... I am deeply troubled that I cannot raise the question of Anglican unity here without response that 'unity' is 'imposition of unity' or 'institutional unity' and we do not want that. To say we are 'Anglican' yet have no shared enthusiasm across the 'Communion' for Anglican 'unity' is, frankly, a travesty in respect of New Testament teaching on the church as the body of Christ. To raise barriers to progress to unity by, say, invoking the spectre of an unholy trinity of an Anglican version of papacy, curia, and magisterium is a failure to engage with the challenge of being one Anglican Communion. To continue to assert national sovereignty of member churches of the Communion is to work with half a loaf of ecclesiology: the other half is true interdependence in the body of Christ. To claim that there is only one church of Christ (true) and then offer nothing more than 'prayer' to progress the unity of the visible expressions in our world of that one church is - I think, but I think St Paul would agree - a loss of nerve, vision, and will. My question is this: can we expect a Communion of churches to remain intact when it is both generally divided and even divided on what it means to be united? With no shared vision of our future together why would we expect to remain a Communion?
Here I am proposing that the present Anglican Communion, visibly falling apart, will continue to do so unless it finds the will to do otherwise.
In light of "progressive" dismissals of the New Testament's (and our Lord's) call to unity, I am struck by what other Christians have said about it. C. S. Lewis, for instance, wrote: "Divisions between Christians are a sin and a scandal, and Christians ought at all times to be making contributions towards reunion." Speaking before 200,000 people at a Mass in India, the late Pope John Paul II said: “The past and present divisions [among Christians] are a scandal to non-Christians, a glaring contradiction of the will of Christ, [and] a serious obstacle to the church’s efforts to proclaim the Gospel.” And William Reed Huntington, an Episcopal priest who lived in the late-19th Century, put it even more succinctly when he wrote in his book The Church-Idea: An Essay Towards Unity that “union is God’s work, and separation devil’s work.”
To be fair, it's not just folks on the left side of the Anglican spectrum who can take all the blame. Many conservative Anglicans have made more than their fair share of contributions to the "devil's work" of disunity and division over the past several years as well. And if we're honest, perhaps each and every one of us has done the same in thought, word, or deed at one time or another. Left, Right, Center, you name it - manifestations of the politicization of the Church are alive and well.
It's also true that not everyone on the "progressive" side of things outright rejects the call to unity. But sometimes the lack of an outright rejection can still entail a dismissal. For instance, some respond by saying that, in the midst of our disagreements, we can be and in many cases are united - in communion - by virtue of common mission. Unity or communion in practice takes precedence over unity or communion in belief and order. But that assumes that across our disagreements we agree on what "mission" really is (and prior to that, what the Church itself is and what her purpose is). And it also assumes that our disagreements on matters of belief and order aren't really all that important anyway. What matters is that, together, we do things like feed the hungry, etc.
Philip Turner, in his recent essay "Unity, Order and Dissent: On How to Dissent Within a Communion of Churches," makes a relevant point here:
... communion [for many within the Episcopal Church] is defined largely in moral rather than theological terms. This position follows naturally enough from the reduced role of common belief just set forth. No one wishes to underestimate the importance of shared ministry in service to the poor, but it is hard to see, when push comes to shove, why communion as TEC defines it is communion in Christ Jesus. In the end, Jesus is no more than a good example of a moral ideal than he is a savior apart from whom we can neither know nor serve God as God wills.
Pitting the gift of unity against working for unity is a false dichotomy. Salvation is a gift from God. And yet, as the apostle Paul exhorts us, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Unity is also a gift from God. But as with salvation, so too with unity: just as we are called to "work out" what it means to be saved, we are called to "work out" what it means to be one, not just in practice (mission), but also in terms of substantive belief and how the Church is ordered. To say that all we have to do is just pray for greater unity rather than do hard, sacrificial work for unity could be the wide and easy road that leads to destruction. And if that's true, how should dismissing the call to unity with scorn and/or charges of imperialism be characterized?