“Church must recover its identity or be divided,” says bishop


A theologian and former seminary Dean says that Archbishop Ian Ernest, chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA), misunderstands the nature of the church when the prelate recently called upon the African church to put aside its differences and engage with its theological opponents within the Anglican Communion.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. John H. Rodgers addressed the Primate of the Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean and Bishop of Mauritius saying Ernst misunderstands the nature of the Church failing to see the difference between the Church Visible and the Church Invisible.

Ernest wrote that CAPA bishops should eschew a political solution to the divisions over doctrine and discipline and focus instead on church transformation through Christian witness. CAPA must resist becoming one interest group among many within the Anglican Communion, he said.

“The Church is going through trial times. This is nothing new, and it is certainly not the last time that our Communion faces challenges”, Archbishop Ernest told a joint meeting of primates and standing committee of CAPA bishops in Nairobi recently.

“But what is new at this critical juncture is a process of profound change. Our deliberations at this meeting will not only affect our lives today, but will contribute to shape the future of the Anglican Communion worldwide.

“The Anglican Communion has been distressed by unilateral decisions taken by the North American churches which threaten the unity of our communion.” Ernest said the violence of these arguments have so hardened positions that it raises serious concerns about its ability to resolve such differences.

Rodgers challenges this view. He criticizes the CAPA chairman saying that he has failed to understand the different meanings of the word “church” found in the 39 Articles of Religion.

“As I read the comments of Archbishop Ian Ernest, the Chairman of CAPA, I was once again struck by the failure of many of us to be clear when we use the term “Church”, usually in reference to the Church Visible (Article 19). If we take Article 19 seriously and the other references to ‘Church’ throughout the 39 Articles, we need to ask what is the status of an institution or visible, organized group that lacks the marks listed in Article 19 and the implied mark of ecclesiastical discipline listed in the Homily for Whitsunday? If these are lacking then can it be said that to disassociate from such an institution is leaving the Church? Is it not rather that the Church is leaving the institution?”

Rodgers said the Anglican Communion must recover its historic identity, including all of the marks of the Church as set forth in the Jerusalem Declaration or be divided. “It happened at each of the great historic Councils, it happened at the Reformation of the 16th Century and it could happen in our day. The issues cannot be ignored.

“For CAPA to be concerned for the preservation and treasuring of these marks in the Anglican Communion is clearly not an act of becoming an interest group in the Church, but rather it is CAPA acting as and on behalf of the Church, as Anglicans have historically read the Scriptures. At some point, as the present drift from historic Anglican theology spreads abroad, it is surely right to work hard for that reform or recovery rather than a division. And we pray that CAPA will be one of the leaders in that godly work of recovery and reformation.”

It is unclear at this point in time where all the African bishops stand in relationship to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth and GAFCON. Many CAPA bishops showed up at Lambeth this past summer even though archbishops and bishops from the larger African provinces like Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya did not. These latter countries represent the vast majority of Anglicans, some 44 million, in the Anglican Communion.

Clearly, as Western pan-Anglicanism slowly disintegrates with orthodox dioceses, parishes and individuals fleeing in the US, Canada and now the UK, with many of them coming under Primates in the Global South, there will be less incentive for Africans to stay or want to hold together the Anglican communion as it is presently constructed.

Furthermore, there is a growing chorus for Dr. Rowan Williams to resign, as homosexuality slowly becomes more enshrined with publically undisciplined acts occurring in the Church of England. These acts will only further alienate Global South leaders.

The Church of England is increasingly being hobbled over women bishops, the alienation of its Anglo-Catholic wing and increasingly rebellious homosexual acts involving same-sex unions and non-celibate pansexualists in the pulpit.

Furthermore, the Church of England is irrelevant to 98% of the British public. Their priests are barely able to muster a million of 60 million to turn out on a Sunday morning to worship in tens of thousands of England’s rapidly dying churches.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been described as being “over a barrel” by world-renowned evangelical theologian Dr. J. I. Packer, the patriarch of Anglicanism. He recently called for Dr. Williams to resign. A revisionist Canadian bishop deposed the much beloved theologian so Packer has personally felt the sting of a bishop who has no use for orthodox Anglicanism.

The question that is increasingly being asked by vigorous evangelical post-colonial global south leaders is how can they go on respecting a man and an institution that is not respected by its own people? Why is Dr. Williams’ brand of Affirming Catholicism not drawing millions of disaffected nominal Anglicans? Why, indeed.

Why should CAPA bishops pay homage to an evangelically neutered occupant at Lambeth Palace?

Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan stated it well when he said in London recently that the great question for Anglicanism, not just Anglicanism in England, is “How can this tradition be coherent?” I am convinced that what kept the Church of England in its three streams of expression always true was the Book of Common Prayer. It was not that the Catholics broke themselves against the evangelicals. It was that the Catholics broke themselves against the boundaries of the Prayer Book. It was not that the Evangelicals were kept in order by the Catholics., Iit was the evangelicals were kept in the Catholic tradition by the Prayer Book and the same way with what I now call the Pentecostal stream.

“The question is for Anglicanism, will it cohere in the 21st century? The Prayer Book was the magisterium. It was that piece which kept us under the word and gave us our theological understandings. The Great Book Psalter was the common language. We have no common language any more nor do we have a secured theology. The great challenge for 21st century Anglicanism is “Can it cohere? Will it endure?”

Archbishop Ernest said he does not despair. He hopes love and unity will prevail to build the church of God. But that will not happen unless and until the nature of the church is addressed and truth prevails. Then and only then will we see true love and unity.

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