The Essence of Unity

Church of Ireland dean of Waterford Maria Jansson when speaking about the attendance of two Church of Ireland Bishop’s at GAFCON asked the question:

“How can Bishops Harold Miller and Ferran Glenfield reconcile the vows they made at their consecrations as bishops to ‘maintain and further the unity of the church’ with their support of Gafcon which stridently endeavours to undermine that very unity?”

Often those who are opposed to GAFCON state that GAFCON promotes division and is schismatic, yet these sorts of comments fail to acknowledge or perhaps even understand that the unity that disciples of the Lord Jesus are called to maintain is theological unity, not organisational unity. There is a very big difference between the two.

Organisational unity stresses a unity that is based on the most common denominator, which can be expressed as  “All views are legitimate, what matters is that we are united as Anglicans”.

As I wrote this I was very cognisant of an article written by the Rev David Short (who preached at GAFCON )  fourteen years ago entitled Crisis in koinonia. He writes:

There are now two competing unities in Anglicanism: one regards Scripture as God’s sovereign word written, the other as the repository of the symbols of our faith; one names Christ as the unique and only savior of the world—meaning there is salvation in no-one else, the other sees Christ as the unique saviour for them only. One sees mission primarily in terms of the proclamation of the gospel, of conversion to Christ from sin through repentance and faith, of lifelong growing discipleship, of presenting people mature in Christ for the last judgment. The other sees mission in terms of extending the church (meaning ‘denomination’), of making the world a better place, of providing religious services, of helping people connect with their inherent spirituality, of affirming people in their lifestyle preferences, of boldly reflecting the cultural zeitgeist of tolerance, pluralism and inclusivity. 

David Short’s article also reveals the heart of the reason why there are two competing unities within Anglicanism, and it due to the different religions that exist within Anglicanism.

At the risk of oversimplifying, what lies beneath the rift within Anglicanism are two different religions: two different Gods, two different views of the fall, sin, salvation, humanity, the cross of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the coming judgment and the mission of the church. Blessing same sex unions is one manifestation of a deeper conflict in the divergent movement of two irreconcilable theological tectonic plates.”

When it comes to unity, God’s Word is not silent about true Christian unity. The Apostle Paul when writing to the Ephesian Christians says:I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

What stands out to me is that our Apostle Paul exhorts the Christians at Ephesus to be eager to maintain the unity they already have, not create unity. And the unity that they are to maintain has already been established by God.

The context of the passage in Ephesians (the previous chapters), reveals to us the way God established the unity that we are to maintain.  True unity cannot be created by hunting enthusiastically for the lowest common theological denominator amongst all those who profess to be Anglicans. True unity was created by God when he made a new humanity through Jesus’ propitiatory and substitutionary death on the cross. This is the essence of true unity and it is this unity that we are to maintain.

So back to the question raised by Church of Ireland dean of Waterford, Maria Jansson:

“How can Bishops Harold Millerand Ferran Glenfield reconcile the vows they made at their consecrations as bishops to ‘maintain and further the unity of the church’ with their support of Gafcon which stridently endeavours to undermine that very unity?”

My answer to her is, “Easily – because the unity that they promised to maintain at their consecrations is the unity that is established by God himself in and through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is what GAFCON is all about.