Although Dr. Atherstone devotes most of his report on ACC-17 to matters of church order, he does note that “our deep doctrinal disagreements as Anglicans rumbled along in the background,” because provinces “have changed their doctrine of marriage.” It would appear that he considers “disagreement” on marriage to be among the issues requiring “discipline, differentiation, and even separation.”
His discussion of the 3-year set of restrictions – a.k.a. “consequences” – imposed on the Episcopal Church in 2016 is curious. He notes that these restrictions have now “timed out,” that “the situation is farcical,” and that the “consequences” need more substance, but he refrains from framing the issue in terms of repentance. What makes the situation farcical indeed is that fact that Communion “Instruments” did not require TEC to change its teaching or practice, and now they are talking about moving on to the “healing phase.” Common sense parenting teaches that you do not send a child to a “time-out” without requiring on his return an apology and a promise not to do it again!
Dr. Atherstone apparently considers this failure of discipline a reason for differentiation, personally at least. Hence he declined each day to take Communion with TEC delegates at ACC-17 and suggests that this practice should be offered at Lambeth 2020 because “we are all part of the Anglican Communion but we are not all ‘in communion.’” While one can sympathize with his dilemma, his response is strangely individualistic. Did he commend his position to others at ACC-17? He argues that by allowing separate eucharistic gatherings at official Anglican meetings, “it becomes possible to meet together and discuss our differences and common concern, without pretext…and the pain of our disunity motivates us to renewed efforts toward unity.” As I have argued (see here and here), sitting at table with false teachers at a church council is just as problematic as sitting at the Lord’s Table (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:12). Certainly the early church councils saw it this way (yes, Arius attended Nicaea but was defrocked and exiled from there).
Giving formal recognition to false teachers at a church council, even if it is on the pretext of “listening,” serves to legitimate their position (some call this “open reception”). This is precisely how revisionists advanced their innovations within the Episcopal Church and took them on to the Communion level.
Dr. Atherstone seems strangely naïve about how the game is played. He contrasts the “informal” way the meeting in Hong Kong was conducted with the tightly controlled agenda and autocratic rule by the chair, the table groups gagged by long lectures, and the avoidance of sensitive subjects (“we don’t do doctrine”). But this contrast is not a bug in the program, as they say, but a feature. Welcome to indaba!
His own attempt to bring resolution to the divisions at ACC-17 is revealing. On the key resolution concerning membership in Anglican bodies, he thought his “Oxford” amendment – that LGBTQ advocates should be “welcomed” rather than “included” – would make peace, and he was surprised when the Africans “found their voices and stood one after another to denounce the resolution.” Why should this be a surprise? Meeting after meeting for twenty years, they have strongly defended Lambeth Resolution I.10 and its normative statement that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Scripture” and “cannot be advised.”