A discussion starter
Responses to The Windsor Report of the Archbishop’s Commission have been many and varied and they continue to appear.
The content of the Report itself, along with these responses, reveal that what is called “The Anglican Communion of Churches” was not in and before 2003 truly a Communion [koinonia] of Churches but a complex series of sustained or broken relations between dioceses within provinces, between provinces and provinces, and with the See of Canterbury. The 38 provinces were held together not primarily by sharing the same Faith & Order but by having a shared historic relation to the See of Canterbury, directly or indirectly. And with the latter were and are other cultural, historical, social and linguistic factors which together created and still in part maintain what are called “bonds of affection”.
Below the claims of “being in Communion” it is well known that there are real divisions which focus on such matters as, for example,
Who is God? And how is God addressed and named; the nature and authority of Holy Scripture together with its interpretation; the nature and authority of Tradition and whether innovations such as women’s ordination are contrary to it; the nature and authority of the Threefold Ministry of Bishop, Priest & Deacon;the nature and purpose of marriage and of sexual relations between persons; the nature and purpose of Liturgy; the place of the historical Formularies in determining the doctrinal standards of modern Anglican worship, teaching and discipline; the relation between evangelization and pursuing social justice; the admissibility of parallel jurisdictions in one geographical area, and the relation between autonomy and interdependence in terms of how each Province conducts its own life.
Now there are similar divisions within Roman Catholicism; but, the Roman Catholic Church has the Papacy & the Vatican and thus can determine, even if slowly and awkwardly, what is official Church teaching and then can take disciplinary action to maintain it. Therefore, there is no doubt as to what is the official Roman teaching on sexual relations, marriage, ordination, the authority of Scripture & Tradition, and so on.
Even if in the next two or three years, there is a strengthening of the Instruments of Unity within the Anglican Family of Churches, even if the ECUSA expresses regret for its innovations of recent times, and even if a Covenant is agreed and eventually signed by all the Provinces, what will exist will not be a Communion of Churches, but rather an international Denomination, loosely organized, wherein is a variety of doctrinal, liturgical and ethical emphases, and where there is no clear sign or statement as to what this “Family” truly believes, teaches and confesses.
Such an International Denomination, wherein will be all kinds of local arrangements (e.g. an organization of African Provinces), and where there is a high degree of tolerance, and where, because of the allowing of parallel jurisdictions there is healthy competition, is surely the best that is possible. Let us go for this rather than wasting much energy and emotion on reaching for the unattainable.
Looking back we see that modern attempts in The Virginia Report and The Windsor Report to base the “Anglican Communion” with its supposed unity and diversity upon the exalted and mystical “Communion between the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity” are high-minded but very misguided. For the future, it will be much better if this kind of theologizing is left aside and that all concentrate on running a decent international denomination, wherein there is recognition of real differences, where there is not eucharistic fellowship between all, and where there is an ordered freedom for the existence of parallel jurisdictions within the one geographical area!
The time has come to be practical and to accept that there is not and cannot be truly an Anglican Communion of Churches; but there can be an international Anglican denomination wherein (as in the C of E today) there is truly a variety of churchmanship, doctrine, liturgy and ethics. The level of entry would be low, but not too low or else it would cease to be Christian!
Even as the majority of Christians in the U.S.A. have accepted reluctantly or gladly the inevitability of the existence of the supermarket of competitive religions in the land, so Anglicans should accept for the future that the Anglican Family is itself like a supermarket of competitive claims and counter-claims, and having accepted this, live in ways that recognize this reality and seek to turn it to the good!
The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon November 4, 2004