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“A First Step in the Right Direction” - by Gregory O. Brewer

“A First Step in the Right Direction”

A personal response to the Windsor Report

by Gregory O. Brewer

Since October of 2003, nineteen representatives from the global
Anglican Communion have met under the chairmanship of Archbishop Robin Eames at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their mandate was to examine “the legal and theological implications” of the
Episcopal Church’s consecration of a Gene Robison to the episcopate and the Diocese of New Westminster’s decision to authorize services for the blessing of same sex unions. That report was released on October 18, 2004.

Several affirmations are helpful, significant and worthy of note:

This document rejects any notion of the Anglican Communion being a
federation of national provinces with each province free to do what it
wants without regard for the impact of its actions on the rest of the
Communion. That notion has been the assumption of the American church for some time and was used repeatedly during the debates surrounding Gene Robinson’s election. Instead, the report presents a clear understanding that all members of the Anglican Communion are bound to one another in “bonds of affection” that come directly from “our common identity in Christ.” Individual provinces are called upon to consider the impact their decisions will have on the rest of the communion and put “the needs of the global fellowship before its own.”

Thus, ECUSA is “invited to express regret” for breaching the bonds of affection in consecrating Gene Robinson, and bishops who took part in the consecration “should be invited to consider...whether they should
withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican
Communion.” The report also calls for a moratorium on the future
election of similar candidates for bishop as well as a moratorium on
same sex blessings. Same sex unions are condemned as actions “in
breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith.”

This document lays out an understanding of the primacy of Scripture in
doctrinal formation that, if genuinely applied, would revolutionize
most seminary and parish curriculums. “The Anglican Communion does not have a Pope, nor any system which corresponds to the authority
structure and canonical organization of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Anglican Communion has always declared that its supreme authority is Scripture.” While reason and tradition do play a role in Biblical interpretation, there is no notion in any part of the document that reason, tradition or experience are coequal with Scripture. ‘Instead,
“the Church’s accredited leaders have a responsibility through constant
teaching and preaching, to enable the Church to grow to maturity, so
that when difficult judgments are required they may be made in full
knowledge of the texts”- referring directly to the texts of Scripture.
“It is by reading scripture too little, not by reading it too much,
that we have allowed ourselves to drift apart.”

This document proposes a greater degree of authority be grated to the
established instruments of unity and proposes a new canonical
instrument of unity for the Anglican Communion that would include a
common “covenant” containing the “minimal conditions which allow the
Churches of the Communion to live together in harmony and unity.”

After such a covenant was drafted and ratified by the Primates, each province would have the opportunity to assent to that covenant. Choosing not to assent to the covenant could mean that such a province would no longer be a member of the Anglican Communion.

These developments are welcome and, if acted upon by the Primates,
would take us forward in the renewal of the Church.

There are also places listed below where I find the document to be
weak.

While the document calls on ECUSA to “express regret” it does not call
ECUSA to repent. The difference could be significant. One expresses
“regret” at the pain an action causes others, even though one may feel
the action to be right. One repents when one acknowledges the action
to be wrong. There is no point at which Gene Robinson is specifically
asked to resign- a glaring omission that does not appear to be in
keeping with the rest of the report’s understanding of the results of
his consecration or in the document’s understanding of the role of a
bishop.

This document asks bishops who have crossed diocesan boundaries
to provide pastoral care to beleaguered congregations to “express
regret” for their actions as well. This report wants to keep
geographic diocesan boundaries in tact. There is no support in this
document for any sort of parallel jurisdictions. Given the fact that
episcopal authority has been sometimes used to isolate, disrupt, and
persecute Biblically orthodox congregations, I find their condemnation
of bishops serving beleaguered congregations outside their dioceses
regrettable. These are courageous men who have taken great personal
risks to provide pastoral care to clergy and congregations who find
themselves without a biblically faithful shepherd. Sadly, the
experience of the American church is this: when apostolic authority is
not under girded by apostolic doctrine the result is almost always
geographic tyranny.

The document proposes the use of the House of Bishop’s plan for
Delegated Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) if there has been “an extreme
breach of trust, and as a last resort.” Such an arrangement would be
“conditional and temporary.” That plan was rejected by beleaguered
congregations because they believed, rightly in most cases, that
persecuting bishops would not act in good faith towards those
congregations.

The document does offer one telling comment to bishops who oppose any plan for Delegated Pastoral Oversight: “We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church.”

It will be the responsibility of the Primates who will meet in
February, 2005, to determine how they receive these recommendations.

At their February meeting the Primates could accept, reject or amend any of the recommendations offered. I also hope that they will also offer the beginnings of a plan of action. Much work needs to be done, but this document is an encouraging first step in the right direction.

Typical of Anglican pronouncements, no one on any side of these
controversies is entirely pleased by the contents of this report. I am
personally disappointed that a more realistic, albeit “conditional and
temporary,” solution was not offered for beleaguered congregations in
North America. However, the members of the commission should be
commended for their efforts. They have crafted a document that seeks
to correct actions they find incompatible with Scripture and Anglican
doctrine, and they are offering a way for the Communion to move forward into a more globally coherent whole.

May God use this document to assist all who work and pray that God’s
Church might be conformed to the image of His Son, even Jesus Christ
our Lord.

All quotations in this article are taken directly from The Windsor Report, 2004, published by The Anglican Communion Office, London, UK.

The Rev. Gregory O. Brewer is rector of the Church of the Good
Samaritan in Paoli, PA. The evangelical aprish is the largest in the Diocese of Pennsylvania

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