Anglican Communion Holds Together For Now As Archbishop Seeks To Unite Conservatives And Left Wingers

Primates Meeting
Canterbury Cathedral

The Archbishop of Canterbury has told his fellow church leaders within the Anglican Communion that they need to be Disciples of Christ if they want the Church to project a positive image in the world. His words were delivered at a special summit, convened to reconcile the conservative and liberal wings of the Anglican church family.

Earlier threats by conservative church leaders to walk out of the meeting and form their own alternate conference unless liberal church leaders repent of their welcoming of gay marriage have not, so far materialised, suggesting that mutual acceptance is yet possible.

Despite the meeting being conducted in private, the content of an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby given to his colleagues at the opening of the summit yesterday was leaked to the press.

In it, he is revealed to have told his fellow primates that the histories of the churches which make up the Communion are varied, leading to theological differences. Yet despite the various tensions and crises that those differences have created, “God was faithful.”

He added: “For example, East Africa was evangelised, it is true, first by missionaries, but it was the East African Revival that set the pattern for holiness, for a vigour of lifestyle in relationship with Christ that so impressed an 18 year old teaching at Kiburu Secondary school.

“That same 18 year old then had the seed of the gospel sown into the ground prepared, when three Ugandan Bishops, led by Festo Kivengere came to England in 1975. And a few weeks later I gave my life to Christ. So for me it was indigenous Kenyan and Ugandan faith, through the Revival’s legacy, that brought me salvation. I do not forget that.

Warning of division, and of the damage that division can do to the global regard for Christianity, Welby continued:

“The East African Revival teaches us the need for holiness. We must be renewed as a holy church, defined by our passionate worship and its content, with every Christian knowing scripture, prayerful, humble and evangelistic. In a sentence, we must be those who are, to the outside world, visibly disciples of Jesus Christ.”

His words appear to have struck a chord with those present, as a threat by predominantly African and Asian church leaders to walk out unless the American Episcopal church repents of its stance on homosexuality has not, so far materialised.

Welby is in precarious position as mediator between the conservative and liberal churches within the Communion as both groups are likely to look to him to defend their corner. Aides close to the Archbishop have said that his aim is merely to keep the churches within the same family, tied by their historic links to Canterbury rather than to seek doctrinal alliance.

Adrian Hilton, editor of the Archbishop Cranmer blog has argued that this is how it should be as the Archbishop of Canterbury is not an Anglican Pope; nor are the churches required to agree:

“The Archbishop of Canterbury is not an Anglican pope (despite the best efforts of Rowan Williams to make him one, kind of). He has no powers to impose doctrinal orthodoxy, excommunicate dissenters or expel entire provinces. Nor does he have the authority to command another bishop from another province to believe or propagate any particular moral teaching, and it is religiously illiterate of the media (and certain Christians) to convey his ‘inaction’ as character weakness or ecclesial incompetence.

“All the other regions have developed their own expressions of Anglicanism over two or three centuries, and they are reconciled in fellowship through humility, mutual respect and commitment to a common mission.

“The Anglican Communion is just a loose federation of contextual ecclesiologies; a trans-national mechanism by which Anglicans may fellowship with one another across borders; a consultative spiritual authority without any legal authority at all.”

However others disagree, if not with the legality of that statement then at least with the principle, arguing that the Communion can hardly be called a Church Family if it doesn’t agree on what Christianity teaches.

David Ould, an Anglican minister in Sydney, Australia commented on his blog: “Like the last vapours of mist after the morning fog, any genuine sense of partnership is simply burned away when exposed to the harsh sun of reality.

“Liberals and their associated institutionalists appeal to [a] common [Christian] mission but it’s hard to find the conservatives agreeing with them. And if there is no agreement on mission then it can hardly be called common. And if there is little or no commonality then on what basis is there really any unity anyway?”

The summit continues.

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