Some more thoughts on progressing from NEAC

Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream has written a useful reply in this week’s CEN to Stephen Kuhrt’s piece last week about whether the CEEC is now just a conservative evangelical navel-gazing body (or words to that effect). Chris writes:

Stephen speaks of ‘three streams’:  but why (only) three?  How do we know their relative strengths?  The usual way is by elections – to see which groups win support. Even accepting the argument for proportionality, applying it in the evangelical constituency is problematic. The categories overlap. Many, but not all, conservatives are charismatics. There are different kinds of charismatics and conservatives, just as there are different kinds of points of view in Fulcrum.  Fuclrum itself illustrates the difficulty. Its strap-line refers to ‘The Evangelical Centre’.  But what is the ‘centre’? Identifying the centre requires an agreed definition of the limits of the range – the meaning of ‘Evangelical’.

This is useful stuff. Sugden, who has ministered on the ground in India in some of the most deprived parts of that country continues:

Who decides which streams are to be included and which not? Imposing pre-set categories was used by the British Raj to divide and rule their Indian subjects and separate them from each other.  Is this same strategy being used to undermine the legitimacy of CEEC by imposing categories upon particular groups?
Stephen wants CEEC’s membership to be categorized in his terms, rather than those carefully developed over the years to bring together all the committed and confessional evangelical institutions and networks which formally endorse the CEEC statement of faith. Most people recognize that CEEC in common with many organizations faces a problem of mobilizing its constituency effectively. CEEC and its executive have been working at this for many years, are continuing to do so, and would welcome constructive suggestions to develop this process.

This case has some merit. For example, I am personally a conservative (lutheran electionist) charismatic evo catholic. Which of the camps do I fall into? Is this attempt to define streams restricting rather than descripting and should we be moving away from making CEEC executive membership dependent on fitting into one of a certain number of molds?

I want to concentrate though on Sugden’s thoughts following NEAC last Saturday. He writes:

What happened at the NEAC consultation revealed the challenge posed by the Jerusalem Declaration. Is the situation in the Anglican Communion a difference of emphasis and attitude which can be resolved by pleas for reconciliation and unity? Or is it that orthodox Anglicans are being hounded out of parts of the Anglican Church and need support, fellowship and clear affirmation that they are loyally Anglican?  Those who support the Jerusalem Declaration think the latter.

A large part of what Sugden writes on this is good, but he needs to further address the issue raised after NEAC ’08, that the objections raised at last Saturday (and since) were not so much to the theological statements of the Jerusalem Declaration, nor a lack of support for the orthodox in North America, but rather the ecclesiological response to the issues in TEC. In particular I don’t think one can argue against the Lambeth Process (as Sugden appears to at one point) simply on the grounds that it is supported by those who take a more revisionist line.

The problem with part (b) of the motion was not so much that it was an open notion of support for the GAFCON process whilst "recognising" other strategies (as Sugden’s article correctly points out), but rather that in not expressing explicit support of those other strategies (i.e. in the same way as it expresses support for GAFCON) it was understood that the resolution committed Evangelicals to support GAFCON as the *primary* manner in which the current crisis might be solved. Whilst Chris Sugden and I might agree that such a solution is the only practical way forward, very many don’t and this is the key issue. There *has* to be some way of providing for those who take the Windsor/Lambeth route seriously to remain as active players in CEEC, and for CEEC to acknowledge such a route (Windsor/Lambeth) as a valid and useful strategy in far more explicit terms than the resolution put to the floor on Saturday did.

There is a *massive* danger that any attempt by the CEEC executive to adopt the motion as presented to NEAC5 will be a major disaster for CofE evangelicalism. The last thing that we want at this point is for a large (perhaps even majority) branch of CofE Evangelicalism to disassociate itself with CEEC on the grounds of a discussion about Nicene ecclesiology. The bottom line is that the CEEC leadership needs to recognise that GAFCON *cannot* become the approved primary strategy for resolving the crisis in North America amongst CofE Evangelicals (as represented by CEEC). It *must* be supported only as one of (at least) two options, and neither option given more support than the other, however much the current CEEC leadership is behind, or involved, in the GAFCON track.

Such a position should not prevent individual members of CEEC promoting GAFCON in their private or other external capacities, but an attempt to make CEEC endorse GAFCON above other solutions, however inferior (I believe) such other solutions are, is simply going to create disunity rather than the unity intended by such a move.

5 Comments on “Some more thoughts on progressing from NEAC

    • Hi John,

      I’m talking about the issue of border crossing and the (in)violability of diocesan boundaries.

      For the record, I believe that there are enough precedents in history for us to begin to make an argument supporting the boundary crossing model and also to look at how the Primates might transfer their recognition of which province(s) is the valid North American Anglican representative.

      • I thought that was what you meant. I have a copy of an interesting article from Touchstone, by the Roman Catholic, William Tighe, Abusing the Fathers: the Windsor Report’s Misleading Appeal to Nicea, which argues that the most relevant Nicean Canon (16) “says nothing at all about interventions in churches whose bishops have abandoned orthdoxoy of belief and practice and have begun to oppress those of their flock who continue to uphold it” (pace TEC, I think he means). 

        The other canon, according to Tighe, would be number 8, which he argues applied specifically to the Novatianists and thus “addresses … the reunion of a schismatic group with the Church, not the appropriate response of bishops to the defection of one of their brethren from their common orthodoxy.”

        By contrast, some fifteen years later, Athanasius “ordained men in dioceses whose bishops were tainted with Arianism to serve the orthodox upholders of Nicea, and … did so without seeking or obtaining the persmission of those bishops”.

        “And,” Tighe adds with accompanying examples, “he was not alone. Other orthodox bishops acted similarly.”

        Thus he concludes, “any attempt to construct a theory of the inviolability of diocesan boundaries cannot find any support in the theory and practice of the early Church.”

        We must bear in mind that these actions took place before the Arian issue was settled within the Church. We cannot therefore say that this was simply a case of orthodoxy putting right heresy. At that stage it could be said, to quote Tighe’s quoting of Bp Tom Wright, “people on both sides of the argument [were] simply … assuming that they know without argument this is one of the ithings we can’t agree to differ about.” Nevertheless, boundaries were crossed, ordinations, and indeed consecrations, were carried out, and to all intents and purposes (though contra Canon 16 of the Council of Nicea) there were “two bishops in the city”.

        Yet does not hindsight suggest (to put it mildly) that Athanasius and co got it right? Certainly they did not feel inhibited by Nicea!

        • John,

          You will have no complaint with that argument from this camp. The point remains though – how do we manage to keep on board those who do not at present accept the border crossing strategy?

          • Well, I suppose it is a start to say to them, “Look at church history (if such it be) and stop appealing to Nicea as if it relates directly to present concerns.”

            Tighe’s article can be found here, and he quotes extensively from an interview with Tom Wright in Christianity Today. I think the view apparently put forward by Wright, that border crossings were prohibited by the Council of Nicea, is widespread. Certainly I have simply tended to take it ‘on trust’, having seen it repeated often enough.

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