My own view (and that of others) has long been that TEC’s behavior has been so brazenly destructive of the Communion’s conciliar life on a number of levels, that the entire American church’s college of bishops should not be invited to Lambeth at all. Without some major, formal, and agreed recommitment to the character of conciliar life, TEC’s participation in the Communion’s gathering threatens to be subversive, not edifying, inevitably confusing, not clarifying. The Anglican Communion is not “the Catholic Church” tout court, by a long shot, and requires a kind of conserving energy that goes beyond whole-sale pneumatic openness-within-order. Individual TEC bishops might, if they so chose, petition Canterbury and the Primates for a seat at Lambeth on the basis of affirming a commitment to the principles the Primates themselves laid out in their recent CommuniquÃ© (the “Camp Allen Principles”) ”“ this may already be implied in Canterbury’s current invitation, although this is not wholly clear — or at least a commitment to previous Lambeth resolutions, whose imposing legitimacy has now been clearly affirmed by the interlocking agreement of other Anglican Communion synods.
Perhaps something like this is still possible in the post ”“September 30th Anglican world, when TEC’s House of Bishops will have given their common response to the Primates. Many of us hope for this and urge this, of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates themselves. But my opinion is only that ”“ an opinion among many. I have no role in inviting, and I can only advise, from the farthest distance, on the character of prudence demanded by the current situation. The Lambeth Conference should go on with (preferably) or without imposed criteria. Even the most pessimistic “conservative” must agree that the numbers are there for traditionalist bishops to do whatever they discern as fitting, if they indeed show up and pursue it. That is the nature of a council: if “what they pursue” is right, it will stick.
But quite apart from Canterbury or this or that party’s hopes or judgments, Lambeth can be, in terms of the Holy Spirit’s leading, whatever it wants to be. Neither Canterbury, nor the Design Committee, nor those who do not attend can make or unmake the conciliar character of Lambeth. And those who do attend may well, should they choose to exercise the tools of the Spirit they are given (to the degree that any of us have such a “choice”), transform through the Spirit’s work whatever the Lambeth Conference may initially appear to be into a true and authoritative council of the Communion and even of the Church at large. The Holy Spirit controls the course of a gathering of saints; and the saints are eager to work with God. The Church of Christ eagerly seeks counsel together, even when its “formal councils” are obscured.
And why would anyone wish to be otherwise than eager in this regard? There are clearly those who want to declare the Lambeth Conference conciliarly ineffective, and to depose it from (or deny it) any conciliar role, even before it convenes. A question to be asked of these people is whether they want to declare themselves, before the fact, as letting go of the charismatic calling of the Church. For, in the context of the Christian faith and the Church’s life, they need not do so. “Talking down” the Conference or deliberately absenting oneself from it may or may not undermine the authority of Lambeth (indeed, depending on how it is done, it may in fact enhance it!). But if it so undermines it, it also may well undermine the authority of those who deliberately reject the Conference itself. For such preemptive rejection will cloud the eagerness, trouble the faith, dampen the fire, quench the Spirit. Let archbishops and their episcopal colleges come and “fight the good fight”, sustained ”“ as surely they will be ”“ by the Holy Spirit of God. These are good people, whose deepest hopes the Lord would shape and honor. Let those who pray, come together and pray; let those who serve, come together and serve; let those who teach, come together and teach; let those who heal, come together and heal. Let the Holy Spirit list where He will within the Church as she gathers in the name of Jesus.