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In the Lambeth Conference 2022 Plenary Session and Press Briefing on Discipleship, there was not much talk about actual discipleship. The three speakers were Bp. Eleanor Sanderson, Abp. Michael Curry, and retired Bishop Moon Hing. There was much talk around the term “intentional discipleship”, but the only point made was that people will rarely turn into disciples unless you’re intentional about making them. Other than that, there was no further practical information given despite questions about the content, vision, and means for making disciples.
Orthodox Anglicans may be left wondering what, exactly, is meant by “discipleship” when it’s spoken by leaders who promote pluriform truth and accept sexual immorality as a new norm that can be affirmed. If our world view is that there are many truths equally valid (pluriform truth) and, therefore, many ways to read the Bible based on one’s pluriform “world view’ and context, how can we begin to even speak about, for example, “the Jesus-shaped life”? Won’t pluriform truth lead inevitably to pluriform versions of “the Jesus-shaped life”? And if so, how do we reconcile pluriform versions of “the Jesus-shaped life” each of whose ways of following Jesus may be mutually exclusive?
For example, how does the Church disciple someone who wants to come out of a homosexual lifestyle or who is transgendered? What if the church that a new Christian worships in rejects the Bible as the unique Word of God, as some churches do? How does that person’s discipleship move forward? Or what is a Muslim to do, if he converts to Christianity and finds himself in an Anglican church that hosts Muslim services, or invites Muslim speakers and prayers, or preaches that all religions point to God? Would that person’s discipleship be different than the ex-Muslim who walks into a biblically faithful Anglican Church that preaches and teaches about Jesus as Lord and Savior of all? No doubt, it would.
The answers we give about sexuality, human nature, scriptures, and tradition all inform our view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of discipleship. What we believe about fundamental doctrines affect whether we can walk together in mission, evangelism, and discipleship with other Christians. No matter what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, plurality of truth will lead us into very different, and likely irreconcilable, visions of what it means to follow Jesus and live our lives as he would.
By contrast, The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) Communique of Orthodox Anglican Bishops states:
“We believe in the supreme authority and the perspicuity of holy Scripture to reveal the will of God. We are dutybound to God to guard the gates of the church so that nothing in our church’s ‘faith and order’ is contrary to Scripture. We believe that the revealed Word of God is life-changing, enabling a person to be free and whole. We are also, therefore, duty-bound in love to our fellow human being to ‘hold fast to the word of life’ (Phil. 2;19) and to hold it forth to the world God loves.” (par 5.3)
This is, essentially, a statement on discipleship for the strengthening of the Church. The Global South’s push for doctrinal integrity and consistency among all churches of the Anglican Communion is a push for solidarity in mission and agreement on the nature of the Gospel. And this includes discipleship—the vision, intention, and means to live our lives as Jesus would in every way!
This foundation will bind provinces together for greater collaboration in evangelism, discipleship, and mission. It is on this basis that the Communique declares that Global South Anglicans have “voluntarily bound themselves together on the basis of common doctrine to be accountable to one another in faith, order and morals and to express their ‘koinonia’ (fellowship) through relational networks of discipleship, evangelism, mission, economic empowerment and community services.” (par 6.6) This will only serve to increase an already growing Church in the Global South, “to walk together as the redeemed people of God…”
Therefore, the American Anglican Council (AAC) fully endorses the GSFA Communique in its proclamation and propagation of “the faith once delivered to the saints,” including discipleship. Since 1996 we have contended in North America for a biblically faithful and apostolic view of discipleship, namely, what it means to follow Jesus and live our lives as He would according to God’s eternal Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are committed to walking alongside the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to help develop faithful leaders, equip local Anglican congregations, and reform the Church wherever necessary both in North America and around the world. We have focused on discipleship through the Daniel Leadership Institute which conducts two-year cohorts for newly ordained clergy who meet regularly to engage in heart and hands training for ministry, fellowship, and a deeper understanding of Anglican heritage and practice. The AAC is especially passionate about clergy soul care, knowing that true spiritual growth is more than theological training. So, the Daniel Leadership Institute also initiates Clergy Care Groups which network pastors across North America for prayer, fellowship, and soul care through spiritual disciplines. In our Clergy Care Groups, discipleship occurs through commitment to a rule of life and to the Life in Christ curriculum series based on receiving and living the life of Jesus with him. We also connect pastors to trained spiritual directors for one-on-one discipleship and spiritual direction.
Discipleship is the ongoing life of Christ formed in each Christian through the Christian community in which they find themselves. It is a lifelong process and is based on a shared confession of faith and the strong conviction that in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transformation for anyone is possible. The fundamental practices or “habits of the heart” at the heart of our discipleship resources enable all of us, clergy and laity alike, to draw closer to Christ and become more like him.
May God bless these efforts to grow and strengthen His Church through faithful, orthodox Anglican ministries in North America, the Global South, and the entire Anglican Communion.