Speaking on the day that the Archbishop of Canterbury met Benedict XVI in Rome, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, said it was time for Anglicanism to "clarify its identity".
He told the Catholic Herald: "Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong?
"Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium -Catholic and Orthodox - or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions."
He said he hoped that the Lambeth conference, an event which brings the worldwide Anglican Communion together every 10 years, would be the deciding moment for Anglicanism.
Cardinal Kasper, who has been asked to speak at the Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: "We hope that certain fundamental questions will be clarified at the conference so that dialogue will be possible.
"We shall work and pray that it is possible, but I think that it is not sustainable to keep pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis."
Ruth Gledhill at The Times makes a very good point. "The 'orthodox' or 'traditionalists' now are from the opposite end of the spectrum, in Anglican terms," she writes today. "They are from Kasper's Protestant wing. The irony is that if the Anglican Communion does what Kasper is asking and decides it is in fact a 'Catholic' Church, it will emerge as a Church in the mould of the liberal Catholic provinces of TEC, Scotland and the Catholic wing in England. This would not fit at all with the present mold of conservative catholicism in Rome."
This is so true. The fact is, the progressives in TEC are far more "catholic" in their worship-style, but off the rails when it comes to theology. John Paul II appears to have been the one to take such amazing strides on doctrine of salvation based on grace. The language of evangelical Protestants (mostly predominantly in the spin-offs from the mainline dominations in the United States) and the language of John Paul II found a surprising affinity. It is evangelicals that are warming up to Rome, not liberal Protestants. Now who would have thought of that?
What the Cardinal may not - yet - grasp is that the fields of Protestant non-denominationalism are ripe with an open-heart to liturgy, Jesus-saving, scripturally-based, Trinitarian evangelical liturgy - which is the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer could do more to bring together disenfranchised evangelical Protestants - who have been refugees from their parent denomination for, as in the case of both the Virginia Baptists and the United Methodists - for centuries. I was astonished recently when I attended a predominantly African-American Baptist wedding in Washington, D.C. and the Baptist minister was using the Book of Common Prayer for the wedding liturgy. I didn't even have to look at the service leaflet, which caused my friends to inquire how I knew it all by heart! They thought the pastor wrote it.
Something indeed is happening here, but it's something even deeper than whether Lambeth will tilt to Rome or to New York.
Our community networks as Christians are no longer reserved just for our own tribe. Alpha Conferences are a great example of this new networking. Now we gather together not because of our structural affiliation, but in our common devotion to mission and evangelism. Baptists and Catholics - not known for their long-term affinity for one another - find themselves eating box lunches together under shady oak trees discussing evangelistic outreaches to the inner city or to Islamic strongholds and then praying together. Theirs is a common language of conversion that we find in such networks - or as Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." It's not about achieving rights, but giving them up. It is the paradox that in handing the reigns of our life over to Jesus, we find our life and are set free. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," Paul writes later in his letter to the Galatians. "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
What is that "yoke of slavery?" Isn't it selling ourselves to the "spirit of the age?" The walls are falling between Christians that have long had antipathy for one another because of the freedom we find when we are bonded to Jesus Christ first. It's Jesus first, Anglican second. It's Jesus first, Roman Catholic second. It's Jesus first, Protestant second. When Jesus is first, we are free. That's what means that He is the head of the church, He is first.
John Paul II and now Benedict speak as those who believe, not just with their minds but in their hearts that Jesus if first. This resonates to evangelicals - whether we are Anglican or non-liturgical Protestants. Benedict's speech to the American people was filled with the assumption that Jesus is first. The bridge over the chasm is so strong when he and other Christian leaders "get it" that we find ourselves meeting on that bridge and swapping stories like old friends.
It's such a contrast than what we find at so many General Conventions and Diocese Councils, where the heart-understanding that Jesus is first is almost considered "common." We then are aliens in our own land, Prayer Book in hand that still speaks the language of Jesus first - but with the imagery of the word "Christ" being reimagined into something so different renders us to polarizing sides. We are divided.
What appears to be before the bishops of Lambeth is whether they will embrace their love for Jesus first, that they may be filled with His Holy Spirit, that they will be converted and in that conversion repent and return to the Lord. The simplicity of the Gospel is so often lost on those of us who bear the name of Christ. If we can't agree Who is first, how can we agree on anything else?
It's not our love for the Church, or our love for the lost, or our love for those who are excluded, or our love for our neighbors, or our love for justice, or our love for ourselves. It's putting first things first and falling in love with Jesus. What has been extraordinary is that it appears that the language of love for Jesus is being proclaimed from Rome to Saddleback - and the bridge between the two is to find a way to pray together as a common people who bear the name of Christ.
And who has that book of common prayer?