OF NIGERIA (ANGLICAN
Re: THE CHALLENGE AND HOPE OF BEING ANGLICAN TODAY
A RESPONSE FROM THE HOUSE OF BISHOPS OF THE CHURCH OF NIGERIA
We have received from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams,
what must be the outcome of in-depth personal reflection on the
un-abating tempest of divergent opinions that have continued
to rock the worldwide Anglican Communion in recent years.
It is unlikely that anyone who holds our historic worldwide
Communion and its leadership, close to heart, and in prayer will
fail to grasp the tensions that the Archbishop wrestles with
in an attempt to hold together a fragile Communion that is threatened
by the real possibility of disintegration and fragmentation.
No one can assume that there are easy answers – and perhaps
that is the crux of the problem facing the leadership of our
Communion. The issue at stake is not just a crisis of identity,
but also a shopping for palatable answers in a situation of contending
convictions and shifting values. The dilemma, and therefore the
challenge is whether to revisit the old paths of our forbears
or to fashion out a novel establishment that is elastic enough
to accommodate all the extremes of preferred modes of expression
of the same faith.
His analysis of the situation is quite lucid, and the liberal
and post-modern tilt of some interpretations is apparent. But
we must commend the fact that it appears we have finally come
to that point of admitting that we are truly at crossroads as
a Communion and the time to decide on the way forward can no
longer be wished away. The mere fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury
now proposes a two-tier membership for the Anglican Communion
is his acceptance that the wound caused by the revisionists has
become difficult, if not impossible, to heal. The idea of a Covenant
that would ensure this two-tier membership of ‘Constituent
Churches’ and ‘Churches in Association’ is
brilliant as the heartbeat of a leader who
wants to preserve the unity of the Church by accommodating every
shred of opinion no matter how unbiblical, all because we want to make everyone
feel at home.
The Archbishop submits that “there is no way the Anglican
Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment.” That
is a fact of our human existence. But is this not the time for
our Communion to take to heart the instructive lines from Henry
Francis Lyte in our treasury of hymns, “Change and decay
in all around I see; Oh Thou who changest not, abide with me”?
Is this not indeed the time for us to hush our hearts and meditate
on the significance of the request of the early disciples on
the road to Emmaus, “Abide with us, [they said,] for it
is toward evening, and the day is far spent”? (Luke 24:29).
Should the encircling gloom around us not make us ponder on the
words of our Lord, "You are the salt of the earth… if
the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and
trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13)? That we must change is
without contention, but should we not change for the better – as
redeemed, reconciled and transformed people of God who have a
witness to a lost and broken world?
Archbishop Rowan candidly observes that our Anglican Decision-Making “lacks
a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope
with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world
of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety” and
that we need to be clear about certain age-old assumptions to
be sure we are “still talking the same language, “aware
of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church
of Christ”. He goes on to highlight some of the “fault
lines of division.” He boldly puts the blame at the door
of the Episcopal Church where there had been no agreement or
any kind of consensus – whether in the Episcopal Church
itself or in the global Communion – before the ordination
of Gene Robinson was undertaken. It is noteworthy also that he
remarks that “the recent resolutions of the General Convention
have not produced a complete response to the challenges of the
Windsor Report…” One wonders if such blatant disregard
should not be reprimanded.
The Archbishop says we “have tried to be a family of Churches
willing to learn from each other across cultural divides, not
assuming that European (or American or African) wisdom is what
settles everything, opening up the lives of Christians here to
the realities of Christian experience everywhere”. He then
goes on to suggest that the genuine concerns expressed about
orthodoxy and the need to contend for the faith once entrusted
to the saints, have made the debate harder, and “reinforced
the lines of division and led to enormous amounts of energy going
into ‘political’ struggle (!) with and between churches
in different parts of the world.” The idea that these genuine
concerns have degenerated to the “politicization of a theological
dispute” instead of “reasoned debate” is very
sadly patronizing. One would have expected that those who had
embarked on this religious misadventure would be encouraged to
judge their actions against our well-established historic tradition.
cancerous lump in the body should be excised if it has defied
every known cure. To attempt to condition the whole body to accommodate
it will lead to the avoidable death of the patient.
We encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury to persuade those
who have chosen to “walk apart” to return to the
path chosen by successive generations of our forbears. We continue
to hold our Communion before God in earnest prayer.