It continues to intrigue me that those who hold to a Bible-Alone, sola scriptura position regularly continue to clamour in favour of the proposed Anglican Covenant. This more protestant, “reformed” end of the Anglican spectrum on the one hand claims the Bible Alone is totally sufficient for all our Christian needs, that the Bible is totally self-explanatory, and that the Bible does not need to be supplemented by any other documents. Yet on the other hand: these same people feel that Anglicanism cannot survive without the Anglican Covenant. Ie. the Bible alone is not sufficient. Make up your mind people: is the Bible alone sufficient or isn’t it?!
Completing the Reformation
Some pro-Anglican-Covenant people speak about the need to “complete the Reformation”. Certainly, many at the Reformation created confessional denominations increasingly dividing over disagreements over interpretations of their lists of beliefs. The Anglican Covenant will either include everyone currently Anglican (and so will alter nothing, have only delayed discussion about the real issue, and wasted jet-engine fuel). Or it will complete the Reformation’s tendency towards ever-increasing fragmentation by splintering the frail bonds that bind Anglicans together.
The Anglican Communion and the strength of weak ties
Without using theological-babble (or “Rowanspeak”) it is very hard to ascertain what those who are pro-the Covenant concretely want and expect from a “Communion”. Certainly we would hope a communicant anywhere is a communicant everywhere in the Communion. Even that principle has been stretched to breaking with some provinces communicating all the baptised, some needing a rite of “admission to communion” at an age of “understanding”, and some needing episcopal confirmation before receiving communion. I am sure that toddlers from the first option may have difficulty receiving communion in provinces with the last option. Another principle is the mutual recognition of ordination, so that clergy in one province can function as clergy in another province. That principle has long been broken with women clergy, and male clergy ordained by women bishops, from one province unable to function as clergy in other provinces. Attitudes to divorce and remarriage vary from province to province, affecting communicant status and acceptability of remarried clergy. All this will not change one iota should the Anglican Covenant be accepted.
Sociologist Mark Granovetter, in the highly influential 1973 paper on social networking “The Strength of Weak Ties”, argues our close friends will be quite similar to us. Acquaintances differ more from us and will have their own networks of close friends. We have strong ties to our friends, and weak ties to acquaintances. Granovetter argues persuasively for the value of having both strong and weak ties – they have different functions, enhancing both our flourishing and theirs.
Strong ties (friends) are like an Anglican province. Weak ties (acquaintances) are like our inter-provincial ties across the Anglican Communion. Many who are pro-Covenant appear unable to articulate a difference between a diocese, a province, and a communion – these appear to be seeking that the communion function essentially in the way that most of us understand a diocese to function (or possibly a province).
A previous post: the Anglican Covenant will not do what it is meant to do
A helpful site for deeper reflection is the World Anglicanism Forum run by Bruce Kaye, an Anglican theologian, Foundation editor of the Journal of Anglican Studies. Currently a Visiting Research Fellow in History at the University of New South Wales and a Professorial Associate in Theology at Charles Sturt University.