The Anglican Primates
met in February 2009 in Alexandria.
The Primates Meeting Communique can be seen here.
Comment on the Primates Meeting
Another meeting of Anglican Primates has come and gone, nothing of substance has been done or decided. The problem the Communion faces is not with one or two individuals such as Gene Robinson who unfairly has become the focus of our problems, but rather with false teaching. Those who teach that sexual immorality is acceptable are leading people to destruction. But this is true of more than one or two of the Anglican Primates there are several Primates, including Rowan Williams who appear to hold to such false teaching. Turkeys are not going to vote for Christmas. There are a number of Primates who have taken a lead including those associated with last year’s GAFCON gathering. Yet even they have seemed unwilling publicly to admit that the problem stretches to more than just one or two of their fellow Primates. But they are probably influenced in this by the fact that they are a minority and there are many more who whilst being genuinely outraged by what has happened in the US and Canada, seem temperamentally incapable of taking action. In the Anglican Way part of the task of Bishops is “to drive out strange and erroneous teaching” (Book of Common Prayer Ordinal) yet in much of what passes as Anglicanism today this part of their role is sadly neglected.
There was a brief time when combined outrage might have translated into action but Rowan Williams headed this off and now it seems that the body of Primates as a whole will not do anything.
However, this may be for the best, because the danger in the Primates taking action is that people may forget what the Anglican Communion is and try to make it into something it is not. We are not like the Roman Catholics and nor do we wish to be so. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship of national and provincial churches and though there is honour and respect shown to the four instruments of Communion (Note 1) no international body exercises judicial authority over any of the constituent parts. This means that action against error in any one province should be taken by other provinces, ideally in a concerted way, but if necessary individually.
In a Churchman article of 2003 Roger Beckwith considered the Limits of Anglican Diversity and drew attention to a report on the nature of the Communion adopted by the 1930 Lambeth Conference (Resolution 48). This report rightly likens Anglicanism to the various ancient Orthodox Churches . After exploring the ecclesiology of the report Beckwith draws attention to important paragraph 8:
This freedom naturally and necessarily carries with it the risk of divergence to the point even of disruption. In case any such risk should actually arise, it is clear that the Lambeth Conference as such could not take any disciplinary action. Formal action would belong to the several Churches of the Anglican Communion individually; but the advice of the Lambeth Conference, sought before action is taken by the constituent Churches, would carry very great moral weight. And we believe in the Holy Spirit. We trust in His power working in every part of His Church as the effective bond to hold us together.
The Lambeth Conference is dysfunctional and the Primates Meeting appears to be impotent. But in the Anglican Way action must be taken by individual provinces. Praise God that this is what we have seen happening in recent years. Several provinces broke fellowship with the US and Canadian provinces, they have set up networks to consult and work together in upholding Biblical teaching, and they are offering help, encouragement and fellowship to those in North America who have felt it necessary to stand against error and take action. This is what Church Society urged on the Primates as a whole several years ago, and it is good to see individual provinces taking such action. This is how the Communion is supposed to work. It may be that the Lambeth Conference, Primates Meetings and so on are now part of an old order that is passing away.
David Phillips, General Secretary, Church Society