Chuck Collins: Shifting Authority

Posted by Kendall Harmon

From The Living Church:

It’s popular in conservative circles to say that our identity is anchored to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Jeffrey Steenson wrote a forceful apology for a Canterbury magisterium in the Anglican Theological Review (“The Unopened Gift,” Vol. 87), various Windsor bishops’ statements have said as much, and the Windsor Report itself seems to give the archbishop such a place of honor.

But with great respect for Bishop Steenson and the Windsor bishops, just to say something doesn’t make it true, and to say it often doesn’t make it less false. The Archbishop of Canterbury has never been the focal point of unity in the Anglican Communion. Instead, the focus of unity has always been a theology, what the prayer book calls “the substance of the Faith,” of which the archbishop is obligated to uphold. To give Canterbury control over our identity gives him far more power than he was ever meant to have.

According to Ian Douglas (Understanding the Windsor Report, coauthored with Paul Zahl), the four “instruments of unity” described in the Windsor Report were never identified as such before 1987. The Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Singapore in 1987 considered a paper that brought the four together for the first time. Yet, in reading the Windsor Report, one would get the feeling that these four — the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, the primates, and Lambeth Conference — have always been authoritative.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury Anglican IdentityEpiscopal Church (TEC)Instruments of UnityWindsor Report / Process

15 Comments
Posted June 26, 2007 at 4:50 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. badman wrote:

This interesting piece seems to confuse unity and authority.

The Anglican Church has always been defined by communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (as the Anglican Communion now is).  That is not the same as endowing the Archbishop of Canterbury with any quasi-papal authority, which has never been claimed for him.  Rowan Williams has repeatedly disclaimed any such authority or any desire for such authority.  Indeed, that is why he has made it clear that he will stand by Lambeth 1.10 as long Lambeth 1.10 stands:  he does not think it is his place to make his personal views stand as Communion teaching and he no longer even articulates his personal views on homosexuality.

At present, he is primus inter pares (i.e. not supreme), and his powers are the power of invitation to the Lambeth Conference and to the Primates Meeting - which are very limited powers, especially if, as at present, the Lambeth Conference and Primates Meeting powers are themselves undefined and more persuasive than coercive.

The real innovation, if adopted, and depending on its content, would be an Anglican Covenant, not the central role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as focus of unity without supremacy.

June 26, 5:19 pm | [comment link]
2. Eric Swensson wrote:

Well, as an outsider, probably no one knew how much you needed authority until this generation. We Lutherans could use some but we, of course, have no such recourse.

June 26, 5:46 pm | [comment link]
3. Dan Crawford wrote:

Badman’s understanding of the Archbishop’s function in the Anglican Chuch suggests that the Archbishop of Canterbury, having no authority (not even any kind of moral authority), is a politically appointed, highly-paid secretary. Why don’t we call him, instead of Kearon, the “Secretary General”?

June 26, 6:03 pm | [comment link]
4. R. Eric Sawyer wrote:

I am glad to see the Rev. Collins’ insistence that this Anglican experiment is not centered in any person (save that of our incarnate Lord), but in theology, and a way of approaching scripture. It much confirms my own opinion.  About a year ago, I was led to Dr. Hughes’ “Theology of the English Reformers”. I was particularly enthralled with his section describing their view of Holy Scripture.
As I have described before, I was drawn to a PECUSA church by a combination of liturgy and rule of life,  with that call confirmed by an amateur postulant’s doctrinal study; esp. of the BCP, the catechism and articles, and a variety of other, mostly old works. If Hughes gets it right, and I expect he does, he absolutely confirms in this section what it was I found drawing, and what is at the heart of what I understand by “The Anglican Way”. That way Hughes shows principally in Whitaker, Jewell,  Tyndale and Cramner when referring to authority. That HS is absolutely authoritative, as it is inspired and interpreted by the Holy Spirit in both the author and the reader. That the Fathers and Doctors of the church are in no way to be disdained, but may be challenged when they are wrong, that Councils, especially ecumenical, are authoritative, but “can and have erred” that the Church has authority to decide doctrinal matters, but not unchallengeably so. Because in all these authorities, their claim is based on and derived from Holy Scripture itself. Then, to moderate against the individualist’s claim to personal and private revelation, Whitaker says

“since the unlearned know not how to make a right use of these means, [his 8 means of discovering the truth of scripture, of which step #1 is prayer] they ought to have recourse to other persons better skilled than themselves, to read the books of others, to consult … learned interpreters, …”
however,
“ care must be taken not to ascribe too much to them, or suppose their interpretations are to be received because they are theirs, but because they are supported by the authority of the Scriptures, or by reason, so as to allow them no weight in opposition to scripture. We may use their labors, advice, prudence and knowledge; but we should use them always cautiously, modestly and discreetly, and so retain our own liberty.”


My freedom is that I may hear God speak to me through His Word. I can disagree with my neighbor, I may disagree, cautiously- expecting that my error may be revealed to me, with those more learned than I, even in this tavern. I may even presume to disagree with Augustine,  but I better do it in fear and trembling, but in all cases, the issue is what can be supported by the Bible.
  I think more than anything, it was this aspect of venerating tradition deeply, but solely as an aid to understanding and living the Bible, of venerating liturgy, but only as it accurately expressed biblical doctrine, of praising reason, but only as a light to perceive what God the Holy Spirit was saying in accordance with scripture, that pulled me in the direction of the reformed English church. No rejection of history,  tradition, art, human thought, or anything else, so long as it is all subject to Holy Scripture, and even then, not just to our understanding of scripture, but to the inspired Word itself. 
  That is why I remain in this church, and why I deeply care that this communion survive. But with the reformers, may it only survive within the context of subjection to Holy Scripture.
I wish the current ECUSA leadership saw it the same.

June 26, 6:04 pm | [comment link]
5. young joe from old oc wrote:

I’m afraid that I find Rev. Collins piece to be all too preachy, and fundamentally a simple rehashing of evangelical ideology that is not even a sincere effort at applying evangelical ecclesiology to the current crisis in the Communion.  As an Anglo-Catholic, I have to admit that I have read a number of good evangelical/evangelical catholic essays on this same issue from various Anglican groups in England and from ACI.  However, this one only takes us back (and headlong) into the great division that opened the door for episcoprogressivists to offer their false alternatives in the first place.

His whole argument is really implying that which various extreme protestants have always taught - something the Continental Reformers themselves did not believe in, but was tacitly taught by their example:  human authority is really unnecessary to those of us who truly understand and follow Holy Scripture. “We will follow the pure Word on our own, free of any cultural or practical or linguistic or intellectual bias, while the rest follow their traditions and customs and things that have been added to Scripture over time.  That will never happen to us because we know how (don’t ask me how I know we know how, we just do) to understand and obey God through the Scriptures, and they don’t because they don’t see things the way we do.”  I am certain that we really don’t need to be going over this ground again. 

What was originally a rallying point or battle cry (“sola scriptura”) turned into doctrine to hold a movement together, and it has been continually reworked from generation to generation, especially in the United States.  But protestants in other Anglo and Saxon countries have also engaged in this pragmatising of Scripture, which often masquerades as a systematic/philosophical-scholastic approach, sometimes even suggesting the idea of a “science” of biblical interpretation.  This is undoubtedly the seedbed for theological progressivism, and ultimately, in a very culturally-conditioned form, it became the basis of the individualist/rationalist paradigm that marks the history of American extra-denominational religion.  From nearly the very onset of English-speaking peoples in North America, we have always had new “churches” springing-up that claim that they are simply following the Scriptures, but doing it in a new way, a fresh way.  As their attendance grows, they tell us that this is evidence of their “rightness” and the work of the Holy Spirit.  But what has in fact happened, again and again, is that these groups simply found a niche in the American religious marketplace: they gave the people something that was missing from their insular little denominational congregations, but generally replaced it with something very transitory and rootless.  They syphon-off the attendance from those established and traditional churches in the area, and call that growth.  The product soon changes because that’s really what it was about in the first place. Sure, they bring a few folks who had been in the shadows back into church for a while, but they don’t give them a foundation, because it takes wisdom and the Church to take the power of the Scriptures and really transform families and communities, and build something enduring that does more than simply inspire and excite individuals.  And so we have a permanent “religious underclass” that has a kind of a shell of the Christian faith, but completely distrusts “churches”.  And why should they believe anyone bringing them the Gospel, when the previous person who knocked on their door claimed the exact same authority (the Scriptures) but taught an entirely different set of beliefs. 

On another level, because the general tone of American evangelicalism says that the Scriptures are the real authority and individualistic church leadership is OK, no one is in a position to challenge the power (based on claiming the authority of Scripture and Christ) over the spiritual lives of their followers that the leaders of the new movements have given themselves.  We simply argue ourselves into either believing the other side are heretics or nearly so, or into believing that arguing is a waste of time.  Soon, conservative people have bought into very post-modern ideas.

Episcopalianism, as the quintessentially American religion, has adopted these same individualist/rationalist approaches, and while it has retained a certain sense of itself as being a little more traditional and a little more well-behaved, it nevertheless became as balkanized within itself as American evangelical protestantism is by nature.  We are in the condition we’re in because we’ve ignored our catholic roots, and pretended that you can have Scriptural authority without an authoritative interpreter or a disciplinary structure based on something other than the Faith and worship of the Church as it has been passed down through the centuries.  While our influence in the Communion has grown (and especially in the C of E, Scotland, and Canada, where you have an evangelical catholic Anglican church in the midst of a very protestant and ever-liberalizing culture), real historic/church-based approaches to theology have declined.  But don’t think that the traditional Anglican way is passing out of existence.  One needs to only look on the Global South Anglican website to see that these generally evangelically-minded churches are nevertheless very concerned about understanding the ancient ways and grounding the life of God’s people in the wisdom that He has planted in His Church in every generation.  There is hope, but it is not to be found in our typical western European, minimalistic approaches.

June 26, 9:07 pm | [comment link]
6. Tom Roberts wrote:

#5 joe from….
You are creating a strawman in
“We will follow the pure Word on our own, free of any cultural or practical or linguistic or intellectual bias, while the rest follow their traditions and customs and things that have been added to Scripture over time.”

Collins+ never said that in any proximate form, and his discussion from paragraph 5 onwards never implies such an extreme example of sola scriptura.
You appear to have legitimate points in your post. Don’t attempt to make them over Collins’s dead body.

June 26, 9:43 pm | [comment link]
7. Mike Bertaut wrote:

#4 and #5, I found much to agree with in each of your posts.  Reverend Collins piece, while I found philsophically valid, does little to address our current situation.  I think it’s relatively clear that the 4 articles were put forward to try to put the brakes on TEC’s movement into uncharted territory outside of both Scriptural Boundaries and Traditional Christianity.  It probably wasn’t the best solution, but I applaud the effort anyway.

I find myself a bit pessimistic as to a solution, as spoiled children are the hardest to reform (a la Paris Hilton), but of course nothing is impossible with God.  I continue to consider the notion of an Anglican Covenant, but hope that the Anglican Church kicks TEC out before they endeavor to create it.  The current HOB could only hope to corrupt the effort, I’m afraid.  I think if they had significant influence in the Covenant’s formation, they would figure out a way to get the rest of the world to see it their way, and render it useless to the orthodox.  Weighty conundrum, is it not?

So, we’ll all endeavor to KTF!...mrb

June 26, 9:48 pm | [comment link]
8. Ross wrote:

#5 joe from old oc:

You make a lot of very interesting points, but one phrase caught my eye:

Episcopalianism, as the quintessentially American religion…

Would you be willing to unpack what you meant by “quintessentially American”?  I’m just curious.

June 26, 10:35 pm | [comment link]
9. young joe from old oc wrote:

#6 - Tom Roberts:

As I review the section of my post that you critique as being a straw man, I have to admit that there may be some snideness there (and a couple of other places) that I need to apologize for - it does cross the line, and I am sorry.

As to whether I am creating a straw man, I’m not sure how that’s possible given that I am not so much making an argument at that point, as I am encapsulating my own experience with those who have taken that position.  I do see your point, however. 

At the same time, I need to ask you to give me an example of a moderate “sola scriptura” position.  I think in the end, by being moderate, that view is not, in fact, sola scriptura at all, but an ecclesiological perspective that really upholds the primacy of Scripture among other sources of authority.  In addition, I must ask a semi-hypothetical:  when there are two competing sola scriptura jurisdictions or denominations, how would one of those be able to say to one of its members that it is the truer or better “church” without in effect saying essentially what my piece of dialogue says?  And if it doesn’t or can’t, aren’t we simply talking about the introduction of incipient theological liberalism/progressivism, since what is left as the final authority is ultimately the private judgment of the individual?

#7 - Mike:

I think you’re absolutely right about the TEC/usa HoB not really being able to do anything but corrupt the covenant.  We certainly have to pray that they have no part in the process.  In saying that, however, I struggle with just how deep and wide a schism that may result if God grants us what we want to ask Him for.

#8 - Ross:

I say “quintessentially” American because of both how ecusa was originally formed, and how it has developed.  The episcopal church came into being in the context of a powerful philosophical shift among American colonial elites that was as strong as the “city on a hill” vision was among New England Congregationalists.  That philosophical/theological perspective, strongest in Virginia and Pennsylvania, was considered deeply suspect by high church and evangelical Anglican alike, but they both believed that the power of the prayerbook liturgy and the Scriptures would ultimately be able to eradicate it, or deeply mitigate it.  That perspective can be summed-up in the phrase “novus ordo seclorum” (a new order for the ages) and it was grounded in a tremendous confidence in the capabilities of the individual intellect operating independently through the tools of classical learning.  The English tradition had already elevated the individual’s moral compass and potential for practical knowledge beyond the boundaries of the great Christian tradition (in my view), but Englishmen were still generally communitarian in almost every aspect of their social and religious outlook. 

Life in the New World and the desire for a new start after the American Revolution had begun to really move many men away from the community-mindedness, and the allure of independence for the individual was very strong.  Many traditional episcopal leaders believed that the old solid English values would hold, especially now that there were bishops around.  But the problem was that much of the church had already grown too comfortable in operating without bishops, and their introduction into the church would not halt the very individualistic practices of many of the clergy.  Most of the theological struggles of the church in the 19th century were not so much about stark differences between Anglo-Catholics and low church Evangelicals as they were about the way in which so many clergy going out on the frontier, from the most ritualistic to the most protestant, pretty much made their own rules and didn’t work in any significant way to build just a basic understanding or a common vision of ministry with their bishops.  We created these great democratic structures to keep everyone happy and to keep the pioneering clergy and evangelists in check, but the individual, and not the church or the diocese, was the source of the energy that determined the direction of ministry and theology.

June 27, 3:17 am | [comment link]
10. Tom Roberts wrote:

#9 joe
I feel that the crux of Collins’s argument is
“But the Articles of Religion clearly state that the church is the servant of the word (XX), that the councils of the church may and sometimes have erred (XXI), and that the traditions and ceremonies of the church are subordinate to the authority of God’s word (XXXIV).”
I’ll avoid your good question about the possibility of moderation in sola scriptura (what can be the moderation in “only”? after all) as I don’t think it is precisely relevant here. What Collins is advising is that while Scripture is authoritative and superior to councils, ecclesiology, or traditions, these other parts of the entire church are important as well in forming our understanding of that message. Possibly they might be important in understanding Scripture in their historical errors, which I believe will be how history will come to see the present events.
So Collins is not posing a sola scriptura argument, for if he was he would not be an Anglican rector. His own role in the church contradicts that rigorous logical stance. What he is posing instead is an argument that Scripture is superior to the others, and I don’t think my recollections of Hooker contradict what Collins wrote here. Instead he argues contra magesterium. An analog would be to say that in an army, the general is superior to the rest of the army; however without the rest of the army the general will surely be defeated.

June 27, 6:49 am | [comment link]
11. young joe from old oc wrote:

Tom Roberts:

Your analysis of Rev. Collins basic argument appears to have merit.  You may also be in a much better position to interpret his words, so I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and trust that he holds to a moderate “sola scriptura” position, which, while I believe it is faulty, I don’t consider it to be necessarily uncatholic in practice.  I do stand by my initial post, however, in its analysis of what happens when a strong, traditional authority is not present to discipline those who, even while believing in the real authority of Scripture, make themselves into their own leaders and biblical interpreters.

I also have to emphasize that you look at the actual articles of the 39 Articles that he references, and their context.  Consider carefully what he does not say about the legitimate and definitive authority of the Church that is clearly expressed in every single one of them.  I will try to elaborate upon the meaning of these articles later.  But for now I will say that these omissions by Rev. Collins are, in my view, extremely problematic and point to a deeply protestant perspective that wants to bypass the Tradition of the Church wherever possible. 

His implied view about the authority of the Articles is a legitimate one, but realize that the Articles are not considered normative in much of the Communion.  If he wants to help develop a normative basis for an Anglican covenant or common expression of Communion doctrine, he should at the very least just mention at least one of the traditional prayerbook liturgies and ordinals (1549, 1559, 1662, 1928, etc.), the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral, or the Act of Uniformity for, and the preface to the 1559 prayerbook, where the Church Fathers and the first four Ecumenical Councils are given interpretive and disciplinary authority (In 1571, when the 39 Articles were made normative for clergy in the C of E, they did not in any way supplant or even challenge the authority of the BCP.  In fact, the Articles don’t even reference the BCP because they are intended to be a clarification of it.  In that day, many were allowed to subscribe to the 39 Articles with certain reservations or limited consent to particular articles, but no one was allowed to make any modifications to the Prayerbook’s liturgy and ordinal).  Instead, his focus is on the Articles, the Scriptures, and what he calls “biblical Christianity”, and he really only speaks of the Fathers and Great Councils negatively.  I believe in biblical Christianity, but it must first be the historic, universal Church’s understanding of what is biblical, not my understanding, not Rev. Collins understanding, nor the understanding of any major teacher, scholar or philosopher/theologian in a generation centuries removed from the Apostles (and epistemologically removed from the Apostles and great fathers), no matter how erudite or brilliant.  Rev. Collins focus and his failure to deal with this ever-present difficulty of biblical interpretation is (to me, anyway) evidence of a need to uphold a particular sub-tradition within Anglicanism that certainly has a place in the family, but all too often speaks as though it has no need of, or need to listen to, the rest of us.

June 27, 4:01 pm | [comment link]
12. Tom Roberts wrote:

Yo elves, in case anybody ever accused Kendall of having a site organized solely for theological cock fights, you might use this thread as a counterexample. No small credit should go to joe for graciousness in argument, though.

June 27, 10:38 pm | [comment link]
13. Tom Roberts wrote:

wow, the filters here are miraculous: the deletions was for “cockfights”.

June 27, 10:39 pm | [comment link]
14. The_Elves wrote:

Tom, we didn’t set up the filters.  That’s something we inherited from SF when we switched to this blog.  They work a bit differently than the filters did on T19, partly because here with user registration, we don’t have to worry about spam.  So our filtering is MUCH MUCH less aggressive.  The filter is a pretty short list, primarily centered around profanity and the grossest epithets.

June 27, 10:59 pm | [comment link]
15. Tom Roberts wrote:

Not a critique, just amazement at the smooth interface. Last version bounced the post in its entirety.

June 27, 11:03 pm | [comment link]
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