Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Catholicity Outweighs Autonomy

Last Fall, I posted a piece about how affirming belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" in the Nicene Creed and our promise in the Baptismal Covenant "to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship" means that we commit ourselves to living more deeply into intimate fellowship with one another by accepting shared norms and clearly articulated boundaries as the conditions that make such a common life possible. I went on to write:

By promising to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, we promise to live our identity as members of the Body of Christ. This means not only serving God's people within the Episcopal Church, but also serving and fostering relationships with the larger whole that transcends the Episcopal Church. Faithfulness to the Baptismal Covenant requires every Episcopalian to work for deeper and more intimate communion with all Christians, and especially with Anglicans worldwide. That's true even when we disagree with our brother and sister Anglicans, and even when we don't like them.

The official Anglican Covenant is far from perfect. But in the midst of the disagreement and division rocking the Anglican Communion, it's currently the only serious proposal for how to address the problems of impaired communion and schism by seeking to heal divisions and nurture deeper unity among Anglican Christians.

The Rev. Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under recently brought attention to a brief essay by the Rev. Dr. Paul Avis that makes the case for catholicity and the Covenant far more eloquently than I can. The essay is entitled "Catholicity Outweighs Autonomy." Here's an excerpt:

The Covenant is not perfect and it is not completely clear to me how the “consequences” aspect of it will be worked out, if it comes to that. But I don’t think that is the most important thing about the Covenant. The key, for me, is that by subscribing to the Covenant, Anglican churches will signal in a serious way their intention to remain together. They will signal this to themselves, to all the other Anglican churches throughout the world, and to other Christian world communions, who are watching anxiously and do not want to see the Anglican Communion finally fail as a worldwide fellowship of churches. Such a failure would indicate a serious weakening of Christianity and its witness on the world stage. It would also bring grief and heartbreak to millions of Anglican Christians around the globe.

But is the Anglican Covenant asking too much of member churches? Does it fatally compromise the hard-won autonomy of the “provinces”? I think not. “Autonomy” cannot be the first thing that we have to say about ourselves as Anglican churches. I think the attributes of the Church of Christ in the Creed come much higher up: unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.

The very first thing we want to say about our church is that it belongs to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. But if we belong, with others, to something much bigger than ourselves, then we belong
together and not in autonomous isolation. So interdependence must be a key denominator of Anglican ecclesiology and polity. The Covenant seeks to flesh out in practical terms what interdependence might mean.

Read it all.

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