Monday, April 14, 2008

Speak in a Language Understood of the People

The following remarks were given at a conference on the Anglican Covenant held at General Theological Seminary (10 to 12 April 2008)

Vernacular Particularlity versus Global Universalism:

A Pivotal Issue for the Anglican Covenant

The Rev’d Dr Richard Geoffrey Leggett

Vancouver School of Theology

Let me begin my comments by making my status clear. Although I am a member of the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and a member of the Joint Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, I am not empowered to speak for either today. Nor do I speak for Vancouver School of Theology.

I speak as an Anglican liturgist who has been privileged to serve nationally and internationally. I speak as a liturgist who has worked with aboriginal people in Canada and the United States for more than twenty years as they wrestle with the relationship between local culture and the received Anglican tradition. This experience has caused me to question the necessity for a covenant other than the Quadrilateral, an approach which bore fruit in our full communion agreement with the ELCIC, and the Anglican commitment to what can be called the vernacular.

The St Andrew’s Draft of a proposed Anglican covenant needs to be seen in the context of the on-going search within the Anglican Communion to identify where authority is located and, more importantly, how authority is exercised. This debate first raised its head over such issues as artificial contraception and the remarriage of divorced persons but reached a fever pitch with the ordination of women in certain provinces of the Anglican Communion in the second half of the twentieth century.

In 1997 the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission released the so-called ‘Virginia Report’ on authority. The Report recommended strengthening what it termed the instruments of unity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. A number of responses were made to this Report, most expressing profound concern at its centralizing tendencies. I wish to note that two of the more critical reports came from the Anglican faculty of Vancouver School of Theology and from the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.

I do not need to rehearse for this audience the history of the events concerning the present controversy regarding the full inclusion of gay and lesbian disciples of Jesus Christ in the life of the Anglican Communion. Suffice it to say that the controversy gave rise to the Windsor Report of October 2004. The Windsor Report resurrected the spirit, if not the flesh, of the Virginia Report, recommending the strengthening of the roles and authority of the familiar Virginia quartet of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. Two more radical suggestions were made: (i) the creation of a council of advice regarding arrangements for shared episcopal ministry and (ii) the admonitions that, in the election of bishops and the selection of representatives to international Anglican bodies, consideration be given as to whether the bishop elected and/or the person appointed will be acceptable to ‘others’ in the Communion. Once again, the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee expressed its profound reservations with the proposals of the Windsor Report.

Let me continue my comments on the covenant process with some observations by David Bosch, the late South African theologian of mission. At the end of his chapter on ‘New Testament Models of Mission’ Bosch has a section entitled, ‘Where the Early Church failed’. He gives three examples.

First, the early Christian community stopped understanding itself as leaven and began to understand itself as the loaf.

Those who followed [Jesus] were given no name to distinguish them from other groups, no creed of their own, no rite which revealed their distinctive group character, no geographical center from which they would operate. . . . The community around Jesus was to function as a kind of pars pro toto, a community for the sake of others, a model for others to emulate and be challenged by.[1]

In the course of time the Jesus community simply became a new religion, Christianity, a new principle of division among humankind.[2]

Second, the early Christian community ceased being a movement and became an institution.[3] Bosch describes movements as (a) progressive; (b) active, influencing rather than being influenced; (c) future-oriented; (d) willing to take risks and (e) willing to cross boundaries. On the other hand, Bosch describes institutions as (a) conservative; (b) more or less passive, yielding to influences from outside; (c) past-oriented; (d) anxious and (e) guarding boundaries.

Third, the early Christian community ceased to be a community of communities and became subject to Gentile hegemony.[4] The original Christian movement was thoroughly Jewish in its perspective and its mission. It faced the challenge of the Gentile mission and envisioned a community of communities, Jewish and Gentile, that could witness to the good news of God in Jesus Christ. However, the vision of a community of communities failed and was replaced by a Gentile hegemony that eventually resulted in the anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish bias of much of Christian history.

I suggest that the proposals for ‘unity’ outlined in the St Andrew’s Draft Text, mooted earlier in the Virginia and Windsor Reports, represent a similar failure of mission on the part of the Anglican Communion.

Is the Anglican Communion moving from being ‘leaven’ in the body of the church catholic or a new religion?

Archbishop Michael Ramsey once described the vocation of the Anglican Communion as one of ‘disappearing’. He spoke of the Communion as a community within the church catholic that shared a common story. He insisted, however, that its purpose was not to be a ‘church’, i.e., an ecclesial community with competing claims over and against other ecclesial communities.

One of the risks of the St Andrew’s Draft Text and the covenant process is the creation of a centripetal force that will change the roles of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council from their present roles as nexuses, places where paths come together, into centres from which paths lead out. When that happens, the Communion ceases to be a communion and becomes a church.

Is the Anglican Communion a movement within the church catholic or an institution?

Following on my observations above, the present climate in the Anglican Communion seems to be encouraging a shift from being a movement within the church catholic into an institution. To those of us with a love-hate relationship with the Anglican Communion, it may surprise us to suggest that we are not yet truly an institution, but I do believe that there is a significant shift in view that is occurring among us. If we look carefully at the proposed covenant and at recent actions of at least one instrument of communion, the Primates’ Meeting, what appears is an environment that is (a) conservative; (b) more or less passive, yielding to influences from outside; (c) past-oriented; (d) anxious and (e) keen to guard boundaries.

Is the Anglican Communion a community of communities or a like-minded community dominated by one theological culture?

In my teaching I have frequently described Anglicanism as a Christian movement committed to ‘national catholicism’. Our ‘catholicism’ is expressed in the four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral:

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith;

The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith;

The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself --- Baptism and the Supper of the Lord --- ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him;

The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.[5]

Here I would focus on the fourth point of the Quadrilateral, especially the phrase, “. . . locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.”

Our ‘national’ character finds expression in our commitment to inculturate the gospel in the places where God has put us for mission. Another way of expressing this ‘national’ or ‘inculturated’ character is to use the concept of the vernacular. This commitment to the vernacular can be found in the foundations of the Church of England. In the final paragraph of the statement ‘Of Ceremonies, Why Some be Abolished and Some Retayned’ printed in the first Edwardian prayer book, we read the following:

And in these all our dooynges wee condemne no other nacions, nor prescribe anye thing, but to oure owne people onelye. For we thinke it conueniente that euery countreye should use such ceremonies, as thei shal thynke beste to the setting foorth of goddess honor, and glorye: and to the reducyng of the people to a moste perfecte and Godly liuing, without errour or supersticion: and that they shoulde putte awaye other thynges, which from time to time they perceiue to be most abused, as in mennes ordinaunces it often chaƫceth diuerselye in diuerse countreyes.[6]

In Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Richard Hooker, the foundational Anglican theologian, responds to the argument that Scripture is the sole source of wisdom with an affirmation of how God’s wisdom pervades all of creation.

Whatsoever either men on earth, or the Angels of Heaven do know, it is as a drop of that unemptiable fountaine of wisdom, which wisdom hath diversely imparted her treasures unto the world. As her waies are of sundry kinds, so her maner of teaching is not merely one and the same. Some things she openeth by the sacred bookes of Scripture; some things by the glorious works of nature: with some things she inspireth them from above by spirituall influence, in some thinges she leadeth and trayneth them onely by worldly experience and practise. We may not so in any one special kind admire her that we disgrace her in any other, but let all her wayes be according unto their place and degree adored.[7]

In recent years the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation has considered what unites Anglicans in worship as well as what celebrates the distinctive cultures in which we live and serve. This point of view is perhaps most clearly articulated in the statement and essays associated with the meeting of the Consultation in York in 1989.

Thus we believe that [Resolutions 18, 22 and 45 of the Lambeth Conference 1988] (and the relevant parts of the Lambeth ‘Mission and Ministry’ section report [paras 180-186]) call in question attempts to identify Anglicanism, whether locally or worldwide, through any common liturgical texts, ethos or style. We believe the ‘essential Anglican norms’ of Lambeth Resolution 47 are largely those contained within the Lambeth Quadrilateral and described within Lambeth Resolution 18 --- i.e. the Bible, creeds, sacraments of the gospel, and episcopal ordination. We believe that use of vernacular language to be foundational to inculturation, and within that value highly the ‘traditional liturgical materials’ to which Resolution 47 also refers. Our common liturgical heritage in items such as the Lord’s Prayer promotes common prayer, sustains a dialogue with the scriptures, and conserves an element of the universal amid the particular of inculturated worship.[8]

Inculturation is the ‘vernacularization’ of the language of the Christian gospel and the specific traditions which may have been the missionary agents of first contact.

Inculturation must . . . affect the whole ethos of corporate worship, not only the texts but also, for example, the use of buildings, furnishings, art, music and ceremonial. From one aspect it means cultural decolonialization of worship, from another it requires recognition of the special needs of an ethnic or other minority, which may be culturally distinct from the prevailing ethos of the Province. True inculturation implies a willingness in worship to listen to culture, to incorporate what is good and to challenge what is alien to the truth of God. It has to make contact with the deep feelings of people. It can only be achieved through an openness to innovation and experimentation, an encouragement of local creativity, and a readiness to reflect critically at each stage of the process --- a process which in principle is never ending. The liturgy, rightly constructed, forms the people of God, enabling and equipping them for their mission of evangelism and social justice in their culture and society.[9]

It is this vernacular quality of the Anglican tradition which is potentially at risk in the covenant process. It is this openness to innovation and experimentation which is potentially at risk in the covenant process. It is the attentiveness to the special needs of a given minority within a Province which is potentially at risk in the covenant process. This vernacular quality is not maintained by statute but by the patient process of reception and communion within diversity.

If Anglicanism is to survive as a communion --- that is, in maintaining actual communion among its very diverse members across the world --- it will do so only by acknowledging the centrality of its spiritual tradition. . . . In so far as we decline to do so, we shall probably try to substitute, at the heart of Anglicanism, the kind of doctrinal and disciplinary rigidity that we have both rejected and coveted in the Reformed and Roman traditions. If we do so, we will tear Anglicanism, both as a community and as tradition, into increasingly small pieces.[10]

Our unique vocation as a Communion that claims both its catholic and reformed heritage may lie in our willingness to reject centripetal proposals in favour of those that focus on remaining at the Table and listening to one another as we journey through the difficult process of vernacularization.

No one in the Anglican Communion really knows what the practical implications of our communion with one another may yet be in terms of working out what each national church does and how it hears the gospel. For example, the Episcopal Church in the United States now ordains women to the priesthood and episcopate, while some churches in Africa reject such ordinations. Similarly, Episcopalians deplore polygamy while African bishops debate the possibility of permitting it within the church. If such disparate churches are willing to remain in communion, that in itself is an expression of the Incarnation. We Anglicans who are in communion with one another are having to ask how the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be incarnate in a particular time and place, and to a particular people and community. How do we enjoy continuity in our shared tradition of belief while still making room as new political and cultural situations arise?[11]

Despite the differences that are straining the bonds of affection and communion within our Communion, I am convinced that these bonds will not be strengthened by constitutional institutions but rather by a renewed commitment to a unity within diversity that is courageous enough to weather patiently the process of the vernacularization of the Christian gospel. Thank you.

[1] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series, no. 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991, 2002), 50.

[2] Bosch 2002, 50.

[3] Bosch 2002, 50-51.

[4] Bosch 2002, 51-52.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer (USA 1979), 877-878.

[6] The First and Second Prayer Books of Edward VI, Everyman’s Library, no. 448 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1910; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1910), 288.

[7] Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity II.1.

[8] David R. Holeton, ed., Liturgical Inculturation in the Anglican Communion including the York Statement ‘Down to Earth Worship’¸ Alcuin/GROW Liturgical Study, no. 15 (Bramcote, UK: Grove Books Limited, 1990), 12.

[9] Holeton 1990, 9-10.

[10] William Countryman, The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999), 190; as quoted Patricia Bays, Anglican Diversity: Challenges for the 21st Century (Toronto, ON: The Anglican Book Centre, 2001), 116.

[11] James Griffiss, The Anglican Vision, The New Church’s Teaching Series, no. 1 (Toronto, ON: The Anglican Book Centre, 1997), 65.