Monday, April 20, 2009


I have written several articles on the topic of an Anglican Communion Covenant: one proposing a blueprint; another offering an “Evangelical Commentary” on the first “Nassau” draft; and more recently an evaluation of the Covenant process and drafts in the light of the Global Anglican Future Conference (available at As described in the latter piece, I have done so standing on the periphery of the Lambeth-appointed process and more in the midst of the GAFCON movement that led to the final Statement and Jerusalem Declaration.

Two things have been consistent in my writings to date: an affirmation of the positive value of a well-crafted Anglican Communion Covenant, and a critique of the official drafting process and the products that have been offered by the Covenant Drafting Group. In this essay, I intend to focus on the positive and propose two cheers for the third and most recent Ridley Cambridge Draft (RCD) that was published on Tuesday of Holy Week 2009.

Responding a week later in their Communiqué of 16 April 2009, the GAFCON Primates state: “We welcome the Ridley Cambridge Draft Covenant and call for principled response from the Provinces.” I hope this essay will represent the very kind of principled analysis that they are calling for.

Let me begin with an appreciation of the Design Group Chairman, Archbishop Drexel Gomez. I had the brief opportunity to work with Archbishop Gomez on the Global South Drafting Committee before he himself was drafted to head up the Lambeth Group. As a consultant to the latter group, I have dropped my small contributions into the alphabet soup of ideas coming from around the world with some confidence that I would get a hearing. And at the end of the day, it strikes me that, in view of the intentionally diverse (well, sans Evangelical) representation on the Group, the orthodoxy of Archbishop Gomez (and no doubt Archbishop John Chew) does come through in the latest draft.

Again, I would wish to appreciate the contribution of the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, who has devoted much effort (and many words!) in promoting the Covenant as a vehicle of the Spirit and an authentic theological contribution to the future of Anglicanism and the wider ecumenical hope. While not claiming to be a source critic, I see his hand, or at least his ideas, most clearly expressed in the Introduction.

Finally, I would congratulate the Covenant Design Group as a whole on producing a relatively concise document, for improving the theological affirmations of the first “Inheritance” section, for strengthening the second section on “Vocation”(Mission) and for replacing the devious, cumbersome and confusing appendix to the St. Andrew’s Draft with a fourth section on “Our Covenant Life Together.”

So why two cheers for the Ridley Cambridge Draft? In my previous critique I concluded:

In my view, the two essential ingredients of an effective Anglican Covenant involve doctrinal substance and disciplinary efficacy. The Nassau and St. Andrews drafts in my opinion are adequate on matters of doctrine and inadequate on discipline, and both fail to deal with the current context of radical departure from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
My first cheer then is for the doctrinal substance of the Cambridge Ridley Draft. It is orthodox and consistent in the main with the “providential ordering of Anglican history and mission.” While I might wish to express the essence of Anglican Christianity somewhat differently, I do not find myself wincing at glaring deviations from the faith once for all delivered to the saints such as one finds routinely in the speeches and writings emanating from The Episcopal Church. My second “50/50” cheer is for setting forth constitutional principles that might lead to the ultimate reform of the Communion and discipline of those who have thrown it into confusion. Whether the Covenant, as currently proposed, will lead to such a reform is contingent on many twists and turns of ecclesiastical politics, including the response of the GAFCON churches and the willingness of the Instruments, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, to allow certain churches to self-select themselves out of the Covenant and ultimately the Communion. For let it be clearly stated, there is no future for a vibrant and coherent Anglican and Christian body that includes The Episcopal Church (TEC) and Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) as they now exist.

The Introduction to the RCD defines the Covenant and the churches which adopt it in terms of the biblical idea of “communion” (koinonia). While the Introduction is little changed from the previous draft, the title does contain a possibly significant addition: from “The Anglican Covenant” to “The Anglican Communion Covenant.” Now I do not want to read too much into this change prematurely, but it seems to me that one can take it to mean that the real Anglican Communion, the one that conforms to the biblical concept of koinonia, is to be found among those churches that participate in the Covenant, whereas the formal “Anglican Communion” has become a network or forum of churches historically connected to the Church of England but which have widely diverse identities – a true description of the present reality. To be blunt, “we the Churches of the Anglican Communion,” may be in communion with Covenant partners but out of communion with others in the official list of 38 Provinces.

1. “Our Inheritance of Faith”It should not be surprising that Anglican formularies have a family resemblance. Given, however, the skepticism that has accompanied the Covenant Design Group (CDG) and the controversy surrounding the Global Anglican Future Conference, what is striking is the similarity in what those bodies affirm. I have attempted to outline below the parallel statements of the Preamble and first section of the Ridley Cambridge Draft (RCD) and the Jerusalem Declaration (JD).

RCD Preamble
We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments. As people of God, drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev 7.9), we do this in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the gospel, to offer God's love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and together with all God's people to attain the full stature of Christ (Eph 4.3,13).
JD Preface We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, have met in the land of Jesus’ birth. We express our loyalty as disciples to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus. We joyfully embrace his command to proclaim the reality of his kingdom which he first announced in this land. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.

RCD Section 1.1 Each Church affirms:
(1.1.1) its communion in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

JD Preface In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

(1.1.2) the catholic and apostolic faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. The historic formularies of the Church of England, forged in the context of the European Reformation and acknowledged and appropriated in various ways in the Anglican Communion, bear authentic witness to this faith.(1.1.4) the Apostles' Creed, as the baptismal symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.JD 3 We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.JD 4 We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

(1.1.3) the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.JD 2(a) We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation….

(1.1.5) the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with the unfailing use of Christ's words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.(1.1.7) the shared patterns of our common prayer and liturgy which form, sustain and nourish our worship of God and our faith and life together.JD 6 We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

(1.1.6) the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church.JD 7 We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

(1.1.8) its participation in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God, and that this mission is shared with other Churches and traditions beyond this Covenant.JD 9 We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.

RCD Section 1.2 In living out this inheritance of faith together in varying contexts, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:(1.2.1) to teach and act in continuity and consonance with Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, as received by the Churches of the Anglican Communion, mindful of the common councils of the Communion and our ecumenical agreements.JD 11 We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.

(1.2.2) to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition.(1.2.3) to witness, in this reasoning, to the renewal of humanity and the whole created order through the death and resurrection of Christ, and to reflect the holiness that in consequence God gives to, and requires from, his people.JD 8 We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.JD 10 We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

(1.2.4) to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures in our different contexts, informed by the attentive and communal reading of - and costly witness to - the Scriptures by all the faithful, by the teaching of bishops and synods, and by the results of rigorous study by lay and ordained scholars.
(1.2.5) to ensure that biblical texts are received, read and interpreted faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively and coherently, with the expectation that Scripture continues to illuminate and transform the Church and its members, and through them, individuals, cultures and societies.
JD 2(b) The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.

(1.2.6) to encourage and be open to prophetic and faithful leadership in ministry and mission so as to enable God's people to respond in courageous witness to the power of the gospel in the world.JD Preface The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world,

(1.2.7) to seek in all things to uphold the solemn obligation to nurture and sustain eucharistic communion, in accordance with existing canonical disciplines, as we strive under God for the fuller realisation of the communion of all Christians.(1.2.8) to pursue a common pilgrimage with the whole Body of Christ continually to discern the fullness of truth into which the Spirit leads us, that peoples from all nations may be set free to receive new and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ.JD 12 We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.

The two documents agree remarkably in what they affirm. The basic differences lie not in what is said but rather left unsaid. The theological framework of the Jerusalem Declaration is governed by the Evangelical emphasis on original sin, vicarious atonement, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and personal regeneration through the Holy Spirit. Hence the following clauses in the Jerusalem Declaration do not find an equivalent in the RCD:

JD 1 We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.
JD 5 We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.
RCD does not deny the Evangelical distinctives of the JD, but its emphasis is on participation in the divine life and cosmic reconciliation offered by Christ through the Church. Rather than a Romans-centred gospel, it is an Ephesians-oriented gospel (not to say Ephesians neglects the fact that “by grace you have been saved by faith”). Whereas JD finds a crucial recovery of biblical truth in the 16th century Reformation, RCD finds its sources in “a rich history of the Church in Britain and Ireland, reshaped by the Reformation” (2.1.2).

While the emphases in the two documents are not mutually exclusive, it does seem to me the tack taken by the RCD tends to avoid or minimize the current crisis in the Communion. According to the RCD, the primary sin burdening the Anglican Communion involves “failures of faith,” “divisions,” and “struggles and weaknesses.” Its primary paradigm for the present church crisis is the fractious Church in Corinth: “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12). The GAFCON Statement, on the other hand, identifies a particular fact or sin of our time which has torn the fabric of the Communion asunder.

The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel. This false gospel undermines the authority of God’s Word written and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the author of salvation from sin, death and judgement.
The GAFCON churches hardly claim to be sin-free or perfect (see e.g., JD 8), but they do believe it their duty to call attention to a fundamental denial of biblical truth that has led and continues to lead the Anglican Communion into chaos. They see themselves called to a prophetic and apostolic role (cf. RCD 1.2.6) of warning the church against false teachers and teachings. Their paradigm of today’s Communion is the church of the Pastoral and Catholic Epistles, summoned to a unity of the Spirit grounded in the unity of sound teaching (1 Timothy 6:5-10) in a situation where false teachers are leading the church astray (1 John 4:1-6; Jude 3-7; 2 Peter 3:3; Revelation 2:19-23). This prophetic stance no doubt explains one clause in the Jerusalem Declaration that has no explicit parallel in RCD:

JD 13 We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
Again, the RCD does not deny the possibility that a church may be heretical, but it does not “discern the spirits” as indicating that such a state of affairs exists in the Communion.

Another difference between the two documents is found in the area of eschatology. The RCD emphasizes a theology of glory and cosmic fulfillment: “God’s communion in Christ with all people.” This is not to say that the RCD is universalistic in offering salvation outside of Christ and His Church. Again, the difference is less in what it affirms than in what it fails to mention: the wrath of God revealed against sin and our spiritual accountability before the judgement seat of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). In another clause without parallel in RCD, the Jerusalem Declaration makes explicit reference to the last things, in line with the creedal clause that Christ “will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

JD 14 We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives.
It is part of the prophetic and apostolic witness that the Church lives under judgement and is called on to work out its salvation with fear and trembling. This includes the burden to preach the Gospel to all nations: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (cf. John 20:23). The future of souls is at stake in the failure to preach the gospel or in leading Christ’s sheep astray. The gospel is universally offered but salvation is not universally received (1 Timothy 2:4; Romans 10:15-18); hence the Jerusalem Declaration mentions that “Jesus Christ, the Son of God [is] humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell…” The Prayer Book similarly contains warnings to lay and clergy who would provoke the indignation of the Lord (cf. Exhortation to Communion; Ordination of a Priest).

The purpose of this comparison between the two documents is not to reject the one and exalt the other. Both, I think, are on the side of the angels. The day may come when the Jerusalem Declaration may in whole or part be joined to the “Inheritance of Faith.” In any case, the comparison does show that they have much in common and differ in matters of articulation.

I want in particular to note the strengthening of the key portion on Scripture in RCD, of which I have been previously critical. It has added a clause (1.2.3) with specific reference to Archbishop Cranmer’s Collect, praying that we should “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the Scriptures. Along with the reference to the Lambeth Quadrilateral in 1.1.3, this clause ties the Covenant in more specifically with the Bible itself (1 Timothy 3:16) and with the Reformation position on the sufficiency, primacy, unity and clarity of Scripture (see Articles VI and XX).

It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that the Covenant refrains from naming the “elephant in the room” when it comes to human sexuality. The references in 1.2.2 and 1.2.3 to “moral reasoning” concerning “the renewal of humanity” will be spun to permit just about anything in the postmodern alphabet soup of sexualities. Even so, the plain sense of the oblique references to a “pattern of moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition” is surely consonant with norm in 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, in which the Church, “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.” The weakness of these clauses is only a problem if the Covenant includes members who willfully misread its meaning, which is a possibility but not a certainty.

The new clause on Scripture adds one significant phrase about the church’s “costly witness” to the Scriptures. This is not, I think, to be taken as a throwaway line. Indeed from the fires of Oxford to the fires of Namugongo, Anglican Christians have paid a price for their commitment to the Word of God. It is on this basis that many Provinces have separated themselves from TEC and ACoC on the issue of human sexuality. It will be relevant in evaluating under sec. 3.2.5 and 4.2.5 whether churches which break communion with other Anglican churches for reasons they consider a matter of essential and substantial biblical truth have themselves violated the Covenant. In other words, does the Covenant foresee the possibility, within its own ordering of the Inheritance of Faith, that a member church might say to its Covenant partners: “Here we stand, we can do no other!” Of course, the revisionists might make the same prophetic claim to step outside the Covenant framework, the difference being that they have no credible Scriptural ground for doing so.

2. “Our Anglican Vocation”In my proposed “Blueprint” for the Covenant, I urged that mission be given a prominent place next to doctrinal confession. While Section Two of the Covenant Draft is not called by that name, it is focused on the mission of the Church. The Commentary notes that “the CDG notes that the St. Andrew’s Draft’s treatment of Mission was lighter than the treatment of other sections, and sought to give the section greater weight and substance in the RCD.” This is indeed a welcome expansion.

The term “mission of God” (missio dei) is a vessel into which different contents may be poured, from evangelization to the Millennium Development goals. It is to the credit of the RCD that it includes the various aspects of mission and in the proper order.

This section honours Anglican mission history as well as the “sacrificial witness of Anglicans from around the world (2.1.2), i.e. the role of the martyrs, a key pillar of Anglicanism noted by Archbishop Henry Orombi (“What is Anglicanism? First Things Aug/Sep 2007). In spelling out the five marks of mission, it speaks unapologetically about “bringing all people to repentance and faith” and “making disciples of the nations.” This evangelistic thrust is at odds with pronouncements from revisionists that there are many roads to God and the church does not try to convert people from one road to another.

The combining of evangelization with personal and societal transformation is another feature welcomed by contemporary Evangelicals (see e.g., the Lausanne Covenant, clause 5). There are further parallels between this section and the Jerusalem Declaration as noted below:

2.2 In recognition of these affirmations, each Church, reliant on the Holy Spirit, commits itself:
"to teach, baptize and nurture new believers", making disciples of all nations (Mt 28.19) through the quickening power of the Holy Spirit and drawing them into the one Body of Christ whose faith, calling and hope are one in the Lord (Eph 4.4-6);JD 9 We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.
(2.2.2.c) "to respond to human need by loving service", disclosing God's reign through humble ministry to those most needy (Mk 10.42-45; Mt 18.4; 25.31-45); (2.2.3) to engage in this mission with humility and an openness to our own ongoing conversion in the face of our unfaithfulness and failures in witness.JD 1b Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

(2.2.2.d) "to seek to transform unjust structures of society" as the Church stands vigilantly with Christ proclaiming both judgment and salvation to the nations of the world, and manifesting through our actions on behalf of God's righteousness the Spirit's transfiguring power;(2.2.2.e) "to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth" as essential aspects of our mission in communion.JD Preface The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all.
JD 10 We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

3. Our Unity and Common LifeThe first two sections are intended as statements of faith and of mission, respectively. The third section is a statement of interdependence, with the resolve “to live in a Communion of Churches” (3.1.2). In accordance with the Lambeth Quadrilateral, it intends to constitute a biblically faithful church, a doctrinally orthodox church, a missionally dynamic church and an episcopally ordered church.

The formal basis of “our unity and common life” is our common participation in Baptism and Eucharist (3.1.1). While acknowledging this clause as far as it goes, I must note that the substantial basis of unity is union with Christ through the Holy Spirit. Not everyone who claims participation in Christ is a sheep of his flock (Matthew 7:22-23), including those who “sing” rather than “say” the Creed as divine Truth.

This general goal is consonant with the intention expressed at the Global Anglican Future Conference:

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, are a fellowship of confessing Anglicans for the benefit of the Church and the furtherance of its mission. We are a fellowship of people united in the communion (koinonia) of the one Spirit and committed to work and pray together in the common mission of Christ. It is a confessing fellowship in that its members confess the faith of Christ crucified, stand firm for the gospel in the global and Anglican context, and affirm a contemporary rule, the Jerusalem Declaration, to guide the movement for the future. We are a fellowship of Anglicans, including provinces, dioceses, churches, missionary jurisdictions, para-church organisations and individual Anglican Christians whose goal is to reform, heal and revitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world.
Furthermore, all Anglicans affirm the validity of the episcopacy as a form of church governance. This tenet of the Lambeth Quadrilateral is affirmed in RCD 1.1.6 and again in 3.1.3. It is likewise affirmed in JD 7 and in the establishment of a Primates’ Council. Going one step further, the principle of bishops-in-council is affirmed.

(3.1.2) Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together "not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference" and of the other instruments of Communion.
The notion of conciliarity among bishops (and others) is consonant with the aims of the GAFCON movement as witnessed at the Conference in June 2008. Indeed it forms the basis for the internal governance of the GAFCON Primates’ Council and any later bodies that are formed among the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Why then did GAFCON form a separate “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”? First of all, it did so, reluctantly but hopefully, in the light of a major breakdown in Anglican polity as detailed in the three undeniable facts: that one or more churches of the Communion had embraced another Gospel; that this deviation had caused many churches to break communion with the offenders; and that the existing Instruments had proved unable to resolve the conflict.

Behind the practical breakdown in the Communion was a constitutional threat: the substitution of political structures for the theological foundations of orthodox Christianity. The GAFCON movement sees itself as restoring the rightful ordering of authorities within the Communion, with doctrine being primary.

Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it. While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Building on the above doctrinal foundation of Anglican identity, we hereby publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of our fellowship.
The “fellowship” declared that it was not leaving the Anglican Communion but summoning others to join together in its reformation. The “confessing” character of the fellowship was intended to place the identity of the Communion on its common confession of faith if necessary over against important but secondary structures of authority.

Is this reordering of priorities at odds with the Covenant? Not necessarily, I think. First of all, the Covenant itself involves a reordering which emerged out of the current crisis (in response to the Windsor Report). While not claiming to be such, the Covenant itself will be considered an Instrument of the Anglican Communion, indeed a foundational Instrument. It would be pressing the issue to call it a “confessional Instrument,” but it would appear that for those churches that adopt the Covenant, the authority of the formal Instruments of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, ACC and Primates’ Meeting will become established by the Covenant and may be altered so long as the terms of the Covenant are upheld.

The GAFCON movement has assumed the ongoing validity of the Instruments. The Primates, bishops and other Provincial representatives continue to participate in the Primates’ Meeting and ACC. While many bishops chose not to attend Lambeth, most were issued invitations and some did attend Lambeth 2008. They continue to be active members in other associations like CAPA and the Global South movement. While the GAFCON Statement raised the question of the necessity of the See of Canterbury as a locus of unity, GAFCON churches continue to respect this role and have not attempted to propose any alternative.

For all these reasons, it seems to me that GAFCON churches and bishops could affirm section 3.1.4 as the status quo but as a status quo that could be changed through the Instruments themselves. If the Covenant is truly effective, it will carry authoritative weight within the Instruments including a possible reform of those Instruments.

I suppose many will latch on to the deference in the Covenant to the constitutional autonomy of the various churches of the Communion as a hallmark of the Covenant. They will think of the oft-repeated claims of TEC for its sovereign polity. It does not seem to me, however, that questions of constitutional autonomy will make or break the Covenant. Indeed, the Covenant may simply be accepting a legal and political reality which is inherent in the historic nature of the formation of the Anglican Communion and the corresponding national jurisdictions. Whether a Communion canon law might supplement the Covenant is an open question.

The test of coherence will occur if one or more Provinces adopts the Covenant while simultaneously authorizing practices like same-sex marriage which fly in the face of biblical and Christian moral norms. Sections 3.2.3-3.2.7 try to guard against such a situation, but that assumes a level of integrity among churches that has been singularly lacking over the last decade and more. One notes in particular the phrasing in 3.2.5 that churches must avoid “controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion or the credibility of its mission.” Can anyone with a straight face claim that TEC or the ACoC have acted in accordance with this clause?

Again, the spirit of Section Three should be perfectly acceptable among orthodox Anglicans, given the many exhortations to unity in the New Testament. For its part, the GAFCON movement has brought together a wide variety of Anglicans from Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and charismatic backgrounds who have joined together under the Jerusalem Declaration. These Anglicans are not seeking uniformity but unity in that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.

4. Adopting the CovenantWe now come to the lifeblood of the Covenant, the provisions by which the Covenant will either come to life or be still-born. In my own critique of the earlier drafts, I have called for a clear excommunication clause of this sort (proposed change in italics):

We acknowledge that in the most extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of Instruments of the Communion, we will consider that such churches have relinquished membership in the Anglican Communion.
I have also commended the disciplinary process found in “To Mend the Net,” the 2001 proposal of Archbishops Gomez and Sinclair, which was deep-sixed by the Communion bureaucracy. The “To Mend the Net” proposal outlined a careful biblically-based process by which the Primates might discern whether a church had departed from Anglican essentials, coming to a relegation to observer status and finally, the recognition of a new jurisdiction. I continue to think this proposal would have staunched the flow of trouble inflicted by TEC on the wider Communion over the past decade. However, it was politically impossible, so long as the offending churches were serving as judges of their own cases.

Ironically, the unwillingness of the Instruments to discipline these churches has led to the piecemeal excommunication by many Provinces of TEC and ACoC and the formation of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. The Jerusalem Declaration explicitly authorizes the GAFCON Provinces as a body to break fellowship with churches and leaders that promote a false gospel:

JD 13 We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
None of the three Covenant drafts have the kind of straightforward disciplinary approach found in “To Mend the Net” or in the Jerusalem Declaration. It has been argued by some since 2003 that no legal basis exists in Communion law for formal excommunication of a church by one or more of the Instruments and that the Covenant will supply that lack. Whether or not this argument is correct, the absence of an exclusion clause in RCD is a missed opportunity.

Section Four, according to the CDG, is a completely new section mercifully deleting sections 6.5 and 6.6 of the St. Andrew’s Draft and the byzantine process of adjudication that was hidden in an Appendix. The RCD Commentary states:

Section Four is therefore constructed on the fundamental principle of the constitutional autonomy of each Church. The Covenant itself cannot amend or override the Constitution and Canons of any Province. The Instruments of Communion cannot intervene in any jurisdictional way in the internal life of any of the Anglican Churches. The Covenant can only speak to the relationship between the Churches, and of the relational consequences of internal autonomous actions by a Church.
I might note that, so far as I can see, there was nothing in the earlier “To Mend the Net” proposal that violated the constitutional autonomy of a Province, and the proposal outlined precise relational consequences, with the final being withdrawal of recognition of a Province and recognition of a new jurisdiction. So what RCD is proposing now is not really revolutionary. It is only in its reluctance to spell out the relational consequences that it differs from “To Mend the Net.”

Hope for Genuine DisciplineWhile the RCD does not depart from the approach taken in the earlier Nassau and St. Andrew’s drafts, “Section Four: Our Covenant Life Together” does provide some hope that discipline might at the end of the day be effected. Let me explain why, working in reverse order from 4.2 to 4.1 because I think that the success of the Covenant in reforming the Communion will be more likely determined by who judges themselves compatible to join than by who is later deemed to be incompatible (witness the difficulty of expelling a member, even when they have blatantly violated biblical and Communion norms).

Subsection 4.2 on “Maintenance of the Covenant and Dispute Resolution” lays out a disciplinary procedure whereby a controversial action (3.2.5) by a covenanting church might be brought to the point of adjudication and even excommunication. In an extreme case (read Gene Robinson), the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and Anglican Consultative Council

may make recommendations as to relational consequences to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of Communion. These recommendations may address the extent to which the decision of any covenanting church to continue with an action or decision which has been found to be “incompatible with the Covenant” impairs or limits the communion between that Church and the other Churches of the Communion. It may recommend whether such action or decision should have a consequence for participation in the life of the Communion and its Instruments. It shall be for each Church and each Instrument to determine its own response to such a recommendation. (RCD 4.2.5)
One may object to the voluntary “may” language of this clause. One may also ask whether this authority was not already inherent in the various Provinces and Communion Instruments without the backing of a Covenant. Nevertheless, the use of the word “participation” (read koinonia) is surely not accidental. The relational consequences include excommunication. Not only may individual provinces excommunicate a sister province, as has happened over the past six years; but the Instruments are authorized, even advised in certain circumstances, to break communion with an offending Church.

Hence the key disciplinary clause in RCD goes significantly beyond the vague language in the St. Andrew’s Draft (3.2.5e), which states that offensive actions by a covenanting Church might lead to the “relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.” It is not clear in the St. Andrew’s draft whether an offending Church would ever be de-listed from the Covenant, much less the Communion itself. In other words, the St. Andrew’s Draft (and Appendix) contains no ultimate threat of excommunication. The Ridley Cambridge Draft does, even if one would wish for greater specificity in spelling out the consequences.

I would characterize Section Four as a “soft power” approach to Communion discipline. There may be an iron fist hidden in its velvet language about “relational consequences.” Nevertheless, we have empirical reasons from the last decade to wonder if the ultimate sanction of excommunication would ever be applied to the point where an alternative jurisdiction is recognized. For this reason, I think the more significant provision of Section Four is the subsection on “Adoption of the Covenant.” Let’s look at this section more closely.

RCD 4.1.1 and 4.1.2 spell out the spiritual basis of the commitment to the Covenant. Both clauses, one implicitly, the other explicitly, refer back to the three previous sections of the Covenant in terms of “a common faith and order, a common inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life” (4.1.1) and “a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them” (4.1.2). It is worth noting that these clauses simultaneously forswear any interference in the polity of a jurisdiction and assert that doctrine, mission and conciliarity – not structures or even the Instruments – are the true basis of koinonia.

Let me note also two small phrases in this section which should be reassuring to conservative Anglicans. The first in 4.1.1 is that entering the Covenant is “a commitment to relationship in submission to God” (italics added). The phrase “in submission to God” should recall the bi-polar passages in the New Testament, calling on Christians to be obedient to the authorities as to the Lord (Romans 13:1-5) and also claiming a Gospel right of dissent, as when Peter said: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). I would relate the balanced description in RCD 1.2.4 of “communal reading” to the earlier reference to the “costly witness” to the Scriptures. The Covenant, while a binding document not to be entered lightly, and conciliar relationships, however sacred, cannot finally remove one’s obligation to obey God. This freedom may include accepting “relational consequences” of conscientious objection; it can be counterfeited by those who are misled in their minds; but it is nevertheless part of our Gospel inheritance (Galatians 5:1).

The second small phrase in 4.1.2 is the commitment by a covenanting Church to order its life consistent with the principles of the Covenant and “with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them” (italics added). The phrase “as it has received them” recalls of course the role of tradition in Scripture (Deuteronomy 11:18-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-6) and “the voice of the Church,” as Richard Hooker puts it, throughout history. For American Anglicans, this phrase may also recall the Preface to the American Prayer Book which allows for liturgical variation “provided that the Substance of the Faith be kept entire”; and the “first promise” in the Ordination service to “be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship as this church has received them (1979 BCP, page 526). I among others have argued that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 is just such a statement of biblical and ecumenical doctrine received by the Church. In this case, no Province could in good conscience sign on to the Covenant while rejecting or defying Lambeth 1.10. Of course Episcopal leaders have a habit of “singing the Creed” and crossing the fingers when it comes to biblical and doctrinal truth.

Who Adopts?Sections 4.1.4 and 4.1.5 answer the question “Who may adopt the Covenant?” The answer is twofold. First, there are those “churches” recognized by the Anglican Consultative Council, currently 38 Provinces and 5 “extra-provincial churches,” connected to Canterbury and one (Cuba) under a Metropolitan Council of North American bishops (see These bodies are “invited” to adopt the Covenant by means of their constitutional procedures.

The second group referred to in 4.15 includes “other Churches.” There is no specification as to the identity or status of these churches. These churches are not “invited” to adopt the Covenant as are the first group, and they have no “right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion,” each of which may lay down “conditions” for recognition or membership. This provision, not found in earlier drafts, has revolutionary implications. It suggests that membership in the Covenant and the Communion may not be limited to Provincial territorial jurisdictions.

This provision has already stirred up lively debate on the right and on the left (see and In a response to an online question I asked about this section, “whether there is an explicit or implicit understanding that ‘We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion...’ can include entities other than the 38 Provinces,” Ephraim Radner, a member of CDG, gives his opinion:

Dr. Noll asks one of the question[s] very much in some people’s minds. The answer is that the word “church” is not carefully defined because it would have been overly limiting of a number of potential situations we did not feel it was wise to constrain in advance, including churches now in a relationship of ecumenical partnership, as well as future uniting churches, currently extra-jurisdictional dioceses, or future ones, etc.. The specific issue of ACNA or an individual diocese in a non-covenanting province was placed on the table, discussed at length, and we agreed that no limitation on this possibility would be defined. I.e., of course ACNA or such a diocese can sign and formally request recognition and participation. (The latter might finally function under some metropolitan aegis as currently happens with e.g. Lusitania.) The seeming inconsistency between the Preamble and these kinds of possibilities was noted, and understood to be acceptable as the price paid for the organic transformation of the Communion under the covenant…: the Communion is not static.

In a parallel dialogue with Jim Naughton of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Dr. Radner suggests that “Southern Baptists could adopt the Covenant; Moravians could; a diocese could; a parish could,” but clearly the Covenant is addressed to Anglicans, in which case the last two entities in the series are more to the point, and this raises suspicions on the Left that the Covenant is part of a conspiracy to sideline or exclude Provinces like TEC, which might choose not to adopt the Covenant. Dr. Radner denies that this is so:

[The Covenant] was not designed to find a way to kick TEC out of the Communion; but nor was it designed as a way of permanently shutting down the alternative voices of those who have left TEC over the past few years, but may wish to engage the life of the Communion on the basis of teachings and witness that cohere with other parts of that Communion. Designing something that would provide a means of -- though certainly not the necessity for -- reordering the commitments of both these groups in terms of relations, consultation, and decision-making in a Christian fashion is obviously not easy.
I see no point in sniffing out conspiratorial motives on the part of the Covenant drafters (certainly there were liberals on the CDG), but it does seem to me that the Covenant should be an instrument for pruning the wild branches of the Communion, and if it does not, it will serve little or no purpose. This is why the section on Adoption is of crucial importance: it provides the means of a Province that cannot in good conscience uphold biblical and Anglican teaching to self-select out, out of the Covenant and perhaps ultimately out of the Communion.

The Politics of AdoptionGiven the premise that GAFCON churches and the revisionist Provinces of North America cannot as they now stand simply come together in a genuine communion relationship, the following permutations seem set for the adoption of the Covenant:

Scenario A. GAFCON churches adopt the Covenant and TEC/ACoC refuse to adopt.
Scenario B. TEC/ACoC adopt the Covenant and GAFCON Churches refuse to adopt.
Scenario C. Both GAFCON churches and TEC/ACoC adopt the Covenant.
Scenario D. Both GAFCON churches and TEC/ACoC refuse to adopt the Covenant.

If my analysis above is correct, it should be logically and theologically easier for the GAFCON Churches to adopt the Covenant than for the revisionists. Therefore scenario A is one that the GAFCON churches should consider carefully and certainly not reject out of hand. Scenario B is, however, quite possible, especially given GAFCON’s cool response to the Covenant to date and the revisionists’ practice of realpolitik. Crossing their fingers and signing on might be tactically smart for the revisionists, in that they might gain influence over the “middle of the road” Provinces that join. If, however, they sign on at the same time they are moving forward with their theological and political agenda, it may subvert the Covenant process and drive the “middle of the road” churches to embrace the GAFCON churches as their natural fellows. Scenario C would maintain the status quo ante and doom the Covenant to irrelevance. Scenario D would make the Covenant a weak reed, with little influence among the governing Instruments.

It is my conclusion that the GAFCON churches should move to the front of the queue and sign on to the Covenant. GAFCON was very clear that it does not plan on leaving the Communion, indeed that it is seeking its reformation. How better than taking initiative and setting the precedent for Covenant membership and direction? Apart from the political reasons cited above, I think the Covenant is a good thing in principle and the Ridley Cambridge Draft is the best version we are going to get (note provision for amendment in 4.4.2). So two cheers is reason enough to support this latest proposal.

Here is a final consideration: when all the dust settles, what will the Covenant actually do for those who join it? If it simply preserves the status quo, then it will be a waste of time. If, however, the various partners who are theologically orthodox reunite under the Covenant and refocus on the work of mission and mutual up-building – the kind of thing which the Global South alliance was beginning to do - much good can come for the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

Having commended adoption of the Covenant by GAFCON churches, I am certainly not recommending that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans fold its tents and simply wait for the wider Communion to sort itself out. It is quite possible that ecclesiastical politics, which have not served the cause of Christ and His Church well over the last decade, may again subvert any good that could come from the Covenant effort. I do not think therefore that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans should abandon the work they have begun. Whichever scenario comes to pass, there will still be a need for the churches represented by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to be working and praying for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom. So whether with the Covenant or without it, Archbishop Greg Venables’ final words at the Global Anglican Future Conference ring true for faithful Anglicans: “Let’s get on with it, to the glory of God!”

Have a comment? Please send it via email.

Follow-ups from Stephen

There are no follow-ups to this post at this time.