SINGAPORE: Ecumenical Council is the Future of the Anglican Communion. A Global South Perspective
By David W. Virtue
April 22, 2010
Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini has called for an Anglican Ecumenical Council of the worldwide Anglican Communion which he believes will bring to an end a dozen years of primatial communiqués, reports and endless talk of "process" and "listening" that has achieved nothing to resolve the crisis of faith and leadership within the Anglican Communion.
Norms adapted from the ancient apostolic canons (35 & 38) on how a council should function offers a legacy rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition that results in a significant expression of apostolic authority. The urgency of this matter could result with Archbishop Kolini addressing this with his fellow primates in various ecclesiastical gatherings over the next few months.
As the Global South's Senior Primate, Archbishop Kolini, through his consistent modeling of pastoral leadership, possesses international respect from his fellow African leaders, which equips him with authority to call for an Ecumenical Council framed on the experience of Acts 15 and the Early Church Councils such as Nicea and Chalcedon and would address and seek to resolve some of the Culture Wars that have raged inside the Anglican Communion for nearly two decades.
Historically, Councils would be ecclesiastically binding based on the ancient models, said Kolini. Where Lambeth conferences, Indaba groups, regional Synods and Conventions, have been found lacking, the conciliar norms would seek to resolve the ecclesial deficit that has furthered the Anglican crisis and has crippled the Anglican Communion's four Instruments of Unity. In this ecumenical conclave, what is bound on earth will be bound in heaven, says Kolini.
This historic ecclesiastical solution will finally address with clarity years of debate over homosexual practice and the ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood and episcopacy as well as rites for same sex marriage and much more. The question of conciliarity and Women's ordination remains unclear as a matter that may be considered, but this writer could not get an exact reading on that issue at this time.
Here in Singapore this week, 130 representatives from 20 Anglican provinces met to endorse a Covenant and vent their frustration over years of unresolved Anglican disputes. Numerous speakers called for planning new mission and ministry strategies, do evangelism, and uplift economic conditions in poor areas of the world. Self-reliance was a key theme of the Encounter.
In an earlier groundbreaking speech to some 130 delegates to the Fourth Global South to South Encounter, the Archbishop of the Middle East said that the Anglican Communion is dysfunctional, at war with itself and that a new structure is needed for a new communion. In remarks to the global Anglican leaders The Most Rev. Mouneer Anis proposed a new global Anglican structure to sustain and enhance Christ's mission. He blasted the North American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada saying that a new structure is necessary to compensate for the ongoing 'ecclesial deficit' in the communion, homosexual unions, litigation, depositions of bishops and threats from TEC bishops and the undermining of the authority of bishops and primates who made vows to guard the faith. The result, he said, has been the breaking off of ecumenical partners, and cessation of dialogue, especially with the Roman Catholic Church the Oriental churches and the Greek Orthodox Church.
In later remarks, Mouneer clarified his views saying that he was proposing a new structure for the global South only and not the Anglican Communion.
Kolini's argument, reiterated on several occasions, is that the renewing of the Anglican Communion through such an ecumenical council would be binding on the church with Scripture as the church's supreme authority. Those provinces and dioceses that would not accept the Council's authority would place themselves outside the communion. For years orthodox Episcopalians and Anglicans have argued that they have not left the church, the liberal and revisionist wing of the church has left them propagating "strange and erroneous doctrines."
Many of the Global South bishops here are new to leadership roles in the Anglican Communion and are not completely familiar with some of the personalities and the nuances of the Anglican Communion. This was borne out in a discussion the 130 leaders had with representatives from North America. A third did not appreciate the differences between a Communion Partner bishop and ACNA bishop, with two thirds of the bishops asking why an orthodox bishop would stay in TEC if the church was ordaining homosexuals to the episcopacy.
For some African bishops, the advent of a lesbian becoming a bishop was a shock to the system, as most African Anglican provinces do not even ordain women. Some bishops called it "horrific."
As one Western bishop who has a foot in both North America and Africa observed, "We have a situation here where there are different levels of understanding among the bishops. When you don't have a complete understanding of what is going on, you will have division, but it is not of the same magnitude or order as the moral divisions within the Episcopal Church."
In an interview, Kolini likened the emerging situation to the image of a tree trunk. "The tree represents both the 'known and unknown' orthodox in the Anglican Communion and sees the Kingdom of God at work. The tree has several new shoots one of which includes GAFCON/FCA. Our role is to find each other."
Seven Primates and their Provinces, along with a number of church and parachurch ministries and their leaders, were represented at the Jerusalem GAFCON meeting. The Global South Encounter here in Singapore has representatives from 20 provinces.
"This is the 4th trumpet. This is a larger and more representative group of people," said Kolini. We have a larger number of provinces here, he said.
The Anglican Communion Covenant, now in its final draft and which it is understood delegates to the Fourth Global South Encounter are expected to endorse, has not gone unchallenged.
In a heavily nuanced, thoughtful address, South East Asian Archbishop John Chew said this, "How then to recover the vocation life of being "covenant for the people, and light for the nations"? In the first instance it has to begin with a life lived to God in covenantal love and obedience. How then would or should our path be taken, road be journeyed?"
Clearly this is not happening in North America and Chew was clearly conscious of that in his long examination of the theological foundations of the Covenant.
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola likewise red flagged the Covenant by saying that it requires absolute loyal commitment and faithful adherence to its terms and conditions. "A Covenant is not to be taken lightly, wantonly, or entered into unadvisedly. In our Anglican Communion, we have worked very hard in the last three years trying to agree and sign up to a new Anglican Covenant. Covenant is a very serious and weighty matter. Be it between God and his people or between business partners and even in the context of marriage, the terms and conditions of any covenant must never be taken lightly." That too has not happened in North America.
"Initially, it was felt that a comprehensive Anglican covenant would help heal the wounds and restore confidence in our relationships within the Anglican family, as it would provide for accountability. But as things stand today in the Communion, this Encounter gathered here in Singapore needs to assure itself if the proposed covenant offers any such hope."
The name of the game is accountability. With no disciplinary procedures in place that is impossible.
"I am in communion with the Anglican Communion and not with an individual or province," Kolini told VOL. When we call for a gathering of the Anglican Ecumenical Council, those who are in broken communion may desire to come to be part of the restoration process or not. It is their call.
"If they come and resolutions are passed excluding certain behaviors and they do not abide by "it seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit" then they will be excluding themselves. What they do in their own provinces will be of no consequence to us. They will go their own way, apart from a biblical orthodox Anglican witness to the faith. "
Some archbishops and bishops privately expressed concern to VOL that Rowan Williams will try to exploit, conquer and divide the Global South bishops because many are new and inexperienced and will roll over to his authority. "The old guard stood firm against the innovations of North America and told Rowan so. They know the communion is "impaired" in some quarters, and "broken" in others, but the younger ones are still on a learning curve. He could exploit that," said one archbishop.
Williams is trying to wait them out. The next generation needs a learning curve. Williams knows that and he will exploit it and hopefully prevail. He can drag his heels with endless talk of "process" and "listening".
The older generation of archbishops of Nigeria, Kenya, Central Africa and Rwanda are retiring and it will be important to get the new archbishops and bishops up to speed so they won't be blindsided by the power of the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Instruments of "unity". This will be attempted to some degree in Kampala in August when the All Africa Bishops Conference (AABC) meets. (VOL has been invited to cover this event.)
Many of the archbishops and bishops have not read the deadlines given TEC by archbishops meeting at Dromantine, London (the Windsor Report) and Dar es Salaam with discipline in place for provinces that flagrantly disobeyed and stepped over the line with innovations unacceptable to them. Many do not know that TEC and Canada were told they should withdraw from the Communion and repent of their actions. Bureaucrats in London and Lambeth can exploit that lack of knowledge.
It is not without its significance that Rowan Williams has not called a meeting of the Primates this year. The primates have asked for it, but he has declined so far. And he has the authority. One suspects that he has nothing to say and because he would have to hear for the umpteenth time that he has failed in his leadership obligation to exercise the necessary discipline against TEC and Canada, he is not going to have one.
How many more times does Dr. Williams have to be told to do something? We are tired of the one issue being on the agenda all the time - the issue of homosexuality, said another bishop. Archbishop Livingstone Nkoyoyo, the former Anglican Archbishop of the Province of the Church of Uganda, once stormed out of a meeting of the primates in London crying out, "How many more meetings do we have to have to decide what to do." TEC will no longer be on our agenda, said Kolini.
One bishop likened the situation to the wheel of a ship. When VOL asked if Williams is trying to divide the Communion one bishop answered that in an age of confusion and absence of leadership a power vacuum is created. "Lambeth is a failed leadership and the instruments of unity have failed. If they had done what they intended to do, this thing would not have gone on for 15 years. In the absence of leadership there is a power vacuum.
"So many want to grab the steering wheel. The Communion Partner bishops, the ACI, the FCA, the Covenant crowd, the Lambeth bureaucracy loyalists. Everyone is fighting over the steering wheel. Turning Lambeth into Indaba groups was yet another grab for the wheel. There has been no action or discipline going back to George Carey leaving various voices to step up to the plate and making a play for the wheel. All who went to GAFCON knew what was going on. But here at the 4th Encounter we are making it clear to the Anglican world where it all stops."
Said an archbishop to VOL; "Kolini has had it. The Ecumenical Council is the way forward. This is an unstoppable movement not another communion. We will prevail."
"With the ecumenical council we come full circle. It was in North Africa that the first ecumenical council was held and it is now out of Africa that we will have another one. It is historically irresponsible not to take action. The trumpet blast is the call for a new Council. The hope is that we can get it done this year."
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