The Creedal Christian for drawing my attention to a reflection from a United Methodist source on why an ecclesiology shaped by autonomy rather than communion should not be countenanced in the midst of the present debates on human sexuality.
The author begins by rejecting a proposal that each United Methodist Conference (somewhat akin to an Anglican diocese) should have the autonomy to determine its own approach to human sexuality issues:
We are a connectional body — and we are grateful and even proud of that reality. One of the reasons we are United Methodists is because we believe that a divided church is less than what Christ desires and prayed for in John 17. In the past we have bemoaned the fragmented nature of the Church Universal and have been dismayed that there are so many “independent” congregations that are autonomous and accountable to no body greater than themselves.
Now, some are trying to make us United Methodists what we have never been to solve a matter of biblical interpretation and ecclesiastical accountability. Annual Conferences and individual churches are not autonomous when it comes to paying apportionments, infant baptism, or women’s ordination — and they shouldn’t be. It means something to be United Methodist. And we cannot violate our very nature to solve a problem simply because we want it to go away.
The autonomous solution would create chaos. Could an elder ordained in one Annual Conference be denied appointment in another Conference because the second Conference has different ordination standards?
The autonomous solution would ultimately destroy our unity. This would be the first step toward a balkanization of the church that would cause us to drift further apart as time passes. This compromise intended to “keep us together” would insure, over time, just the opposite.
There is much here for Anglicans to reflect upon. It is a timely reminder that the an ecclesiology which proceeds from the ethic of autonomy results in a denial of the Church's fundamental nature as communion, depriving the Church of the gifts of peace and unity.
The real challenge for Anglicanism is that a sizeable section of the Communion has espoused an ecclesiology of autonomy, the GAFCON-aligned provinces have indicated their rejection of the "grammar of obedience" (a fundamental aspect of communion ecclesiology), and in the absence of the Covenant the practice of the Communion continues to be determined by the ethic of autonomy. Which leaves us with the stark warning:
The autonomous solution would ultimately destroy our unity.