Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mark Harris on the Anglican Communion

I just about always find whatever Mark Harris has to say worth "reading, marking and inwardly digesting" -- and in this case I think he has completely hit the nail on the read regarding the conflict du jour in the Anglican Communion. (From Mark's blog: PRELUDIUM)


Not a Worldwide Church, but a Fellowship

A snippet from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lenten letter to the Primates: “I hope that we shall be continuing to think and pray about the challenges that face us as a worldwide church.”

Perhaps this is part of the problem we face: the Archbishop of Canterbury believes there is a worldwide church called the Anglican Communion, rather than communion among a worldwide fellowship of churches. The difference between the one and the other is clear:If one believes that the Anglican Communion is a worldwide church, then matters of ecclesial life are indeed central. If there is such a worldwide church, such concerns as constitutions, ordinances, covenants (as between persons and institutions) and the exercise of power by persons or groups ordained by God or ordered by commonwealth, state, or ecclesial power provides the final arbitration of inclusion or exclusion in membership.

If to the contrary “communion” in “Anglican Communion” is not simply part of the name of a church, but rather a description of relationship, and if on the contrary the Anglican Communion is not a worldwide church but rather a fellowship of churches, then matters of commonality are of vital importance, and matters of ecclesial and hierarchical powers of no importance at all.

The Anglican Communion as a “worldwide church” would be no more and no less an example of the fractured principalities and powers that corrupt the body of Christ than is the Church of Rome and any other such organ of the body. Who needs it?

The Anglican Communion as a fellowship of churches at least has the vitality and possibility of being a community of drawn together and pulled apart both by the many layered connections of family likeness, common faith, and uncommon experience. Power in such an environment is dispersed, and sometimes even confused. It is certainly unlike power and authority as exercised by worldwide churches. Indeed, power is less interesting and less compelling then the possibilities of relationships of loving kindness and broken relationships of mutual distrust. In such relationships there is at least life, abundantly and shared.

In all the wringing of hands and wagging of heads about the possible breakup of the Anglican Communion we have come to believe what the Archbishop let slip…that we are a worldwide church on the brink of fracture. Perhaps we have missed the abundance of God’s grace to us… that we are not a worldwide church at all, but rather a fellowship. This is abundance because we are not one thing but many things, held together not because we are one in ourselves, but because we are one in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting too that the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed concern that the Anglican Communion might end up being a fractured federation rather than a communion. This concern seems to make of Communion a parallel to either English empire or commonwealth, and federation parallel to some sort of unseemly amalgam of German principalities, each with its own potentates, (thus the reference to the Lutheran world federation) or worse a federation (like, say the Federal Government of the United States.)

Fair enough: I am not at all sure that honest Empire (which is after all the end reach of worldwide bodies politic, spiritual or temporal) is any worse or better than dishonest Empire under the guise of a gargantuan federal system that runs roughshod over the world (as the US or the Episcopal Church is accused of being.)

But if communion is about the actual, real and entirely local participation in communion (and there is no other) neither the open aspirations to worldwide ecclesial authority nor the de facto exercise of such power is relevant.

I believe communion (as in the Anglican Communion) has as its final proof of being the genuine, immediate, incarnational activity of sharing the Meal. The proof of the vitality of the Anglican Communion will continue to be seen when Anglicans seek out one another in that special way that old friends, family and even old enemies do, to have that one last meal together before the onslaught of the day.

I believe we must learn again and again to understand who we are for one another against the backdrop of the future, not the past. The past only provides division, power and the foolishness of princes. We must know one another as in communion because we eat today the bread of tomorrow.

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