The consultative assembly of bishops of the entire Anglican Communion that are held at approximately ten-year intervals at Lambeth Palace, London, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The initiative for these gatherings came from the bishops of Canada, who were disturbed by the liberal theology of Essays and Reviews (1860) and of Bp. John Colenso who petitioned in 1865 for a council representative of Anglicans throughout the world. Despite initial misgivings, especially in England, Abp. Charles Longley of Canterbury agreed to convene an assembly, provided that it issued no declaration of faith and no canons or decisions binding on the Church, but confine itself to counsel and encouragement. Since its inauguration, the Lambeth Conference has been a purely informal and consultative gathering of all Anglican episcopal leaders without jurisdictional power; but they have contributed greatly to Anglican unity and cohesion. Their recommendations lack binding force until enacted by local hierarchies in local synods of convocations.
The authority of Lambeth within the Anglican Communion is entirely moral, in the sense of being advisory, rather than legislative and jurisdictional. For this reason the conference normally expresses its corporate mind on issues confronting the church in documents that are commended to Anglicans throughout the world for study. These statements are commonly taken into account by the legislative and policy-making bodies of the individual member churches as being expressive of the mind of the church.
The Lambeth Conference has been criticized by some Anglicans on two counts: it consists solely of bishops, and it meets only once every decade. Since its inception until the end of the 20th century, there have been thirteen conferences. The 1968 conference took positive action to provide a fully representative pan-Anglican body made up of bishops, clergy, and laity that could meet more frequently. The result was the establishment of the Anglican Consultative Council in October 1969. In 1988, for the first time the Lambeth Conference included the full Anglican Consultative Council and episcopal representatives from churches in communion with Canterbury, namely the churches of Bangladesh, North India, South India and Pakistan, and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.
Bibliography: r. t. davidson, ed., The Lambeth Conferences of 1867, 1978 and 1888 (New York 1896). h. ryan, "Lambeth '68, a Roman Catholic Theological Reflection," Theological Studies 29 (1968) 597–636. g. f. lytle, Lambeth Conferences Past and Present (Austin, Texas 1989). v. k. samuel, and c. sugden, Lambeth: A View from the Two Thirds World (London 1989).
c. e. simcox/eds.]
The ‘Lambeth Quadrilateral’, approved at the conference of 1888, remains the Anglican statement of the fourfold essential basis for a reunited Church: (i) the Bible as the ultimate rule of faith, (ii) the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, (iii) the sacraments of baptism and Lord's supper, and (iv) the ‘historic episcopate’.