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Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism
by the Spirit into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. But in fact we are all organised in different groups, each one keeping to itself gifts that rightly belong to the whole fellowship, and tending to live its own life apart from the rest. … The vision which rises before us is that of a Church, genuinely Catholic, loyal to all truth, and gathering into its fellowship all ‘who profess and call themselves Christians’, within whose visible unity all the treasures of faith and order, bequeathed as a heritage by the past to the present, shall be possessed in common, and made serviceable to the whole Body of Christ. Within this unity Christian Communions now separated from one another would retain much that has long been distinctive in their methods of worship and service. It is through a rich diversity of life and devotion that the unity of the whole fellowship will be fulfilled.’ From the Appeal to all Christian People, Resolution 9, 1920 Lambeth Conference
3. The Processes of Ecumenism Anglicans seek to live ‘in the highest degree of Communion possible’, and should strive to avoid breaking or impairing the degree of expression of the communion given to us in Christ which is already manifested. Anglicans seek to participate in the greatest possible practical expressions of the communion we share with our ecumenical partners. This often means moving towards eucharistic hospitality at an early stage of relationship. (The most common formula in Anglican Churches being admission of all baptised and communicant members of trinitarian Churches to eucharistic communion in Anglican Churches.) Anglicans are willing to move towards unity by stages. This means Churches will consider entering into expressed degrees of recognition of communion as steps on the way to full visible communion. Anglicans are even prepared to live with degrees of ‘bearable anomaly’, in which current differences of practice are tolerated for a temporary period, provided there is a commitment to move beyond them.
‘This Conference recognises that the process of moving towards full, visible unity may entail temporary anomalies, and believes that some anomalies may be bearable when there is an agreed goal of visible unity, but that there should always be an impetus towards their resolution and, thus, towards the removal of the principal anomaly of disunity.’ Lambeth Conference 1998, Resolution IV.1.c (Notes: The concept of ‘the highest degree of communion possible’ was originally developed in the context of intra-Anglican conversations in relation to the potential divisions which might arise in response to the ordination of women to priesthood or episcopate. The Eames Commission understood its task as seeking to find ways for Anglicans,
Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism
faced with differences on this issue, to be able to maintain ‘the highest degree of communion possible’.
‘Proceeding by stages’ may involve specific agreements or covenants of appropriate co-operation in mission, in fellowship, in the sharing of worship, of Eucharistic hospitality and of Eucharistic sharing in advance of the recognition of ‘full Communion’. Full Communion is a term which must be handled with care, and is usually regarded as itself a stage on the way to organic unity, but which implies full interchangeability of ministry and membership. Anglicans are therefore familiar with agreements of ‘mutual recognition’, ‘communion’ or ‘full communion’, even though there remains some discussion about the proper use of such terminology.)
4. The Content of Church Unity Anglicans take very seriously questions about the content of the teaching of the Christian faith. This faith embraces the whole of life and the ordering of the Church according to God’s will. Anglicans seek the proclamation of a common faith, the celebration of common sacraments and the exercise of a common ministry, which implies a high degree of convergence and agreement. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, adopted at the 1888 Lambeth Conference and which adapts principles formulated first at the 1886 Chicago Missionary Conference, remains the continuing Anglican understanding of the basis upon which ‘reunion’ between the Churches might be built:
i. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation’, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
ii. The Apostles’ Creed, as the baptismal symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
iii. The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with the unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him;
iv. 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.
Canon Gregory K Cameron These Principles encapsulate the essence of many years of discussion. The ACO, March 2009 … issues raised during these deliberations are likely to remain pertinent as the Anglican Communion pursues its ecumenical vocation in various and
evolving circumstances. It is therefore worth looking at the thinking behind the Principles in some detail.
The Goal of the Ecumenical Movement As with every aspect of the Christian life, the goal of Anglicans in our engagement with ecumenism is to be conformed to Christ and to live as he would have us live.
From early on IASCER members were explicitly clear that we held no brief to preserve or defend something labelled ‘Anglicanism’. As one person put it, ‘Anglicanism in and of itself has no eschatological destiny’. While Anglicans hope and trust that within Anglican tradition we have been gifted with elements that authentically reflect aspects of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ to which we belong, we acknowledge that such reflection is at best partial. We have never seen ourselves as ‘selfsufficient’.7 Therefore, though we believe we have much to share with others, we also know we remain impoverished as long as we remain divided; and, more than this, that our divisions undermine and impede the ability of the people of God to express God’s reconciling purposes for all creation. We cannot remain as we are, nor can we wait for eschatological fulfilment. For the sake of God’s mission, Anglicans, as faithful and obedient Christians, have no option but to labour for unity in Christ, and in the Body of Christ.
Anglicans are therefore committed to nothing less than ‘the full, visible unity’ of the Church. This is the terminology that we have come to use to describe our vocation, and that was upheld in Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution IV:1 and reaffirmed in 2008, in Indaba Reflections, 71. We use it in preference to other descriptions such as ‘full communion’, which may have other interpretations, for example, often describing some form of reconciled diversity between continuing parallel ecclesial jurisdictions, or even organic unity between two or more partners. Important though such agreements can be, they are only one stage (see ‘Process’ below) on a longer journey to our goal. Yet communion as the fellowship, the koinonia, we share in Christ, is at the heart of what we are called to seek. As Indaba Reflections, 72 puts it, ‘We recognise that all the baptised are brought through their grafting into the Body of Christ, into a relationship of communion with one another. The vocation of the Anglican Communion and the ecumenical vocation are therefore one and the same: to deepen our expression of the gift of full communion imparted to us already through our communion with and in Christ’. Chapter 3 records how IASCER discussed what we might mean by such affirmations, and attempted to clarify the various ways we use and
Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism
understand the term ‘communion’, and explore some of the questions that all this has raised.
While in some respects, the contemporary pursuit of ecumenism has its roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in fact Anglicans look back to the very earliest Christian times for an understanding of what Jesus’ prayer of John 17:22 might mean in the ‘lived life’ of the Church. We share with those fellow members of the Body of Christ of the first and second centuries a vision that finds practical expression in the unity in faith of all the people of God in one place gathered around their bishop in one eucharistic fellowship, and so sharing together in God’s mission to God’s world. For this reason, our understanding of Eucharist (along with Baptism, as the two sacraments ordained by Jesus) and of episcopacy and the whole ordained ministry, are among the most central areas for discussion in our ecumenical encounters. The considerable work that IASCER pursued in these two areas is recorded in Chapters 4 and 5.
It may be worth noting why we generally refer to the Anglican Communion as a family of Anglican Churches, and rarely speak of ‘the Anglican Church’.
Anglicans acknowledge a creative tension between the understanding of ‘local Church’, which is that portion of God’s people gathered around their bishop, usually in a territorial diocese, and ‘Church’ as a term or description for a national or regional ecclesial community, which is bound together by a national character, and/or common liturgical life, governance and canon law.
Traditionally, Anglicans have asserted the ecclesial character of the national Church as the privileged unit of ecclesiastical life. The Church of England’s very existence was predicated upon such an assumption at the time of the Reformation. Recognised in most cases as ‘Provinces’, these national or regional Churches are the bodies through which the life of the Anglican Communion has been expressed. In practice, Provinces enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy – which we believe we are called to retain, even if we are searching for better ways of expressing and living out our interdependence and the mutual commitment we have to one another through the ‘bonds of affection’ of this family of Churches. Alongside all this, Anglicans also acknowledge that to speak of being a Church at the global level is to make a very high ecclesial claim, not least of our own unity in faith and life where, for all our aspirations, we know we fall short of what we are called to be.
The Task of the Ecumenical Movement Though in one sense IASCER sat lightly to preserving Anglicanism, in another, we shared strong convictions that Anglican tradition has been gifted Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism by God with distinctive aspects that to a considerable degree authentically reflect elements of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ to which we belong. And the same is true of other Christian traditions.
As noted in Chapter 1, Anglican ecumenists therefore need a strong sense of Anglican identity so that we can articulate this, and share all that we believe is good about it with our partners. The publication of The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion was warmly welcomed by IASCER as a particularly helpful resource in this area (see further comment in Chapter 12).
The task of ecumenism is for us to ‘recognise and receive’ these elements from one another, and through this to grow together in the unity of the faith we profess. In this we believe that the best and most authentic aspects of each will be preserved as we journey ever more closely with one another. We are not in pursuit of some ‘lowest common denominator’ across the whole spectrum of Christian expression. Rather, each in our partialness can expect freely and joyfully to be enriched by our increasing mutual openness and closeness, as we learn better to share the gifts of God, given in the manifestation of the Spirit to us for the common good, that is, for building up the Body of Christ until we all of us come to unity in faith and knowledge and to maturity in Christ our Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.7, Ephesians 4.7-13).
One way that we can be helped in our efforts to recognise God’s gifts in each other is to pursue, as Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution IV.2 put it, ‘the further explication of the characteristics which belong to the full, visible unity of the Church (described variously as the goal, the marks, or the portrait of visible unity)’. Some of IASCER’s work, particularly in addressing key themes, began to do this.
It is worth noting that it soon became clear to IASCER that every dialogue is different. Each partner is unique, and often our common history (or lack of it) or the context in which we now meet also has distinctive aspects that we share with no others in quite the same way. What there is for us to recognise and receive, as well as offer, may vary considerably between ecumenical relationships.
An expectation that we should be ready to receive from others challenges us to fresh consideration of what it means to live with ‘unity in diversity’. As we are now experiencing within the Anglican Communion this is not always easy. Yet our understanding of our vocation to full visible unity calls us to explore what it might mean for us from an ecumenical perspective.
IASCER’s consideration of what we meant by coherence and consistency in dialogues and agreements also had to embrace such legitimate variation.
Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism The experiences of the four United Churches of South Asia give tremendous ground for encouragement. They are members of the Anglican Communion alongside thirty-four Anglican Provinces and six further Churches, two of which were not Anglican in origin but have come into full membership of the Communion: the Lusitanian Church in Portugal and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church. In their joys in coming together and sharing their distinctive gifts, and even in their honesty over the struggles they faced in pursing unity, they have much to teach us (see further comment in Chapter 7).