Thursday August 4, 2022
Yesterday the Lambeth Conference of Bishops travelled by bus to Lambeth Palace for a day of planting one tree and discussing the proposal to create a worldwide “Anglican Communion forest.” I find it remarkable that the issue of the authority of the Scriptures, over which our Anglican Communion is divided, was given only two hours on Tuesday in contrast to an entire day to plant a tree and address climate change. That fact alone speaks volumes about the dysfunction in the Lambeth-driven Anglican Communion, but there have also been hopeful moments that help pivot us from all that is wrong with the Anglican Communion towards what a post-Lambeth Communion could look like in the days ahead.
A Hope and a Future for a new and emerging Communion of Anglicans
During the Global South Eucharist in the morning, a visible lifting of spirits occurred, and I watched as the room filled with worshipping African, Southeast Asian Anglicans, along with bishops from South America, North America, and the UK. I lost count after 120 people entered the auditorium to sing African praise choruses, hear simple and powerful teaching from a South African archbishop, and take Holy Communion together from bishops in Southeast Asia and North America. It was a picture of the face of this new faithful remnant emerging within the Anglican Communion.
At the heart of this new Communion is humility, repentance from our sins, and a call to obedience to God’s Word. Archbishop Tito Zavala of Chile reminded us of this in his homily on the power of sin from Psalm 51. He reminded us how sin “turns our minds and hearts to tolerate what is wrong,” and how we can overcome it through the blood of Jesus Christ and repentance. We were called to repent on behalf of those leaders in the Anglican Communion who disobeyed, and continue to disobey, God’s Word on marriage and sexuality. We were invited to search our own hearts so that we may repent, recover the joy of forgiveness, and be empowered to minister out of that joy.
What might this new and emerging global “Communion within the Communion” of Anglican churches look like?
I had additional conversations with three primates/archbishops of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA), all of whom sit on the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) Primates Council as well. You can listen to my interviews with them here on our latest Anglican Perspective Podcast. There were three hints of what this new and emerging Communion will look like:
A Communion of Anglican Churches that walks together on the basis of a common confession of faith, under the ultimate authority of the Bible, and with discipline for those dioceses and churches who disobey God’s word
All of the archbishops agreed that the number one problem leaving LC2022 is the unresolved divisions between Anglicans who follow what the Bible says plainly about human identity, human dignity, creation, marriage, and sexuality— and those Anglican who do not. They are disappointed by the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury who tolerates sin (“he will not call sin, sin”) and will not discipline it. They are frustrated that the Communion structures failed to provide any mechanism for addressing disobedience to Anglian teaching, and specifically Lambeth 1.10 (1998) in what is certainly an “ecclesial deficit”. Even though these Global South Anglicans represent the overwhelming majority of Anglicans, they feel themselves a minority, “a faithful remnant” because of the power imbalance that western and largely white Global North Anglicans exercise over them through the structures and processes hedging this Lambeth Conference of Bishops. After the failure to even vote on the authority of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998), for which they came to make a stand, they feel the rest of the program of bible study, fellowship, and “sharing of points of view” is meaningless. They affirm that they may be gathered together, “but we are not walking together,” no matter how many times the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaims otherwise.
The Bible is not the ultimate authority in this Anglican Communion gathering. Western Anglican leaders here have interpreted the Bible by reading it through their own culture (eisegesis) rather than reading it in its plain and grammatical sense, understanding its words in the context of the whole of scripture and then applying it to the culture in which one lives (exegesis). As one archbishop says, “We cannot mix culture with Christianity; we must separate culture from Christianity and then let the Bible speak to the culture.” In the words of para 1.5 of the Cairo Covenant (2019): “The authority of the Scripture is its Spirit-bestowed capacity to quicken the Church to truthful speech and righteous action. We reject therefore the hermeneutical scepticism that commits the Church to a near-infinite deferral of decisions on matters of faith and morals.”
A Communion where the GSFA and GAFCON work together for evangelism, discipleship, mission, and church planting under the authority of God’s Word
One archbishop noted that one of the greatest challenges in the Anglican Communion is the problem of maintenance instead of mission. “There is little passion for evangelism, mission, and church planting. There are no new people, no new churches, and nothing changes.” The division over the clarity and authority of the Bible is directly related to the deficit of evangelism, discipleship, mission, and church planting. These things are all about obeying God’s Word, including Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28, to “make disciples of all nations.” But until people repent and obey God’s Word, mission and church planting will not take place. “The time has come,” Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark, “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good news.” (Mk. 1:156). The challenge of interpreting the Bible correctly, making disciples, and planting new churches will require a massive commitment to Christian education and training for ministry. The new bishops present, here at Lambeth 2022, who do not yet understand what has already occurred in the Anglican realignment, show that this is much needed.
All of the archbishops expressed a deep longing for GAFCON and GSFA to work closely on this. One suggested a biblical model in which the two could work together, with Global South providing the ecclesial structures, processes, and commitments necessary for genuine Communion, while GAFCON provides the constant call to evangelism, discipleship, and mission, along with the recognition of biblically-faithful Anglicans for membership in the GSFA. He agreed this model of cooperation would parallel the way Paul worked together with Peter. Paul led the missionary society or sodality, preaching and equipping others to make disciples and bringing the Gentiles into full Church membership, while Peter did the same from the structure or modality of the mother Church in Jerusalem. Is this the way both bodies could gather together and actually walk together in engaging this biblically-faithful and apostolic mission?
A Communion where North American Anglicans find their home in a global family of believers who both affirm them as full members of the family and exhort them to do the works that Christ has asked his family to do
Many words were said about the Anglican Communion as a “family.” The Archbishop of Canterbury describes this family in the human context in which we sometimes find our families: in messy conflicts and disagreements that are in need of loving, listening, and forgiving. These GSFA primates, however, define family as Jesus did: “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk. 3:35).
These archbishops see that the Anglicans in North America stood in the fire and the lion’s den like Daniel and his three friends, that we did the will of the Father by obeying his Word and suffered much for it. It is nothing compared to what they have suffered, often staring at someone from the end of the barrel of a gun. But because they have seen us standing firm in our Faith, they asked me to convey this message to their family, the brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church in North America. I conclude with their personal message to us in italics below as a call that echoes the words of Paul in his letter to Timothy, where he admonishes him to persevere in his faith, “endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry…” (2 Tim. 4:1-5). May we do likewise and reflect, in our lives in the ACNA, the words of both Paul and the biblically-faithful leaders of the Global South.
“Now you are part of the family that Jesus described, and you are brothers and sisters with us! We recognize you; we authenticate you fully as members of the GSFA. Just as we did the same for you in GAFCON. You are already members of the new communion that is emerging, a communion of Anglican churches that obey God’s word and will not compromise it.
You are authenticated and recognized by Jesus Christ himself, and so you are complete. You do not need completion by anyone else, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the compromised structures of this communion that we see at LC2022. Therefore, do not worry about the structures of the new communion. Instead, continue to read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, and obey God’s word in all you do.
We love you, you are family!”