Project Canterbury

The Fifth Synod


The Province of Washington

Sermon at Opening Service


The Rev. William T. Manning, D. D.
Rector of Trinity Church
New York City

Preached at St. Paul’s Church
Norfolk, Virginia

November 16th, 1920

Printed and Distributed by Order of The Synod of the
Province of Washington.


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

Christian Unity
A Sermon by
The Rev. Wm. T. Manning D. D.

There shall be one flock, and one shepherd.--St. John, x: 16.

Those words express the mind of Our Lord for His Church. The question of Christian Unity is not one to be decided on grounds of expediency or of preference or of practical advantage. For us the will of Christ is final and commanding. And in this matter His will is clearly made known to us.

No Christian, whether he call himself Catholic or Protestant, has the right to be indifferent upon this subject in the face of the prophecy that "there shall be one flock, and one shepherd," and of the prayer "that they all may be one."

The question "Is Unity desirable?" or "Is Unity possible?" is ruled out of Christian discussion by the voice of Jesus Christ. It is He Who calls us to heal our difference and to come together in Him. And more than ever before the hearts of Christians are stirred in answer to that call. In recent years this feeling has been constantly increasing. All over the world it has been manifesting itself in efforts and movements of various sorts. And the need of Unity has been forced home upon us by an unparalleled experience of suffering and tragedy. The World War showed us with new clearness the impotence and failure of a divided Church.

This was the situation when the Bishops of the Anglican Communion met in conference last August. There was eager interest and deep concern as to what they would say in regard to Reunion. It was recognized that this was the subject of importance beyond all comparison to be considered. It was felt widely that unless the conference should make some really great utterance on this question the loss would be incalculable. The moment was one of spiritual crisis. We know well how many factors the Bishops' have to consider, the wide differences of opinion and conviction among them, the many different influences brought to bear upon them. Bishops like the rest of us are human. What could be expected and hoped for? Was it possible for the Conference constituted as it was, with its diversity of views representing every type and shade of churchmanship, to give forth a truly great message for the inspiration and guidance of the Church in this supreme matter?

The answer to these questionings came in a pronouncement which is by far the most notable ever made by a Lambeth Conference, which marks a new point of progress in the approach towards Unity, which has challenged the attention of the Christian world, and of which the full significance will only gradually be realized.

This Appeal to all Christian People issued at Lambeth will be recognized in time as one of the greatest utterances in the history of the Church, a guide and landmark on the way to Reunion.

[2] There are two things which stand out at once in connection with this Declaration. The first of these is the extraordinary unanimity with which it was adopted; the second is the spirit in which it is conceived and expressed.

The practical unanimity in this matter must be regarded as no less than miraculous. Any one who knows the composition of the gathering must feel this. Only the presence of God the Holy Spirit in this Council can account for it. The assertion may safely be ventured that few of those who sat in the Conference would have believed it possible for this statement to be adopted, and not one would have believed that it could be agreed upon by the whole body of Bishops present with only four dissenting votes.

Such a degree of unanimity as to such a statement as this one is in itself an answer, and a sufficient one, to those who would tell us that Unity is an ideal impossible of attainment.

But still more important and significant is the spirit in which this appeal is made. Here is the truest evidence that it was framed under the guidance of God the Spirit.

There is no trace here of the proverbial Anglican caution. There is in this Declaration a boldness of utterance, a humility of spirit, a real grappling with difficulties, a disregard of consequences which has not always been seen in ecclesiastical pronouncements.

This statement is not in the least concerned to maintain the Anglican position or to guard the Reformation Settlement, or to save the face of anyone. It gives no evidence of desire to prove ourselves in the right or others in the wrong. Its one unmistakable endeavor is to see the truth, to face the situation, and call others to face it, exactly as it exists for all of us, for the whole Christian Church today.

It is this which gives this utterance its singular significance and power. It is the message of those who feel that they are under the guidance of the Spirit and who are striving to speak only as the Spirit bids.

It has about it something which reminds us of the first days of the Church when those who sat in council dared to say "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us." And the message is greater than the Bishops or any of us yet fully apprehend.

What then is the practical effect of this Declaration? What change will it make in the existing situation? How will it affect the relation of our own Communion to the rest of the Christian Church? It has already called forth remarkable response from some of the wisest leaders of other Communions, but we must not expect to see its results immediately. It will take time for it to sink into the consciousness of Christians generally. It was Dr. William R. Huntington who first suggested the Lambeth Quadrilateral which prepared the way for this far greater Declaration.

When that pronouncement was under the fire of criticism which all serious proposals for Reunion must be prepared to undergo, Dr. Huntington wrote that it could be better judged [2/3] after having been honestly lived up to in the house of its friends and, he added, "fifty years will be a short time for the test." Only about twenty years have passed since those words were written and the value of the Quadrilateral has abundantly been proved. Movements growing out of it and based upon it are at this moment in progress in almost every part of the world.

The Quadrilateral served its great purpose but this Declaration creates a new situation. It does what was in the mind of Dr. Huntington and Dr. Muhlenberg and Bishop Hobart, and all who have prayed and striven in this great cause. It brings the matter before the Christian world in the true spirit, and from the true point of approach. It gives to our Communion a leadership in the movement for Unity which our fellow Christians of other names will rejoice for us to exercise, a leadership which desires not its own but only that which is Christ's, a leadership not in desire to impose terms on others, but in desire to sacrifice whatever may be sacrificed for the sake of the fellowship of all in the one Body, a leadership in faithful maintenance not of anything which is ours but only of that which is God's and is therefore necessary for the full life of the United Church.

Our leaders and Fathers in God, those who have the right to speak for the Anglican Communion have dared to take this position. Their action lays on all of us a new and solemn responsibility. It is for the Church now to follow where the Bishops have led. The Bishops have shown us the place to which we are to go and the way by which it is to be reached. They have set before us the true conception and ideal of the United Church. They have declared what is our present relation to other Christians. It is for us now to move forward in the path which is pointed out to us.

The Bishops call on us first of all to recognize our present fellowship with all other Christians. They lay down the only foundation for Unity, and point out the only possible path of approach to it. They "acknowledge all those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have been baptized into the Name of the Holy Trinity as sharing with us membership in the universal Church of Christ which is His Body."

This Declaration looks up to Unity as it exists in God. It does not call on us to create Unity. This is where we have so often made our mistake and gone astray. We have talked as though the Church were a thing which we were to make, or as though we were in the Church and our fellow Christians were outside it. This Appeal recognizes that Unity now exists. It declares that all who are in Christ are one in the Church which is His Body. The task for us, and for others, is not to create Unity, but to cease obscuring and obstructing it, to realize it and give it visible expression that Christ may be manifested and men may believe in Him. And so this Appeal to all Christian people is made not to those who are strangers or aliens, but to those who are already our brethren in the one Church. This is a truly great step forward. And yet there [3/4] is nothing new in it. Theoretically we have always recognized this. But it is a new thing to have it put forward solemnly and deliberately as the Bishops have declared it. We can never again talk, or think, of other Christians as "outsiders." Our fellow Christians can never again suspect us of "unchurching" them. The Bishops have made our position clear to all. We and our fellow Christians are all one in Christ. But from this follows the unnaturalness, the loss, the sin of our separations and divisions.

As to the question of the Ministry, this Appeal speaks with a clearness and in a spirit which should commend it to the careful consideration of all Christians. It makes great gain by taking this question in the order which belongs to it. We have fallen into much difficulty through taking this important matter out of its right place and relation. The first and supreme fact is our fellowship in the Church. This fact clearly recognized as it is here, we can then go on more intelligently, and far more hopefully to consider the question of the Ministry.

The Declaration acknowledges whole heartedly the spiritual reality and efficacy of the Non-Episcopal Ministries. It declares the necessity for the United Church of a "ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the Spirit, but also the commission of Christ and the authority of the whole body"; a statement with which all should agree.

It then offers the Episcopate as "the one means of providing such a Ministry." This statement that the Episcopate is "the one means of providing such a Ministry" for the whole United Church is one to which many leading Non-Conformists today fully assent.

And then follows what so pronounced a Catholic and so able a theologian as Father Herbert Kelly describes as "the unique grandeur" of this Declaration, the statement that although we cannot repudiate our Ministry any more than we ask others to repudiate theirs, terms of union having been otherwise satisfactorily adjusted, Bishops and Clergy of our Communion would willingly accept from the authorities of other Communions "a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations as having its place in the one family life." This offer by the Bishops has been interpreted by some as made only to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Churches. Such an interpretation however is quite incorrect. The offer is made especially to the Non-Episcopal Communions, and the language of the Declaration makes this clear. It is in fact based upon an offer made in almost identical words by the Bishop of Zanzibar to the representatives of the Protestant Communions in East Africa. The Chairman of the Committee which drew up this Declaration, the Archbishop of York, has himself made the following comment on this offer:

"I was born, brought up, and baptized in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. I was received into the Episcopal Church and am now an [4/5] Archbishop. I should esteem it a privilege and an added consecration and of course no repudiation of my orders if our relations with the Presbyterian Church were such that I could now receive such ordination or commission from the Church of my fathers as would enable me to minister in the Presbyterian Church and to administer the Lord's Supper to its people; and I should feel that no Presbyterian minister would repudiate his ministry if he should receive ordination at my hands and while still remaining a minister of the Presbyterian Church be able to administer the Lord's Supper in the Church of England."

One more matter before I close. How does this great Declaration by the Bishops of the Anglican Communion bear upon that practical proposal for approach towards Unity now under consideration by our Communion and known as the Concordat. I have seen some published statements which seemed to imply that the Concordat failed to receive support because the Lambeth Declaration does not mention it by name. Nothing however could be more unwarranted than such an inference.

Quite naturally and necessarily the Declaration does not mention the Concordat by name any more than it mentions the various other proposals of like character which are under consideration in different parts of the world. But the Lambeth Conference had before it in a small, carefully prepared volume all the recently proposed approaches towards Reunion, among them a Proposal by the Bishop of London for union with the Wesleyan Methodists, a Proposal by the Bishop of Zanzibar for union with the Protestant Communions in East Africa, and our own proposed Concordat with the Congregationalists. These three Proposals are the same in principle and are strikingly similar in their main provisions. Each of them provides that Ministers after receiving Episcopal ordination shall continue to minister in their own Communions. Each is based on the very principles embodied in the Lambeth Declaration. And I think those of you who are familiar with both documents will feel that I do not overstate the case when I say that the Lambeth Declaration countenances and supports every principle of the Concordat, and in some important points goes further in the direction of concession than the Concordat does.

Compared with the Declaration on Unity made by the Bishops at Lambeth the Concordat is a rather conservative proposal. On the very lines laid down by this Declaration it is an experiment in the direction of Reunion, but a very carefully guarded one. And how shall we ever make any progress unless we are willing to make some experiments?

If the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Zanzibar are willing to recommend such an experiment why should it throw any of us into panic?

As to the support which the Lambeth Declaration gives to the Concordat, I will mention only a few specific points.

Both the Declaration and the Concordat hold that "the Episcopate is the one means of providing" the commission for exercise of the Ministry in the Universal Church.

The Concordat recognizes the spiritual reality and efficacy of the Non-Episcopal Ministries. The Lambeth Declaration in emphatic terms takes the same position.

[6] The Concordat declares that acceptance of Episcopal Ordination by those otherwise ordained involves no repudiation of their previous Ministry. The Lambeth Declaration says the same thing in almost the same words.

The Concordat provides that Ministers of other Communions after receiving Episcopal Ordination may on certain stated conditions continue to minister in the Communions to which they belong. The Lambeth Declaration is entirely in harmony with this provision. It contemplates the existence of different Groups and Communions in communion with each other within the one Church and says that "Christian Communions now separated from one another would retain much that has long been distinctive in their methods of worship and service."

The Concordat proposes that while this approach towards Unity is in progress the people entering into the arrangement shall not be required to receive Confirmation before being admitted to the Holy Communion. This is the point which has been most seriously objected to in the Concordat. To make their position as to this point quite clear the Bishops at Lambeth adopted the following resolution in connection with the Declaration on Unity: "The Bishops of the Anglican Communion will not question the action of any Bishop who, in the few years between the initiation and the completion of a definite scheme of union, shall countenance the irregularity of admitting to Communion the baptized but unconfirmed communicants of the Non-Episcopal congregations concerned in the scheme." It would be difficult to imagine any clearer reference to the Concordat, or any stronger support of it than this.

The Lambeth Declaration not only stands for the principle of supplemental ordination, which is the essence of the Concordat, it goes further. It proposes, as we have seen, that Bishops and Clergy of the Anglican Communion without repudiating their Ministry shall receive from the authorities of the Non-Episcopal Communions "a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations." This very important suggestion was not contained in the Concordat as presented to our last General Convention.

In two other provisions the action taken at Lambeth goes further than the Concordat. It provides that in certain cases where a scheme of reunion is being carried out, but has not yet been brought to completion, Ministers not episcopally ordained shall be allowed to preach and conduct services in our churches, but not to celebrate the Holy Communion, and also that during this transition period they shall be recognized as "of equal status in all Synods and Councils of the United Church" with those episcopally ordained. The Concordat contains no corresponding provisions.

One who is honoured and beloved by all of us, and to whose words I personally listen with the deepest respect, the Bishop of Vermont, has stated recently that there is a marked difference between the Lambeth Declaration on Reunion and the [6/7] Concordat, because the Concordat deals "with individual Ministers who might seek ordination by an individual Bishop while retaining their position in the body (Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist or other) to which they already belonged," whereas "the Lambeth plan contemplates the action not of individuals but of religious bodies." This is, however, a misapprehension as to the nature of the Concordat, and one which has been strangely prevalent. The utmost care was taken by its framers to provide that the Concordat should not deal only with individual Ministers who might seek ordination by an individual Bishop and two facts will, I think, show that this was accomplished:

1. The Concordat specifically requires that a Minister applying for Episcopal ordination shall do so with the consent of the ecclesiastical authorities of the Communion to which he belongs. Without this formal consent of the authorities of his own Communion, and their participation in the matter, the Minister applying may not be ordained.

2. The Commission which is acting in this matter on behalf of the Congregationalists was officially appointed by the National Council of Congregational Churches just, as our own Commission, which is acting in this matter, was appointed by our General Convention. It is evident, therefore, that the Concordat does not deal only with individual Ministers.

The Concordat is now under consideration by the two Commissions appointed respectively by our own Church and the Congregational Church to continue the conference in regard to it. What will be its final form as a result of these conferences no one can now say. Whether it will be approved and accepted by the governing bodies of the two Communions primarily moving in regard to it remains to be seen. But in any case its principles have received the all but unanimous support of the Bishops assembled at Lambeth, very many of our American Bishops among the number.

Particular efforts and proposals may succeed or fail. But if undertaken in the right spirit, they all serve their purpose. And the movement towards Reunion is taking place. More than ever before Christians have the vision of it before them. And the vision will be realized. It will be realized because it is from Christ Himself.

Fathers and brethren, let us do all that is in our power to hasten its coming. Let us pray that no act or word of ours may hinder or delay it even for an hour.

Let us thank God and take courage for the noble and worthy message sent forth by the Bishops gathered in conference at Lambeth, the historic centre of the Anglican Communion which is identified so sacredly and from its very beginnings with the whole life and history and development of the English speaking peoples and their great mission in the Church and in the world.

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