Sustaining unity in times of disagreement

The Anglican Communion News Service reports the release of: Communion, Conflict and Hope: the Kuala Lumpur Report focusing on the nature of the Communion and on questions about how the Church’s unity can be sustained during times of intense disagreement.

The third Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, appointed after 1998 and chaired by Bishop Stephen Sykes, had these questions as part of its mandate and Communion, Conflict and Hope is the outcome of its deliberations.

The Kuala Lumpur Report demonstrates the underlying foundations upon which Anglican identity is built – attention to the Bible, the vocation towards holiness, respect for local cultures, the gifts of discernment and diversity, mutual accountability and the development of appropriate competencies to articulate the mind of the Church. These principles are themselves the subjects of current debate; the contention of this report is that clarifying such issues not only maintains communion, but actually enriches the sense of common life and purpose that the Communion seeks. Written within a strong narrative framework, the report invites readers to participate in just that process.

Read the entire report here.

The conclusion follows below:

PART IV CONCLUSION: Hope in Communion

Changing Patterns of Communion

118. The Windsor Report 2004 has pointed towards some ways to hold the Communion together at this time. Our study supports the contention that the future life of the Communion will depend on a renewed sense of commonality. Our communion will be enriched as we work at resolving our conflicts through the continuing process of faithful Christian living to which the Anglican tradition aspires. This has to be undertaken within the brokenness of the body of Christ.

119. Part of the difficulty in sustaining that vision is derived from hierarchical views of power and authority, so prominent in social, managerial and political life. These are pressed on the decision-making bodies both by an uncomprehending media, and by knowing manipulation and abuse of power within the church itself. An emphasis on the life of communion and the work of the Spirit seeks a different frame of reference, such as that in the classic discussions of the Anglican Communion at the 1920 and 1930 Lambeth Conferences. In the second of these, two prevailing types of ecclesiastical organisation were described: “that of centralised government, and that of regional autonomy within one fellowship”. It is the latter form which Anglicans share with Orthodox churches and others. Self-governing churches of the Communion grew up “freely, on their own soil”. This has contributed, at provincial level, to limitations of self-understanding and of understanding about the demands of communion within the world-wide fellowship of churches. Hence our focus on catholicity. We have sought to explain the need for the gifts of the Spirit – and for virtues such as patience, humility, trust and hope – in sustaining a conversation with one another despite the current serious conflict within the Anglican Communion. This is why we have spoken of dynamic catholicity.

Growth in Communion

120. At this time of uncertainty the possibility of serious disruption to the life of the Anglican Communion has to be contemplated. The question must be asked whether existing ‘instruments of communion’are capable of theological (not just managerial) development so that they can utilise the possibilities opened up by the Windsor process to address questions about legitimate diversity and unity. If there is not the time or will to achieve this, it appears that Anglicans will become increasingly marginalised and fragmented as a movement within world Christianity.

121. Even if the worst fears of Anglicans who value their fellowship and solidarity are realised, the Anglican tradition will not disappear. Communion functions at a number of different levels. IATDC has identified theology, canon law, history and culture, communication, and voluntary commitment rather than coercion, as essential aspects of communion. Yet real communion can exist in many of the elements separately. The Commission is persuaded that ‘thick’ ecclesiology, concrete experience of the reconciling and healing work of God in Christ, should take priority over ‘thin’, abstract and idealised descriptions of the church. Communion ‘from below’, is real communion – arguably the most vital aspect of koinoniawith God and neighbour, and it is from ‘below’that the Commission has worked in its conversations with the churches, and in its reflections in this report.

122. What is needed now is a clearer understanding of how these different aspects of communion co-exist at different levels or horizons of the church’s experience. The obligation to seek ‘the highest degree of communion possible’ within the church is a laudable ambition, a vocation even. Yet unless we are clear what sort of communion is anticipated for congregational, local, regional or global fellowship, the terminology can be used merely to justify higher level organisational arrangements without ever analysing how they contribute to communion itself. It may well be that communion at a local or congregational level (“where two or three are gathered together…”) may theologically represent a ‘higher’ communion than an ideal expressed in merely institutional, canonical or juridical terms. At the same time it must be insisted that the experience and commitments of local communities will be enlarged and maintained by participation in wider expressions of fellowship (which the parallel work of this Commission on ‘The Anglican Way: The Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church’, to be found in Appendix Two, advances) just as the life of dioceses, provinces and the Anglican Communion itself pursues its fullness as a part of the koinoniaof the People of God.

123. If Anglican fellowship at the level of shared doctrines and ideals or common participation in mission is unable to enjoy the support of coherent global structures, then the Anglican Communion will be immeasurably weakened. In the light of the Gospel weak and fragile things are not to be despised. Talk of broken communion has often been a form of exchange to gain rhetorical advantage and carries with it an all too facile notion of communion in the church. Such a notion glosses over far too lightly the actual brokenness of the church community. It also eclipses the vocation of each individual and community to walk in the steps of the crucified Christ. The Anglican theological tradition cannot be content with any claim to communion which separates the Gospel of Christ from the aspiration of faithful Christian discipleship within a Communion which is both diverse and united, broken and being restored.

Hope in Communion

124. Hope in communion has a double meaning in the context of this report. In the first instance the report points to ways in which Christian hope in the possibility of life together might be nurtured and enhanced. This relates to a fundamental commitment to conciliar processes which maintain face-to-face engagements through times of conflict and division. We continue to persist in the hope that working and believing together in the service of the Gospel is an indestructible feature of the faith we cherish. We have set our hope on Christ and so we hope in the communion to which we are called.

125. In the second instance we hope in communion in the sense that hope itself is only made real as we share together in the mission of God in the world. Hope in Christ is kept alive and burning within us as we participate together in the sharing of the Gospel. Hope is fractured when we separate from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Hope grows as communion is widened and intensified. At this time of conflict Anglicans are faced with a costly and difficult journey. However, we have together accepted the Gospel invitation to take up the cross and follow the upward call of Christ in faith and hope and love.

For the heads up attention to the conclusion, HT to OCIBW.

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