Stephen Noll: An Evangelical Commentary on the Draft Covenant

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The events of the past decade in the Communion have made clear, in a way not seen since the 16th century, the need of a strong statement of doctrine and discipline among Christians in our tradition. The question, in my view, is not about the need for a Covenant but about its adequacy to meet the theological, spiritual and missional challenges facing the Christian Church in general, and the Anglican Communion in particular, from within and without.

I offer the comments below to articulate an Evangelical perspective and corrective. I believe that the great debates and events of the Reformation remain foundational for our Christian heritage. In a world where Evangelical Christians are spreading rapidly, including those in many Anglican Provinces, it is important that our convictions be represented in an all-Communion document.

The Draft Covenant is, in my opinion, an orthodox statement of the Christian faith; it is less characteristically Evangelical. I propose that with relatively minor amendment, this document can express more fully the Anglican Evangelical perspective.

All church statements emerge from particular contexts, indeed particular controversies. Likewise, this Covenant should address forthrightly the theological errors that have torn the fabric of the Communion. It is not clear at this moment in time whether the Covenant Design Group appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury has the cohesiveness to do this. Like the Windsor Report, it is difficult for a group of people who hold not only diverse but divergent views to come up with a clear and relevant statement. The Covenant Design Group has made a good start, building on proposals from a prior Global South working group. It is hard to imagine, however, that the Lambeth Conference, if it includes Canterbury’s current invitees, will be able to come behind any formulary that is not hopelessly muddled. And any muddled statement will negate the original purpose behind the Covenant proposal, which is for the Anglican Communion to return to its foundation in the biblical Gospel and apostolic faith and practice.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican Covenant

20 Comments
Posted July 15, 2007 at 3:31 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

No honest, orthodox anglo-catholic (at least a knowledgeable one) would buy into such an amended document. So, I guess the communion Noll envisions not only leaves out the “non-orthodox” , but also all the anglo-catholics.

July 15, 6:48 pm | [comment link]
2. PadreWayne wrote:

Yes, Virgil. And Noll’s “minor” additions are not minor at all—they are steps on the way toward uniformity, no-questions-allowed, Biblical inerrancy (although his take on it is not traditional) fundamentalism. Is this the Episcopal Church we know? love? want? pray for?

July 15, 7:32 pm | [comment link]
3. Cennydd wrote:

I see it as telling us that we need some accountability, and nothing more.

July 15, 9:48 pm | [comment link]
4. JonReinert wrote:

I find nothing in this document which offends me!  The original document was without a doubt very vague, and I suspect the comments from Virgil and PadreWayne reflect a more American understanding of Anglicanism, which If I may make so bold is why we are in the mess we are in!
JonR

July 15, 11:03 pm | [comment link]
5. Stephen Noll wrote:

#1 seems to claim to be an “honest orthodox Anglo-Catholic” or that he knows what they believe. What is it in particular that would make this revision so unacceptable? Perhaps some other honest, Anglo-Catholics could add comments. I intend this revision to be accepted, even welcomed, by those whom I know and respect in that tradition (e.g., Bp. Iker and Bp. Ackerman).

July 15, 11:32 pm | [comment link]
6. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

#4…The amendments are conservative evangelical through and through (focus on the personal relationship with Christ, the Bible as the Word of God written and a ‘plain sense’ hermeneutic are just a few examples of the evangelical focus).

Secondly, the author doesn’t hide the fact of this evangelicalism.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-evangelical. In fact, although I’m strongly catholic, I have a tendency to Wesleyanism (in my weak moments wink .

I just believe there needs to be more room in the inn., Even if the communion moves into a more traditional stance in regards to marriage and sexuality, it shouldn’t throw away what has been acceptable for centuries: catholics and evangelicals (even with their differences) under the ethos of the via media anglicana.

July 15, 11:50 pm | [comment link]
7. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

#5…I don’t think anyone has ever accused me of being orthodox wink , but someone needs to speak for those of orthodox catholic sensitivities who hold that the church is the agent for the proper interpretation of Christianity (including the Bible) utilizing tradition (especially of the church fathers) as the hermeneutical material for that interpretation and applying holy reason (St. Thomas) to discern collectively what God says through his Spirit. Recognizing that it is only by God’s grace in Christ that we have salvation with the church as the mediator of that grace through the celebration of the holy sacraments (mysteries). In that grace we must work out our salvation: this is faith.

I could go on and on and on, but I could bore everyone more than I already have.

July 16, 12:25 am | [comment link]
8. azusa wrote:

A “focus on the personal relationship with Christ, the Bible as the Word of God written and a ‘plain sense’ hermeneutic” all sound very catholic, and certainly Anglican, to me.
Evangelicals do not differ with Anglo- (or Roman) Catholics over these points, nor do they reject the use of tradition or reason - quite the reverse! Indeed, one of the complaints of evangelcials is that revisionists have rejected the historical tradition of interpretation and the use of natural law (to which Thomas contributed).

July 16, 2:00 am | [comment link]
9. Br. Michael wrote:

Well the whole idea of the covenant is to separate out those who can not or will not agree with it.  It imposes a discipline and that’s something we lack and that’s what got us into this mess.

July 16, 7:03 am | [comment link]
10. PadreWayne wrote:

Br. Michael, as a gay man I have been “separated out” all my life. I have accepted it, embraced my difference as a Godly gift, and rejoiced in the love I have found. And so now…you desire to separate me out of the Church that nourishes me, sustains me, and which I serve with a heart brimming with gladness? Because you follow a hermeneutic which reads certain passages of Scripture “plainly” and because you cannot be wrong?

July 16, 7:15 am | [comment link]
11. JonReinert wrote:

PadreWayne,
The Lambeth resolution 1.10 has confirmed the teaching of the church in regard to sexual behaviour.  In addition the draft document ‘faithfulness in service’ which we in Australia are due to accept confirms the Lambeth resolution as the normative teaching of the Anglican Communion.  Please also remember, that we are part of a communion in which in the parent church, divorce is still considered a barrier to ordination and/or license.
Jon R

July 16, 7:34 am | [comment link]
12. robroy wrote:

PadreWayne offers honest criticism? No. PadreWayne wouldn’t accept a covenant agreement in any shape or form so his views are irrelevant. He simply seeks to poison the process.  If you are part of the OMDB club (over my dead body), just state that at the beginning of your posting so I can ignore it. Thanks.

I, too, think the changes would be very positive for the covenant and the general health of the Anglican communion overall. It is frustrating that the ACI folks haven’t chimed in. A recurring theme with them is that there is a “confessionalist” conspiracy that would radically alter Anglicanism. The above changes are hardly radical, more like Christianity 101. Not Anglo-catholic? All of the proposed changes could come straight from a papal encyclical, though perhaps not with the same wording. Would they change the worship at the most bell-y and smell-y orthodox anglo-catholic church one iota?  No, it would make no changes at the local level. What they do is bring back the national churches and the communion itself to the proper focus so that we can get back to the Christian calling.

July 16, 9:25 am | [comment link]
13. PadreWayne wrote:

robroy: “PadreWayne offers honest criticism? No. PadreWayne wouldn’t accept a covenant agreement in any shape or form so his views are irrelevant. He simply seeks to poison the process.  If you are part of the OMDB club (over my dead body), just state that at the beginning of your posting so I can ignore it. Thanks. “

And thanks to you for the smear. Very hospitable. Very charitable. I was already barred from one conservative site, have stopped contributing to another because of such comments, and now, it appears, there’s no room here, either. Too bad. I usually respect the tenor of commentary at T19. Your comment is a poor example of reasonable discourse.

Thanks again.

July 16, 12:17 pm | [comment link]
14. PadreWayne wrote:

JohnReinert #11: “The Lambeth resolution 1.10 has confirmed the teaching of the church in regard to sexual behaviour.”
Lambeth 1.10 was a resolution only, summarizing the “mind of the house.” Lambeth is not a synod; it does not create doctrine. Moreover, as Canada recently showed, issues of sexuality can be considered as doctrine yet not core doctrine—and within a province (Canada) the actions taken by dioceses in this area are not communion-breakers.
And, too, if one is to take a hardline (doctrinaire) position on Lambeth 1.10, one should also admonish those provinces where the long-fabled “listening process” has come to naught. That is, it hasn’t happened. Read the report.

July 16, 11:20 pm | [comment link]
15. JonReinert wrote:

PadreWayne, Lambeth did not need to create doctrine, it expounded an already exisiting understanding which it seems both the American and Canadian churches have decided to change without reference to the rest of the communion.  As to the ‘listening process’ we listened, and didn’t hear anything to change our understanding.
JonR

July 17, 12:14 am | [comment link]
16. ToAllTheWorld wrote:

I have to agree with The Gordian (comment #8) that there is nothing in Prof. Noll’s proposal that an orthodox Anglo-Catholic cannot endorse (and as Dean of Nashotah House and Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Quincy, I have a pretty good idea of what orthodox Anglo-Catholics can and cannot endorse). 

I am aware that it is fashionable for some Anglo-Catholics to turn up their noses upon hearing language that expresses the tenets of the faith in terms that are more typically evangelical than Anglo-Catholic.  But this often has more to do with the style of one’s religion than the substance of it.  For example, do we think that any catholic theologian from Aquinas to Pusey had a view of Scripture that is any less than the one Prof. Noll advocates?

Instead, we need to look at the Church that would be produced by the Covenant, as amended according to Prof. Noll’s suggestions, and ask, “Will this Covenant result in a Church that believes that which has been believed “everywhere, always, and by all” (ubique, semper, et ab omnibus—Vincent of Lerins).  In other words, does this Covenant result in a Church that holds to the faith once delivered to the saints?  If so, then it is a Church in which orthodox Anglo-Catholics can and should live happily and thankfully.

Robert S. Munday+

July 17, 12:58 am | [comment link]
17. robroy wrote:

Padrewayne, did I mischaracterise your position on the covenant one iota? Someone who is against the very concept shouldn’t be contributing to the formulation. Sorry. You and your allies can then reject it when becomes finalized. You do seem to be hijacking the thread to Lambeth 1.10. If you would like to dscuss this, Dr. Noll has a wonderful essay on his new blog.

Back to the matter at hand, that is to say the covenant and the proposed changes: since I have heard no dissent from those who believe that a covenant would be helpful, I take the silence as approval. How do we incorporate the changes?

July 17, 1:05 am | [comment link]
18. PadreWayne wrote:

JonReinert, if such is the case (“Lambeth did not need to create doctrine”) then 1.10 should not be repeatedly brought up as if it were doctrine. As to the ‘listening process,’ if you will check the records online, you will see that perhaps you listened, but many provinces did not.
robroy #17, you made an assumption as to my opinion of a covenant or the covenant process. It was correct in that I do not support a covenant—I believe that our Creeds and the Quadrilateral are sufficient. However, as the process is continuing, I feel that it behooves us all to offer our contribution. And for the record, I didn’t bring up Lambeth 1.10, JonReinert did (#11 above). Also for the record, I’ve read Dr. Noll’s essay. Wonderful? Hardly. Anything new? Nope.

July 17, 8:52 am | [comment link]
19. robroy wrote:

Padrewayne your input to the covenant is as important as an atheist’s to a new prayerbook. Perhaps that is why you persist in trying to take the thread off topic, to poison the process.

July 17, 10:07 am | [comment link]
20. JonReinert wrote:

PadreWayne.  Lambeth did not need to create doctrine, it restated already existing doctrine.  Just because the Canadian church has decided to change things, does not make it so.  As to the need for a covenant, the actions of the American and Canadian churches have revealed the need for a more formal arrangement.  There must be limits to the freedom of national churches to rewrite Christianity to suite themselves.
JonReinert

July 17, 7:58 pm | [comment link]
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