Monday, October 02, 2006

A Lesson for the Anglican Communion

A Sermon by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane


Choral Eucharist at Southwark Cathedral


1 October 2006

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I greet you in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.

It is a great joy to be with you this morning, and share in this year’s celebrations of centuries of faithful Christian witness in this place.

I thank you for your invitation to be with you today – thank you to you, Mr Dean – thank you, Colin.

In our gospel reading we heard how the disciple John asked Jesus to stop a man who was not of the same group from casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus, however, answers that ‘those who are not against us are for us.’

When you heard those words, I wonder if you thought of Jesus’ similar, but apparently opposite, words, from Matthew and Luke’s gospels.

Here he says ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’ (Matt 12:30; Luke 11:23).

How can both be true? We need to look a little more closely at the two contexts.

In the Matthew/Luke texts, Jesus is confronting the Pharisees, who accuse him of driving out demons in the power of Beelzebub.

This is so much the polar opposite of the truth, that there is no room for pretending to neutrality.

Either you are with Jesus on this one, or you are nowhere.

This is the nub of today’s gospel passage. Either you are with Jesus, or you are not.

For Jesus warns the disciples about being too exclusivist in their own little club of followers.

The man to whom they object is acting in Jesus’ name, even if he is not part of their group – he is quote for Jesus unquote. And so Jesus accepts him.

There is a lesson here for the Anglican Communion.
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What matters is not whether we are a member of this or that particular group. What ultimately matters is whether we are, authentically, honestly, faithfully ‘for Jesus.’

Jesus is at the heart of our identity as Anglicans – and it is this Anglican identity which is most at stake in our disagreements, even if it appears that homosexuality is the issue.

So this morning, let me share with you some of my reflections on Anglican identity. I do so, having been in Kigali, last month, for the meeting of the Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, and of the Global South.

As some of you may know, I do not see entirely eye to eye with everything that was said there.

My main concern is this – so much of the debate is increasingly conducted towards the extremes of conservatism and the extremes of liberalism.

I want to say – enough! These are not the only options open to us!

To follow either is to put at risk the great riches of our Anglican heritage, through which the Lord has blessed us so greatly over the centuries.

We must not lose this inheritance, if we are serious about being faithful to the Lord, as he has been faithful to us.

If it were not for this faithfulness, we would not be here today, celebrating fourteen centuries of worship on this site!

It is not that Anglicanism is perfect. We have a chequered history.

One consequence of our current disagreements is that they help us better recognise areas where we need improvements today.

But do not let this worry you! Anglicanism has always evolved to meet the changing needs of God’s calling to serve God’s world, while remaining faithful to our roots in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Anglicanism has for centuries been the means of sustaining and spreading the faith.

It is an expression of Christianity which over the centuries, and still today, has led so many of us to conclude that it provides the most productive spiritual soil for living out the Christian faith.

Perhaps I should not say ‘an expression’ of Christianity – because at the heart of Anglicanism is not one single way of being Christian, but rather, within a broad and fertile territory, a breadth of legitimate expressions of faith, which hold to that centre who is Jesus Christ.

I like to call these ‘The Heartlands of Anglicanism.’

In his profound reflection issued in June, ‘The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today,’ the Archbishop of Canterbury offered his own description of our distinctive Christian inheritance.

This he depicts as having the three strands:

First, ‘a reformed commitment to the absolute priority of the Bible for deciding doctrine,’

Second, ‘a catholic loyalty to the sacraments and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and’

Third, ‘a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly.’

At its best, our living faith draws on the strengths of all three of these threads, which Archbishop Rowan describes as our reformed, our catholic and our intellectual and cultural components.

The Anglican touchstones of Scripture, Tradition and Reason run through each of these components.

It is not that we draw singly on one or another, as we find it most appropriate to some particular situation.

Rather, in all circumstances we find a richly-textured, maturing faith flourishes as we allow God to meet us through the creative interplay of insights, encouragements, challenges, even admonitions, from all three elements taken together.

Scriptures, creeds and historic formularies, together with the ordered sacramental life of worship, and with careful, prayerful reflection, provide the magnet that continually draws us toward the centre – one baptism, one Church, one faith, and most of all one Lord ‘in whom all things hold together’ (Cor 1:17).

Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity made flesh – crucified and raised from the dead – is not just exemplar, but unique Redeemer, and the central focus and direction of our lives.

Because of this, Anglicanism has found through the ages that we can afford to live with messiness, ambiguity and anomaly at the edges.

Through that permeability many have found a warm invitation to come closer, and so to recognise and accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

Let no-one imagine that to speak of this Anglican middle ground implies a bland and mediocre faith.

Nor does accepting the inevitability of messiness at the margins of the community of faith mean ‘anything goes.’ By no means!

We are all permanently under the three-fold testing and purifying scrutiny of the refining fire of God’s holiness (Zech 13:9), of the two-edged sword of Scripture (Heb 4:12), of minds transformed by the renewing Spirit (Rom 12:2).

We are constantly challenged by truth and invited by love to ‘hate what is evil and cling to what is good’ (Rom 12:9) and so to move towards greater Christ-likeness.

It is on this basis we dare to engage with the complexities of contemporary life around us.

It is not about us watering down the gospel to ‘be relevant.’

Rather, God is God of everything, and we need to have the maturity, and the depth and breadth, of faith to know how to listen to what he has to say about everything from global security and biotechnology to poverty and development.

We need to be able to engage profoundly, and often critically, with every aspect of human behaviour.

Sometimes we speak of the need to ‘baptize culture.’

This is no cursory wipe with a damp cloth to produce a superficial religious veneer.

Baptism is the radical transformation that comes through burial with Christ and being raised with him – every culture must die to the priorities, the loyalties, the idols, of this world, and find new, authentic, life-giving, contemporary expression, transfigured under the lordship of Jesus, Saviour and Redeemer.

Let me comment on the distinction drawn recently between ‘inclusivity’ and ‘welcome.’

This is my understanding: the doors of the Church are open to everyone – there are no aliens in the House of God!

But we do not say ‘come as you are and behave as you like.’ Rather, we say ‘welcome – come and join us, in taking up your cross, and following after Jesus.’

And this applies to all of us, and to every area of our lives – it is not just about sexuality and the morality of our sexual behaviour.

The greatest Anglicans of past and present – Launcelot Andrewes among them – are characterised by radical holiness of life; an uncompromising dedication to prayer and Bible study; and tenacious pursuit of the truth as they wrestled with the issues of their day.

This is a life lived under the authority of all these three-fold strands of faith.

It is the life of obedience and self-discipline, and often costly self-denial, for, as Paul reminds the Corinthian church, even where ‘all things are lawful,’ it may well be that ‘not all things are beneficial’ (1 Cor 10:23).

All of us would do well to remember this.

When confronted with such narrowly drawn choices as ‘Are you liberal, or conservative?’ my response is that these are not the categories through which I live as a child of God, and a member of the body of Christ.

However, I do recognise both conservative convictions and liberal instincts within myself – as I do also catholic commitment, not least to the Divine Office and the Eucharist.

I know that I must engage with the Lord in every dimension of my humanity – with all my heart, mind, soul and strength – if I am really to mature in faith.

I need the full breadth of all three strands – reformed, catholic and cultural/intellectual – and all three dimensions – Scripture, Tradition and Reason – of faith. I need them interacting together, and informing and enriching each other.

There is a creative and dynamic diversity even at the heart of my own faith – just as there is the creative and dynamic diversity within the unity of the God-head who is also distinctly Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We must learn to recognise God at work in people who are not ‘one of us.’

We must not be like Joshua, who can only accept those who are prophesying under Moses’ direct oversight. Rather, we should be like Moses, who sees that God is at work in Eldad and Medad, and generously says ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!’

It is not easy to live with a spectrum of perspectives – it is challenging even when we are fully confident we are all firmly within the Anglican heartlands.

But this wrestling together offers us the possibility of treasures that cannot be found in more monochrome approaches.

As individuals, congregations, Dioceses, Provinces, and as a Global Communion, we grow best when we have that level of complimentary difference which can indeed ‘provoke one another to love and to good deeds’ (Heb 10:24).

This is what I hope for, and argue for, within the Anglican Communion.

Let me stress here that I am not just speaking for myself.

Last month we had meetings of both the Synod of Bishops and the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

The Bishops issued a unanimous statement, which affirmed that, despite the deep pains of our current divisions, we nonetheless remain convinced that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. We urged the Anglican Communion to continue to strive to hold together as we work though our differences.

The same week, our Provincial Synod passed a motion that committed us to upholding our Anglican inheritance – spelt out in the founding documents of our Province. We are Anglicans because of our faith, our history, and of our relationship with the See of Canterbury. And we fully intend to remain Anglicans!

We do not say this lightly.

Southern Africa must be one of the most diverse Provinces of the Communion.

As well as South Africa, we cover Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. We have 13 official languages, and encompass all races and cultures of our region.

We also include every form of churchmanship from the lowest to the highest!

We have also had our share of disagreements.

We had severe differences over how to respond to apartheid – whether the question of sanctions, or the armed struggle, or chaplains serving with the South African army occupying Angola. But we held together.

And we still hold together, despite a range of views on the ministry of women. On homosexuality, we also differ. Yet we are united in our commitment to welcome gay and lesbian Christians in our congregations, and to oppose homophobia. We also agree that all our unmarried clergy, of whatever sexuality, are to be celibate.

Another, less happy, Southern African Anglican distinctive is the way that the fall-out of differences within Anglicanism, rooted in the nineteenth century, still remain on our agenda. Separation does not make problems ‘go away’ but leaves a lasting and often little less difficult legacy.

For example, in 1866, Bishop Colenso of Natal was excommunicated after lengthy disagreement with Bishop Gray of Cape Town across a wide range of issues. (Indeed, the first Lambeth conference was convened largely as a result of this dispute.)

In 1985 we recognised and affirmed his ‘courageous leadership … in the areas of pioneering biblical scholarship, cross-cultural mission and the pursuit of social justice.’ Today we are still exploring how we can appropriately acknowledge the fruits of Colenso’s ministry in the life of our Province.

Almost one and a half centuries later, the issue is still with us.

There are other anomalies of Anglican history with which we are still faced, particularly the Church of England in South Africa, and the Ethiopian Episcopal Church.

My point is that separation brings its own complications, which re-echo down subsequent centuries. All these current ‘cousin’ relationships have roots over a century old, and the anomalies they bring are likely to remain with us for the foreseeable future.

So the clear and united answer of my Province is that ‘choosing to walk apart’ solves very little. It is better to hold to the heart of Anglicanism and work through our differences together.

More than this, the means by which we engage in deliberations and pursue our solutions must also be the means of our Anglican heritage.

This has two dimensions.

First, there is discernment sought through the God-given, God-graced virtues of trust, tolerance and charity. We must have what the Archbishop of York has called ‘gracious magnanimity’ with one another, and not be so narrow minded that we become the sort of stumbling block against which today’s gospel warns us.

Second, we must follow the due processes of our structures.

We must honour our inheritance as both episcopally led and synodically governed. Clergy and laity, the whole people of God, must be included in wide debate, alongside the deliberations of the Primates and the discussions of Bishops at Lambeth. We are not a church constituted in its bishops alone – and certainly not in its Primates alone.

This is why I do not believe that the Primates of the Global South can issue statements in the name of our Provinces, without proper consultation within our Provinces.

Furthermore, we must not try to pre-empt the outcome of the due processes of the Instruments of Unity, including now the Design Group that will look at the possibilities of developing an Anglican Covenant.

Nor should we disregard the autonomy of Provinces to order their own lives through their own Synodical processes.

We must also abide by the polity of the Church since earliest times, by which Bishops’ authority is recognised within their own dioceses, without the interference of other Bishops, however much they may disagree.

To support this, we need a better engagement with Anglican Tradition.

This requires a fresh understanding of what tradition means. It is not dry forensic history, but holy remembering of God’s abiding with his people, through the centuries. We must own our history – the living and life-giving history of God at work among us.

Holy remembering is far more than casting our mind across a widening gulf of years. Holy remembering is both to recall and to participate. It is to recognise God at work in our church throughout the centuries, and to know ourselves in living continuity with his faithful people in every age. To remember is to take our place within God’s story of redemption.

This is what we are doing here today, celebrating centuries of connectedness with our historic roots within God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is a joy to be with you and share in this sense of the Lord faithfully walking with us and guiding us, through the centuries.

So, be of good heart – this is God’s Church – he has preserved it through the turmoil of the past. He will preserve it for us now!

All that we must do is hold fast to Jesus. We must be ‘for him’ and keep on praying that we may all see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day.

Amen.

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