The Ven. Dr. John Davis, Archdeacon in Wangaratta (although not listed on their website’s “leadership” page) has penned an initial response to the letters of Bishop Condie and Archbishop Davies.

Davis’ response, which can be found on his public Facebook page (full text below), takes issue with the bishops’ decision on a number of points. His thesis rests heavily on what one might describe as “institutional” matters, preferring to deal with matters of canonical adherence rather than directly contending with the central scriptural argument set forward by the bishops of Sydney and Tasmania. Most notably he refers to “the synodical process of one of the autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion”. The argument being made, while implicit, is clear. Since the Scottish Episcopal Church’s process was synodical it somehow has validity and the province itself is “autonomous”, i.e. can do what they want. It’s a different view of communion to that which others might hold. For Davis this decision by the SEC is not in breach of the “fundamentals” laid out in our own (Australian Anglican) constitution which he lists as

  • the Creeds,
  • the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,
  • obeying, teaching, following and upholding Christ in the two dominical sacraments and the three fold order of ministry.

He then goes on to suggest,

The rest is not held to be ‘fundamental’, though even a Ruling Principle.
This raises the question as to whether a revised marriage canon or other matters of provincial discipline constitute sufficient and reasonable cause for a breach of communion or the legitimate setting up of parallel ecclesial jurisdictions.

Thus a distinction is drawn between a revision in marriage canons and adherence to the Scriptures and, in particular, the teaching of Jesus. Contrast to Archbishop Davies’ full argument in his letter (my emphasis).

As you will all know, I consider such an action to be a travesty of of the rule of Christ, of the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer, and therefore an abandonment of the principles of Anglican Doctrine to which we have committed ourselves in the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of Sections 1-6 of the Constitution. I consider that such a departure from the teaching of Scripture, ‘the ultimate rule and standard of faith’, casts doubt upon the nature of our communion with the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Archdeacon Davis’ argument, by contrast, reduces the question of marriage from one of the teaching of Scripture (and no least from the words of Jesus) to one of canon law and thus disputable. What he is effectively saying by taking Davies and Condie to task is that the oft-reaffirmed position of the Anglican Church of Australia on marriage (i.e. that it is between and man and a woman)  is not a fundamental matter since it is not something set out clearly in the Scriptures. By implication (and inference from his open letter) it is therefore a matter open for each “autonomous” province to make up their own mind by synodical process.

At the conclusion of his piece he presents a complementary argument,

The Archbishop uses strong words of condemnation – ‘travesty…abandonment…departure….’ to justify his action. Similar sentiments have long been expressed by fellow Australian Anglicans regarding the Diocese of Sydney’s development of doctrine for the lay ‘administration’ of holy communion, unimpeded by any enabling canon.

I’m sure that Archbishop Davies can speak for himself on this matter but davidould.net would make 2 observations:

  1. The Synod of the Diocese of Sydney has never legislated for lay administration, not least out of a concern not to cause an unnecessary breach in relationships despite being itself generally (but not universally) convinced on the matter.
  2. There is nevertheless no Scriptural impediment to such a move (and therefore no breach of the “fundamentals”). Ironically, lay administration (which Davis objects to while not even enacted) does not fall foul of the his own “fundamentals only” rule whereas a change in the doctrine of marriage (that he nowhere protests) clearly does.

It does seem for some in the Anglican Church it’s a case of canons over and above the Scriptures. But even then they can’t apply the principle consistently or even, dare we say it, accurately.

The full text of Archdeacon Davis’ response follows:

The Anglican Church of Australia and the consecration of an ACNA missionary bishop to Europe ‘for those who have left’.
An initial response.

On Monday June 26th 2017, the Archbishop of Sydney and the Bishop of Tasmania informed Australian Anglican bishops that it was their intention to participate in the consecration of Canon Andy Lines as a bishop by the Anglican Church in North America . This was scheduled four days later on June 30th, at the Wheaton Illinois annual conference of ACNA. While potential disagreement or disapproval -actual in the case of the Primate – was noted, there was no apology or regret. There was the expressed hope that this participation would ‘cause no stumbling block to our fellowship’.

For a start, it is clear that this ‘act of solidarity’ strengthening the ties with the GAFCON-related ACNA is of more significance to Archbishop Davies and Bishop Condie than the collegial, constitutional or historic connections with their fellow Anglican bishops in the Anglican Church of Australia.

Anticipating criticism of ‘border crossing’ the Archbishop addresses the issue of the ecclesial status of ACNA. Is it or is it not Anglican? ‘Since the Anglican Consultative Council has not declared ACNA to be part of the Anglican Communion…’ there can be no difficulty. Just another denomination.

Somewhat problematically the official ACNA website states

“The Anglican Church in North America unites 112,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States, Canada, and Mexico into a single Church. On April 16, 2009 it was recognised as a province of the global Anglican Communion, by the Primates of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.”
No issues with the Anglican Consultative Council or the Archbishop of Canterbury there.

Specific reference is made to the synodical process of one of the autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion, the Scottish Episcopal Church, regarding their Marriage Canon, allowing for marriage equality. The ACNA news conference in Edinburgh announcing the intention to proceed with the consecration occurred on the same day, June 8th 2017, as that final Scottish synod vote. Archbishop Foley of ACNA declared then that the decision to extend ACNA to the UK and Europe was made ‘upon the request of Anglican Christians in Britain.’ Perhaps there are yet other requests awaiting response.

A ‘disparity of communion’ is declared not only with the Scottish Episcopal Church, but also expected with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Our own particular constitutional structures are referenced, raising the requirement in section 6 that communion with the Church elsewhere be dependent on agreement on fundamentals.

The Fundamental Declarations (ss1-3) in our constitution cover

the Creeds,
the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,
obeying, teaching, following and upholding Christ in the two dominical sacraments and the three fold order of ministry.

The rest is not held to be ‘fundamental’, though even a Ruling Principle.
This raises the question as to whether a revised marriage canon or other matters of provincial discipline constitute sufficient and reasonable cause for a breach of communion or the legitimate setting up of parallel ecclesial jurisdictions.

Reference is also made to the February 1984 consecration in St Andrew’s Cathedral Sydney of Dudley Foord for the Church of England in South Africa – a church not part of the Anglican Communion. Though not without controversy, Archbishop Robinson consulted widely. He indicated that he would proceed only with the approval of the Primate and ‘a good number’ of bishops. In the event, the Primate was a co-consecrator, as was a bishop from the Church of the Province of South Africa and a majority of the Australian bishops were in favour. It was argued at the time that this action could work towards a healing of the existing schism. A lot of prior careful work had been done. The contrast with the present situation could scarcely be more striking.

There is careful reference to the Scottish Episcopal Church changing canon law in the immediate current situation. The Archbishop uses strong words of condemnation – ‘travesty…abandonment…departure….’ to justify his action. Similar sentiments have long been expressed by fellow Australian Anglicans regarding the Diocese of Sydney’s development of doctrine for the lay ‘administration’ of holy communion, unimpeded by any enabling canon.

A new stage in the relationships between Anglicans in Australia is emerging. No doubt there is more to come .

Ven Dr John Davis
Wangaratta.

28th June, 2017.