Here comes the Covenant

Or at least the latest draft. The Covenant Design Group now have a "St Andrews" version ready for us to study, critique and generally rip apart!! As well as the Covenant text itself, we also have an introduction, a commentary and an appendix (in draft form obviously like the main covenant). As you read them make sure you remember that they are not designed to be a statement on what core doctrine and orthopraxis is (so for example Lambeth ’98 1:10 still remains the best statement on human sexuality), but they are designed to provide a framework to work within when disagreements over what core doctrine and orthopraxis are.

Got it? Lovely. Let’s have a look then shall we?

The introduction is actually a rather good short statement as to what catholicity is:

  1. God has called us into communion in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9).  This communion has been “revealed to us” by the Son as being the very divine life of God the Trinity.  What is the life revealed to us? St John makes it clear that the communion of life in the Church reflects the communion which is the divine life itself, the life of the Trinity.  This life is not a reality remote from us, but one that has been “seen” and “testified to” by the Apostles and their followers:  “for in the communion of the Church we share in the divine life” (The Church and the Triune God[1], par. 1-2).  This life of the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shapes and displays itself through the very existence and ordering of the Church.

  2. Our divine calling into communion is established in God’s purposes for the whole of creation (Eph. 1:10; 3:9ff.).  It is extended to all humankind, so that, in our sharing of God’s life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,  God might restore in us his own image.  Through time, according to the Scriptures, God has furthered this calling through covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David.  The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to a new covenant not written on tablets of stone but upon the heart (Jer.31.31-34)  In God’s Son Christ Jesus, a new covenant is given us, established in his “blood … poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28), secured through his resurrection from the dead (Eph. 1:19-23), and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).  Into this covenant of death to sin and of new life in Christ we are baptized, and empowered to share God’s communion in Christ with all people, to the very ends of the earth and of creation.

We like. Trust me. One might get a bit picky as to whether the introduction implies that baptism saves or whether it implies that it is a mark of the covenant that is personally entered into (upon regeneration) but that’s by the by.

The last two paragraphs also give us an indication of what we should be striving towards (emphasis added):

  1. Our faith embodies a coherent testimony to what we have received from God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness; our life together reflects the blessings of God in growing our Communion into a truly global family;  and the mission we pursue aims at serving the great promises of God in Christ that embrace the world and its peoples, carried out in shared responsibility and stewardship of resources, and in interdependence among ourselves and with the wider Church.

  2. Our prayer is that God will redeem our struggles and weakness, and renew and enrich our common life so that the Anglican Communion may be used to witness effectively in all the world, working with all Christians of good will, to the new life and hope found in Christ Jesus.

Not a bad start at all, not bad at all. It all though begins to fall apart when the Covenant itself is examined. In particular, once we start looking at the method for which we will determine what the "coherent testimony to what we have received from God’s Word and the Church’s long-standing witness" is, which is found in section 3.2.5:

(3.2.5)  to act with diligence, care and caution in respect to actions, either proposed or enacted, at a provincial or local level, which, in its own view or the expressed view of any Province or in the view of any one of the Instruments of Communion, are deemed to threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission, and to consent to the following principles and procedural elements:

(3.2.5.a)         to undertake wide consultation with the other churches of the Anglican Communion and with the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion;

(3.2.5.b)         to accept the legitimacy of processes for communion-wide evaluation which any of the Instruments of Communion may commission, according to such procedures as are appended to this covenant;

(3.2.5.c)         to be ready to participate in mediated conversation between parties, which may be in conflict, according to such procedures as are appended to this covenant;

(3.2.5.d)         to be willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect of the matter under dispute.  While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our Provinces, except where provided in their own laws, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.

(3.2.5.e)         Any such request would not be binding on a Church unless recognised as such by that Church.  However, commitment to this covenant entails an acknowledgement that in the most extreme circumstances, where a Church chooses not to adopt the request of the Instruments of Communion, that decision may be understood by the Church itself, or by the resolution of the Instruments of Communion, as a relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.

At first glance 3.2.5e is a bit of a let out for the heretics. While the Instruments of Communion might request a particular action ("stop blessing same-sex unions") the Province in question is under no obligation to obey. Hoever, that last sentence is pretty strong. Essentially, as I read it, it permits the Instrument of Communion to say that the Province in question has essentially fractured the bonds of Communion as laid out by the Covenant. What it does after that though is pretty nebuolous. Perhaps the commentary on the Covenant will help us understand:

Clause 3.2.5

Many commentators on the Nassau draft did not like the pattern of consultation as proposed in the draft, which placed the Primates Meeting in a significant co-ordinating position.  The St Andrew’s Draft limits the commitments made by the Churches to ones of care and receptivity with respect to Communion relations.  It is open to any Province or the instruments of Communion all indeed the national or regional Church itself to identify matters which threaten “the unity of the Communion” or “ the effectiveness or credibility of its mission”, and which therefore invoke a higher duty of care.  The clause sets out four elements to that duty of care:  consultation (3.2.5.a), Communion wide evaluation (3.2.5.b), mediation (3.2.5.c) and a readiness to consider a request on the controversial matter from the Instruments of Communion (3.2.5.d).  The draft stresses that there is no intention to erect a centralised jurisdiction and that the Instruments of Communion cannot dictate with juridical force on the internal affairs of any Province.  However, since Communion is founded on the mutual recognition that each Church sees in the other of our Communion in Christ, we recognize that it cannot be sustained in extreme circumstances where a Church or Province were to act in a way which rejects the interdependence of the Communion’s life.

We recognize that the Communion may well require more detailed procedures which offer a way in which these principles and procedural elements may be lived out in its life.  The group therefore attaches to the St Andrew’s Draft a tentative draft for the possible shape of such procedures might take.  This procedural appendix will need much scrutiny and careful analysis.  The CDG particularly welcomes comments and response on this appendix, while at recognizing its provisional nature in the St Andrew’s Draft.  It is important to note however that the elements set out in clause 3.2.5 not intended to form a sequential process, but to be elements which can all be active and present at any stage in the process of common discernment and reconciliation.

Not much help is it? The commentary recognises clearly that this is the crunch point – what to do if a Province ignores the wishes of the Instrument(s) of Communion? The appendix therefore is the place to see the procedure proposed.

8. Rejection of a Request from an Instrument of Communion

8.1. If a Church rejects a request of an Instrument of Communion, that Instrument shall send the request and rejection to the Anglican Consultative Council.

8.2. At its next meeting, the Council shall decide whether the rejection of the request is compatible with the Covenant.

8.3. If the Council decides that the rejection of the request is compatible with the Covenant, the matter is closed subject to Articles 3.2.1, 3.2.4 and 3.2.5b of the Covenant.

8.4. If the Council decides that the rejection is incompatible with the Covenant, then during the course of that meeting of the Council either (a) the Church involved may declare voluntarily that it relinquishes the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant, or (b) the Council shall resolve whether the Church involved may be understood to have relinquished the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant.

8.5. If a declaration or resolution of relinquishment is issued, the Anglican Consultative Council must as soon as is practicable initiate a process of restoration with the Church involved in consultation with all the Churches of the Communion and the other Instruments of Communion.

There you have it. Ultimately the power will lie with the Anglican Consultative Council, not with the Primates or with the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Let’s ignore the fact that Route 3 in the appendix is a long-winded process of a committee that takes up to 18 months to come to a conclusion and that that added to 3 years to wait for the next ACC means that a judgement might take five whole years to come about. What we’re basically saying here is that a quasi-Synod, with possibly dodgy leadership, rather than the Primates are going to decide whether a Province has overstepped the mark.

Have we forgotten that we’re an Episcopal Communion? Why have the Primates been removed from ultimate decisioning here? Don’t forget peeps, the Primates were the ones who got Windsor, Dromantine and Dar Es Salaam happening. It’s been from the Primates that the impetus against TEC has come. Even at the 2005 ACC it was the intervention of the Primates on the Council that saw TEC and Canada condemned, despite, some might say, the best wishes of the secretariat.

Do you know what – if the last bit of the appendix had the decision making going to the Primates meeting, we might have something pretty powerful here. At present though, it looks like a carefully planned fudge.So howabout all the Primates (and attendent bishops) go along to Canterbury in July, amend the appendix so everything is ending up at the Primates, and pass the Covenant like that? That’ll fill me with confidence that something might get done about TEC pretty soon after that?

Comments and what not below if you agree or disagree.

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