Anglican Perspectives

Why Contend for the Communion?

Some closing thoughts on Lambeth Conference of Bishops 2022

I will never forget the words of then Abp. Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda at the Hope and Future Conference in Pittsburgh, 2005 after I had just taken our church plant out of the TEC Diocese of Virginia and transferred it into the Diocese of Ruwenzori, Uganda: “I thank God for this crisis in the Anglican Communion. Without it, we would never have found each other!”

Suddenly, I was a global Anglican, visiting my new Ugandan diocese many times for synods, clergy gatherings, and other short-term missions. On these visits, I was deeply humbled by the faith and courage of Ugandan and Kenyan bishops, clergy, and lay leaders who affirmed the clarity and authority of the Scriptures in word and deed. So, when they invited me to join them for missions and conferences, they expected Jesus to be proclaimed as Lord and Savior wherever we went with evangelistic calls at times to hundreds of people. They believed Jesus’ promise that “even greater works will you do in my name” (John 14:12). We prayed for sick people and saw them healed. We prayed for people whose lives were captive to evil spirits and saw them delivered from those spirits and made whole. We experienced New Testament Christianity right off the pages of the Bible, and with it, the joy and thanksgiving of life in Christ through exuberant Prayer Book worship! 

On episcopal visits with my Ugandan Bishop to churches in Ruwenzori diocese, I saw him catechize confirmands and test them on their knowledge of the Bible and the faith of the church before laying on hands. I saw him gently postpone confirmation for those whom he felt were not ready. I remember kneeling in the sacristy with other Ugandan clergy for the Bishop’s final blessing after one Communion service. He handed me a BCP 1662 in Rutoro (the native language) saying, “Now you are one of us!” I was moved to tears over the fact that I was welcomed into this family in the Anglican Communion.  

On the welcome eve of the once-every-three-years New Wineskins Conference, we do well to ask the question, Why do we contend for communion? Why not walk away and simply let the Archbishop of Canterbury, the “Instruments of Communion,” TEC, and other Anglican bishops and Churches in the Global North take the ‘Communion’ even deeper into ‘pluriform truth’ and division?

As Jesus prayed in John 17, and what he commanded for the sake of mission shaped by the Scriptures (Matthew 28:16-20), we are not to be “siloed” in our own North American culture. Jesus is calling us to be enriched and encouraged by biblically faithful Anglicans in the Global South whose courage and relentless faithfulness to God’s Word will be essential for our faithfulness in the days ahead.

We face a very clear choice coming out of this 2022 Lambeth Conference of Bishops. On the one hand, the Archbishop of Canterbury has, in effect, embraced pluralism in his letter to the Global South Call to reaffirm Lambeth Resolution 1.10. He was clear in his closing press conference that “significant and substantial ecclesiological changes” were made to the Anglican Communion at this conference: the downgrading of Lambeth from a body that makes resolutions to “calls” with no binding authority at all; and the institutional amnesia about the Windsor Covenant process from 2003-2010 including the failure of the proposed Anglican Covenant and the recommendation of the Windsor Continuation Group Report (2008) for “enhanced ecclesial responsibility” by somebody within the Anglican Communion to enforce the mind of the Church.  

The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he will not do so. In his letter, he stated that all positions and practices advanced by churches within the Anglican Communion with regards to human identity, sexuality, marriage, and ordained leadership within the Church are equally valid. Around such pluriform truth confusion reigned.  This outcome was dictated by a vision of a Communion in which the autonomy of each church trumps everything else which I wrote about here. How “plural truth” will play out under this autonomous inclusivism is well captured in the Anglican Futures article we published yesterday which notes, among other things, that “ministering within a framework of plural truth undermines the credibility of teaching objective truth. Similarly, when such teaching is constantly contradicted by other voices which are, apparently, officially, at least as equally valid and authoritative, any objective truth is weakened.” [https://www.anglicanfutures.org/post/plural-truth-how-might-it-play-out]. This in turn has enormous consequences for all Anglicans in weakening the definition and practice of evangelism, discipleship, and mission.

By contrast, the Global South declared a vision of genuine communion based on the ultimate clarity and authority of the Scriptures in all matters of faith and practice, a shared confession of faith based upon classic Anglican formularies (Scripture, Creeds, the 39 Articles, and the 1662 BCP and Ordinal), and clear doctrinal boundaries and discipline for those who refuse to stay within those generous boundaries. You can find this vision in the Global South Communique of the Orthodox Bishops from Lambeth Conference 2022 (Aug. 5, 2022) here as well as in the covenantal structures that provide for “Enhanced Ecclesial Responsibility” in the GSFA Cairo Covenant here. The vision these declarations offer is thorough, biblically based, and in keeping with the mind of the Church catholic (the consensus fidelium) that I have written about elsewhere.

Andrew Goddard wrote a splendid essay on the fork-in-the-road we now face called “The End of Communion: So where are we now?”. In it, he summarizes the two contrasting views of Communion:

  • the traditional vision of Communion Catholicity which is an ecumenically shared vision;
  • and a vision of Autonomous Inclusivism where provincial autonomy is central. 

Autonomous Inclusivism is driven by both pluralism and the autonomy of a province to do whatever it wants that has changed the Anglican Communion into a mere federation of Anglican churches. This flies in the face of the definition of genuine communion which goes all the way back to the Bonn Agreement (1930) in the ecumenical movement inspired by the Lambeth Conference of Bishops. Genuine communion among churches in this historic, catholic sense is characterized by four things: (1) each Church believes the other to hold the essentials of the Christian faith; (2) they share in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; (3) there is mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries (including Holy Orders), and (4) sharing of collegial resources.  

This historic framework of “communion catholicity” is grounded in the biblical “north-star” of conciliarism, Philippians 2:5-11: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”. No body can function without a mind, and the mind of Jesus Christ is not divided by a “plurality of truths”! As I wrote in Anglican Conciliarism (2017), genuine communion ought to bear “as close a resemblance as possible to the mind of Jesus Christ which displays the [perichoretic] belonging, giving, mutually submitting, and interdependence we find among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (207). This biblical and trinitarian heart of communion is alien to the proclamations and processes of Lambeth 2022. In practice, the vision of “communion catholicity” is biblical because it requires the same humble submission and emptying of prerogatives that we find in the mind of Christ himself in complete contrast to the “autonomous inclusivism” that is at the heart of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference organizers, and apparently the other Instruments.

“Communion catholicity” is the vision of communion we embraced in the Anglican Church in North America because it is rooted in a common confession of the faith which we find in both the GSFA Cairo Covenant (2019) and the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration (2008). In both GSFA and GAFCOM, we find our home in a Communion of Anglican Churches who hold the essentials of the Christian faith, doctrine with boundaries, in keeping with the undivided mind of Christ and the Bible. Although Goddard suggests that this emphasis on “confessionalism can lead to the same “separatism” found among progressive Anglicans, we disagree. It is those very churches, bishops, and dioceses, many of whom are both GAFCON and Global South, that offered us lifeboats when we could no longer in good conscience stay within a church (TEC and Canada) that departed from the faith once delivered (Jude 3). They offered us refuge and a rediscovery of New Testament Christian faith, practice, and mission in the power of the Holy Spirit precisely because they believed in the clarity and authority of the Scriptures. We will be forever grateful for their witness to us and their invitation to join true Anglican Communion.

We now pray that the Global South and GAFCON will work together to reset the Anglican Communion based on this vision of genuine communion. We look forward to the mission we will celebrate as a Communion of Anglican Churches, together, at New Wineskins for Global Mission!

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