1c. Ecumenical contexts of Anglicanism today

The Agros report (1997) was prepared for the Lambeth Conference of 1998 as an up-to-the-minute survey of the various ecumenical partnerships and conversations in the Anglican Communion

Anglican world magazine has an "ecumenical portal" with helpful and interesting links

The Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in the Episcopal Church has a very full and helpful website

An ecumenical timeline by an Anglican layperson in Kansas City, MO, gives a bird's-eye view of recent ecumenical history

A PDF history of the ecumenical movement on the website of the National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers [Roman Catholic]

Resources for the agreement between the Lutheran Church (ELCA) and Episcopal Church in the USA

The final report of ARCIC 1






Ecumenism and Anglican identity

Considering that there are a great many Christian traditions and communions, each with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, we might ask:

  • What (if anything) is essential to Anglican identity that can't be found elsewhere in the Christian world?
  • What (if anything) should Anglicans refuse to give up in ecumenical dialogue and reunion?
  • What might Anglicans have to learn from other traditions?

Unlike some Christian communions, Anglicanism has never claimed to be the one true church. See, for example, Article XXXIV of the Articles of Religion, and the Original Preface to the Book of Common Prayer.

Some Anglicans have contended, however, that their church is the best. Typically they have argued on one of the following two grounds:

  • Anglicanism has the best and purest blend of evangelical truth with catholic order.
  • Anglicanism is "mere Christianity"; that is, it requires only the proclamation of Christ crucified, the witness of the Scriptures, and the sacraments duly administered, without any other superadded requirements (such as an Augsburg Confession, an infallible papacy, a Westminster Catechism, the first seven ecumenical Councils, a certain view of glossolalia, etc.).

On the other hand, other Anglicans have thought that the vocation of their church was to disappear.

An historical overview of Anglicans and ecumenism

Before the Reformation. By and large, the Church of England recognizes those churches, traditions, and movements recognized by Rome, and not others.

The Reformation and early Stuart periods, 1547-1640. Anti-Roman feeling is often strong, except in the reign of Queen Mary, a Roman Catholic. There is a general recognition of the Protestant churches on the continent. The main theological rationale for recognizing the legitimacy of other Protestant churches is called "adiaphorism": those matters of governing structure and liturgical text by which Anglicans are distinguished from Lutherans and Calvinists are usually not matters of revealed eternal truth, but only adiaphora ("things indifferent"). Ministers ordained on the continent are sometimes licensed by a Church of England bishop even though they have not been episcopally ordained.

At the Restoration. Reacting against the excesses of the Puritan party and Cromwell's regime, Parliament passes the Act of Uniformity in 1661, forbidding the ministry of clergy who have not been episcopally ordained, and forbidding non-Anglican liturgy (with certain exceptions, mainly for resident foreigners). The rationale is that a legitimate organizational structure and liturgy are essential to a true Church: Anglicans have these, but Protestants without a proven episcopal succession don't. This policy is opposed by "whigs" or "low-church" Anglicans who continue to think that only "adiaphora" separate Anglicans from other mainstream Protestants. The whigs gather strength after the Revolution, and Parliament passes the Act of Toleration of 1689, permitting the licensing of non-Anglican chapels under certain circumstances.

The Georgian and early Victorian periods. Low-church and evangelical Anglicans are increasingly polarized from high-church and (after the 1830s) Anglo-Catholic Anglicans in their ecumenical attitudes. The former cooperate readily with non-Anglicans in social ministries, the Sunday School movement, missions, education, evangelism, prayer meetings, and so on. The latter regard such cooperation with suspicion and hostility. In Toronto in the 1840s, for instance, Anglican evangelicals such as Robert Baldwin champion ecumenical (Protestant) education in the University of Toronto; high-church Anglicans such as John Strachan and A.N. Bethune vehemently oppose it, and found Trinity College in protest. In England in 1841, a low-church archbishop of Canterbury begins cooperating with (non-episcopal) Prussian Lutherans in a new diocese of Jerusalem; the scandal leads directly to the decision by the Anglo-Catholic John Henry Newman to become a Roman Catholic.

The ecumenical movement. In the 1870s Anglicans increasingly agree that ecumenical dialogue with other Protestant churches is permissible so long as these others recognize, or will consider recognizing, the Scriptures, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, the two sacraments, and the historic episcopate.  (This view is called "the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.)  Social activist movements and world missions frequently involve Anglicans in cooperative arrangements with non-Anglicans. Ecumenical conferences and associations develop; many have Anglican leaders (e.g., J.H. Oldham at the Edinburgh Conference of 1910; C.H. Brent at the Lausanne Conference of 1927; William Temple, pictured right, World Council of Churches, 1948). In the latter half of the twentieth century, bilateral dialogues become an important instrument of Anglican ecumenical work; the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC), begun in 1967, is perhaps the most noteworthy of these.

Local interest

Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929), born in Newcastle, Canada West, and an 1884 graduate of Trinity College, Toronto, helped organize the first Faith and Order Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927. He was successively bishop of the Philippines and of Western New York. He is honoured in the calendars of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church on the date of his death, March 27. A posthumous work of his is a choice on the "Great Anglican Books" list for this course.