Saturday, August 29, 2009

Christian Unity & Faith and Order

The Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Episcopal Church has issued a Handbook for Ecumenism, most recently revised in 2007. It states, on page 8, that "the story of the Episcopal Church in the ecumenical movement has yet to be written," and goes on to say that the story may be said to begin in the 19th century with the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.

In 1870, an Episcopal priest, William Reed Huntington, published The Church Idea -- An Essay Towards Unity in which he proposed what later became the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Most of the 1886 resolution adopted by the House of Bishops in Chicago is printed on pages 876-877 of the 1979 Prayer Book. In paragraph 4 the bishops declare
That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world.
At General Convention in 1910, Charles Brent, Missionary Bishop of the Phillipines, suggested a world conference on faith and order and a motion by the rector of Trinity Church in New York City, William T. Manning, was became the first formal proposal for a World Conference on Faith and Order. The first conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927, and Bishop Brent was elected its President.

The first North American Conference on Faith and Order was held at Oberlin, Ohio in 1957. In October, 2005, the National Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order issued a Faith and Order Commission Handbook which contains a brief history of Faith and Order written by Sr. Lorelei F. Fuchs, SA. She writes:
To date Faith and Order is the most comprehensive theological forum gathering together representatives of Christian churches to work towards the visible unity of the one church of Jesus Christ. It embraces more Christians and churches than the World Council of Churches. Serving this movement at the global level is the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. Similar structures exist on other levels – national, regional and local. This world commission describes its meaning and purpose in its by-laws:
to proclaim the oneness of the Church of Jesus Christ, to call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ, in order that the world may believe
Oneness of the church of Jesus Christ... visible unity in faith and eucharistic fellowship... worship... common life... so that the world may believe... These concerns are the heart of this unity movement, which identifies two spheres that frame their consideration.

“Faith” is the first of two spheres that expresses the goal of Christian unity in the Faith and Order movement. Behind the “faith” sphere is the desire for visible unity in the essentials of Christian faith, life and witness that inspired the churches to come together in a conciliar structure at the turn of the twentieth century. Regarding “faith,” the purpose of the Faith and Order movement is to unearth the common ground that is at the root which binds Christian creed and confession.

“Order” is the second sphere that expresses the goal of Christian unity in the Faith and Order movement. At the centre of the “order” sphere is the ecclesial praxis of the Christian way of life. Concerning “order,” Faith and Order’s purpose is to discern the ways to mutual recognition and reconciliation of Christian spiritual and sacramental life, Christian mission and ministry.

Together, “faith” and “order” unite in a “movement” enabling the churches to enter into the theological dialogue and reflection necessary to discern and transcend the differences that are church dividing and to recognize and articulate the bonds that are uniting. The dimension of “faith,” then, focuses on doctrinal matters of faith, sacraments, mission and ministry. The dimension of “order” focuses on the form or polity or discipline of these matters. That Faith and Order is a “movement” means that it is not a static entity but a journey towards unity with a direction that is
charted and followed by diverse routes. Rather than a mapped-out blueprint, the movement’s goal of the visible unity of the church is understood as gift and call – a gift from God revealed in the response to a call to fellowship, communion, koinonia. Various structures support this movement.

Sustaining the world movement of faith and order is the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. This commission consists of a secretariat, programmes of studies and world conferences. These latter, the world conferences, are the peaks of ongoing theological work and prayer that is carried out in the valleys and plains of everyday life lived as an ecumenical Christian. Parallel structures exist on national, regional and local levels.

This coming October, the Faith and Order Plenary Commission of the World Council of Churcvhes will meet in Crete. Among the items on the agenda are:
  • Sources of authority

By looking at how churches use sources of authority, the commission will take a new approach to the old debate around "Scripture versus Tradition", moving it from a theoretical discussion towards a sharing of experiences.

  • Moral discernment

Through the examination of case studies – some of them on controversial issues like proselytism, homosexuality and stem-cell research – the commission will critically look at how churches arrive at their positions on moral issues. The goal is to begin the process of developing an ecumenically recognized set of steps for the churches' moral discernment.

These seem to me to be important questions -- and like many of the issues that Fiath and Order has taken up in the past, they are not easy.

The current WCC director of Faith and Order is Canadian Anglican theologian Canon Dr John Gibaut.

Let me reiterate that I think that someone at the Anglican Communion Office or the Anglican Consultative Council blundered when they put together the title "Unity, Faith and Order." My wife Liz points out that the names of the two previos commissions -- the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and the Theological and Doctrinal Commission -- were clear and communicated what the commissions were about. The name of the Commission for Unity, Faith and Order is unclear, unless you realize that "Unity" and "Faith and Order" are technical terms that have ecumenical reference. The name is also unfortunate in that it lends itself to a risible acronym, which has been used by Adrian Worsfold not just once or twice on his own blog, but also at the Daily Episcopalian. Sad to say, Grandmère Mimi picked it up here and here.

Now that I've said all that, it's only fair to point out a few facts.

On The Anglican Communion Official Website is this page:

Ecumenical Affairs - Commissions IASCUFO

IASCUFO - Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity Faith and Order

IASCUFO’s mandate was approved by the Joint Standing Committee in November 2008.

The Standing Commission shall have responsibility:
  • to promote the deepening of Communion between the Churches of the Anglican Communion, and between those Churches and the other churches and traditions of the Christian oikumene
  • to advise the Provinces and the Instruments of Communion on all questions of ecumenical engagement, proposals for national, regional or international ecumenical agreement or schemes of co-operation and unity, as well as on questions touching Anglican Faith and Order
  • to review developments in the areas of faith, order or unity in the Anglican Communion and among ecumenical partners, and to give advice to the Churches of the Anglican Communion or to the Instruments of Communion upon them, with the intention to promote common understanding, consistency, and convergence both in Anglican Communion affairs, and in ecumenical engagement
  • to assist any Province with the assessment of new proposals in the areas of Unity, Faith and Order as requested.

The first meeting of IASCUFO will be in Canterbury in December 2009.

Note that the Commission's mandate was approved the Joint Standing Committee in November 2008.

The Windsor Continuation Group Report to the Archbishop of Canterbury, dated 17 December 2008, refers to the IASCUFO. I have been unable to find any reference to the IASCUFO before May, 2009, although there is discussion of the report the Windsor Continuation Group starting about February.

Two resolutions of the May 2009 meeting of the Anglican Conultative Council (ACC-14) refer to IASCUFO. In section g of Resolution 14.09, the ACC
asks the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order to undertake a study of the role and responsibilities in the Communion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting; the ecclesiological rationale of each, and the relationships between them, in line with the Windsor Continuation Group Report, and to report back to ACC-15;
and Resolution 14.10 reads
The Anglican Consultative Council, in the light of the Resolution 14.08 of ACC-14 on the WCG Report, asks that the report of the study undertaken by IASCUFO includes a study of the existing papers developed within our Communion and of current best practices in governance for multi-layered complex organizations, and makes recommendations to ACC-15 on ways in which the effectiveness of the Instruments of Communion may be enhanced.
The reference to 14.08 is a mistake -- they meant section g of 14.09 quoted above.

There's plenty there to brood on, but I don't think it's necessarily ominous. The questions they are asked to study are profound ones. I'm going to leave it there for now.

NOTE TO READERS, IF I HAVE ANY: I'll have very limited time on the internet from now until next Thursday, September 3.

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