Towards an Anglican ecclesiology

Recent developments in the Anglican Communion have often focused on the question of discrimination against gays, or the actions of particular groups and individuals. What has been missing is a willingness to make clear what the underlying competing ecclesiologies—or views of the Church—are in the current conflict.

I recently took part in a Thinking Anglicans thread—a tangent to the events surrounding the secession of San Joaquin—where the discussion turned to the question of whether the universal church (or church catholic) was made manifest in the diocese, or local church as Vatican II understands it from a Roman Catholic perspective, or in the national church. My concern is that canonizing one or the other can lead to some serious problems. While I have little fault with the idea of the bishop and diocese being the locus of the church catholic in a particular place (or non-geographical location), it has to be balanced by the idea of the local church’s relations to other churches, as I mentioned. At the same time, national churches—understood not only as nation-states, a very modern conception, but churches that eventually take root around ethnic identities—run the risk of phyletism.

So it is clear that the question must be resolved, one way or another, at some point. If Lambeth should find something more fruitful to discuss than a Covenant that I am sure will not get through without a lot of trouble, it is this particular question, and its very real consequences. And that, I think, is where Anglicans can ultimately articulate their biggest contribution (apart from liturgy): an ecclesiology for the church catholic in a postmodern world.

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