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By M. Barratt Davie
July 31, 2022

Yesterday the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) issued a press release at the Lambeth Conference which states that: '.... At the two Conference' Eucharists at Canterbury Cathedral, orthodox bishops will not receive Holy Communion alongside gay-partnered bishops, and those who endorse same-sex unions in the Church's faith and order. They shall remain seated.' [1]

This statement has caused a storm of protest on social media with the accusation being made that GSFA is 'weaponising the Eucharist.' For example, the liberal English Anglican Giles Fraser tweeted 'Disgraceful. This weaponisation of the Eucharist shames the whole Communion.' Fraser and others don't say exactly what they mean by the 'weaponisation of the Eucharist,' but what they seem to mean is that GSFA is misusing the Eucharist to try to win a political power struggle for control of the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Communion as a whole.

In this short paper I shall argue that the claim that the GSFA are illegitimately weaponising the Eucharist in this way is misplaced. The reason I say this is that, as someone who was engaged in Faith and Order work for the Church of England for a decade and a half, I can say with absolute confidence that what GFSA are proposing is in strict accordance with established Anglican ecclesiology and Catholic ecclesiology more widely.

To understand why this is the case a good place to start is with the confession made by Anglican and other Christians week by week as they recite the Apostles Creed that they believe in 'The Communion of Saints.'

It is generally accepted by those who have studied the Creed that the phrase 'Communion of Saints' ('Communio Sanctorum') has a double meaning. It means both the communion of holy persons and the sharing of holy things. As Charles Cranfield notes in his commentary on the Creed:

'....both meanings make good theological sense. The members of Christ's Church share the holy things, that is, all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us in Jesus Christ, all the benefits and obligations that come from God's actions. Therefore, they are bound together in fellowship with one another as holy persons, made holy by the holy things that they share.' [2]

If we ask what distinguishes the persons who share in the holy things from those who do not, the answer is that they are the people who have been baptised, who accept the apostolic faith, and who accept the obligation to live out the apostolic faith in the way they behave in accordance with the teaching contained in Holy Scripture (see Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:37-47).

When Christians come together to celebrate the Eucharist they come together as the members of the Communion of Saints. Celebrating the Eucharist together with other Christians is an outward sign of being a member of the Communion of Saints. However, this outward sign needs to reflect inward reality.

That is why, for example, in the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer the answer to the question 'What is required of them who come to the Lord's Supper?' is:

'To examine themselves, whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life; have a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death, and be in charity with all men.'

The converse of this is that those who are not repentant, who do not believe, and who are not in a state of love and charity with their neighbours should not come to the Lord's table. It is for this reason that down the centuries Anglican churches, and the Catholic Church in general, have guarded the Lord's table by having a discipline which has refused access to the Lord's table to unbelievers, heretics, and those known to be in a serious state of unrepentant sin.

This same principle which has been applied to individual Christians has then logically been applied to churches as well. It has been held that, in the words of the Church of England House of Bishops' paper The Eucharist Sacrament of Unity, there is an 'inseparable connection between sacramental and ecclesial communion.'[3] What this means is that for members of different churches to rightly celebrate the Eucharist together both churches need to belong to the Communion of Saints, which means that they both need to adhere to apostolic faith and practice. Where such joint adherence does not exist then sharing together in Holy Communion is not legitimate.

The fact that during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Anglican churches have been willing to celebrate the Eucharist together with an increasing number of other churches does not mean that Anglican churches have abandoned the principles set out in the previous paragraphs. What it means is that ecumenical dialogue with the churches concerned has led Anglicans to believe that these churches do adhere to the essential elements of apostolic faith and practice and that therefore sharing the Eucharist together would be legitimate. [4]

Bishops are both individuals and the official representatives of their churches (they 'carry their churches with them' as the saying goes). In the history of the Church the application of the principles already outlined has been seen to mean two things in regard to bishops and the Eucharist,

First, as individuals, bishops who have become heretical or who are in a serious state of unrepentant sin should be barred from the Lord's table (to use the technical term they should be 'excommunicated'). For example, Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, was excommunicated for Christological heresy at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Secondly, because bishops are the representatives of their churches it would not be right to share communion with them if their churches have departed from apostolic faith and practice since to do so would violate the principle that churches sharing Communion both need to adhere to it.

What is now proposed by the GSFA adheres strictly to the two points just made.

It would be wrong to receive Communion alongside 'gay-partnered bishops.' Such bishops are in a state of unrepentant sin since they are living in a way that contravenes the clear biblical teaching that Christians should either be a married to a member of the opposite sex or should be single and therefore sexually abstinent (Genesis 2:18-24, Matthew 19:10-12, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40). Ideally such bishops should be excluded from Communion, but if this does not happen refusing to receive alongside them is the correct thing to do as a witness against both their participation and their way of life.

It would also be wrong to receive Communion alongside bishops who 'endorse same-sex unions in the Church's faith and order,' or who represent churches who have officially endorsed such unions, because such bishops are either heretical themselves (because they have rejected the biblical teaching just mentioned), or they represent churches that have become heretical for the same reason.[5]

What GSFA are proposing is therefore entirely justified. The situation they are addressing should not exist because the bishops with whom they will not share Communion should not have been invited to Lambeth in the first place. Appropriate discipline should have already been applied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communion as a whole. However, since this has not happened the bishops of the GSFA have to take appropriate unilateral action. They are not weaponising communion but simply proposing to act as faithful Anglican bishops should.

If it is asked why they are proposing to attend the two Eucharists if they are not going to receive Communion the answer is that by so doing, they are making the point that they have not left, nor do they intend to leave, the Anglican Communion. As their press release states:

'...they have no intention of being a 'breakaway group' from the Anglican Communion. The Fellowship sees itself, and seeks to be part of, the 'holy remnant' that God has preserved in the Anglican Communion.'

The bishops of the GSFA want to receive Communion alongside their fellow Anglican bishops. It is simply that the circumstances which they did not create, but in which they now find themselves, render this impossible.


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