The Windsor Report 2004

The communion we have been given in Christ : Biblical foundations

  1. God has unveiled, in Jesus Christ, his glorious plan for the rescue of the whole created order from all that defaces, corrupts and destroys it. The excitement and drama of that initial achievement and that final purpose pervade the whole New Testament, and set the context for understanding why God has called out a people by the gospel, and how that people is to understand its identity and order its life.

  2. In particular, as the letter to the Ephesians puts it, God's people are to be, through the work of the Spirit, an anticipatory sign of God's healing and restorative future for the world. Those who, despite their own sinfulness, are saved by grace through their faith in God's gospel (2.1-10) are to live as a united family across traditional ethnic and other boundaries (2.11-22), and so are to reveal the many-splendoured wisdom of the one true God to the hostile and divisive powers of the world (3.9-10) as they explore and celebrate the astonishing breadth of God's love made known through Christ's dwelling in their hearts (3.14-21). The redeemed unity which is God's will for the whole creation is to be lived out within the life of the church as, through its various God-given ministries, it is built up as the Body of Christ and grows to maturity not least through speaking the truth in love (1.10, 22-3; 4.1-16). The church, sharing in God's mission to the world through the fact of its corporate life, must live out that holiness which anticipates God's final rescue of the world from the powers and corruptions of evil (4.17-6.20).

  3. The unity of the church, the communion of all its members with one another (which are the primary subjects of this report), and the radical holiness to which all Christ's people are called, are thus rooted in the trinitarian life and purposes of the one God. They are designed not for their own sake (as though the church's in-house business were an end in itself), but to serve and signify God's mission to the world, that mission whereby God brings to men and women, to human societies and to the whole world, real signs and foretastes of that healing love which will one day put all things to rights. The communion we enjoy with God in Christ and by the Spirit, and the communion we enjoy with all God's people living and departed, is the specific practical embodiment and fruit of the gospel itself, the good news of God's action in Jesus Christ to deal once and for all with evil and to inaugurate the new creation. The unity (specifically celebrating the diversity within that unity) to which Christ's body is called, which is brought into being by the work of the Spirit through the gospel, is sustained and maintained through the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching ministries which the Spirit enables. All that can be said about unity and communion assumes this foundation in the gospel itself. It assumes, likewise, that this unity and communion are meaningless unless they issue in that holiness of life, worked out in severely practical contexts, through which the church indicates to the world that a new way of being human, over against corrupt and dehumanising patterns of life, has been launched upon the world. In other words, unity, communion and holiness all belong together. Ultimately, questions about one are questions about all.

  4. These themes are worked out dramatically in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In writing to the very troubled faith community there, he begins his pastoral and restorative ministry (following on from his apostolic and evangelistic ministry, already exercised) by reminding them of the true gift of God that is their identity in Christ. He writes to them in the grace and peace that is “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1.3). The Corinthians, he maintains, are a people who have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and are “called to be saints” (1.2). In Christ they are “enriched in every way in speech and knowledge of every kind” and “are not lacking any spiritual gift as [they] await the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1.5-7). Paul reminds them that a faithful God has “called them into the fellowship [koinonia, 'communion'] of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1.9). Whatever problems there are in the community - and Corinth had more than its fair share, from personality cults and social divisions to immorality and unbelief - Paul begins by addressing them as those who are, despite some outward appearances, already set apart by and for the love of God. This does not hold him back from administering severe discipline in the case of scandalous behaviour (ch.5); but this too, as 2 Corinthians 2 indicates, is held within the larger context of pastoral and reconciling intent. At the climax of this letter, after dealing with all these problems, we find Paul's longest exposition of what it means to live as the Body of Christ, united in diversity (ch.12), with that unity characterised not by a mechanistic or formal structure but by that all-demanding and all-fulfilling virtue which the early Christians called agape, love (ch.13).

  5. As we Anglicans face very serious challenges to our unity and communion in Christ - challenges which have emerged not least because of different interpretations of that holiness to which we are called, and different interpretations of the range of appropriate diversity within our union and communion - Paul would want to remind us of the unique source of that unity, our common identity in Christ, and its unique purpose, the furtherance of God's mission within the world. We too have certainly been gifted with the grace of fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We are, by God's gift, in communion with the Persons of the Holy Trinity, and are members of one another in Christ Jesus. We are, in the power of the Spirit, sent into all the world to declare that Jesus is Lord. This grace-given and grace-full mission from God, and communion with God, determine our relationship with one another. Communion with God and one another in Christ is thus both a gift and a divine expectation. All that we say in this report is intended both to celebrate that gift and to answer that expectation.