The Global South’s Catechism

By Marshall Scott

As was recently reported in The Lead, a new “Anglican Catechism in Outline” (ACIO) has been published. It is a part of ” The Interim Report of the Global South Anglican (GSA) Theological Formation and Education Task Force” In addition to ACIO (contained in a section titled, “Key Recommendations”), the Interim Report includes a section of Commentary, several Illustrations of catechesis in Global South settings, and two brief Appendices.

I’ve been spending some time reviewing ACIO and the Interim Report. I have been surprised that more people haven’t looked at it and commented on it. I suppose some might wonder why we should care. After all, it’s from “those folks” in the Global South. What, after all, can we expect from them?

But that sounds all too much like, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I think we do need to take an interest in this, and to look at it closely.

First, notwithstanding their discomfort with us, “those folks” are still our siblings in Christ and in the Anglican Communion. Indeed, the Task Force expressed the intent to produce a document “for the whole communion,” one not caught up in current issues. By the same token we in the Episcopal Church have said again and again that we want to maintain conversations across the communion. We have continued to say that in all humility we can learn from them. One way showing that we mean it, of meeting their good faith with our good faith, is to read and reflect on documents like this Interim Report.

I will also allow that in our current difficulties we need to know the concerns of those with whom we disagree. ACIO and the process by which it has been developed have been endorsed by the Steering Committee of the Global South Primates. A final report is to be released this year, and ACIO may well be an influential document at GAFCON. While they are not our enemies, we might well “keep our friends close and our critics closer.” So, once again, it is well worth it to take an interest in documents like the Interim Report.

Moving from general principles to specifics, this Interim Report has much to commend it. The Anglican Catechism in Outline itself is worth our time and interest. The Task Force decided not to produce a complete Catechism, and instead chose to produce a “catechetical framework,” adaptable to many contexts.

What ACIO offers is the framework, no less and no more. The catechesis embodies the faith the church has received from Christ’s apostles (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). This deposit of faith is the foundation upon which the church upholds right teaching and right worship under different circumstances in all places and in all generations….

At the same time, communicating Christianity well requires sensitive understanding of the particular missionary situations. Provinces are in better positions to attend to such tasks. Provinces should also make every effort to understand the social contexts of their mission. They should teach the Christian faith in creative ways…. Therefore different provinces should find suitable ways to implement the recommendations.

Organized under the categories of Faith, Hope, and Love, and incorporating expositions of the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, the Summary of the Law, and the Ten Commandments, the framework is worth study as to how it might inform and complement our existing catechetical efforts.

In addition, I think the Illustrations are worth our time and attention. Having said that we want to maintain conversation, these Illustrations can offer us concrete examples of specific catechetical programs. More important, they can offer us better understanding of the contexts for those programs, and the challenges our Anglican siblings face. We value from the Quadrilateral, “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.” We value it as much for that phrase, “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples,” as we do for the concept of the Historic Episcopate itself; and we are sometimes concerned that there is not enough respect for our own locale and our local adaptations. It is incumbent on us to understand these locales of our sibling Anglicans. Studying these Illustrations can only help.

That said, there are also those specifics within the Interim Report that I, at least, think are problematic. The three papers in the Commentary section are not the products of scholars from the Global South, but rather of scholars of the “Global North” who are sympathetic. The topics of the papers are Holy Scripture, the Creeds, and the Anglican Formularies. All are distinctily evangelical in their orientation. The paper on the Creeds by Bishop Paul Barnet, retired of Sydney, is distinctly Evangelical, but not notably partisan about our current differences. On the other hand, the paper on the Holy Scriptures by Professor Oliver O’Donovan of the University of Edinburgh takes a position on Scripture that is explicitly inerrantist and implicitly literalist. The paper on the Anglican Forumlaries by Peter Toon, President of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A, is less informative than polemic, so philosophically focused on the particular experience of the Church of England in Empire and Commonwealth as to largely ignore any real “local adaptation” and to imagine the experience of the Episcopal Church as literally “beyond the rim.”

These commentaries are not explicitly part of ACIO, and arguably do not necessarily detract from its usefulness. At the same time, these papers were included by the Task Force in the Interim Report. They were obviously acceptable to the Task Force. If they were seen as important in interpreting and adapting the “catechetical framework,” I think they would seriously undermine its usefulness across the Communion. It will be important to note how those who celebrate ACIO specifically also respond to these papers. Those attitudes will certainly affect the climate within which we might still seek conversation and mutual recognition across our differences.

In our desire to embrace and celebrate a Communion that is theologically and culturally diverse and inclusive, we need to be attentive to and thoughtful about ACIO and the Interim Report, and about similar scholarly efforts from those with whom we disagree. At least we will know what our critics say, and can decide how to respond. At best we will demonstrate our own commitment to a diverse and inclusive Communion, and our humility and willingness to learn from those at times seem so distant and so different as to become for us “those folks.” They are still our siblings in Christ and in the Anglican Communion. It is important for us to listen to and learn from their best efforts as much as their harshest words.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

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