The Anglican Church is now a worldwide communion and international Anglicanism is marked by a high degree of variety and significant tensions both at local and international levels. Dealing with diversity and conflict across the communion may be the most pressing issue facing Anglicanism in the twenty-first century. Certainly the needs of mission require a strong focus on local and regional concerns and the history of Anglicanism bears testimony to a strong emphasis on a contextual and incarnational approach to discipleship, worship and social engagement. For this reason the Anglican Church has always wrestled with the tension between its inherited identity and the demand for relevance in an expanding communion. Many of the tensions and unresolved conflicts that beset modern Anglicanism arise because of the astonishing capacity of the Church to develop new responses in new situations that result in practices that do not fit easily with the received tradition. These point to a fundamental fact of Christianity; its inherent creativity and capacity for innovation. But not all innovations are wise for the Church; many innovations generate further conflict and the people of God are often confused or puzzled about what innovations to adopt or reject, and how to facilitate either of these scenarios. Some examples in the history of Christianity include controversies over the date of Easter, the development of church order (for example, episcopacy), doctrinal developments (for example, homoousion of the Nicene Creed), and issues to do with slavery, marriage, divorce and, more recently, ordination of women. None of these ‘innovations’ were greeted with immediate consensus at the point of local adoption nor as the innovation became more widely known and assimilated into the life of the Church.
From an ecclesial point of view the fact of innovation represents both a challenge to, and opportunity for an enhanced koinonia in the gospel. Minimally this involves commitment to ongoing patient dialogue and face-to-face encounter as innovations are wrestled with, differences explored and conflicts faced. This article considers further the concepts of innovation and undecidability as critical issues underlying much of our current difficulties. The article then inquires as to their relevance and importance for the koinonia of the Anglican Communion.