Encyclical Letter from Geoffrey Cantuar to the Faithful in Jesus Christ, Lambeth 1948 - An excerpt

Appendix II: - for the article Farewell to Babel

by Michael Poon

God in His Church

Holy Catholic Church, exists to proclaim, the everlasting Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to all the world and to be an instrument in the hand of God for the fulfilment of His purpose. Deep divisions have long existed within the Church itself, based in the main on divergent interpretations of its faith and order; but, in spite of our divisions, we still know that it is the will of Christ that we should seek to overcome our separations and find again our true unity in Him.

At every Lambeth Conference this question of unity comes before us; and, at our gathering this year, a great part of our time and thought has been devoted to this subject. We have been made conscious yet again of the hindrance to Christ's cause which springs from the fact that it is a divided Church which ministers to a divided world. We have heard with great thankfulness that in many parts of the world separated Churches are making new ventures towards unity.

Our chief concern has been with the Church of South India, in which, for the first time since the great division of Christendom at the Reformation, an act of union has taken place in which episcopal and non-episcopal traditions have been united. By that act four dioceses of the Church of India, Burma, and Ceylon, speeded by the consent and prayers of that Church, and encouraged by the advice of the last Lambeth Conference, have joined with former Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists in a more comprehensive expression of the Universal Church. The Conference gives thanks to God for the measure of unity thus locally achieved. At the same time it records that some features of the Constitution of the Church of South India give rise to uncertainty or grave misgivings in the minds of many, and hopes that such action may be taken as to and intercommunion may become full communion between the Church of South India and the Churches of the Anglican Communion. We have pledged ourselves to do all in our power, by consultation, work, and prayer to bring about that end.

On one particular question, the status of bishops and clergy, consecrated and ordained at or since the inauguration of the union, in the Church of South India, there is a divergence of opinion. A majority recognizes their status fully. A substantial minority feels bound to suspend judgment. No one of us desires to condemn outright or to declare invalid their ministry. No one of us wishes to limit the freedom of either the majority or the minority to act according to its own judgment. It has been a test of sincerity and charity to reach our conclusions. But it is only by costly effort that the unity of the Body of Christ can be restored.

There are movements towards union in other parts of the mission field, affecting the younger Churches. But the movement is no less strong in the English-speaking countries themselves. We feel more and more keenly the rift between the different parts of the Anglican Communion and the Protestant Churches; and we have a great desire to find a way forward to closer unity with them. In the United States, in Canada, in Australia, in the British Isles, there are projects and schemes of various kinds, some for organic union, some for a mutually recognized ministry. In our Report we mention certain guiding principles which should be borne in mind in all approaches to Reunion. We bid Godspeed to all those who are doing their utmost in different ways to set forward this work.

We also keep in mind our strong desire for a closer fellowship of Episcopal Churches. With some we are already in partial communion. Full intercommunion has been achieved with the Old Catholics since the last Conference, upon terms which should provide a model for such agreements. Each Communion recognizes the catholicity and independence of the other and maintains its own, and while each believes the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian Faith, neither requires from the other the acceptance of all doctrinal opinion, or liturgical practice, characteristic of it.

Here we desire to set before our people a view of what, if it be the will of God, may come to pass. As Anglicans we believe that God has entrusted to us in our Communion not only the Catholic faith, but a special service to render to the whole Church. Reunion of any part of our Communion with other denominations in its own area must make the resulting Church no longer simply Anglican, but something more comprehensive. There would be, in every country where there now exist the Anglican Church and others separated from it, a united Church, Catholic and Evangelical, but no longer in the limiting sense of the word Anglican. The Anglican Communion would be merged in a much larger Communion of National or Regional Churches, in full communion with one another, united in all the terms of what is known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral.

It is well to keep this vision before us; but we are still far from its attainment, and until this larger Communion begins to take firmer shape, it would be only a weakening of the present strength and service of the Anglican Communion if parts of it were severed from it prematurely. If we were slow to advance the larger cause, it would be a betrayal of what we believe to be our special calling. It would be equally a betrayal of our trust before God if the Anglican Communion were to allow itself to be dispersed before its particular work was done.

In our Resolutions, we recommend that, in further schemes for reunion, care should be taken to see that they do not, unless for a brief time, put any member of our family of Churches out of communion with it and that they are not put into force unless after consultation with the rest of our family. That is a right and wise precaution. Yet we look to, and work for, the larger family, and we are thankful that in so many parts of the world other Churches are joined with us in working for it.

The Ecumenical Movement is one of the principal facts in the Christian life of our times. We cordially welcome the formation of the World Council of Churches as marking a notable stage in that movement, and we bid our people to pray that in and after its first Assembly, which follows quickly after our Conference, God will guide and direct all its operations.

Meanwhile it is our duty to make the life and witness of our own Communion strong and effective for its own work. To that end we are bound to preserve our unity in the tradition which we have received. Owing to the number and variety of the national Churches, provinces, and missionary dioceses within our fellowship, and the great distances which separate them from one another, problems arise which call for the application of a wise and sympathetic strategy. Our organized life will rightly be influenced by local colour and national culture, and will, in consequence, develop varied characteristics. But within this diversity it is essential to maintain such a unity of faith and order as will preserve its unity of purpose and spirit. We find the authoritative expression of that faith and order in the Book of Common Prayer, together with the Ordinal. This book is the heritage of the whole Communion, and, while revisions of it are made to suit the needs of different Churches, it provides our accepted pattern of liturgical order, worship, and doctrine which is to be everywhere maintained. We hope that, throughout the Anglican Communion, suitable steps will be taken in 1949 to celebrate the growth of the English Book of Common Prayer which had its beginning in the first English Prayer Book of 1549. Such celebrations will help to call to mind, and emphasize, the important position within the fellowship which the Book of Common Prayer has always held and the formative and unifying influence which it has exercised.

Among other proposals for increasing means of common consultation and action between the various parts of our Communion, two deserve special mention. The Conference desires the establishment, at St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury, of a Central College, under a Council representative of the whole Anglican Communion, to which priests and others from every part of our fellowship may come to study together and to learn from one another in an atmosphere of scholarship and common life.

Another proposal which has been approved is that of a Congress, to be held between Lambeth Conferences, elsewhere than in the British Isles, and to be attended by representative leaders, clerical and lay, from all parts of the Anglican Communion. The Church discharges its mission to the world through the devotion and work of its members. Its greatest need is for an increase in the number of men and women who will devote their lives to its service. We believe that Christ is calling many who are not aware of His call. From many lands the appeal is made for teachers in schools and colleges, for scholars to help in the training of clergy and catechists, for doctors and nurses. Nor does this exhaust the list. There is need for experts in agriculture, crafts, and domestic science, and in many of the welfare services. It is a call to young men and women who desire to do constructive work for Christ and for his people, and are ready for His sake to face difficulties and make sacrifices. Especially is there need for a great increase in the ordained ministry of the Church, to make good deficiencies which have accumulated before and during the war and to equip the Church to go forward. From every part of the Church comes the conviction that great opportunities can be taken, if the Church's ministry is strengthened by the coming into the ranks of the clergy of an increasing number of young men who hear the call of Christ, and are willing to give all to obey it.

But the Church can only fulfil its mission to mankind if every member of it is a faithful, disciplined, and instructed servant of Christ. Again and again, in our Resolutions and Reports, we recall our people to the obligations to which they are committed by their faith. Christ needs their service and witness in their everyday lives, in their homes, in work and industry, in all the activities of the community. One whole Report is devoted to Christian teaching about marriage and to the witness which Christian people must give to it. While we should not forget that faithful and happy marriages still far outnumber those that fail, yet the prevalence of divorce and the easy acceptance of it gravely threaten the stability of individual, home, and family life and cause great suffering to innocent children thus deprived of the security of home. We believe that there is, especially among younger people, the beginning of a revolt against the degrading of marriage and a desire for homes made stable by the vows of obligation and the bond of children. The Church owes it to those engaged to be married to help them to prepare for it. When there has been divorce and re-marriage, the Church must keep those concerned within its pastoral care and love, recognizing with sympathy and understanding the suffering and distress which have been inflicted upon many of them and desiring for the sinful penitence. The Church will not marry anyone who has been previously married save where no marriage bond as recognized by the Church still exists. It bids its members to uphold faithfully the life-long obligation of the marriage vow and to give no occasion for sin. But it cannot exclude from the love of Christ, nor does it exclude from its own fellowship, those who have come through bitter experience and look for help. About this matter there is a special urgency. But in every sphere of human life there is an insistent call to every Christian at this time to bear clear witness to the character of Christ and the principles of conduct which He enjoins.

For this witness there is needed the grace of Christ, which He promises to those who are of the household of faith. One Report emphasizes the importance of the careful administration of Baptism and Confirmation, whereby God gives entrance to that household. Another dwells on the essential place of private prayer and public worship. Another suggests a rule of life which every faithful Christian should observe. Through all these means, God in His love reaches us in the fellowship of His Church, to maintain in us the new life which is from above. He meets each in his or her own field of opportunity, service, and need: He unites us in the common bond of one faith, one worship, one Lord.

Finally, we would say a special word of recognition and encouragement to our clergy. In all parts of the world you have shepherded your flocks, strengthened their courage, and consoled them in their sorrows, through some of the hardest trials mankind has ever known. On you, and on your people, we bid God’s blessing.

Let the Church and all its members take fresh heart and hope. "In all things we are more than conquerors." [Source: Lambeth Conference 1948, Part I (London, SPCK, 1948), 21-25.]

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