Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Authority, Unity, and Mission in the Windsor Report

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Authority, Unity, and Mission in the Windsor Report

Article excerpt

The Windsor Report advances a structural/instrumentalist approach to issues of authority and unity in the Anglican Communion. This article reviews the history of the development of the concept of "Four Instruments of Unity" as a primary ecclesiological understanding of contemporary Anglicanism. It argues that while structures are needed in the global Anglican family to facilitate inter-Anglican cooperation, and bishops and archbishops do have an important role to play in the polity of the Anglican Communion, the future of the Anglican Communion rests less on Instruments of Unity and more on relationships across difference in service to God's mission.

The debates in the Anglican Communion are about issues of authority and unity as much as, if not more than, they are about human sexuality. The Windsor Report thus appropriately focuses on ecclesiological questions related to the nature of communion and does not attempt to resolve conflicts related to sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, within Anglicanism. Given recent inter-Anglican theological and doctrinal documents, it is not entirely surprising that the Windsor Report proposes a structural, or instrumentalist, response to questions about authority and unity in the Anglican Communion. Such a response presupposes a particular understanding of the episcopate that is not necessarily normative in all provinces of the Anglican Communion. While structures are needed to facilitate global inter-Anglican cooperation, and bishops and archbishops do have an important role to play in the polity of the Anglican Communion, the future of the Anglican Communion rests less on Instruments of Unity and more on relationships across difference in service to God's mission.1

The Windsor Report's discussion of the authority of the Bible is one of the most positive aspects of the Report and offers an important beginning point for Anglican self-understanding of issues of authority and unity. The Report underscores Scripture "as the Church's supreme authority, and as such ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity" (para. 53). Its hermeneutical approach sees the Bible as a living document that informs and directs the life of the church (para. 55). Such an approach requires that Scripture always be interpreted within the worshiping life of the church (para. 57). As such, the Windsor Report is advocating an orthodox and classically Anglican understanding of the nature of biblical authority.

There is much to be gained by the Windsor Report's beginning with Scripture as a key locus of authority and unity, and the related embrace of biblical interpretation within the community of the church. The Report, however, emphasizes that the final arbiters of scriptural interpretation within the life of the church are bishops and primates (para. 58).2 The idea that bishops (in the diocese) and primates (in the Communion) are the "accredited leaders" who are in charge of biblical interpretation seems contrary to a wider baptismal ecclesiology that places biblical interpretation within the worshiping and prayer life of the broader body of Christ. The "accredited leader" perspective points to a representative understanding of bishops and primates that is not necessarily embraced across the whole Anglican Communion (particularly in North America). Yes, bishops are teachers and have a special role in helping the gathered community to understand and interpret what God is saying in Scripture, in a mutually discerning, truth-seeking manner. But accreditation reeks of an ex cathedra ("I'm right because I am the bishop") form of episcopé.

Most Anglicans would agree that the office of bishop is a sign and symbol of the unity that God has given the church as the body of Christ and so is one expression of the unity of the Anglican Communion. The Windsor Report, however, goes one step further and says that the episcopate helps to "put into effect" the unity of the Communion (para. 63). The bishops here become more than an expression of unity; they become the representative instrument that brings into being our unity in the church. …

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