Anglicans and Communion: Six Propositions and an Invitation to Participate in the Communion Study

By Thomas, Philip H. E.; Grieb, A. Katherine et al. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Anglicans and Communion: Six Propositions and an Invitation to Participate in the Communion Study


Thomas, Philip H. E., Grieb, A. Katherine, Mombo, Esther M., Wright, N. Thomas, et al., Anglican Theological Review


The Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission

When David Hamid (now assistant bishop in Europe) was director of Ecumenical Affairs for the Anglican Communion, he noted the peculiar anomaly of his position. Whereas it might conventionally appear that the Anglican Communion Office from which he worked was the "headquarters" of the Anglican Communion, coordinating various Anglican activities throughout the world, in reality the situation was quite opposite. It would be more accurate, he said, to speak of the ACO as the single "branch office," answering to thirty-eight head offices-the headquarters of each of the autonomous provinces of the Communion.1

Anglicanism from its beginnings has struggled with the ecclesiological conundrum of how universal and local dimensions of the church are related, the ways in which competing loyalties to context and catholicity should be acknowledged. The current pace of cultural change and seemingly irresistible forces of globalization present distinctive challenges to the future of Anglicanism. On one hand, the Anglican vision of a "particular or national church" (as the Thirty-Nine Articles put it), deeply rooted in a particular society, embedded in the corporate life of a nation, can speak powerfully to the longing for identity and individuality offered in the gospel. On the other, every Anglican church sees itself as part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What happens when it appears that what one local church perceives in its own situation to be an obedient response to the gospel, looks to others like the denial of universal standards of holiness and truth? It is no secret that at the time of the last Lambeth Conference, and in subsequent responses to it, many Anglicans have felt that the bonds of "communion" are being stretched to the limit. Years of talk about the rich potential of unity in diversity need to be cashed in. What is it that actually holds Anglican Christians together across differences of background or conviction? The present Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission was appointed in 2001 to address this question with a study of "the nature, basis and sustaining of communion in the Church, with particular reference to the Anglican Communion."

The dilemma over locating where the center and the periphery of Anglican life lies also presents problems for the definition of doctrine. Even during the past twenty-five years, during which international doctrine commissions have been in existence, the Anglican Communion has not been clear about what to do with such theological deliberations. Commissions have worked within the cycle of the Lambeth Conferences, but the first report2 was not even referred to by the 1988 Conference. The second, The Virginia Report, although presented to the 1998 gathering and published with its official proceedings, shows little evidence of having been absorbed into the Communion's bloodstream. It does not yet seem to influence patterns of Anglican thought and action around the world. By way of response to both the theological and practical problems-matters of conviction as well as circumstance-the present commission has chosen to carry out its work in active conversation with member churches of the Communion. While already building up a considerable body of literature, with papers written by or for the commission and materials submitted to it, the most potent resource it has to draw on is the lived experience of how Anglicans in widely differing situations actually identify themselves, appropriate their fellowship, and discern their mission. When a report is published (probably in 2006) it is hoped that it will not just be a document produced, as it were, out of the blue, but will rather offer a theological framework for decision-making from within an established debate about how Anglicans pray, work, and make up their minds together.

In the first phase of this process, a series of questions about the nature of communion and its disruption in the church were circulated throughout the Communion, to all diocesan bishops, and as many theological education centers and church news media as possible. …

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