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.