Bishop John Rodgers: The March Communique of the HoB: Some surprising, wider implications

Current Affairs / General Convention

John Rodgers, formerly the Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge PA, is a bishop in the Anglican Church of Ruwanda. He and Chuck Murphy were the first two AMIA bishops consecrated for the United States.

Bishop Rodgers, and his colleague Prof. Steven Noll have always seemed to me to be the “brain trust” of the Sub-Saharan Anglican Provinces. (Prof. Noll is serving as Chancellor of a University in Uganda, though I knew him when he was teaching at TESM at the same time that Rodgers was there.

Whenever one of them takes the time to write an article which is then carried on VirtueOnline, you can be sure that it’s intended audience is the AMIA and CANA leadership both here in the States and abroad.

So I was very interested to read the following:

“I believe that the House of Bishops is reading the situation correctly; a change in the Anglican Communion is coming about. We are, after all, a very young thing as an Anglican Communion, and are still taking shape. It is a needed change.

The Anglican Communion must have some way to declare its core theological beliefs and how it reads the Holy Scripture. It must also have some way to discipline Provinces and Churches that defy the Communion’s declared teaching and practice. Both the proposal for an Anglican Communion Covenant by the Windsor Report along with the new Draft Covenant and the request of the Primates Communique are expressions of this need and attempts to meet the need.

Now I would like to raise a very serious problem and make a clear suggestion.

First I want to state the problem.

The Covenant being written at the request of the Windsor Report should be deep-sixed! Why? Because, it can’t work. There is no way that revisionists and orthodox Anglicans can jointly write and approve an Anglican Covenant that will do what such a covenant must do i.e. clearly state the core beliefs of Anglicans and provide for the discipline of Provinces and Churches that violate the core beliefs [my emphasis].

To ask such a committee to do that is like asking Congress to discipline itself. What committee so comprised will state anything that ½ of its members couldn’t agree to? The result with be a Covenant full of vagueness at the doctrinal heart, while providing processes for discussion, tons of discussion, until we are blue in the face and until the errors being discussed have taken over the Communion.

It is a recipe for disaster. Nor will any instrument designed to discipline Provinces and Churches be included. In fact I have recently read a view of the Covenant that explicitly rejects the place of discipline in the role of the Covenant.

And that was written by a member of the drafting committee. If we spend our energy trying to make this work we will go on forever and lose while discussing, or more likely, out of sheer exhaustion, be co-opted into agreeing to something not worth signing. Please reread the proposed Covenant looking for doctrinal commitment, for binding authority, and the possibility of discipline? I haven’t found them.

Now the answer, here is a far more excellent way! We already have an Anglican Communion Covenant. It consists of the Anglican Formularies: the Holy Scriptures, the 3 Catholic Creeds, The 39 Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal. You can’t beat them.”

From what I can intuit, this sort of desire for clear boundaries and a solid, normative confessional statement is a key piece that helps to understand both the desire in this part of the Church for a covenant, and their desire that voices calling to keep the Elizabethan Settlement as settled “law” in the Communion be expelled.

The very idea that there be a “declared teaching in the Communion” to which we must conform rather than there being an agreed upon structure and form for prayer and polity is a example of how I believe we witnessing a change in Anglicanism that I can not accept.

Read the rest here: VirtueOnline – News – As Eye See It – The March Communique of the House of Bishops:Some surprising, wider implications

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I am always fascinated to learn just how far back the clocks must be turned in order to locate the doctrinal purity any particular group may wish to affirm. Of course, this is most often accompanied by a refusal to admit that all our notions of purity are culturally and contextually determined.
    I’m with you. I can’t go there.
    I am curious to know what they might do with those Provinces that hold the 1662 BCP to be neither authoritative nor foundational.

  2. William Paul says

    Although I am not sure about the 1662 BCP, I will comment on the comment that “The very idea that there be a “declared teaching in the Communion” to which we must conform rather than there being an agreed upon structure and form for prayer and polityis a example of how I believe we witnessing a change in Anglicanism that I can not accept.”
    The absolute disjunction, Mr Knisely, you would agree has to break down at some point between common prayer and common understanding, right? They cannot be kept separate forever, can they? Surely there has to be some relationship between our understanding of the Christian faith, what we teach and what we pray. How, otherwise, would we know what to pray for? Plus, look at some of the proposed liturgies over the last, say, two decades, and the obvious present and upcoming liturgies for SSB’s. Do we just wait for them to get 51% approval and then-Presto!-as authorized prayers of the church they then are what we believe? I am all for a nuanced and mutually reinforcing account of lex orandi, lex credendi, but surely in the current troubles it seems very clear to many of us that we’ve reached a point where there has to be a basis for our common, concerted efforts in living out what we take to tbe the Christian Life.
    I won’t waste time discussing the underlying, widely-held view (sadly and erroneously held, I think) that we are a non-confessional church. (The Integrity of Anglicanism is probably the best book here by one of the editors of The Study of Anglicanism) I will just say here that it makes great sense to labor for common understanding and to state it, especially when what is labored for in the case of the groups Rodgers leads and aims for, is surely part of the faith once delivered. It speaks volumes, I think, when people cannot even affirm the ‘merest’ version of Christianity. And one of the great ironies then becomes we have a BCP which has such ‘New Testament or apostolic density’ which we as a denomination then–apart from the time in which we recite our liturgies– almost resolutely, fail to affirm. Whassup with that?
    Also, I’ve often wondered if Pentexost, the gift of the Spirit, really did come with the Elizabethean Settlement.:)

  3. William – you ask:

    The absolute disjunction, Mr Knisely, you would agree has to break down at some point between common prayer and common understanding, right? They cannot be kept separate forever, can they?

    Why? As long as we can say the same words, no matter how we understand them, we can pray together. That is to me the core of the Elizabethan Settlement. It’s a fudge that lets people with radically different views continue to worship together in the same church. That’s the form of pragmatic Anglicanism that I’ve learned to value.
    Can you explain why it is so important that we have a common belief? Are we saved by the “right faith”?

  4. William_Paul says

    “As long as we can say the same words, no matter how we understand them, we can pray together.” Astonishing sentence. Incautious and philosophically untutored at best . . .no matter how we understand them? Whew. I will let these words speak for themselves, as well as the admission of “fudge” below them. I wonder how you distinguish pragmatism from compromise, willful wooliness, anti-intellectualism, and from a non-congnitivst understanding of the faith, esp in these times. I wonder how you teach the faith.
    We are saved by God, to answer your question. And it is no good, by you, to be (ahem) reductionist here. We are commissioned to teach the faith once delivered, to give our best efforts toward elaborating and living out the fullness of the faith, and to conform all of our live to Christ. We are commissioned to trust God’s self-revelation in Christ, to plumb its depths and have confidence in it. To act as if ‘right doctrine’ and ‘right praxis’ are not fundamentally important because God initiates salvation is (your word) reductionist and (my word) baleful. It is especially lamentable when those entrusted with the teaching office of our Church (and think about how rarely that is affirmed and given high profile as an office of our priests and bishops) take this route. I would even go so far as to say the less and less that is affirmed and taught along the lines that Rodgers proposes, the more and more a weirdness is created in ECUSA congregations, people mouthing archaic words that they aren’t given the chance to understand and affirm.
    A previous post also skirts the issue, or better, miscasts it, when it tries to say the conservatives in the AC are after “doctrinal purity”, intimating that we are something like hyper-Calvinists. Again, what is often proposed by Rodgers is such basic, basic stuff, the “merest” of Christianity. For my money, if a priest could not affirm what Rodgers wants affirmed, even if the priest had to explain his understanding in relation to pertinent issues or other doctrines of the faith, I would think he needs work, and a lot of it, before he becomes ordained.

  5. Fr. Nick,
    You’ve hit the nail on the head or rather discovered the nail as the case may be, but this is the change I’ve been haranguing about for over a year (and hence, my fears of centralization no matter who is proposing such), well longer actually, since I began my blog. It’s a shift that is reading matters as authoritative after the fact in terms of making advisory documents rather canon law or theologically binding (without reception I might add but rather imposition itself a violation of what we have until now understood as our governance as Churches in Communion) and is ahistorical in such matters. You cannot gather and then decide later what was decided at the gathering is law when those gathering did not know this was the case. That is a form of legal arbitrariness that St. Paul would chastize us for not understanding law and worse that we’ve made law into something so arbitrary. Worse, you cannot say parts decided at such a gathering are now law, but other components are not, this is malicious, plain and simple. Galatians speaks to all or nothing on such matters.
    We have not been bound to 1662 since 1789 and Scotland has had their own book since the 16th century (which we inherited in part). It is ahistorical to suggest these are founding for Anglicanism as a whole. For whom? When? Where? What we are witnessing is the development of one meta-narrative for an emerging form of Anglicanism that is in sharp contrast to former meta-narratives, and it would be who of we who find common prayer to be our ground to be clear of what we offer in contrast as our founding (and hopefully are honest to acknowledge the mess even if the other narrative being put forth refuses to recognize the mess of the history behind 39 Articles, 1662 BCP and Ordinal). A broken-open narrative keeps humility alive and a sense of eschatological judgment clearly set before us.
    This new form is not unAnglican, but a form of Anglicanism that puts an end to the form that has allowed for our diversity with minimal dogmatic requirements, minimal, but those that must be professed (our Creeds emphases on Incarnation and Trinity) a la William Reed Huntington. Hence, my broadchurch catholicism or what Derek has been calling himself: Prayerbook Catholic. Under this new schema, there is no place for me, and I would have to go elsewhere, as I cannot give assent muchless praise of God to Lambeth 1.10 in the same portion I can to the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed. The same goes for this suggestion that the 39 Articles, 1662 BCP, and Ordinal are founding. I can’t do it. I respect the history of each, but I also know Sarum, Hereford, Durham, 1549, 1552, 1559, and so much more that contravenes such asssertions.
    Our understanding of common prayer is hit upon in our Scripture “contains all things necessary for salvation” and our Creeds are “sufficient statement of faith”. The salvation spoken of is God’s work for us through Christ Jesus now present to us in the Holy Spirit especially as we convoked by that same Spirit into Eucharist. Scripture is not a rulebook, but a record of God’s might deeds for our salvation; ethics or our response to those mighty deeds has always been a matter up for much disagreement and room for differences of opinion from contraception to warfare, muchless that we’ve disagreed on far more central matters on the “how” God’s mighty deeds are present to us in Baptism and Eucharist. The Creeds set forth what those deeds are who are saving, or we might say our Creeds are theologia in the sense of early Proper Prefaces that the angels sing out their and we join in their theologia (later doxologies) in the Sanctus. When we say or sing out the Creed we are naming in praise the work God has done for us that is our salvation, a long standing tradition in Judaism and Christianity of responding to God’s work for us by naming that work in praise and thanksgiving.
    At core, our common prayer is God’s work for us (leitourgia) and our response and the key faith is there contained in thanks and praise: Incarnation, Trinity. Faith in this sense is about trust in God’s work for us now present in Eucharist, not simply propositional or factual belief. Much else can be debated, but it seems to me that this minimal dogma in which much room for the “hows” and specificities is left open is what is at the heart of the Elizabethan settlement once we get past the real acknowledgement that this settlement was held together at the tip of a sword.
    I know I’m not saying anything new, but I grow weary of being accused of being apostate or faithless, when I’m a creedal Christian who puts God’s work for us at the center rather than oru various responses to that work because God Saves–Jesus!–not my works, responses (ethics) whether others deem such sinful or graced (I prefer being more and more a realist that such are always a mix in our earthly pilgrimage).

  6. William Paul says

    “I know I’m not saying anything new . . .” Truly. What astonishes is the prevalence of the metaphysical certainty–affirmation of the creed and Incarnation (any room for a robust view of atonement?)–with the almost studied avoidance of Jesus’ teaching. (What contributor to the Creed could every say ” I cannot give assent muchless praise of God to Lambeth 1.10 in the same portion I can to the Nicaean-Constantinopolitan Creed.”)
    It’s usually the Baptists who argue about the validity of accepting Jesus as Savior over-against the further need of accepting him as Lord (the discussion never enjoined me to it), but in an odd way we are the denomination which proclaims the mighty acts you refer to in the Scriptures and the BCP, but we ignore Jesus’ teaching about marriage as the place for sexual relations. We like the liturgical Savior of Mighty Acts, but don’t give much room for the language of Lordship, or for His teaching. Further, surely the Creeds are meant to focus and be (in the trendy word now) the ‘lens’ or hermeneutic to the Scriptures, that contain all things necessary for salvation, so that we can live out the “fullnesss” of the Christian faith. Again, one comes away from such postings, at least I do, shaking one’s head at the ease with which the shape of our life is ignored and at the kind of sole focus on Eucharist and Baptism as almost the sume total of the Christian life, and then both understood as effective presence, but desperately close to being shorn of any content. It’s really hard to believe that we aren’t Catholic-lite. We have the resources to avoid that caricature but I am afraid that the low-profile we give to the teaching office of the church, discipleship, to the centrality of conformity to Christ,to confidence in the NT as a basis for shaping the Christian life, all give cause for alarm. The above post, in this vein, gives something away when it speaks of ‘minimal doctrinal requirement‘! As if, we should think, that understanding is a bad thing. I say turn you bicycles around! Take a step into a vibrant affirmation of doctrine and learn to think about the gospel afresh and avoid the many, many reductive views of the Christian Life and faith that impoverish ECUSA.

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