“To banish all strange and erroneous doctrine” is a phrase that comes directly from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and its ordinal service for ordaining deacons and priests and consecrating Bishops. It is part of the charge given one who is consecrated to serve as a bishop in those Churches in the Anglican Communion who subscribe to the 1662 BCP and its ordinal (among other doctrinal statements) as “fundamental declarations.” The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) also uses this language when it consecrates a Bishop. The weighty phrase reminds us of the universal and ancient responsibility of Bishops to guard the faith, worship, order and discipline of Christ’s Church.
For the last two days I have been in Kenya as part of a teaching team for the third GAFCON Bishops Training Institute. One of the first talks I heard here was a brilliant exposition of Galatians 1:1-9 by the new Bishop of Lango Diocese (Church of Uganda), the Right Rev. Dr. Alfred Olwa. I have known +Alfred as a friend and brother in Christ, a gifted preacher and Biblical theologian—and I was not disappointed by his sermon! In this wonderful passage that many believe Paul penned on his way to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Paul makes an unequivocal defense of the Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone. As +Alfred noted:
- The good news of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone needs no addition;
- The good news must NOT be distorted (Gal. 1:7);
- Only this gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone saves people from eternal separation from God (Hell); and
- Any distortion of this Gospel is, in reality, dangerous, leads people away from God and therefore stands under God’s curse (Gal. 1:9)
This is a serious reminder of what is at stake in the Anglican Communion today—Do we believe in the Gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone? Or do we believe false teaching in the Church which leads to false gospels, which lead people away from God into hell, and which stands under God’s curse? This is the stark choice that confronts Anglican Bishops all over the world who must decide which movement in the Communion to follow.
I was so encouraged to see newly consecrated Bishops from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Nigeria. I was encouraged as I listened to them stand up and affirm their role as those who are determined to guard the Gospel of faith in Jesus Christ alone, and to “banish” from their dioceses “all strange and erroneous doctrine.” I had the privilege of sharing with these Bishops the history of false teaching in the Anglican Communion over the last 50 years, the failure of the leadership at highest levels of the Anglican Communion to say “no” to such false teaching, and how a new way lies before us—through the recovery of Reformational Anglicanism, a common confession of faith, doctrinal standards that define the limits of Anglican diversity and the recovery of the kind of “conciliar” decision making that finds its roots in the first Church Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. There was tremendous energy among the bishops with whom I shared about this new way forward!
But I was also humbled to pray with Bishops from places like South Sudan where they have few material blessings—but are rich in their faithfulness to Christ and love of their people. At least two of the bishops I prayed with simply asked me to pray for peace in the Sudan so that they may gather their congregations and churches who are now refugees from the fighting. Imagine serving as a Bishop to your diocese which consists of thousands of people who are “Internally displaced” living in camps in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere. Their humility, faith and trust in God was deeply convicting.
It’s our vision at the American Anglican Council to bring these dear Bishops together with our North American Bishops to build deeper relationships and missionary partnerships through our own Bishops Leadership Summits. Imagine how such learning and fellowship together could change the future of the Anglican Communion! I hope you will join me in praying for these Bishops, encouraging them to continue to take seriously their role as “defenders of the faith,” and building missionary partnerships with them that will enable us as Anglicans to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations! (Matthew 28:16-20) – 11/17/2017
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President and CEO of the American Anglican Council.