Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Covenant

The Church of England is about to decide on The Covenant, the new arm of anglican unity, or the end of anglicanism as we know it - depending upon your standpoint.

Personally, on the whole, as an anglican evangelical, I am very much against it.

We have the catholic creeds. We have the thirty nine articles. We have the prayer books. And we have a history of understanding that the church is a big place, and that within its walls we will all fall out with each other but still belong to Jesus. I'm not sure why we think a new document (regularly updated to reflect the latest fads in ethical or theological infighting) will help. All it will do is help point out what those fads are and what the factions are that are enjoying the fight.

Hardly the stuff of John 17, is it?

O, it's possible that one side or another may enjoy the odd 'victory', but I refer you to my previous sentence.

Now: my conservative evangelical friends are having apoplexy, and are beginning to write their comments already - how unevangelical I sound, how cheaply I am selling our scriptural heritage, how easily I abandon the importance of doctrine which the covenant will help us preserve in these dangerous days.


The Covenant will be re-written at regular intervals, by the predominant party of its day. If the evangelicals are feeling powerful today, they should remember it's barely twenty years since they were all but non-existant, and perhaps wonder what the Covenant would feel like if re-drawn in such circumstances. It's a flexible tool. To make the majority feel good, and to whip into shape the recalcitrant few. It's ecclesiastical bullying. Hmm. Blessed are the meek, anyone? Sorry, just for a second I forgot to sell my scriptural heritage cheaply enough.

As Anglicans, we have never set our store by the mass acceptance of secondary theology - adiaphora. We have held to the old adage of in things essential, unity; in things inessential, liberty; and in all things, charity. The Covenant seeks to firm that up a little... or rather, to take away a little liberty. And charity. Gordon Brown would like it, I suppose, as long as he was writing it. It suits the spirit of an age where the powers that be want a little less freedom around the place.

But wasn't it for freedom that Christ has set us free? Sorry. More Scripture interfering again.

As an evangelical, I have to trust the power of God through his Spirit at work in the believer's heart, and the love of Christ transforming each believer, and the inspiration of the Scriptures conforming us to the character of Jesus as we seek to know him more. As an Anglican, I have to accept humbly that I am not the only person in the big house of faith and that (occasionally) I will learn something of my Lord from my brothers and sisters around me. It seems to me that God in his mercy did not require his Son to say during his earthly ministry - "O, and by the way chaps, unless you all agree on absolutely everything at all times, I think you should form a committee so that you can throw out those you don't much like".

Though I do recall St John saying words to the effect of, "Hey kids, come on, play nicely now."

There we go. That'll do. I'll sign up to that. If we're going to add to the Catholic Creeds, the Thirty Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer as the formularies of the Anglican Church, let's just add 1 John 3.18: "Hey kids, come on, play nicely now."


Richard Wood said...

The only thing I'd want to question about that (and you know I'm with you as an evangelical without a big stick) is that you make a lot of the creeds, articles and BCP. What makes them so special as to avoid your wrath? If they fall under the 'matters essential', requiring unity category (which I doubt they all do) then we still have the problem of fellow Anglicans who reject much that is essential. A Covenant (with teeth, unlike this one) might be able to insist on Anglicans being Christians first!
Our covenant is Jesus, the Word, and not any one interpretation of that, either. My guess would be, as you suggest, that maybe, just mayne' denomination was never the idea!

TheMuddledMarketPlace said...

For folk who like to dot their i s and cross their t doubt the Anglican Covenant could be construed as vitally important and should be crucial enough for us all to spend hours debating it's merits and delights

Have you read the wretched thing?
I'm sorry. It's worse than an insurance document or the annual terms and conditions from my bank.
My eyes glaze over and my ears feel sore.

+ judging by the outraged responses, I fear this is not a document that will lead us into all truth.
Nor all love.

I like your alternative!

Marcus Green said...

Richard- the creeds, 39 Articles & Prayer Book get special mention as in Anglican theology we see them as a principal lens through which our understanding of Scripture is focussed. Good thing too. The creeds point us to Jesus, his death & resurrection, the 39 Articles to a sharply historical theology in our development - but one which places the Bible front & centre, and doesn't allow for any wriggle room on that, and the prayer book establishes worship that is dripping with Bible.

You want more? We don't need more. We need generosity and love and warmth for the things we have.

And, dare I add, for each other.

I take MMP's point well. The Covenant looks like nothing quite so much as a pre- nup to me, not a document of love, but a clinical preparation for the spoils of divorce.

Sing and shout O people of God: we are made for more than this!

TheMuddledMarketPlace said...


Anonymous said...

The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion” when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker’s doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’, in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things-candles and clothes and what not-are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials-namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would
think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,
Your affectionate uncle

Anonymous said...

I agree! I think those three are enough, if not more than enough. My question is, what do we 'do' with people who say they are with us and actually have nothing to do with these three things?

TheMuddledMarketPlace said...


Bishops: For-39, Against-0, Abstentions-1

Clergy: For-145, Against-32, Abstentions-11

Laity: For-147, Against-25, Abstentions-8