
to the Episcopal Church in the USA in the late
1970s, he's a passionate, thoughtful Christian
who has this to say about his church:
Since I became an Episcopalian
in 1978, the denomination
(1) has never told me anything
that I knew was not true;
(2) has never told me I was better than anybody
(3) has never told me to hate anybody;
(4) has never told me to do anything I knew
(5) has surprised me with the lack of hypocrisy
among clergy and laity;
(6) has never pestered me for money.
The denomination doesn't proof-text,
embraces natural science, supports a person
who chooses a clean-living single lifestyle,
treats your private life and your politics
as your own business, uses the golden rule
as a guide to behavior, regards all people
of good-will as friends, focuses on life
in this world, and insists that the Gospel
faith and the Christian commitment are not
merely personal or cultural prejudices.
I say I made a good choice.
In fewer than 150 words, our friend
has summarised why his branch of the Anglican
Communion is a Christ-centred structure for living
his life. We wonder whether this was something
that the average person in the pew could do.
If there were a slip of paper in
the pew next Sunday that asked you, in 150 words
or less, to write why you're a member of, say,
the Anglican Church of Canada or the Anglican
Church of Australia, could you do that? So often
it's hard to think beyond why we've chosen our
parish; our immediate context.
Often one hears: 'I attend Saint
Swthin's rather than Saint Bede's because Father
Bumbleton is such a good preacher'. Or 'We've
visited Methodist, Presbyterian, and Anglican
churches in the last few months. We'll decide
based on the Sunday School times'.
These days it's rare for doctrine
and dogma to be the determining factors in the
choice of denomination. How many Presbyterians
really assent to the concept of predestination?
How many Methodists can articulate what distinguishes
their church from others? Choosing one denomination
over another seems likely now to be based on
cultural and comfort factors.
If mainstream churches blend and
blur, does it matter? If the boundaries are no
longer neat amongst Unitarians, Baptists, Congregationalists,
Presbyterians, Methodists, and Anglicans, does
the Kingdom of God stumble? In the future, the
shards of Christendom may slowly — with all the
difficulty and emotion that comes from change
— become one (as we were, long long ago). Reunification
with Rome and the Orthodox? That's a thorny next
step, one our descendants will need to tackle.
A good map for any potential merging
of denominations was agreed in 1888 by all the
bishops at the Lambeth Conference. It's called
Quadrilateral. Four basic points, non-negotiable.
You'll recognise it as Anglican. And we think
that's a good thing.
Who needs anything more?