As the Father has sent me, so I send you. —John 20:21
In the image of God, we the Church are given a share of Christ’s being-sent, as well as a share of that communion he has with the Father and the Spirit. In this time between the Resurrection and return, we are to summon the nations. We see an image of those nations in the Anglican Communion itself: In its missionary work, the Church is not only an instrument of the mission, but is itself a sign and enjoyment of the reconciled communion that we proclaim. We go forth and preach the good news to all creation amid controversy and conflict, as has been true throughout the Church’s history, and we work out our divine calling practically and with “fear and trembling.”
What does this working out in the service of mission and communion look like in the moment in which the triune God has placed us? We do best to think of the Communion’s structures as signs of this divine gift of mission amid conflict.
Our common history as Anglicans is a missionary history: Augustine of Canterbury, the wandering missionary saints among the Britons, the Irish, and the Scots, the great mendicant orders, the Reformers with their emphasis on proclamation, the mission societies, the great evangelists and martyrs of Africa and Asia, those like Newbigin who have struggled for a missional vision in postmodernity. These are among “the great cloud of witnesses” for us seeking now to walk together.
Some theses about our common life.
1. The enduring bond of Anglican churches with the See of Canterbury is a sign of our missional heritage, birthright, and enduring character.
2. Our shared creedal confession (as reiterated in the opening sections of the Anglican Covenant) praises in union the triune God of mission.
3. God has placed us in a moment of historical import, with the emergence to missional leadership of the churches of the Global South, with whom of “bonds of affection,” common counsel, and practical mutual cooperation must be maintained.
4. In the Great Commission sending and teaching are closely connected (Matt. 28:16-18). Churches coming together to deliberate on behalf of the Communion on matters of faith and order make sure that no skandalon is placed in the way of the Gospel.
5. But what have structures to do with the winds of the Spirit in mission anyway? Structures such as the “Instruments of communion” are signs and means of mission in communion over time.
6. Progressive provinces believe they too are pursuing an evangelistic direction, but this new teaching is contrary to that of the Communion as a whole. At the least it requires an extended period of reception, during which time space for conservative parishes and dioceses adhering to the Communion’s teaching should be provided for the sake of their own missionary imperative, and as a bridge to the Communion as a whole.
7. Amid protracted international debate, mission in communion can and should continue at the grassroots. Parishes, dioceses, and provinces maintaining initiatives of mission in communion across lines of difference are their own kind of sign of reconciliation. Obedience to the risen Christ’s command to go is as much lived out from the bottom up as the top down. This on-going and local mission in communion is a valid dimension of our common life and vocation.