Anglican Identity and the Missio Dei: Implications for the American Convocation of Churches in Europe

By Douglas, Ian T. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Anglican Identity and the Missio Dei: Implications for the American Convocation of Churches in Europe


Douglas, Ian T., Anglican Theological Review


When a Mission Consultation for the Convocation of American Churches in Europe was initially conceived, few envisioned that Europe and the Church would be in such an important time of change and conflict, transition and turmoil. In the Convocation many knew that Bishop Rowthorn's six-year appointment would expire on December 31,1999, but most hoped he would renew for an extended period in order to provide ongoing leadership in these crucial times for Anglicans in this part of the world. Similarly, in these post-Cold War times few anticipated that NATO would be drawn into its first military engagement since its founding. How could we imagine that bombs again would be falling in response to wide-scale human atrocities, the likes of which we have not seen in Europe in five decades At the same time, we all knew Lambeth 1998 was coming but had no idea that the decisions and conversations at that gathering last summer would be so contentious and challenging for our common life together as Anglicans. What is one to say about mission and the calling of the Church in these trying times? Where is the hope? Where is the new life in Christ that we celebrate this Easter season?

Bishop Rowthorn's March letter to the Convocation outlining the Mission 2000 Consultation emphasized the importance of these times: "Over the past several years a new missionary awareness has become evident in each of our churches; more outreach to English speaking populations, the launching of indigenous ministries, planting of new congregations, increased use of the vernacular, and the recognition and celebration of diversity. All this is happening at an increasing pace, and now is the time to take stock."1

To assist with the mission planning of the Convocation, I will offer three brief reflections. I will begin by positing a new working definition of Anglicanism or Anglican identity, one that is fairly radical and forward-looking and is not based on either sharp doctrinal definitions or one shared cultural history. Second, I will develop a theology of mission based on the biblical story, apart from which any understanding of Anglican identity has no meaning. Finally I will try to tie both the discussion of Anglican identity and the theology of mission to the particular context of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe at this important time of change and transition.

A New View of Anglicanism

Even to the casual observer, Lambeth 1998 was not the garden party of yesteryears. For the first time, Anglicans in the industrialized West had to wrestle deeply with the reality that the Anglican Communion is no longer a Christian community primarily identified with Anglo-American culture. Astute watchers of Lambeth and the emerging Communion knew that such a profound shift had been in the works for decades. Speaking of the modern Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Robert Runcie, past Archbishop of Canterbury, in his address to the 1985 General Convention of the Episcopal Church close to fifteen years ago, said:

We have developed into a worldwide family of Churches. Today there are 70 million members of what is arguably the second most widely distributed body of Christians. No longer are we identified by having some kind of English heritage. English today is now the second language of the Communion. There are more black members than white. Our local diversities span the spectrum of the world's races, needs, and aspirations. We have only to think of Bishop Tutu's courageous witness in South Africa to be reminded that we are no longer a Church of the white middle classes allied only to the prosperous western world.2

The changes in contemporary Anglicanism, from a white, predominantly English-speaking Church of the West to a Church of the Southern Hemisphere is consistent with the changing face of Christianity over the last few decades. Anglican mission scholar David Barrett has documented that in the year 1900, 83% of the 522 million Christians in the world lived in Europe or North America. …

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