Anglican Church League Council issues statement rebutting arguments of the Australian Primate against Australian participation in the Lines consecration
Extract from a 5 July 2017 statement published by the ACL in response to Archbishop Philip Freier’s letter admonishing the Archbishop of Sydney and Bishops of Tasmania and Northwest Australia for having assisted in the consecration of Bishop Andy Lines of the ACNA.
The Primate builds his case on constraints in the Australian Anglican constitutional arrangements and the ‘close fellowship, co-operation and collegiality of the Communion’.
As to constraints in the constitution, the Primate ‘advised both bishops against this course of action’. While an Australian Primate is always free to give advice within the bonds of Christian fellowship, there is no constitutional provision for formal advice, nor is there any sense of hierarchy in the position of the Australian primate in relation to the other 22 diocesan bishops. No Australian diocesan bishop is obligated to follow the ‘advice’ of a primate.
The Primate appeals to the Fundamental Declarations which are the bedrock statements of belief in the Anglican Church of Australia. The Scriptures are the ultimate rule and standard of faith; the commands of Christ are to be obeyed and his doctrine taught, but no conclusion is drawn by the Primate from this reference. The obvious conclusion to draw is that the Scottish Episcopal Church, by virtue of its recent decision to amend the definition of marriage and allow same-sex couples to be married in its churches, has moved away from the commands of Christ and his doctrine and the Scriptures as the ultimate rule and standard of faith.
The Primate also appeals to ‘the plenary authority of General Synod in this matter. Section 26 of the Constitution provides… Synod may make canons rules and resolutions relating to the order and good government of this Church including canons in respect of ritual, ceremonial and discipline’. However, quoting this section only gives one side of the picture. The other side of the picture is the restricting qualification to this power. Section 30(a) provides that canons ‘in respect of ritual, ceremonial and discipline’ only take effect in a diocese when adopted by ordinance of that diocese. This is the clear and plain constitutional arrangement in the Australian Church. Each diocese has the final say, not the General Synod. So, ‘plenary authority’ is not so plenary. Further, a diocese has power to exclude canons adopted previously.
As to ‘close fellowship, co-operation and collegiality of the Communion’ this was on magnificent display at the consecration of Andy Lines. The Gafcon Primates and other diocesan bishops at the consecration represent some 75% of Anglicans world-wide. More than 50 bishops took part in the consecration. That three Australian diocesan bishops participated is a wonderful expression of the ‘collegiality of the Communion’.
But why does the Primate’s letter not include any rebuke to the ‘Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a member of the Anglican Communion’ for voting for same sex marriage? Abandoning the teaching of Scripture on the issue is surely sufficient grounds for such a rebuke. The Primate chose instead to suggest ‘Each Church makes its own decisions in its own ways, guided by recommendations from the Lambeth Conference…’ However, even just on these terms a rebuke was warranted since, plainly, the Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church has rejected the guidance of the Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of 1998. In part that resolution says:
(b) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
(e) cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.
Even if Lambeth too is put to one side, our own General Synod in 2004 resolved (62/04 and 63/04) that it did not condone the liturgical blessing of same sex relations or the ordination of people in open same sex relationships. This should have been enough to ground some criticism of the Scottish Episcopal Church decision.
The Primate says, ‘I do not think that it is for us individually, acting independently, to determine with whom we are in communion or to act unilaterally to that end’. Whether or not there is such a principle, the ordination of women in the Australian Church means there now exists a state of impaired communion between diocesans bishops and dioceses on recognition of the orders of some priests and bishops. Bishops have acted independently on this issue. The resulting impaired communion will become even more stark if an Australian diocesan synod decides to approve same sex relationships.
The Primate’s letter raises more questions than it answers, in particular, concerning the bonds that bind us as fellow Anglicans.
For and on behalf of the Anglican Church League Council.
Anglican Church League
5 July 2017