The Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael Nazir Ali is reported by Jonathan Petre in the Daily Telegraph to have said, that "if the conference was no longer to be regarded as an authoritative council, as it had been in the past, then he might be able to attend, but many would then question whether such a costly gathering had any point."
He said in a question and answer period at Wycliffe Hall the following:
"The problem is that the Lambeth conference has been for 150 years where Bishops gather together to teach. That is the main reason for it - to exercise their office as teachers of the faith for the worldwide communion.
We have been told this time that this is not what it will do. So the question arises what is it for and will it be worthwhile since it is a hugely costly exercise. I am very happy to talk with people at any time that is mutually convenient. The Lambeth Conference is not just such an occasion. It is a meeting of bishops for particular purposes."
So the esteemed Bishop Nazir Ali contends that the Lambeth Conference (i) is an authoritative council and (ii) the occasion to "exercise their office as teachers of the faith for the worldwide communion." He thinks the bishops gathered at Lambeth are meant to teach and rest of us to obey.
It is appalling to see this kind of falsehood proclaimed as truth. The Lambeth Conference is a gathering of the bishops in communion with the See of Canterbury and part of the Anglican Communion. This is what the Anglican Communion Web Site has to say about the Lambeth Conference:
"The Lambeth Conference is one of the Instruments of Communion of the global Anglican Communion.
It is convened every ten years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and is the only occasion when bishops can meet for worship, study and conversation. Archbishops, bishops, assistant and suffragan bishops within the Communion are invited.
Also invited to attend are bishops from other churches 'in communion' with the Anglican Communion, bishops from United Churches, along with a number of ecumenical guests.
Actually, this is a pretty awful description, but will do. The core of the statement is "bishops meet for worship, study and conversation."
The Windsor Report, a document of decreasing significance, at least made an interesting observation about the life and development of the Lambeth Conference:
"102. It had been a precondition of its calling that the Conference should not regard itself as a pan-Anglican Synod, with legislative powers, but rather as an advisory body; though in the event it emphasised that "unity in faith and discipline will be best maintained among the several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a synod or synods above them" . Whatever its intended significance, as Owen Chadwick has noted, "Meetings start to gather authority if they exist and are seen not to be a cloud of hot air and rhetoric. It was impossible that the leaders of the Anglican Communion should meet every ten years and not start to gather respect; and to gather respect is slowly to gather influence, and influence is on the road to authority" From its inception, the Lambeth Conference has proved to be a powerful vehicle for the expression of a concept central to Anglican ecclesiology, the collegiality of the bishops."
Bishop Nazir Ali may be right to believe that the Lambeth Conference is becoming a teaching and authoritative instrument, but he is dead wrong to think that it has been for 150 years primarily a teaching occasion. And, regarding the matter of authority, the Lambeth Conference statements have been only slowly gathering steam as authoritative. That of course is part of the problem.
His view is not shared, evidently, by those who on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury publish a description of the Lambeth Conference. It is a far cry from "worship, study and conversation" to authoritative and teaching events.
Too bad that he doesn't want to get together and worship, study and converse. If he wants a full blown Anglican "Church" wide synod he will have to wait until there is such a thing as a world wide Anglican church. As it is there is the Communion, a fellowship, not a Church Synod.