Statements on the nature and development of the Anglican Communion from the first Lambeth Conference to the Anglican Covenant – Part III 1984-2009

This blog contains the third part of my paper tracing the development of Anglican thinking about the nature of the Anglican Communion. This part covers the development of this thinking from the 1984 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council to publication of the Anglican Communion Covenant in 2009.

Because the concluding reflections at the end of this part were written in the autumn of 2010 they are now dated. Were they to be written today they would need to include the failure of the Anglican Communion Covenant proposal due to its rejection by the Church of England, the fact that a number of other Anglican provinces have followed the example of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada  in departing from the position of human sexuality agreed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the development of GAFCON as a major player in Global Anglicanism and the publication of a new Anglican covenant proposal (the ‘Cairo Covenant’) by the Anglican churches of the Global south in 2019.

15. The Anglican Consultative Council 1984

The nature of Anglicanism

At the sixth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, held at Badagry in Nigeria in July 1984 a new Section of the Council was established to look at ‘Dogmatic and Pastoral Matters.’ This new Section began its work by looking at the question ‘What is Anglicanism’. The report from the Section states that in answer to this question:

‘We were agreed that the Anglican Communion is not to be understood as a confessional church in the accepted reformation sense. Whatever place the Thirty Nine Articles have occupied in the life of the Church of England (and even there a shift of emphasis has occurred in recent years) the commitment of other provinces to them has been much less. Nevertheless, the Communion seeks to be loyal to the apostolic faith and to safeguard it and express it in Catholic order always to be reformed by the standards of Scripture. It allows for a responsible freedom of the faith within a fellowship committed to the expression of that faith.’[1]

The report goes on to note that:

‘The Lambeth Conference of 1948 spoke of Anglicanism as committed to ‘dispersed authority.’ In terms of standards of belief that was taken to mean that in Scriptures, tradition, the creeds, reason, the witness of saints, our forms of worship, and the consensus fidelium we may find the answer to the question ‘What are Christians to believe?’ As has already been indicated in the reference to reformation by Scripture, the Bible bears a primary authority as containing the foundation documents of the Church and the record of the apostolic witness.’[2]

While noting what was said in 1948, the report maintains that there is more to be said about the way in which the Anglican ethos has been shaped by the history of Anglicanism. This ethos, it says:

‘….is a way of thinking and of feeling that has developed over the centuries which calls for an acceptance of measures of diversity, an openness, tolerance and mutual respect towards others. As the Primates’ Meeting in October 1983 indicated, the Reformation, in human terms, arose out of and was influenced by the Renaissance with its new way of thinking and feeling about human experience. The past was not radically discarded, but it was subjected to examination in a new spirit of enquiry that sought to apply the gospel to the whole of life. In turn Anglicanism has been further influenced by the great movements of society (e.g. the Enlightenment and the Romantic Movement) so that it is not possible simply to reiterate in every generation the statements of the 16th century Reformation in England, Indeed, with the spread of Anglicanism across the world an ethos tied to Church life in England four centuries ago would be moribund and a denial of the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit in each succeeding age. The ethos has developed and must continue to develop in all the varied cultures to be found within the Communion.’[3]

The report further argues that the consequence of the spread of Anglicanism across the globe is that there is also now ‘dispersed authority’ in the secondary sense of dispersed centres of power or decision making. It notes that there are now 27 ‘autonomous’ churches or provinces, each containing dioceses within ‘considerable independence’ (although dioceses and provinces are ‘expected to take note of the rest of the Communion in making their own decisions’) and that there are now four sources of authority covering the Communion as a whole, the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ACC and the Primates Meeting. [4]

Finally, the report observes that although the Book of Common Prayer is no longer basic to Anglican unity it would be a mistake ‘not to see the results of its influence in family resemblances and in the very idea of a book of common prayer for provinces.’

Moreover, recent movements of liturgical renewal have helped Anglican churches:

‘…to look together with other churches for a similar basic pattern of Eucharistic worship on which variations can be made. There are ways in which, as we draw closer to other churches, we also draw closer within Anglicanism. The work of liturgical scholarship has helped us to see an undergirding liturgical pattern and structure within which we can enjoy diversity without threatening a basic unity.’[5]  

In addition:

‘The development and use of common English texts for such staples of our worship as the Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, the sanctus and Gloria (and there will be more future efforts along these lines) has further contributed to a sense of common prayer, ecumenically and in Communion, as has also the use of common lectionaries. Similar liturgical calendars (especially in the western church) have been another linking factor. Use of the Anglican Cycle of Prayer has led to a significant sense of common life and mission in Anglicanism.’[6]     

16. For the Sake of the Kingdom 1986

Further attention was given to the issue of the effect of the proclamation of the Christian message in diverse cultural contexts in the first report of the newly established Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, For the Sake of the Kingdom – God’s Church and the New Creation, which was published in 1986.

The brief which the Commission was asked to address was:

‘Church and Kingdom in Creation and Redemption, being a study of the relationship between the Church of God as experienced and the Kingdom of God as anticipated, with special reference to the diverse and changing cultural contexts in which the Gospel is proclaimed, received, and lived.’[7]

The report summarises its response to this brief in Chapter 10 ‘The Church and the Mystery of God’s Kingdom.’ This chapter notes, first of all, that:

‘It has been the boast – and not infrequently the achievement – of churches in the Anglican tradition to encompass differing styles of piety, differing idioms in theology, and differing agenda for Christian witness and action. At times this has been accomplished only at the cost of vagueness in teaching, refusal to address fundamental theological issues, and a settled bias against serious and rigorous theological thinking. It remains true, however, that there is a legitimate – and indeed a necessary -place in Christian life for pluriformity; and it has been the genius of Anglicanism to recognize this in practice, even if Anglicans have not always troubled themselves to reflect critically on the grounds and limits of such pluriformity.’[8]

In order to reflect critically on plurality, the report says, one has to start from the recognition that the Church only exists in particular times and places and the Church’s life and witness has to reflect this fact:

‘If the church, because it lives ‘in Christ’ by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, is a sign and agent of God’s Kingdom in and for the world, it is so – always and necessarily- in a radically ‘located’ fashion. The church exists in particular places and at particular times, and the truth which its life and action carry is conveyed only to the extent that it too is ‘located’. This means, as we have seen, that Christians in a given place and time both will and must share the cultural idiom of their geographical and social locale. It also means that their life and witness both will and must address the issues, moral and political, with which historical circumstance confronts them in that locale. The church belongs to all its many places and times, and it is in this fact that its legitimate pluriformity is, in the end, rooted.’[9]

However, although the Church exists in particular times and places, it does not ‘have the source and principle of its life in any one society or culture or in any group of them.’ The Church lives:

‘….only in and from that transcendent ‘horizon’ of human life which is the Kingdom of God as realized in the risen Christ, and it exists to be a sign of that Kingdom in and for the many social and cultural ‘places’ in which it lives.’[10]

Because this is the case it follows that even for Anglicans there can be

‘…no careless or unqualified affirmation of ‘belonging’ and of pluralism. It is not enough to speak a language ‘understood of the people’; that language, whether spoken or acted, must convey, in its place, the ‘beyond’ of God’s grace and judgement in Christ. The idiom may be – indeed it is -manifold; but still ‘there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all’ (Eph. 4.4-6).’ [11]

The unity to which Ephesians refers is found, the report says:

‘… precisely through the continuing fellowship of churches that belong in different places. For Anglicans, such fellowship is based in a common set of institutions: Scriptures, ecumenical creeds, sacraments, the historic threefold ministry. It comes to practical expression, however, through practical acts of sharing, through mutual consultation, and through mutual admonition and criticism.’[12]

Pluralism can ‘serve the cause of a deeper and fuller understanding of the Gospel and so of a deeper and fuller unity in Christ’ but it can only do so if:

‘…churches do not eschew their responsibility to one another, a responsibility that includes hearing as well as speaking, learning as well as teaching. And this in turn can only occur, in the Anglican Communion, through a common willingness to take up difficult – even divisive – issues for the sake of the truth of the Gospel. For too long Anglicans have appeared willing to evade responsible theological reflection and dialogue by acquiescing automatically and immediately in the co-existence of incompatible views, opinions, and policies.’[13]

Concluding its argument the report contends that:

‘To affirm pluralism, then, is to affirm not one but two things. On the one hand it means to assert that there is good in the existence and continuing integrity of a variety of traditions and ways of life; on the other hand, it means to assert that there is good in their interplay and dialogue. For Christians, moreover, such affirmation of pluralism has a special meaning. It embodies a recognition that every human culture has God’s Kingdom as its horizon in creation and redemption. At the same time, it acknowledges that, in the dialogue between traditions, people’s understanding of the meaning of God’s Kingdom, and of the Christ who bears it, may be enhanced. Pluralism, when understood in this way, is a stimulus to the repentance by which believers discern and turn to God’s Kingdom.

 It is important to reiterate, however, that the stimulus to repentance is not the same as its ground. It is not pluralism, but the risen Christ as the bearer of God’s reign, who is the ground of Christian repentance as well as of Christian faith, because he is the one in whom the unity of humankind is established and promised. Pluralism is to be affirmed not as it divides people, and not as a recipe for indifferentism, but as the context in which the heirs of God’s Kingdom may engage with one another more richly and variously than hitherto and may thus be enabled the better to know and to follow Christ – the Second Adam, the new humanity – who embodies the mystery of God’s Kingdom, and into whom all are called to ‘grow up’.’[14]

17.The Anglican Consultative Council 1987

The instruments of communion

The seventh meeting of the ACC, was held in Singapore in 1987. It produced a report ‘on the way authority is experienced in the Anglican Communion’ entitled ‘Unity in diversity within the Anglican Communion: a way forward.’ This report notes the existence of four ‘instruments for maintaining the unity and diversity of the Anglican Communion,’ the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the ACC and the Primates Meeting. It explains that these instruments ‘have a moral authority and may express the mind of the communion’, but that authority at the international or communion wide level consists only in ‘the power to persuade.’ This means, the report declares, that ‘it is not possible to speak of an Anglican Church but rather of an Anglican family of churches with particular instruments to promote and express their unity.’[15]

Although these instruments have worked well hitherto ‘there is a growing awareness of the need to reform them’ in the face of a growing threat to the unity of the Communion resulting from increased diversity:

‘Until recently, Anglican enjoyed a unified ministry, a common prayer book, sacramental agreement and a common credal faith. Each of these is in turn being challenged  or questioned by the ordination of women, the emergence of indigenous liturgies, new approaches to initiation and theological exploration. Renewal movements and different understandings of the mission of the Church are also threatening Anglican unity.’[16]

The report notes that:

‘Current thinking reminds us of the provisional nature of the Church as we move towards that unity which is the will of Christ. The reform of Anglican structures can only be fully justified if they help better to serve Christ’s universal mission.’[17]

It also suggests that:

‘The existing four-fold instruments of unity have worked because of the willingness of the constituent Provinces, linked by ‘bonds of affection’ to make them work and be a family. It can be said that each Province belongs to the Anglican Communion ’because it wants to.’ This principle is expected to continue to govern Anglican understandings of authority.’[18]

This being the case, the report says, in any future evolution of the instruments they will continue to be ‘consultative in style and persuasive in terms of authority.’[19]

United Churches

ACC 7 also passed a resolution on united churches, which, like the Church of South India, had incorporated former Anglican churches. Like the Lambeth Conference of 1958 it suggested that they should be admitted as full members of the instruments of communion:

‘Resolution 17: United Churches in Full Communion

That this Council: resolves that the ACC should now move towards normal membership of the Council for all united Churches with which the Churches of the Anglican Communion are in full communion (i.e. the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Church of Pakistan and the Church of Bangladesh); requests the Lambeth Conference of 1988 and the Primates’ Meeting of 1989 similarly to consider full membership of those bodies for united Churches in full communion.’[20]

The Lambeth Conference and the Primates meeting agreed to this request from the ACC at their subsequent meetings. 

18. The Lambeth Conference 1988

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s opening address

Like the previous Lambeth Conference, the 1988 Lambeth Conference was faced with division over the issue of the ordination of women, the particularly divisive issue on this occasion being the proposal by the American Church to ordain a woman to the episcopate.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, addressed the question of potential division directly in his opening address to the Conference. In this address he declares that:

‘There are real and serious threats to our unity and communion and I do not underestimate them. Some of them are the result of Gospel insights; for example the proper dignity of women in a Christian society. We need to recognise that our unity is threatened over the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate in whatever we ultimately decide to do. There are dangers to our communion in this Lambeth Conference endorsing or failing to endorse such developments. And there are equal dangers to communion by trying to avoid the issue altogether.

Such conflict is particularly painful, because the glue which binds us together is not so much juridical, but personal, informal and expressed in worship. An impairment of communion for Anglicans is not essentially about canon law but at the much deeper personal level of sharing in the Eucharistic worship of the Holy Trinity. So, we tend to shy away from a conflict which has such destructive potential.’[21]

According to Archbishop Runcie, however, to seek to avoid conflict for this reason would be a ‘serious mistake’ for two reasons.

‘Firstly, if handled creatively, conflict is ‘an essential part of the processes whereby the Church speaks with a living voice.’ As far back as the debate about the admission of Gentiles into the Early Church, conflict is, and always has been, a necessary component of the church’s discernment of truth.’[22]

Secondly the real issue facing the Communion is not conflict over the ordination of women as such, but the bigger issue of the relation of independent provinces to each other.

As the Archbishop sees it:

‘The New Testament surely speaks more in terms of ‘interdependence’ than ‘independence.’ The relationship of Jesus with the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit as witnessed in St John’s Gospel surely gives us the pattern of Christian relationship. Life together in communion implies basic trust and mutuality. Think of St. Paul speaking of life in the Body in the first letter to the Corinthians: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need for you, nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.’ (1 Cor 12.21). The good of the body requires mutual recognition and deference in Christ. Or think of Paul’s collection for the saints in Jerusalem, a practical expression of communion on the theological ground of unity in Christ.’[23]

The question the Archbishop thinks the Communion is now facing is ‘are we being called through events and their theological interpretation to move from independence to interdependence?’ and underlying this is the more fundamental question:

‘….do we really want unity within the Anglican Communion? Is our worldwide family of Christians worth bonding together? Or is our paramount concern the preservation or promotion of that particular expression of Anglicanism which has developed within the culture of our own province? Wouldn’t it be easier and more realistic to work towards exclusively European, or North American, or African, or Pacific forms of Anglicanism? Yes, it might. Cultural adaptation would be easier. Mission would be easier. Local ecumenism would be easier. Do we actually need a worldwide Communion?

I believe we do because Anglicans believe in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the Creed. I believe we do because we live in one world created and redeemed by God. I believe we do because it is only by being in communion together that diversity and difference have value. Without relationship difference divides.’[24]

Anglican decision making 

The Section of the Conference looking at ‘Dogmatic and Pastoral Concerns’ examined the issue of decision making within the Anglican Communion. Its report argues that there are two aspects two Anglican decision making.

The first is reception:

‘Reception is a gradual and dynamic process. It means the way by which the people of God as a whole actively responds to decisions made by synods and councils. This is a process which takes time and is always open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the community. Until such a process is complete there is necessarily a ‘provisionality’ about decisions taken by synods and councils of the Church. A matter cannot be deemed to be settled without reception. It is still possible for those decisions to be modified, or even reversed, even though they have been accepted and even acted on by provincial synods and endorsed by a majority of bishops at the Lambeth Conference.’[25]

The second is discovering the ‘mind’ of a Province, a Communion or the whole Church. The report suggests that this needs to involve not only ‘the achieving of certain thought out and stipulated majorities in synods at the appropriate level’, but also ensuring that ‘all arguments have been put to the community and heard by it, that people are not being swept forward without understanding the implications of what is being agreed, and that there is indeed secure maximum agreement.’[26]

As the report see it, it is necessary that a Province or the Communion as a whole can have ‘confidence in its decisions’, even when individuals or groups continue to disagree with them but it is also ‘important to make room for dissent within the reception process.’ This means that:

‘We need to satisfy one another that the exercise of authority through the structures of our Communion and the pronouncing of decisions do indeed carry weight, but that there is also a place for continuing debate, even conflict.’[27]   

Women in the episcopate

In the event, the Lambeth Conference in 1988 answered Archbishop Runcie’s opening questions by deciding that it did want to maintain the unity of the Communion even in the face of strong differences over the ordination of women. A report from a committee chaired by the Primate of Australia, John Grindrod, (the ‘Grindrod Report’) had presented the Conference with two ways of handling the American proposal to ordain women to the Episopate. The first was to ask a province that wanted to move in this direction to restrain itself from taking this step, the second was to agree to it taking this step provided that it presented it to the Communion as a whole for reception.

The conference took the second option, passing Resolution 1 ‘The Ordination of Consecration of Woman to the Episcopate.’ This resolution was based on four principles put forward in the section report on ‘Mission and Ministry.’ These principles were based on previous decisions by Lambeth Conferences and by the ACC and, in line with the guidelines for Anglican decision making just noted, allowed for the making of decisions while providing space for reception and continuing dissent. The principles were:

  • ‘the integrity of each Province to pursue the matter in its own time and in its own way in response to God’s call in mission;
  • the recognition that, in determining practice on this issue, any diocese or Province must have the substantial support of its people;
  • that in the process of reception the issue continues to be tested until it is clearly accepted or not accepted by the whole Church;
  • it is important that Provinces should respect each other’s processes in this matter and also that they should communicate fully their decisions with each other.’[28]

The Resolution itself declared:

‘This Conference resolves:

1 That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination or consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ.

2 That bishops exercise courtesy and maintain communications with bishops who may differ, and with any woman bishop, ensuring an open dialogue in the Church to whatever extent communion is impaired.

3 That the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the primates, appoints a commission:

a) to provide for an examination of the relationships between provinces of the Anglican Communion and ensure that the process of reception includes continuing consultation with other Churches as well; b) to monitor and encourage the process of consultation within the Communion and to offer further pastoral guidelines.

4 That in any province where reconciliation on these issues is necessary, any diocesan bishop facing this problem be encouraged to seek continuing dialogue with, and make pastoral provision for, those clergy and congregations whose opinions differ from those of the bishop, in order to maintain the unity of the diocese.

5 Recognises the serious hurt which would result from the questioning by some of the validity of the episcopal acts of a woman bishop, and likewise the hurt experienced by those whose conscience would be offended by the ordination of a woman to the episcopate. The Church needs to exercise sensitivity, patience and pastoral care towards all concerned.’[29]

Resolution 18

In addition, the Conference also passed Resolution 18 with the intention that the measures contained in it would help to address the issues of the unity of the Communion raised by the women bishops debate by providing deeper theological insight as to the nature of communion and establishing the Primates Meeting as an agreed forum giving guidance to provinces on contentious matters. 

‘1. Resolves that the new Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (or a specially appointed inter-Anglican commission) be asked to undertake as a matter of urgency a further exploration of the meaning and nature of communion; with particular reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, the unity and order of the Church, and the unity and community of humanity.

2.(a) Urges that encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters.

(b) Recommends that in the appointment of any future Archbishop of Canterbury, the Crown Appointments Commission be asked to bring the Primates of the Communion into the process of consultation.’[30]

The explanatory note to Resolution 18 explains the thinking behind the Resolution:

‘On 1 above. If there is the possibility of ordination of women bishops in some Provinces, it will throw into sharper focus the present impaired nature of communion. It is a matter of urgency that we have a further theological enquiry into and reflection on the meaning of communion in a Trinitarian context for the Anglican Communion. This, more than structures, will provide a theological framework in which differences can be handled.

On 2 above. We see an enhanced role for the Primates as a key to the growth of interdependence within the Communion. We do not see any inter-Anglican jurisdiction as possible or desirable; an inter-Anglican synodical structure would be virtually unworkable and highly expensive. A collegial role for the Primates by contrast could be easily developed, and their collective judgement and advice would carry considerable weight.

If this is so, it is neither improper nor out of place to suggest that part of of the consultative process prior to the appointment of a future Archbishop of Canterbury should be with the Primates.’[31]

19. Women in the Anglican Episcopate 1989-1993

Following the passing of Resolution 1, Archbishop Runcie established the ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Communion and Women in the Episcopate,’ known as the ‘Eames Commission’ after its Chairman, Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh.

In the first report of this Commission it is argued that we have to recognize that ‘there never has been a time when ecclesial communion has perfectly reflected the unity which is both God’s gift and promise.’[32]

It is noted that this can be seen both from a study of the New Testament and from a study of the subsequent history of the Church. 

‘…in the New Testament we read of the scandal of Christians taking each other to court because they will not resolve their differences within the Church (cf 1 Cor 6:1,11) . Nor, in the case of St Paul’s dispute with the Judaizers in the church of Galatia was the New Testament unfamiliar with the questioning of apostolic credentials (cf Gal 1 and 2:1-14). But in both cases St Paul writes to the churches urging them to continue to strive for unity and communion. Meanwhile, in the Council of Jerusalem (cf Gal 2:1-10, Acts 15, 1,35) we see the maintenance of communion through mutual acceptance and respect and the toleration of a diversity of practice.

Within the broader perspective of Christian history since New Testament times, the Church has continued to find ways of maintaining the highest degree of communion possible in the face of sharp doctrinal disagreement and diversity of practice. Where there has been real ecclesial division – as between the Christian East and West there often continued to be a real mutual recognition. Even where mutual persecutions disfigured the body of Christ, as between those who accepted the Council of Chalcedon (451) and those who did not – mutual recognition and reconciliation now develops. In the Christian West the communities of the Reformation and Counter Reformation are slowly learning that our baptismal unity has never been destroyed and true communion has always existed and is now deepened through common prayer, theological dialogue and pastoral and missionary collaboration.’[33]  

In the light of this history, the report says, Anglicans should refrain from declaring that they are out of communion with each other because of differences over the ordination of women:

‘A real degree of authentic communion is entailed from the common recognition of baptism among separated churches. It follows that no Province or individual bishop still less priest or lay person, can meaningfully declare themselves to be categorically out of communion with another Province or bishop.’[34]

Nevertheless, it does have to be acknowledged that:

‘…at the level of ecclesial communion, which has always included the mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries, there is an actual diminishment of the degree of communion among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion.’ [35]

In this situation in which members of the Anglican Communion are in real but diminished communion with each other ‘both protagonists and antagonists of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate should consider carefully what anomalies they are prepared to accept for the sake of unity.’ This means, according to the report, that:

‘Both sides would have to acknowledge that the other’s position might, in the long run, prove to be the mind of the Church. It is, for example, possible that in the centuries to come Rome and Orthodoxy would join the consensus in favour. Equally, women’s ordination may come to be rejected.’[36]

For opponents of women’s ordination acceptance of anomaly would mean ‘respect and courtesy for all those whom the Church has ordained to a ministry of word and sacrament by prayer and the laying on of hands, female as well as male.’ [37]

For supporters it would mean ‘respect and courtesy for those who dissent by the toleration of the institutional means for their continuance in the Church and a practice which would ensure the maximum recognition from those ordained by a women bishop.’[38]

The report stresses that such acceptance of anomaly:

‘…is not the compromise of truth. It is to take seriously the imperative to maintain the unity of the church. When St. Paul is faced with dissension in a matter of faith and discipline in the Church of Corinth, his practical solution is to exhort the Corinthians to avoid doing anything offensive to anyone out of consideration for the scruples of others (1 Cor 10:22-23). In a dispute equally concerning faith and conduct St Cyprian similarly writes that he:

…considers that in the event of disagreement no compulsion should be brought to bear upon the dissident bishop or bishops. The Church, while still preserving unity, will be obliged to live for a time with the fact of disagreement. (Letter 55).’ [39]

20. The Anglican Consultative Council 1990

The eighth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council was held in Wales in 1990. The theme of the meeting was ‘Mission in a Broken World’ 

Growth in communion – a Brazilian perspective

At this meeting the Brazilian theologian Jaci Maraschin reflected on the meaning of ‘Growth in Communion.’  Reflecting the insights of Latin American liberation theology and work of the German Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich, he offered a distinctive take on what it would mean for the Anglican Communion to grow in Communion.

In his paper he declares:

‘The call for growth in communion heard at the convocation of this meeting is equally a call to revise and criticise ways which may seem to be well established and beyond any doubt. We are called to grow in communion through our own institutions: but the way to grow in communion through these institutions means an effort to relativise them, exorcising them, so to speak, from the devils of authoritarianism, of absolutism and of idolatry.[40] We are called to grow in communion through our theological work. Our theological work, to be the servant of this growth, has to allow people full participation in debate and to start a process leading to what in some places of the third world is already called a ‘theology by the people.’’[41]

As he sees the matter, growth in communion has to come from the bottom up.

‘We cannot expect to grow in communion looking at the top of our pyramidal hierarchical organisation. Frederick Denison Maurice, the nineteenth-century theologian, said that theology was ‘digging.’ We have to come from the top to the base in order to dig. And we cannot ‘dig’ alone. In Brazil we sing throughout the country that God is calling us ‘to a new life’. We sing that ‘the time is right for changing, the moment is now.’ Then, everybody in the congregation, hand in hand, makes a big circle, and dancing they sing: ‘It is God who calls us to work together for justice. Let us walk together: no-one can go alone.’ We can grow in communion when we come down from our higher positions, from our sublime institutions, and join the people in this digging together, which is the building of communion. It means going to the depths of our faith.’[42] 

The five marks of mission

This meeting of the ACC also endorsed for the first time what has become the accepted definition of mission in the Anglican Communion, what are known as ‘Five Marks of Mission.’ This endorsement comes in Section report on ‘Mission Culture and Human Development’ which notes:

‘There has been a consistent view of mission repeated by ACC, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and others in recent years, which defines mission in a four-fold way:

The mission of the Church is:

(a) to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom;

(b) to teach, baptize and nurture new believers

(c) to respond to human need by loving service;

(d) to seek to transform the unjust structures of society.

We now feel that our understanding of the ecological crisis, and indeed of threats to the unity of all creation, mean that we have to add a fifth affirmation:

(e) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’[43]

21. The Virginia Report 1998.

Resolution 18.1 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference was eventually fulfilled in the second report from the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, the Virginia Report,[44] which was presented to the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

In accordance with the 1988 Resolution the Virginia Report looks at how the participation of Christians in the communion that exists in the life of God the Holy Trinity is expressed in the structures of the Anglican Communion.

The report argues that, like other Christians, Anglicans participate in the life of the Trinity by reason of their baptism. Thus, it states that: 

‘Anglicans are held together in a life of visible communion. Baptism is God’s gift of unity, the means by which an individual participates in the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and is brought into a living community of faith.’[45]

and likewise

‘Those who are baptised, through the power of the Holy Spirit, die with Christ and rise to new life in him and are joined with all the baptised in the communion of God’s own life and love. Through baptism and through participation at the Table of the Lord the baptised are called to a life of unity and interdependence and using all their diverse charisma entrusted with carrying out God’s mission in the world.’[46]

According to the report, the reason that this universal baptismal vocation is linked to the structures of Anglicanism is that what it calls the ‘complex and still evolving network of structures within Anglicanism’ has developed in order:

‘… to keep Anglicans in a life of belonging together, a life of relationship. These structures are both formal and informal and interrelate and affect one another in subtle ways. They involve personal, collegial and communal relationships at the parochial, diocesan, regional and international levels. Each contributes towards a web of interdependence and serves to guard against isolation.

This complex network of structures gives expression to the fundamental bond of Anglican life which is that unity given in the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That life of divine communion is made visible in a characteristic way within the ordered life of the Anglican Communion. The combination of allegiance to Scripture, tradition and reason, the life lived within the gifts of Scripture, creeds, sacraments and ordained ministry, the essential interrelatedness of lay and ordained and the structured, conciliar life contribute each in their particular way to a life of interdependence and belonging. The life of the Communion is dynamic as the fellowship seeks to respond to new insights, challenges and threats.’[47]

As the report sees it, at the end of the 1990s the Anglican Communion is facing three questions

The first is whether the existing bonds of interdependence between Anglicans are: 

‘…strong enough to hold them together embracing tension and conflict while answers are sought to seemingly intractable problems. In particular the call for more effective structures of communion at a world level will need to be faced at Lambeth 1998 for the strengthening of the Anglican Communion and its unity into the next millennium.’[48]

The second is whether the Anglican Communion needs worldwide structures not just for consultation, but for legislation:

‘The world-wide Anglican assemblies are consultative and not legislative in character. There is a question to be asked whether this is satisfactory if the Anglican Communion is to be held together in hard times as well as in good ones. Indeed there is a question as to whether effective communion, at all levels, does not require appropriate instruments, with due safeguards, not only for legislation, but also for oversight. Is not universal authority a necessary corollary of universal communion? This is a matter currently under discussion with our ecumenical partners. It relates not only to our understanding of the exercise of authority in the Anglican Communion, but also to the kind of unity and communion we look for in a visibly united Church.’

The third is the wider ecumenical question of whether there is a need for a universal primacy:  

‘Is there a need for a universal primacy exercised collegially and respecting the role of the laity in decision-making within the Church? This question was referred to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) by Lambeth 1988 and is also raised by the Bishop of Rome’s invitation in Ut Unum Sint.’ [49]

In the report’s view the continuing development of the structures of the Communion

‘….needs now to be inspired by a renewed understanding of the Church as koinonia; a recognition of God’s gift to the whole people of God of a ministry of episcope, exercised in personal, collegial and communal ways within and by the whole company of the baptised; by principles of subsidiarily, accountability and interdependence; and by an understanding of the Spirit led processes of discernment and reception.’[50]

Building on this, its overall conclusion is that:

‘A deeper understanding of the instruments of communion at a world-level, their relationship one to another and to the other levels of the Church’s life should lead to a more coherent and inclusive functioning of oversight in the service of the koinonia of the Church. When the ministry of oversight is exercised in a personal, collegial and communal way, imbued with the principles of subsidiarity, accountability and interdependence then the community is protected from authoritarianism, structures serve the personal and relational life of the Church and the diverse gift of all is encouraged in the service of all. The Church is thus opened up to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit for mission and ministry and enabled to serve more effectively the unity and community of humanity.’[51]

22. The Lambeth Conference 1998

The Virginia Report

The 1998 Lambeth Conference endorsed the conclusions of the Virginia Report in Resolution III.8.

Autonomy and accountability

The Report of Section III of the Conference (‘Called to be a faithful Church in a plural world’) underlined the importance of combining autonomy and accountability in the life of the Communion if its unity was to be maintained.

The report states:

‘The Anglican Communion had developed an ecclesiology without a centralised authority which acts juridically on behalf of all its member churches. No single Province or group of Provinces has the right to arbitrate on behalf of other Anglican Provinces or determine the shape of their faithful discipleship. Rather, the future of Anglicanism must draw on the resources of the whole Communion. On the other hand, without any sense of connectedness or accountability to the wider Communion, individual churches will lose tough, not only with each other, but with the Anglican and Christian tradition from which they took their origin. They could then cease to be churches incarnating the gospel within their own culture, and become prisoners of that culture or to their own past. Their life will be static and fixed, rather than responding to a dynamic and living tradition.

The measure to which the Anglican Communion can be faithful to is koinonia will determine whether local churches can claim to incarnate the universal church in their own life. It will also determine their ability to walk together with other Christian communities on the shared pilgrimage towards Christian unity and the reign of God.’[52]

The need for structures in the Anglican Communion

The report of Section IV of the Conference (‘Called to be One’) also addressed the issue of maintaining the unity of the Church, arguing, in line with the Virginia Report  that appropriate structures were required in the Church for unity to be maintained:

‘Given that the unity of the Church will always be threatened when new knowledge poses perplexing questions to the faith, order and moral life of the Church, how are Christians to be held together in unity? What ecclesial structures would best sustain unity, and enable those entrusted with oversight to lead the faithful in the discernmentand reception of the truth? The Virginia Report suggests the need to strengthen bonds of communion. It is important to stress that this is not merely a structural agenda. Appropriate enabling structures are fundamental to the dynamic and faithful life of the Church as it discerns the truth and embodies in its life.[53]

Resolution III.6 (b) recommended that the Primates meeting should include among its responsibilities ‘the giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the submission of the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.’

In the years following the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the ability of the Primates to carry out this new role and the ability of the Communion as whole to maintain its unity was radically challenged by the reaction of the American and Canadian churches to Resolution I.10 of the Conference.

Resolution 1.10

In the preparatory papers for the 1978 Conference, Bishop Stephen Neill pointed out the issue of human sexuality was likely to prove the next big divisive issue after the ordination of women and so it proved to be. From the 1970s onwards sections of the Episcopal Church in the United States, as it then was, and the Anglican Church of Canada had begun to accept active gay and lesbian relationships as a legitimate expression of Christian, to bless such relationships and even to ordain those in them.

In the run up to the 1998 Lambeth Conference more conservative Anglicans from around the world, concerned about these developments, felt that the Lambeth Conference should rule against them. As they saw it, these developments were against the clear teaching of Scripture and therefore could not be accepted as part of legitimate Anglican diversity or become subject to a process of discernment and reception.

Their view of the matter was endorsed by Resolution I.10, which was passed by 526 votes to 70 with 45 abstentions and which stated:

‘This Conference:

(a) commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;

(b) in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;

(c ) recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;

(d) while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

(e) cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;

(f) requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;

(g) notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.’[54]

Although it had been passed by such a large majority, almost as soon as it had been passed individual Anglican bishops, particularly but not exclusively from North America, indicated that they did regard themselves as bound by it. 

In addition, in 2002 the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada agreed to proceed with the blessing of same sex relationships in church and in 2003 the Diocese of New Hampshire in the American Church voted for Gene Robinson, a divorced man in a gay partnership, as its new bishop.

Conservatives around the Communion saw these actions as a clear rejection of the established principle of Anglican behaviour that once a Lambeth Conference Resolution had been passed the churches of the Communion observed it, as the African churches had done in relation to Lambeth Conference Resolutions on polygamy. As they saw it the Canadian and American churches were repudiating the statement of Lambeth 1920 that the churches of the Anglican Communion ‘are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and of love. They are not free to deny the truth.  They are not free to ignore the fellowship.’

Some conservative provinces in South East Asia, Africa and South America also started to break the agreement that went back to the Lambeth Conference of 1878 that Anglican churches should not act within the boundaries of other Anglican churches without consent in order to give support toconservative groups in North America.

23. The Primates Meeting 2003

In the light of rising tension over these issues, the Archbishop of Canterbury convened an extraordinary meeting of the Primates in October 2003, after the election of Bishop Robinson but prior to his consecration, to consider how to respond.

The communiqué issued after this meeting declares: 

‘At this time we feel the profound pain and uncertainty shared by others about our Christian discipleship in the light of controversial decisions by the Diocese of New Westminster to authorise a Public Rite of Blessing for those in committed same sex relationships, and by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to confirm the election of a priest in a committed same sex relationship to the office and work of a Bishop.

These actions threaten the unity of our own Communion as well as our relationships with other parts of Christ’s Church, our mission and witness, and our relations with other faiths, in a world already confused in areas of sexuality, morality and theology, and polarised Christian opinion.’[55]

It re-affirms the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolutions ‘on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues’  and states:

‘…as a body we deeply regret the actions of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA) which appear to a number of provinces to have short-circuited that process, and could be perceived to alter unilaterally the teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue. They do not. Whilst we recognise the juridical autonomy of each province in our Communion, the mutual interdependence of the provinces means that none has authority unilaterally to substitute an alternative teaching as if it were the teaching of the entire Anglican Communion.’[56]

It also warns that if the consecration of Gene Robinson goes ahead:

‘…we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognised by most of the Anglican world, and many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in communion with provinces that choose not to break communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).

Similar considerations apply to the situation pertaining in the Diocese of New Westminster.’[57]

The Primates meeting also asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish a new theological Commission whose remit will include ‘deep theological and legal reflection on the way in which the dangers identified at the meeting will be addressed.’[58]

24. The Windsor Report 2004

The Lambeth Commission on Communion was the commission asked for by the Primates and it was published in the autumn of 2004 after the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire had gone ahead.

The purpose of the Commission

As Bishop Tom Wright, a member of the commission, has explained, the members of the commission were:

‘…in the position of Paul, not in 1 Corinthians, addressing ethical issues head on, but in 2 Corinthians, addressing the second-order issue of what happens when a church has resisted such authority structures as it has. Just as Paul has to go back to first base and explain the nature of his apostolic authority, so the Commission had to go back to first base and explain why the Lambeth Conference and the other three Instruments of Unity are what they are, how they have come to function, and more especially how they enable the church to carry forward God’s mission to the world. The charge against ECUSA and New Westminster at this level was precisely not that they had acted in certain ways in relation to same-sex relationships; that was presupposed. As in 2 Corinthians, the charge this time is that by acting the way they did they were ignoring such structures of authority as we possess, which being Anglicans we prefer to articulate not in terms of a top-down Curial structure but in terms of the well-known and long-established ‘bonds of affection’.’[59]

The nature of autonomy

At the heart of the Windsor Report produced by the commission is its discussion of autonomy.   It argues that although the concept of the autonomy of the individual provinces of the Communion is ‘fundamental to Anglican polity’ [60]

As the report views the matter:

‘A body is thus, in this sense, ‘autonomous’ only in relation to others: autonomy exists in a relation with a wider community or system of which the autonomous entity forms part. The word ‘autonomous’ in this sense actually implies not an isolated individualism, but the idea of being free to determine one’s own life within a wider obligation to others. The key idea is autonomy-in-communion, that is, freedom held within interdependence. The autonomy of each Anglican province therefore implies that the church lives in relation to, and exercises its autonomy most fully in the context of, the global Communion.’[61]

The report goes to explain that the freedom implied by the concept of autonomy means that :

‘…each autonomous church has the unfettered right to order and regulate its own local affairs, through its own system of government and law. Each such church is free from direct control by any decision of any ecclesiastical body external to itself in relation to its exclusively internal affairs (unless that external decision is authorised under, or incorporated in, its own law).’ [62]

However the interdependence that autonomy also involves means that there are limits to this freedom :

‘…some affairs treated within and by a church may have a dual character: they may be of internal (domestic) and external (common) concern. Autonomy includes the right of a church to make decisions in those of its affairs which also touch the wider external community of which it forms part, which are also the affairs of others, provided those internal decisions are fully compatible with the interests, standards, unity and good order of the wider community of which the autonomous body forms part. If they are not so compatible, whilst there may be no question about their legal validity, they will impose strains not only upon that church’s wider relationship with other churches, but on that church’s inner self-understanding as part of “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” in relation to some of its own members.’[63]

In summary :

‘…’autonomy’ thus denotes not unlimited freedom but what we might call freedom-in-relation, so it is subject to limits generated by the commitments of communion. Consequently, the very nature of autonomy itself obliges each church to have regard to the common good of the global Anglican community and the Church universal.’[64]

This being the case:

‘…there are legitimate limits (both substantive and procedural) on the exercise of this autonomy, demanded by the relationships and commitments of communion and the acknowledgement of common identity. Communion is, in fact, the fundamental limit to autonomy. In essential matters of common concern to the worldwide fellowship of churches (affairs, that is, which touch both the particular church and the wider community of which it forms part), we believe that each church in the exercise of its autonomy should:

  • consider, promote and respect the common good of the Anglican Communion and its constituent churches (as discerned in communion through the Instruments of Unity)
  • maintain its communion with fellow churches, and avoid jeopardising it, by bringing potentially contentious initiatives, prior to implementation, to the rest of the communion in dialogue, consultation, discernment and agreement in communion with the fellowship of churches (through the Instruments of Unity), and
  • be able to depart, where appropriate and acceptable, on the basis of its own corporate conscience and with the blessing of the communion, from the standards of the community of which is an autonomous part, provided such departure is neither critical to the maintenance of communion nor likely to harm the common good of the Anglican Communion and of the Church universal (again, as determined by the Instruments of Unity).’ [65]

Autonomy and diversity

Because the autonomy of each church allows it the freedom to regulate its own affairs it allows for a proper diversity in the life of the Christian Church as a whole :

‘Autonomy gives full scope for the development of authentic local living out of the Christian faith and mission, in what has come to be known as inculturation. This is an essential part of the Christian mission: each church must find fresh ways to proclaim the Gospel of Christ into the context of the world in which it is living. The eternal truth of the gospel relates in different ways to the particulars of any one society, as we see already within the life of the earliest church as described in Acts. This combination of faithfulness to the gospel and inculturation into different societies will inevitably produce a proper and welcome diversity within the life of the Church.’ [66]

However, the report says, there are limits to this diversity:

‘In the life of the Christian churches, these limits are defined by truth and charity. The Lambeth Conference of 1920 put it this way:

“The Churches represented in [the Communion] are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognises the restraints of truth and love. They are not free to deny the truth. They are not free to ignore the fellowship.”

This means that any development needs to be explored for its resonance with the truth, and with the utmost charity on the part of all – charity that grants that a new thing can be offered humbly and with integrity, and charity that might refrain from an action which might harm a sister or brother.’[67]

The recommendations of the Windsor Report

The specific recommendations of the Windsor Report can all be seen to flow out of this basic idea of autonomy-in-communion.

In paragraph 122 and 123 the report summarises its view of recent events in the Anglican Communion and declares:

‘The Commission has given long and careful consideration to the submissions made to it about the Episcopal Church (USA), the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, and about various primates who (without consultation with their fellow primates) have accommodated clergy who are at odds with their own bishops. We cannot avoid the conclusion that all have acted in ways incompatible with the Communion principle of interdependence, and our fellowship together has suffered immensely as a result of these developments. Furthermore, we deeply regret that the appeals of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primates and of this Commission for a period of “calm” to allow the Commission to complete its report have been ignored in a number of quarters, and that a number of primates and provinces have declared themselves in impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church (USA) or the Diocese of New Westminster.’

The Commission regrets that without attaching sufficient importance to the interests of the wider Communion:

  • ‘the Episcopal Church (USA) proceeded with the consecration of Gene Robinson
  • the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) declared that “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions”
  • the Diocese of New Westminster approved the use of public Rites for the Blessing of same sex unions
  • the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada issued a statement affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed same sex relationships
  • a number of primates and other bishops have taken it upon themselves to intervene in the affairs of other provinces of the Communion.’[68]

What these paragraphs make clear is that as far as the Windsor Report is concerned what has gone wrong in the Anglican Communion in recent months is that people on both sides of the argument about homosexuality have exercised autonomy without regard for communion and the life of the Communion has suffered as a result.

The way forward that the Windsor Report offers also reflects its basic argument that there should be autonomy-in-communion.

In response to the current situation in the Anglican Communion the report argues that:

  • ‘Those in Canada and the United States who have acted in contravention of the teaching on human sexuality of Lambeth 1.10 should express regret for this ‘breach of the bonds of affection’– the bonds of affection being the bonds of charity that should have led them to act without proper regard to the rest of the Communion – and observe a moratorium on performing any such actions in future.
  • In order allow space for the healing of the Communion, and pending such an expression of regret, the bishops involved in the consecration of Gene Robinson and in the authorisation of same-sex blessings should seriously ‘consider in all conscience’ whether they should withdraw themselves from ‘representative functions in the Communion.’
  • Because of the ‘widespread unacceptability of his ministry’ in other provinces of the Communion the acceptability of  Bishop Robinson should be kept under review and ‘very considerable caution’ should be exercised in ‘admitting him to the councils of the Communion’
  • Those archbishops and bishops from elsewhere who have violated the principle of provincial autonomy by intervening in dioceses and provinces other than their own should  express regret for the ‘consequences of their actions’ – the consequences being the further deepening of the divisions in the Communion – affirm their desire to remain part of the Anglican Communion,  observe a moratorium on such  interventions in future and seek to reach an accommodation with the bishops of the parishes they have taken under their care. 
  • All parties to the current dispute should seek to be reconciled with each other and consideration should be given to a symbolic Act of Reconciliation that would mark a new beginning for the Communion.’[69]

Looking to the future, the report argues that the in order to enhance the interdependence of the Anglican Communion the roles of the ‘Instruments of unity’ within the Communion (The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative  Council and the Primates Meeting) need to be clarified and strengthened with a Council of Advice being instituted to help the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise his role.[70]

It also recommends that the churches of the Communion should consider adopting a:

‘…common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion. The Covenant could deal with: the acknowledgement of common identity: the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the exercise of autonomy in communion; and the management of communion affairs (including disputes).’ [71]

It is clear from this quotation that the intended purpose of the covenant is once again to support the development of autonomy-in-communion amongst the churches of the Anglican Communion.

26. Communion, Conflict and Hope 2008 

A complementary approach to that taken in the Windsor Report is that taken by Communion, Conflict and Hope, the report of the third Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, which was published in 2008. This report is also known as the Kuala Lumpur Report after the Malysian city where the final meeting of the Commission was held. It argues that Anglicans need to take seriously the way in which communion operates at levels other than those of the Anglican Communion’s central structures.

The danger facing the Communion

In its conclusion the report acknowledges that:

‘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’ [72]

A thick ecclesiology and hope for the future

However, the report contends, even if this happens this does not mean the end of Anglicanism, because Anglicanism does not exist simply at the level of the Instruments of Communion:

‘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 koinonia with 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.’[73]

As the report sees the matter, in order to think more clearly about the future of Anglicanism:

‘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…just as the life of dioceses, provinces and the Anglican Communion its itself pursues its fullness as a part of the koinonia of the People of God.’[74]

The report accepts that:

‘If Anglican fellowship at the level of shared doctrines and ideals of common participation in mission is unable to enjoy the support of coherent global structures, then the Anglican Communion will be immeasurably weakened.’

However, it also notes that even if this the case ‘in the light of the Gospel weak and fragile things are not to be despised’ and that we need to be careful when talking about ‘broken communion.’[75]This sort of language:

‘…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.’[76]

Hope in communion

Finally, having considered communion and conflict the report turns to hope. It uses the idea ‘hope in communion’ in two ways. First , it refers to the ways in which hope for the future of the Anglican Communion may be ‘nurtured and enhanced’ through:

‘…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.’[77]

Secondly, it refers to the hope in Christ that becomes real in the context of life lived in communion with others as we share together in the mission of God:

‘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.’[78]

27. Presidential Addresses at the Lambeth Conference 2008 

At the Lambeth Conference of 2008 the decision to conduct the Conference largely through the use of ‘indaba’ discussion groups meant that there were no formal reports from committees or resolutions passed by the conference as a whole. It is generally accepted, however, that the ‘mind’ of the Conference was articulated by the addresses made at the Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

First Presidential address [79]

In his first presidential address to the Conference the Archbishop notes that a range of views about the future of the Anglican Communion are currently on offer:

‘Some in our Communion would be content to see us become a loose federation, perhaps with diverse expression of Anglicanism existing side by side in more or less open competition but with little co-ordination of mission, little sense of obligation to sustain a common set of theological and practical commitments. Some would like to see the Communion as simply a family of regional or national churches strictly demarcated from each other – sovereign states, as it were, with independent systems of government, coming together from time to time for matters of common concern. Others again want to see a firmer and more consistent control of diversity, a more effective set of bodies to govern the local communities making up the Communion.’

As the Archbishop sees it, each of these options represents ‘

‘…something rather less than many – perhaps most – Anglicans over the last century at least have hoped for in their Communion. A federation of such variety that different parts of it could be in direct local competition is not really a federation at all, and would encourage some of the least appealing kinds of religious division. An ensemble of purely national or local churches both ignores the complexities of a globalised society and economy and seems to make little of the historic and biblical sense of churches in diverse places learning from each other, challenging one another and showing responsibility to each other. A centralised and homogenised Communion could be at the mercy of powerfully motivated groups from left or right who wanted to redefine the basic terms of belonging, so that Anglicanism becomes a confessional church in a way it never has been before.’

A better way forward, he contends is to move towards another option, marked by the keywords ‘council and covenant.’ This option involves a vision of an Anglicanism: 

‘…whose diversity is limited not by centralised control but by consent – consent based on a serious common assessment of the implications of local change. How do we genuinely think together about diverse local challenges? If we can find ways of answering this, we shall have discovered an Anglicanism in which prayerful consultation is routine and accepted and understood as part of what is entailed in belonging to a fellowship that is more than local. The entire Church is present in every local church assembled around the Lord’s table. Yet the local church alone is never the entire Church. We are called to see this not as a circle to be squared but as an invitation to be more and more lovingly engaged with each other.’

The Archbishop further argues that the search for an appropriate form of Anglican unity is not an end in itself: 

‘As we shall be reminded many times during these days, our own communion and unity are created and nourished by God for the sake of the Good News. If our efforts at finding greater coherence for our Communion don’t result in more transforming love for the needy, in greater awareness and compassion for those whose humanity is abused or denied, then this coherence is a hollow, self-serving thing, a matte of living ‘religiously’ rather than ‘biblically’, to refer back to the theologian I quoted during the retreat, William Stringfellow. Contrary to what some have claimed, it is not true that we at this Conference are using issues like the Millennium Development Goals to provide a rallying-point for Anglicans who can agree only about ‘secular’ priorities but not about the essence of the Gospel.

No: we seek for clarity about what we must do in a suffering world because we are surely at one in knowing what the Incarnate Lord requires of us – and so at one in acknowledging his supreme and divine authority. And we know that clarity about our calling in this world is no substitute for this unity in faith and obedience. But we also know that how we think about that unity is itself affected by the urgency of the calls on our compassion and imagination; some sorts of division undoubtedly will seem a luxury in the face of certain challenges – as many Christians in Germany found when confronted by Hitler. We have to think and pray hard about what the essentials really are. So we can’t easily pull these issues apart; and we certainly can’t use one as an excuse for not addressing the other.’

Third presidential address[80]

In his third and final presidential address, the Archbishop returns to the theme of the nature of unity, arguing that Christian unity means something more than simply human warmth to people like ourselves or peaceful diversity. First and foremost, he says, it means:

‘…union with Jesus Christ; accepting his gift of grace and forgiveness, learning from him how to speak to his Father, standing where he stands by the power of the Spirit. We are one with one another because we are called into union with the one Christ and stand in his unique place — stand in the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our unity is not mutual forbearance but being summoned and drawn into the same place before the Father’s throne. That unity is a pure gift — and something we can think of in fear and trembling as well as wordless gratitude; because to be in that place is to be in the light of absolute Truth, naked and defenceless. St John’s gospel has been reminding us that the place of Jesus is not a place where ordinary, fallen human instinct wants to go. Yet it’s where we belong, and where God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ want us to be, for our life, our joy and our healing.’

This kind of unity is ‘inseparable from truth’ and it is broken:

‘… not when we simply disagree but when we stop being able to see in each other the same kind of conviction of being called by an authoritative voice into a place where none of us has an automatic right to stand. Christians divided in the sixteenth century, in 1930’s Germany and 1980’s South Africa because they concluded, painfully as well as (often) angrily, that something had been substituted for the grace of Christ — moral and ritual achievement, or racial and social pride, as if there were after all a way of securing our place before God by something other than Jesus Christ.’

It is in this context, the Archbishop suggests, that we see the significance of the visible and tangible ways in which Christians express their unity: 

‘They read the same Bible in public and private, and shape their words and actions in conformity with it — or at least they try to. They seek for consistent practices around the sacraments, so that the baptism or eucharist of each community can be recognised by others as directed in the same way, working under the same authority. It happens in different ways and different degrees in different Christian confessions and families of churches; but all Christian communities have some such practice.

And this is emphatically not about forcing others to conform; it is an agreement to identify those elements in each other’s lives that build trust and allow us to see each other as standing in the same Way and the same Truth, moving together in one direction and so able to enrich and support each other as fully as we can. What I am saying, in effect, is that every association of Christian individuals and groups makes some sort of ‘covenant’ for the sake of mutual recognition, mutual gratitude and mutual learning.’

For the Archbishop the way forward for the Communion lies in the development of this sort of covenantal commitment, recognising that this will mean the exercise of restraint in the introduction of new policies and practices and in not intervening in the life of other provinces and that there will be those who will find this restraint ‘conscientiously hard, even impossible’ and therefore will not be able to make this move towards deeper unity.

28. The Anglican Covenant 2009

The Covenant called for by the Windsor Report was finally published in December 2009. The final ‘Ridley, Cambridge’ version was the result of work by the Covenant Design Group and was a revision of two earlier drafts, the ‘Nassau’ and ‘St Andrew’s’ draft and a further revision of section 4 of the Covenant following the fourteenth meeting of the ACC in Jamaica in May 2009.

The final text consists of an Introduction, a Preamble,  and four main sections.[81]


The Introduction, which, although not formally part of the Covenant, “shall always be annexed to the Covenant text” and “accorded authority in understanding the purpose of the Covenant” (4.4.1), provides a theological rationale for the Covenant, explaining the call to communion in Christ and with each other, in the light of God’s covenant with us established in Christ, on the basis of which it affirms “We recognise the wonder, beauty and challenge of maintaining communion in this family of churches, and the need for mutual commitment and discipline as a witness to God’s promise in a world and time of instability, conflict, and fragmentation” (Intro, §4).

Section One

Section One, entitled ‘Our Inheritance of Faith,’ contains eight affirmations which, in summarising Anglican beliefs, draw upon both the Church of England’s Preface to the Declaration of Assent (Canon C15) and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886/1888. These affirmations refer to the faith revealed in the Scriptures and set forth in the Creeds, to the witness borne by the historic formularies of the Church of England, to the four elements of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, to a pattern of ‘theological and moral reasoning’ rooted in the Scripture and the Catholic tradition, and to an ‘attentive and communal’  reading of Scripture in particular contexts that is informed by the work of lay and ordained scholars and the reading of, and witness to, Scripture by bishops and synods and by the whole people of God.

The subsequent eight commitments express the ways in which Covenant signatories will live out this inheritance of faith together, each in their own context. These articulate a vision of our shared and interdependent life and enable each church to embrace the disciplines of faithful discernment, development and discipleship that are needed to nourish a communion of churches which has “the expectation that Scripture continues to illuminate and transform the Church and its members, and through them, individuals, cultures and societies” (1.2.5) and seeks “continually to discern the fullness of truth into which the Spirit leads us, that people from all nations may be set free to receive new and abundant life in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1.2.8).

Section two

Section Two – ‘The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation’ – is focussed on mission.  The five affirmations trace our communion to God’s gift (2.1.1) and providence (2.1.2), acknowledge our failings (2.1.3) and define our Anglican vocation and mission in relation to the mission of God (2.1.4) and the wider church (2.1.5). On the basis of these affirmations, Covenanting Churches make commitments to mutually accountable evangelisation and mission (2.2.1) and to the Five Marks of Mission (2.2.2), each in full awareness of its own need for conversion (2.2.3) and promising to renew mission structures (2.2.4) and order mission in the worship of God (2.2.5)

Section Three

Section Three turns to ‘Our Unity and Common Life.’ Each church affirms its sacramental incorporation into the body of Christ (3.1.1) and its resolve to live in a Communion of Churches marked by “communion with autonomy and accountability” as defined by the 1930 Lambeth Conference (3.1.2). This communion acknowledges the “central role of bishops” (3.1.3) and “the importance of instruments in the Anglican Communion”, all four of which are defined along with their common responsibilities (3.1.4). Acknowledging this interdependent form of life, Covenanting Churches make seven commitments which express the way of life and virtues needed to sustain and deepen our common life. These include regard for the common good and the Instruments (3.2.1), respect for others’ constitutional autonomy (3.2.2) and a patient shared discernment (3.2.3) in search of a common mind on matters of common concern (3.2.4). In particular this requires a commitment to “act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy” and whose “intensity, substance or extent” threatens the Communion’s unity or mission (3.2.5), to seek mediation in conflict (3.2.6) and “to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible” (3.2.7).

Section four

Section Four is a more technical section in which Covenanting Churches affirm the principles and procedures for ‘Our Covenanted Life Together’ and commit to their implementation.

These relate to four areas. First, adoption of the Covenant. Here the meaning of adoption is explained (4.1.1-2) with the assurance that the mutual commitment entailed “does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction” (4.1.3). All current members of the ACC are invited to enter (4.1.4) and a procedure established whereby “the Instruments of Communion may invite other Churches to adopt the Covenant” (4.1.5). The Covenant becomes active for any church once it adopts it according to its own procedures (4.1.6). Second, the maintenance of the Covenant and dispute resolution.  The Covenant expresses “common commitments and mutual accountability” which enable “mutual recognition and communion”; each church is responsible for its own actions (4.2.1) and undertakes to create necessary structures “to oversee the maintenance of the affirmations and commitments of the Covenant in the life of that Church, and to relate to the Instruments of Communion on matters pertinent to the Covenant” (4.2.9). Within the Communion, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, responsible to the ACC and Primates’ Meeting, will monitor the Covenant’s functioning on behalf of the Instruments (4.2.2). In matters of dispute, each church has undertaken commitments through signing the Covenant (4.2.3).  The Standing Committee is charged with facilitating agreement where there is not a shared mind (4.2.4), requesting deferral of a controversial action (4.2.5) and, where necessary, recommending to any Instrument the “relational consequences” when a church declines to defer (4.2.5). Ultimately, the Standing Committee may declare actions or decisions “incompatible with the Covenant” (4.2.6) and make recommendations as to the relational consequences from such actions but “each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations” (4.2.7). Third, withdrawing from the Covenant is permitted and its possible consequences outlined (4.3.1). Fourth, amendment of the text will follow agreement by three quarters of the Covenanting churches who will be advised by the Standing Committee after consultation with other bodies.

30 Concluding Reflections

In spite of the inordinate length of this paper it has to be regarded as a preliminary survey of the material. This is for two reasons. Firstly, further work needs to be done looking at material from meetings of the ACC, the Primates and other bodies that there simply has not been room to cover here. Secondly, although I have made some attempts to set the material in its historical context more work needs to be done along the lines of the work undertaken by Alan Stephenson on the first Lambeth Conference[82] or the research by Dr Charlotte Methuen on the development of the ‘Appeal to all Christian People’ in 1920.

Nevertheless, even on the basis of this preliminary survey, a number of common threads become clear.

1. The Anglican Communion has always seen itself as part of something bigger that itself. It has always viewed itself as a fellowship of churches within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.   

2. The Anglican Communion has always been concerned both about its unity with the wider Church and its own internal unity.

3. The Anglican Communion has always seen its concern for the unity of the wider Church within the context of the Church’s missionary calling, with the unity of the Church serving to give credibility to the proclamation of the Gospel. It has seen the visible unity of the Church as involving the elements of the Lambeth Quadrilateral and the way for unity to be achieved as that set out by the Lambeth Conference of 1920.   

4. When the occasion has been seen to demand it Anglicans have been willing to merge their specific Anglican identities into the wider life of united churches and in spite of initial hesitations such churches have come to be accepted as full members of the Communion.

5. The Anglican Communion has seen its internal unity and that of the Church as a whole as having a spiritual basis which more recent documents have come to specify as a participation in the communion which exists between the persons of the Holy Trinity.

6. The Anglican Communion has seen itself as having multiple sources of authority. The central sources of authority have been seen to be Scripture and the Catholic Creeds, but great importance has also been attached to the teaching of the Early Church as a whole and to the historic Anglican formularies (The Thirty Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal), and significant weight has also been attached to the Anglican experience of worship and the sacraments, to the witness of faithful pastors, scholars, missionaries, and mystics, and to the consensus fidelium.    

7. Although the Book of Common Prayer was traditionally seen as a key source of Anglican unity, it came to be accepted first that the demands of mission meant that it needed to be supplemented and adapted and secondly, that the use of a single Prayer Book needed to be replaced by the existence of a common liturgical tradition informed by ecumenical liturgical scholarship. It also came to be seen as important that the Thirty Nine Articles should be understood in their original context.

8. The Anglican Communion has traditionally seen a mutually recognised sacramental ministry as a key element in communion and in the visible unity of the Church, but it has also come to accept that real albeit impaired communion can exist even when such a ministry is not present.

9. The Anglican Communion has come to see that when a majority feels a development in the life of the Communion is permissible this development needs to be put forward for a period of open reception and while this period of reception is taking place care needs to be taken to allow the voice of the minority to continue to be heard as a key part of the discernment process. 

10. The Anglican Communion has come to see its internal unity as being expressed in the interdependence of churches that are autonomous in the sense of being self governing, but also both attentive and accountable to the other churches of the Communion.

11. This interdependence is served by the numerous links that create a ‘thick communion’ between Anglican Christians, but particularly by four international structural links, the four instruments of Communion – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the ACC and the Primates Meeting.

12. The international bodies that exist, or have existed, within Anglicanism have always been seen as acting in a purely advisory capacity. The Communion has always resisted the creation of international bodies with governmental or judicial authority. However, the advice that has been given by such bodies has always been seen as having great moral authority and has always traditionally been adhered to.

13. The issues of liturgical reform, the recognition of the Church of South India and the developments of women’s ministry show how the Anglican Communions traditional approach has been capable of handling contentious issues and allowing for ordered development when churches have been prepared to work with the Anglican system. The unity of the Communion was seriously challenged at times, but it held together.

14. The reason that things began to go seriously wrong in the Communion from the end of the 1990s was that the Anglican churches in North America broke with the tradition of accepting the mind of the Communion as a whole and the advice of the Instruments of Communion and went ahead with unilaterally blessing same sex relationships and ordaining people in such relationships, things which they had specifically been asked not to do by the rest of the Communion. Despairing of the apparent inability of the structures of the Communion to deal effectively with this, certain churches from the Global South then took matters into their own hands by unilaterally intervening in North America.

15. The Anglican Communion Covenant summarises the Anglican approach as it this has developed in the almost one and a half centuries since the first Lambeth Conference. It builds on the traditional Anglican sources of authority, it links together unity and mission and it combines autonomy, attentiveness and accountability. It offers a positive way forward for the Communion, but for it to work the churches of the Global South have to be shown that the traditional Anglican approach is able to effectively restrain The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada from doing what they want to do regardless of the position of the Communion as a whole.

[1] Proceedings of the Sixth Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, London: ACC 1984, p.81. 

[2] Ibid, p.82.

[3] Ibid, p.82.

[4] Ibid, pp.82-83.

[5] Ibid, p.83.

[6] Ibid, p.83.

[7] For the Sake of the Kingdom, London: ACC, 1986, p.1 

[8] Ibid, p.58.

[9] Ibid, p,58.

[10] Ibid, p.59.

[11] Ibid p.59

[12] Ibid, pp.59-60.

[13] Ibid, p.60.

[14] Ibid, pp.60-61.

[15] Many Gifts One Spirit, Report of ACC-7, London, Anglican Communion Office, 1987, p.1129.

[16] Ibid, p.129.

[17] Ibid, p.130.

[18] Ibid, p.130.

[19] Ibid, p.130.

[20] Ibid, p. 97.

[21] The Truth Shall Make You Free – The Lambeth Conference 1988, London: ACC, 1988, p.14.

[22] Ibid, pp.14-15.

[23] Ibid, p.15.

[24] Ibid, p.16.

[25] Ibid, p.117.

[26] Ibid,pp.117-118.

[27] Ibid, p. 118.

[28] Ibid, pp.58-59.

[29] Ibid, p.210.

[30] Ibid, p.216

[31] Ibid, p.217.

[32] Women in the Anglican Episcopate, Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1998, p. 20.

[33] Ibid, pp.20-21.

[34] Ibid, p.33.

[35] Ibid, p.33.

[36] Ibid, p.35

[37] Ibid, p.35.

[38] Ibid, p.35.

[39] Ibid, p.36.

[40] By ‘idolatry’ Marschin does not mean idolatry in the traditional sense, but the giving of absolute

     value to something other than God.

[41] Mission in a Broken World – Report of ACC-8 Wales 1990,  London: ACC, 1990, p.62.

[42] Ibid, p.63.

[43] Ibid, p.101. The Anglican approach to mission is further explored in the E Johnson and J Clark (eds)

     Anglicans in Mission: A Transforming Journey  (SPCK 2000), the report of the 1999 consultation of

     the Mission Commission of the ACC.   

[44] So called because the Commission met at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the United States.

[45] The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1999 p.31. 

[46] Ibid, p.50.

[47] Ibid, p.42.

[48] Ibid, p.42.

[49] Ibid, p.42.

[50] Ibid, p.50.

[51] Ibid, p.63.

[52] Ibid, pp.220-201.

[53] Ibid,p.236.

[54] Ibid, p..381-2.

[55]Text in The Windsor Report, London: ACO, 2004., p. 98-99.

[56] Ibid. p.99.

[57] Ibid, p.100.

[58] Ibid, p.100.

[59] N T Wright   Thoughts on Concerns and Questions about the Windsor Report at www.

[60] The Windsor Report , p.47.

[61] Ibid, p.48.

[62] Ibid, p.48.

[63] Ubid, p.48.

[64] Ibid, pp.48-49.

[65] Ibid, p.49.

[66] Ibid, p.50. .

[67] Ibid, p.51.

[68] Ibid, pp.65-66.

[69] Ibid, pp. 68-69. 72 and 74-75.

[70] Ibid, pp.55-60 and Appendix I.

[71] Ibid, p.62.

[72] Communion Conflict and Hope, London, Anglican Communion Office 2008, pp.49-50

[73] Ibid, p.50.

[74] Ibid, p.50.

[75] Ibid, pp.50-51.

[76] Ibid, p.51.

[77] Ibid, p.51.

[78] Ibid, p.51.

[79] The text of the first address can be found at:

address-at lambeth-conference.html

[80] The text of the third address can be found at:

[81] The summary that follows is a slightly adapted form of the briefing paper on the Covenant produced by the Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England in October 2010 (GS 966). 

[82] Alan Stephenson, The First Lambeth Conference, 1867 (London: SPCK 1967).

Statements on the nature and development of the Anglican Communion from the first Lambeth Conference to the Anglican Covenant – Part II, 1948-1978.

This post contains the second part of my paper tracing the development of Anglican thinking about the nature and development of the Anglican Communion. It covers the development of this thinking from the Lambeth Conference of 1948 to the Lambeth Conference of 1978. The third and final part of the paper, covering the period up to the production of the Anglican Covenant in 2009, will be posted next week.

9.The Lambeth Conference of 1948

The unity of the Church

The Lambeth Conference of 1948 was faced with various proposals for the development of unity between Anglican churches and those of other traditions, Faced with these proposals the committee charged with looking at ‘The Unity of the Church’ set out what is believed to be ‘the starting point and the governing principles of any Anglican approach to reunion.’[1]

Its report states that the starting point for reunion has to be found in the four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the claim made in the Appeal to All Christian people in 1920 that the only the episcopate can provide ‘a ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the Spirit, but also the commission of Christ and the authority of the whole body.’[2]

The report then goes on to acknowledge that agreement on this statement and the practical observance by Anglican churches of the principle set out in the Preface to the ordinal that only those who are episcopally ordained can minister in Anglican churches have not prevented ‘a certain diversity of interpretation’ with regard to non-episcopal ministries. It notes that: 

  • ‘Some hold that episcopacy is of the esse of the Church and so non-episcopal ministries are not ‘ministries of the Church.’
  • Others hold that in view of the evident blessing of God on non-episcopal ministries these ministries have to be recognised as ‘true ministries and their sacraments as true sacraments.’ 
  • Others hold ‘shades of opinion between these two views.’[3]

According to the report ‘it is clear that in any scheme for reunion and intercommunion must be recognized and allowed for’. As it sees the matter:

‘The acceptance of episcopacy as part of the life of the Church, and of episcopal ordination as the rule of the Church, is a free requisite for the formation of a united Church with Anglican participation, or for the establishment of the rules of intercommunion.  But room must be left for varying interpretations of the fact of episcopacy, provided that the historic succession is maintained, and that the functions of the episcopate are such as have been traditionally assigned to it.’[4]

The report accepts that ‘the co-existence of these diverging views within the Anglican Communion sets a certain tensions’, but it contends that such tensions are ‘part of the will of God for us.’ This is because:

‘…it is only through a comprehensiveness which makes it possible to hold together in the Anglican Communion understandings of truth which are held in separation in other churches, that the Anglican Communion is able to reach out in different directions, and so to fulfil its special vocation as one of God instruments for the restoration of the visible unity of his whole Church. If at the present time one view were to prevail to the exclusion of all others, we should be delivered from our tensions, but only at the price of missing our opportunity and our vocation.’[5]

The meaning and unity of Anglican Communion

As well as considering questions relating to the unity of the Church as a whole the 1948 Lambeth Conference also considered the ‘meaning and unity of the Anglican Communion.’ The report of the committee that looked at this topic argues that rather than being based on a centralised system of government or having a legal basis, the unity of the Anglican Communion is ‘moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.’[6] 

The report states that:

‘Authority, as inherited by the Anglican Communion from the undivided Church of the early centuries of the Christian era, is single in that it is derived from a single divine source and reflects within itself the richness and history of the divine Revelation, the authority the eternal Father, the incarnate Son, and the life-giving Spirit. It is distributed among Scripture, Tradition, Creeds, the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, the witness of saints and the consensus fidelium, which is the continuing experience of the Holy Spirit through His faithful people in the Church. It is thus a dispersed rather than a centralised authority having many elements which combine, interact with and check each other; these elements together contributing by a process of mutual support, mutual checking and redressing of errors or exaggerations to the many sided fullness of the authority which Christ has committed to his Church.  Where this authority of Christ is to be found mediated not in one source but in several we recognise in this multiplicity God’s loving provision against the temptations to tyranny and the dangers of unchecked power.’[7]

As the report sees it, this form of dispersed authority possesses what it calls a ‘suppleness and elasticity’ in that:

‘…the emphasis on one element over the others may and does change with the changing conditions of the Church.  The variety of the contributing factors give to it a quality of  richness which encourages and releases initiative, trains in fellowship, and evokes a free and willing obedience.’[8]

The report goes on to compare the nature of Christian authority with the discipline of scientific enquiry:

‘Just as the discipline of the scientific method proceeds in the collection of data, the ordering of these data in formally agreed ways, the publishing of results obtained, and their verification by experience, so Catholic Christianity presents us with an organic process of life and thought in which religious experience has been, and is, described, intellectually ordered, mediated, and verified.

This experience is described in Scripture, which is authoritative because it is the unique and classical record of the revelation of God in his relation to and dealings with man.  While Scripture therefore remains the ultimate standard of faith, it should be continually interpreted in the context of the Church’s life.

It is defined in Creeds and in continuous theological study.

It is mediated in the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments, by persons who are called and commission by God through the Church to represent both the transcendent and the immanent elements in Christ’s authority.

It is verified in the witness of the saints and in the consensus fidelium.  The Christ-like life carries its own authority, and the authority of doctrinal formulations, by General Councils or otherwise, rest at least in part on their acceptance by the whole body of the faithful, though the weight of this consensus ‘does not depend on mere numbers or the extension of the belief at any one time, but on continuance through the ages, and the extent to which the consensus is genuinely free.’’[9]

According to the report the various elements of authority come together in worship. The liturgy, it says,

‘…is the crucible in which these elements of authority are fused and united in the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Living and Ascended Christ present in a worshipping congregation who is the meaning and unity of the whole Church. He presents it to the Father, and sends it out on its mission.’[10]

Because of the importance of worship the report suggests that the Conference should call upon ‘every member of the Anglican Communion to examine himself in respect of his obligation to public worship’ and although the report accepts the principle of ‘generous liberty of experiment in liturgy’ affirmed by previous Lambeth Conferences it also appeals to those responsible for the ordering and conduct of public worship to remembers how ‘bewildered the laity are by differences of use and with what earnest care and charity they should be helped to take their full share in liturgical worship’ and suggests that the time has come to ‘examine those features in the Book of Common Prayer which are essential to safeguarding of the unity of the Anglican Communion’ as recommended by the Lambeth Conference of 1920.[11]

The Conference as a whole expressed the importance of the Book of Common Prayer for the unity of the Communion in Resolution 78(a) which declares:

‘….that the Book of Common Prayer has been, and is, so strong a bond of unity throughout the whole Anglican Communion that great care must be taken to ensure that revisions of the Book shall be in accordance with the doctrine and liturgical worship of the Anglican Communion.’[12]

The Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy

The report on the Anglican Communion also recommended the formation of An Advisory Council on Mission Strategy. This recommendation was agreed in Resolution 80 (a) which states:

‘…that the setting up of an Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy would enable the whole Anglican Communion to deal effectively with matters of world-wide strategy which concern the task God has entrusted to it and the welfare of the whole Communion.’[13]

The ordination of women

The Conference also considered the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood. Florence Li Tim Oi had already been ordained priest as an emergency measure by Bishop Hall in Hong Kong in 1944, but in the face of disapproval from the Communion as a whole she had ceased to exercise her priestly ministry. Nevertheless, the General Synod of the Church in China brought to the Conference a proposal to allow deaconesses to ordained a priests for an experimental period of twenty years.

The Conference declined to accept this proposal, declaring in Resolution 113 that such an experiment ‘would be against [Anglican] tradition and order and would gravely affect the internal and external relations of the Communion.’ It then re-affirmed in Resolutions 114-115 the 1920 discipline that the order of deaconesses was the sole order of ministry to which women could be admitted by the ‘episcopal imposition of hands.’[14]

The Church of South India

A final issue considered in 1948 was that of the status to be accorded to lay and ordained members of the Church of South India. After many years of discussion this church had been formed out of a union between the Anglican Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, the Methodists, and the South India United Church, which had itself been formed by through an earlier union between Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Dutch Reformed churches. The new church established episcopacy and episcopal confirmation and ordination as its universal practice, but it did not seek to re-confirm or re-ordain existing lay or ordained members of the church from non-episcopal traditions.

As expressed in Resolution 52 of the Conference there was a general welcome for the creation of the new church:

‘We … (b) give thanks to God for the measure of unity locally achieved by the inauguration of the Church of South India, and we pledge ourselves to pray and work for its development into an ever more perfect fulfilment of the will of God for his Church; and we

(c) look forward hopefully and with longing to the day when there shall be full communion between the Church of South India and the Churches of the Anglican Communion.’[15]

However, there was controversy about: ‘those who have been consecrated to the episcopate, ordained to the presbyterate or to the diaconate, or as lay persons episcopally confirmed, at or since the union.’[16] Should they be treated on the same basis as those from Anglican churches or not? A majority thought they should be, but a significant minority was more cautious.

The Conference eventually passed Resolution 54 on ‘The Anglican Communion and the Church of South India’ that made space for both points of view. The relevant clauses of the resolution, e and f, declare:

‘(e) In regard to the bishops, presbyters, and deacons consecrated or ordained in the Church of South India at or after the inauguration of that Church, the Conference is unable to make one recommendation agreed to by all. It therefore records the two following views:

(i) one view (held by a majority) that such bishops, presbyters, and deacons should be acknowledged as true bishops, presbyters, and deacons in the Church of Christ and should be accepted as such in every part of the Anglican Communion, subject only to such regulations as are normally made in all such cases by the responsible authorities in each area; (ii) another view (held by a substantial minority) that it is not yet possible to pass any definite judgement upon the precise status of such bishops, presbyters, and deacons in the Church of Christ or to recommend that they be accepted in the Anglican Communion as bishops, presbyters, or deacons.

The Conference records the fact that no member of the Conference desires to condemn outright or to declare invalid the episcopally consecrated and ordained ministry of the Church of South India. It recognizes that there will be differences in the attitude of Churches, provinces, or dioceses regarding the status of the bishops, presbyters, and deacons of the Church of South India, but it expresses the unanimous hope that such differences may never in any part of the Anglican Communion be made a ground for condemnation of action taken by any Church, province, or diocese.

(f) That lay communicants who in the Church of South India have received episcopal confirmation should, in Churches of the Anglican Communion, be received as communicants, subject to the approval of responsible authority, but should not thereby acquire any new status or rights in relation to the Anglican Communion as a whole; and (g) that other recognised communicants of the Church of South India should, in Churches of the Anglican Communion, subject to the approval of responsible authority and to any such regulations as may locally obtain, be admissable to communion by an exercise of the principle of “economy.”’[17]

10. The Anglican Congress 1954

The second Anglican Congress was held in Minneapolis in August 1954. Its theme was ‘The Call of God and the Mission of the Anglican Communion.’ At the end of the Congress a series of statements were adopted by the Congress on the themes which had been considered during it.

The Anglican Vocation

The statement on ‘Our Vocation’ defines the Anglican Communion as:

‘…a fellowship of Churches at one and the same time Catholic in seeking to do justice to the wholeness of Christian truth, in emphasising continuity through the episcopate, and in retaining the historic Creeds and Sacraments of undivided Christendom; and Evangelical in its commission to proclaim the gospel and in its emphasis on personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour.  In loyalty to the New Testament it is free in its quest for truth, in the faith that Christ is Lord of all truth.’[18]

In line with this definition, the statement goes on to declare that to be an Anglican involves combining ‘both Catholic and Protestant traditions in a dynamic relationship.’ In its view, the tension between these traditions

‘…becomes creative when it is held in charity.  Indeed, a like expression of these different emphases should characterise the life of every diocese.  If Anglicanism did not preserve variety in unity, it would make a poorer contribution to the Church universal. It is our costly responsibility to hold together these loyalties in mutual forbearance, trust and co-operation in the Church’s work and Mission.’[19]

The statement also places emphasis on the importance of evangelism and working for the unity of the Church.

On evangelism, it states that ‘evangelistic witness in both the non-Christian and is nominally Christian lands’ is fundamental to the nature of the Church and that through constantly adhering ‘to this primitive and permanent Mission our Communion will obey its Lord and strengthen its fellowship.’  It therefore calls all the members of the Church ‘to new dedication, that our witness may become increasingly effective and widespread.’[20]

On work for unity it appeals:

‘…to all the churches of the Anglican Communion to strengthen their support of the ecumenical movement and to promote common action and the furthering of unity among Christians of different Communions in their own local areas.’[21]

It also recommends that in order to promote unity within the Communion the Churches of the Anglican Communion should ‘take every opportunity for the building and strengthening of world-wide fellowship within our Communion.’[22] In this connection it  draws attention to the value of the Anglican cycle of intercession, the work of St Augustine’s Canterbury, then the central training college for the Communion,  the spread of information through various periodicals and other means, and ‘the periodic issue of a United Statement on the Anglican Communion.’[23]

Anglican worship

The statement on ‘Our Worship’ states that 

‘Anglican worship is Scriptural in theology, intelligible in language and conduct, and corporate in expression. It must be the ordered worship of the Church. In our worship we accept by faith God’s gift of Himself to us, and in praise, penitence, and prayer we offer ourselves for His service, seeking to become instruments which he may use for the extension of His Kingdom.’[24]

It notes that the Book of Common Prayer is ‘a principal bond of unity between and within the churches, that is of high importance in interpreting our worship and doctrine to other communions’ and while it accepts that ‘varieties in forms of worship are legitimate in our Communion’ it contends that ‘the degree of variation should not be such as to disrupt our unity.’[25]

In specific terms the statement stresses that ‘loyal obedience to the authority of the respective Provinces or Churches in the Uses which they permit is essential to the well-being of the Church.’ In its view:

‘Unauthorised deviations from these Uses by individuals or groups are harmful to the life of the Church and make more difficult the sharing of the people in Common worship.’[26]

On the other hand it holds that ‘a measure of authorised variety is in keeping with the traditions of the Church’ and ‘provides opportunity for controlled experiment leading to revision in forms of worship.’[27] and that encouragement should be given to:

‘…informal devotional services at meetings for prayer which give opportunity for a freer expression of the spiritual life of the people and supplement the prescribed services of the Church.’[28]

Finally, the statement asks for Anglican churches to keep in touch with each other as they engage in liturgical reform:

‘We ask that when branches of our Communion revise their forms of worship they both inform other branches and consult with them, so that we may both learn from one another and also remain in common accord on the essentials of our Anglican liturgical heritage.’[29]

11. The Lambeth Conference 1958

The unity of the Church

In line with the previous Lambeth Conferences, the 1958 Lambeth Conference stressed the importance of working for the unity of the Church. The committee on ‘Church Unity and the Church Universal’ produced a statement on the nature of Christian Unity which was subsequently endorsed by the Conference as a whole. Building on what was said in 1920, this statement emphasises that for Anglicans the basis for visible unity has to be the four elements of the Lambeth Quadrilateral. It then goes on to declare that:

‘The unity between Christian Churches ought to be a living unity in the love of Christ which is shown in full Christian fellowship and mutual service. While also, subject to sufficient agreement in faith and order, expressing itself in free interchange of ministries, and fullness of sacramental communion. Such unity, while marked by the bond of the historic episcopate, should always include congregational fellowship, active participation both of clergy and laity in the mission and government of the Church, and zeal for evangelism.’[30]

The statement calls upon Anglicans:

‘…under the leadership of the bishop and clergy of the diocese, in full loyalty to their own Church, to join with their fellow Christian in united prayer. And we urge them to do their utmost through national and local Councils of Churches, for common Christian witness and common service to their fellows. Only so can the world see the People of God giving united witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, and feeding, clothing, healing and visiting the least of his brethren in his name.’[31]

The language used to describe communion

The committee also considered the question of the language used to describe different types of relationship between churches. Its report argues that: the term ‘full communion’ to describe cases, such as the relationship between churches of the Communion and the Old Catholic Churches:

‘…where a Province of the Anglican Communion by agreement enters into a relation of unrestricted communio in sacris, including the mutual recognition of ministries, with a Church outside our Communion.’[32]

The term ‘intercommunion’ should be used, it says:

‘…to describe the varying degrees of relation other than full communion, which already exist, or may be established in the future, between Churches of the Anglican family and others outside this family.’[33]

This argument was endorsed by Resolution 14 of the Conference.

The committee’s report also contains what it calls the ‘radical recommendation’ that when an Anglican church joined a united church ‘with the encouragement and goodwill of the Lambeth Conference, bishops from that united church should henceforth be invited to attend the Lambeth Conference.[34] Resolution 17 of the Conference noted this recommendation and commended it for consideration by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Consultative Body before the next Lambeth Conference.

The place of the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Communion

The 1958 Conference also considered the question of the place of the Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Communion. The report of the committee on ‘Progress in the Anglican Communion’ notes that there are now a number of different prayer Books in use in the Communion and takes issue with the suggestion at the previous Lambeth Conference that the time had come to examine those ‘features in the Book of Common Prayer which are essential to the safeguarding of the unity of the Anglican Communion.’

The report argues that the unity of the Anglican Communion does not rest on the use of the Prayer Book, but on the fact that it is:

‘…a federation of Provinces and Dioceses of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, each being served and governed by a Catholic and Apostolic Ministry and each believing the Catholic faith. These are the fundamental reasons for our unity.’[35]

The Book of Common Prayer has served Anglican unity only in the secondary sense of helping to create a ‘distinct ecclesiastical culture’ which has aided the provinces and dioceses of the Communion ‘in their task of living and worshipping in godly union and concord with each other.’[36]

According to the report the question that the Anglican Communion therefore really needs to ask is:

‘What are the features of the various Prayer Books of the Anglican Communion which are most effective in preserving that ecclesiastical culture which has hitherto informed our common life and witness?’ [37]

‘A true and discerning answer to this question’, it says, would ‘greatly assist provinces and dioceses in the future revision of their Prayer Books.’[38]

The report also suggests that given that Cranmer’s original aim was to recover as much as possible the form of worship used in the Primitive Church, but that he was limited in his ability to achieve this aim by the historical knowledge available to him, a further question that Anglicans might want to ask is:

‘…what elements in the Book of Common Prayer are due to the sixteenth and seventeenth century misunderstanding of what is ‘primitive’ in public worship, and what elements need to be substituted or added in order to make Prayer Book services truer to the ideals towards which Cranmer was feeling his way.’[39]

Responding to these questions, the report produces three tables.

The first lists those ‘Features in the Books of Common Prayer which are essential to the safeguarding of the unity of the Anglican Communion.’ These features are:

‘Use of the Canonical Scriptures.

Use of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.

Orders of holy Baptism with water and the threefold name.

Orders of Confirmation by the Bishop, by prayer with the laying on of hands.

Orders of Holy Communion with use of bread and wine and explicit intention to obey our Lord’s Command.

Forms of episcopal Ordination to each of the three Holy Orders by prayer with the laying-on of hands.’[40]

The second lists those ‘Features in the Books of Common Prayer which are most effective in maintaining the traditional doctrinal emphasis of the worship and witness of the Anglican Communion.’ These are:

‘1. Forms of worship in the vernacular.

2. Wholly common prayer:  avoiding official private prayers of the celebrant while the people are otherwise engaged; avoiding prayer which cannot be heard by the congregation, and providing for the audible response of the congregation, and for communicants at every celebration.

3. Services easy for the people to follow and therefore with a restrained use of seasonal variations.

4. The importance of both Word and Sacrament in worship is recognized, a due balance being kept between them. This involves provision for the regular celebration of the Holy Communion and the extensive use of Holy Scripture in the offices and Holy Communion. Similarly in many Prayer Books Baptism is required to be administered in the course of Morning and Evening Prayer, thus providing a setting of psalms and lessons for the sacramental act.

5. The use of one of the historic Creeds, recited by all, at the principal services of Mattins, Holy Communion and Baptism.

6.The reading of the Old Testament, as well as of the New, in lessons of approximately equal length at the Offices of Mattins and Evensong.

7. The use of Psalms as the normal vehicle of common praise and meditation.

8. The honouring of the Saints without invocation.’[41] 

The third lists ‘Suggested modifications or additions for the further recovery of other elements of the worship of the Primitive Church.

‘1. Exhortations have a legitimate function in the liturgy but they should be shorter and fewer.

2. The present corporate expressions of penitence need to be modified both in length and language.

3. More extensive provision of litanies, with shorter clauses, for corporate intercession thanksgiving, and adoration; with the discouragement of long strings of collects or other prayers for this purpose.

4. The recovery of the ‘People’s Prayers’ at the Eucharist by breaking up the Prayer for the Church into sections, each followed by congregational response, or into a litany with short clauses.

5. The Offertory, with which the people should be definitely associated, to be more closely connected with the Prayer of Consecration.

6. The events for which thanksgiving is made in the Consecration Prayer are not to be confined to Calvary but include thanksgiving for all the principal ‘mighty works of God,’ especially the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and his return in glory.’[42]

The approach taken in the committee’s report was endorsed by Resolutions 73-74 of the Conference

‘73 The Conference welcomes the contemporary movement towards unanimity in doctrinal and liturgical matters by those of differing traditions in the Anglican Communion as a result of new knowledge gained from biblical and liturgical studies, and is happy to know of parallel progress in this sphere by some Roman Catholic and Reformed theologians. It commends the Report of the Sub-committee on the Book of Common Prayer on this subject to the careful study of all sections of the Anglican Communion.

74 The Conference, recognising the work of Prayer Book revision being done in different parts of the Anglican Communion,
(a) calls attention to those features in the Books of Common Prayer which are essential to the safeguarding of our unity: ie. the use of the canonical Scriptures and the Creeds, Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and the Ordinal;
(b) notes that there are other features in these books which are effective in maintaining the traditional doctrinal emphasis and ecclesiastical culture of Anglicanism and therefore should be preserved;
(c) and urges that a chief aim of Prayer Book revision should be to further that recovery of the worship of the primitive Church which was the aim of the compilers of the first Prayer Books of the Church of England.’[43]

12. The Toronto Anglican Congress 1963

The third Anglican Congress was held in Toronto in August 1963. The key outcome of this Congress was the issuing by the Primates and Metropolitan Bishops of a statement on ‘Mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ’ which was intended to summarise the themes that had come to the fore during the Congress.

The statement begins by declaring that:

‘In our time the Anglican Communion has come of age. Our professed nature as a world-wide fellowship of national and regional churches has suddenly become a reality – all but ten of the 350 Anglican dioceses are now included in self-governing churches, of one blood with their own self-governing regions and peoples. The full communion in Christ which has been our traditional tie has suddenly taken on a totally new dimension. It is now irrelevant to talk of “giving” and “receiving” churches. The keynotes of our time are equality, interdependence, mutual responsibility.

Three central truths at the heart of our faith command us in this:

The Church’s mission is response to the living God who in His love creates, reveals, judges, redeems, fulfills. It is He who moves through our history to teach and to save, who calls us to receive His love, to learn, to obey and to follow.

Our unity in Christ, expressed in our full communion, is the most profound bond among us, in all our political and racial and cultural diversity.

The time has fully come when this unity and interdependence must find a completely new level of expression and corporate obedience.

Our need is not therefore simply to be expressed in greater generosity by those who have money and men to spare. Our need is rather to understand how God has led us, through the sometimes painful history of our time, to see the gifts of freedom and communion in their great terms, and to live up to them. If we are not responsible stewards of what Christ has given us, we will lose even what we have.’[44]

The statement goes on to argue that, in the face of this new situation and in the light of these truths:

‘….we must face maturely and without sentimentality the nature of the Anglican Communion, and the implications for us all of the one Lord whose single mission holds us together in one Body. To use the words “older” or “younger” or “sending” or “receiving” with respect to churches is unreal and untrue in the world and in our Communion. Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky; it is mutual, united obedience to the one God whose mission it is. The form of the Church must reflect that.’[45]

In terms of specifics the statement proposes a five fold programme ‘to every church of the Anglican Communion without exception.’ This programme is:

‘First, that it join – as each church chooses – in our immediate commitment for increased support in money and manpower, through existing or new channels, in co-operation with the other churches of our Communion. Clearly each church must set its own time, goal and methods. But in many parts of the world we have little time left for this kind of partnership–some doors have already closed.

Second, that every church begin at once a radical study of its own obedience to mission. Included in this should be a study of its structures, of its theology of mission, and of its priorities in decision. We need to ask whether our structures are appropriate to our world and the church as it is, and if not, how they should be changed. We need to examine the training of laity and clergy alike, asking whether in fact God’s mission is central in our teaching. We need to examine rigorously the senses in which we use the word “mission” as describing something we do for somebody else. We need to examine our priorities, asking whether in fact we are not putting secondary needs of our own ahead of essential needs of our brothers. A new organ in Lagos or New York, for example, might mean that twelve fewer priests are trained in Asia or Latin America. Inherited institutions in India or England may actually have outlived their usefulness but be still depriving us of trained teachers in the South Pacific or Uganda.

Third, that every church seek the way to receive as well as give, asking expectantly what other churches and cultures may bring to its life, and eager to share its tasks and problems with others. Full communion means either very little, if it be taken as a mere ceremonial symbol, or very much if it be understood as an expression of our common life and fortune. We all stand or fall together, for we are one in Christ. Therefore we must seek to receive and to share.

Fourth, that every church seek to test and evaluate every activity in its life by the test of mission and of service to others, in our following after Christ. The Church is not a club or an association of like-minded and congenial people. Nor is our Communion, named for its historic roots, a federation commissioned to propagate an English-speaking culture across the world. If our Anglican churches are guilty of presenting such a picture of ourselves, and we are, it is because we regard our own perpetuation and tradition as the end of our duty. The Church exists to witness, to obey and to serve. All our planning must be tested by this.

Finally, every church needs to develop swiftly every possible channel of communication with its companions in the Anglican Communion–indeed in the Church of Christ as a whole. This is not merely a matter of the printed word or occasional visits. It is a matter of deep and deliberate involvement in one another’s affairs and life. It means the re-orientation of much of our teaching in parishes. It means a radical change in the structure of our prayers. It means massive exchange programs of men and women in different categories. It means a host of designed ways by which our common life and mutual interdependence may be expressed.’[46]

The statement acknowledges that this programme, if accepted,

‘…will mean the death of much that is familiar about our churches now. It will mean radical change in our priorities–even leading us to share with others at least as much as we spend on ourselves. It means the death of old isolations and inherited attitudes. It means a willingness to forego many desirable things, in every church.’[47]

What is really being asked for, the statement says:

‘…is the rebirth of the Anglican Communion, which means the death of many old things but– infinitely more–the birth of entirely new relationships. We regard this as the essential task before the churches of the Anglican Communion now.’[48]

As the commentary by Archbishop Michael Ramsey in the record of the Congress explains, the purpose of the statement was to generate:

‘…the sharing of common responsibility by all our churches with one another so that one picture gives place to another picture. The picture that must go is: here is our church with its priorities and of course with its obligations to be looking after and helping this or that, somewhere else in the world. That is the picture that must disappear, for two reasons: partly because the idea of looking after things in a haphazard piecemeal way really means stagnation, but partly also because this concept of looking after people and looking after areas is a concept that has to go. (The latter point is as important a part of the document as the former.) And what is the other picture? The document really means this: that if, is some part of the world where our Anglican Communion is doing its work, there is a situation where there must be considerably more resources of every kind, including men or women, or else there must be a real recession of Christian work, a petering out to nothing, then that’s a matter that is the concern of all, and not just the concern of one or few.’[49]

13.The Lambeth Conference 1968

The Thirty Nine Articles

Section 1 of the Lambeth Conference of 1968 considered the topic of ‘Renewal in Faith.’ In an addendum to a wide ranging report on the relation of Christian faith to contemporary society the report of this section looks at ‘The Thirty Nine Articles and the Anglican Tradition.’

This addendum accepts the main thrust of the report Subscription and Assent to the Thirty Nine Articles by the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England which had then just been published. This report, it says:

‘…advocates neither casting the Articles aside nor revising them, but rather prefers to acknowledge their place in the historical context of a continuous, developing, Anglican tradition. We commend the further study of this report, which recognizes that the inheritance of faith which characterizes the Anglican Communion is an authority of a multiple kind and that, to the different elements which occur in the different strands of this inheritance, different Anglicans attribute different levels of authority. From this foundation arises Anglican tolerance, comprehensiveness, and ordered liberty, though admittedly it makes Anglican theology variegated rather than monolithic, and informal rather than systematically deductive.’[50]

 The addendum goes on to identify three elements in the Anglican inheritance of faith

  • ‘There is the faith ‘uniquely shown forth in scripture and proclaimed in the Catholic Creeds set in their context of baptismal profession, patristic reasoning and conciliar decision.’ This faith the Anglican Communion ‘shares with other Churches throughout the world.’[51]
  • There is the witness borne to Christian truth by the sixteenth century Church of England in the Thirty Nine Articles, The Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Homilies. [52]
  • There is the continuing witness borne to Christian truth by the Anglican Communion since the sixteenth century through ‘its preaching and worship, the writings of its scholars and teachers, the lives of its saints and confessors, and the utterances of its councils.’[53]

According to the addendum, this threefold inheritance of faith involves a concept of authority which:

‘….refuses to insulate itself against the testing of history and the free action of reason. It seeks to be a credible authority and therefore is concerned to secure satisfactory historical support and to have its credentials in a shape which corresponds to the requirements of reason.’[54]

The existence of this threefold inheritance of faith also means that when:

‘…the Articles are mentioned or implied in any affirmation of faith required as a preliminary to ordination, or on other occasions, they should always be set in their historical context, and assent to subscription should be regarded as an expression of a determination to be loyal to our multiple inheritance of faith.’[55]

The Conference as a whole passed, though with thirty seven dissenting votes, a Resolution on the Thirty Nine Articles. This Resolution, Resolution 43, states:

‘The Conference accepts the main conclusion of the Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine entitled “Subscription and Assent to the Thirty-nine Articles” (1968) and in furtherance of its recommendation:

(a) suggests that each Church of our Communion consider whether the Articles need be bound up with its Prayer Book;
(b) suggests to the Churches of the Anglican Communion that assent to the Thirty-nine Articles be no longer required of ordinands;
(c) suggests that, when subscription is required to the Articles or other elements in the Anglican tradition, it should be required, and given, only in the context of a statement which gives the full range of our inheritance of faith and sets the Articles in their historical context.’[56]

The ordination of women to the priesthood

Section 2 of the Conference looked at ‘Renewal in Ministry.’ Among other matters it looked at the issue of whether women should be admitted to the priesthood.

 In a shift from the position held by the Communion since 1920, and re-affirmed in 1948, that restricted women to the female version of the diaconate, the conclusion it reached on this issue was ‘We find no conclusive theological reasons for withholding ordination to the priesthood from women as such.’

The report of the section gives a number of reasons for this conclusion. It accepts that ‘The appeal to Scripture and tradition deserve to be taken with the utmost seriousness.’ However, it says:

‘…the data of Scripture appear divided on this issue. St Paul’s insistence on female subordination, made to enforce good order in the anarchy in Corinth, is balanced by his declaration in Gal.3:28 that in the one Christ there is no distinction of Jew against Gentile, slave against free man, male against female.’[57]


‘It appears that the tradition flowing from the Early Fathers and the medieval Church that a woman is incapable of receiving Holy Orders reflects biological assumptions about the nature of woman and her relation to man which are considered unacceptable in the light of modern knowledge and biblical study and have been generally discredited today.’[58]

The report accepts that ‘the element of sexuality in the Godhead and its implications for the sex of the priesthood’ are ‘complex and difficult matters:’

‘We acknowledge God as father and we worship the incarnate Lord as man. No theologian has ever understood this to mean that God is male. There is great significance in the ancient imagery of the bishop or priest as father to his family or as representing Christ the bridegroom to the Church, his bride. This is an image of unquestionable value, a profound pointer to the truth. But the truth to which it points has been expressed with equal power by St Paul in referring to his own relation to the Galatian church as that of a mother again in travail with her children (Gal. 4:19).’[59]

The report also argues that ‘the personal capacities looked for in priesthood are evidently to be found in women as well as in men’ and that the experience of churches who have already ordained women shows that:

‘…once congregations are used to a new situation they readily accept a full ministry of word, sacrament, and pastoral care exercised by an ordained woman.’[60]

The Conference as a whole endorsed the arguments of the report in Resolution 34:

‘The Conference affirms its opinion that the theological arguments as at present presented for and against the ordination of women to the priesthood are inconclusive.’[61]

In Resolutions 35-38 the Conference also went on to outline a set of specific steps which it wanted the Communion to take on the matter:

‘35. The Conference requests every national and regional Church or province to give careful study to the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood and to report its findings to the Anglican Consultative Council (or Lambeth Consultative Body) which will make them generally available to the Anglican Communion.

36. The Conference requests the Anglican Consultative Council (or the Lambeth Consultative Body)
(a) to initiate consultations with other Churches which have women in their ordained ministry and with those which have not;
(b) to distribute this information thus secured throughout the Anglican Communion.

37. The Conference recommends that, before any national or regional Church or province makes a final decision to ordain women to the priesthood, the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council (or Lambeth Consultative Body) be sought and carefully considered.

38. The Conference recommends that, in the meantime, national or regional Churches or provinces should be encouraged to make canonical provision, where this does not exist, for duly qualified women to share in the conduct of liturgical worship, to preach, to baptize, to read the Epistle and Gospel at the Holy Communion, and to help in the distribution of the elements.’[62]

It is noteworthy that Resolution 37, while not ruling out individual local action, emphasises the importance of seeking and carefully considering the advice of the Communion as a whole through a body representing it.

The Anglican Consultative Council 

The reference in these resolutions to the Anglican Consultative Council reflects the fact that the report of Section 3 of the Conference on ‘Renewal in Unity’ had recommended that the Lambeth Consultative Body and the Advisory Council on Missionary Strategy should be brought together as the Anglican Consultative Council.[63] 

This recommendation was accepted by the Conference as whole, which submitted the proposal for the establishment of the ACC to the member churches of the Anglican Communion in Resolution 69.  This Resolution set out the functions of the ACC as follows:

‘1. To share information about developments in one or more provinces with the other parts of the Communion and to serve as needed as an instrument of common action.

2. To advise on inter-Anglican, provincial, and diocesan relationships, including the division of provinces, the formation of new provinces and of regional councils, and the problems of extra-provincial dioceses.

3. To develop as far as possible agreed Anglican policies in the world mission of the Church and to encourage national and regional Churches to engage together in developing and implementing such policies by sharing their resources of manpower, money, and experience to the best advantage of all.

4. To keep before national and regional Churches the importance of the fullest possible Anglican collaboration with other Christian Churches.

5. To encourage and guide Anglican participation in the ecumenical movement and the ecumenical organisations; to co-operate with the World Council of Churches and the world confessional bodies on behalf of the Anglican Communion; and to make arrangements for the conduct of pan-Anglican conversations with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and other Churches.

6. To advise on matters arising out of national or regional Church union negotiations or conversations and on subsequent relations with united Churches.

7. To advise on problems on inter-Anglican communication and to help in the dissemination of Anglican and ecumenical information.

8. To keep in review the needs that may arise for further study and, where necessary, to promote inquiry and research.’[64]

It also outlined the constitution of new body and included a provision that the representatives appointed to the ACC should include women as well as men and lay people and priests or deacons as well as bishops.

The Anglican approach to unity

The section report on ‘Renewal in Unity’ also addressed the perennial issue of the ecumenical approach of the Anglican Communion.

The part of its report on ‘Principles of the Anglican Quest for Union’ places the unity of the Church in the context of the unity of the Godhead, the reconciliation of all things in Christ, the communicating work of the Spirit and the renewal of the Church for mission in holiness and truth.

‘The union of God with man and of men with one another is rooted in the mystery of the unity of the Godhead.  In the meditation which is the seventeenth chapter of St John, Jesus prays that his disciples and all future believers may share in the unity of the Father with the Son.  This union is linked with a sharing in Jesus own consecration to the way of holiness and with the reception of the truth which Jesus reveals.  It is linked with the movement of the disciples into the world in mission, “that they all may be one…. that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity is inseparable from the renewal of the Church in holiness and truth and is always related to its mission. 

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, unity is seen as a growth from the unity which the Spirit gives into a fullness of life which is to be measured by nothing less than the fullness of the manhood of Christ, who is our peace and has already abolished the enmity between us.  The new humanity in Christ is seen in the Epistle to the Colossians as culminating in the reconciliation to God through Christ of the whole created universe.

So the Church is called to be the foretaste of a redeemed creation, a sign of the coming unity of mankind, a pointer to the time when God shall be all in all.  We may not speak of the limited task of manifesting a greater unity between separated Christians here and now unless we always do so in this context of the unfathomable unity of the Godhead, communicated by the Spirit as the Church is renewed in all its members it holiness and truth for mission and service to all mankind and as it awaits the final summing up of all things in Christ.’[65]

This part of the report also gives an updated interpretation of the four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral:

‘(1) The Scriptures. We gratefully recognize that in the Scriptures we are given the content of God’s self-disclosure, a witness to his saving word in Christ, and a means by which the Holy Spirit speaks both to the Church and to individuals. We also recognize that the understanding of Scripture, in all its internal variety and coherence, invites all Christians to a common appropriation of its riches which none of the churches alone has achieved.

(2) Creeds. We gratefully recognize that the Church in the first centuries gave, to some basic questions implicit in Scripture, authoritative answers which are common ground.  We also recognise that our generation is called to live in an epoch when “the faith once delivered to the saints” must be reinterpreted in a form which no part of the Church could accomplish in isolation.

(3) The Sacraments. We gratefully recognize that our one baptism into Christ constitutes a degree of union more substantially and universally acknowledged than previously and that the centrality the Eucharist in the life of the Church is now seen in many aspects of liturgical and pastoral renewal in all churches.  We also recognize that we are all called to a deeper appreciation of the significance and implication of baptism, and also to heal the breach which has developed between our unity in baptism and our separations in the Eucharist.

(4) The Ministry and Episcopacy. We gratefully recognize that, in a variety of forms, God’s gifts of ministry have been used “for the equipment of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). We also recognise that we still seek “a ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the spirit, but also the commission of Christ and the authority of the whole body” (Lambeth Appeal, 1920). We have known the grace which God gives through threefold ministry in which bishops are called to exercise pastoral care and to safeguard historic continuity and authority within the Church.  We offer this experience, in fellowship with those who have experienced the grace of the continuity of apostolic doctrine through the service of other forms of ministry, and with those who have experienced God’s grace through papal authority in the episcopal college, in the faith that God will restore the fullness of ministry in ways which we cannot yet discern.’[66]

The report also argues that that the Lambeth Quadrilateral should not be viewed as ‘a static formulation of positions in which Anglicans are entrenched,’ but should be seen instead in the context of the vision for unity expressed by the World Council of Churches at its assembly in New Delhi in 1961: 

‘We believe that the unity which is both God’s will and his gift to his Church is being made visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Saviour are brought by the Holy Spirit into one fully committed fellowship, holding the one apostolic faith preaching the one Gospel, breaking the one bread, joining in common prayer, and having a corporate life reaching out in witness and service to all and who at the same time are united with the whole Christian fellowship in all places and all ages in such wise that ministry and members are accepted by all, and that all can act and speak together as occasion requires for the tasks to which God calls his people.’[67]

In addition to looking afresh at the Lambeth quadrilateral the report looks afresh at the issue of ‘Intercommunion in a divided Church.’  In its introduction to this topic the report comments that:

‘The growing solidarity of Christians of different traditions in common witness to Christ and in service to the world gives new urgency to the question of their relationship to one another at the deepest levels of worship and sacramental life.  Many, particularly of the younger generation, are constrained to find strengthfor this solidarity in common participation in the Eucharist.  We look forward to the day when our God-given unity in baptism into Christ is expressed and fulfilled in our unity in the Eucharist.  We believe that this Eucharist should be the worship of the whole Church visibly united under the presidency the bishop or his delegate as the effective symbol of the Church’s unity and continuity. We desire for all baptised Christians a relationship at the Lord’s table which shall minister to such unity.’[68]

In responding to this situation the report proposes that ‘in order to meet the pastoral needs of God’s people’ the rules against intercommunion set out at the 1930 Lambeth Conference should be relaxed so that:

‘(1) Christians duly baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and qualified to receive Holy Communion in their own Churches may be welcomed at the Lord’s Table in the Anglican Communion.[69]

(2) While it is the general practice of the Church that Anglican communicants receive the Holy Communion at the hands of ordained ministers of their own Church or of Churches in communion therewith, nevertheless under the general direction of the bishop, to meet special pastoral need, such communicants be free to attend the Eucharist in other Churches holding the apostolic faith as contained in the Scriptures and summarised in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and as conscience dictates to receive the sacrament, when they know they are welcome to do so.[70]

(3) Where there is agreement between an Anglican Church and some other Church or Churches to seek unity in a way which includes agreement on apostolic faith and order, and where that agreement to seek unity has found expression, whether in a covenant to unite or in some other appropriate form, a Church of the Anglican Communion should be free to allow reciprocal acts of intercommunion under the general direction of the bishop; each province concerned to determine when the negotiations for union in which it is engaged have reached the stage which allows this intercommunion.’[71]

These proposed developments were accepted by the Conference as a whole in Resolutions 47-49, although with minority votes against in the case of the final two resolutions.

A final part of the report which is worth noting is what it says about ‘The role of the Anglican Communion in families of Christendom.’ This part of the report begins by attempting to define what Anglicanism is. It declares:

‘…we seek to base our faith and practice upon the Bible as understood by the traditions of the undivided Church and as illuminated by the Holy Spirit in every age. In particular we cherish, value, and use the two sacraments of the gospel, the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, and the threefold ministry. In the worshipping life of our Communion we share a common heritage of Prayer Books, themselves based upon the Bible.

We are a family of autonomous churches, varied and flexible, linked by ties of history, tradition, and living fellowship with the see of Canterbury, the focal point of our Communion.

In the face of God’s Majesty and love we often feel called to pursue a middle way, not as compromise but as a positive grasp of many sided truth.  We have come to value reason and tolerance and to be comprehensive even at the expense of strict logic.  We are prepared to live, both in fellowship and in tension, with those who in some points different from us.’[72]

It then moves on to explore the ‘aims of Anglicanism’ in the context of the developing ecumenical situation. It lists four aims:

‘1.To welcome, encourage and be ready to give counsel in the merging of Anglican churches in united national or regional churches.

2. To enter into full communion with all such united churches, even while certain anomalies remain.

3. To maintain support of such united churches, as well as to support one another, Church and Church in the Anglican Communion, as need and opportunity arise, with spiritual, intellectual and material assistance; enter to take common counsel.

4. To preserve and enrich our special insights and to contribute to them to the whole Christian Church and to the world.’[73]

It suggests that in the future:

‘…the Anglican witness and the Anglican role will continue; but the processes of church union will mean that the frontiers of Anglicanism become less defined.  Our Anglican contribution to Christendom will be made partly through closely knit Communion and partly through cooperation and fellowship with others.’[74]

It sees the concept of   ‘communion with the see of Canterbury’ as providing a sacramental link of abiding value and holds that there will be ‘a fruitful sharing and interpenetration of many traditions, as the Anglican Communion affirms and merges its own insights of faith and order in each new expression of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.’[75]

14. The Lambeth Conference 1978

The ordination of women

In the decade between the Lambeth Conferences of 1968 and 1978 a number of provinces decided to move ahead with the ordination of women to the priesthood. This move was sanctioned by the first meeting of the ACC at Limuru in Kenya in 1971. This meeting passed by 24 votes to 22 Resolution 28, section (b) of which states:

‘In reply to the request of the Council of the Church of South-East Asia, this Council advises the bishop of Hong Kong, acting with the approval of his Synod, and any other bishop of the Anglican Communion acting with the approval of his Province, that, if he decides to ordain women to the priesthood, his action will be acceptable to this Council; and that this Council will use its good offices to encourage all Provinces of the Anglican Communion to continue in communion with these dioceses.’[76]

As the very narrow margin by which this resolution was passed indicates, the issues of the ordination of women to the priesthood remained divisive and the 1978 Lambeth Conference was faced both with the existing divisions over this issue, and the threat of further division because of the possibility of the Episcopal Church in the United States unilaterally ordaining a woman to the episcopate. It was also faced with potential ecumenical difficulties because of these developments.

In the face of these issues the Conference first of all passed Resolution 11 on ‘Issues Concerning the Whole Anglican Communion:’

‘The Conference advises member Churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the episcopate through the Primates Committee, and requests the Primates to initiate a study of the nature of authority within the Anglican Communion.’[77]

It then passed a series of three Resolutions, 20-22, on women in the diaconate, the priesthood and the episcopate, which sought (a) to develop an agreed policy for handling issues to do with women’s ministry across the Communion that would ensure as much unity within the Communion as possible and (b) to assure the Old Catholic, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that Anglicans wished ecumenical dialogue with them to continue.

‘20. Women in the Diaconate

The Conference recommends, in accordance with Resolution 32(c) of the Lambeth Conference of 1968, those member Churches which do not at present ordain women as deacons now to consider making the necessary legal and liturgical changes to enable them to do so, instead of admitting them to a separate order of deaconesses.

21. Women in the Priesthood

1. The Conference notes that since the last Lambeth Conference in 1968, the Diocese of Hong Kong, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episopal Church in the United States of America, and the Church of the Province of New Zealand have admitted women to the presbyterate, and that eight other member Churches of the Anglican Communion have now either agreed or approved in principle or stated that there are either no fundamental or no theological objections to the ordination of women to the historic threefold ministry of the Church. We also note that other of its member Churches have not yet made a decision on the matter. Others again have clearly stated that they do hold fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the historic threefold ministry of the Church.

2. The Conference acknowledges that both the debate about the ordination of women as well as the ordinations themselves have, in some Churches, caused distress and pain to many on both sides. To heal these and to maintain and strengthen fellowship is a primary pastoral responsibility of all, and especially of the bishops.

3. The Conference also recognises (a) the autonomy of each of its member Churches, acknowledging the legal right of each Church to make its own decision about the appropriateness of admitting women to Holy Orders; (b) that such provincial action in this matter has consequences of the utmost significance for the Anglican Communion as a whole.

4. The Conference affirms its commitment to the preservation of unity within and between all member Churches of the Anglican Communion.

5. The Conference therefore (a) encourages all member Churches of the Anglican Communion to continue in communion with one another, notwithstanding the admission of women (whether at present or in the future) to the ordained ministry of some member Churches; (b) in circumstances in which the issue of the ordination of women has caused, or may cause, problems of conscience, urges that every action possible be taken to ensure that all baptized members of the Church continue to be in communion with their bishop and that every opportunity be given for all members to work together in the mission of the Church irrespective of their convictions regarding this issue; (c) requests the Anglican Consultative Council (i) to use its good offices to promote dialogue between those member Churches which ordain women and those which do not, with a view to exploring ways in which the fullest use can be made of women’s gifts within the total ministry of the Church in our Communion; and (ii) to maintain, and wherever possible extend, the present dialogue with Churches outside the Anglican family.

6. Consistent with the foregoing, this Conference (a) declares its acceptance of those member Churches which now ordain women, and urges that they respect the convictions of those provinces and dioceses which do not; (b) declares its acceptance of those member Churches which do not ordain women, and urges that they respect the convictions of those provinces and dioceses which do.

(c) With regard to women who have been ordained in the Anglican Communion being authorised to exercise their ministry in provinces which have not ordained women, we recommend that, should synodical authority be given to enable them to exercise it, it be exercised only (i) where pastoral need warrants and (ii) where such a ministry is agreeable to the bishop, clergy, and people where the ministry is to be exercised and where it is approved by the legally responsible body of the parish, area, or institution where such a ministry is to be exercised.

7. We recognise that our accepting this variety of doctrine and practice in the Anglican Communion may disappoint the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Old Catholic Churches, but we wish to make it clear (a) that the holding together of diversity within a unity of faith and worship is part of the Anglican heritage; (b) that those who have taken part in ordinations of women to the priesthood believe that these ordinations have been into the historic ministry of the Church as the Anglican Communion has received it; and (c) that we hope the dialogue between these other Churches and the member Churches of our Communion will continue because we believe that we still have understanding of the truth of God and his will to learn from them as together we all move towards a fuller catholicity and a deeper fellowship in the Holy Spirit.

8. This Conference urges that further discussions about the ordination of women be held within a wider consideration of theological issues of ministry and priesthood.

22. Women in the Episcopate

While recognising that a member Church of the Anglican Communion may wish to consecrate a women to the episcopate, and accepting that such member Church must act in accordance with its own constitution, the Conference recommends that no decision to consecrate be taken without consultation with the episcopate through the primates and overwhelming support in any member Church and in the diocese concerned, lest the bishop’s office should become a cause of disunity instead of a focus of unity.’[78]

The Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission

The Conference also passed Resolution 25 endorsing a proposal from the ACC that an Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission should be established.[79]

The nature of Anglicanism

In the Section Reports from the Conference the report from Section 3 ‘The Anglican Communion in the world-wide Church’ proposed that the Communion should be seen in terms of a ‘family’ of churches. The report suggests that the family model for the Communion is appropriate for two reasons:  

‘In the first place it implies a form of likeness between the members, which is other than uniformity, but is nonetheless strong enough to hold them together in the midst of strain and tension. It is also appropriate in as much as it illustrates the kind of dispersed authority (described on p.84 of part II of the report of the 1948 Lambeth Conference) which is ‘seen to be moral and spiritual, resting on the truth of the Gospel, and on a charity which is patient and willing to defer to the common mind.’

The report also suggests that worship should be seen as playing a central role in the distinctive basis of Anglican unity. The report states:

‘This Conference desires in particular to reaffirm the central position which the order that worship of the Church occupies in the distinctive basis of the Anglican Communion. This worship, itself a witness to the apostolic gospel in word and sacrament, patterns and limits the diversity which has characterised Anglicanism from the first. It provides a framework in which the evident variety in Scripture itself may be interpreted.  Furthermore, it brings the worshipper into the company of those who from the earliest days, have offered a spiritual sacrifice to God.’[80]

The report further maintains that if we want to find out what characterises Anglican doctrine:

‘…the simplest way is to look at Anglican worship and deduce Anglican doctrine from it. It should be further noted that the recent adoption by almost all Anglican provinces of new forms of liturgy which clearly resemble each other in their main outlines in fact brings into prominence (even if this is not expressed in confessions and declarations) aspects of doctrine not previously given particular stress. Among these might be mentioned the congregation’s part in celebrating the Eucharist, the responsibility of ministry laid on all Christians, and the setting of the death of Christ within a whole context of the creation, history of salvation, incarnation, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We do not intend a ‘confession’ which will mark us off from other Christian communions; rather we desire a unity of doctrinal tradition sufficient to express our abiding will to live together and worship together the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.’[81]

The Primates’ Meeting

The report from section 3 also expresses the hope that ‘meetings of the primates of all the provinces, ’which have taken place very occasionally, ‘will be held more often, perhaps in connection with the ACC.’ [82]  In a speech at the Conference the Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, commented on this proposal, suggesting that it would be helpful:

‘…to have meetings of the primates of the Communion reasonably often for leisurely thought, prayer, and deep consultation. There have been such meetings, but on a very informal and rare bases. I believe they should be held perhaps as frequently as once in two years. But if that meeting now on some fairly regular basis is to be fruitful, those primates would have to come to such meetings well informed with a knowledge of the mind and will of their brothers whom they represent. Then they would be channels through which the voice of the member churches could be heard, and a real interchange of mind and will and hear could take place.’[83]

He also added that the ‘body of primates, as they meet, should be in the very closest and most intimate contact with the Anglican Consultative Council.’[84]  

[1] The Lambeth Conference 1948, London: SPCK, 1948 p.50.

[2] Ibid p.50.

[3] Ibid. p.50.

[4] Ibid, p.50.

[5] Ibid. pp.50-51,

[6] Ibid, p.84.

[7] Ibid, p.85.

[8] Ibid, p.85.

[9] Ibid p.85

[10] Ibid, pp.85-86.

[11] Ibid p.86

[12] Ibid, p.46.

[13] Ibid p.47.

[14] Ibid, p.52.

[15] Ibid, p.38.

[16] Inid, p.46.

[17] Ibid, p.39.

[18] P M Dawley (ed) , Report of the Anglican Congress 1954,  London: SPCK 1955, p.195.

[19] Ibid, p.195.

[20] Ibid, p.195.

[21] Ibid , p.196.

[22] Ibid p.196.

[23] Ibidp.196

[24] Ibid, p.197.

[25] Ibid, p.197.

[26] Ibid, p.197.

[27] Ibid, p.197.

[28] Ibid, p.197.

[29] Ibid, p.197.

[30] The Lambeth Conference 1958, London and New York, SPCK/Seabury Press, 1958, p.2.22

[31] Ibid, p.2.23.

[32] Ibid, p.2.24.

[33] Ibid, p.2.24.

[34] Ibid, p.2.25.

[35] Ibid, p.2.79.

[36] Ibid, p.2.79.

[37] Ibid, p.279.

[38] Ibid.p.2.79.

[39] Ibid, p.2.80.

[40] Ibid, p.2.80.

[41] Ibid, pp.2.80-2.81.

[42] Ibid, p.2.81.

[43] Ibid, p.1.47.

[44] Anglican Congress 1963, Toronto, London and New York, Anglican Book Centre/SPCK/Seabury

    Press, 1963, p. 118. 

[45] Ibid, pp.120-121.

[46] Ibid, pp.121-122.

[47] Ibis, p.122.

[48] Ibid, p.122.

[49] Ibid, p.123.

[50] The Lambeth Conference 1968, London and New York, SPCK/Seabury Press, 1968, p.82.

[51] Ibid, p.82.

[52] Ibid, p.82.

[53] Ibid, p.82.

[54] Ibid.,p.82

[55] Ibidp.83.

[56] Ibid, p.41.

[57] Ibid, p.106.

[58] Ibid, p.106.

[59] Ibid, p.107.

[60] Ibid, p.107.

[61] Ibid, p.39.

[62] Ibid, pp.39-40.

[63] Ibid, p.145.

[64] Ibid, pp.46-47.

[65] Ibid, p.122

[66] Ibid, p. 124.

[67] Ibid p. 125.

[68] Ibid, p.125.

[69] Ibid. p.127

[70] Ibid, p.127.

[71] Ibid, p.128

[72] Ibid, pp.141-142.

[73] Ibid, p.142.

[74] Ibid, p.142.

[75] Ibid, p.142

[76] The Time is Now – Anglican Consultative Council First Meeting, 1971, SPCK, 1971, p.39.  

[77] The Lambeth Conference 1978, London: CIO, 1978, p.46.

[78] Ibid pp.44-47. Resolution 21 was passed with 316 for,  37 against and 17 abstentions.

[79] Ibid, p.47.

[80] Ibid, p.99.

[81] Ibid, pp.99-100.

[82] Ibid, p.103

[83] Ibid, pp.123-124.

[84] Ibid, p.124.

Statements on the nature and development of the Anglican Communion from the first Lambeth Conference to the Anglican Covenant – Part I

The fact that the Lambeth Conference is going to be held next year means that in the coming months there will be much discussion about the nature of the Anglican Communion. In order to provide a historical perspective on these discussions, I have decided to post a paper I first wrote in 2010 which uses primary sources to trace the development of Anglican thinking about the nature of the Anglican Communion from the time of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 up to the issuing of the proposed Anglican Covenant in 2009.

Because the paper is 81 pages long, I shall be posting it in three parts over the next three weeks.

Part I:  From 1867 – 1930


The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of statements about the nature and development of the Anglican Communion and its relations with the Church universal made by representative bodies of the Communion, or representative individuals speaking on behalf of the Communion, from the time of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 until the Anglican Communion Covenant in 2009.

The overview starts with the 1867 Lambeth Conference because this was the first time that representatives from the Anglican Communion as a whole met to take counsel together and as such it is the first time that statements about the nature of the Anglican Communion are made on behalf of the Communion as a whole. The overview finishes with the Anglican Covenant both because this is the most recent statement about the nature of the Anglican Communion produced on behalf of the Communion as a whole and because, as we shall see, what the Covenant has to say about the nature and development of the Anglican Communion reflects the way that thinking about this topic has developed since 1867.

This paper will take a chronological approach, starting in 1867 and looking at the statements in the order that they were produced. At the end of the paper there will be a concluding section that notes the key issues that arise from the statements and explains how the development of thinking about the nature of Anglicanism reflected in the statements finds its culmination in what is said in the Anglican Covenant.

1.The Lambeth Conference 1867

The Lambeth Conference of 1867 was convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, at the request of the Canadian Anglican bishops, and other bishops from around the world, and with the agreement of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury in the Church of England. As Longley himself explained the matter in the letter sent out to those invited to attend:

‘The Metropolitan and Bishops of Canada, last year, addressed to the two Houses of the Convocation of Canterbury the expression of their desire that I should be moved to invite the Bishops of our Indian and Colonial Episcopate to meet myself and the Home Bishops for brotherly communion and conference.

The consequence of that appeal has been that both Houses of Convocation have addressed to me their dutiful request that I should invite the attendance not only of our Home and Colonial Bishops, but of all who are avowedly in communion with our Church. The same request was unanimously preferred to me at a numerous gathering of English, Irish, and Colonial Archbishops and bishops recently assembled at Lambeth; at which – I rejoice to record it – we had the counsel and concurrence of an eminent Bishop of the Church in the United States of America. – the Bishop of Illinois.

Moved by these requests, and by the expressed concurrence therein of other members of the Home and Colonial Episcopate, who could not be present at our meeting. I have now humbly resolved – not, I humbly trust without the guidance of GOD the Holy Ghost – to grant the grave request, and call together the meeting so earnestly desired.’[1]

Longley was clear in his letter of invitation that this Conference ‘would not be competent to make declarations or lay definitions on points of doctrine.’ [2] Nevertheless, the seventy six bishops who attended the Conference made four key statements about the nature of Anglicanism.  

The first is contained in the Introduction to the resolutions of the Conference. It declares that the resolutions have been produced by the:

‘Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church in visible Communion with the United Church of England and Ireland, professing the Faith delivered to us in Holy Scripture, maintained by the Primitive Church and by the Fathers of the English Reformation.’[3]

This statement is significant because it implies that the Anglican Communion is part of a greater whole, namely the ‘Holy Catholic Church,’ and that it is defined by visible communion with the United Church of England and Ireland and profession of the faith taught in Scripture and maintained by the Early Church and the English Reformers. The fact that communion is said to be ‘visible’ indicates that the fellowship between the Anglican churches had an outward shape as well as an inward substance and the fact that the defining characteristic of these churches is their communion with one another indicates that these churches are not simply linked by being the churches of the British Empire (this was not true for example of the American Church, bishops from which attended the Conference).

As well as being in visible communion these churches are also said to profess the same faith and the way this faith is defined is indicative of the diversity within the Anglican tradition, the reference to the ‘Primitive Church’ reflecting the emphasis of High Church bishops and the reference to the ‘Fathers of the English Reformation reflecting the emphasis of the Evangelical bishops. 

The second statement is also contained in the Introduction to the resolutions of the Conference. It declares that the bishops of the Anglican Communion assembled at Lambeth ‘view with deep sorrow the divided condition of the flock of Christ throughout the world’, long for the fulfilment of Christ’s prayer for the unity of the Church contained in John 17:21 and believe that:

‘..unity will be most effectually promoted by maintaining the Faith in its purity and integrity, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, held by the Primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils, and by drawing each of us closer to our common Lord, by giving ourselves to much prayer and intercession, by the cultivation of a spirit of charity, and a love of the Lord’s appearing.’[4]  

This statement is significant because it indicates that from the time of the 1867 Lambeth Conference onwards the Anglican Communion was marked by a concern for the unity of the Church and also because it indicates that in 1867 it was felt that unity could best be achieved through the maintenance of the faith found in the Scriptures, upheld by the Early Church, and summarised in the creeds and through a growth in appropriate forms of individual piety.

The third is Resolution IV of the Conference which declares that in the opinion of the Conference:

‘Unity in Faith and Discipline will be best maintained among the several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the Synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a Synod or Synods above them.’[5]

This statement implies that unity in faith and discipline across the Communion is something that ought to be maintained and it sees that best way of achieving this as being through the development of a hierarchical structure of Synods with the Synods of the various churches of the Communion being subordinate to a Synod or Synods operating at a higher level within the Communion. The nature of this Synod or these Synods is not further defined.

The fourth is Resolution VIII of the Conference which states that:

‘…in order to the binding of the Churches of our Colonial Empire and the Missionary churches beyond them in the closest union with the Mother Church, it is necessary that they receive and maintain the standards of Faith and Doctrine as now in use in that Church. That, nevertheless, each Province should have the right to make such adaptations and additions to the services of the Church as its peculiar circumstances may require. Provided, that no change or addition be made inconsistent with the spirit and principles of the Book of Common Prayer, and that all such changes be subject to revision by any Synod of the Anglican Communion in which the said Province shall be represented.’ [6] 

There are a number of points of interest in this statement

  • It is seen as important that the colonial and missionary churches should remain in ‘the closest union’ with the Mother-Church, which at this stage was the United Church of England and Ireland. The hierarchical nature of the relationships then existing in the Communion are clear here. The Church of England and Ireland is the Mother Church and the other churches need to keep in conformity with her.
  • The way to achieve this is the acceptance and maintenance of the faith and doctrine of the Mother-Church.
  • Nevertheless this does not preclude adaptation of the services of the Book of Common Prayer in the light of local circumstances providing that the ‘spirit and principles’ of the Prayer Book are maintained and providing that such adaptations are subject to revision by the sort of representative Anglican Synod envisaged in Resolution IV.

2.The Lambeth Conference 1878  

Although a number of bishops, including the Archbishop of York, had not attended the 1867 Conference it was felt to have been a successes and, again after prompting from the Canadian Church, it was decided to hold a second Conference in 1878. This Conference did not produce any resolutions, but its thinking is expressed in the reports from the various committees of the Conference.

The Conference considered the nature of the Anglican Communion in the report of the committee ‘on the best mode of maintaining union among the various churches of the Anglican Communion.’

This report begins by noting with thankfulness ‘the essential and evident unity in which the Church of England and the Churches in visible communion with her have always been bound together.’[7] This unity, it says, consists in the fact that:

‘United under One Divine Head in the Fellowship of the One Catholic and Apostolic Church, holding the One Faith revealed in Holy Writ, defined in the Creeds and maintained by the Primitive Church, receiving the same Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary to salvation – these churches teach the same Word of God, partake of the same divinely ordained Sacraments, through the ministry of the same Apostolic orders, and worship one God and Father through the same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Holy and Divine Spirit, Who is given to those that believe, to guide them into all truth.’[8]

The report then goes on to explain that alongside this unity there is also a ‘variety of custom, discipline, and form of worship’ resulting from the exercise by the churches of the Communion of the principle laid down in Article XXXIV of the Thirty Nine Articles that each ‘particular or national Church’ has the right ‘to ordain, change or abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.’[9]

The report declares that at the present there is no grounds for anxiety about this diversity, but it notes that the desire has been expressed to adopt some ‘practical and efficient methods’ both in order ‘to guard against possible sources of disunion in the future’ and in order ‘to manifest that true and substantial agreement which exists among these increasingly numerous Churches.’ [10]  The report sees the obvious method of maintaining unity as being to follow the example of the Apostles in Acts 15 and of the Primitive Church by holding a Council of the Church. However it regards the idea of holding a General Council of the Church as ‘unhappily but obviously impossible’ and also rejects as too difficult the idea of convening a ‘Synod of all the Anglican Churches.’[11]

Having rejected these two ideas, the report suggests that the solution to the problem of ‘combining together for consultation representatives of Churches so differently situated and administered’ may instead lie with the approach taken at the two Lambeth Conferences of holding a ‘Conference of Bishops called together by the Archbishop of Canterbury and meeting under his presidency.’  It also suggests that such conferences ‘might with advantage be invested in future with somewhat larger liberty as to the initiation and selection of subjects for discussion’ through, for example, the establishment of a committee representing the churches of the Communion which could receive communications from the bishops and then draw up ‘a scheme of subjects to be discussed.’[12]

As well as advocating the further development of the Lambeth Conferences the report puts forward three principles of Church order which it sees as being ‘of great importance for the maintenance of union among the Churches of our Communion.’ These principles are:

‘First, that the duly certified action of every national or particular Church, and of each ecclesiastical province (or diocese not included in a province), in the exercise of its own discipline, should be respected by all the other Churches, and by their individual members.

Secondly, that when a diocese, or territorial sphere of administration, has been constituted by the authority of any Church or province of this Communion within its own limits, no bishop or other clergyman of any other Church should exercise his functions within that diocese without the consent of the bishop thereof.

Thirdly, that no bishop should authorise to officiate in his diocese a clergyman coming from another Church or province, unless such clergyman present letters testimonial, countersigned by the bishop of the diocese from which he comes; such letters to be, as nearly as possible, in the form adopted by such Church or province in the case of the transfer of a clergyman from one diocese to another.’[13]

Finally, the report touches on six other areas which it thinks are important for Anglican unity. It calls for dioceses to unite together in provinces, for churches to co-operate together in common work such as the creation of schools for training native ministers, for clergy visiting other churches to take commendatory letters from their bishop, for information about the churches of the Communion and about representative bodies such as the Lambeth Conferences to be disseminated across the Communion and for the establishment of a day of prayer for the unity of Christendom.

The last area which the report touches on is the area of ‘diversities in worship.’ Here it notes that the Book of Common Prayer has been a ‘principal bond of union’ between the churches of the Anglican Communion and that ‘such communion in worship may be endangered by excessive diversities in ritual.’ It argues that while ‘such large elasticity in the forms of worship is desirable as will give wide scope to all legitimate expressions of devotional feeling’ this needs to be balanced by ‘the apostolic precept that all things be done unto edifying’ and by the Catholic principle that ‘order and obedience, even at the sacrifice of personal preferences and tastes, lie at the foundation of Christian unity, and are even essential to the successful maintenance of the faith.’[14]

3. The Lambeth Conference of 1888

The Lambeth Quadrilateral

Following the success of the 1878 Conference, Lambeth Conferences then began to be held every ten years or so. The Lambeth Conference of 1888 considered the question of the basis on which particular Anglican churches might enter into union with other churches, what it called ‘Home Reunion.’ Building on a resolution passed by the General Convention of the American Church in 1886, Resolution 11 of the Conference declares that:

‘..the following articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards home reunion:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles’ Creed, as the baptismal symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c ) The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.

(d) The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church.’[15]

The encyclical letter from the Conference explains that reason that these articles are necessary is because although Anglicans are ready ‘to enter into brotherly conference with any of those who may desire intercommunion with us in a more or less perfect form’ nevertheless:

‘…we must not be unfaithful stewards of the great deposit entrusted to us. We cannot desert our position either as to faith or discipline. That concord would, in our judgement, be neither true nor desirable which should be produced by such surrender.’ [16]

Authoritative standards of doctrine and worship

The Conference also considered the subject of authoritative standards of doctrine and worship. Addressing this subject, the encyclical letter from the Conference reiterates what was said by previous Conferences about the faith held in common by the churches of the Communion. It also declares that the Church of England’s standards of doctrine and worship should be set before the overseas churches of the Communion in unmodified form, but that it would be wrong to impose the Thirty Nine Articles in their entirety as conditions of communion:

It conformity with the practice of the former Conferences we clear that we are united under our Divine head in the Fellowship of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church, holding the one Faith revealed in Holy Writ, defined in the Creeds, maintained by the primitive Church, and affirmed by the undisputed Ecumenical Councils; as standards of doctrine and worship alike we recognise the Prayer Book with its Catechism, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-nine Articles – the special heritage the Church of England, and, to a greater or lesser extent, received by all the churches of our Communion.

We desire that these standards should be set before the foreign churches in their purity and simplicity. A certain liberty of treatment must be extended to the cases of native and growing churches on which it would be unreasonable to impose, as conditions of communion, the whole of the Thirty-nine articles, coloured as they are in language, and form by the peculiar circumstances under which they were originally drawn up.  On the other hand it would be impossible for us to share with them in the matter of Holy Orders, as in complete intercommunion, without satisfactory evidence that they hold substantially the same form of doctrine as ourselves. It ought not be difficult, much less impossible, to formulate articles, in accordance with our own standards of doctrine and worship, the acceptance of which should be required of all ordained in such churches.[17]

The report of the Conference committee considering the issue of authoritative standards notes that there are variations between the Book of Common Prayer and the rites used in Scottish, American and Irish churches, but it strongly deprecates:

‘…any further material variation in the text of the existing Sacramental offices of the Church, or of the Ordinal, than is at present recognised among us, unless with the advice of some Conference or Council representing the whole Communion.’[18]

In a similar vein, Resolution 10 of the Conference declares;

‘That, inasmuch as the Book of Common Prayer is not the possession of one diocese or province, but of all, and that a revision in one portion of the Anglican Communion must therefore be extensively felt, this Conference is of the opinion that no particular portion of the Church should undertake revision without seriously considering the possible effect of such action on other branches of the Church.’[19]

4. The Lambeth Conference of 1897

The organisation of the Communion

At the 1897 Conference a committee was appointed to consider the organisation of the Anglican Communion. The report of this committee declares that:

‘Each decade as it passes brings out more clearly the importance of our duty to maintain and develop the unity and coherence of the Anglican Communion.  We learn to realise more and more explicitly the value of the unique combination of respect for authority and consciousness of freedom in the truth, which distinguishes the great body in which God has called us to minister.  We begin to perceive in what degree it may impress the rest of Christendom, and in union, in God’s good time, with the rest of Christendom, may impress the world in accordance with our Lord’s desire (S. John xvii, 21, 23). We also grow more conscious, as time goes on, what are the lessons which the different portions of our Communion may learn from one another. Yet at the same time we perceive that there are tendencies within and without which require to be directed or guarded against with the greatest watchfulness and foresight, if this characteristic type of unity is to be maintained and thus to appeal to the intellect, the imagination and the heart of mankind.

In order to help guard against these tendencies and to maintain the unity of the Communion the committee recommended that in addition to the Lambeth Conference being held every ten years and its resolutions disseminated throughout the Communion, an additional consultative body for the Communion should also be established.

This recommendation is reflected in Resolution 5 of the Conference which declares:

That it is advisable that a consultative body should be formed to which resort may be had, if desired, by the national churches, provinces, and extra-provincial dioceses of the Anglican Communion either for information or for advice, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury be requested to take such steps as he may think most desirable for the creation of this consultative body.’[20]

The encyclical letter from the Conference explains that this new body:

‘…must win its way by the services which it will be able to render to the working of the Church. It can have no other than a moral authority, which will be developed out of its action.’[21]

Adaptions to the Prayer Book and additional services

Another committee considered the question of adding additional services to those in the Book of Common Prayer or developing local adaptations of it. This committee concluded that this was a matter which came under the liturgical authority, or ius liturgicum of the bishops and this conclusion was reflected in Resolutions 45 and 46 of the Conference which declare that:

‘…this Conference recognises the exclusive right of each bishop to put forth or sanction additional services for use within his jurisdiction, subject to such limitations as may be imposed by the provincial or other lawful authority.’[22]

and that:

‘….this Conference also recognises in each bishop within his jurisdiction the exclusive right of adapting the services in the Book of Common Prayer to local circumstances, and also of directing or sanctioning the use of additional prayers, subject to such limitations as may be imposed by provincial or other lawful authority, provided also that any such adaptation shall not affect the doctrinal teaching or value of the service or passage thus adapted.’[23]

A further committee considered the subject of foreign missions. Among its recommendations were that, in line with the principle of having only one bishop in each place, overlapping episcopal jurisdictions of different Anglican churches should be avoided in the mission field. This recommendation became Resolution 24 of the Conference:

‘That, while it is the duty of the whole Church to make disciples of all nations, yet, in the discharge of this duty, independent Churches of the Anglican Communion ought to recognise the equal rights of each other when establishing foreign missionary jurisdictions, so that two bishops of that Communion may not exercise jurisdiction in the same place, and the Conference recommends every bishop to use his influence in the diocesan and provincial synods of his particular Church to gain the adhesion of the synods to these principles, with a view to the framing of canons or resolutions in accord therewith. Where such rights have, through inadvertence, been infringed in the past, an adjustment of the respective positions of the bishops concerned ought to be made by an amicable arrangement between them, with a view to correcting as far as possible the evils arising from such infringement.’[24]

5. The Pan Anglican Congress of 1908

In 1908 a Pan Anglican Congress was held in London in advance of the Lambeth Conference which was held in the same year. This was a voluntary gathering of clergy and laity from all over the Communion which was described by George Bell as:

‘…an unofficial assembly intended to stir the imagination of the Anglican Communion and to give the rank and file a new sense of unity, besides leading to fresh offers of service by clergy at home to the Church Overseas.’

A series of papers on a range of topics was produced for the Congress and the sixth of these was a paper on the nature of the Anglican Communion by the Bishop of Gibraltar, William Collins. In this paper Collins argues that particular groups of churches ‘have a message for one another and for the whole world’ and what the Anglican Communion stands for is ‘free growth in every part, and free choice in every sphere, where growth and choice alike are not already determined by fundamental facts.’[25]

He then goes on to explain what this means in relation to the Anglican attitude to the past, the present and the future, declaring that:

‘As regards the past it is the Church of the new learning, making its appeal to the ancient principles, but to those principles as tested and determined by impartial scholarship. As regards the present, it is the Church of reasoned liberty, submitting to all new facts, but coordinating them with its existing knowledge and so making them its own. As regards the future, it is the Church of the larger outlook, which can contemplate the most marvellous developments of the faith amongst new peoples without the necessity for a re-adjustment of its whole spiritual equation. It is the one great ecclesiastical force which yields to facts and rules by yielding; tenacious of the past, yet capable in an unlimited degree of adapting itself to new conditions.’[26]

6. The Lambeth Conference of 1908

Adaption of the Prayer Book

The Lambeth Conference of 1908 returned to the question of the adaptation of the Book of Common Prayer which had been considered in previous Conferences. The outcome of its deliberations was Resolutions 24 and 27.

The former lays down the principle that:

‘While the educative value of the Book of Common Prayer and the importance of retaining it as a bond of union and standard of devotion should be fully recognised, every effort should be made, under due authority, to render the forms of public worship more intelligible to uneducated congregations and better suited to the widely diverse needs of the various races within the Anglican Communion.’[27]

The latter then goes on to look at specifics, declaring that:

‘In any revision of the Book of Common Prayer which may hereafter be undertaken by competent authority the following principles should be held in view:

a.) the adaptation of rubrics in a large number of cases to present customs as generally accepted;

b.) the omission of parts of the services to obviate repetition or redundancy;

c.) the framing of additions to the present services in the way of enrichment;

d.) the fuller provision of alternatives in our forms of public worship;

e.) the provision for greater elasticity in public worship;

f.) the change of words obscure or commonly misunderstood;

g.) the revision of the Calendar and Tables prefixed to the Book of Common


The Anglican commitment to unity

The Conference also reiterated the Anglican commitment to Christian Unity. Resolution 58 of the Conference:

‘…reaffirms the Resolution of the Conference of 1897 that “every opportunity should be taken to emphasise the divine purpose of visible unity amongst Christians as a fact of revelation.” It desires further to affirm that in all partial projects of reunion and intercommunion the final attainment of the divine purpose should be kept in view as our object; and that care should be taken to do what will advance the reunion of the whole of Christendom, and to abstain from doing anything that will retard or prevent it.’ [29]

7. The Lambeth Conference of 1920

The unity of the Church

The focus of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 was on the unity of the Church. As the encyclical letter from the Conference explains, this was because the bishops at the Conference had come to see that:

‘…in order to accomplish its object the Church itself must be a pattern of fellowship. It is only by showing the value and power of fellowship in itself that it can win the world to fellowship. The weakness of the Church in the world to-day is not surprising when we consider how the bands of its own fellowship are loosened and broken.’[30]  

The encyclical further explains that the importance of unity had been underlined by the First World War:

‘…the war and its horrors, waged as it was between so-called Christian nations, drove home the truth with the shock of a sudden awakening. Men in all Communions began to think of the reunion of Christendom not as a laudable ambition or a beautiful dream, but as an imperative necessity.’ [31]

In order to respond to this imperative necessity, the Conference passed Resolution 9, the well known ‘Appeal to All Christian People.’ As the encyclical notes, the purpose of this Appeal is to urge churches:

‘…to try a new approach to reunion; to adopt a new point of view; to look up to the reality as it is in God.  The unity which we seek exists.  It is in God, Who is the perfection of unity, the one Father, the one Lord, the one Spirit, Who gives life to the one Body.  Again, the one Body exists.  It needs not to be made, nor to be remade, but to become organic and visible.  Once more, the fellowship of the members of the one Body exists.  It is the work of God, not of  man. We have only to discover it, and to set free its activities.’[32]

The encyclical goes on to say that in the light of this need for a fresh approach to reunion the Appeal offers a path towards unity that does not involve churches seeking to impose their distinctive forms of ecclesiology on other churches, but instead involves holding diversity within the framework of common faith, common sacraments and a common ministry ministry. This is, it says: 

‘… is in idea and in method a new appeal.  If it be prospered, it will change the spirit and direction of our efforts.  Terms of reunion must no longer be judged by the success with which they meet the claims and present positions of two or more uniting Communions, but by their correspondence to the common ideal of the Church is God would have it be.  Again, in the past, negotiations for reunion have often started with the attempt to define the measure of uniformity which is essential.  The impression has been given that nothing else matters.  Now we see that those element of truth about which differences have arisen are essential to the fullness of the witness of the whole Church.  We have no need to belittle what is distinctive in our own interpretation of the Christian life: we believe that it is something precious which we held in trust for the common good.  We desire that others should share in our heritage and blessings as we wish to share in theirs.  It is not by reducing the different groups of Christians to uniformity but by rightly using their diversity, that the Church can become all things to all men.  So long as there is vital connexion with the head, there is positive value in the differentiation of the members.  But we are convinced this ideal cannot be fulfilled if these groups are content to remain in separation from one another or to be joined together only in some vague federation.  Their value for the fullness of Christian life, truth, and witness can only be realised if they are united together in the fellowship of one visible society whose members are bound together by the ties of a common faith, common sacraments, and a common ministry.  It is towards this ideal of a united and truly Catholic Church that we must all set our minds.’[33]

The nature of the Anglican Communion

The encyclical also connects the search for unity between churches with the internal development of the Anglican Communion. It states that:

‘The more our minds are filled with the hopes of seeing the universal fellowship in full and free activity, the more zealous ought we to be to improve and strengthen in every way the fellowship of our own Church. This is one of the most direct and obvious methods of preparing for reunion.

It further suggests that the characteristics of the fellowship that exists within the Anglican Communion might have something to offer to the wider search for unity. In this connection it notes that:

For half a century the Lambeth Conference has more and more served to focus the experience and counsels of our Communion.  But it does not claim to exercise any powers of control or command.  It stands for the far more spiritual and more Christian principle of loyalty to the fellowship.  The Churches represented in it are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and of love. They are not free to deny the truth.  They are not free to ignore the fellowship.  And the objects of our Conferences are to attain an ever deeper apprehension of the truth, and to guard the fellowship with ever increasing appreciation of its value.’[34]

In line with what is said here about the nature of the authority of the Lambeth Conference, Resolution 44 of 1920 emphasised the advisory nature of the Central Consultative Body of the Communion:

‘In order to prevent misapprehension the Conference declares that the Consultative Body, created by the Lambeth Conference of 1897 and consolidated by the Conference of 1908, is a purely advisory body. It is of the nature of a continuation committee of the whole Conference and neither possesses nor claims any executive or administrative power. It is framed so as to represent all branches of the Anglican Communion and it offers advice only when advice is asked for.’[35]

The ministry of women

As well as considering the unity of the Church, the 1920 Lambeth Conference also gave its attention to the issue of the ministry of women in the Church, passing a series of resolutions (Resolutions 46-54) which among other things agreed that women should be admitted to all Councils of the Church open to lay people on equal terms with  men, that the order of deaconesses should be formally recognised as the Anglican order of ministry for women and that women should be permitted to lead services, lead in prayer and ‘instruct and exhort the congregation’

The encyclical letter explains the thinking behind these resolutions, noting that in the past the Church ‘has under-valued and neglected the gifts of women and has too thanklessly used their work’ and explaining that:

‘We feel bound to respect the customs of the Church, not as an iron law, but as results and records of the Spirit’s guidance. In such customs there is much which obviously was dictated by reasonable regard to contemporary social conventions. As these differ from age to age and country to country, the uses the Church makes of the services of women will also differ.  But this use will be further determined by a more important consideration.  It is the peculiar gifts and the special excellences of women which the Church will most wish to use.  Its wisdom will be shown, not in disregarding, but in taking advantage of, the differences between women and men.  These considerations seem to have guided the Primitive Church to create the Order of Deaconesses.  We have recorded our approval of the revival of that order, and we have attempted to indicate the duties and functions which in our judgement belong to it.  We also recognise that God has granted to some women special gifts of spiritual insight and powers of prophetic teaching. We have tried to show how these gifts can be exercised to the greatest benefit of the Church.  The arrangements which we have suggested are not applicable to all countries alike. Yet everywhere the attempt must be made to make room for the Spirit to work according to the wisdom which He will give, so that the fellowship to the Ministry may be strengthened by the co-operation of women and the fellowship of the Church be enriched by their spiritual gifts.’[36]

Anglican liturgical development

A final aspect of the 1920 Lambeth Conference that is worth noting is what it said about liturgical development within the Communion. The report of the Committee looking at ‘missionary problems’ notes that previous Lambeth Conferences had recognised the need for ‘the adaption and enrichment’ of the services in the Book of Common Prayer  to meet the need of ‘races and countries overseas.’ However, the demand has now arisen on the Mission Field not just for adaptation of the Prayer Book but for new entirely new ‘forms and services.’[37]

The report argues that the sort of liturgical uniformity envisaged in the Preface to the Prayer Book is now out of date, being ‘neither applicable to Dioceses or Provinces in the Mission Field, nor in itself necessary as a bond of union between Churches which have unity of faith.’[38]  It therefore recommends:

‘(i) Rigid liturgical uniformity is not to be regarded as a necessity throughout the Churches of the Anglican Communion in the Mission Field.

(ii) It should be recognized that full liberty belongs to Diocesan Bishops not only for the adaptation and addition alluded to earlier but also for the adoption of other uses.

(iii) In the exercise of this liberty care should always be taken: –

a.) To maintain a Scriptural and Catholic balance of Truth.

b.) To give due consideration to the precedents of the early Church.

c.) To observe such limitations as may be imposed by higher synodical authority.

d.) To remember with brotherly consideration the possible effect their action may have on other Provinces and Branches of the Anglican Communion.’ [39]

The report also recommends the appointment of permanent committee of liturgical experts to which Dioceses and Provinces might turn for advice.   

The committee’s recommendations were eventually reflected in Resolutions 36- 38 of the Conference. These declare:

’36. While maintaining the authority of the Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican standard of doctrine and practice, we consider that liturgical uniformity should not be regarded as a necessity throughout the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The conditions of the Church in many parts of the mission field render inapplicable the retention of that Book as the one fixed liturgical model.

37. Although the inherent right of a diocesan bishop to put forth or sanction liturgical forms is subject to such limitations as may be imposed by higher synodical authority, it is desirable that such authority should not be too rigidly exercised so long as those features are retained which are essential to the safeguarding of the unity of the Anglican Communion

38. The Conference recommends the appointment of a committee of students of liturgical questions which would be ready to advise any diocese or province on the form and matter of services proposed for adoption, and requests the Archbishop of Canterbury to take such steps as he deems best to give early effect to this Resolution.’[40]

8. The Lambeth Conference of 1930

The unity of the Church

The Lambeth Conference of 1930 gave further consideration to the issue of the unity of the Church highlighted in 1920. The committee tasked with looking at this subject endorsed the approach taken in 1920, and went on to look at specific issues which had arisen in the light of it. Among these were the issue of the importance of the historic episcopate and the issue of inter-communion.

With regard to the former, the committee’s report declares that during the history of the Church the Episcopate has been:

‘…an institution fulfilling certain purposes. As an institution it was, and is, characterised by succession in two forms, the succession in office and the succession of consecration. And it had generally recognised functions: the general superintendence of the Church and more especially of the Clergy: the maintenance of unity in the one Eucharist; the ordination of men to the ministry; the safeguarding of the faith; and the administration of the discipline of the Church. There have been different interpretations of the relation of these elements of the Historic Episcopate to one another; but these elements themselves are constant.’[41]

It follows, says the report, that when Anglicans say that they are committed to the Historic Episcopate:

‘…we are not to be understood as insisting on the office apart from the functions. What we uphold is the Episcopate, maintained in successive generations by continuity of succession and consecration, as it has been throughout the history of the Church from the earliest times, and discharging those functions which from the earliest times it has discharged.’[42]

The report states that Anglicans:

‘…readily agree that there are other elements in the full life of the Christian Church, and we hold that the episcopate should be ‘constitutional’ in the sense that provision should be made for the due co-operation of the presbyterate and the congregation of Christ’s faithful people in the ordering of the Church’s life. Indeed, this is already secured in varying degrees in all parts of the Communion by the revival of Diocesan and Provincial Synods, or by other similar means.  We recognise that in this respect we have much to learn and to gain from the traditions and customs of the non-episcopal churches.’[43]

However, it says that the special responsibility of Anglicans ‘is to bring into the complete life of the united Church those elements which we have received and hold in trust.  Chief among these, the matter of Order, is the Historic Episcopate.’[44]

With regard to inter-communion, the report argues that:

‘The will and intention of Christians to perpetuate separately organised churches makes it inconsistent in principle for them to come before our Lord to be united as one body by the sacrament of His own Body and Blood. The general rule of our Church must therefore be held to exclude indiscriminate Inter-communion, or any such Inter-Communion as expresses acquiescence in the continuance of separately organised Churches.’[45]

According to the report, this is why Anglicans:

‘…hold as a general principle that Inter-communion should be the goal of, rather than a means to, the restoration of union, and also why the general rule of the Church has been, as set forth by the last Lambeth Conference, that members of Anglican Churches should receive the Holy Communion only from ministers of their own Church or of Churches in full communion with it.’[46]

The report notes, however, that this is rule of Church discipline and as such ‘is subject to exception where the purpose of that discipline can thus be better served.’ It holds that this rule falls under the dispensing power of the bishops who should be free to grant exceptions in accordance with any relevant national, regional or provincial principles on the matter. [47]  

The nature of the Anglican Communion

As well as considering the issue of Christian unity the Conference of 1930 also spent time considering the nature Anglican Communion. The report of the committee that looked at this issue argues that there are ‘two prevailing types of ecclesiastical organisation.’ In one type there is ‘centralised government.’ The Roman Catholic Church is the great example of this type. In the other type there is ‘regional autonomy within one fellowship.’ This was the type of organisation that existed in the Church of the first centuries and which is upheld in the today by the Orthodox churches and by the Anglican Communion.[48]

As an organisation of the latter type the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of self-governing local churches, historically linked to the British isles, ‘whose faith has been grounded in the doctrines and ideals for which the Church of England has always stood.’[49]

The report describes these doctrines and ideals as follows:

‘What are these doctrines?  We hold the Catholic faith in its entirety: that is to say, the truth of Christ, contained in Holy Scripture; stated in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds; expressed in the Sacraments of the Gospel and the rites of the Primitive Church as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer with its various local adaptations; and safeguarded by the historic threefold Order of the Ministry.

What are these ideals?  They are the ideals of the Church of Christ.  Prominent among them are an open Bible, a pastoral Priesthood, a common worship, a standard of conduct consistent with that worship, and a fearless love of truth.  Without comparing ourselves with others, we acknowledge thankfully as the fruits of these ideals within our Communion, the sanctity of mystics, the learning of scholars, the courage of missionaries, the uprightness of civil administrators, and the devotion of many servants of God in Church and State.’[50]

The report goes on to add that ‘while, however, we hold the Catholic Faith, we hold it in freedom.’ What this means is that:

‘Every church our Communion is free to build up its life and development upon the provisions of its own constitution.  Local churches (that quote the words of Bishop Creighton) ‘have no power to change the Creeds of the universal Church or its early organisation.  But they have the right to determine the best methods of setting forth to their people the contents of the Christian faith. They may regulate rites, ceremonies, usages, observances and discipline for that purpose, according to their own wisdom and experience and the needs of the people.’[51]

The report acknowledges that such freedom carries with it

‘….the risk of divergence to the point even of disruption.  In case any such risk should actually arise it is clear that the Lambeth Conference as such could not take any disciplinary action. Formal action would belong to the several churches of the Communion individually; but the advice of the Lambeth Conference, sought before executive action is taken by the constituent churches, would carry very great moral weight. And we believe in the Holy Spirit.  We trust in His power working in every part of His Church as the effective bond to hold us together.’[52]

According to the report:

‘The freedom of each separate church thus resembles, both in its scope and in its limitations, the freedom of a member of a living organism.  It performs its distinctive functions under the direction of the Head, and for the benefit of the whole body. If it functions in separation from the other members, or in imperfect correspondence to the will of Christ, is not necessarily separated from the body, but its own life is impoverished, and the whole body is weakened and distracted.‘[53]

As part of its emphasis on the freedom existing within the Communion, the report notes that this means that the Central Consultative Body of the Communion:

‘ …should be recognised as possessing no authority beyond that possessed by the [Lambeth] Conference itself. We call attention to the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1908, reaffirmed in 1920, that the Consultative Body is purely advisory. It has no legal function as an Appellate Tribunal, and we do not recommend any central Appellate Tribunal should be appointed.  Such centralised authority would, we believe, be contrary to the spirit of the Anglican Communion. We contemplate that Appellate Tribunals will be constituted locally.  The authority of the Consultative body is moral.’ [54]

The report of the committee on the Anglican Communion was eventually affirmed by the Conference as a whole in Resolutions 48 and 49:

’48. The Conference affirms that the true constitution of the Catholic Church involves the principle of the autonomy of particular Churches based upon a common faith and order, and commends to the faithful those sections of the Report of Committee IV which deal with the ideal and future of the Anglican Communion.

49. The Conference approves the following statement of nature and status of the Anglican Communion, as that term is used in its Resolutions:

The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common:

a.) they uphold and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several Churches;

b.) they are particular or national Churches, and, as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and

c.) they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.

The Conference makes this statement praying for and eagerly awaiting the time when the Churches of the present Anglican Communion will enter into communion with other parts of the Catholic Church not definable as Anglican in the above sense, as a step towards the ultimate reunion of all Christendom in one visibly united fellowship.’[55]

[1] The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920, London: SPCK 1920, pp.5-6. For the background to the

   Conference see A M G Stephenson, The First Lambeth Conference 1867, London: SPCK, 1967.

[2] The Six Lambeth Conferences, p.6.

[3]Ibid , p.53.

[4] Ibid pp.53-54

[5] Ibid p.54

[6] Ibid, p.56

[7] Ibid, pp.82-83.  Reference is made here to the Church of England as opposed to the United Church of

  England and Ireland referred to in 1867 , because the Church of Ireland had become an separate

  church following its disestablishment in 1871. 

[8] Ibid p.83

[9] Ibid, p.83

[10] Ibid, p.83

[11] Ibid, p.83.

[12] Ibis, p..83-84.

[13] Ibid, p.84.

[14] Ibid p.86-87.

[15] Ibid, p.122

[16] Ibid, p, 114.

[17] Ibid, p. 117.

[18] Ibid, p. 173.

[19] Ibid, p. 121.

[20] Ibid, pp.199-200.

[21] Ibid p. 187.

[22] Ibid, p.207.

[23] Ibid, pp.207-208.

[24] Ibid, p.203.

[25] W Collins, Pan Anglican Papers No 6 – The Anglican Communion, London: SPCK, 1908, p.10.

[26] Ibid, pp.10-11.

[27] The Six Lambeth Conferences, p.322

[28] Ibid, p.323.

[29] Ibid p.331.

[30] Ibid, p.11  – The record of the 1920 Lambeth Conference has its own numbering within the Six

   Conferences collection.

[31] Ibid p.11.

[32] Ibid p.12

[33] Ibid, p.12.

[34] Ibid pp.13-14.

[35] Ibid, p.38.

[36] Ibid, pp.14-15.

[37] Ibid, p.87

[38] Ibid p.87

[39] Ibid p.88

[40] Ibid, p. 36.

[41] Report of the Lambeth Conference of 1930, London: SPCK, 1930, p.115.

[42] Ibid, pp.15-16.

[43] Ibid, p.116

[44] Ibid, p.116.

[45] Ibid p..116-117.

[46] Ibid, p.117.

[47] Ibid, p.117.

[48] Ibid, p.153.

[49] Ibid, p.154.

[50] Ibid, p.154.

[51] Ibid, p.154, quoting Creighton, Church and Nation, p.212 and also referencing Article XXXIV.

[52] Ibid pp.154-155.

[53] Ibid, p.155.

[54] Ibid, pp.155-156.

[55] Ibid, pp.54-55.