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 Issues | Anglican Communion | True Unity
Unity of the Communion


What truly holds the Anglican Communion together?

In the first instance it is a shared history. Most of the Communion has arisen from the colonial expansion of the British empire and from missionary zeal (largely evangelical). For this reason there is an emotional attachment to the Church of England as, in some sense the mother Church. However, this is not always healthy and it is reported that in the past there has been unnecessary deference to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Today the shared history manifests itself in a network of contacts between both organizations and individuals. This is not something that can be manufactured or controlled and it is a glorious reminder that the Christian church is not a hierarchical structure. Today mission is being shared and thankfully the needs to evangelise afresh the western world (including some of the churches) is beginning to impinge itself on the Communion.

Secondly we have, at least in theory, a shared faith. This is part of the historic reality. Most of the churches in the communion have in their background the 1662 Book of Common Prayer even though in some instances they have doctored it. All share, on paper, a commitment to the historic creeds and of course to the authority of scripture. The place where this is set out is the Lambeth Quadrilateral. This statement was set out first by the Protestant Episcopal Church at Chicago in 1886 and then was adopted by the Lambeth Conference in 1888. The Quadrilateral is often simply quoted as being 'scripture', 'the creeds', 'the sacraments' and the 'bishops'. However, the statement is much more thorough. The quadrilateral quotes Article 6 in part and goes on to assert that scripture is the rule and ultimate standard of faith. This, as the 39 articles makes clear, submits the Church to scripture and not the other way around. The endorsement of Bishops is also in terms of the historic episcopate but locally adapted, implying, as is blindingly obvious, that episcopacy is a development consistent with scripture which is therefore adaptable to local circumstance rather than being set down as an absolute pattern in scripture.

If this is the basis of our communion it is small wonder that it is now under threat. There is no reason to suppose that the bonds forged in history are any weaker today but the destructive influence of liberalism, which is, by definition, a movement away from apostolic Christianity, will always damage the concept of a shared faith. Even if the whole communion today were convinced of the claims of liberalism we would still not have communion with those of the past who upheld the apostolic teaching.

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Anglican Communion Pages
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