Thursday, July 3, 2008

NZ Anglican Church guilty as charged?

Chris Sugden makes an interesting claim about the church to which I belong. I choose these words carefully: I find it difficult to refute the claim, much as I wish I could do so. My difficulty is this: there are 'facts on the ground' in our church, whether or not there has been some 'militant tendency' deliberately orchestrating them. I personally do not think there has been deliberate orchestration, but I am aware that others, closer to where these facts on the ground lie, think otherwise.

Writing in the Guardian, this is what Chris had to say:

For five years, the Episcopal church in US, the Anglican church of Canada, and elements of the Church of England and church in New Zealand have acted precisely like the student unions of the 1970s and Militant tendency in putting facts on the ground and defying the authorities to do anything about it. Some bishops and others have been presenting a different Christian gospel, expressed in disobedience to the teaching of the Bible, and continue to persecute and harass those who resist and object.

If the current dispute is merely a matter of different perspectives and emphases, as the Archbishop of Canterbury suggests, why are the bishops who are promoting this different gospel driving people out of their churches and removing licences from priests such as Dr Packer?

Gafcon became necessary following the persistent failure of the current authorities in the Anglican Communion to do anything about this deliberate flouting of Christian teaching and decisions of the whole Anglican Communion and its leadership.

What would be an ideal response of the Archbishop of Canterbury? The Gafcon pilgrimage was about relationships above all else. The pilgrims came to meet with God, through prayer and worship, through study of his word, and pilgrimage to recall his mighty acts of redemption in history. They came to meet with each other in fellowship, Bible discussion, meals, and pilgrimage together. One presiding bishop of a dispersed Anglican group in America, the Reformed Episcopal Synod, said he now had a family.

An ideal response of the archbishop would be to focus on relationships: to meet with the primates' council of Gafcon on neutral territory: not at the Lambeth conference, which is already a compromised gathering since those who initiated this crisis, the consecrators of Gene Robinson, will be present, and since the issues are fundamental questions about the authority of scripture in the church.

Written responses from afar raising issues of legitimacy and details of constitution-making have more in common with Yes Minister than godly dialogue in the church of Christ. Gafcon is a Primates' council, designed to bring order. It is also a movement. Movements begin with vision statements such as Tracts for the Times for the Anglo-Catholic movement, or clear bold action such as the Evangelical Movement for Social Reform under the Clapham Sect, not with detailed governance procedures.

The primates of the Anglican churches of Nigeria, West Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda (six out of 12 African provinces in Africa) and the Southern Cone, churches of over 40 million members out of 55 million churchgoing Anglicans worldwide, have decided that there is a way forward within the Anglican church that can bring order out of chaos and which does not involve a split. As elected leaders of their churches they are hardly unrepresentative. The whole provincial governance of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria took this decision as provinces at Jerusalem to support the Jerusalem declaration and statement. Their solution is not a church within a church, since that would entail drawing the lines more tightly than the church does.

The Jerusalem declaration and statement restates what the Anglican church has always affirmed. Its importance for Anglicans is summed up by the many who said that Gafcon Jerusalem 2008 was one of the most significant weeks of their lives, the most fulfilling Anglican Conference they had attended, and where they discovered the reality of the global Anglican fellowship, united in seeking to live in obedience to the Bible.

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