United by Baptism

What does it mean to live in communion within Anglicanism? The Rt. Rev. Victor Atta-Baffoe, Bishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, explored that question in the 2014 Cheney Lecture delivered at Berkeley Divinity School’s Fall Convocation.

A survey of the growth and development of the global Anglican Communion provided background. Without forgetting its past, he said, the modern Communion has nevertheless “outgrown its Englishness,” and “moment by moment becomes more integrated, more incarnated, and more contextualized.”

Consistent with this inculturation is Anglicanism’s resistance to centralization, affirmed by successive Lambeth Conferences. That ethos has found practical expression in “the shift from ‘missions’ to ‘mission’” — an understanding that “every church within the Communion is both on the receiving side as well as the giving side.” Bishop Atta-Baffoe lauded this shift as “an invitation to celebrate our unity in our diversity.”

But where is such unity born? The Church’s unity is never mere like-mindedness. Neither can it be enforced by cleaving to historic documents. Rather, Bishop Atta-Baffoe argued that the true source of unity for Anglicans must always be “the fact of One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.”

Anglican unity  is not an exercise of choice but a result of grace. God himself draws us into koinonia — a sacrificial, edifying, and compassionate fellowship.

Exegeting Genesis 1-3, Bishop Atta-Baffoe noted that koinonia is fundamental to human existence: “The creation of Adam … is not just a story of some individual, but it is about humanity.” Sin (both individual and systemic) shatters our fellowship with God and one another. The Church, as reconciled reconciler, has the task of restoring koinonia.

But because “there cannot be true communion in the context of inequality,” Bishop Atta-Baffoe highlighted two guiding principles for Anglicans in koinonia.

The first, “Communion of resources,” represents “the weakest link in the life of the Communion” today. This is not because the rich refuse to give to the poor but because “it virtually eludes the readiness of the rich to be gracious recipients of what the poor have to offer.”

The second principle acknowledges that Anglicans are indeed a “Communion of the poor.” African Anglicans (who comprise more than half the Communion) live in “poverty and pain,” the bishop said. But the God-wrought koinonia between rich and poor “attests to the fact that the measure of true communion within the Anglican Communion really consists of the power of the Spirit at work among those who acknowledge and demonstrate their need for each other — and not their need for each other’s treasures.”

Bishop Atta-Baffoe concluded by addressing “the crisis of theology in the Anglican Communion.” Not focusing on any one theological dispute, he raised instead the more general danger of theological discourse divorced from the life of faith.

For a salutary counter-example, Bishop Atta-Baffoe turned to Richard Hooker’s writings on the Incarnation and the Trinity. Describing those great mysteries of unity and diversity as, “for Hooker, the archetype of our participation in the Church,” Bishop Atta-Baffoe envisioned a renewed theology of mutuality and participation: “Christ in the people, people in Christ, and people to one another. This is the sacramental life of the Church which is expressed in our common life and worship.”

God’s work —begun in Baptism and sustained in the community gathered around the eucharistic table — is the source and ground of unity within the Anglican Communion. Bishop Atta-Baffoe voiced an urgent hope that Anglicans everywhere might see, believe, and live the truth that “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.”

Dane Boston

TLC on Facebook TLC on Twitter TLC’s feed TLC’s weblog, Covenant Subscribe


Online Archives