NAIROBI: GAFCON 2 Day 2: Tuesday 22nd October
By Andrew Symes
Oct. 22, 2013
The Cathedral complex stands next to Uhuru Park, bordered by a main road in central Nairobi. The congregation was a blaze of colour for the early morning 8am Holy Communion service led by the Church of Nigeria. My wife would find the idea of me being a fashion commentator very amusing, but I need to say something about the multivariegated gorgeous African print dresses on display: yellow dots on crimson, sky blue with orange stripes, three shades of purple, terracotta with silver flowers, green and yellow, deep scarlet, gold and black. As everyone got up during the singing of "we are marching in the light of God" at the Peace the colours were displayed like a bird of paradise fanning its tail. As I came round the corner to receive Communion I got my first view of the sanctuary, with ranks of Bishops on either side resplendent in their white, black and red convocation robes. Oh, and the sermon was excellent as well, preached by Archbishop Egbunu of Nigeria - an exposition of Ephesians 1 which is our theme text for the morning sessions.
He began with a reference to the recent horrors at the Westgate centre: "Fresh graves remind us of evil in the world - we pray that God would comfort grieving families and nation, and to equip his church to do its work."
The first few verses of Ephesians refer to God in action, what he has done, in giving to his people "every spiritual blessing". Paul is not just giving information - he is worshipping and giving thanks to God - we should do the same - praise and thanks should be natural. The emphasis on spiritual blessings is a vital corrective to our obsession with material things. Paul's ability to praise God in prison teaches us about the priorities of the Kingdom. He is in prison, confined and helpless, yet he sees God working his purpose out. This is a liberating truth that God is always with us whatever our circumstances, and its not all about me, but God's plan for the cosmos.
Ephesians 1 finishes with the resurrection of Christ, the demonstration of God's victory over Satan, and pointer to future consummation. Preaching of the resurrection must be central for us as well - the foundation of the great commission, Paul's apostleship, the church's ministry.
Ministry of the day
During the tea break I took the opportunity to find out more about the Anglican Church in Nigeria. I've heard about the 18 million active members but how do things look on the ground? Bishop Cyril Odutemu leads the relatively new Ughelli Diocese in the Niger Delta area, with 200 congregations and 146 clergy. I asked him about his strategy for evangelism and mission, and he modestly pointed to groups of lay people who are doing this, in particular the "Anglican Adam Preaching Society" through which the Bishop himself came to faith years ago. The Youth Fellowship, Mothers Union and Women's Guild are also active in bringing people to faith and teaching the way of discipleship alongside local parish churches. Social concern happens naturally as a regular by product of evangelism, with these guilds active in helping new members pay medical bills and learn trades for employment, while the MU have a number of projects helping the poor. An NGO has just been created under the auspices of the Diocese, in collaboration with its link Diocese of Norwich.
The Bishop said one big challenge for the church is to find ways of gaining influence within government, to persuade the national and provincial rulers to devote more of the country's resources to benefit the majority of citizens, rather than the few at the top. This will involve a change in values and culture, but President Jonathan understands this better than some previous incumbents. The church can lead by example in this - for example the Diocese has opened a boys high school, is in the process of starting a girls school, and has a vision for a University as there is no Higher Education institution of any kind in the Diocese. "We need to pray that God can raise up me with a passion for the welfare of the people".
Threats to the church, and opportunities for mission
At our mid morning assembly, Archbishop Eliud gave an address summarising the challenges facing the church, and the need for GAFCON: "the Archbishop of Canterbury did say in this Cathedral that we need new structures. We say we can't make progress with this unless we share a common faith and spiritual renewal." New structures are pointless where there is tolerance of false teaching.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali then introduced the topic of the problems facing the church and society in the West, in particular aggressive secularism. Research is confirming what we already know, that human beings have an innate sense of the spiritual. This is important not just as individuals but corporately. "Religion is the social dimension of the spiritual". But in the West, there is toleration of individual spirituality, but increasing rejection of the social dimension of religion.
Religion provides the background to values, laws and customs, and this is especially true of the role of Christianity in the West. But now the role of religion is being replaced by theories of democracy, the welfare state, and the power of technology. This is secularism, which seeks to remove religion from the public space. The problem is it does not give answers to the "why" questions of morality, justice and liberty, and has to redefine them.
The Grace of God, or the world of the West?
Mike Ovey the Principal of Oak Hill College was the next speaker. The full text of his lecture will soon be posted on the GAFCON website.
Much of the Western church is compromised with the world, and this takes the form of denying or distorting God's grace. "People in Western church talk about grace. But do we mean what the bible means or have we made up our own meaning?" German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of "cheap grace", which includes forgiveness without repentance, and communion without confession. In his case, the context was the welcome that many German Christians gave to Nazism, the popular worldly philosophy of the day, in the 1930's. In our day many parts of the Western church have welcomed the ungodly ideas of today instead of listening to Christ and his word. Cheap grace means that we bestow grace on ourselves, rather than receive it from God according to his precepts.
Matthew 28:18-20 gives us the Great Commission, and Luke 24:45-47 gives us the content of its message about repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is turning from my own solutions to Christ. If there is no repentance, I'm still facing the same way, still with my own solutions, turned towards the world. Sadly the message often heard in Western Anglicanism is inclusion without repentance, and Millennium Development Goals without God. If the Church publicly repents only of sins which the world recognizes as sin - eg racism, social injustice, greed - is such "repentance" turning to God or turning to the world for approval?
The sin of 'presumption' is taking God for granted, or "self-bestowed grace". There are biblical examples of this, for example Jeremiah 7 and Matthew 3:7-10. It comes from pride, which exalts self and despises God's justice or thinks it doesn't apply to me. Why bother to repent when you can presume on a God of cheap grace? This is the basis of the abandonment of biblical principles of sexual ethics in much of the Western church. The approval of same sex relationships comes from pride - disordered love of ourselves; feeling God cannot judge us.
This Western cultural sense of self righteousness is now being exported.
After analyzing the language of "rights", Ovey turned finally to Narcissism as the besetting sin of our time. [Mike's otherwise brilliant talk would have been improved by a brief reminder of the Greek myth of Narcissus, for the sake of many in the audience.] Narcissism destroys relationships and community, because people who think of themselves as above others, lack connection with others. Attitudes which underlie it are being tolerated - "learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all" as Whitney Houston sang. In past generations people misunderstood the Gospel as "try harder" - this has been replaced by emphasis on self-esteem, self love, and entitlement. Failure leads to anger and rage - "how dare you say that". So if you challenge narcissism or talk about sin and the need for repentance, you are attacking self esteem which is heresy. So the only message of grace the West will hear is cheap grace.
The preaching of cheap grace has not led to many flocking to church as liberal Christians believed. We need to preach costly grace to the world not because we hate the world but because we love it as our Saviour did.
Afternoon session: the persecuted church
Just very briefly, some other short presentations followed:
Patrick Sookhdeo. Christians are being "cleansed" from Syria, Iraq and Northern Nigeria, often in the most awful ways, by militant Islam. There is no help from the international community. Meanwhile Christians are being marginalized in Sri lanka, Uzbekistan, India as governments pass laws against evangelism/conversion. Secularism in West seeking to destroy church. We must act politically. Must continue in mission. Must give generously. Must pray.
Archbishop Deng Bul from Southern Sudan in an interview then shared about the joy of the Christians that independence has finally arrived, but at huge cost. The war is not yet ended. South Sudan stands at door to East Africa. So we are not just protecting ourselves but rest of Africa.
"Be ready to serve the Lord until death. Suffering makes you discover Jesus is with you in worst circumstances. The Anglican church has grown despite massive persecution. God takes us through suffering to test faith when all else is gone. We are very glad of help from fellowship with worldwide church through GAFCON".
There was more from Archbishop Ben Kwashi (Jos Diocese, Nigeria) and Andrea Minichiello Williams from Christian Concern in London with examples in different contexts of suffering for Christian faith. Paul Perkin (Vicar, St Marks Battersea Rise, and Chair of FCA UK) spoke about the good and the bad in the church scene in the UK. Three quarters of C of E clergy believe in God, and half believe in the atonement, so its not all doom and gloom. There are many flourishing ministries, but the nightmare opposite to the church penetrating the nation for the Gospel is the secular world penetrating the church. John 17 shows us Jesus's prayer for unity, purity and mission, based around the Word of God. The church that will fulfil this mission is not of the world but sent into world.
Like Jesus, it will be hated by the world and protected from the evil one. There is a "Battle for Britain" - and we need support from the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in prayer, and as we move forward in practical action, for example the establishment of the Anglican Mission in England.
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