frgavin on March 22nd, 2011

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that as energy is expended over time, order in the universe inexorably gives way to disorder. The fundamental physical truth behind the cycles of birth and death is that things fall apart, leading ultimately to a static and random state known as entropy.

In the spiritual realm, there is no such necessity. St Paul affirms that ‘Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16), yet entropy irresistibly comes to mind as a metaphor following Dr William’s Lent Letter to the Primates and Moderators of the Anglican Communion.

Here we have carefully crafted verbal camouflage for what is actually one more step in Lambeth Anglicanism’s descent into spiritual and institutional entropy. Despite the claim that the meeting brought an ‘intensified our sense of commitment’ it has removed the main incentive to the ‘very demanding and searching conversation’ the Archbishop commends. It is now clear that just as the Lambeth Conference was degraded in 2008 by avoiding decision making in favour of that spurious listening process now known as ‘Anglican indaba’, so also the Primates Meeting has been downgraded to a discussion group.

Dr Williams explains that ‘The unanimous judgement of those who were present was that the Meeting should not see itself as a ‘supreme court’, with canonical powers, but that it should nevertheless be profoundly and regularly concerned with looking for ways of securing unity and building relationships of trust’. Although no-one previously seems to have used the highly exaggerated analogy of a supreme court, the Lambeth Conference of 1998 did make it clear that this particular ‘instrument of unity’ was to have enhanced responsibility.

According to Resolution III.6

‘This Conference, noting the need to strengthen mutual accountability and interdependence among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion;
a) reaffirms Resolution 18.2(a) of Lambeth 1988 which “urges that encouragement be given to a developing a collegial role for the Primates’ Meeting under the presidency of the ABC, so that the Primates’ Meeting is able to excercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’

This enhanced responsibility was to include ‘guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies’ (clause b) on the understanding that ‘the Primates’ Meeting should carry moral authority calling for ready acceptance throughout the Communion’ (clause c).

If the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin had been operating within this framework it would surely not have passed over in silence the fact that just weeks earlier two senior female clergy of the Episcopal Church were ‘married’ in a ceremony at Boston Cathedral.’

So just as the listening process has been used to degrade Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of 1998 on sexuality and then the 2008 Lambeth Conference itself, now all the Primates’ Meeting is left with is an open-ended commitment to being ‘passionately committed to journeying together in honest conversation’ as their final communiqué put it. Instead of the enhanced responsibility envisaged by the 1998 Lambeth Conference, this is surely a case of diminished responsibility. This form of Anglicanism has the marks of entropy – it is static because its purpose has now turned in on itself, wrapped up in internal dialogue, and it is becoming random because the objective criteria for what would count as ‘success’ in that exercise have been reduced to very soft focus by the abandonment of doctrinal discipline.

Dr Williams’ vision for the Primates’ Meeting is a gloss to cover deepening disorder as becomes quickly evident when certain facts are brought to bear. For instance, he claims that the Communion is united when ‘confronted by attacks on the gospel and its witnesses’. Faced with the suffering of Christians in parts of Asia and the Middle East inflicted by hostile governments and militant Islam we would expect nothing less. But perhaps the most spiritually devastating attacks on the gospel are those which come from within the institutional church, as TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have demonstrated in their characteristically ruthless pursuit of the orthodox through the courts.

So when the Archbishop observes that ‘it is also important to recognise that the Primates made no change to their existing commitments to both the Covenant process and the moratoria requests’ he says more than he means to say. TEC, for instance, has indeed made no change to its policy – it continues to ignore the Windsor moratoria requests regarding consecration of clergy in same sex unions as bishops and the blessing of such unions, and it persecutes the faithful. Yet we are expected to believe that this Church should meanwhile continue to be fully part of the conversational ‘journey’.

So having abandoned any serious attempt at unity in the faith, Lambeth Anglicanism is now trying to refocus itself around meeting humanitarian need and in his letter Dr Williams’ claims enthusiastic support ‘through the entire Communion’ for the recently launched Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy. However, the enthusiasm of orthodox Anglicans for this initiative should be tempered not only by the way it is acting as a substitute for the gospel, but also by the major source of its funding.

A recent item in Episcopal News about a speech in New York by Sally Keeble, the Director of the Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy is very instructive: ‘…it’s going to be bureaucracy light,” she said, with a very small staff in London and regional facilitators in the southern regions of the communion who will have “a very direct relationship” with existing agencies such as Episcopal Relief & Development.’ Bearing in mind that a number of orthodox African provinces have taken a costly and principled decision not to take finds from Episcopal Relief & Development as a ministry of TEC, the attempt to set up ‘very direct’ relationships with the Global South is a thinly disguised attempt to hold the Lambeth based Communion together through grants rather than gospel.

One way to express the power of the resurrection is to say that it gloriously breaches the second law of thermodynamics. Our hope of a new heaven and a new earth is grounded in Christ’s physical resurrection as a reversal of entropy – and that power of the resurrection is at work in the Church now, not through resourceful words or the control of money, but through faithfulness to God’s Word and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

Charles Raven

17 March 2011

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