A Commentary on the 79th’s General Convention Resolution A035.
Recently, I was introducing myself to a stranger, and he asked me point-blank, “Why are there so many denominations?” I do not think he is alone in his desire to know the answer to this question. It is a perennial question asked of modern Christianity. To the uninitiated and even some Christians, the Church seems like a divided institution. Mired in squabbles, some petty and some not, the Church appears to be a disarticulated amalgam of parts all vying for control of the whole. Ecumenism is the faithful attempt to actualize the unity that is the Body of Christ.
The eye cannot say to the hand “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21)
The human body is an ideal portrait of visible unity. All of its parts work together as a unified whole, yet each part maintains its distinctiveness. The body is one multidimensional whole.
The power of oneness, of wholeness, the actualization of the visible unity of the Body of Christ, is at the heart of the Opening Acclamation in our liturgy of Holy Baptism:
There is one Body and one Spirit;
People There is one hope in God’s call to us;
Celebrant One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People One God and Father of all.
One Body. One Baptism. One Lord. In our prayer after receiving the Eucharist, we give thanks to God that in our reception, we have the assurance of knowing that we are members incorporate in the Body of Christ, “the blessed company of all faithful people.” Unity is at the core of our sacramental and liturgical identity.
A little more than thirty years ago, unity came into the Church’s field of view by way of the Lima Report of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Otherwise known as Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry (BEM), this document became the basis upon which we could see the blessed similarities and holy distinctions within the Body of Christ. A follow-up report was published in 2013 called The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV), focusing on the nature of the Church itself. In today’s religious climate, as Christians leaning into faithfulness in the U.S., the desire for one-ness, for wholeness, must become and remain a primary goal. Not only for the sake of the Church’s wellbeing but also for the sake of her witness to the world. TCTCV was commended to the member churches of the WCC for review and response. The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church (TEC) received a draft response to TCTCV. The 79th General Convention of TEC moved to commend TCTCV both documents for every Episcopalian to study in Resolution A035: Commend “The Church Towards a Common Vision.”
A035: Commend “The Church Towards a Common Vision”
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention commend to every Episcopalian for study both the 2013 convergence statement published by the World Council of Churches, The Church: Towards a Common Vision, and the draft response from The Episcopal Church, which can be found on the website of The Episcopal Church.
This week, I leafed through TCTCV and The Episcopal Church’s drafted response. I think the description of TCTCV as a convergence text is helpful and instructive. The report seeks to “express how far Christian communities have come in their common understanding of the Church, showing the progress that has been made and indicating work that still needs to be done.” Convergence here means that the committee worked to articulate areas of common ground between all the represented churches/denominations as well as the points of difference.
I understand and value this point. I wonder why GC79 commended its study to every Episcopalian. There are most likely reasons that I am not personally aware of, so I offer my opinion on the matter. Ecumenism is the work every Christian is called to do. You, I, them, us, ordained, lay, are the individual members incorporate the Body of Christ. Our common ministry is to represent Christ and his Church, to be the answer to his prayer that we all would be one. Unity is something for which all of us should strive.
How can we persist with efforts to foster and maintain unity when varieties of our understanding of authority, governance, and social credibility are easily transformed into crude instruments for the amputation of parts of the Body of Christ? The arduousness in working towards unity overwhelms the desire for unity. The Episcopal Church is challenged “constantly to assess the extent to which TEC, its leaders and its members, have the will toward the unity for which Christ prayed. We must constantly ask ourselves and each other, ‘What must we do to foster and maintain our will toward unity?’”
Perhaps we can start to answer this question by doing what we’ve been asked to do. Study. With all the vigor and commitment the task demands, let us all study, or put another way, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the documents commended to us. One resource for individual or parish-wide study you might find helpful is the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith, and Order study guide which breaks TCTCV into a 6-session study.
Let us pray –
O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
our only Savior, the Prince of Peace:
give us grace seriously to lay to heart
the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.
Take away all hatred and prejudice,
and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord;
that, as there is but one body and one Spirit,
one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
so we may henceforth
be all of one heart and of one soul,
united in one holy bond of peace, of faith and charity
and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Deacon Anthony Estes, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council