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Justin Welby's definition of Anglican Communion sinks in

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
August 8, 2022

I get it! I finally, finally, finally get it. And I have danced with the Anglicans since 1965, when my father was hired by Bishop Henry I. Loutitt Senior (III South Florida), as an administrator for an Episcopal nursing home in what is now the Diocese of Central Florida.

But at Saturday's (Aug. 6) final Lambeth Conference press event ("presser" in journalese), the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "We are a 'communion of churches,' not 'a church' and it has always been that understanding that there is no universal jurisdiction."

Eureka! The light bulb went off in my head -- each individual Anglican province is its own separate denomination. This is why Resolution 1:10 has become so problematic. This is why the various Anglican provinces have vastly different understandings of -- what I would consider -- basic Christian doctrine. This is why some Anglican provinces embrace same-sex marriage and ordain transgender clergy, while other provinces recoil at the mere thought.

"Church" is described as a Christian denomination. That is a distinct religious body within Christianity that comprises all church congregations of the same kind that are identifiable by traits such as a common name, particular history, organizational setup, leadership, theological doctrine, worship style and its common founder.

Denominations are autonomous church branches within Christianity which agree to the basic tenets of faith including Jesus Christ and His Cross. But they diverge in piety and practice such as with baptism (infant baptism versus Believer's Baptism); Holy Communion (Real Presence versus symbolic, and wine versus grape juice); sexual morality (traditional marriage versus same-sex unions); women's ordination (an all-male pastorate versus women priestesses and bishopettes); Who God Is (Father, Son and Holy Spirit versus Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier); or views on Scripture (Biblical inerrancy versus Bible infallibility).

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that Anglicanism is not a "church" but a "communion of churches," so each province is in reality a stand-alone Church.

"No Province may intervene in another Province or group of Provinces intervene in another Province," the Archbishop of Canterbury cautioned against province border crossing.

"The Anglican Communion is a 'communion,' it is not a hierarchy," Justin Welby reiterated during a pre-Lambeth news conference. "We don't give each other orders; our Provinces are autonomous but interdependent. And that means we can't order each other around, and I praise God for that."

An ecclesial "communion" is an established relationship of full agreement among different denominations that share certain essential principles of Christian theology such as the Eucharist, doctrine, and ecclesiology.

Because of Justin Welby's definition of ecclesial communion, the Anglican Provinces are in intra-communion with each other, but some Anglicans -- The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada -- are in intercommunion with the Lutherans, but not with the Baptists because the Baptists have a completely different understanding of Holy Communion than the Lutherans and Anglicans do. Each individual Anglican Province is able to determine for itself which churches and denominations it will enter into shared Communion fellowship with.

The Anglican Communion as we know it today had its origins with the Archbishop of Canterbury Charles Langley and the first Lambeth Conference in 1868. It has been called Lambeth Conference because it originally met at Lambeth Palace, but once there were too many bishops attending for Lambeth Palace to accommodate the Conference was moved to the University of Canterbury, but the on-going event kept the same name.

Both the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is considered the" Primus inter pares" (first among equals), and the Lambeth Conference are two of the four Instruments of Communion with the others being the Anglican Consultative Council established in 1968, and the Primates' Meeting first gathering in 1979. There was some talk about establishing a fifth Instrument of Communion at this Lambeth Conference, but that idea went down in flames.

The provinces of the Anglican Communion are considered independent (free from outside control and outside authority); interdependent (where the provinces mutually help each other to achieve by support with financial assistance and the sharing of other resources); and autonomous (with its own system of self-governance). However, they share the same Anglican formularies in common as they share in ecumenical collaboration with each other to a point.

The Global South Anglicans are in broken communion with the Episcopalians and that rift has been growing since it started out with first the ordination of women. That action frayed the edges of the fabric of the Communion and then exploded over the consecration of an openly gay bishop thus fully tearing the fabric of the Anglican Communion.

Several of the Anglican provinces use the name Church, but not the term Anglican in their official designation including: the Church of Bangladesh, the Church of the Province of Central Africa, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of England, the Church of Pakistan, Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean, Church of Ireland, Church of the Provinces of Myanmar, Church of Nigeria, Church of North India, Church of South India, Province of the Episcopal Church in South Sudan, Province of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Church of the Province of Uganda, the Church in Wales, the Church in the Province of the West Indies, and The Episcopal Church which its official corporate name is: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Protestant Episcopal Church in The United States of America.

In an interview with the Episcopal News Service, Mary Glasspool (New York assistant) fleshed it out: "the Anglican Communion has not been anything but a loosely knit fellowship of churches identified either by their nation or their ethnicity."

"The Anglican Communion is not held together by a formal constitution or international church law, but rather by a shared heritage, by ways of worshipping and by the relationships--the "bonds of affection"--between its members worldwide," the Church of England defines the Anglican Communion on its website.

It seems that the only thing which holds Anglicans together is not adherence and fidelity to Scripture, but rather a shared history going back to the English Reformation and Henry VIII, the Book of Common Prayer as a liturgical staple, the Thirty-Nine Articles as a historical document, and a passing reverence for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Everything else seems up for grabs.

There are other denominations, too, which are identified through their national ethnicity.

The Lutherans can be identified through their northern European and Scandinavian national roots. There are the Swedish Lutherans, the Danish Lutherans, the German Lutherans, the Finnish Lutherans, the Norwegian Lutherans, the Baltic Lutherans ...

Even though my name is Mueller, obviously a German name meaning a miller or one who mills, my Lutheran background is Swedish, because it was my Swedish Grandmother -- and not my German Grandfather -- who saw to it that religion was maintained in the household. So, I was baptized by the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church of the old Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Grandpa came from Milwaukee, which was a large German beer town, but Grandma came from Price County in Wisconsin, which was a small Northwoods Swedish settlement. We even lived on "Swede Hill," and I remember learning the lullaby "Children of the Heavenly Father" in Swedish: "Tryggare kan ingen vara."

The Lutheran World Federation is an association (communion) of progressive Lutheran church bodies such as the Church of Sweden, the Church of Norway, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. All Lutheran churches embrace the theology of Martin Luther and hold to the writings contained in the Book of Concord, but they are each a separate denomination.

Confessional Lutheran bodies include the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Lutheran Church--Canada, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

My sister, who recently died, became a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran when she married, so then she was no longer in ecclesial communion with Ma and me for she was in a different Lutheran denomination. Through the years, the Swedish Lutheran Church morphed into the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) which morphed into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Members were forbidden by their church canon to participate in other denominational Communion services, including in other Lutheran churches.

And now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has split, forming the theologically conservative North American Lutheran Church (NALC). This action is just as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is the theologically conservative branch of Anglicanism in the United States.

Each conservative or liberal Lutheran body has a common heritage dating back to Martin Luther and the Continental Reformation, Luther's Large and Small Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession, the Book of Concord, Lutheran hymnology.They cherish Luther's Rose which is a symbol of Lutheranism just as the Compass Rose is a symbol of Anglicanism.

The Lutherans are a part of the Porvoo Communion as are the Anglicans. And as such they share an altar and pulpit fellowship with each other within the 15 member churches (nine Lutheran and six Anglican) of the northern European ecclesial communion.

The forming of like polity ecclesial communions is a form of ecumenism, where Christians who belong to different churches (denominations) work together to develop closer relationships between themselves to promote Christian unity.

There is also the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe, a common fellowship of various Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Evangelical denominations, all who have signed the Levenberg Agreement, an ecumenical document declaring their common unity through Christ. The Anglicans are not a part of this grouping.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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