I have just returned from participating in the Sixth Global South “South-to-South” Encounter of Archbishops, Bishops, Clergy, theologians and other leaders from 16 Provinces in the Global South (plus other orthodox Anglican representatives from Bangladesh, USA, Canada, and Australia). It was a privilege to represent the Province of North America (Anglican Church in North America) and to serve on the team that helped to draft the Communique from Cairo October 6, 2016.
With everything still fresh in mind, I’d like to point out seven (7) take-aways from the Global South Communique which you can find in its entirety here, along with the Statement of the Global South Primates on Same-Sex Unions here.
- The Anglican Church in North America is fully recognized and in communion with the largest ecclesial body of Anglicans within the Anglican Communion
The Primates and other delegates gathered from across the Global South recited their history as an official “ecclesial body” of the Anglican Communion since 1994 (para. 11). They celebrated the 2015 decision of the Global South Primates to welcome the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) as “a partner Province” of the Global South (para. 22(c)), which includes all of the GAFCON Provinces, representing the vast, numerical majority of Anglicans within the Communion. They elected “Archbishop Foley Beach (North America)” to the Global South Primates Steering Committee (para. 8).
What this means is that the ACNA doesn’t need to worry about recognition from Canterbury or other “ecclesial bodies” like the Anglican Consultative Counsel for its Anglican “bona-fides.” The majority of Anglicans in the world today recognize our Anglican identity and our status as the Province of North America, they have entered into communion with us and welcomed us into the councils of their Churches.
- Our mission as Anglicans is to extend the Kingdom of God to all corners of the world, and the Kingdom of God is nothing less or other than the righteous, just and compassionate rule of God through Jesus Christ.
This Communique is unrelenting in its focus upon the person and work of Jesus Christ! The fundamental need of the world is for the bread of life, “Jesus Christ himself.” (para. 16). In the face of desperate suffering, violence, competing ideologies and seemingly hopeless situations, Global South and GAFCON Anglicans proclaimed our unity of mission is “based on the finished work of Christ on the Cross” (para. 10, 14) rather than a thin ecclesiology of human relationships. Building upon the outstanding presentation by Bishop Rennis Ponniah (Singapore) on “The Challenge of Mission,” the Statement goes on to say that mission must include proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully (para. 16), shining the light of God’s rule winsomely through personal and communal growth in godliness, integrity, holiness and good works (para. 17), and “Christian witness in the public square on ethical issues” such as care for refugees and internally-displaced persons in our midst. (paras. 14, 18).
As Christians, we can’t do this in our own strength. Instead, we confess our own brokenness before God and rest in the peace of Christ who “opens our eyes and inflames our hearts with love so that we can interpret life in the light of his holy word [the Bible].” (para. 15). Mission is all about Jesus, repentance before him, resting in his finished work on the Cross, and looking at the world through His eyes and the lens of Holy Scripture! This is a rich, Christ-centered alternative to mission as simply adherence to secular “Millenial Development Goals.”
- Mission is rooted in and shaped by Biblical and historic Christian doctrine. Therefore Anglican Churches that depart from Biblical and historic Christian doctrine sever themselves from their roots and compromise their witness and mission.
Global South and GAFCON Anglicans noted that it was Christians in North Africa whose historic “fidelity to the gospel and integrity of Christian life” shaped Christianity down the centuries “even at the cost of [their] suffering and martyrdom.” (para. 19). During the plenary sessions, parallels were drawn between the martyrs of the Church in Carthage and the martyrs recently beheaded by ISIS on the beaches of Libya. The Rev. Dr. Ashley Null reminded us that Anglicans are twice baptized African Christians: first, rescued by St. Augustine of Hippo from an English monk named Pelagius (who denied the full effect of original sin and preached salvation through good works) and, secondly, by Thomas Cranmer and other Reformers who re-appropriated Augustine to refute another English cleric named Duns Scotus who was proclaiming a theology of “merited grace” through good works. It may be that we are now in the third great African rescue of Christianity from theological revisionism in Anglican churches that deny both original sin and justification by faith in Christ alone.
One cannot understate paragraph 21 of the Communique, which reaffirms the confessional and doctrinal identity of Anglicanism: a faith “uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures... and set forth in the catholic creeds,” and in the teachings of the Ancient Fathers, the Councils of the Church and the historic Anglican Formularies (the Thirty-Nine Articles, the BCP 1662 and the Ordinal) that are agreeable to the Scriptures.
Likewise, one cannot underestimate the clarity of the statement in paragraphs 24-25 condemning those Anglican Churches who have “departed from the historic faith and order of God’s people” by (1) authorizing liturgies and making pastoral provisions for blessing of civil unions of same-sex couples, (2) authorizing liturgies for the blessing or solemnizing of marriage of same sex couples, and (3) the consecration of bishops, ordination of priests and making of deacons who live in same sex unions. “Churches that condone these practices are severing themselves from their own spiritual roots…undermin[ing] their moral witness to their own societies and causing huge confusion among the Anglican faithful in our Churches.”
For the millionth time, it’s not about sex. That’s merely the tip of the iceberg. The historic faith and order of the Church itself, the very nature of the Gospel, is at stake—and Global South and GAFCON Anglicans recognize this.
- Global South and GAFCON proclaim publicly their intent to work together
There is a wonderful note of humility and repentance in this Communique: “We recognize that division and dislocation among orthodox Anglicans have arisen during the disputes on human sexuality.” (para. 22). I wish to add my own personal observation and experience at this conference that there was such humility, graciousness, and repentance among Global South and GAFCON Anglicans who have sometimes differed on strategies and approaches. In Cairo, I experienced a loving and gracious commitment by all to work together “in guarding and propagating the good deposit of faith that we have received.” (para. 22(b)) How wonderful for the Global South to publicly affirm and cherish the witness of GAFCON, the Jerusalem Declaration (2008) and the Nairobi Communique (GAFCON 2013).
- The current Communion Instruments are “broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13) that are unable to sustain the life and mission of Anglican Churches worldwide
This Global South Communique does not mince words. It bluntly convicts the existing Communion Instruments (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, The Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meetings) as having lapsed into incoherence. Read carefully paragraphs 27 and 28. Together, they illustrate how the current Communion Instruments have failed to resolve disputes over faith and order in the Communion (in the words of the Windsor report (2004), the “ecclesial deficit”). Note how paragraph 28 specifies six ways in which the Communion Instruments have failed: (1) failure to discern truth and error; (2) failure to take binding ecclesiastical action; (3) failure to discipline Anglican church leaders who have abandoned the biblical and historic faith; (4) failure to halt the marginalization of faithful Anglicans in heterodox Provinces; (5) failure to prevent the deposition of faithful Anglican leaders and, in some cases, even sanctioning them, and (6) sending conflicting signals on issues of discipline which confuse Anglicans worldwide and weaken confidence in the Instruments. This last reference is surely to the conflict in word and deed between the January 2016 Primates gathering and the April 2016 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council with regards to “relational consequences” for TEC which we have written about at length here.
The citation from Jeremiah 2:13 is a poignant lament on the failure of the Communion Instruments to draw from the fountain of historic and biblical faith, and to substitute structures that are incapable of holding any authority at all. And so the Communique draws the only, inevitable conclusion: “The Instruments are therefore unable to sustain the common life and unity of the Anglican Churches worldwide…” (para. 29)
- A warning to the Church of England: any pastoral provision for blessing same-sex unions will result in serious consequences
One lament leads to another: the Provinces of Scotland, Canada and Wales have further deepened the crisis by recently moving to change their Canon teaching and practice in relation to same-sex union, in willful and defiant disregard of the Primates gathering Communique of 16th January 2016 (para. 30 and Addendum A).
But then the Communique turns its attention to the Mother Church itself, the Church of England (COE). In the context of just condemning those Provinces so closely linked, geographically and historically, to England, the Communique goes on to say “We are deeply concerned that there appears to be a potential move towards the acceptance of blessing of same sex union by COE.” (para. 31). The Global South is watching the Mother Church closely. In typically gracious fashion, the Global South cites the “potential move.” It hasn’t happened, yet. But it is on the table; the recommendations of the Pilling Report are before the COE General Synod. With grace, the Communique notes the unique role of the COE in the life of the Communion: how its decisions as the Mother Church impact the Communion more deeply, how its Primate (the ABC) is “first among equals.” But the Global South is watching nonetheless. And then it concludes with a not-so-subtle warning: the acceptance of the blessing of same sex union by COE “would have serious implications for us should it occur.” (para. 31).
What are those implications? How should we imagine them in the context of the statement about the role of the ABC as “first among equals”? The presence of the Bishops of Winchester and Durham, the next most senior Sees in the COE after Canterbury and York, highlights the gravity of the situation in the COE. The Global South is watching, and waiting.
- The lesson from Carthage: “enhanced ecclesial responsibility” for Bishops
So what’s the punchline? It’s in the very next paragraphs, 32 and 33:
32. The present and potentially escalating crisis poses challenges to the Global South in the shepherding of her people. We recognise the need for our enhanced ecclesial responsibility. We need to strengthen our doctrinal teaching, our ecclesiastical ordering of our collective life as a global fellowship and the flourishing of our gifts in the one another-ness of our mission.
33. The Global South Primates will therefore form a task force to recommend how these needs can be effectively addressed.
Is that it? Just another task force?! But wait, you could almost miss the real punchline between the lines. It lies in three words: “enhanced ecclesial responsibility.” The proposal for “enhanced responsibility” for Bishops to guard the faith and order of the Church goes back to Lambeth Resolution 18.2(a) (1988), was noted as a continuing need by the The Report of the Inter-Anglican Theological Doctrinal Commission: The Virginia Report (1997), answered by Lambeth Resolution III.6 (1998) recommending the Primates Meeting have such “enhanced responsibility,” and then expanded into an eight step process by Global South Archbishops Gomez (West Indies) and Sinclair (Southern Cone) in To Mend the Net (2001) which includes Godly admonitions to theological “innovators” and, ultimately, replacement provinces for those who have abandoned the historic faith and order of Anglicanism.
“Enhanced ecclesial responsibility” should be read carefully in light of the lessons learned from the Church in Carthage, whose bishops “were confident of their authority to order the Church.” (para. 19). “Enhanced ecclesial responsibility” should also be read carefully in the context of both the ordering and shepherding of the churches of the Global South, and “our ecclesiastical ordering of our collective life as a global fellowship.” (para. 32, emphasis added) Is this “global fellowship” simply the Anglican Churches of the Global South? Or is it beyond that?
Several Archbishops and Bishops present at this Global South Conference shared their reflections on the meaning of this Global South Communique. Among them, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, the Metropolitan and Primate of the Church of Nigeria, said:
“It expresses our collective frustration, hope, and counsel to the Anglican Communion leadership on the state of our communion. It shows our faith, determination, and effort to restore this communion to wholeness. And it shows we are getting ready for the possibility of further deterioration, that we should be able to speak and act decisively.”
The Global South has spoken. The Global South and GAFCON together are watching to see what the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Mother Church of England will do next.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.