In his final presidential address, the Archbishop of Canterbury Sunday evening told the Anglican Communion not to accept second best, but to seek a balance between corrective authority and enabling authority while still doing God’s work.
Speaking in St Mary’s Church, Auckland, Archbishop Williams said the fellowship of Anglican churches worldwide needed to “be aware of the danger of becoming less than we aspire to be as a Communion.”
“I think that we do aspire to be a consensual catholic and orthodox family,” he told the members of the Anglican Consultative Council gathered for evening prayer. “I believe we do aspire to be a family that lives in mutual respect and recognition. And to step back from that simply into a federal model … doesn’t seem to me to be the best and the greatest that God is asking from us as an Anglican family.”
Archbishop Williams said he believed Anglicans have a message to give the Christian world about how they can be “both catholic and orthodox and consensual, working in freedom, mutual respect and mutual restraint, without jeopardizing the important local autonomy of our churches.”
He stressed that the Anglican Communion needed to work on the convergence of the different schemes and systems across member churches and find “a legal spirit, an ethos that they share by consent and exploration and discovery rather than by kicking the whole issue upstairs to some higher legal authority.”
He returned to the theme of authority time and again. He suggested that the Instruments of Communion should not only have reactive or corrective authority, but also enabling authority.
“When people say of Jesus he speaks with authority … I don’t think they mean he’s just a good problem-solver; those words occur when Jesus has performed spectacular acts of liberation. The authority in question is an authority to act and an authority to make a difference, an authority that enables and empowers.
“When I look back over ten years in this office it does seem to me that every attempt we’ve made to pin down exactly how reactive or corrective authority works in our Anglican family has run into the sand in one way or another. We’ve tried to pin it down clearly here or there … but that frustration, that discovery that it’s actually very hard to find absolutely clear sources of authority, has to do of course with the fact that we are a family of churches, each one of which has its own ways of reacting, correcting and setting boundaries.”
Admitting that the Instruments of Communion are “less than they might be,” Archbishop Williams said examples of their desire to enable included such proactive projects as the Anglican Alliance, the Bible in the Life of the Church Project, Continuing Indaba, and promoting theological education. These were, he said, attempts by the Instruments to change a situation by being creative.
Archbishop Williams also suggested that younger Anglicans seemed more interested in one kind of authority over another.
“If you pick up and read the book by the young Anglican leaders who were present at the mission consultation in Edinburgh two years ago, you will see something of how a younger generation sees these questions,” he said. “I believe that for the authors of that book and those whom they represent, the vision of not only Anglican, but Christian structural fellowship has a great deal more to do with enabling authority than with absolute clarity about corrective authority.
“So we stand at a very interesting and, I would dare to say, in spite of everything a very promising moment in our Communion, when we are thinking again about how our Instruments of Communion assist us to be the Church … how to be the Body of Christ. That’s what the Instruments have to serve.
“In other words, the Instruments of Communion are there so that our Anglican family and Anglican faithful will show to the world that the new creation truly is new, that the Church truly is different.”
Archbishop Williams gave thanks to God for the flourishing of Anglican Communion Networks, which were represented at this 15th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.
“I believe that the creativity of those networks at the moment is a sign that God is stirring up in our Communion deeply different ways of working which will not, of course, immediately solve the problems I began with, the problems that require the reactive or the corrective, but which at least tell us that God does not necessarily wait until we’ve solved our problems to enable us to be effective disciples.
“When we stand before the throne of God, it will be a very poor answer if when God says ‘Why did you not preach the gospel and serve the poor?’ we say, ‘We had too many internal problems to resolve, we couldn’t quite decide who had the authority to pronounce things.’ God expects us to be disciples today, not the day after tomorrow.
An MP3 of the archbishop’s address is available here.