Q. I read that the Episcopal Church has been suspended from the Anglican Communion. What is the Anglican Communion? Why does this matter?
A. In 1534, King Henry VIII of England was declared, by the British Parliament, the “Supreme Head of the Church of England.” This declaration rejected the authority of the Catholic Church, and especially the leadership authority of the Bishop of Rome, the pope.
The schism began, as most people know, with a personal dispute regarding King Henry’s marriages, and festered into a theological rejection of Christ’s teachings regarding the unity of the Church and the ministry of St. Peter and his successors.
The Church of England, which resulted from the English schism, spawned other “national Churches” with their own self-declared leadership, all of which rejected the authority of the Catholic Church. Those bodies, which worship using similar liturgical styles and with similar structures and theological perspectives, form a loose group called the “Anglican Communion.”
The Anglican Communion is a kind of confederation, with a democratic leadership structure led by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. Though all Anglican Communion “churches” reject fundamental teachings of the Gospel regarding the authority of the Magisterium, some have held close to Christian moral teachings, while others, especially the Episcopal Church in the United States, have rejected many facets of biblical morality in favor of relativistic ideas about sexuality, marriage, procreation, among other things.
The Episcopal Church in the United States has recently permitted and affirmed so-called “same-sex marriage,” despite the obvious Scriptural teachings about marriage and sexuality. In response, the Anglican Communion has temporarily suspended the Episcopal Church from participation in the leadership structures of the Communion. This may lead to a return to biblical morality, or it may lead to further schism.
The division in the Anglican Communion reminds us that Christ wants all Christians to be in unity, and that he formed a Church, and a leadership structure guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, to preserve our unity. If we follow the Holy Spirit, manifested in the Magisterium of the Church, we can be sure of our fidelity to the Gospel, and our unity with Christ, the Head of the Church.
As we strive to live in the full communion of the Church, we should pray for Christians who have lost some part the Gospel’s message, and pray that, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all Christians will be one.
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