By Joseph B. Howard
n times of change and conflict it is unsurprising that voices arise to point out the inevitable failure of this or that institution or program. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon in the political realm; during George W. Bush’s presidency, some who opposed his policies did so with the conviction that he was charting a path of destruction for the nation. A quick survey of talk radio reveals plenty of people who believe the same about President Obama’s leadership. As in secular politics, there are passionate people within the church who allow their strong feelings to lead them into making pronouncements that seem based more on fear or frustration than fact. In the case of the Anglican Communion, the voices crying out that the Anglican experiment is over may be one example. Anglicanism as an institution is certainly under strain, but does that void the entire tradition? The accusation that the Anglican experiment is over should motivate us to reflect upon what that experiment (if it’s right to use that term) has been, and what it — what we — have to offer to the broader church catholic. Last June 29 marked the end of the Year of St. Paul. At the time I found myself reflecting on the Apostle and his ministry quite a bit. Specifically, as I considered the current conflict in the Anglican Communion, I recalled Paul’s words to the Corinthians: I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor. 9:19-23). We don’t often hear the phrase “all things to all people” in a virtuous light today. When it is used, it is often presented as a critique or an accusation that someone
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the Quadrilateral
The proposed covenant calls forth our best Anglican selves


is trying too hard to please others. While Paul was speaking specifically of presenting the gospel, Anglicanism has taken upon itself a similar calling in the service of Christian unity, which is a gospel imperative. There have always been plenty of voices within and outside of Anglicanism that have accused it of an ill-conceived attempt to be all things to all people, and thus of being impure, haphazard, or uncommitted. “Complete the Reformation and do away with the vestiges of papist idolatry,” some would say. “Reject the inherently heretical and schismatic nature of Protestantism,” others would admonish, “and return to full fidelity to the ancient churches of Rome and Constantinople.” Anglicans must choose, according to these critics, past and present. In the words of Walter Cardinal Kasper during the runup to last year’s Lambeth Conference: Does [Anglicanism] belong more to the churches of the first millennium — Catholic and Orthodox — or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions (The Catholic Herald [London], May 6, 2008). Those who have left the Episcopal Church over theological issues are not immune to such criticism. The presence at the recent inaugural convention of the Anglican Church in North America of megachurch pastor Rick Warren, a Baptist, Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America, and the Rev. Dr. Todd Hunter — formerly of the Vineyard, now of the Anglican Mission in America — all testify to the theological

breadth within the Anglican tradition, and irrespective cess Anglicans have experienced in spreading the Chrisof whether it holds together, the ACNA shares some tian faith have resulted in dramatic changes, what the degree of this, at least for the moment. It was interest- most recent Ridley Cambridge draft of the Anglican ing that In his address to the convention, Metropolitan covenant referred to positively as “our ongoing refashJonah called for the ACNA to fully renounce women’s ioning by the Holy Spirit.” As the Communion has ordination and — of all things — to condemn Calvinism grown and changed, there have naturally been growing as heresy. The constant companion of Anglicans, what- pains that strain the bonds that hold us together. At the ever their stripe, seems to be the assumption by some same time we are being summoned “into a more fully fellow Christians that Anglicanism is a sort of ecclesi- developed communion life” (§ 2.1.2) and through that deepening relationship, as well astical Frankenstein’s monster that as those we cultivate with our needs to be saved from its own doctriThere is clearly nal incoherence by those of correct and ecumenical partners, into the consistent opinions and beliefs. reunited Church of the future. an Anglican identity, But if Anglicanism is not to be Such criticisms have their counterpart in the seemingly innocuous notion seen as a “bridge church,” what expressed more that Anglicanism is a bridge between role are Anglicans called to Protestants and the ancient churches clearly in the manner play? of the Catholic world. Most of the time In The Church Idea, which and tenor people use “bridge church” as a comserved as a precursor to the pliment, but at least one underlying Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilatof interpretation assumption is pejorative. The Rt. Rev. eral, William Reed Huntington William Weinhauer, the late Bishop of issued the call and in the particular our reasonable for us to “press Western North Carolina, once told me claims to be the a remark he had often heard in ecureconciler of a divided housesources of authority menical dialogues: “Who wants to live hold, not in a spirit of arrounder a bridge?” This phrase neatly gance (which ill befits those than through whose best possessions have captures the problem with “bridge specific doctrines. come to them by inheritance), church” — it is an image of transience but with affectionate earnestand rootlessness. ness and intelligent zeal” Calls for purification often seem to assume Anglicanism to be a sort of framework or shell (Huntington, The Church Idea: An Essay Towards into which various doctrines and beliefs can be added Unity [New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, 1884], 211). The or removed at will. Likewise, the metaphor of the bridge quadrilateral was conceived as a way to extend the risks presenting Anglicanism as a continuum through hand of fellowship to other Christian traditions, and to which people move in one direction or the other until bring unity out of division. It seems appropriate, then, they arrive at their true home. In each case, Anglicanism that the proposed Anglican is presented as an empty husk, lacking essential sub- Covenant would begin with stance or identity. many of the elements of the And yet, while Anglicans may have refrained from quadrilateral — those dealing writing confessions or precisely defining certain doc- with the Holy Scriptures, the trines (settling on a single understanding of the Atone- creeds, dominical sacraments, ment or one explanation of the Eucharist), that does not and the historic episcopate, for mean the tradition lacks substance. Whether one looks example — as a starting point to Jewel’s Apology, Hooker’s Laws, or the works of the to begin mending the fractures Caroline Divines, there is clearly an Anglican identity, in our common life. expressed more clearly in the manner and tenor of We are called, as Anglicans, interpretation and in the particular sources of authority not to be a bridge but rather to than through specific doctrines. Binding it all together, be interpreters for our broth- William Reed Huntington, architect of the quadrilateral. and connecting all of us to this tradition most fully, is ers and sisters of various tradithe worship of The Book of Common Prayer (in its var- tions to one another. In the comprehensiveness we ious iterations) down to today. have traditionally modeled, if not so comfortably (Continued on next page) Changing political circumstances and the very sucdecember 13, 2009 • The Living Church




Reviving the Quadrilateral

(Continued from previous page)

binding qualities of a coherembraced — and governed by, as Archbishop Michael ent Anglican identity — a Ramsey put it, “Scripture, antiquity, and reason” — shared commitment to the Anglicans are capable of comprehending (in the sense basics of the Christian faith, a of embracing internally as well as understanding intel- common recognition of sources lectually and in practice) Christians of diverse theolog- of authority — our comprehenical commitments and sensibilities, from the evangeli- siveness breaks down and cal to the Catholic. This is why, for example, early becomes factionalism. Anglican missionary societies reached out to Lutherans Our role as interpreter between from the Berliner Missionsschule and — sometimes varied traditions and spiritualities is without re-ordination — sent them out to serve in the lost as we lose the ability to understand Middle East and Africa. Such comprehensiveness has one another. When this happens our role as a been sought not to avoid conflict — for as any casual valuable contributor to the ecumenical movement is student of history can attest, such diversity has only called into question because some of our partners no rarely been peaceful — but because we have sought, as longer see us as faithful to our shared Christian inherithe prayer for the commemoration of Richard Hooker tance, and therefore as incapable of speaking to them puts it, “comprehension for the sake of truth” (Lesser in an intelligible way. Feasts and Fasts [New York: Church Publishing, 2003], It is not enough to say that Anglicanism offers a vision 427). This comprehensiveness is one of our claims to of comprehensiveness, for without a clear vision of catholicity (Michael Ramsey, The Anglican Spirit [New what it means to be Anglican, and more important, to York: Seabury Classics, 2004], 13). be Christian, comprehensiveness dissolves into petty We are called to be reconcilers of a divided house, disputes, that weakness of which Bishop Stephen Sykes and we can look around us and see many fruits of this warned when he spoke of “the all-consuming ruthlessvision, whether in our engagement with our brothers ness of the campaigners, for whom politics is all” (S.W. and sisters in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amer- Sykes, “Odi et Amo: Loving and hating Anglicanism,” in ica, the United Methodist Church, or in the newest pro- One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, ed. Marsha L. Dutposal for full communion between the Episcopal ton and Terrell Grey [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], Church and the Moravians. All of these agreements, 207). however complex or imperfect, stem from the great I am hopeful, however, because of our Lord’s promgifts of Anglicanism: theological comprehensiveness ise to be with us in our worship, to be present in the within, and a humble ecclesiology when looking out- sacrament. I am hopeful because of friends, colleagues ward (a refusal to deny that others are the Church), and and parishioners. And I am hopeful because as a Coman overarching commitment to common prayer. Indeed, munion we have the opportunity to maintain the most I have experienced our tradition in such a reconciling important elements of our comprehensiveness while role in my own life as it was Anglicanism that mediated clarifying our identity, if we choose to walk the road the broader Catholic tradition and presented it to me in together. a way that I, a young man from a traditionally Baptist The Ridley Cambridge draft of the Anglican covenant family, could understand and embrace. takes the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as a starting And yet, the voices that call for a clarification of point and fleshes some of the thinking out a bit, but it Anglican identity are not all wrong, and as our brothers also presents some important things that, if affirmed, and sisters they deserve to can help to once again set Anglicanbe heard. One of the great ism on the path of a coherent, By looking outward difficulties we face today credally circumscribed, and scripis a crisis of identity. Our turally committed comprehensiveand refusing to become diversity is in danger of ness. mired in our own conflict, becoming unmoored from The proposed covenant does this the anchors of Scripture, not only in what it says, but also in we can find a way to come antiquity, and reason, and the way it says it. When I read the threatens to permanently covenant, I sense an importance not through this uncertain fragment the Episcopal merely in its specific points but also Church and the Anglican in its process. People rightly crack time and be stronger for it. Communion. Without the jokes about process today. We’ve all

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been in places where we feel two. This provision has inspired resistance in some ourselves being processed quarters of the Episcopal Church, for fear that it might out of existence. Yet one of the play into the perceived schemes of some of our strengths of the covenant is departed brothers and sisters to replace the Episcopal that a group of Anglicans sat Church as the officially recognized Anglican body in the down together and hammered it United States. While I understand the origins of such out and have done so by looking to concerns, I wonder if they are the fruit of a conflict menpoints of common authority and tality that is unhelpful and could lead to an even longer identity. Once it goes to the provinces, period of being internally focused. The key portion of this inspires hope that it will make all of the provision for those who have these concerns would us revisit these sources of identity and seem to be that any body’s acceptance as part of the authority for ourselves if we have not already Communion would come only with the approval of all the Instruments of Communion, not simply one or two. done so. In the end, the inclusion of this provision within the The covenant by itself cannot save Anglicanism — I’m not sure it’s structured in a way that would allow it to covenant prevents it from being a document purely do that — but the process of studying the covenant, internal to the Communion as it is, and instead turns a responding to it, receiving it, and portion of it outward in a recommitting ourselves to one gesture of invitation and another may do so, and it will The covenant by itself welcome. In this sense, it leave the Anglican Communion seems to be both consistent with and an expansion of the stronger. A strengthened Anglican cannot save Anglicanism, original spirit of the quadriCommunion will be confident in but the process of studying lateral as a means of ecuitself while actively working for menical engagement. It only Christian unity through joining the covenant, responding seems appropriate, at such with our brothers and sisters in a contentious time in the life mission and by standing ready to to it, receiving it of our Communion, that we share the understandings born look outward — if only in from our comprehensiveness. and recommitting Two points in the Ridley Camsuch a small way — even as bridge draft seem especially ourselves to one we seek to heal the divisions important in such a task and in within. By looking outward light of a call to be reconcilers and another may do so. and refusing to become interpreters. The first is in § 2.1.5, mired in our own conflict, as which affirms that “our common well as by returning to the mission is a mission shared with other Churches and sources of Anglican Identity in such a time of division, traditions” and recognizes that “the ecumenical voca- we can find a way to come through this uncertain time tion of Anglicanism to the full visible unity of the and be stronger for it. If we can do this, if we can Church in accordance with Christ’s prayer that ‘all may embrace our heritage and if we are able to say, with St. Paul, that we “do it all for the sake of the gospel,” then be one.’ ” TLC we all have reasons to be hopeful. The other is § 4.1.5, which states: It shall be open to other Churches to adopt the Covenant. Adoption of this Covenant does not bring any right of recognition by, or membership of, the Instruments of Communion. Such recognition and membership are dependent on the satisfaction of those conditions set out by each of the Instruments. Leaving open the possibility that other churches might adopt the covenant is, in my mind, a wonderful gesture that seems born from reflection on the ecumenical vocation of Anglicanism mentioned in section
december 13, 2009 • The Living Church

The Rev. Joseph B. Howard is vicar of St. Francis Church, Goodlettsville, Tenn., and blogs at