The Rev. Tony Currer of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity addresses members of the Anglican Consultative Council.
Gavin Drake/ACNS

By Mark Michael

LUSAKA, Zambia — The Anglican Consultative Council has considered new ecumenical agreements with Methodist, Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches as well as theological work seeking to unify the Instruments of Communion.

The Rev. Canon John Gibaut, the Anglican Communion’s Director for Unity, Faith, and Order, presented several statements for approval to the delegates April 13. The statements had been prepared under the supervision of the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order (IASCUFO), the Communion-wide team of 25 theologians responsible for doctrinal and ecumenical work.

For Anglicans, Gibaut said, the search for Christian unity is central to the practice of discipleship. He finds, though, in his conversations with ordinary Anglicans that many seem to confuse unity with uniformity or conformity.

Instead, Anglicans aim for “a communion of unity, diversity, and difference, and even in disagreement. This vision of communion is one that can contain conflict, so that it loses its power to divide; because communion is not our achievement, but the gift of God, the achievement of Christ’s rising from the dead.”

While enthusiasm for the ecumenical movement has waned in recent decades, Gibaut said that this is largely the fruit of ecumenism’s success. “Ecumenism has been so successful that most of us have difficulty remembering a time when we were not charitable towards our Christian neighbors.”

Gibaut said there have been a number of important developments in the worldwide church since the last ACC Meeting in 2013 that will shape ecumenical engagement. These include the election of Pope Francis and appointment of Archbishop Justin Welby, the restoration of a formal dialogue between Anglicans and the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and preparations for the coming Pan-Orthodox Synod and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

The Anglican-Methodist International Commission for Unity in Mission prepared a statement called Into All the World: Being and Becoming Apostolic Churches [PDF] in 2014, which brings that body’s work to a close. “All the theological issues of faith and order have found resolution by the dialogue,” Gibaut said, and the next step is full communion agreements between Methodist and Anglican churches.

The Most Rev. Richard Clarke, Primate of All Ireland and a member of the Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee, commented on the recent decision of the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland to enter into a full communion agreement, the first of its kind. Extensive discussions about respective doctrines of the ministry had revealed what Archbishop Clarke called “a sufficient consonance in understandings of episcope” to allow for the interchangeability of ordained ministers.

The Methodist Church in Ireland had taken the significant step of renaming its service for commissioning a conference president “the consecration of an episcopal minister,” and agreed that three Church of Ireland bishops would lay hands on each new Methodist episcopal minister. The agreement was proving especially helpful in developing coordinated chaplaincy work and in serving Methodist churches in the Republic of Ireland, where there is a shortage of clergy.

The Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission reached consensus of the doctrine of the person of Christ, and issued an agreed statement [PDF] in 2014. This statement follows similar declarations of agreement between the Oriental Orthodox and the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Reformed Churches, effectively resolving a cause of schism that has divided the Church since the fifth century.

Gibaut said that the decision came at an especially significant moment, as the suffering of Oriental Orthodox Christians was prominent in global news. Near the time the statement was issued, Syrian Christians were fleeing Islamic militants in Iraq, 21 Coptic Christians were martyred in Libya, and the centenary of the Armenian Genocide was observed. The agreed statement was, he said, “an expression of solidarity in faith with the family of the Oriental Orthodox church, when these Christians have been bearing such costly witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.”

The International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, which handles dialogues with Eastern Orthodox Churches, also prepared a statement titled In the Image and Likeness of God: A Hope-Filled Anthropology [PDF], issued in Buffalo in 2015.

The statement described consensus in theological anthropology, the doctrine of the human person, as the first step in a wider exploration of common principles in moral discernment. The dialogue intends eventually, Gibaut said, to build on the statement’s work, addressing issues including bioethics, the beginning and ending of life, the environment, and human sexuality. Archbishop Welby commended the statement to Anglican primates as they prepared for their meeting in January.

ACC delegates were addressed by the Rt. Rev. Matti Repo of the Lutheran World Federation and the Rev. Tony Currer of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity about a request from IASCUFO to “welcome and affirm the substance” of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999).

Currer praised the joint declaration, an agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics that found substantial unity on the central doctrinal issue of the Reformation, as “the greatest concrete achievement in Western ecumenical dialogue. If ACC votes to welcome and receive the joint declaration, it would join the Methodist and Reformed worldwide bodies, which have already taken action towards receiving the agreement.”

Bishop Repo invited Anglicans to participate widely in the commemoration of the Reformation’s 500th Anniversary. The Lutheran World Federation has designated “Liberated by God’s Grace” as the commemoration’s theme, and has designed study materials in several languages relating the theme to salvation, human dignity, and ecological justice.

IASCUFO, the worldwide Anglican doctrinal commission, has prepared three reflections for the ACC meeting, all of which focus on questions of ecclesiology and mutual relationships in the body of Christ. Delegates will be asked to recommend these reflections as resources for guiding the Communion’s life and developing future ecumenical work.

One document considers the subject of transitivity, the way in which ecumenical relationships developed by member churches of worldwide communions relate to one another.

The presenting issue for Anglicans today is the interchangeability of ordained ministers between Anglican and Lutheran church bodies that have developed full-communion agreements. As part of a process that began with the Porvoo Common Statement [PDF] (1992), Anglican churches in the British Isles developed a full communion agreement with the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia. Subsequently, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Canada have developed similar relationships.

The transitivity or exchangeability of ordained ministers is an important feature of each of these full-communion agreements, such that a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may serve an Episcopal parish. It is not yet the case, though, that the same ELCA pastor could serve a parish of the Church of England.

By laying out the history of these ecumenical developments and the arrangements for the development of full communion in each in the reflections, IASCUFO hopes to move to the development of common principles for transitivity that could be used to extend full communion agreements more widely.

Another reflection for IASCUFO, “A Mission Shaped Communion,” is by Paul Avis, a distinguished Anglican ecumenist. Based on the assumption that “mission does not belong to the church but to the Triune God,” the reflection explores the way in which Anglicanism’s commitments to mission and a common life of unity relate to each other.

A final reflection, which Gibaut described as “a timely piece,” focused on the relationships between the Instruments of Communion. It said the Anglican Communion is a gift of God’s grace, and established some general principles for preserving “Anglicanism’s organic conversational and conciliar ethos.”

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