An Anglican Vision for the World Council of Churches

By Anderson, Donald | The Ecumenical Review, October 1994 | Go to article overview

An Anglican Vision for the World Council of Churches


Anderson, Donald, The Ecumenical Review


INTRODUCTION

We are the World Council of Churches! We value the WCC as a council of churches. Among the three hundred or more member churches are 34 churches or provinces of the Anglican communion. Each province is unique owing to cultural context, age and size, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each lives in a time of momentous transition in the world.

A little over a dozen of the 34 Anglican communion member churches responded (as of this writing) to the WCC request for study of the booklet Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches. Reasons for the silence of the overwhelming majority are suggested in this report, but the overall impression this creates is that the WCC does not communicate well, especially with small and middle-sized churches, and with churches in the South.

The Anglican communion, though it has its beginnings in the British Isles, has spread and continues to spread in all continents. This means that the communion is represented at the WCC now by other provinces as well. We see ourselves as a family of churches sharing a common heritage, ministry, patterns of worship and sacramental life. The classical Anglican position of "comprehensiveness" is not about the middle ground, but about holding rich diversity and breadth of understanding together without compromise. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie, has said, "The Anglican communion is radically provisional", awaiting the emergence of the visible and reunited "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church". The authority of Anglican communion instruments -- the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth conferences, the Anglican Consultative Council and the primates' meetings -- is styled "moral", "consultative" and "conciliar" but not "legislative".

These instruments have influence in discerning, articulating and forming the mind of the communion, thus binding the provinces together in interdependence. Other things also sustain the communion, such as the Anglican cycle of prayer, companion dioceses programmes and the partners in mission consultations.

The Lambeth conferences and the other instruments offer extensive and important evidence of Anglican ecumenical commitment and goals, including a series of resolutions related to the World Council of Churches:

We endorse the hope expressed by the Uppsala assembly that "the members of the World Council of Churches, committed to each other, should work for the time when a genuinely universal council may once more speak for all Christians". Our interim confessional and ecumenical organizations should be tested by their capacity to lead in this direction.(1)

The conference! acknowledges the pressing need stated by the Nairobi assembly of the WCC that we should develop more truly sustained and sustaining relationships among the churches, as we look towards the time when we can enjoy full conciliar fellowship...

[The conference] encourages the member churches of the Anglican communion to pursue with perseverance and hopefulness the search for full communion and mutual recognition of ministries between themselves and other world confessional families, internationally and locally...

[The conference] calls on member churches of the Anglican communion to review their commitment to ecumenical structure as well as bilateral conversations at various levels with a view to strengthening the common advance by all churches to the goal of visible unity...(2)

[The conference] urges that, in this thirtieth anniversary year of the World Council of Churches, all churches of the Anglican communion reaffirm their support and strengthen their understanding of this body, which is not only the most comprehensive expression of the ecumenical movement, but also the chief vehicle of worldwide ecumenical cooperation and service. It also asks the WCC to accept the guidance given through section 3 of the conference, considering war and violence:

1) to re-examine our complicity with violence in its many forms;

2) to take with the utmost seriousness the question which the teaching of Jesus places against all violence in human relationships. …

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