Six Steps Post-Toronto

By Ian Ernest

As we meet to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Anglican Congress, it is good that we first remind ourselves that the notion of “mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ” emerged from it. Partners in Mission was probably a resulting child of the Congress. Consequently, a pathway for the knitting of the “bonds of affection” within the Anglican Communion was traced. This led to a change in our mindset about what we as Anglicans were to do and be in the world. But as the years went by, the dreams expressed by the Anglican Congress failed to be realized as provinces were more preoccupied by domestic issues, and part of this notion of being mutually responsible and interdependent was lost.

As we look around, we see that the worldwide fellowship of autonomous Anglican provinces finds it difficult to hold itself together as the “Instruments of Unity no longer have the ecclesial and moral authority to hold the Communion together,” as the primates of the Global South declared in 2007. It is a fact that the events of the past ten years in issues of human sexuality and doctrine have affected our life together. We have seen how the decisions made by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada in 2003, 40 years after the Anglican Congress, have gone against the essence of what it means to hold “mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ.” This very sad situation has thus forced the primates to admit, at their meeting held in Dar es Salaam in 2007, that the “tension was so deep that the fabric of our common life has been torn.”

As commented in the Church Times of August 16, “the body of Christ seems not a reality, but an ideal hardly to be grasped.”

So it is very appropriate after 50 years for us to go deeper in our study of the essence of what being mutually responsible and interdependent means in the body of Christ. Here I wish to quote the Rev. Jesse Zink, author of the forthcoming book Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, who commented in the Church Times on the Toronto Anglican Congress:

It is worth returning to the manifesto and the period that produced it. In its emphasis on the patient work of building genuine relationships across lines of difference, the importance of genuinely coming to know one another in the context in which each lives, and above all in its recognition that God is always calling us to something greater that ourselves.

We know that following these sad events, the Lambeth Commission was established to address among other things the “legal and theological implications of the decisions” of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. This commission then recommended “adoption in the long term of an Anglican Covenant which would support an agreed framework for life together as members of a global family of churches.”

For now the Anglican Covenant is not being adopted by most of the provinces, so we are in crisis. But in the same breath we realize that the Anglican Communion has no global system of canon law and that authority is vested in each church, which has its own constitutional system of governance. To our credit, “historically the creative tension between autonomy and communion and its adaptability to serve the gospel in a world of constant change has been one among many achievements of Anglicanism.”

But what is a crisis? While crisis sounds the note of impending danger it also opens to opportunities. According to Scripture, a crisis is a divine opportune moment for appropriate action. This is exemplified in the Bible in the stories of Joseph and Jonah. We are in crisis and things will never be the same again.

The emerging role of the primates, the priority given to theological education, the changing shape of the Anglican Communion with the powerful voice of the Global South and of GAFCON, give to us a good moment at which we can consider a new vision for world mission. In fact, there is in this moment of crisis a moment of decision that we must be ready to meet.

We need to understand what kind of community the Anglican Communion is. We need to acknowledge the potential for transformation that we possess. This will compel us to recognize, in the midst of present tensions and challenges, that the only thing that matters is for the Church to be faithful to God’s mission, his word, by which he addresses us and informs our vocation. Part of the problem in the Anglican Communion today results from the lack of clear understanding that mission belongs to God and that the Church — the one holy catholic and apostolic Church to which we all belong — is an instrument of that mission.

This Church, as the Body of Christ, is the expression of the work of the Holy Trinity in the world. The action of the Holy Trinity can be witnessed through the visibility of the people of God. The first three centuries witnessed the flourishing of Christianity and at that time the Church consisted of scattered little groups of insignificant people, many of them slaves, persecuted and threatened on all sides. Yet they turned the world upside down. We must not permit ourselves to think that the present crisis we face as a Communion is an indication of failure or defeat.

Nevertheless, it is certainly a factor that we have to consider honestly if we are to play our role in God’s mission within the universal Church. In Acts we are given a picture of the Church as a community that makes Christ visible. We are an “apostolic” Church and we trust that the acts of the Holy Spirit among the people who have been called together in Christ make Jesus visible. So in spite of the awareness of the problems that threaten our unity as a Communion, and of the bitterness and fear that this can bring us, it is good for us to trust the Holy Spirit and to let him bring Christ into the situation to make a Christlike difference.

At times we are not fully aware of the potential for transformation that the Church possesses. We are called to recognize that this potential is a gift from God and thus as a Church we have something to offer to the world. As theologian Yves Congar writes:

To rediscover the beauty of that faith, as it was in its primitive beginnings, we have to take a deeper look at Sacred Scripture, and study the Fathers of the Church. And only then will the Church speak to the world in a language it can understand.

This brings us to the role of the Church and Christians in the world. It is a world created by God, intended for great purposes, involving great risks. We may have heard it before, but it is good to remind ourselves that the Church exists for God’s mission in the world. Both the Church and the world belong to God, and his designs for the Church and the world are basically the same. The Church should not separate itself from the world and the whole of creation in its conception of their ultimate purposes, because the God we serve is Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer of Creation. Our responsibility as the Anglican Communion within the holy catholic and apostolic Church is to proclaim the full gospel, to see that all things are summed up in Christ and that he becomes the Lord of all life.

Why is it that people are not attracted and astonished by what God can fulfill for them? Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, described the situation in one of his Bible studies at the 13th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council held in Nottingham in 2005:

Because, in fact, we are slipping back fast into something like the ancient world. We are slipping back towards a world of narrow tunnel vision of religions and superstitious practice, a world where lots and lots of people have their lords and God, their practices and their mysticisms, that do not really relate to each other. We are slipping away from the idea that there might be a faith that would bring all human beings together. We are slipping back socially and internationally into the assumption that there really are such differences in human beings that we can forget about God’s universal righteousness.

We men and women of all generations can thus be overpowered by what we most want to possess. We become unreasonably passionate by threats to our survival, our possessions, and our basic needs. This may lead to divisive, irrational, and destructive situations. These can also penetrate the human-made structures governing our lives. Evil then emerges and surrounds us. This can also happen in our Christian circle when mission becomes simply what the Church as an institution does and not what God intends to do though the Church. We are called to discern for what and where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Hugh Montefiore, former Bishop of Birmingham, offers these words of warning in Man and Nature:

There comes a point at which evils become so entrenched in society that they acquire a life and momentum of their own which may be called demonic. There are superhuman dimensions of evil which neither individual men nor society as a whole seem able to control. Wars escalate … the arms race has got out of control and the less desirable aspects of technology proliferate in spite of us.

This being said, it should not reduce our human responsibilities as it may lead us to place the blame for our failings and sins upon external forces. Nor should this prevent the Church from fulfilling the mission that God has entrusted to it, to set for itself the prophetic task that is crucial to its role in the world today.

Seeing ourselves as a Communion in God’s mission, it becomes our responsibility to intensify the recovery of a biblical worldview and a sense of apostolicity. Unless we see that sin overshadows the full potential of the charisms of creation and the glory of God, it will be impossible to give a sense of purpose to this world we live in. We must recognize the deconstructive effect of secularization and materialism and how elements of paganism infiltrate our way of thinking and our standards of living. The Church in this process of recovery proclaims that God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of our world and that there is a new creation given by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

When the Church is preoccupied with its internal agendas, it fails to proclaim God as all-embracing, and it fails in extending opportunities for men and women of this age to change, to be open to a greater view of life that is biblical. There is a need in our Communion for repentance in all areas of our lives. But this call is not to be limited or restricted to personal and family issues; it should also address structural, economic, political, and social sins of our own making that we take for granted. We therefore need to recapture our love for and confidence in God’s Word, and to transmit this to future generations.

One of our great responsibilities is to call people to a totally new way of life, a new worldview, and a reformed mindset. It is the only way to our becoming stand-ins for Christ and living a God-centred life. The Church has to dare to recover its authority, and thus bishops are called to exercise their role as teachers and senders. In the New Testament the principal word for authority, exousia, means “strength of character” and not “an official position.” The leaders of the Communion have to teach the people that we are all called to hold an authority that acts as an alter Christus, a Christic presence to others: people who are imbued with a desire to become truthful, prayerful, and self-giving servants of God. This is what we Christians pray to become. One of the eucharistic rites used by many of us round the Communion describes this at its best: “Fill us with your grace and heavenly blessing; nourish us with the body and blood of your Son that we may grow in his likeness.”

As Christian mission reveals the yearning of God to embrace humanity in love, it is an imperative to offer a fresh vision of mission in the challenging environment of a globalized world. The Anglican Communion is itself a fruit of a vision for world mission. Although the Decade of Evangelism (1990-2000) in the Anglican Communion was a mixture of success and failure, it drew attention to this founding perspective, which is still encouraging churches of the Communion to explore what mission and evangelism might mean for a new era. We are indeed witnessing growth and development in many parts of the Communion and more particularly in the Global South. This is influencing the nature of the Communion at large. Consequently, we are a family of churches that find our Communion in mission. This Communion in mission is well described by the primate of the Anglican Church in Kenya, the Most Rev. Eluid Wabukala:

We must act out of our God-given identity; we must be true to ourselves as we are in Christ crucified, redeemed through the cross where God’s justice and mercy meet. This is what it means to act with authenticity. It is not a matter of following our subjective dreams and feelings, but being true to the one who has risen from the dead, so that we might live not for ourselves, but for him who died and rose again for us.

People in the Communion in mission give due consideration to “the patterns and traditions of our past” but also affirm that they are developing as they are being transformed in Christ.

Facing the challenging issues of today, it is not easy to indicate where we are heading as a church. The Communion faces a historical challenge: to express our unity, we have to define the resources that we have inherited and reform them if necessary. The heritage and the tradition of our particular culture and context are not entirely adequate for the challenge. A process of reformation would strengthen our identity. These reformed resources would strengthen our identity as a Communion. As a Communion in mission, we need to sharpen our identity and our understanding of God’s mission in order to address the needs of our fellow human beings, as we are doing already in many parts of the world. In so far as we try to do this, I am convinced that we will be able to contribute to the future of both the world and the worldwide Anglican Communion. To enable this contribution to bear fruit, it is essential that we have a clear understanding of our identity in Christ, which can only come from a doctrinal foundation.

This question comes again and again: What is the nature of Anglicanism?” Is it true, as has often been noted, that we lack doctrinal integrity? This is of profound importance to us in the Province of the Indian Ocean: What as Anglicans do we stand for?

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, one of my predecessors as Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, answers this question: “In order to find out what characterizes Anglican doctrine, the simplest way is to look at Anglican worship and to deduce Anglican doctrine to it.”

The Lambeth Conference of 1978 stressed this:

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 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 the whole context of the creation, history of salvation, incarnation, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

So from our heritage it is clear that we do possess an abundance of riches on which to build our togetherness in faith and the worship of the “one Lord of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Is this sufficient for our work of mission and evangelism? Not entirely! As in the movement of reform that swept the Western world in the 16th century and touched many in the centuries that followed, we should reach for a renewed confidence in the claims that in Christ all things find their meaning and purpose.

We are compelled to acknowledge our human interdependence, for any event in any part of the world has an immediate impact on every other part. But in this globalized world there are deep and wide divisions, an indisputable drift to alienation and separation between nations and men. This state of alienation undermines stability, and we have seen during the past years how human beings have the power to destroy. It is because of this that the Anglican Communion, which forms part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, cannot and must not retreat into itself, in spite of prevailing tensions that seem to undermine its unity. It is because of this that we Anglican Christians must proclaim the good news, that our world is God’s world and that he so loved it as to send his Son to share its life and, in sharing it, to save it.

As a Communion we have much to be proud of. We have had saints and martyrs who have been missionaries and evangelists and we have had prophets of their time: people like William Wilberforce, William Temple, and Desmond Tutu who fought the dreadful social evils of their day, and not only proclaimed a “social gospel” but by their actions lived it.

The challenges of discrimination, of lack of opportunities for the vulnerable, of prejudice, of abuse of power, take various patterns in different nations and in distinct generations. All of them destroy human dignity. All are an insult to man and woman made in the image of God. This is indeed a challenge to our faith. Even though in some parts of the world, as in my own country Mauritius, this challenge does not present itself in such unyielding forms, we dare not be complacent. An overriding priority for the Anglican Communion worldwide is that we sustain a powerful witness to the Christian faith, as formed in the particular crucible that we call Anglicanism in the world. As we are aware, in spite of its origins, Anglican Christianity depicts a particular and distinct kind of Christian faith. It stresses the benevolent care of God for human society, and focuses upon the Incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Because of that discernment in God’s providential presence in society, this particular and distinct expression of Christian faith is one of engagement in society, which in itself is God’s mission.

The issues that are challenging the unity of our Communion and causing a crisis are indeed provoking us to see opportunities for the development of a new way of being church in the face of a postmodern and globalised world. It is time for us to know what we must perpetuate, what we must retain, and what we must seek to transform. Is it the heritage from the Church of England that makes us who we are? (I refer to the collective belief and received tradition which we people of the colonies have uncritically accepted and used to justify who we are and what we do.) Not entirely. The last 50 years have seen the development of the Global South and many attempts have been made at nation-building, often in stark contradiction with the colonial past. The values of pre-colonial cultures are being resurrected.

The liturgy has for four centuries proved a unifying factor and English values have long influenced the Anglican Communion, although the emergence of strong expressions of Anglicanism in other parts of the world is leading to a shift in the centre of gravity of our Communion. As new nations struggle to come to terms with their individual histories, identities, and values, how does the Anglican Communion face a post-colonial world and retain a sense of worldwide unity, faith, and fellowship? Are we ready to live with difference, to live with diversity — not to tolerate differences, but to respect them? Or should we curtail our differences in order to retain some form of uniformity? Can we do it? The challenge of a global church is to deal with the differences within itself.

Conversely, the insight of Toronto 1963 was that the mission of the Anglican Communion defines our vocation, what we ought to become. If this is the case, then the issue of our integrity is bound up in recognizing with honesty and Christian boldness that it is not the past that determines our identity but rather the mission that we have received from God, which leads us into the future.

In his book Highways and Hedges, Bishop John Howe wrote this about the development of Anglicanism:

For those parts of the world which for years have been aware of a decline, and therefore aware of all the problems and discouragements that go with that situation, there is encouragement in the knowledge that by lifting their eyes, they perceive that they are members of a Communion that grows.… The measure is the Scripture and the Church that sprang from what Jesus did and said. The Fatherhood of God is universal. God is the Catholic Creator of heaven and earth. The cross is for all, not some. So the growth is according to the divine mind, it is development.

The distinctive marks we share as Anglicans provide us with an identity that surpasses many historical realities. It is time for us to face the task of reinvention according to our inherited values as a church, as reformed by our experience of a Christ who transforms all things. We are consciously part of the wider community of the world, rather than belonging to the British Empire. We are a worldwide church, a Communion of autonomous provinces, and our interactions are not always effective. Our capacity to understand other cultures and their competence to understand ours is not yet a reality. Yet such understanding of ourselves and others is an essential part of the task of discerning an identity and a role for ourselves in a globalized world. As Anglicans, if we are to be a Communion in mission, we ought to think of ourselves as Christians who have a particular theological and religious heritage rather than “imitating an English way of being the Church.”

Our inheritance offers us “a church model to work with.” This model is about our presence in society. Out of the theological tradition of Anglicanism emerges a church model that gives the Incarnation its rightful place. This model of Church surely springs out of the historical experience of English Christianity but is by no means limited to the English experience. In this Anglican tradition, it is the most essential way by which we can express the bountiful mercy of God.

Out of this model arise six fundamental issues that Anglicans have to address during the next 20 years.

1. Legacy from the past — Our origin is based as a church in the faith once given to the saints. It is therefore an imperative to build this apostolic succession in a way that highlights the priorities of justice, mutual respect, harmonious and pacific co-existence in a pluralistic society, the kingdom of God on Earth, the redistribution of resources and the alleviation of poverty, and the eradication of hatred, violence, and disease. We are called to make these notions concrete realities. It is not for us to devote ourselves to the consolidation of irrelevant memories. There should be an urge for creativity and development.

2. Sustainable liturgy — One of the most important aspects of our life together is our liturgical life. The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, as a vehicle of liturgy, has given to Anglicanism a most invaluable and significant basis. It has been a criterion for expressing and sustaining a sound doctrine in faith. It has also conveyed a symbol of unity. Our liturgy attracts many non-Anglicans. But it is time in our quest for Communion in mission to see how best we can translate it into our daily lives in the world. We have to build up spaces for imaginative and creative religious experiences, liturgy that can nurture our world in need of unity within diversity. Creativity is an essential element in a liturgical renewal that can speak to the souls of people in particular contexts.

3. Intense sensitivity to mission — There is no time to waste in finding models for missions. We have to discern what God wants of us. As Bishop Sehon Goodridge wrote in By Word and Deed:

It is the Spirit that regenerates, liberates and empowers for total ministry and mission. When we are hemmed in by various strictures and structures the Spirit modifies and reorientates our lives that we may have new horizons and new paths. We have a new awareness of the Spirit who stimulates and strengthens us, who makes us grow to maturity and emboldens us to witness. When this is experienced in the local Church, the Church-in-mission is realised.

One of the greatest challenges that we face as Anglican Christians in this postmodern and globalized world is how to enhance the quality of our Christian calling in society. A sense of direction will be given for a strategy in mission if it is set about in conditions of the continuity with humanity that is implied in the doctrine of the Incarnation. In our strategy for mission, our provinces are to be encouraged to be concerned and fully engaged in the society of which they are part. They must be disposed to take seriously their civic and political duties. We cannot afford to be content only with a concern for our own limited ecclesiastical affairs. As Archbishop Trevor Huddleston wrote in a synodical charge:

Christians are called to be “The Salt to the World”: and the purpose of salt is to preserve meat from going rotten, not to preserve itself. So the Church’s role is to preserve society: not to withdraw from it. The fact that Anglicans are such a small minority in many parts of the world cannot excuse them from this responsibility.

We must carry the deep conviction of who we are and what we can be for the universal Church as well as for our respective societies. We have a duty to the world as stewards of God. Through our integrity, we will be able to proclaim the true face of Christ to the world. The future will not be easy but the richness of our tradition and its ability to federate different schools of thought is a sure source of hope and opportunity. This is not utopian hope but a hope that takes God as its foundation — a God who provides for us in the midst of change and tribulation. To be a Communion in mission, we have to envisage a Church without walls.

4. Lay vocation — The mission with which God has entrusted his Church is not the exclusive business of bishop and clergy. Whether we are ordained or not, we are called to work together, each according to our individual calling, to bear witness to the spirit of unity that Christ’s mission is spreading throughout the world. We are all little more than instruments, which the Church can use and organize in a coherent way to achieve Christ’s mission in the lives of men and women in today’s world. Thus, the mission that Jesus Christ has entrusted to his Church is the responsibility of all those who have been baptized, each according to their respective role and calling. In 1988, Pope John Paul II published Christifideles laici, in which he elaborates on the calling of the laity:

In giving a response to the question who are the lay faithful, the Second Vatican Council opened itself to a decidedly positive vision and displayed a basic intention of asserting the full belonging of the lay faithful to the Church and to its mystery. At the same time it insisted on the unique character of their vocation, which is, in a special way, to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God. Vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities.

And 25 years earlier that is precisely what the Toronto Congress sought to model! It is good to note that, along with this Anglican insight, the pope affirms what Saint Paul affirmed: God calls all Christians. When we consider the central importance of the people of God, the laos, they are the ones whose vocation is engagement in the realities of social life. The focus is not on bishop or clergy but on the responsibility we share, a united commitment for transformation. We need to define a theological curriculum that declares unambiguously that we start from revelation, a sense of the prevenient presence of God in the institutions of the society we belong to and out of which it is possible to identify the theology of God to which we can all assent. It is only then that the trinitarian character of God’s existence will prove to be most useful.

5. Overcoming our fear of evangelism — Mission loses of its authenticity without evangelism. This aspect cannot be marginalized in the life and the identity of the Church. It exists for all Christians, for every ministry and for every function within the Church. Even though mission means more than just evangelism, mission without evangelism is incomplete. Too often, we have been afraid to be faithful to the imperatives of the mandate from Jesus Christ. Our Anglican integrity demands that we hold ourselves accountable to our duty as Christians to declare our faith, in season and out of season. Bringing in new believers gives rise to new experiences and thus new gifts to the life of the Church. The Church, in return, is challenged to engage in theological reflection and public witness.

6. Interfaith dialogue — The example of Mauritius is precious. It is a small nation, unheard of by many, with few natural resources. What it does have, however, is the deep-rooted respect of its inhabitants for a diversity of beliefs. There are occasional frictions and disgruntlements. However, for the past 45 years of independent life, the Mauritian nation has succeeded in embracing its internal differences and using them as a force for development. In this, it has emulated no one. The strength of this unity shows that it comes from humanity’s inherent thirst for oneness. In the words of M.M Thomes, a lay theologian, “Mission is Humanisation.” Do not believe those who say that people are meant for division. As husband and wife are one, and as we are one with God, our Anglican Communion is our very strength.

We are a people called by God to be his servants, his disciples. May he bless us as we embark on the reformation arising from the divine opportunity that the present crisis offers us. May he guide us in our quest, illuminate our understanding, and inspire our teaching for his honor and glory.

The Most Rev. Ian Ernest is archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean and Bishop of Mauritius, and a member of the Living Church Foundation.

Image of Ian Ernest by Sue Careless


Online Archives