EKKLESIA head says Africans will act in Lagos over Windsor Report flop
TV transcript from Essentials: For such a time as this...
by Bill Atwood
The Anglican Communion is a magnificent fellowship that stretches across more than 160 countries and reports almost 80 million members. Around the world, Anglicans are overwhelmingly faithful to the Scriptures, filled with prayer, and fueled by evangelism. In the last thirty years as Anglican churches in the West have dramatically declined, churches in the Global South have exploded with growth and grace.
Biblically faithful churches with a paucity of financial resources are reaching out with prayer and evangelism, and the result is millions of new Christian believers. In the diocese of Bujumbura in Burundi, there are two hundred thousand Anglicans in twenty parishes cared for by fifty-five clergy. They do their ministry on a budget of $5,000 US a year. And it’s not just that one place. All across sub-Saharan Africa more than 80% of the churches have a budget of less than $50 a month. Even so, the church is vibrant and growing.
In Lango Diocese in Northern Uganda, conditions are very hard. By Western standards, they are quite desperate. 26 of the 75 parishes in the diocese have been overrun by rebels. The people have fled and there are refugees in the other villages and towns in the Southern part of the diocese. When I told the Bishop, Charles Odurkami that we had raised some money for relief he replied, “Oh thank God. But if you could…could you send half of it to Soroti Diocese? They are my neighbors and their needs are also great. It is easy to find inspiration from such selfless leaders.
As the Episcopal Church in the United States slipped from 3.5 million to just over two million members, the church in Nigeria has grown from 4 million to more than 17 million.
In East Africa, millions have turned to follow Jesus Christ with revival fires burning brightly in Anglican churches. Despite the fact that more than two million people have been killed in the Sudan, the church continues to grow and grow. In the Congo there is a similar story. In Uganda, there are now more than eight million Anglicans in a country with a population of about 20 million.
We don’t have to romanticize the church in Africa. Of course there problems (poverty, HIV AIDS, and even corruption), but leaders in the two thirds world are committed to bringing the church in line with what God has revealed as His will in the Scriptures. We have a lot that we can learn from them.
In the West, as the culture has increasingly embraced moral relativism, the church has been more and more adrift. As the church more closely mirrors the culture, it’s answers have a hollow ring. And the fruit is evident…churches that are getting smaller and smaller.
Those who embrace the authority of Scripture may be discouraged and feel like they are in a minority, but it is not so. Around the world, Anglican Churches are trumpeting Good News and Biblical faith. Lives are being changed and hope is being born.
At the heart of the difference between the Global South and the church in the West is the question of World View. African and Asian Christians have a Biblical world view that has experienced God as real. They have seen Him change their lives and families. They have seen the restoration that the Gospel brings. In his book “The New Christendom” Philip Jenkins wrote: If there is a single key area of faith and practice that divides Northern and Southern Christians, it is this matter of spiritual forces and their effects on the everyday human world.”
In addition, they view the world with an eye to eternity. They understand that it makes a difference whether or not a person has a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Most Anglicans around the world are desperately concerned that people be shown the way of eternal life. Out of love for people they are very concerned that if possible, not even one person be lost.
The post-modern mindset of the church in North America is all but incomprehensible to most Anglican leaders overseas. They see it as dangerous, destructive, and obviously incompatible with Scripture.
A dear friend who is an Archdeacon in Nigeria has a “Green Card” for permanent residence in the United States, but returned to Africa to raise his family. Despite the civil corruption, disease, and poverty, he said he thought that Nigeria offers a more healthy spiritual environment for his children than the States does.
For leaders from Africa and Asia, Western focus on feelings and experience is also puzzling. They see it leading to a frantic pace to introduce changes to the foundational doctrines of the church. In Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili speaking Anglican leaders have a saying, “Haraka, haraka, hyena baraka,” (It means: “Hurry up, hurry up steals the blessing.”) We would be wise to listen to them. It is amazing arrogance to think that in the space of a few years we have the wisdom and authority to throw over centuries of agreed Christian understanding and teaching, and simply walk away from the clear language of the Bible.
A more reasonable approach is to take into account the consequences of actions in the Communion in which we live. Before same-sex blessings began in New Westminster, five senior Archbishops wrote to the diocesan synod and told them that approving the measure would lead to broken communion. Their counsel was ignored inflicting a great wound on international fellowship.
While prophetic action may be claimed, when the church is really speaking prophetically the fruit is changed lives. It is NOT encouraging people to be more entrenched in lifestyles that move them away from the redeeming love of Christ.
Leaders from the Global South often speak like Nehemiah who returned to Jerusalem and found the wall in ruins. With great grief, they see the limits of the church obscured and the walls that are intended to protect in disarray. Having seen the wonderful and graceful ways that the Gospel has impacted their cultures and nations, they long for us to experience the same grace here.
But it is not a powerful Gospel message that they observe when they come to North America. It is a culture that is overwhelming the church and leaving a theological fog instead of clarity. To make matters even worse, they see the Western church in crisis.
Bernard Malango, the Archbishop of Central Africa said on a visit to North America, “When I see my neighbor’s house is on fire, I go to my neighbor and say, ‘Your house is on fire!’ If he says, ‘I like fire,’ I say to myself, ‘Hmmmm.’ But as I think, I say, ‘Then I will get the children.’
Later, if it looks like the fire will jump from his roof to my roof then I must put out the fire.” Make no mistake about it, most of the leaders of the Anglican Communion view departures from Scripture as a crisis. While the same-sex issues are really symptoms of the problem, they are the presenting crisis. Those of us who are committed to Biblical faith do not get off the hook, though. There is ample need for us to repent as well. For every time we have stayed silent, refused to get involved, or spoken the truth in a loveless way, we have contributed to the crisis and we should repent. One could make a case for saying that the liberal movement in the church rose out of the failure of conservatives to adequately love people.
We have helped create a terrible crisis. It is so serious that 21 of the 38 provinces (or region) of the Communion have declared that they are either in impaired or broken communion with the Bishop of New Westminster and with the Bishops in the Episcopal Church who voted to approve the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire. The leaders of those 21 provinces oversee more than 50 million of the world’s Anglicans. That’s most of the people in Anglican churches each week.
What impaired or broken communion means in practice may not seem important. After all, how many Anglicans from Canada or the US are going to travel to Africa and be quizzed about their theological position? In the same vein, how many Asian bishops or priests are likely to visit parishes in the North America? The problem is greater than that though. Not only will there be awkward meetings where leaders refuse to sit down with bishops they consider to be heretical, but in the Spirit, a great wound is being inflicted on Christ’s body. To suggest that it does not make much difference is to admit an impoverished lack of understanding about the Body of Christ, which is (in the words of the Prayer Book) “the mystical company of all faithful people.”
Many Western leaders are convinced that the disagreement will pass, but they are wrong. But they are making that assessment from morally relative world view. Leaders from the Global South see it differently. It would be a violation of their identity as Christians to embrace something so clearly laid out in Scripture.
Three weeks ago I was at the enthronement of the New Archbishop of Uganda. In a magnificent five hour service, choirs, prayers, dancers, and Biblical preaching made the direction of the church clear. Saddened and wounded by the actions of the American General Convention, the Ugandan House of Bishops declared broken communion. A delegation from the Episcopal Church was told that they should not come to the service even though they said they were bringing money for the refugee camps in the northern part of the country. A letter from the provincial Secretary to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church said,
“The Word of God is clear that you have chosen a course of separation that leads to spiritual destruction. Because we love you, we cannot let that go unanswered. If your hearts remain hardened to what the Bible clearly teaches, and your ears remain deaf to the cries of other Christians, genuine love demands that we do not pretend that everything is normal. As a result, any delegation you send cannot be welcomed, received, or seated. Neither can we share fellowship or even receive desperately needed resources. If, however, you repent and return to the Lord, it would be an occasion of great joy.”
The same-sex agenda is a great crisis in the Anglican Communion.
If the church in the industrial nations insists on embracing these innovations, the cost will be that the Anglican Communion will break apart. That is not theoretical. It has been clearly said again and again by the Archbishops from the Global South.
This is not to say that the Gospel welcome should be dulled in any way. The arms of Jesus and the door of the healthy church are wide open. Everyone is welcome to come.
The problem is the message that says, “Come as you are and stay as you are, and we will celebrate your condition.”
The Gospel says, “Come as you are and become more and more like Jesus.”
In East Africa, there is a song that has become the anthem of the revival. It says,
Yesu Omwana gw'endiga
It means, “Jesus, you are the Lamb of God, and your blood has redeemed me.” These are not arrogant people who are ‘holier than thou.’ They sing as sinners who are celebrating the redeeming love of Jesus and reaching out to others. We could do well to do the same.
That is not only A message, it is THE message.
If you are committed to live and celebrate Biblical faith, you should take heart. In your local community you may seem to be in a minority. The truth, however, is that you are a part of a great company of faithful people. People who are called and committed to clearly stand for the Gospel. People who are committed to loving others sacrificially, offering Gospel welcome and Biblical obedience. You are not alone.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Bill Atwood is General Secretary of Ekklesia
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