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Church of Nigeria and the proposed Anglican Covenant

Church of Nigeria and the proposed Anglican Covenant

By Bishop John Akao
Church Times
March 24, 2011

What is a Christian Covenant?

The cautious attitude of most African Anglican provinces towards the recent 'Anglican Covenant' is informed by their historic commitment to biblical orthodoxy and influenced by their spiritual heritage, culture and moral values. Africa benefitted from missionary endeavours that upheld faith in God, the lordship of Christ, authority of the Scriptures and cherished traditions.

Despite the colonial superstructure upon which Anglicanism was introduced, the church has grown mostly due to indigenous missionary initiatives by the people themselves. African Christian understanding of a covenant agrees with Christian theological interpretation of covenant as a strong commitment to relationship between two or more parties on agreed terms.

Covenant presupposes that the parties mutually accept the terms, are in communion, and commit to respect and be bound by the terms as well as subject to the consequences of obeying or violating it. In traditional African society, covenant is sacrosanct and cannot be trivialized without dire repercussions more so when oaths have been sworn to in the name of God.

The fear of God underscores respect for divine laws and religious worship. In virtually every African society, there exist sets of moral laws called taboos (abominations) which are strictly adhered to. These values already existed before the coming of Christianity; they were only reinforced by it. Indeed, the African morality is similar to biblical portrait of Jewish and early Church moral values. This attitude was transposed to Christian faith and ethics by African converts to Christianity. They therefore manifest in their faith, worship and morals, biblical tenets and precepts according to the Word of God. Whenever African culture conflicts with Christian tenets, culture bows to the superiority and authority of Scripture.

The African spirituality does not dwell on philosophical abstractions to the detriment of spiritual realities such as belief in God, judgment, heaven and hell. It accepts sin as evil. Therefore, Africans interpret deviant behaviors such as homosexuality as abominable actions which corrupt the Church, dilute the Christian faith and jettison the very biblical foundations of the 'faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints'.

With the possible exception of Yahweh's suzerainty covenant with Israel, covenant is voluntarily entered into by two parties. It is never forced by one party upon another in unequal terms. Thus, covenant is a consummating factor and a uniting mechanism to project unity of a people, not a tool to force into union, two conflicting parties. According to prophet Amos, "can two people walk together except they are agreed?"(Amos 3:3).

The Cambridge Anglican Covenant: Our Observations and Assessment

The idea of an Anglican Covenant was suggested by the Global South to check the drift of some members especially in TEC and Canada as well as some other parts of Europe like Germany and Britain in the wake of revisionist agenda manifested radically by the recognition of same -sex relationships by the Church, especially the consecration of two same-sex practitioners as bishops in The Episcopal Church of America.

Unfortunately, the original idea of covenant to bring back erring members who have embarrassed the Communion and torn its fabrics apart, was adopted by the Anglican Establishment, by fashioning a covenant which in motive, content and thrust deviate from the original objective of healing and unifying the communion. The present covenant to the African Anglicans, is crafted to persuade orthodox Anglicans to accept and commit to fellowshipping with revisionist groups who have perpetrated aberrations but who unrepentantly defy various moves and resolutions to bring them back on course.

The Church of Nigeria is aware of its weaknesses as a body of Christ and the fact that it is part and parcel of the Nigerian society with all its weaknesses and imperfections. That notwithstanding, we do not use this to redefine the ideals expected of society. We believe in the transformative power of the gospel to engender a new society amongst us. The following reasons underscore African Anglican's sense of caution towards the emergent Cambridge covenant in its present form:

1. During the drafting of the covenant, all parties were not involved in the original formulations. Most African Anglicans were sent the draft for their comment after the structure, direction and tendencies had been formed. It appeared to have been designed to commit others to tolerate the revisionist agenda in a spirit of perpetual indaba, leaving the raging issues of the controversy in the Anglican Communion unattended to. The offending TEC remained defiant and recalcitrant despite series of appeals and resolutions. This attitude of TEC to the entire Communion smacks of arrogance and colonial mentality against the African voice.

2. Whereas the African provinces made constructive critique of and positive contributions to the draft covenant, their contributions were hardly recognized nor reflected in subsequent revisions, leading to the emergent Cambridge version, which is seemingly the final form.

3. Whereas a covenant is ideally entered into by two communicating and fellowshipping parties, that is not the case in the present Anglican Communion. There is a conspicuous absence of cohesion in the Communion which is a necessary foundation for a covenant. It is common knowledge that the Communion is fractured severely as demonstrated by the absence of some Primates at the recently concluded Primates meeting in Dublin Ireland, just like some other organs like Inter Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order where African representatives have been reduced from 'members' to 'consultants'. The fundamental question need to be asked: are we having a communion (fellowship) or a Church which speaks with a united voice under the headship of Jesus Christ? At the moment, we cannot say that we have one Anglican Church. This does not refer to the characteristic shades of Anglicanism, for even in diversity, we had hitherto maintained a remarkable measure of unity. That is now lost. We now behave like in the era of the Judges in ancient Israel, when 'there was no king in Israel and every man did as he pleased.'

4. The present covenant distracts the orthodox Anglican voices from the major issues currently in contention in the Communion. It seeks to surreptitiously engender perpetual talking and dissipation of valuable time, energy and human as well as material resources in endless meetings which so far have led nowhere, whereas the erroneous teaching and practices are being consolidated. African voices are aligned with the voices of GAFCON, Global South and All Africa Anglican Bishops Conference.

5. The parameters of Biblical interpretation in the Anglican Church are diversified. Unfaithfulness to God and dishonesty in Biblical interpretations gave rise to the present problems. In this stance, the authority of the Bible is weakened against evil cultural and behavioral practices. Pressure by secular forces such as human rights activists, parliaments, legal practitioners, entertainment world and the educational system to pursue deviant behavior like homosexuality appears to have overwhelmed the church and compromised her prophetic voice in the western world. All these seemingly incapacitate a church that is already weak, compromising and undetermined to defend Christian teachings, principles and ethos. We find it difficult to discern when the church is speaking and when society is speaking through the church.

6. The Anglican Church in Nigeria is not able to subscribe to or sign to the Anglican covenant because it disagrees with the above trend. We hold the scripture as God's word written to be interpreted in the light of the best biblical scholarship and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible occupies a central and controlling force in our corporate life as the Word of God to be obeyed, not just a document to be rough-handled as an anachronistic piece. The Bible was meant to speak to culture, traditions and ways of life of people in a manner that Christianity eventually transforms such culture. Unfortunately today, there is a rift as to which is superior, whether human culture or the Bible. For some, culture has the upper hand and this we are unable to accept. This has brought the Bible down from the pedestal from which African Christians received it. We in Africa have decided that it is either the Bible or nothing else.

7. A group of people that lacks cohesion cannot easily enter into covenant. We will maintain relationship in mission and evangelism with any part of the Communion that is ready to uphold the scriptures as a rule for faith and practice in public and daily life. As long as there is no cohesion, the idea of a covenant will remain impracticable.

---Bishop John Akao is chair of the Church of Nigeria Theological Resource group

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