Second stage of Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission's study launched
The international Anglican Theological Commission, accountable to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates' Meeting, has undertaken an innovative way of engaging the Anglican Communion in a study of the nature of its unity and mission. After an initial project which sought responses to four foundational questions, its second meeting proposed six for wide discussion - on the role scripture and doctrine in church formation, the challenge of inculturation, the nature of conflict in the church and the ways in which the interdependence of Anglican provinces can be a source of strength in resolving them, and a question about appropriate structures of 'testing, reconciliation and restraint'.
Work completed already has proved "even more extraordinary than we first realised", asserts the Rt Rev Professor Stephen Sykes, Chairman of the Commission. Responses to the Four Questions from bishops and theologians, dioceses and provinces from around the world have helped to cast the question of koinonia (communion) in new ways. Contributions from churches of the South have been particularly refreshing. From the Sudan for instance, the idea of the Communion as "a fellowship of suffering" has been formative for the way the Commission is thinking and the way it has chosen to work.
Dr Philip Thomas who is co-ordinating the study process explains that previous Doctrine Commissions typically worked at a task for several years and then produced reports which were presented at successive Lambeth Conferences. They have been good reports too, like The Virginia Report of 1998, but each has arrived as just one document among many and with no clear context for discussion and reception. The present IATDC is attempting to carry out its work in continuing conversation with Anglican churches and teachers. When a final publication is produced - probably in three years time - it is hoped that it will find its place in an established "field of discourse" concerning Anglican identity. This is especially necessary as the Commission's brief is specifically defined in terms of the various controversies that preoccupy the attention of many churches.
It is widely recognised that there is need for more rigorous and open discussion of seemingly divisive issues. The Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission offers a constructive means for that discussion to be carried forward, although as Professor Sykes points out, "No-one will suggest that discussion alone takes the place of decisive action in the calling to Christian discipleship".