Section 2 of the proposed Anglican Covenant is probably the strongest section of the whole document, and certainly the one most likely to attract broad support. It focuses on the vocation and mission of the churches in the Anglican Communion, and puts the Five Marks of Mission in the centre of that vocation.
I'm a fan of the Five Marks of Mission, and they seem to have wide appeal and acceptance across the church. Nevertheless, I'm not so certain about the way in which the Marks of Mission are used in the proposed Covenant. There are three problems in section 2.2.2 of the proposed Covenant.
First, there is the question of the adequacy of the Five Marks of Mission. Useful though they are, they cannot be understood to exhaust all the possible aspects of the mission of the Church. This question was raised at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and addressed in the Lambeth Commentary, which stated that the Covenant Design Group felt it was important to quote the Marks of Mission in the form in which they have been received by the Instruments of Communion. Perhaps the question was raised in light of a current movement to add a sixth Mark of Mission, “that relates to peace, conflict transformation and reconciliation”. The Anglican Consultative Council endorsed this suggestion at its meeting in 2009, and work is underway to implement it.
But this gives rise to the second problem with the way in which the Marks of Mission are used in the proposed Covenant. For once the sixth Mark is added, the Covenant text will be out of date. Obviously the move to amend the Marks of Mission was too late to have the sixth Mark included in the Covenant text, and that text has been frozen in its current form for adoption by the Churches of the Anglican Communion. But the addition of a sixth Mark will give rise to the need to amend the Covenant, a process which will take a significant amount of time and energy. Perhaps the addition of a section 2.2.2.f to include the sixth Mark of Mission will simply be put on a Communion to-do list and included in a package of future amendments to be done all at once. But in the meantime, the Covenant, if adopted, will be out of date. An alternative which either didn't occur to the Design Group or was rejected by them would have been to refer to the Marks of Mission without actually quoting them. In other words, section 2.2.2 could have simply read something like “to undertake in this mission, which is the mission of God in Christ, to engage in all of the Marks of Mission as identified by the Instruments of Communion.” This would have left the document more fluid and dynamic, including automatically any future revisions of the Marks of Mission. Instead, we have a document that will be out of date in at least one respect before it is even adopted.
The third problem with the use of the Marks of Mission is more serious. The Lambeth Commentary states clearly that “While some have suggested additions to the Five Marks of Mission, it is the view of the Covenant Design Group that it is important to cite them in the form in which they have been received by the Instruments of Communion.” But the Marks of Mission are not quoted in the form in which they have been received. Whilst it is true that the texts in quotation marks are in fact the Marks of Mission as received, each one has been expanded in the Covenant text, which reads:
(2.2.2.a) “to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God” and to bring all to repentance and faith;
(2.2.2.b) “to teach, baptize and nurture new believers”, making disciples of all nations (Mt 28.19) through the quickening power of the Holy Spirit and drawing them into the one Body of Christ whose faith, calling and hope are one in the Lord (Eph 4.4-6);
(2.2.2.c) “to respond to human need by loving service”, disclosing God’s reign through humble ministry to those most needy (Mk 10.42-45; Mt 18.4; 25.31-45);
(2.2.2.d) “to seek to transform unjust structures of society” as the Church stands vigilantly with Christ proclaiming both judgment and salvation to the nations of the world, and manifesting through our actions on behalf of God’s righteousness the Spirit’s transfiguring power;
(2.2.2.e) “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth” as essential aspects of our mission in communion.
This expansion of the Marks of Mission is problematic because it places a particular lens on the Marks of Mission and that lens may not fit everyone's eyes. Consider, for example, the expansion of the second Mark, “to teach, baptize and nurture new believers.” That's all well and good; it fits with the task of incorporating new members into the Church, whether they come into our midst by birth or by their own decision to join the Church. But consider the gloss that's added: “...making disciples of all nations (Mt 28.19) through the quickening power of the Holy Spirit and drawing them into the one Body of Christ whose faith, calling and hope are one in the Lord (Eph 4.4-6).” All of a sudden the second Mark begins to sound rather triumphalistic. It's no longer just about incorporating new members; it's now about the project of converting the whole world. This formulation of the second Mark begins to have serious implications for interfaith dialogue. How we read the quote from Matthew 28 is crucial here. It's one thing to say that people from all nations are welcome to become disciples of Christ; it's quite another thing to suggest that the task of the Church is to make all nations into disciples. And that second reading was pretty much what the Constantinian era assumed. I am with those who welcome the death of the Constantinian era of the Church, but there is certainly no lack of Christians, including some Anglicans, who are still gathered around the body defibrillating it. And the gloss on the second Mark takes it in that direction.
If the second Mark of Mission reads triumphalistically as glossed, the fourth is even worse. It's one thing to say that part of our mission is “to seek to transform unjust structures of society.” It's quite another thing to suggest that this is to be done “as the Church stands vigilantly with Christ proclaiming both judgment and salvation to the nations of the world, and manifesting through our actions on behalf of God’s righteousness the Spirit’s transfiguring power.”
There is an irony, too, about inclusion of the fourth Mark of Mission in the proposed Covenant, given that the dispute-settling process of section 4.2 is itself demonstrably an “unjust structure”. Maybe we should be more concerned about addressing our own unjust structures before we start arrogantly “proclaiming both judgment and salvation to the nations of the world.”
Triumphalism isn't just my concern, it was raised as an issue in the Lambeth Commentary. And in its response, “The Covenant Design Group acknowledge[d] that this is an important corrective.” So we have section 2.2.3, which commits signatory Churches “to engage in this mission with humility....” Humble triumphalism.
But it would have been better if the Design Group had taken its own advice and simply quoted the Marks of Mission in their canonical form, without adding the gloss to them. Or better still, if they had simply included them by reference, allowing the Marks of Mission to continue to evolve without rendering the Covenant out of date. But then, if the proposed Covenant is rejected, we won't have that problem.