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Anglican contributions to unity, particularly to the work of the World Council of Churches

Message of Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary at the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong on the theme: “Anglican contributions to unity, particularly to the work of the World Council of Churches”

01 May 2019

The call to unity – the unity in Christ’s love -  is as needed an urgent as ever before in a time when forces of polarization, division, nationalism, exploitation, and exclusion are having their strong way in the world. In the World Council of Churches we celebrate the many gifts from the Anglican communion in this respect:

  1. The Anglican tradition and Churches are emphasizing the apostolic tradition in the church, in faith, in order, and in mission and service. The continuity of the Church through the ages is a necessary dimension for the unity of the Church. This helps to focus on the one basis for the Church but also the one mission of the Church.
  2. Anglicanism has had a global perspective and dimension for church life for quite a long time. Anglican churches, and cathedrals  – buildings and structures of religion - were established around the world quite early compared to some other confessional families of today. This had to do with the globalization of the British empire, as well as the many early initiatives for mission and evangelism. This led to an early attention to structures of accountability for the sake of unity across the boarders, and there were definitions established already in the 19th century of what are the instruments of unity. The Lambeth conference, the Office and ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and later the Anglican communion were institutions for this. The strong Anglican global participation in the WCC has today many other dimensions, often a strong awareness of the prophetic witness for justice and peace in a postcolonial and globalized reality, where new forms of empires dominate.
  3. The general focus on the role of bishops as a special ministry for the unity of the church, within their dioceses and in the relations between them through the connection between the bishops, has brought a model for visible unity in the church. This, I believe, prepared the basis for great interest and enthusiasm for new global initiatives to organize the one ecumenical movement, searching visible unity. Anglican bishops have played significant roles in many of the initiatives and movements that today is the World Council of Churches.
  4. One of the movements that have strongly benefitted from the pioneers and the support of the Anglican churches and their theological approach, is the Faith and Order movement. There we have seen the contributions not only of bishops, but theologians from different academic positions and other roles have offered a lot to develop the global, multilateral theological dialogue. I could mention that Dame Dr Mary Tanner was the Moderator of the FaO Commission for a long period. Professor Dr John Gibaut was the Director for many years. This is the proper time to thank him for the enormous efforts for visible church  unity for so many years. John, you have been one of the great pillars in this house of unity. The Anglican preference for solid and deep theology serving the substance of our faith but also the proper forms and orders of being Church, has given weight and priority to this work in so many years and generations. I hope it will continue to be so.
  5. The comprehensiveness of the Anglican tradition (or traditions), and the diversity of the church life in Anglican churches, have been great contributions to a culture of ecumenism. Practical tolerance and a theological basis for accepting diversity are necessary tools for the one ecumenical movement to be able embrace different confessional and denominational expressions, and to live with one another without demanding the others to give up their identities.
  6. In the work for justice and peace as expressions of the Kingdom of God, pursued by the WCC and other instruments of the one ecumenical movement, there have been significant contributions from Anglicans. The emblematic example is the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and well known champion against all kind of racism and discrimination. He continues to inspire the work of the WCC – as many of you do in your different roles of today. Many Anglican church leaders have been taking many and significant initiatives for peace, like the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
  7. The comprehensiveness if Anglicanism is a great gift. The desire and the ability to integrate the perspectives of faith, sacramental church life, service for unity, mission and evangelism, peace-making, inter-religious dialogue end more - are significant attitudes to the wholeness of the ecumenical movement.
  8. Your focus on discipleship is certainly a Biblical perspective. But it is also a very useful pragmatic approach. Focus on the tasks and a certain pragmatism is necessary to get the ecumenical movement to move. A focus on what we can do together – even before we know we share everything in faith and order etc, is giving dynamic to the WCC. This is creating also a new ecumenical momentum now, where we try to have a stronger focus on what it means to serve together – in diakonia, in the one mission of God.  To be a disciple is to be among those who Jesus prays for, that they all may be one. Unity is an important dimension of transforming discipleship. This is what the WCC also promote through calling all of us to be “together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace”.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary
World Council of Churches