Recife: Reformation, Revival and Realignment

During the last few weeks, you may have missed a wonderful sermon, and it wasn’t delivered at the royal wedding.  In fact, unless you were present for this sermon, you probably missed it entirely. I was blessed to be there to hear it but there were no TV networks, newspaper reporters or social media “stars” there.

 

So, may I share with you from this sermon and from its preacher, the humble servant leader of the new Anglican Church in Brazil, Archbishop Miguel Uchoa Cavalcanti.

 

“[In] the whole history of the Christian church and in every episode of this story there is a particular challenge ‘to preserve the Word.’

 

“From the catacombs of Rome, passing through the Fathers of the Church, the first Reformers, the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, in all these moments [they] gave life to one thing… the preservation of the Word of God…

 

“[There is] nothing to add and nothing to take away. You heard me say here today that I believe in the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and the New Testament as the WORD OF GOD…this is the faith of this Church that we are building. The forms of this Church point to the Word of God, the candidates for the ministry have to sign their belief in the Word of God…as a bishop, a mere mistrust that this is not happening makes me postpone or cancel any ordination process (this is not rhetoric!).

 

“Times are evil [and] in this particular time people are dissecting the Word of God. Religious leaders seem more [like] coroners seeking a ‘cause mortis’ in an inert body. For us in the Igrejia Anglicana do Brasil (IAB), the Word is alive and as some say is ‘rhema’!  It jumps out of the text and the cold letter and warms by the Spirit reaching our ears and descending into our heart to become living actions.  Our liturgy does not spell cold lyrics, but it proclaims the living Word!”

 

Wow! Here are three takeaways that I received from this sermon.

 

  1. We are in the midst of an historic reformation—the recovery of the whole Gospel for the whole person

 

In his sermon, Archbishop Miguel placed the formation of the IAB in the context of history, of those once-in-every 500-year reformations of the Church. He placed the formation of the IAB in the context of what is at stake in those reformations: the recovery of an open Bible, its clarity, authority and sufficiency for the salvation and sanctification of all people everywhere. “There is nothing to add and nothing to take away,” said the Archbishop, “this is the faith of this Church that we are building.”

 

Archbishop Miguel stands in the footsteps of that great reformer, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, whose Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent sums up the heart of the Anglican Reformation:

 

“Blessed LORD, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant that we may in such wise hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.”[1]

 

In his sermon, Archbishop Miguel proclaimed as the Reformers did the excellence of liturgy because it is not mere “cold lyrics” but rather “proclaims the living word.”  In so doing, he stands in the footsteps of Charles Simeon, who said:

 

“Here let us pause a moment, to reflect, what stress our Reformers laid on the Holy Scriptures, as the only certain rule of all our ministrations. They have clearly given it as their sentiment, that to study the word of God ourselves, and to open it to others, is the proper labour of a minister; a labour that calls for all his time, and all his attention.”[2]

 

In our current Anglican reformation, this is precisely what is at stake: an open Bible, opened to others with clarity, authority and sufficiency— nothing added, nothing taken away.  It is the whole Gospel for the whole person. The failure of the Episcopal Church of Brazil to present an open Bible with such clarity, authority and sufficiency on matters of human sexuality (at the very least) is precisely why the IAB was formed. In contrast to those “religious leaders” who treat the scriptures like a coroner treats a dead body—searching for “the cause mortis”—Archbishop Miguel proclaimed with joyful reverence that the Bible is not an inert or dead body.  Rather, it is the living word of God which jumps off the pages, into our ears, descending into our hearts with power to change us from the inside out, so that we may all become more and more like Jesus Christ.

 

With joyful reverence, “nothing added, nothing taken away,” Archbishop Miguel stands in the footsteps of Richard Hooker and his magisterial work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.  There is a proper way to preserve the Word of God without obscuring its meaning or compromising its authority in a misguided attempt to adjust the Gospel to an ever-changing secular society. As Dr. Ashley Null observes, Hooker himself did not suggest that Scripture was merely one source of authority on an equal footing with tradition and reason:

 

“Although it is common among Anglicans to speak of the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, in which each leg is equal, it is far more accurate to speak of Scripture as a garden bed in which reason and tradition are tools used to tend the soil, unlock its nutrients and bring forth the beauty within it.”[3]

 

What a wonderful picture of the faithful work of opening the Bible, as gardeners rather than coroners! This is the spirit in which Archbishop Miguel and his bishops will ordain clergy—or not.

 

A wise priest was once quoted as saying “love sees faults as needs.”  So when we fault the Anglican Communion Office for publishing a work that exchanges the richness of Biblical reconciliation for more secular principles of conflict resolution apart from the text of the Scriptures, or when the Archbishop of Canterbury turns away from God’s creation ordinance in Genesis 2:21-24 and teaches instead that the “gendered nature of marriage is a temporary value that can indeed change with circumstances, we can see the need for the IAB in Brazil. Here we have a Church with leaders who are lovingly correcting the teaching of Anglican leaders, at the highest levels of the Anglican Communion, who would remove the richness of that garden bed of the Holy Scriptures for something less. Nothing added, nothing taken away from an open Bible for all. That’s what is at stake in this current Anglican Reformation, including the formation of the IAB.

 

  1. We are in the midst of a Revival—where God’s living word changes us from the inside out

 

In his sermon, Archbishop Miguel proclaimed “For us in the Igrejia Anglicana do Brasil (IAB), the Word is alive and as some say is ‘rhema’! It jumps out of the text and the cold letter and warms by the Spirit reaching our ears and descending into our heart to become living actions.”

 

This is the heart of revival: where the Church is enlivened and empowered by Word and Spirit (see Acts 2:42-47).  As I wrote from Recife two weeks ago, this is exactly what the IAB is experiencing as its leaders (at the highest levels of the Church) take the whole Gospel for the whole person to the neediest and most dangerous places in the country.

 

You can get a sense of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and see the joy of the revival in the IAB here. But genuine revival goes deeper than deeply moving spiritual experiences. Bishop Bill Atwood has been working with the Church in Recife for some time and has written an outstanding account of the way this church has transformed the communities it serves through Word, Spirit and Deed:

“The witness and ministry of Anglicans in Recife is amazing. In fact, it may be the most robust ministry of any Anglican Diocese in the world. From care for single mothers, and after school training, to one-on-one evangelism and discipleship activities involving huge numbers, there has been a historic commitment to manifest and extend the Kingdom of God into the lives of more and more people.

 

“An evangelistically modified Cursillo provides a platform for thousands of people to come to lively personal faith in Christ, and home cell groups incorporate them into the church's life. Several times a year, 150 unchurched married couples gather at a hotel for a course on marriage put on by these Anglicans. A course that provides a pipeline for many of those couples to come into the worshipping Body of Christ where they will be transformed by Christ, discipled, and deployed in one capacity of ministry or mission...

 

“Block by block, slums are "invaded" by prayers and people who turn dangerous areas of poverty into oases of the Kingdom of God. Job training programs abound, and many transformed people go back into the workforce as marketplace ministers.”

 

While in Recife I also heard from Archbishop Foley Beach and Bishop Stewart Ruch (Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Upper Midwest) how Archbishop Miguel invited each of them to assist him in doing confirmations. At one service there were 150 and at another almost 200 confirmed, most of them new believers!  In fact, as Archbishop Foley recounted, one was a 97-year-old woman who had just come to faith in Christ!

 

Revival is the whole Gospel for the whole person, working itself out in personal and community transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. And all of this is happening in the IAB despite the confiscation of their property and assets, the tragic murder of Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti and his wife, Mirian, and the hospitalization of Archbishop Miguel’s wife Valeria for over a year now due to a serious illness. Like a page from the Acts of the Apostles, the Church continues to expand its impact on persons and communities despite the challenges.

 

A week after I returned from Recife, I received a warm note of thanks (along with other ACNA leaders) from Archbishop Miguel for being with the people of the IAB at his Investiture.  He added this wonderful PS: “Since you leave we have had a new church planted…”

 

We praise God that the revival continues!

 

  1. We are in the midst of a great Realignment of the Anglican way—including the promise of new wineskins beyond the existing structures of the Anglican Communion

 

In his sermon, Archbishop Miguel also said this about the form a Church may have to take in the Anglican Communion today:

 

“The Church we are building is a church that wants to listen-obey [God’s word] and has therefore paid a high price. Alas, anyone who wants to hear-obey the LORD at any time and especially in these times will have to pay a heavy price. Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley and so many others paid a heavy price for hearing the LORD!  For hearing the LORD and not the spirit of the century, we as a church wandered for 14 years [since 2005] without having a province…”

 

Their pleas for recognition, protection from litigation and depositions, and assistance fell on deaf ears—from the Archbishop of Canterbury through the leadership of the current structures of the Anglican Communion. I am reminded of the plea a dear friend from the Church of England made to its 2011 General Synod in regards to a motion to recognize the ACNA. He pled before the General Synod not to repeat the same mistake that the Church of England made in the 18th and 19th centuries when it faced the Free Church and Wesleyan movements. Rather than accepting them, the Church of England banished them.

 

And so it goes.  Despite the evidence of reformation and revival in the IAB, not only was their formation ignored but it was condemned by Bishop Joshua Iduwea Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, and the Episcopal Church of Brazil. These are the voices of the Anglican Communion “status quo” that continue to repeat the misstatement that a Church may only be received into the Anglican Communion by applying to the Anglican Consultative Council first, rather than through the well-established precedents of recognition first by Primates.

 

Instead of recognizing the flourishing of the IAB and its mission to Brazil, these leaders would rather protect the membership of those provinces, like The Episcopal Church, whose teaching has moved away from the Bible and the Anglican Communion on matters of gender, sexuality and marriage. And this, despite the mounting evidence that moving away from the clarity, authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures leads to Church decline rather than growth

 

It may well be that Anglican Churches like the ACNA and IAB will have to continue to flourish in new Gospel wineskins outside the existing, declining structures of the Anglican Communion status quo. Realignment does not spell the loss of Anglican identity. Indeed, the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide in GAFCON and the Global South recognize us as Anglicans.

 

But realignment in an increasingly secular age and culture may spell new relationships for the sake of mission. I was struck at the service of investiture by the presence of so many leaders of non-Anglican Churches and networks within Brazil. One of the readers was a prominent pastor of the local Baptist Church. Greetings were brought by the leaders of a network of churches to which the IAB belongs—a network that is leading thousands upon thousands to Christ through one-on-one discipleship. Archbishop Miguel told me that one of his best friends is the leader of a non-Anglican church in a city of 200,000 in the middle of the Amazon-a church which has reached 70,000 people for Christ in that city through one-on-one discipleship.

 

It may be that 21st century Global Anglicans engaged in this great global reformation and revival of the Church will find more in common with other Christian leaders, congregations and movements than with those of the Anglican status quo. Why not build deeper, more genuine missional partnerships with others around a shared passion for an open Bible transforming people everywhere with the whole gospel for the whole person, in the power of the Holy Spirit?

 

That’s what Anglicans are doing in Brazil.  I wonder whether our brothers and sisters there could teach us a thing or two?

 

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.

 

 

 

[1] Joseph Ketley, ed., The Two Liturgies…in the Reign of King Edward the Sixth (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1844), at 239 (the English in this text has been modernized).

[2] Charles Simeon, The Excellence of the Liturgy (1812), quoted in Andrew Atherstone, Charles Simeon on “The Excellence of the Liturgy,” Joint Liturgical Studies 72 (Norwich: Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2011) at 48.

[3] Ashley Null, “Sola Scriptura,” (lecture presented at the Synod of the Diocese of the Carolinas [ACNA], Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, October 29, 2015 and quoted in Ashley Null and John W. Yates III, eds. Reformation Anglicanism (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2017) “Sola Scriptura” at 85-86.

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