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C of E told it cannot cede power to Primates

by
03 January 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, chairman of tieh international Design Group REUTERS

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, chairman of tieh international Design Group REUTERS

THE Church of England response to the draft Anglican Covenant was published on Wednesday, in advance of a meeting of the international Design Group later this month.

There is a new draft text, overseen by the House of Bishops’ theological group, and building on earlier work done by the Faith and Order Advisory Group. A key addition is a clause prohibiting interfering in other dioceses or provinces without official sanction.

The text identifies a need for greater theological justification and context, wants a “minimalist” approach to doctrinal argument, and suggests significant revisions in key areas such as Section 6, “The Unity of the Communion”, especially on the part played by the Primates’ Meeting.

A better theological context would include an affirmation of the Trinitarian basis of communion, say the English authors. Discussion of the Anglican Communion needs to be rooted in biblical material.

In the section “Our Commitment to Confession of the Faith”, issue is taken with the phrase “biblically derived moral values” because it “assumes a deductive approach to the relationships between Christian ethics and the Bible to which many Anglicans would not subscribe”. Changed wording is suggested here.

The response tightens up much of the wording in the original. Bishops should be described as “guardians” and not “custodians” (mere maintainers) of the faith in the section “Our Unity and Common Life”, which seeks a much more expanded definition of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The section “The Unity of the Communion” should set out “the distinctive Anglican theological method, the distinctive Anglican approach to discernment and decision-making in the life of the Church, and the distinctiveness and importance of the Anglican liturgical tradition”.

The original draft text gives the Primates’ Meeting the power to “offer guidance and direction” where there is no common mind, after “seeking it with the other Instruments and their councils”.

Stephen Slack, head of the legal office and legal adviser to the General Synod, said that it would be unlawful for the Synod to delegate its decision-making power to the Primates. It “could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the Primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action the C of E should take”. A new form of words that removes the word “direction” is suggested.

The C of E text also includes a new subsection that addresses intervention in the affairs of Anglican churches — absent from the original draft. In the suggested wording, signatories commit themselves “to [refraining] from intervening in the life of other Anglican Churches (sc. provinces) except in extraordinary circumstances where such intervention has been specifically authorised by the relevant Instruments of Communion.”

  It also suggests revision to the subsection on discipline. It notes anxieties expressed about the use of this as “a mechanism for expelling churches from the Communion”.

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The new draft text is attached below.

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