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While pursuit of Christian unity through formal dialogues has tended to centre on questions of faith and order, it is not just in areas of theology and ecclesiology that we are called to be open to ‘recognise and receive’ from one another. Just as God’s loving and redemptive purposes reach to every part of his creation, so every part of Christian life is called into the unity that is God’s gift. Over the last decade or so the significance of this has increasingly been recognised and addressed in new ways in what might be termed ‘institutional ecumenism’, though co-operation at local level in everything from mission and social justice to prayer and Bible study is far more longstanding. The importance of ecumenism for all aspects of mission, not least advocacy and social justice, relief work and care of the environment, was stressed at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.8 A particularly significant development has been an engagement in what might be called ‘spiritual ecumenism’. There has been a growing realisation that through sharing our ‘faith journeys’, that is, experiences of the Christian life, people from different traditions can recognise that God is graciously at work in one another in ways we often had not previously appreciated.
IASCER strongly affirmed that our ecumenical vocation should not only embrace every aspect of the Christian life, it must also be pursued at every level. Conscious of the risk of becoming a rather rarefied and technical body, we aimed to counteract such tendencies, for example, through our contacts with the local churches, often with their ecumenical partners, in the places where we met (as mentioned in the previous chapter). Alongside this, we encouraged local and regional ecumenical initiatives, offering constructive assistance and suggestions where we could, sometimes through formal Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism resolutions (see Chapter 9) and sometimes informally through correspondence and conversation. We also bore in mind the needs and contexts of local churches in our production and promotion of study material so that the fruits of our ecumenical life could more easily be harvested and enjoyed. It is hoped that this book also may assist in sharing the riches of our ecumenical pilgrimage more fully among Anglicans and our partners on the ecumenical journey. Communication is not an easy task among a global family of some eighty million members, and IASCER passes to IASCUFO its concern that we should aim to do more and do better in this area.
It was also IASCER’s intention that our work should strengthen our ability to express our ecumenical commitment ‘all round’, that is, towards all partners without favour. Our pursuit of consistency and coherence among all our ecumenical activities helped us address this task, even as we recognised that some of our partners were closer to us than others at the present moment of our journey. Ultimately full visible unity must embrace us all.
Ecumenism is thus an all round, every level, whole life undertaking, to be pursued through extending and strengthening webs of interconnection.
The Processes of Ecumenism As already noted, ‘communion’ is a slippery word, yet it remains somehow at the centre of what we seek through the broadening and deepening relationships we pursue with other Christians.
Communion with one another arises from our communion with Jesus Christ, established in our incorporation into the Body of Christ in Baptism. It should therefore come as little surprise that mutual recognition of Baptism is often one of the most basic steps we can take to come closer to one another. In some parts of the world it can take time to achieve even this level of concord.
IASCER strongly encouraged pursuit of such agreements where they do not currently exist, and warmly welcomed those recently reached at regional and local level, as recorded in Chapters 8 and 9.
Mutual recognition of Baptism opens the door to considering the extension of eucharistic hospitality – the admission to Holy Communion of baptised and communicant members of other trinitarian Churches. From these, further levels of agreement may follow, including various commitments to cooperation in mission, fellowship, and worship. Questions that arise early in dialogues tend to focus on ‘mutual recognition’ or ‘interchangeability’ of ministries and of ministers, which is why Baptism and Eucharist (Chapter 4) and Holy Orders (Chapter 5) were such significant elements of IASCER’s work.
Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism Reviewing the whole breadth and diversity of Anglican ecumenical engagement, IASCER concluded that it was generally helpful to look at progress towards full visible unity in terms of stages, though with some flexibility of approach. Thus Decision 15.01, commenting on conversations between the Church of England and its Methodist and United Reformed partners (see Chapter 9), affirmed ‘the importance of (a) seeking unity by stages, with theological agreement accompanying each step, while recognising that ecumenical progress is not always sequentially linear, and (b) the avoidance of short-cuts in ecumenical dialogue’.
IASCER’s support for stages arose in part from our recognition that it is essential that partners should be clear about their goals, and that they are fully shared, when entering into dialogue or conversation. Sometimes goals can be too broadly and aspirationally drawn and look too far into some undefined future, or be over-ambitious and unachievable within the current context. It is not a failure of faithfulness, but rather godly wisdom, to begin with what is realistic before attempting further steps. To aim too high and then fall short risks demoralisation or, worse, a sense of failure and betrayal between ecumenical partners. Going forward by means of clear stages can help avoid such set-backs.
Proceeding by stages requires careful handling in some specific areas. As noted above, while committed to expressing ‘all round’ ecumenism, often we find ourselves closer to certain partners than to others. We must therefore be sensitive to ways in which a step forward with one partner may mean moving away from, or delaying rapprochement with, another. Furthermore, our various agreements must be compatible and coherent with one another. We must also consider questions of ‘transitivity’ – how far elements within the relationship between A and B have consequences for relations not only between B and C, but even between A and C (a complex issue, considered in Chapter 3).
In various ways agreements can throw up anomalies, especially during transition periods. Some of these will be more bearable than others. Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution IV.1 recognised ‘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’. In reviewing various international and national agreements and proposals, IASCER was encouraged to find that, provided there were clear commitments to when and how anomalous situations might be overcome, rather more could be considered bearable than was initially supposed (for example, see the Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism comments on United Churches in Chapter 7). Precedent and tradition should be seen as more of a springboard to new possibilities than a constraint on innovation (though attention should be paid to the contexts of agreements and the objectives they set themselves in considering their translatability into new circumstances). Imaginative initiatives might often provide new and helpful precedents, and, provided they are carefully thought through (and here we hope that the material in this book will prove particularly useful), should be given serious positive consideration as far as possible.
It is of course the case, and should be explicitly recognised (as it was in Called to Be One), that lasting division within the Body of Christ is the least bearable of all ecumenical anomalies.
Though not made explicit within these principles, IASCER recognised that humility in the face of human fallibility, and repentance for the sin of division and all that follows from it, are unavoidable and necessary elements in ecumenical processes. In our own dialogues with others, and in others’ dialogues, during recent years there has been a growing willingness to make such admissions, and to address specific pains and hurts between Christian traditions – even where through history lives had been taken. Healing of memories is a necessary part of reconciliation. This was reflected in the process that led to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, made by the Lutherans and Roman Catholics (see Chapter 8, in the Lutheran section). It is also a central issue in the work being pursued by the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC on ‘The Cloud of Witnesses’ (see the section on Faith and Order, in Chapter 10).
The Nature of Church Unity Inseparable from the goal, task and processes of ecumenism, is its content.
While truth and unity have sometimes been juxtaposed in the debates within the Anglican Communion, ultimately for us and for all Christians, the fullness of truth and the fullness of unity will only be found when they are found together, as ‘all things’ are reconciled with God in Christ (cf.
Colossians 1.17-20). In responding faithfully to our vocation to be the Body of Christ, we can neither pursue unity at the expense of truth, nor truth at the expense of unity – though in this respect as in others, we may have to grapple with questions of what are bearable or unbearable anomalies.
However, what has not been negotiable in the work of IASCER, nor should be in any part of Anglican ecumenical engagement, is the commitment to the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation’ and being the rule and ultimate standard of faith; and Part One • Anglicans and Ecumenism to the Apostles’ Creed, as the baptismal symbol, and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
This echoes the first two clauses of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, to which IASCER endlessly returned in its discussions. First adopted in 1888, it was reaffirmed in 1998, Resolution IV.1, which commended ‘continuing reflection’ upon its ‘contribution to the search for the full, visible unity of the Church’, while Called to Be One described it as a ‘skeletal framework’.
IASCER sought to pursue such reflection throughout its work. The third clause addresses the two sacraments ordained by Christ himself, Baptism and Eucharist, the theme of Chapter 4. The subject of its fourth clause can be seen as underlying IASCER’s work on Holy Orders, considered further in Chapter 5.
More than all this, by affirming the position of the Quadrilateral within its enunciation of the Principles of Anglican Ecumenical Engagement, IASCER sought to provide in a comprehensive way a considered reflection, as requested by the bishops at Lambeth in 1998, of how, in our current context, it can continue to contribute to the search for the full visible unity of the Church.
Finally, however much we strive for right structures and procedures in our relationships with other Christians, they alone are not enough. We must remember that the life of the Church is always dependent upon the indwelling of God’s Spirit among us. May the Spirit direct, inspire and bless us in our ecumenical engagement, and make us a blessing to God’s world.
PART TWO Themes
3. Communion One of the major areas of complexity and confusion in ecumenical relations identified by the bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference and referred to IASCER was the issue of consistency not only between dialogues and agreements, but in the terminology we employ. IASCER attempted to introduce greater consistency and clarity in our own usage, and to share that with others.
A fundamental term in ecumenical discourse is koinonia, or communion: the scriptural term for the relationships of fellowship we share as fellow members of the Body of Christ. At IASCER’s first meeting it rapidly became clear that the use of this term was an area of major confusion, inconsistency and complexity. Ecumenically we had spoken of inter-communion, being in communion, and full communion. Other descriptions included pulpit-andtable fellowship, mutual recognition, and reconciliation of ministries. The precise intentions behind these terms needed to be clarified. We needed to address what it meant to speak of a relationship of communion with the Anglican Communion, or with member Churches of the Communion; to answer how one comes into communion with the Anglican Communion; and to address the anomalies to which such relationships can give rise. There were also questions of how Anglicans could act as a single Communion in our ecumenical relations with others.
IASCER recognised it would need to take a far wider perspective than the brief on ‘communion’ given to the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission. This Commission was mandated ‘to study the meaning of communion and how it can be nurtured within the church’, exploring ‘whether the nature of the communion that Anglicans share is sufficient to hold them together in a common calling during a time [of conflict over human sexuality]’.9 With two IASCER members serving also on IATDC, account was taken of its work. The differing starting points of the two bodies sometimes led to the highlighting of different priorities or insights. For example, IASCER found that work on Holy Orders (see Chapter 5) brought to light areas of difference with IATDC’s paper, ‘The Anglican Way: The Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church’.10 IASCER produced a detailed response, and this, with Resolution 10.06, is carried in Chapter 11.