Anglicans Online banner
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200 000 readers More than 10 000 links Updated every Sunday


New This Week
Everything new is here.

News Centre
News archive
News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe . . .
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
Beginnings, AO today
About our logo

Support AO
Visit our shop

Make a donation
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

The Octave of Christian Unity (18 to 26 January) came and went whilst we were looking some other way, so on the first Sunday in Lent, even if a bit out of time, we're musing about the whole business of unity, difference, ecumenism, and the idea that we should all be one in Christ.

Separate Tables, a poster from the movie.Ever since the 'Big Break' in 1054 between the western and eastern branches of Christendom, the Church has been, alas, doing more fissuring than mending. Few now probably know the cause of that first world-shattering split. Most of us might be hard pressed to say exactly what caused the Moravians to separate or why the Church of England in South Africa came into existence. Some of us have some superficial idea that the Lutheran Church began with Martin Luther's explosion about indulgences; many still think the Anglican Church was founded by a petulant Henry the Eighth, angry at being denied the annulment he sought.

For deep and serious reasons, Christians, at various flash points throughout history, have left the table to set up one of their own, on another side of the room. We live amongst the detritus of separate tables despite our belief in one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. Steps towards unity, which one would think might be impassioned and exuberant and frequent, have been in our communion historically rare. But disputes between Christians have their origin amongst the apostles, as Bishop Pierre Whalon discusses in his new column, The Conflicts of Apostles. Is conflict sometimes a necessary part of getting to unity?

In England where the church is 'by law established', all down the ages there has been a natural tendency to see the world in terms of Them and Us. 'They're chapel' was a dismissive way of referring to people who didn't attend the parish church. Roman Catholics were prohibited by law from holding public office, those restrictions only easing in the mid-19th century. Being a member of the Church of England was a necessary legal precedent for holding most university or college offices until the 1870s.

The Episcopal Church in the USA, stung by being the 'baggage left behind by the British', fashioned its own early identity through a strict interpretation of apostolic succession and the historical episcopate, which became elevated to nearly divine status. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians all were, according to high-church principles, left to the 'uncovenanted mercies of God', on a par with the 'virtuous heathen'. Episcopal clergy were urged not to take part in general Bible Societies, on the grounds of inappropriate theological fraternising. The push in the late 19th and early 20th century for an 'open pulpit' — allowing non-Episcopal clergy to preach during a service — was viewed with horror by some. A prominent Episcopal rector in Philadelphia fulminated:

The non-Episcopalian to be invited to exercise his homiletical skill upon our poor people may be anyone whom the Bishop thinks can be brought under the very vague designation of a 'Christian man'. We all know perfectly well how this will be interpreted. There are those amongst us, some of them occupying high places of authority, who regard Quakers, unbaptized Baptists, and Unitarians, as Christian men. And there were among the deputies of the Convention those who did not hesitate publicly to avow their conviction on this point. So that there is really no telling what sort of a man a Bishop and a Rector may choose to set as a teacher over a congregation on some special occasion.

After World War I, there was an impatience for getting on with unity. (The War to End All Wars had a way of putting things into perspective.) Charles Henry Brent, a brilliant, gentle Canadian who became a member of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the first bishop of the Philippines, was the moving heart behind the famous Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. Held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1927, it focussed the world's attention on Christian reunion in a more dramatic way than before. The creation of the Church of South India in the 1940s — an extraordinary formal blending of the Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches — is still the most obvious witness to the reunion of a broken Christendom. In England, the Porvoo Agreement in the 1990s formed a bridge between the Church of England and the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches; 2003 saw a covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. In 1997, the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America agreed on intercommunion and the sharing of the ordained ministry. Discussions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have been formalised for years in the ARCIC consultations, and there are various formal bodies in place between various national churches in the Anglican Communion and some of the Orthodox churches. Still, the Church is today broken into 20,000 denominations and this fragmentation must break the heart of God. Keep talking, people. Keep talking.

We don't underestimate the difficulty of reunion. Certainly we should not compromise those principles which the Anglican Communion considers non-negotiable, summarised in the Lambeth Quadrilateral. Yet we must be careful not to be Pharisaical — 'Lord, we thank Thee that we are not as other denominations' — but rather to extend our hands and hearts in generous, extravagant love, seeking reunion with all who follow the cross. As Bishop Brent prayed:

Lord Jesus Christ, who didst stretch out thine arms of love upon the hard wood of the Cross, that all men everywhere might come within the reach of thy saving embrace: So clothe us with thy Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know thee to the knowledge and love of thee; for the honor of thy Name.

See you next week.

Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 29 February 2004

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2004 Society of Archbishop Justus