The Global Anglican Communion Blueprint

Rev Professor Stephen Noll, Vice-Chancellor of Uganda Christian University, presented a paper on The Global Anglican Communion and Anglican OrthodoxyClick for the paper as reported on the GAFCON website on 30 January 2008 at Lagos. Additional comment is in brackets and with a blue colour.
He very humbly said that he was hardly up to the task to outline the past, present and future of Anglican orthodoxy, so he decided to redo an essay he had already done on the subject in 2006. It is an urgent matter to define orthodoxy because of the actions of The Episcopal Church (TEC), including keeping John Spong as a bishop while threatening orthodox ones with removal. It and other Provinces of the Communion, in blessing homosexuality, were exhibiting a symptom of a larger abandonment of biblical teaching and authority on fundamental matters of the faith.
His 2006 essay was a blueprint and he structured it and the redoing of it on the Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral is not sufficient, though it can carry on, and be ecumenical. More than this, it is the DNA of Anglicanism along with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer. It produces the Anglican brand (unless "branding" has a different meaning).
The Covenant idea is a good one, he said. The Articles are like part of a Covenant, with ecumenical intentions, and the Quadrilateral is like their preamble.
So GAFCON should keep ties with those who are organising a Covenant. The Covenant that the Anglican Consultative Council produces is unlikely to deal with the Anglican crisis but it may be the basis for an ecumenical Anglican Covenant that would prevent heresy and chart an orthodox future.
(This is surely important. It wants, in its separation, to keep ties with those designing an Anglican Consultative Council Covenant. However, it sees this Covenant as only a preparation for a further and stronger Covenant. Notice here - and later - the lack of trust in the Anglican Consultative Council. Presumably keeping ties means staying away from Lambeth 2008, which is an odd way to proceed.)
He claimed that the spurning of the Bible as "God's Word written" has infected authority within the most "progressive" Anglican Churches (his quotation marks) and so the Primacy of Scripture must be restored. To do this the (early) Reformation content is added to the Quadrilateral.
The Reformation began by understanding Scripture as verbal revelation - thus preaching. Scripture proves itself - it does not need Church or human science.
(Presumably then the Reformation went on towards some sophistication or even deviancy; students of the Reformation might see it having a far more sophisticated view from the beginning).
Scripture generates faith. Scripture is clear. Scripture is simple and transparent - but it needs expository preaching and teaching including Bible study.
Scripture is unified, though biblical unity can include paradox and progressive development. (One wonders if this paradox and change can be so easily made a sub-existence of unity). The Old Testament as preparation and the New Testament is fulfillment. (But not from the Hebrew Bible point of view! It has its own validity!) Scripture also interprets Scripture. The Gospel of Christ is the centre.
Scripture is sufficient, and trustworthy, and its end is salvation in Christ alone, salvation being grasped by faith alone. Only then can reason come in.
(Luther certainly claimed that salvation was by faith alone; the New Testament does not support this exclusivity. But then they are reading the New and the Old Testaments according to how they want it unifying.)
The Global Anglican Communion (note) will need to grapple with the interpretation of Scripture by drawing on the Reformation and recovering its "plain and canonical" sense. Kevin Vanhoozer's work can help with hermeneutics to understand Scripture as "God's communicative action". The Global Anglican Communion will also need to revisit Scripture, Tradition and Reason - three equal legs is, however, a theological Trojan horse. Scripture plainly delivers and calls for obedience, only then comes reasoning and third in line is the Church's voice, as said Richard Hooker, though he also needs critiquing elsewhere.
(So the individual reasoning comes before the Church. Really? This is very risky, should Scripture not plainly deliver. Who says what the plain meaning is, if a bunch of individuals disagree?)
Then there are the creeds. Reformation Anglicans look to the first five centuries and the first four Councils (how is this looking-agreement asserted and maintained?), but also added confessional statements for the day. Anglicanism needs to recover a modest and ecumenical confessionalism, that does not close off legitimate dialogue and testing from Scripture, using rich resources in the Thirty-Nine Articles and Book of Common Prayer, but now addresses new challenges like marriage, sexuality, science and other religions. The historic Churches of West and East might use ecumenical confessionalism to face off both militant Islam and militant secularism.
(They might, but the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are hardly going to agree with this Reformation basis of operating are they?)
Africa - from ancient Alexandria down to present-day sub-Saharan Africa - provides both the best rationale of "right remembering" of the apostles' teaching and also the best examples of martyrdom, so has said Prof. Thomas Oden.
(Thus Rev Professor Stephen Noll acknowledged a more central place for African biblical interpretation. This will please GAFCON's main Churches.)
Renewed discussion about the sacraments is needed among those who agree on biblical essentials (and the rest?). They perhaps should be understood within a theology of mission. The Thirty-nine Articles are unfocussed on this and neglect the Holy Spirit, so the sacraments could be based on Pentecost, with baptism a response to preaching. A growing in numbers Church is devoted to apostolic doctrine, koinonia, worship and Eucharist and the Church can also reorient its sacramental heritage to convey the eschatological presence of Christ - looking for Christ's return.
(One wonders what the extreme Anglo-Catholics also marching down to GAFCON will make of this: surely inadequate. Plus this is hardly a blueprint for the whole Church, and this is definitely not ecumenical.)
Ecclesiology is weak in this Anglican crisis and many have concluded that the lack of means to enforce discipline shows Anglicanism is fundamentally flawed. Thus many have left. Too much is based on the Established Church and the British Empire. Anglican government coming from an historic See is "dangerous nostalgia".
Meanwhile, Episcopal governance can be upheld for continuity, even with the priesthood of all believers. It gives stability. The claim to be "locally adapted" means it is not rigid.
So bishops are willing pastor-teachers and stewards. Theirs is the final accountability in a mixed subsidiary levels regime. Here we even encounter some criticism of the GAFCON Churches: "To be sure, episcopal authority is not the same as episcopal totalitarianism - an attitude which many Global South churches need to address."
National churches should have autonomy but within the framework of an international Covenant. Episcopal governance at the level of worldwide Anglicanism will need reform of the current Instruments of Unity along the lines of:

  • A Central Synod of Bishops that every ten years has the authority to address matters of doctrine, discipline and mission
  • Primates as an Executive body carries out the will of the synod in between synod meetings
  • A Presiding Primate AND Canterbury or other historic See would exist (presumably for more ceremonial occasions). The Presiding Primate is elected by the Synod of Bishops
  • A Secretariat would assist (not the ACC)
These Instruments, unlike the present unhealthy Instruments, must identify and renounce heresy, and discipline (and, as a last resort, expel) false teachers. If Canterbury continues to tolerate heresy and welcome false teachers then an orthodox assembly must break communion with Canterbury and set up alternative structures.
(Let's get that again:an orthodox assembly must break communion with Canterbury and set up alternative structures. Yet the legal situation and the responses so far from Churches simply mean this demand prior to breaking communion is way beyond acceptable. Even those Churches which have shown some agreement with a Covenant would not accept this set of structures that could impose anything. This must be separatist by implication. This must need the breakaway, it must intend an alternative Anglicanism. This does seem to be acknowledged:)

"Since the trend-lines seem to doom the current Communion to endless compromise or worse, the sooner the shadow structures begin take form the better," said Professor Noll.
The political theology of Oliver O'Donovan offers a framework for Church-State relations. (I bet this pleases him, as he hardly endorses GAFCON's project.)
It all therefore needs a structure and the Spirit. It needs to be bold (proclamation), Visionary (mission), Prayerful (all), Ecumenical and Vigilant (guarding and eschatology).
Bold action now will see a new reformation in the Anglican tradition:

"The present order is passing away. Behold the Global Anglican Communion is coming."
(Thus we have it. This is the blueprint all right. It shows that there is clear reference to a Global Anglican Communion. It is fashioned that this is a replacement. However, as the Canterbury Communion, including much of the Global South that remains with it, is not exactly going to shut up shop, there are now scheduled two Communions. This is not two branches of one Communion, but two Communions. There will be raiding parties; there will be appeals for Canterbury Churches to go over to Global Anglican Communion Churches, but there will be two Communions. However, the Global Anglican Communion may be much smaller than was expected, and more like a Northern African Anglican Communion.

A 2006 paper responding to the Draft Covenant by Stephen Noll shows by just how much he has changed his mind and allegiance.Click for the 2006 .PDF document by Stephen Noll - an external link


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful