Who admits to membership in the Anglican Communion?

A communiqué from this week’s primatial gathering in Canterbury addressed the status of the Anglican Church in North America thus:

The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.

I suggest that whoever wrote this paragraph of the communiqué, or indeed the primates themselves, have misstated the situation to some extent. Much of the response that follows is drawn from a weblog post that I wrote in 2006 regarding this issue, though I addressed the question at that time in order to develop an understanding of whether the primates could expel from membership or not. (Since the implosion of Classical Anglican Net several years ago, that post is available only through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.) Whether they can “suspend” from membership would appear to have been answered affirmatively given this week’s action regarding The Episcopal Church. I think that my argument still holds up nine years later.

Who has the authority to determine the member Churches of the Anglican Communion? Clearly the answer is one or more of the “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican Communion: the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury—though +Cantuar is perhaps better understood as a “servant” of unity, and the Anglican Consultative Council, newest of the instruments.

The answer to the question of which instrument of unity is determinative of membership seems largely to depend on the theological and ecclesiastical opinions of the person answering. Theologically conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians, those who used to rejoice in the descriptor “reasserters” (following Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon’s nomenclature), have tended to understand either the Lambeth Conference or the Primates’ Meeting as having this authority. Thus, on this view the primates meeting together in February 2007 could determine the discipline to which The Episcopal Church would be subjected, or could at least make a recommendation the Lambeth Conference which will meet in 2008, understanding that the episcopal Conference will take up their recommendation and reject it or act on it. Theologically liberal or revisionist Anglicans and Episcopalians, those whom conservatives used to call “reappraisers”, tend to deny such determinative (or even commendatory) authority to the primates, and some have suggested that the Anglican Consultative Council, by virtue of its more “democratic” nature (it is the only instrument to include in its membership clergy and laity as well as bishops), has the membership-determining authority. Today’s communiqué would seem to follow this reasoning as well.

Conservative Episcopalian lawyer and sometime weblogger Brad Drell entered these speculative waters shortly before I did in 2006 with “Is Membership In The Anglican Consultative Council A Prerequisite To Being A Member of the Anglican Communion? Who Decides Who Is In And Who Is Out? “, in which he concludes on the basis of an examination of the constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council that, while the Archbishop of Canterbury is the final arbiter of who is in communion with the See of Canterbury, that the Primates’ Meeting could “by majority vote, recognize a new North American Province on a majority vote, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot anyone could do about it.”

Brad’s understanding of the authority of the Anglican Consultative Council is, I think, correct. The constitution of the ACC clearly states that the Council has a facilitative and advisory role, including in the division of existing provinces of the Communion and the formation of new provinces. This latter role, that of facilitating and advising, is clearly indicated as just that in various resolutions of the ACC over its meetings from 1971 to the present (the texts of these resolutions are published online at the Anglican Consultative Council’s website). At their meeting in Panama City, Panama, in 1996 the Council affirmed “its commitment to assisting in the creation of new Provinces, where conditions indicate that such a development is appropriate in the Anglican Communion”; urged “those involved in promoting the creation of new Provinces to consult the Council through its Secretary General and other officers from the earliest stages in their discussions”; and affirmed “the guidelines set out in previous Council resolutions”. At their 1973 meeting in Dublin, the ACC recommended “that the diocese of Melanesia and the Province of New Zealand proceed with plans for constituting a Province of Melanesia, and that when these are agreed to by the diocese and the General Synod of the Province, the Council recommends that the new Province may be formed.” The Council has offered similar recommendations – note, not directives – on the formation of new provinces since the first meeting in Kenya in 1971.

The ACC’s constitution clearly establishes the membership of the Council (based on a Resolution 69 of the 1968 Lambeth Conference), and the Council has welcomed new provincial members from time to time. For example, at their Panama City meeting in 1996, the Council welcomed the Province of Mexico and the Province of South East Asia (successor to the Council of Churches of East Asia) to membership in the Council (cf. Resolutions 1, 2 and 3), and at the 1999 meeting in Dundee, Scotland, welcomed the Anglican Church of the Central America Region and the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui into membership (the last time that new provinces were welcomed to membership).

That membership in the Anglican Communion constitutes membership in the Anglican Consultative Council rather than vice versa is strongly suggested (and nearly explicitly stated) in the language Resolution 25 of the 1990 meeting in Wales:

This Council welcomes the Philippine Episcopal Church, hitherto a member of the Eighth Province of ECUSA, as the latest member Church of the Anglican Communion, and thus of this Council.

So the question remains, who determines membership in the Anglican Communion?

The answer, at least from the Anglican Consultative Council’s own resolutions, is unequivocal – surprisingly so, in fact, given how this question has been argued over the past number of years.

In 1993, at a joint meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council, the following resolutions were passed (emphases mine):

Resolution 47: New Provinces of Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire

Resolved, that this Joint Meeting of the Primates and the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council welcomes the creation of the Province of Burundi, the Province of Rwanda, and the Province of Zaire and requests the Primates to add them to the list of Member Churches of the Anglican Communion, and that they be added to the Schedule of Membership of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Resolution 48: New Province of Korea

Resolved, that this Joint Meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council welcomes the progress towards the creation of the new Province of Korea in April 1993 and requests the Primates to add it to the list of member Churches of the Anglican Communion following its inauguration, and that it be added to the Schedule of Membership of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Carefully reading the resolutions, two things should be noted.

First, the Council explicitly recognizes the Primates as having the authority to determine the membership of the Anglican Communion (though we should also bear in mind that the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the primus inter pares and focus – or servant – of unity among the Primates, will have a fundamental role in that determination). The Council does not direct the Primates to add the new provinces to the list of member Churches, as though the Primates were simply recording secretaries, but rather requests the admission of the new provinces to membership in the Communion.

Second, the principle that membership in the Communion determines membership in the ACC is affirmed, although as the case of the united Churches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh demonstrates, membership in the Anglican Consultative Council does not determine full membership in the Anglican Communion.

As many readers are aware, the united Churches of South India, Pakistan, North India and Bangladesh were formed through arduous ecumenical discussion and work over a number of years among young missionary churches of various Reformation (and other Protestant) traditions: Anglican, Reformed-Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregationalist, Baptist, Disciples. I am most familiar with the Church of South India, and using this Church’s reception into the Anglican Communion hope further to demonstrate that the authority to receive churches into full membership in the Communion resides both with the Primates of the Communion and with the decennial episcopal Lambeth Conference.

The Church of South India was formally inaugurated in 1947 by the union of the South India United Church (an earlier union of churches in the Congregational and Presbyterian-Reformed traditions), the southern Anglican dioceses of the Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, and the Methodist Church in South India. The scheme by which the union took place was both innovative and controversial, given that, while the united Church was committed to the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon, the ordained ministers of all the uniting churches were received into the united Church without reordination. At the inauguration service the Anglican bishops in the union ordained and consecrated several candidates from the non-episcopal churches to the episcopate per saltum, that is, without their first having been ordained to the diaconate and the presbyterate by bishops in historic succession. These new bishops, one of whom was the great missiologist and pastor Lesslie Newbigin, joined with the Anglican bishops to provide the episcopal oversight of the dioceses of the new Church, no distinction being made between the formerly Anglican bishops and the newly-ordained bishops from other traditions. Protestant pastors and Anglican presbyters alike were recognized – without any reordinations – as having valid presbyteral ministries, though the existence of non-episcopally ordained presbyters in the Church of South India delayed full communion with the Churches of the Anglican Communion until a generation had passed, and all presbyters and deacons of the Church of South India had been ordained by bishops in historic (Anglican) succession. And, indeed, this has been the case for the past nearly thirty years.

The Lambeth Conference first took notice of the Church of South India in 1948, only one year after the united Church was inaugurated. In a resolution the bishops gathered at Lambeth gave thanks to God “for the measure of unity locally achieved by the inauguration of the Church of South India”, and pledged themselves “to pray and work for its development into an ever more perfect fulfilment of the will of God for his Church”, looking forward “hopefully and with longing to the day when there shall be full communion between the Church of South India and the Churches of the Anglican Communion.” Another resolution of the 1948 Conference answered questions about the status of laity and clergy (both episcopally ordained and non-episcopally ordained) in the Churches of the Anglican Communion and admitted that the bishops at the conference were not of one mind regarding the nature of the ministries even those bishops, presbyters and deacons of the Church of South India ordained at or after the inaugural service, though the resolution went on to state that “no member of the Conference desires to condemn outright or to declare invalid the episcopally consecrated and ordained ministry of the Church of South India”.

Resolutions dealing with the Church of South India, and eventually with the other united churches, were passed by each succeeding Lambeth Conference. In 1968 the Conference recommended that “Churches and provinces of the Anglican Communion re-examine their relation to the Church of South India with a view to entering into full communion with that Church”.

As the years passed, several Anglican Churches entered into full communion with the Church of South India, such that in 1971 the first meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Kenya passed the following resolutions:

Resolution 2: United Churches and the Anglican Communion

The Council recommends that united Churches in full communion with Anglican Churches or Provinces should be invited to send delegates to future meetings of the ACC, who should have equal status with Anglican delegates.

The Council instructs the Standing Committee to consider how representatives of such Churches may best participate in the work of the ACC.

Resolution 3: Church of South India

The Council notes that seven Provinces have requested full communion with the Church of South India and that eleven other Provinces have indicated their intention to work towards full communion. It urges all other Churches and Provinces to give further careful consideration to their relationships with the CSI with a view to entering into full communion with that Church.

Resolution 4: The Churches of North India and of Pakistan

The Council recommends that Churches and Provinces which have not yet established full communion with the new Churches of North India and Pakistan should do so as soon as they are able.

The 1978 Lambeth Conference took up the ACC’s recommendations in Resolution 14, “The Wider Episcopal Fellowship“:

The Conference requests the Archbishop of Canterbury: 1. in consultation with the Primates, to convene a meeting of Anglican bishops with bishops of Churches in which Anglicans have united with other Christians, and bishops from those Churches which are in full communion with Anglican Churches; and to discuss with them how bishops from these Churches could best play their part in future Lambeth Conferences; 2. to recognise the deep conviction of this Lambeth Conference that the expressed desire of both the Lusitanian and Spanish Reformed Churches to become fully integrated members of the Anglican Communion should receive both a warm and a positive response.

Parenthetically, this was also the Lambeth Conference which passed resolutions clearly indicating an understanding of the collegiality of bishops in the Anglican tradition as exercised across provincial boundaries, as for example in Resolution 13, “Lambeth Conferences”:

In order that the guardianship of the faith may be exercised as a collegial responsibility of the whole episcopate, the Conference affirms the need for Anglican bishops from every diocese to meet together in the tradition of the Lambeth Conference and recommends that the calling of any future Conference should continue to be the responsibility of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that he should be requested to make his decision in consultation with the other Primates. While recognising the great value which many set on the link with Canterbury, we believe that a Conference could well be held in some other province.

and in Resolution 11, “Issues Concerning the Whole Anglican Communion“:

The Conference advises member Churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the episcopate through the Primates Committee, and requests the Primates to inititate a study of the nature of authority within the Anglican Communion.

Here the bishops gathered at Lambeth clearly recognize their episcopal ministry as encompassing a discerning role for the Communion as a whole, and not only in their own provinces.

The united Churches of South India, Pakistan and North India participated as members of the Anglican Consultative Council for the first time at the 1984 meeting in Badagry, Nigeria (the Church of Bangladesh would not participate in the ACC until the 1990 meeting in Wales). At this meeting the ACC passed a resolution on the “United Churches and the Lambeth Conference“:

In the light of its consideration of the implications of full communion the Council welcomes the proposed invitation to representatives of the United Churches in full communion and other churches in full communion, to discuss the question of membership of the Lambeth Conference at the Primates’ Meeting due to be held in March 1986.

At the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, held in Singapore in 1987, the Council passed the following resolution on “United Churches in Full Communion“:

THAT this Council:

resolves that the ACC should now move towards normal membership of the Council for all united Churches with which the Churches of the Anglican Communion are in full communion (i.e. the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan and the Church of Bangladesh);

requests the Lambeth Conference of 1988 and the Primates’ Meeting of 1989 similarly to consider full membership of those bodies for united Churches in full communion.

At the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the united Churches were invited into full membership in the Anglican Communion:

This Conference:

1. Expresses its gratitude for the presence of bishops from the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Church of Bangladesh and the Church of Pakistan, acknowledging that their presence reminds us that our commitment as Anglicans is to the wider unity of the Church.

2. Affirms the request of ACC-7 (Resolution 17) that all United Churches with which the Churches of the Anglican Communion are in full communion be invited to accept full membership in the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting (as is already the case with the Anglican Consultative Council)….

Through this fifty year history of Lambeth Conferences, Primates’ meetings and meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, two things emerge regarding the determination of membership in the Anglican Communion.

First, the Anglican Consultative Council exercised a conscientious role in assisting Anglican provinces and autonomous dioceses in forming new provinces of the Anglican Communion and in recommending the recognition of those provinces (including the united Churches) by the Primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion as provinces of the Communion. However, the Anglican Consultative Council does not ordinarily initiate the process of forming new provinces.

Second, over its nearly fifty year history the Anglican Consultative Council has demonstrated a clear understanding that the Primates of the Anglican Communion, along with the Lambeth Conference of bishops, have the authority to determine membership in the Communion. While not explicitly stated in ACC resolutions, the “gathering authority” of the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite bishops to the Lambeth Conference as a servant of unity within the Communion should also be recognized. At the same time, as one of the resolutions of the 1978 Lambeth Conference recognizes, +Cantuar should exercise his gathering authority in consultation with the other Primates of the Communion.

This is precisely as it should be. Bishops are those ministers who have been called by God through the voice of the Church and ordained to exercise, through the Holy Spirit, a ministry of discernment and guardianship of the faith for the entire Church, a ministry that is recognized in the examination of a bishop-elect found in most Anglican ordinals. It is far too easy to let issues of communion and membership within a Communion of churches falsely to assume a merely institutional form. Catholic teaching would have us understand that communion is personal, that it is focused in the bishop, and that we are in communion with one another insofar as our bishops are in communion with each other. Given this, it is unremarkable that bishops – and particularly those bishops with primatial authority within their provincial Churches – should determine matters of membership and communion.


A few thoughts on the evolution of monepiscopacy (“one bishop”)

Matt Kennedy, a presbyter in the Anglican Church of North America, has initiated an interesting discussion on Facebook regarding a post on the canon fodder weblog, “Were early churches ruled by elders or a single bishop?” I largely agree with what Dr. Michael Kruger, the Presbyterian blogger at canon fodder, has to say, but I’d like to expand on his comments a bit.

The evolution of from the plural episcopacy (of presbyter-bishops) that we seen in the New Testament and other early writings to monepiscopacy took about a century and was not simultaneous throughout the Church. There are hints of its origins in the NT texts, though we must avoid the temptation to impose later developments in church order, whether presbyterian or episcopalian or congregationalist, on those texts. Monepiscopacy, or more precisely the congregational oversight of an individual (likely in concert with presbyter-bishops) is suggested by the ministries of Timothy and Titus as well as the “angels” of the churches of Asia Minor noted in the opening chapters of Revelation.

Interesting, these churches (with the exception of the island of Crete) are in the same region, and are some of the same churches (Philadelphia, Smyrna, Laodicea) addressed by Ignatius of Antioch as having a bishop and presbyters. So it appears that monepiscopacy had developed at least in Antioch and the churches of Asia Minor by the very beginning of the second century, possibly out of those NT precedents (apostolic delegates and “angels of the churches”). We should also note that the bishop and presbyters were over a local church. There would be no “diocesan” structure, with a bishop having oversight of a number of churches that had been given into the congregational care of presbyters, until well into the fourth century in most places. (Yes, we Anglicans have to admit that the Presbyterians preserve something that we don’t, in the congregational threefold ministry of pastor-elder-deacon.)

Notably and uniquely, Ignatius does not address the bishop (or the presbyters) in his letter to the Romans, suggesting that monepiscopacy was unknown in the church in the imperial capital at the time, which accords with the evidence of a plurality of overseers that we find in the letter of Clement to the Corinthians and in the Shepherd of Hermas, both of which are letters associated with the church in Rome. (Corinth, whose perennial problems with factionalism Clement addresses in the letter, apparently came under the authority of the church in Rome in some way, possibly having to do with St. Paul’s association with the church in Rome.) In fact, it is fairly conventionally assumed that monepiscopacy was unknown in Rome until the episcopate of Anicetus (d. 167/8) or immediately after. The writings of Irenaeus of Lyons suggest that in the late second century no clear distinction was made in the West, or at least in Italy and southern Gaul, between the apostolic succession (in faithful teaching) of presbyters and of bishops.

While the development of parish (or in Rome, “stational”) churches took another couple of centuries, it appears that pretty early on the presbyters of the church in Alexandria were associated severally with churches in the various districts of the city. (Arius’ position as a “parish priest,” the presbyter-pastor of one of the more important of these several city churches, made him and his fellow Alexandrine presbyters rather unusual in the early fourth century Church.) In fact, the bishop of Alexandria was chosen from among these presbyters, and probably up to the episcopate of Alexander (early fourth century – he was the bishop of Alexander present at the first Council of Nicaea, to whom Athanasius was deacon and theological adviser), a new bishop was ordained not by other bishops (as was the case in other parts of the Church; cf. the Apostolic Tradition “of St. Hippolytus”), but by the laying on of hands of the presbyters of the church of Alexandria. (And possibly also by laying the hand of his deceased predecessor on the new bishop’s head.)

There is no reason for Anglicans to become primitivists. Monepiscopacy developed for valid reasons, under – I and many others believe and have done for nearly two millennia – the direction of the Holy Spirit. To think otherwise demands a coherent and nonprejudicial account of how (at a minimum) the development of monepiscopacy can be rejected while the simultaneous development, or rather discernment, of the NT canon can be accepted. That’s being said, there is no question that in faithfulness to our own heritage as reformed catholics and specifically to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, we Anglicans can rethink how the ministries of bishop and presbyter relate to each other; how bishops can actually provide pastoral care not only to the clergy but to the laity in the churches committed to their charge; and how episcopal, presbyteral, and diaconal ministries are better exercised among local churches.

Over the next few weeks, as a reboot to the Confessing Reader, I plan to examine some of the ways that Anglicans historically have rethought these issues and more fundamentally, how I think that we should be rethinking our ecclesiology to make it more pastoral and more missional by making it even more deeply biblical and catholic. These are not merely issues of rearranging the deck furniture on a sinking ship—or even on a sound ship well under way for the pleasure of its passengers alone—but are issues that have what I hope to show are profound consequences for how the Church is ordered, how bishops relate to the people and clergy committed to their care, how the diocese and the parish relate to one another, and how faithful bishops relate to heretical ones, specifically with reference to how those bishops in The Episcopal Church who dissent from the recent actions of General Convention relate to other bishops who have either championed or simply conformed to the canonical, liturgical, and doctrinal changes.

A homily for the feast of St James of Jerusalem

The Gospel reading appointed for this, the feast of St James of Jerusalem, concludes a preaching tour of Jesus that included the parable of the sower, the parable of the wheat and the tares (the weeds), the parable of the mustard seed, the parable of the pearl of great value, and the parable of the dragnet. Through means of these parables Jesus taught his disciples, and he teaches us, what it means to be the living, material reality of the kingdom of heaven.

But when, on returning to Nazareth at the conclusion of this short preaching tour, he taught in his hometown synagogue, the people there were having none of it. At first astonished by his teaching and his miracles, they quickly became suspicious and accusatory: Where did he get this wisdom and these mighty works? Isn’t he Joseph’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here in Nazareth? Who does he think he is? We can easily imagine their ratcheting themselves out of being astonished at him, to resenting him, and then into being offended by him. The reasons for this aren’t given. We don’t know whether they resented him because he didn’t have the proper credentials to be going about, teaching with authority and performing mighty works of God; or whether this was simply a case of the sort of contempt that familiarity breeds (“I knew this upstart when he was a little boy!”). In any event, their offense at him led to their rejection of him. Israel had not only rejected the prophets whom God had sent them, but in the people of Nazareth they were now rejecting the One to whom the prophets had pointed. They had rejected the word of the LORD in the mouths of the prophets, and now they rejected the Word of God made flesh, standing in their midst—as he had for nearly thirty years before his baptism and the beginning of his itinerant ministry.

Matthew’s Gospel ends this richly parabolic preaching tour with the passage we read this morning and prefaces the tour with an account of how Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to where he was preaching and stood outside, wanting him to come out and talk to them. In Luke’s Gospel (8:19-21) it is the press of the crowd that prevents their getting in to Jesus, but Matthew doesn’t tell us why they stood outside. Nor does Matthew go as far as Mark (3:21, 31-35) in ascribing their wanting to see Jesus to an intention of restraining him, of taking him home by force, because his claiming the authority to heal lepers and to forgive sins and to relax the Sabbath laws had convinced them that he was out of his mind. But given the canonical witness, it seems likely that Jesus’ brothers, including James, did not believe that he was Who he was showing himself to be in his teaching, in his forgiving sins, and in his mighty works of healing.

But grace intervened. As we read in today’s epistle, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to his brother, James. We hear nothing more (chronologically) until we learn that James had become a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 15). The unbelieving brother, who grew up in the same house with the Word made flesh, who had eaten meal after meal at the same table with him, who likely shared a bed or a sleeping mat with him, had come to faith in his encounter with the risen Lord—his brother!—and had become a leader of the church. And not just any church, but the home church of St Peter, St John, and the rest of the Twelve, and the mother church of the Church! Paul considered him an apostle, though he was not one of the Twelve (Galatians 1), recognizing him, along with Peter and John, as pillars of the Jerusalem church. Because of his apostleship and his presiding role in the church there, tradition reckons him the first bishop of Jerusalem.

The fourth century historian Eusebius, quoting from an earlier church history by Hegesippus, writes that James was surnamed “the Just” (the Righteous) on account of his great piety and ascetical life. He went frequently into the Temple alone to pray and knelt so often, interceding for the forgiveness of the people, that his knees became as callused as a camel’s—hence the petition in today’s Collect that the Church ”may give itself continually to prayer.” Eusebius recounts that James was so persuasive in leading people to faith in Jesus that the scribes and Pharisees entreated him to “restrain the people, who are led astray after Jesus, as if he were the Messiah.” Refusing to do so, James was then thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple, where he had been placed to denounce Jesus to the people, and once he was upon the pavement was cudgeled to death. Toward the end of the first century, the Jewish historian Josephus recounted that James “with certain others” was stoned to death in the year 62 at the instigation of the high priest Annas.

Jesus’ rejection in Matthew in providential. He was rejected by his own brothers, his own hometown, his own people, the people of Israel—but in retrospect we understand that this rejection allows time for us, for the Gentiles, to be brought into the covenant, as the Apostle Paul writes in the letter to the Romans:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved… For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:25-26a, 29)

In God’s providence, James, first unbelieving and then believing, would share in making a place at the table for believing Gentiles. Presiding at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which resolved the deeply divisive issue of whether Gentile converts should be circumcised before baptism, James defended the position argued by Paul and Barnabas against requiring circumcision and rendered the council’s decision, summarized in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

as it is written,

“After this I will return,
I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all Gentiles who are called by my name…”

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.

This decision, given by the Holy Spirit, faithfully discerned by the apostles and elders, and articulated by St James of Jerusalem, is why we can rejoice with St Paul that the old wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile has been torn down and that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus.

It would be laughable were it not so horrible

Jonathan Chait (not a conservative) writes in the New York Magazine on California’s new rape law, observing that there will be manifold unintended consequences. As Jill noted, he doesn’t provide the entire flow chart, but it’s worth reading.

My own observations are these, none of which should stupidly be read as a defense of rape or sexual assault:

1) As other writers have noted (including liberals/progressives), this law completely ignores the normal grammar of human relationships, hence the requirement for a script. That grammar, formed over many, many millennia of social evolution, will be imperturbably resistant to rewriting.

2) If this law apply only to college students, then the California legislature and governor just codified a discriminatory law.

3) The law will be a powerful tool in the hands of over-zealous prosecutors who want to create informants (cf. the recent article in the Economist on the power of prosecutors in the American legal system, and how that power should strongly be curtailed).

But my greatest observation, and one that is subversive enough not to belong on this short list (hence no number) is this: the California law is nothing other than the latest attempt of Western (or better, human) society to deal with the consequences of rejecting a classically Christian view of sexuality, of attempting to construct a ridiculous coop ad hoc after the chickens of the Sexual Revolution (and the millennia of sexual immorality preceding it) are coming home to roost. Chait is correct when he writes that we need to remodel our society’s views on sex, but I suspect he doesn’t want to go where we should go.

I am by no means claiming that all Christians (and Jews) live according to biblical norms for human sexuality (yes, they exist, and I’m happen to go toe-to-toe with you if you think those norms encourage sexual oppression, polygamy, etc). But there is no question that if the moral presumption is sexuality exclusive to, preserved within, and celebrated in all its exclusive lushness within monogamous marriage (and that means not just coitus, but most of the lovemaking that leads up to it); then all manner of sexual deviations, including rape, would be far less common and could more consistently and logically be dealt with.

I’m not talking about “legislating morality” – California’s law is a ludicrous example of that, attempted by a sexually libertine society. It would be laughable were it not so horrible.

I’m not even addressing the California legislature, or Governor Brown, or Mr Chait, or American (or Western) society at large. I’m addressing us, the Church. We need to step up, in faithfulness and witness, by living lives that let the rest of the world know what sex is for in God’s economy.


Watch Night: the Covenant Service

This post, which I wrote several years ago, has consistently been the most viewed at The Confessing Reader. I offer it again this year.


In 1663 Puritan pastor and divine Richard Alleine published Vindiciae Pietatis: or, A Vindication of Godliness in the Greater Strictness and Spirituality of It. Anglican priest and evangelist John Wesley republished Alleine’s work in his A Christian Library in 1753, and on August 11, 1755, used a chapter from the book, “Application of the Whole”, in what was probably the first celebration of the Covenant Service in the Methodist movement.

According to The United Methodist Book of Worship,

The heart of the service, focused in the Covenant Prayer, requires persons to commit themselves to God. This covenant is serious and assumes adequate preparation for and continual response to the covenant.

As the annual Covenant Service developed in the Methodist societies of England, the service was conducted whenever Wesley visited a Methodist society around the country, while in London the service was usually held on New Year’s Day. In later years, the Covenant Service came most commonly to be held on New Year’s Day or Eve. When celebrated on New Year’s Eve, it came to be called a “Watch Night Service”, would often last three hours or longer, and included hymn singing and appropriate readings from Scripture.

The Watch Night Service became a fixture of rural churches, both Baptist and Methodist, across the South. Many churches, particularly African-American Methodist and Baptist churches, still celebrate Watch Night services, though the practice has waned in other churches. My Baptist mother recalls, from four or more decades past, three-hour Watch Night services of hymn singing, praying, Scripture reading, and occasionally a sermon, lasting from 9 o’clock until midnight. (The entire congregation attended, including the children – at least until the days when nurseries for children became usual. I have vague memories of these Watch Night services from my early childhood – from knowing they were happening, not from attending them, but the practice died in my home church when I was quite young.) In this way, the Watch Night service functions much as a Vigil Service (such as the Easter Vigil, or a Vigil for the Day of Pentecost) has functioned in liturgical churches.

While we renew our commitment to the New Covenant with every baptism and with every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, it seems fitting on New Year’s Eve, on the Eve of the festival of the Holy Name of Jesus when we celebrate our Lord’s submission to the Law (“on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” Leviticus 12:3), we should renew our covenant commitment as well.

The following text, based on Wesley’s Covenant Service, is taken from the Book of Common Worship (1962) of the Church of South India. (In the CSI, January 1 is designated “The Day of the Covenant”.) In this abbreviation of the South Indian Covenant Service I have included the collect, lessons from that service, substituting for that liturgy’s Gospel reading the Gospel appointed for the Holy Name of Jesus (known in previous prayerbooks as “The Circumcision of Christ”), and the section of the service called “The Covenant”. The language of the prayers has been rendered in contemporary idiom. The Lessons and Gospel are now taken from the English Standard Version Bible.

The Collect

O God, who has appointed our Lord Jesus Christ as Mediator of a new covenant, grant us grace, we beseech thee, to draw near with fullness of faith and join ourselves in a perpetual covenant to thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lesson
Jeremiah 31:31-33

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

The Epistle
Hebrews 12:22-25a

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.

The Gospel
Luke 2:15-21

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


And now, beloved, let us with all our heart renew our part in the covenant that God has made with his people, and take the yoke of Christ upon us.

This taking of his yoke means that we are heartily content that he should appoint us our place and work, and that he alone should be our reward.

Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, other bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests, other are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthenth us.

Therefore let us make the covenant of God our own. Let us engage our heart to the Lord, and resolve in his strength never to go back.

Being thus prepared, let us now, in sincere dependence on his grace and trusting in his promises, yield ourselves anew to him, meekly kneeling upon our knees.

All kneel.

The minister says in the name of all:

O Lord God, Holy Father, you have called us through Christ to be partakers in this gracious covenant: We take upon ourselves, for love of you, to seek and do your perfect will. We are no longer our own, but yours.

Here all the people join.

I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Thoughts on Parish and Cathedral: is Irish monasticism a model?

The Revd Fr David Hyman, associate rector of my parish and planting priest of a new mission congregation here in Chatham County with whom our family is now associated (thanks be to God, we will have our own geographical parish church!), recently posted an entry on his weblog, Blackbeans, that provokes thoughts regarding the relationship of the parish church and the cathedral and what this means to the planting of a new parish.

There is indeed a lot to think about here:  the nature of episcopal authority, the nature of connectional polity, the nature of “placeness” – the fact that a parish, and the larger Church of which the parish is the local manifestation or expression, is geographically located precisely because the Church lives among people (cf. the Pauline salutations to the church in… or to the bishops and deacons of the church in …).

The current geographically non-contiguous structure of the Anglican Mission, and to a lesser extent of ACNA, can be helpful to the Church insofar as it permits a missional focus that might not be as strongly manifested in the traditional diocesan structure. But this non-diocesan structure is a real liability, and more than that can become a denial of what it is to be the Body of Christ, if the non-contiguous missional networks are formed on the basis of “affinity” (as some Anglican Mission documents state), because it feeds a free-market “choice” model of Church, which is a denial of the prevenience of grace, election, and the Pauline model of diversity in the Body. It is theologically dangerous, and – I write with fear and trembling, as one who has “chosen” parishes to attend – heterodox.

One of the models that has been drawn on since the early days of the current movement in North American diaspora Anglicanism (I remember hearing ++Bob Duncan refer to it at the gathering in Dallas in 2003) is that of Celtic monasticism. To be sure, it has been referred to often enough to assume something of an air of triteness, especially when there hangs behind it an unarticulated dichotomy of Celtic Christianity (= good) vs Roman Christianity (= bad). But, rightly understood, does that model offer anything to the Church in mission?

The non-contiguous polity of Celtic monasticism arose from the sociopolitical conditions of Ireland.  Lying outside the Roman Empire, Ireland had no cities. When bishops were appointed and ordained for work in Ireland in the fifth and sixth centuries, their dioceses were contiguous with the tuathas, the local petty kingdoms (the word tuatha actually means people) into which the island was multiply divided. But the real centers of ecclesiastical mission and authority were the monasteries, some of which grew to include several hundreds or more than a thousand monks and lay dependents (including families). These monasteries even took on the Latin term civitas, “city”. Outside the major episcopal centers like Armagh, bishops were usually monks within a monastic civitas, and held sacramental and magisterial authority, but not political authority, which was reserved to the abbots of the monasteries. When monks left a monastery to preach the Gospel to the unevangelized parts of Ireland, the Western Isles and the Scottish mainland, they established new monastic centers that were dependent on, and under the abbatial authority of, the mother house (monastery) from which the monks had originally come. Eventually this model spread to the continent, and Irish monasteries were founded in Gaul, Germany, and even northern Italy. The spread of the model of daughter houses dependent on the original mother house back in Ireland or elsewhere meant the development of a widespread non-contiguous network of monasteries outside the diocesan structure of Britain and the continent (which had, of course, arisen within the political contingencies of the Roman Empire).

This polity permitted a supple missional focus to Irish monasticism that meant a fairly rapid spread of evangelizing monks. But we would misread history were we to assume that mission was accomplished in the early medieval period only through this model, when in fact the evangelization of the Franks, the Frisians, the Saxons, the Danes and other Germanic tribes was accomplished by the Church in Gaul (later France) along diocesan lines and with the full support of Rome. Another problem arose when the Irish monks in Gaul, Germany, and Italy were not willing to recognize the local episcopal authority of the diocesan bishops – in other words, refusing to recognize the reality of the Church in the place where they were.

So what could North American diaspora Anglicanism learn from the historical model of Irish monasticism?

1) First, the strength of the missional connection of founding churches and daughter churches that David Hyman notes in his post. An interesting historical footnote in this regard is that this is how dioceses came to exist in the Church (at least in the West) – the dependence of suburban and rural parishes (and urban “stational” parishes) on the mother church of a city, and the appointment of presbyters rather than bishops as pastors of these dependent churches.

In time, it may even be that geographically contiguous dioceses will arise from such “familial” networks of mother and daughter churches, as they did some sixteen hundred years ago, and that the rectors of mother parishes will become bishops, or at least assume some quasi-episcopal role (perhaps even developing into a ministry like that of the ancient chorepiscopus).

2) Second, the example of Irish monasticism provides a check on the heterodox and destructive notion of choosing a missional network of churches with whom a local congregation has affinities other than simply being other local expressions of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Irish monasteries didn’t choose their mother house. They had been founded by monks who had come from the mother house or from other daughter houses, and there was no changing from one monastic “network” to another because of affinity or preference.

The only reason for geographically non-contiguous networks is to advance the Church’s mission, not to exist as enclaves of the like-minded.

What might this mean practically, for the Anglican Mission and ACNA in particular? Already existing parishes and congregations that join either the AM or ACNA would not themselves choose the network (or nascent diocese) to which they belong. Instead, this decision would rest with the bishops of the Church. Parishes and congregations founded by church planters (latter day Irish missionary monks!) and by mother churches would remain in administrative and sacramental connection with their mother churches. In no case would a local congregation or parish simply choose, on the basis of shared characteristics and outlook, to be part of a missional network.

3) Third, the Irish monastic model provides a cautionary example as well, insofar as the monasteries came into conflict with diocesan authorities and churches. What might the practical consequences of taking caution be?

At a minimum, the conflict should not be read in such a way that the diocesan model of mission is denigrated or assumed merely to be administrative and not missional. It may very well be that, in the fullness of time, God’s will is such that churches in non-contiguous missional networks become part of geographically contiguous missional networks called dioceses, bringing with them the supple and creative missional focus that brought the non-contiguous networks into being in the first place. This is what eventually happened to many of the far-flung Irish monasteries, though admittedly sometimes through episcopal coercion rather than willing submission. But the opportunity for willing submission itself becomes a sign of the Gospel, insofar as it embodies an apostolic virtue (cf. Ephesians) – I should note that this is also true of submission to episcopal authority (and network authority), whether geographically contiguous or not.

We also must honestly and uncomfortably ask ourselves the question of whether it really advances the kingdom to have overlapping jurisdictions and missional networks in many areas of the country. In those places where the churches cooperate with each other, where they don’t duplicate ministries or unnecessarily consume resources best shared, then in a missionary setting, overlapping might be alright – but the caveat here is that the churches and missions in these areas should jointly be under some general [episcopal] oversight (which is why I think the withdrawal of the Anglican Mission from full membership in ACNA was a tremendous mistake). And, of course, it should go nearly without saying – but we have to name demons to exorcise them – that church-planting should never take place in an area of shared mission such that divisiveness or a mindset of competition is created.

Hope for a Communion on the verge of a breakdown?

Philip Turner’s latest contribution to the ongoing post-Dublin discussion: “Communion on the Verge of a Breakdown: What Then Shall We Do?“, posted both at the ACI website and at the TLC Covenant weblog/website.

Benjamin Guyer’s piece at Covenant (“A Protest against the New Primatial Standing Committee“), to which my priest and friend David Hyman drew my attention yesterday, has drawn a couple of interesting replies from James Wirrel and Ian Montgomery. Guyer has been consistently dismissive of GAFCON (not that I don’t have my own concerns with the movement for ecclesiological reasons) and of any extramural Anglicans in North America (he is particularly disdainful of ACNA and AMiA), so Fr Montgomery’s hortatory comment (after Wirrel’s extended comment) is particularly apt. The fact that Guyer has shown himself over and over again either to be incapable of recognizing or just refusing to recognize that AMiA, and to a lesser extent ACNA, have been able to bring unchurched and other-churched people into Anglicanism who would otherwise likely never have darkened the door of an Episcopal parish, has been a real irritant to me. Be that as it may, however.

To be sure, we have all sinned and come short of God’s glory in the ongoing struggles within the Anglican Communion. Conservative Episcopalians like Guyer have been dismissive of ACNA, AMiA, and GAFCON in ways that misprise and slander faithful Anglicans in these groups (accusations of North American conservative money fueling the engine of the Global South I can understand from Western revisionists – but from Western conservatives?). Some Global South provinces began and encouraged endeavors in North America that have caused division and scandal within conservative dioceses in The Episcopal Church (why, for instance, were any AMiA congregations started in the Diocese of South Carolina under no less a conservative bishop than Ed Salmon? – and yes, I know some of the history behind that, but as a member now of a church in the AMiA, it still scandalizes me).

The Communion Partners and other faithful, theologically conservative Anglicans within The Episcopal Church and those faithful, theologically conservative Anglicans in ACNA, AMiA, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and other extramural jurisdictions must work together, under the leadership of the Global South primates and other bishops to re-form the Communion. Concrete steps toward reconciliation must begin soon, before we can actually move ahead with the theological and ecclesiological heavy-lifting the task will require.

In the (albeit pollyannish) ecumenical optimism of the 1970s and 1980s, some of the proposals coming out of groups like COCU (the Consensus on Church Union) included penitential liturgies between the sundered Christian churches (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) that included confessions of sins of schism, hardheartedness, misjudgment – and that included acts of forgiveness of one another, symbolized by the coming together of leaders in these acts of penitence and forgiveness. What if the Communion Partner bishops in The Episcopal Church (+Lawrence, +Stanton, et al.) were to come together with the ACNA bishops (++Duncan, +Iker, +Ackerman, et al.), the AMiA bishops, and Reformed Episcopal Church bishops publicly and liturgically to confess together to one another and to Almighty God their particular sins of commission and omission, and those of their churches (since bishops, as the heads of their churches, may really and sacramentally do that) against the Body of Christ within the Anglican Communion, to receive God’s and one another’s forgiveness, and having sought the forgiveness of the offended brother, were to approach the Lord’s Table together to share in his Body and Blood?

In November 2005 I was privileged to be present at the “Hope and a Future” conference held under the auspices of the Anglican Communion Network (recall that this predated the departure of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy, and Pittsburgh from The Episcopal Church), at which a number of leading conservative Episcopalian bishops were present, along with several Global South bishops and primates (including ++Akinola and ++Orombi) and bishops from the Reformed Episcopal Church. At the concluding Eucharist, the Reformed Episcopal bishops, formally out of communion with any other Anglican group since the original schism in the 1870s, joined in the procession with the other bishops. I was brought to tears as I saw the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Leonard Riches, receive communion from the hand of +Duncan, and then saw the other Episcopal and Anglican bishops receive communion from +Riches, as he administered the Cup and +Duncan the Bread to them. A schism healed, with the very tangible and visible act of communion in the Lord’s Body and Blood. Around that same time, the Church of Nigeria and the Reformed Episcopal Church announced a concordat between them, with mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries and members. And, of course, the REC is a constituent member of ACNA – whatever that means institutionally for now, since they maintain a separate institutional existence as well. (Though this reminds me of something that I read just this morning in an essay by the Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko, quoting Fr Alexander Schmemann: that the Church isn’t an institution with sacraments, it is a sacrament with institutions.)

Imagine such a thing with regards to the separated Anglicans in North America!

And what locally could we envision, painful though it would be and meaning the laying down of all grievances, not to be taken up again, in acts of penitence and forgiveness? What if Bishop Chuck Murphy, Primatial Vicar of the Anglican Mission for the Archbishop of Rwanda, were to seek publicly the forgiveness of +Mark Lawrence (and +Ed Salmon?) in a liturgy in the cathedral church in Charleston, and they his forgiveness – and were then all to concelebrate the Eucharist? (After all, some preparation has been made in +Lawrence’s settling of the Pawley’s Island lawsuit over a year ago.)

Then, after these public acts, what if the bishops and their churches committed themselves to mutual ministry in those places where their jurisdictions overlapped, pledging not to begin new initiatives without the consent – and pray God with the prayer and assistance – of the other? Even did their jurisdictions continue separate institutional existences (which I have no doubt will be the case in North American Anglicanism for years to come), it would mean the end of the schisms that have divided faithful Anglicans in North America for the past decade or so (or 140 years, in the case of the REC).

Could you imagine faithful conservative North American bishops of all the various jurisdictions going into Global South-initiated meetings of the Communion’s bishops in such a reconciled state as that? I know it seems terribly idealistic, and it would involve giving up to the Lord’s healing a lot of hurt and (often justified) grievance, but what really is there to prevent our doing this? Aren’t we the people whom Jesus has called to forgive their brothers and sisters seventy times seven times?  Aren’t we the people whom God in Christ has called to deny themselves, daily to take up their crosses and follow him?