An Anglican Covenant - Commentary to the St Andrew's Draft
The Covenant Design Group (CDG) received formal responses to the 2007 Draft Covenant from thirteen (13) Provinces. The Group were hopeful that the lack of formal discursive responses from other Provinces does not necessarily signal disapproval. The CDG is cognisant of mitigating factors (such as the lack of translations of the text available, other foci in the local lives of Provinces and lack of consultative resources, etc.). Of the formal responses we did receive, all signalled a willingness to move forward, despite various questions and concerns, and a clear mandate was given to this meeting of the CDG.
Originally, the 2007 Nassau draft cited a number of Biblical passages without showing clearly their relationship to the text of the covenant. Many Provincial Responses therefore questioned the scriptural references contained in the draft. The St. Andrew’s draft takes a different approach, showing its biblical framework primarily in the introduction and conclusion, and referencing scriptural passages throughout the draft. This present draft intentionally uses biblical language wherever possible and is rooted in Scripture, through phraseology, direct quotation in the text, through some explicit engagement with Scriptural passages in certain parts of the text (e.g. the Introduction) and through discussion and indication of the Scriptural base and soil of the Covenant.
Several comments pointed to the confusing numbering and divisions of the Nassau Draft. We have sought to make this clearer. Now, the Covenant is broadly divided into three main sections, offering first affirmations and then commitment dealing with shared faith, mission, and the maintenance of communion.
The Covenant Design Group noted that in some of the responses both the idea of covenant and the usefulness of the term “covenant” were questioned, both in terms of its use in the Old Testament and its historic connotations in some parts of the Anglican Communion. The idea of a covenant was first suggested in the Windsor Report and a sample covenant was put forward in Appendix 2 of that document. Subsequently, the desirability of a covenant has been reaffirmed by 3 out of the 4 Instruments of Communion.
As to the term “covenant”, the CDG discussed other suggested alternatives such as “concordat” or “common declaration,” each of which has its own difficulties, and finally returned to “covenant” as the best descriptor of the task ahead of us. Almost all of the responses received expressed a readiness to work with the idea of covenant.
The CDG was unanimous in believing that we cannot abandon the word and concept of ‘covenant’, and for several reasons: theologically, we believe that it is correct to say that covenant emerges out of communion, and also ‘serves’ communion, both in terms of God’s relations to us, but just as importantly in our mutual relations as reflective of God’s life that we share. It is related, in a concrete way, to the expression of ‘bonds of affection’ in their pneumatic, relational and responsible power. The distinction between ‘covenant’ and other possible concepts (‘concordat’, ‘compact’, etc.) is quite clear in these respects. Finally, the term now has an accepted currency within the Communion that commends its common usage.
We noted the historical use of ‘the bonds of affection’ and asked ourselves: What is the bare minimum of infrastructure that the communion needs? At a time of fragmentation, a covenant is a basis for mutual trust and reduced anxiety. Habits of civility and mutuality of respect have taken us a long way in the past. We are now in a place where our structures must provide a framework for the context of our belief.
Some have asked about the proposed covenant: What difference does it make in the life of the Communion? Does it simply make explicit what is already implicit, or is it a device for achieving something else? Some responses raised questions about the rationale for the Covenant: “what positive difference will it make?” Is it just about “conflict management” or discipline, so that the final section is the “real reason” for the Covenant? Questions have also been raised around the Communion as to why the Lambeth Quadrilateral is not enough. The present concern is to achieve sufficient accountability among Provinces to be able to work more corporately. That will mean creating some structures. The proposed draft Covenant is our answer to all of these questions.
We have sought to emphasize more obviously the missionary element constitutive to our valuing of unity. Finally, we also believe that our revisions in the final sections provide some greater clarity about what is at stake – a way of life “in communion” that is faithful to the form of our Gospel vocation.
We have sought, through the use of phraseology borrowed from the recent Anglican-Orthodox Cyprus Agreed Statement, to be faithful in describing the relationship of the Anglican Communion to the Universal Church. At the same time, despite the desires of some that the Covenant provide a more definitive statement of Anglican ecclesiology, we recognized the still-open-ended character of this task, and sought not to pre-empt its fruit and conclusion by too precise formulations in this way.
A key question which the group addressed was “Is the Draft ecclesiologically coherent?” Is, for instance, the final section at odds with previous affirmations regarding interdependence? We have reflected seriously on this matter, and believe that the character of ecclesial communion does not submerge the responsible choices that local churches must engage in order to be faithful to their calling by and under Christ. A model which empowers the Churches of the Anglican Communion to speak to one another and inform each others life, while respecting provincial autonomy does indeed embody the kind of “autonomy-in-communion” that informs the Draft.
1. The Church of the Triune God, the Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican Orthodox Theological Dialogue, ACO, London, January 2007