Arthur Middleton looks at the Ecumenical Vocation of the Anglican Communion

Lambeth 1930 defined Anglicanism while ‘praying for and eagerly awaiting … the ultimate reunion of all Christendom in one visibly united fellowship.’

Concern for unity is no recent phenomenon. For the sake of unity, Bishop John Bramhall (1594–1663) stated in Schism Guarded that he would have accepted a reducing of the Papacy to its primitive form, the essentials of the faith to the primitive creed and public and private devotions to the primitive liturgies. For the divines of post-reformation Anglicanism, catholicity means the keeping together of the authoritative foundation and continuity, which implies the acceptance of the authority of the universal Church and its representative a General Council, the maintenance of communion, and avoiding change without lawful authority on sufficient grounds. The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) is a basis for unity; the Holy Scriptures to be the rule and ultimate standard of faith; the creeds; the two sacraments ordained by Christ and the historic episcopate became the conditions of subsequent calls to unity. So at the Anglican Congress in 1954 Bishop Wand could say that the Anglican Communion ‘strives to give expression to the full teaching of the Bible as reflected in the age-long history of the Christian Church. This implies both faithfulness to the original foundation of the Church and a constant adaptation to changing circumstances. It implies also a firm grasp of the principle of continuity, which allows no essential break with the past or any departure from the line laid down in our fundamental documents.’

Ecumenical vocation

The Anglican Communion has an ecumenical vocation. What are its strengths and weaknesses and is the Anglican Communion failing in its vocation? Any sense of an ecumenical vocation must derive not from any merits, but as part of an inheritance received. Her Catholic and Reformed character with an insistence on maintaining continuity in faith and order with the Primitive Church, gives her an affinity in different respects both with the Reformed Churches and with the Roman and the Orthodox Churches. Michael Ramsey said that ‘… the Anglican Church is committed not to a vague position wherein the Evangelical and the Catholic views are alternatives, but to the Scriptural faith wherein both elements are one.’ The French writer, Jerome Cornells, confirms this. ‘Emerging from the Reformation but feeling itself to be in continuity with the ancient Church, the Anglican Communion being both Catholic and Evangelical has always considered itself as a bridge-church committed to the reconciliation of the catholic-type and protestant-type communities’ (Anglicans in the Ecumenical Movement: an Irreplaceable Role).

This claim does not conclude that she has adequately fulfilled that role. Indeed, today the agenda of the liberal ghetto is destroying the Anglican mind and has torpedoed so much of the achievements of ecumenism. The most that can be hoped for in the future lies in this shared awareness of the inadequate response of all to the challenge posed by continuing separation.

Anglican responsibilities

For Anglicans the larger ecumenical question that requires more attention than it has so far received, is whether there is consistency throughout all unity conversations and schemes under consideration. Are the official statements and actions of Anglicans consistent in their relations with the Methodists, in ARCIC and with the Orthodox? This is a matter which affects the very basis of all attempts to encourage Christian unity, for it must be obvious to every Anglican that efforts to have closer relations with one group of Christians will not be very fruitful if at the same time they appear to involve the betrayal of principles which they have accepted in discussion with others.

More acutely speaking, having established principles and plans for unity with group A on one basis, can this now be abandoned in honesty on the grounds that we should like closer relations with group B? The very thought of such abandonment suggests clearly that care should be taken to prevent it. Having officially led participants in ARCIC conversations and beyond to believe that adherence to certain principles is at least consistent with Anglican attitudes, belief and behaviour, can we now rightly act in a way which is not consistent with such principles? Anglicans have demonstrated such ecclesiastical schizophrenia. The unilateral decision to ordain women to the priesthood. on the basis of an unbiblical socio-political concept of equality, flies in the face of such principles that were accepted, and especially so when the Papacy and the Orthodox advised against it. The lesson has not been learned as Anglican sectarian arrogance pursues the impending consecration of women as bishops. Such ecumenical irresponsibility will place the validity of future generations of Anglican orders in doubt.

Ecumenical integrity

To what is the Anglican Communion officially committed in the eyes of other Christians and is its ecumenical integrity within the Communion and in relation to other Christians compatible and consistent throughout? It has quite voluntarily given certain assurances and impressions to other churches, and it is most important that these churches should not feel that they have been betrayed in what they have been led to believe by official or semi-official representatives and the actions of the Communion. It is a matter of plain honesty. Ecumenical agreements are rendered useless if the principles on which they rest and the assurances that have been exchanged are thought to be merely temporary manoeuvres without any real permanent validity. Truth and love would not find any room in such an attitude.

In unity conversations Anglicans give the impression that they can deliver what they promise when our ecumenical partners are discovering that in reality this is not so, especially to the point of organic reunion. The recent cessation of talks with the Roman and Orthodox churches reveals a suspicion that this is the case in some quarters as regards Anglican policy, especially when further to agreed statements new obstacles to unity are allowed to emerge in the feminizing of the threefold order, allowing the consecration of an openly practising homosexual bishop and the blessing of same-sex relationships. Such actions give the impression that Anglicans pay lip service to Christian unity but are not really serious about it, even within their own Communion.

Some statements

In replying to the Bull (1897) condemning Anglican orders the Archbishops stated the Anglican position on the necessity of the laying-on of hands with prayer appropriate to the ministry conferred, the intention of the Church and agreement with the mind of the Lord and his Apostles and with the statutes of the universal Church. Celebration of the Eucharist is confined to episcopally ordained priests. Further, it points out that the term priest in Latin and in English is used intentionally not only in the Prayer Book but also in other public documents written in Latin. When in 1662 the addition ‘for the office and work of a bishop or priest’ was made, it was in order to enlighten the Presbyterians ‘who were trying to find a ground for their opinions in our Prayer Book’.

Another official document (Documents on Christian Unity. GKA Bell, Vol I, 1924, Oxford, p77 and following) stated, ‘In order that the Word of God might be preached and the Sacraments duly administered our Lord instituted a Ministry for His Church, and the Apostles ordained ministers by the laying on of hands with prayer, and the Catholic Church has laid down rules for the continuation and ordering of the Ministry. We desire always to fulfil the commands of Christ, the intention of the Apostles, and the rule of the Church …’ Lambeth 1930 stated that in questions of faith the authentic decision would be given in the Anglican Communion by the whole body of bishops without excluding the co-operation of clergy and laity during the discussions. Synodical government then introduced an unresolved tension between a synodical and an episcopal form of government and this is the crux of today’s problem. ‘For hierarchically ordered Churches where authority is vested in bishops there can be no logical place for synods invested with legislative powers … The tension can surely be resolved only if in Episcopal Churches synods are constituted as consultative and advisory (not legislative) bodies, which provide the bishops with advice and expertise necessary to enable them to make informed decisions … (‘Implications for the Church’, Edward Knapp-Fisher in Through a Glass Darkly, ed M Craig, (Gracewing, 1993), as Lambeth 1930 envisaged. The making of doctrine can never be a democratic process and while it continues to be so it will obstruct union with Rome and Orthodoxy because it is uncatholic.

The point at issue in the ecumenical vocation of Anglicanism is whether current conversations and plans for reunion are consonant with Anglican formularies. In other words, in such schemes, as for example the Methodist Covenant, will it be possible to expound the proposed agreements about doctrine in terms which have been used by Anglicans in the past and claim that such an explanation is fully legitimate as consonant with the formularies of the united Church? If this is not so, then the formularies and the arrangements will need to be changed, otherwise Anglicans will be accused of deception or betrayal.

The book, No Priest No Church (Faith Press 1968) by FH Mountney, needs to be revised in the light of the Methodist Covenant and republished for today. Fr Mountney said of the 1968 Anglican-Methodist Draft Ordinal,

If only the Commission’s fondness for primitive rites had led them to adopt the best features of such rites as that of Hippolytus … But alas, no. We must not reveal anything of what we mean by a Catholic bishop or a Catholic priest. We must wrap up everything in words which may have a specious resemblance on the surface to ancient rites, but which only enshrine this doctrine of Calvin of the priesthood of the individual Christian.

His book is to remind Anglicans of her true principles and heritage, established during the seventeenth century and that she has always had more in common with the Orthodox and Roman Churches than with the Reformed. It points out that the 1968 proposals for Anglican-Methodist unity ‘are impracticable, founded as they are on expediency and not on a reconciliation of the distinctive doctrine of the two bodies.’

The new ecumenism

Recent departures from biblical and historic Anglican teaching and practice, discrimination against those who uphold it in the face of the heresies of inclusiveness, political correctness and ‘pluriform truths’ in the pursuit of a liberal agenda, have led to new alignments inside and outside the Communion. This new ecumenism is bringing together orthodox members of the churches who adhere to the orthodox faith as defined in One Bible of Two Testaments, the Three Creeds, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and the faith and practice of the undivided Church. Only by returning to the faith and practice of the undivided Catholic Church will Western Christianity be purged of secular religion and enabled to advance the true claims of the Gospel, so that a reintegrated and holy Church can reflect the oneness and unity of the undivided and blessed Trinity because it is rooted in the Apostolic Faith and Order.