Throughout our discussions we were increasingly able to identify obstacles that have kept us from greater unity, and in particular from mutual recognition of our ministries. Through our study of unions in other parts of the world we discovered that some of those obstacles had been addressed in helpful ways, sometimes resulting in “church unions” and/or Councils of Churches. While some others of these proposals have yet to be implemented, they provide us with creative models for finding a way through the complex issues connected with the mutual recognition of ministry. These include an understanding of ordination, episcopacy, and apostolic succession. While many of these studies have not been put into practice, they give us encouragement to continue our study, which could lead to our overcoming some of the obstacles to a mutual recognition of our ministries.
The union that created the Church of South India in 1947 was a world first, in that episcopal and non-episcopal traditions came together and reached a foundational agreement that enabled them to proceed in their union negotiations and to realize a union. They agreed to accept the Lambeth Quadrilateral as a satisfactory basis on which to proceed: scripture, creeds, two sacraments, and ordained ministry with a historic episcopate. Regarding episcopacy, they concluded that God’s blessing rested on all without distinction, and so they would accept the ministry of all who entered the union without distinguishing them according to method of ordination, after which all would be ordained by bishops. A significant decision leading up to this l947 union was that the grace of Christ is manifested without distinction in all churches, which made it possible for them to refrain from imposing episcopal ordination on those who came into the union who were not ordained by bishops.
A similar agreement, known as the Scottish Church Initiative for Union proposal, was recommended in 1997 by the Scottish Episcopal Church to the continuing initiative originally taken in 1964 by the British Council of Churches. The Scottish proposal acknowledged evolving understandings of episcopacy, becoming more conciliar, and held that any union must acknowledge the fullness of God’s grace in ministries of all participating churches, which included United Reformed (Congregational and Churches of Christ), Methodist, and Scottish Episcopal, with Baptists and Roman Catholics as observers. A key part of the anticipated agreement was that all present ministries would be recognized at the time of union, following which all ordinations would be by bishops.
The Church Unity Commission (CUC) of South Africa was formed in 1960 and includes Anglican Churches in South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, and St. Helena, as well as the Uniting Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and the United Congregational Church. In it, all member churches in 1995 accepted “that the ordained ministries of Word and Sacrament in the member churches of the CUC have been called and ordained by God in Christ through his Church and exercise a sacramental, preaching, teaching and pastoral ministry in the Church of God and not simply in the particular church to which they belong.” Churches of South Africa appear to have overcome most of the obstacles around ordination experienced in the Canadian Anglican and United Churches.
The Scottish Church Initiative noted that all churches have structures of episcopal authority. All participating churches agreed to be “open to discovering God’s new thing.” It was also noted that all churches involved, except the Scottish Episcopal, have had since 1984 a mutual recognition and authorization to minister on invitation, and according to local procedures. The Scottish Episcopal Church has a current canon allowing the same locally, and indicated that when agreement on union is reached the Scottish Episcopal Church can be expected to make this provision national.
Some creative theology has developed in the Church Unity Commission (CUC) in South Africa around the concept of episcopacy. “Where the bishop is, there is the Church” (Cyprian): the bishop is present as the centre of the liturgical community, as a symbol of the community, not as a ruler. A bishop ordains as a representative of the whole Christian community. This reflects the understanding of episcope in both The United Church of Canada and The Anglican Church of Canada. The CUC in South Africa is thus recovering an understanding of episcope that is an authentic understanding of the heritage. These understandings have been discussed in the churches, and the conversations have been encouraged to continue.
Bishops in the Anglican Church in Wales have within their powers the authority to grant generous privileges to clergy of other churches that participate in the ecumenical organization “Churches Together in Wales” when they are involved in local ecumenical projects. They may officiate at one or more of the following services in the Church of Wales: Holy Communion, Holy Baptism, Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, Communion of the Sick, Burial of the Dead, and ecumenical acts of worship.
Acknowledgement was made in the joint declaration adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and The Anglican Church of Canada in 2001, known as “The Waterloo Declaration,”
that personal, collegial and communal oversight (episcope) is embodied and exercised in both churches in a variety of forms, in continuity of apostolic life, mission and ministry.… We acknowledge that the episcopal office is valued and maintained in both our churches as a visible sign expressing and serving the Church’s unity and continuity in apostolic life, mission and ministry.
Regarding Apostolic Succession
The Lutheran-Reformed Dialogues in the USA were part of official conversations between Reformed and Lutheran Churches that began in 1962. In the first round (1962–66) the delegates concluded that there are “no insuperable obstacles to pulpit and altar fellowship” and encouraged the churches to move toward intercommunion and the full recognition of one another’s ministries. Following two more rounds, by l986 the representatives of all the churches involved concluded that the churches should recognize each other as churches where “the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments administered according to the ordinance of Christ.” The Lutheran-Reformed Committee for Theological Conversations met from 1988–92 and found no “church dividing differences” and recommended that the churches enter into an agreement of full communion. One of their findings focused on the understanding that one can deduce that their churches are in apostolic succession because the evidence of it, namely, that “the gospel is being preached in its purity and the sacraments rightly administered,” is found in each of the churches.
According to our Lutheran theological reflector:
This understanding also played a role in the Anglican-Lutheran dialogues in Canada where it was understood that apostolic succession is carried out by the historic episcopate, which was a ministry of oversight, with the bishop ensuring that the apostolic message would indeed be proclaimed by the person being ordained, and is revealed to be happening wherever the gospel is being proclaimed. The structures of the church may provide the framework necessary to ensure that the gospel is being proclaimed, even if it does not have the traditional marks of the episcopal office.
In addressing questions raised by the Waterloo Declaration, the Joint Working Group of The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada noted that “some Lutheran churches did not have bishops ordained in exact continuity by the laying on of hands by other bishops. Lutherans in Canada, while not viewing the historic episcopate as a necessity, are now prepared to appreciate and accept historic succession as a sign of continuity and the unity of the Church.
“In recent years, as a result of ecumenical conversation, Anglicans have been re-examining their understanding of this question in many parts of the world. In 1997, the House of Bishops and the Council of General Synod agreed that The Anglican Church of Canada is prepared to view the historic episcopate in the context of the understandings of apostolicity articulated in Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, The Niagara Report, and the Porvoo Common Statement, ‘all ecumenical documents’ that seek to put the episcopate alongside other marks of the apostolicity of the church.” Apostolicity is defined as continuity in the permanent characteristics of the Church of the apostles, reflected in the doctrine of apostolic succession. “It is God’s gift in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not confined to the historic episcopate but is a diverse reality which expresses itself in the teaching, mission and ministry of the whole Church.”
From our study of the above mentioned documents as well as others, we concluded that the findings and actions of these churches and councils challenged us to apply their learnings to our own situation and to address the obstacles to our growing together more fully than we have managed in the past. We know that both of our churches have an educated and ordained ministry, a form of episcopacy, and can claim to be in the line of apostolic succession. We may disagree on how we interpret these concepts, but we should guard against being judgemental about the validity of any interpretation. The Lutheran and Reformed Dialogues concluded that to think of each of our church’s doctrines and teachings as a penultimate word, rather than an ultimate word, is a helpful attitude for churches in dialogue with each other. We agree that this is a wise approach to take. There is little doubt that we both have more to learn, that God has not yet given us the final bit of illumination and inspiration on matters theological.
In his reflections to the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland Assembly in 2005, the Rt. Rev. Michael Jackson suggested that “an acceptance of diversity brings an urgent need for a theology of diversity.… An engagement in respectful diversity, in my experience, strengthens self-understanding and witness to others. This engagement takes place within communion — koinonia — as both an activity and a state of being that transcends and honours distinctions. Diversity is profoundly Christian and profoundly churchy.”
Roman Catholic-Lutheran discussions focused on “differentiated consensus,” an approach that is very attractive to our Dialogue.
In that spirit, following are some of the conclusions drawn from our discussions:
- The grace of Christ is operative in all of our traditions.
- The approach of accepting all ordinations at some point and then moving to episcopal ordination for all was considered positively — without necessarily entering into formal unity talks we might be able to participate in and recognize each other’s ordinations.
- The language of “God’s new thing” in the Scottish Church Initiative for Union we found attractive.
- Episcopacy may not necessarily depend on exercise by an individual — bishop with synod, or presbytery/Conference.
- The Church, like the human family as a whole, will always be characterized by diversity — John Wesley: “if your heart be as my heart, give me your hand.”
- Each tradition can bring correctives to the other — as with Lambeth Quadrilateral — holding elements together and as mutually corrective.
- A process that respects traditions is crucial.
- We need to examine how we understand each other’s liturgies.
- We agree with the principle from Leuenberg Agreement in Lutheran-Reformed Dialogues: we honour our ancestors, we do not disavow our traditions, including separations, but we recognize that their questions are not necessarily our questions today — we may have grown beyond them.
- We must look at places where we can make common cause.
- Ecumenism is not optional — it is not just something nice to do.
As a result of these discoveries a new hope has emerged within our Dialogue that our denominations can come to a greater sense of unity, and work toward concrete actions that will demonstrate that we are indeed one in Christ.
- That the next phase of the Dialogue examine the processes leading to ordered ministry and placement systems with a view to understanding the ways in which episcope functions in these systems in our respective churches.
- That the next phase of the Dialogue review the effect of our mission history, both in Canada and in other parts of the world, upon our understanding and practice of episcope and how this is changing in the contemporary world.
1. From: “Appendix II: Lutheran-Reformed Dialogue II: Report and Recommendations,” as found in James E. Andrews and Joseph A. Burgess, eds., An Invitation to Action: The Lutheran Reformed Dialogue Series III: 1981–1983 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 52.
2. This reference is found in “The Report of the Lutheran-Reformed Committee for Theological Conversations,” as found in, Keith F. Nickle and Timothy F. Lull, eds., A Common Calling: The Witness of Our Reformation Churches in North America Today (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1993), 67.
3. A Common Calling, 65–67.
4. A Common Calling, 67.
5. From: Called to Full Communion: A Study Resource for Lutheran-Anglican Relations including the Waterloo Declaration. Prepared by the Joint Working Group of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, December 1997 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1998), 22 (under the section, “Questions Commonly Asked”).
6. From: Called to Full Communion, 22 (under the section, “Questions Commonly Asked”).
7. From: Called to Full Communion, 22 (under the section, “Questions Commonly Asked”).
In October 2007 (Mississauga), the Dialogue gave opportunity for each of us to share our personal spirituality. As guides for our reflections, we were given some questions related to, firstly, our personal faith and, secondly, our connection to the faith tradition. After each person had had an opportunity to share from the heart their own response to these questions, we reflected together upon what we had heard and shared. We concluded that there were common themes such as:
- Similar stories although couched in varied terminology
- Confidence that God is in our lives, a sustaining, persistent presence
- Kinship with each other
- Relationship with Jesus Christ, Spirit, God
- Sacramentality including awareness of God/Spirit in the whole creation
- The Great Commandments of love of God and love of neighbour and the imperative to seek justice and transformation
- Equality of all creatures—all my relations
- Commitment to community
- Influences of feminist, liberation, Indigenous, and ecological theological perspectives
- Tension between “it’s not about me because it’s about justice and the transformation of the world” and “it’s about me and my transformation”
- Sometimes tension between our deeply held spiritual experiences and traditions and “official” practice of the church
- There was a deep passion that we do not often talk about, even causing tears, as we shared so personally and at such depth.
Our final conclusion was that it was difficult for a listener to discern our denominational affiliation as we each spoke. Differences and similarities appeared to be due more to individual experience and personality than to denomination.
“Let me suggest that the sticking points in the dialogue are not over ‘core’ doctrines. Rather, the sticky points are over how you understand and practise and live out your ‘doctrines.’”
— GORDON JENSEN