What price Anglican unity --
and whom do we ask to pay the price?
A Letter from Canon Paul Oestreicher to the Church Times, July 2006
Sir, -- The Archbishop of Canterbury's lucid analysis of the state of Anglicanism ( News, 30
June) puts paid to the charge that he cannot speak with clarity. It does not, however,
address an ecclesiological question that arises from the proposed covenant with a
mainstream of insiders and a tolerated fringe. Is the Church in essence a static or a
dynamic community of faith? Is tradition or is innovation to be normative? Who are to be
At issue is our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, who would, Jesus told his disciples, lead them
into all truth. There are many things we, like them, do not yet understand. Often in the
past it has been the world that has enabled the Church to discern the truth. But by no
There are, I believe, important lessons to be learnt from Nazi Germany. The Confessing
Church, led by Martin Niemöller, rejected the false doctrine of the German Christian
movement that all Judaic elements must be removed from the gospel to make it conform
to Hitler's racial doctrine. To accept that would immeasurably damage the Church.
Niemöller, in consequence, spent eight years in Hitler's concentration camps. When
released, he toured the world as an inspiring evangelist. His message surprised many: "We
were wrong. Our concern was for the Church and the purity of its doctrine. We did not
raise our voice for Hitler's victims: the communists and trade unionists, the liberals, the
homosexuals, the gypsies and above all the Jews. We share the guilt of the German
I heard him as a teenager in New Zealand, enthralled.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his lone struggle did not have the support of the Confessing Church
in his recognition that solidarity with the Jews was the real issue. The many anti-Jewish
texts in the New Testament, long used by Christians to persecute the Jews, could never be
the last word. No text ever can. So Bonhoeffer embarked, without church backing, on
political opposition. He broke communion with those who had turned their back on the
Jews. He had left the mainstream, and paid for it with his life.
Many in his own Church still refuse to recognise Bonhoeffer as a martyr. His statue in
Westminster Abbey suggests that we do. But do we recognise the implication of that for
ourselves? What price Anglican unity - and whom do we ask to pay the price?
University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RH