Church stays committed to unity

By on September 1, 1998

The Lambeth Conference sent a stong message of committment to church unity.

The bishops recommitted the international Anglican Church to journey towards “the full, visible unity of the church as the goal of the ecumenical movement,” and voted to strengthen the role of its own major ecumenical agency.

“As bishops, the visible unity of the church is a vital part of our ministry,” said Bishop Jabez Bryce of Polynesia, who introduced the report and resolutions from the conference’s Section 4. The section, comprised of approximately 200 bishops, discussed the theme, Called to be One.

After reaffirming the Anglican commitment to unity, the resolution, approved by the conference, encourages the Anglican provinces that have already formed close inter-church relationships to continue to fine tune those links. In ecumenical circles, “visible unity” can show up in steps such as common confession of the creeds, sharing of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist, and recognition of each other’s clergy and joint decision-making.

The resolution recognizes that in moving toward full visible union between the churches, certain anomalies may arise which “may be bearable” for the sake of achieving unity. The report lists as an example the problem of overlapping jurisdictions, that is, when the territory overseen by the bishop of one church body overlaps with the territory of a bishop of another church body.

Such a situation exists in parts of Europe as the result of the 1996 Porvoo Declaration, an ecumenical agreement between the Anglican churches of Great Britain and the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, which establishes communion between those churches.

The conference also voted to set up a new international commission that will not only monitor the range of official inter-church dialogues around the Anglican world, but also intervene “to ensure theological consistency in dialogues.”

Under the terms of the resolution, when a proposed new inter-church agreement between an Anglican province and another denomination “affects the life of the communion as a whole,” the new commission would refer the matter to the Primates Meeting before the province enters the new relationship.

As proof of the renewed commitment to ecumenism, the bishops discussed the rapidly expanding Pentecostal “emerging churches.”

“For the very first time (Lambeth is) taking seriously the vast quantity of Christian people who assemble in new churches and independent Christian groups,” said Bishop Stephen Sykes of Ely, England, vice-chairman of the conference section that focused on dialogue with other churches.

Research shows, Bishop Sykes said, “there are 480 million people who belong to Pentecostal churches or are associated with charismatic churches in the world.”

He said the bishops in the sub-section looking at growth of Pentecostalism and its ramifications “have taken a generally positive view of our relationship with them. They have a lot to teach us.”

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