Evidently Justin Welby stirred up more than this blog by his backhanded comments regarding the ACNA and the Anglican Communion. It’s unsurprising that some of the provinces at least have taken offence to them. In Australia, with their interesting system of provinces, dioceses and extraprovincial diocese (Tasmania) we have the Diocese of Northwest Australia warmly greeting the ACNA as part of the Anglican Communion.
The whole concept of Northwest Australia upstaging Canterbury is a heartening concept to those of us who like to remind the Brits that their isles are such as wonderful place they filled two continents with the people who wanted or had to leave. That said, not to be outdone by the western extreme of the country, the Diocese of Sydney’s Mark Thompson has weighed in on why ACNA is part of the Anglican Communion: because the Anglican Communion is confessional in nature, the ACNA confesses the faith (as opposed to some provinces that, ahem, don’t) therefore they are in the AC.
Thompson’s idea is no stranger to this blog: he’s at the centre of his diocese’s musings over the subordination of the Son to the Father. Like that theological adventure, his thesis that the AC is primarily confessional in nature is necessary but not sufficient; it needs some further thinking out to get Anglicans where they need to go and not to lead them once again to where they don’t need to go.
There are many denominational fellowships in Christianity. We think first of the National and World Councils of Churches, united in their unbelief. More germane to the topic are groups of denominations which are similar in their beliefs but not institutionally unified; Baptist fellowships, Pentecostal fellowships and the like. These have doctrinal statements and commitments of the organisations which are similar to their own statements; a kind of confessional unity can be seen in groupings such as these.
The Anglican Communion, however, implies something stronger than that. The obvious unity is communion itself, and we’ve seen that broken even at the primitial level for some time now. Beyond that, any group of churches which claim the Apostolic Succession in one form or another (and I’ve been round and round on that topic too) need to have some kind of institutional unity that reflects their common origin.
This is where things get tricky. We get back to the question that has haunted Christianity for centuries: what do we do when those who can trace their institutional lineage to those who walked the Earth with Our Lord depart from his teachings? In a sense the Reformation centres around this question, and the answers weren’t univocal then and aren’t now. The Anglican Communion is, in a sense, the gathering of those churches who believe that the results of the English Reformation were, and are, the optimal result.
Now we’ve seen further successors depart from the faith, and the same question comes back: what is to be done? Confessional unity is important, it’s something that Anglicans too often treat with benign neglect. We’ve never really been able to afford that luxury, we really can’t now. As things stand now, the Anglican Communion isn’t working, and pulling rank like Justin Welby is doing, with the state of the church in the Global North, will only put the Communion on hospice.
What Orthodox Anglicans need to do is to find a way to make Canterbury portable, whether the current occupant of that see likes it or not.