At the January, 2016 meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, the Primates said The Episcopal Church (TEC) would not be permitted to participate in ecumenical conversations or any decisions on the doctrine or polity of the Anglican Communion. This consequence was declared by the Primates because TEC had made decisions that unilaterally violate the teaching of the Anglican Communion. Therefore, the Primates reasoned, TEC shouldn’t be allowed to represent Anglicans anywhere.
Less than four months later the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-16) met in Zambia on April 8-19, and “received” the report of the Primates. In fact, they ignored it. The Episcopal Church participated in every vote on every resolution that came before ACC-16, including every matter relating to the doctrine and polity of the Anglican Communion. You can read the facts in detail here. A spokesperson on behalf of Episcopal Church Communications reported that the ACC deliberately refused to implement the recommendations of the Primates. Even the delegates from TEC to ACC-16 publicly refuted Archbishop Welby’s claim that ACC-16 had honored the decision of the January 2016 Primates meeting and admitted to doing whatever they pleased during the meeting!
The refusal by the Anglican Consultative Council to implement the recommendations of the January 2016 Primates meeting is prima facie evidence that the Instruments of Communion are at odds with each other – broken systemically, and unable to reach the “conciliar consensus” that has characterized Anglican decision making at every other level of Anglican Churches other than this global, Communion level of governance. In fact, the Anglican Consultative Council is a major part of the problem, and not the solution.
The Anglican way of decision making is conciliar, and finds it roots all the way back to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Yes, in conciliar decision making every voice in the church must be heard – not only Bishops and clergy, but laity, male and female, theologians and more. But the place for this to happen is in a Synod where all voices come together in the decision making, and where Bishops exercise a unique role in guarding the faith and order, doctrine and discipline of the Church.
The Anglican Consultative Council is NOT such a Synod. According to its own Constitution, the Anglican Consultative Council has power only to assist Primates and the Lambeth Conference of Bishops “as and when required to do so.” (Art. 5.12) That is not the language of a Synod. It is the language of a subordinate and advisory body that serves the bishops rather than contradicting and usurping their authority. This becomes even clearer in the language of Article 5 where the ACC is referred to multiple times as an “advisory body” only: with power “to advise on inter-Anglican, Provincial and Diocesan relationships” (Art. 5.3 at page 4), power “to advise on matters arising out of national or regional Church union negotiations,” (Art. 5.8, at page 5) and power “to advise on problems of inter-Anglican communication.” (Art. 5.9, at page 5). The powers enumerated to the ACC in the rest of Article 5 are what we would expect for the Board of Trustees of a charitable organization—in language that facilitates the exercise of their fiduciary duties.
But here’s the rub: The Anglican Communion is more than a charitable organization under the UK Charities Act. It is a Church – led by Bishops who have an ancient, conciliar responsibility to guard the doctrine, discipline and order of the Churches they lead, and Primates to guard the faith and Godly order in the relationships among those Churches. This authority is recognized not only in the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference but also in The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. One hardly knows how to characterize the repudiation of the Primates gathering by the ACC – arrogance, rebellion or legal fiction, it’s all the same.
As I contend in Anglican Conciliarism, this is the heart of the “ecclesial deficit,” the inability of the existing global structures of the Anglican Communion to say “no” to false teaching or any other violation of faith and order. There was some hope that the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant would provide a means for addressing this deficit. But those hopes were dashed at the 2009 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Kingston, Jamaica.