I am no ecclesiologist, but the recent Lambeth Conference has spurred some thoughts on that matter, at least in the context of the Anglican Communion. I have only briefly perused some of the Lambeth materials, but a few points stuck me as important. They may not be new nor ground-breaking, but I think they are different from the way I have previously tended to view the issues.
The focus of all Christian unity is, ultimate, Christ. It is not strictly speaking creed or postulates, but the common relationship with Christ. This means that, for all the importance of theological discussion and understanding, it is a potentially misleading ground for unity.
For a commitment to truth to be genuine, it must be a commitment to the continual seeking of truth. This is not to mean a post-modern denial of truth or possibility of truth, but rather a humble acknowledgement of one’s own limited understanding. It is a willingness to both offer and receive insights. Humility seems to be the key to avoid truth-commitments becoming blinders and untruth as well as the key to avoiding absolute relativism in that pursuit.
A Bishop is a pastor: the bishop’s role is primarily an ecclesiastical and pastoral job, not one of theology per se. Perhaps this is obvious, but the concept only dawned on me when reading the +ABC’s reflections on the differences between writing as a theologian and writing as the Archbishop. A theologian’s job is to explore, and invite others to explore, the truth of the Bible and how it applies to us. A bishop’s job is to help point all Christians to Christ and help them to grow. Certainly the two jobs are closely related, but while a theologian has the job, the privilege, or the duty to challenge the traditions from within, the bishop’s task is help his flock to grow. How then should the two relate?
It will be interesting to see how the Anglican Communion evolves over the next few years, to see what ecclesiastical methods and organizations are created to foster unity and structure: how the needs of both unity and diversity are balanced, and how underlying issues of principles are addressed. In the meantime, though, I appreciate the reminder that mutual commitment to Christ ought to produce a humility and mutual love that is stronger than doctrinal documents, that is self-critical. Perhaps it is a reminder that the ecumenical project begins not only ‘at home’ in each denomination, but even ‘closer to home’ within myself.Jason M. Silverman 8 August 2008