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Archives: The 1920 Lambeth Programme for Unity

This month marks the centenary of the groundbreaking 1920 Lambeth Conference, whose Appeal to All Christian People, with its opening salvo, “God wills fellowship,” is a seminal text of the ecumenical movement. Over the course of several issues in August and September 1920, The Living Church published in full the main texts issued by the gathered bishops.  The September 18 issue included a lengthy editorial by Frederic Cook Morehouse (1868-1932), editor from 1900-1932. We include excerpts below.

The main theme of the Lambeth Conference is the reunion of the Church, and it is beyond question that this problem elicited the greatest attention on the part of the bishops. In some respects, they may be said to have adopted a new line of thought on this well-worn subject. They are certainly much more definite in their appeal. We can appreciate that it was with grave anxiety that some of the bishops cast their vote. Yet all the reports speak of the remarkable unanimity with which the pronouncements on unity were adopted…

“The Anglican Communion … is no longer predominantly Anglo-Saxon in race, nor can it be expected that it will attach special value to Anglo-Saxon traditions.”

We may say frankly that there are details that we should not be willing to incorporate in the law of the American Church, and there are obscurities in which only great wisdom in administration can prevent grave danger; yet on the whole we deem the action wise and statesmanlike beyond almost anything that has heretofore been set forth by the Anglican episcopate.

The keynote of all the action seems to us to lie in this sentence of the Encyclical: “Because our Church has spread over the world, and still more because we desire to enter into the worldwide fellowship of a reunited universal Church, we must begin now to clear ourselves of local, sectional, and temporary prepossessions, and cultivate a sense of what is universal and genuinely Catholic, in truth and in life.” Even more definite is the frank avowal in the committee report: “The Anglican Communion … is no longer predominantly Anglo-Saxon in race, nor can it be expected that it will attach special value to Anglo-Saxon traditions. … As the years go on, its ideals must become less Anglican and more Catholic. It cannot look to any bonds of union holding it together, other than those which should hold together the Catholic Church itself.”

There could not be a more definite avowal of the Catholic position nor a more complete repudiation of that narrow conception which deems it disloyal for us to move one jot away from the English Reformation. This perspective must be read into all the resolutions and all the resolutions must be interpreted by it. The bishops are frankly not careful to be Anglican, while very careful indeed to be Catholic. “The one Body exists. It needs not to be made, nor to be remade, but to become organic and visible.”

The influence of the Anglo Catholic Congress is seen in the bold statement: “If the authorities of other communions should so desire, we are persuaded that, terms of union having been otherwise satisfactorily adjusted, bishops and clergy of our communion would willingly accept from these authorities”—i.e. “the authorities of other communions” — “a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations.” This is much more than Anglican bishops have ever said before. It can only mean that if the Catholic world sees a bar to unity in the circumstances under which the historic ministry was preserved in England during the period in which the Ordinal has been attacked, successfully or unsuccessfully, their own participation in our ordinations such as may cure whatever they may deem to be defects will be welcomed, provided that we can reach the stage where nothing else than this stands in the way of reunion.

Thus holding, they are justified in expressing the hope “that the same motive would lead ministers who have not received it to accept a commission through episcopal ordination, as obtaining for them a ministry throughout the whole fellowship.” Acknowledging “all those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have been baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity, as sharing with us membership in the universal Church of Christ which is His Body”, there is no trace of the popular heresy that all denominations are integral parts of that Church.

IT IS EVIDENT that the bishops deem that the time long prayed-for when Protestantism should break up and a general return to the Church should be possible is near at hand. Whether they be right or wrong, it is undoubtedly our duty to prepare for that break-up; and especially is it the duty of Catholic Churchmen to be most sympathetic and to leave no stone unturned to see that the way of return be made as easy as possible while yet the Catholic securities of the Church he in no way undermined. We must carry out the bishops’ idea of setting forth what is Catholic rather than what is Anglican…

As to provisions for extending what the Church deems a valid Holy Communion to [Protestants] we shall deem it essential that (a) their corporate authority shall first accept the principle of Confirmation as binding upon them, and shall make provision whereby ultimately the duty of being confirmed shall be laid upon their people: (b) it shall be made clear to the bishop that Holy Communion will be administered and received only under thoroughly reverent conditions; (c) that the people shall be sufficiently taught what is involved in that sacrament so that their reception of it may be an intelligent act; and (d) that the people themselves, and not merely their ministers or ecclesiastical authorities, shall make known their desire for a new relationship in the Church.

If these conditions be accepted, the temporary waiver of confirmation to the individual (but not to the corporate group) may be justified; the requirement of Confirmation is preliminary to Holy Communion being purely Anglican and in no sense Catholic. The condition thus created will be comparable with that in our own Church when bishops had first been obtained. Nobody supposes that on a given day every individual accustomed to receive Holy Communion immediately became confirmed. The Church had her rule and the people gradually conformed to it. This will be the natural course when the episcopate is introduced where it is now lacking. But the principle of Confirmation must be accepted, we are confident, before closer relations can be established.

For ourselves we shall cling tenaciously to our own godly discipline, as to so much else that is Anglican; we shall urgently recommend it to all the Christian world; but we have no more right to demand that it be so accepted by other Christian people than that Penance also be accepted by them as the invariable preparation for the individual to receive the Holy Communion. There is as much Catholic authority for the one as for the other; the one is Anglican and the other Roman discipline, and both communions are within their rights in enforcing their respective disciplines among their own people; but, without prejudice to the intrinsic value of the one or the other discipline to the individual, we have no right to lay either upon Christians of other communions as their invariable preparation for the greater sacrament. Yet Confirmation is so essential a part of the Catholic faith and practice that we could not feel justified in extending the priesthood to any Christian group that did not accept it in principle and was not ready to begin to introduce it in practice.

There are difficult days and difficult questions ahead for the Church in working out the tenders that our bishops have made. Various other comments as to details must be made before actual tenders can be made. We have confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us in what lies ahead; and we thank God for this vision of unity that He has unfolded to the Anglican episcopate.




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