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ARCHBISHOP OKOH'S EPIPHANY LETTER: A Close Reading

ARCHBISHOP OKOH'S EPIPHANY LETTER: A Close Reading

By Stephen Noll
https://contendinganglican.org
January 6, 2019

Several days ago, I was listening to some friendly bloggers who were commenting on the Epiphany Letter from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, the Chairman of Gafcon Primates Council. They interpreted the letter as a sign of weakness in the current struggle for Anglican orthodoxy. My first reaction was: "Are we reading the same Letter?" I honestly think they are mistaken and thought it would be worthwhile to examine the Letter carefully, section by section.

***

OKOH: To the Faithful of the Gafcon movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council.

'His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Ephesians 3:10,11)

NOLL: This "Letter to the Faithful of the Gafcon movement" from its chief Primate speaks with the same tone of authority as found in addresses by other bishops and Primates to their respective churches at the turn of the year. From its beginning in 2008, Gafcon has claimed to be "not just a moment in time but a movement in the Spirit." It is also a movement with an ecclesial form, with a Primates Council representing its member Provinces and other Anglicans who have been disenfranchised from their home churches. Many of these Anglicans have now formed Branches that are recognized by and represented in the Primates Council. Archbishop Okoh speaks as a "focus of unity" for them.

The Letter commemorates the Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the Advent and Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ as a Light to the nations. It expounds on one of the Epiphany texts taken from the great Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians.

***

OKOH: My dear people of God,
Receive New Year Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

NOLL: As I learned from my years in Africa, it is important to exchange New Year's greetings as one looks ahead to the future, in this case the Anglican future. This is not merely a bubbly "Happy New Year" but a reminder that we walk by faith, not sight, in the One who holds the future, the Alpha and Omega.

***

OKOH: At our great assembly in Jerusalem last year, we gathered around the theme of 'Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations' so it is very appropriate that we begin a new year with the celebration of the Epiphany, the revealing of Jesus as God's Son to the nations...
...This was the profound spiritual context of our great assembly in Jerusalem last year and will be equally true as those who were unable to join us in Jerusalem due to travel restrictions gather in Dubai at the end of February.

NOLL: The "faithful" in particular are those who attended the Global Anglican Future Conference last June in Jerusalem, and by extension those refused entry to Israel, reminding them of the Conference commitment to proclaim the Good News of Christ to all nations.

***

OKOH: In the gospel God's amazing grace continues to shine forth and brings about a new humanity from the four corners of the earth as we join the Magi and bow before the Son of God in joyful worship. According to St Paul, the church's wonderful unity in Christ reveals the 'manifold wisdom' of God, not only on earth, but also in the heavenly realms. So as we play our part by drawing together faithful Anglicans from around the globe, from all their different cultures, we not only witness to the world, but we are also the theatre in which the wisdom of God is demonstrated to angelic powers.
Such a wonderful privilege and responsibility should surely drive us to our knees in reverent dependence upon the Spirit of God. It should also make us passionate upholders of biblical truth, because it is through the Scriptures that God's wisdom is taught to the Church.

NOLL: Archbishop Okoh begins the body of his Letter by highlighting the great Good News of the season, which is the "amazing grace" in which God has sent His Son to redeem our sinful, mortal state and make us adopted sons and partakers of the divine nature (Ephesians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Peter 1:4). This Good News is the revelation of a mystery hidden until the right time and given to the apostles and prophets through Christ's Resurrection from the dead, a surprise even to the powers of heaven (Ephesians 1:3- 6; 3:3-9; 1 Peter 1:12).
Like the Magi, believers are awestruck by the manifold wisdom of God in Christ, who "saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). This is the mystery and miracle of the Christmas season, which calls forth our grateful worship:

O loving wisdom of our God,
When all was sin and shame,
He, the last Adam, to the fight
And to the rescue came.
In his text, Archbishop Okoh calls attention to the fact that contending for the faith is conducted not just on an earthly plane, whether secular or ecclesiastical. We have been called to spiritual warfare, putting on the whole armor of God.
Indeed, it is hard not to read the signs of our times in apocalyptic terms:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

With the oppressive power of secularism, the dumbing down of education and stifling of speech by political correctness, the rise of militant Islam and the persecution of Christians worldwide, what is there not to be pessimistic about? And yet the Gospel is a message of light: "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). Even in dark times, the Church is called to bear testimony to the principalities and powers in heaven and on earth that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

***

OKOH: The choice before us as a global communion is between this revealed wisdom of God and the wisdom claimed by secular ideologies. For a while the reality of this fork in the road can be obscured by an insistence on dialogue in its various guises such as 'indaba', 'good disagreement' and 'walking together', but in the absence of godly discipline, false teaching will continue to spread.

NOLL: As is clear from the Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3, the Church is ever in danger of spiritual darkness from within and without. The Gafcon Letter to the Churches drew attention to this danger, quoting St. Paul himself:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)

Several months ago, at a Conference on "What is Anglicanism?" Archbishop Foley Beach depicted the current battle in terms of "Neo-Pagan Anglicanism." Two items just this last month are illustrative.

The first item is the announcement (with photo) from the Anglican Church of Canada: "The Diocese of Toronto congratulates Bishop Kevin Robertson and Mr. Mohan Sharma, who were married today at St. James Cathedral in the presence of their two children, their families and many friends, including Archbishop Colin Johnson and Bishop Andrew Asbil." So here we have one bishop officiating the same-sex wedding of another bishop, with the Primate present and blessing the event. Bishop Robertson is a credentialed Anglican in the eyes of Canterbury, and no doubt he and his spouse will be welcomed to the 2020 Lambeth Conference. The Conference will be considering the Church of England's "Living in Love and Faith" report on sexuality, whose chairman has stated in advance that it will not deal with the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Beach (the Primate-elect of the Gafcon Primates Council) will not be invited to this Conference and Archbishop Okoh's successor (he steps down as Primate this year) and many other bishops may be invited but will not be present.

The second illustration, which is taken up by Archbishop Okoh, comes from the Church of England itself.

***

OKOH: In the Church of England, just before Christmas, this process reached the point where its bishops took the unprecedented step of giving official guidance for what they described as 'services to help transgender people mark their transition' and it will be incorporated into 'Common Worship' (a range of services authorised by General Synod).

The guidance states that 'the House of Bishops commends the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith as the central feature of any service to recognize liturgically a person's gender transition'. A form of service which is intended to mark a renewed commitment to Christ and the new life we receive through him is instead used to celebrate an identity which contradicts our God-given identity as male and female (as affirmed by Jesus himself in Matthew 19:4) and is still controversial even in secular society.

Although Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998 did not directly address gender transition, by taking this step, the Church of England is rejecting biblical authority in a similar way to TEC and other revisionist Provinces which have permitted same sex marriage.

NOLL: Let's be clear: this Pastoral Guidance is on the order of the abomination of desolation. It fundamentally denies God's good creation of male and female in His image; it is utterly contrary to Scripture and tradition; it perverts the sacrament of baptism; it is willfully blind to genetic science; and it is pastorally dangerous, if not abusive, to children. For wider analysis, see Ryan Anderson, When Harry Became Sally (2018). Get it quick before it is banned.

Archbishop Okoh notes that the Lambeth bishops did not address transgenderism in 1998. Of course, they didn't. It was not even a tiny cloud on the horizon at the time. It has become a fad, a dangerous fad, in the past five to ten years and is now being strong-armed through Western institutions by the neo-pagan elites. For the bishops to rush blindly after this fad like Gadarene swine is a perfect, if horrible, case of "neo-pagan Anglicanism." I predict there will be an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment sometime in the not-too-distant future where even secularists will look and say: "How did we ever go down this road?" The bishops may be the last ones to wake up, I suspect.

***
OKOH: So, much as we thank God for the rich history represented by the See of Canterbury, we cannot avoid the sad truth that insistence on full communion with Canterbury as an essential mark of belonging to the Anglican Communion now risks jeopardising the apostolic faith itself. Let us pray that there will be repentance and that God will give courage and boldness to those who remain faithful.

NOLL: This is the paragraph where my fellow bloggers think Archbishop Okoh has failed to be forceful enough. I think they are missing the key point: he is saying that Gafcon cannot be in communion with Canterbury because Canterbury has compromised the apostolic faith. This goes beyond the Gafcon Statements of 2008, 2013, and even 2018, which were directed primarily to the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. This statement is, in effect, saying that an idol has been set up in the Temple of God, in the Mother Church herself.

The bloggers fear that the call to repent weakens the statement. Not at all. The Jerusalem Declaration (clause 13) states: "We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord." Is repentance possible? Always, under the mercy of God. Read Jonah, chapter 3. Is it likely? Read Isaiah 6:10; Matthew 13:14.
If Nicholas Okoh's wording is less fiery than some would wish, I would attribute it in part to the fact that the events happening in neo-pagan West are so beyond the "primitive" (ha,ha!) imagination of those living in the Global South that they have a hard time taking these as more than a chimera.

***

OKOH: Finally, I commend to your prayers this month our new General Secretary, Archbishop Ben Kwashi. He is a great evangelist, teacher and a leader of outstanding courage and we pray that the wonder and glory of the gospel of Christ which has so captured his heart will capture all our hearts also in the year ahead.

The Most Rev'd Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council

NOLL: Rest assured, friends, Nicholas Okoh, like Peter Akinola before him and Ben Kwashi and Foley Beach after him, are girded with the whole armor of God. I am not sure how many other bishops in the Anglican Communion will follow them, but they have placed their standard on the high ground and will not back down.

Cover Art: The Transvaal War (Wikipedia Commons)

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