Covenant, Schmovenant

Back in the news with an Advent letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Primates and Moderators. After talking about his travels, especially in Africa, he turns again to the matter of the Anglican Covenant, and the letter turns into another plea for its adoption. In his efforts to convince those opposed as well as the uncertain of the merits of this documents, Williams’ arguments become more shrill and less convincing.

Tobias Haller is on the case here and here. Haller quotes Williams’ plea that the covenant is needed to provide a united front in our conversations with other religious bodies, especially the Roman Catholic and Orthodox. Curiously, Haller does not include in his quotation what I consider the most telling, sentence from that section:

“if the moratoria are ignored and the Covenant suspected, what are the means by which we maintain some theological coherence as a Communion and some personal respect and understanding as a fellowship of people seeking to serve Christ?

Theological coherence? Anglican theological coherence? What can Williams possibly mean when his own Church of England is so deeply divided between Evangelicals on one end of the continuum and Anglo-Catholics on the other. Those differences are not chiefly about liturgy. They are about theology. One of the great blessings of Anglicanism is the space it has provided over the centuries for theological difference–for different approaches and perspectives, for those of a more Protestant, even Calvinist bent, and those who find in the Catholic theological tradition rich resources for faith and life.

In fact, the Covenant aims not at theological coherence, but at limiting the provinces’ expressions of what they think the gospel means in their particular contexts.

Andrew Gerns points out that the Archbishops’ travels and interactions with Anglicans in other countries succeeded in the absence of a Covenant, that there can be communion without covenant.

There have been more developments concerning the Covenant. In Canada, the House of Bishops has discussed it again. Archbishop Fred Hiltz expressed his reservations about the punitive measures in Article IV:

My personal concern is what happens when the direction you move in is not in accordance with the standards of the communion. You’re out. It does not end on a note of restoration or hope, so I say it falls short of the Gospel

 

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