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 Issues | General Synod | Report February 2009

General Synod

Church As Communion (ARCIC 1991)


Motion before Synod

The General Synod is being asked to “take note” of a briefing paper, GS1713 by the Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG) of the Council for Christian Unity.  This paper in turn is  an overview and assessment of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) report Church as Communion which was Issued in 1991.

Thus, the Synod motion does not amount to an endorsement or otherwise of the ARCIC report although there have been complaints for many years that the ARCIC reports are presented as authoritative reports from the Church of England, and other Anglican provinces, without ever being endorsed as such.

The report is being debated now, 17 years after publication, because the General Synod has requested a debate.  The occasion is also being used to give a platform to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of the Roman province of Westminster.  The Cardinal is due to step down as Archbishop and there has been speculation that his replacement will be more conservative. This is significant because the Vatican has become cooler about the ecumenical movement both whilst the present Bishop of Rome was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and since his present appointment. 

ARCIC was closed down a few years ago and replaced by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM).

The FOAG Report

As with the last ARCIC report to be debated by General Synod (The Gift of Authority) the assessment in the official briefing paper is far from glowing.  Whereas in the past the official responses seemed to ecumenism a more realistic approach has been adopted regarding the problems and differences in seeking a way forward.  In part this has been because of the conservative shift in the Vatican and their over criticism of Anglicans because of the ordination of women and the promotion of sexual immorality.

After a brief analysis and listing some of the “important” things said in Church as Communion the FOAG report sets out six “difficulties” under the headings:

"a. ‘Given that it was published in 1991, Church as Communion is now out of date.’

b. ‘Church as Communion mistakenly assumes that we can base what we say about the Church on the doctrine of the Trinity.’ 

c. ‘The report’s use of koinonia is problematic because there is a continuing debate amongst biblical scholars about the meaning (or meanings) of this term in the New Testament.’

d. ‘The report uses ‘communion’ to refer to a range of different realities (the lifeof the Trinity, the unity of Christians with God and each other, the visible unity of bodies of Christians and the destiny of the cosmos), without making clear how these different uses relate to one another.’

e. ‘The report wrongly suggests that ’communion’ is the key to New Testament teaching on the Church and that all the other images used for the Church have to be understood in the light of it.’

f. ‘There is a lack of coherence between what is said about the fundamental nature of the Church in sections I-III and what is said in sections IV and V about the requirements for church unity (‘ecclesial communion’) and communion between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.’ "

These are all fair criticisms of the report but they are by no means the end of it.

Further problems are set out in a separate analysis from Church Society.

Passing or not-passing a “take note” motion on GS1713 is largely inconsequential.  On balance it is probably best not passed to leave no doubt that the ARCIC report in unacceptable.  More likely however is a following motion which will either be specifically positive, or negative, about aspects of the report.

David Phillips, January 2009

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