I admit I am a somewhat naïve person in respect of Christian unity. I think there should be more of it. I think we should strive harder to achieve it in this world since even a bit of achievement here would be both a witness to Christ now and make life easier for Christians in the new heaven and earth.
One of my starting points is Jesus’ own prayer, ut unim sint. But another starting point for my naive motivation is the simple truth that in the life to come there will be one and only one church. No denominational sections will exist in heaven. But then neither will there be popes, bishops, moderators, superintendents, synods, assemblies or councils!
Here at ADU I am especially concerned that we do not fracture further whatever unity we currently enjoy, with a special eye on my own church, ACANZP, but also a keen eye on the Anglican Communion. But reflecting on these situations, and building on some pertinent points made in comments here in recent days, I recognise that there are varying aspects to either maintaining unity or building unity out of previous difference or even pretending unity exists or moves are being made towards unity when this is not actually so. We could perhaps say that some forms of Christian unity are worth more than other forms!
Compromise for unity
One line from ARCIC in recent years has been that unity between Anglicans and Romans would involve recognition of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. As I recall the relevant document, the language used was as agreeable to Anglicans as could be reasonably hoped but the bottom line was recognition of that specific primacy. Here then, were it ever to happen, would be a compromise, a position not entirely satisfactory to one side of the joining together for the sake of the joining together. Given that a whole lot of other things would be satisfactory (e.g. creedal agreement, continuation of bishops), such a compromise could be worthwhile making. (For simplicities sake here I am not listing many other compromises which would also have to be made!)
By contrast, we could think about potential unity between Anglicans and (non-episcopal) Methodists which always seems to get stuck on the matter of episcopacy because, one way or another, one side would make a compromise which so far as it seems is not able to be made in a manner worthwhile to the one making the compromise. (In particular, from the Anglican side of things, to give up the episcopacy would be to also give up all thought of unity with Rome).
Lowest common denominator unity
This was mentioned in a comment the other day. The specific example advanced was the Uniting Church of Australia. I make no comment about that as I do not know anything much about the history of that joining together. But what can be said here is that to a degree much Anglican unity works in this way: we are united by what we agree on and … that appears to be not much. In respect of the Covenant, for example, a renewal of Communion unity is offered via a high common denominator (i.e. agreement on each and every detail of the Covenant). But the outcome on current prognosis is rejection of the Covenant which de facto is a settling for Anglican unity on as few essentials as possible.
In my own church it is highly arguable that we agree on very little (we ought to have bishops,we have a constitution which provides for significant cultural delineation in our practical arrangements, and we have a prayer book and lectionary perfectly suited to ‘the Church of Or.’)
Even more cynically, it is sometimes voiced in our church that we are only held together as three tikanga because we have the St John’s College Trust Board treasure chest of funds for which access has to come through a church united under one General Synod.
(I myself would wish to be less cynical than that and say that our unity is a binding together of many friends and families in one small set of islands in which we recognise needs for inter-dependency, and the discussions over money keep us talking together and getting to know one another’s situations more deeply than ever before.)
It is also observable in our ecclesiastical arrangements that some proclamations of unity are scarcely worth the writing on the paper that underlines them. A few years ago to a bit of hoopla and what have you, there was proclamation of a covenant between NZ Methodists and NZ Anglicans. I can detect not one whit of difference that has been made by that Covenant. Methodists do not have bishops and we have not abolished them. Friendly relations with Methodists were ever friendly before the Covenant and just as friendly afterwards. I imagine that if the Methodists asked for financial assistance from us they would receive no more or less favourable hearing than before there was a covenant.
Although we will never have a Covenant for the Communion I think it a reasonable thought that if we did have, it would (as time went by) prove to be the harbinger of nothing more than paper unity.
Real unity among Christians is measured by deeds and not by words.