Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Global South Anglicans ‘Visit’ Carthage and the Valley of Dry Bones

Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

On the first full day of the sixth Anglican Global South conference, delegates met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and began private deliberations for the eventual “trumpet”, the concluding communique.

But in preparation they were led in a Bible Study by former Bishop of Singapore John Chew, and given a lecture by former Bishop of North Africa Bill Musk. Each applied the topic at hand to contemporary issues in the Anglican Global South.

Chew began by emotionally recalling his participation in the initial Global South gathering in Nigeria in 1994, then called the South-South Encounter. It helped us get to know each other, he said, and whether the way we did it was right or wrong, it clearly led to what followed.

That meeting was followed up by the 1997 conference in Malaysia, which galvanized the conservative primates of the Global South to achieve Resolution 110 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture.

Building on this history, he asked the delegates to reflect with him on Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones. “Can these bones live?” asked God to the prophet, to which Ezekiel wisely responded, “Lord, you know.”

Chew suggested that similarly, in light of the crises in the Anglican Communion, a proper response is to be silent and wait on God. When division is deep-seated, action cannot overcome action, but only God’s transformation of hearts.

But God did not leave Ezekiel to be silent, said Chew. God told him to “join the stick of Judah with the stick of Israel, and I will make them one stick.” Chew noted that perhaps many in Judah were pleased to see the compromising Israelites scattered in exile, but the heart of God, indeed the vindication of his holiness, is in bringing them back together.

Chew left the implication of this teaching to weigh on the delegates without direct application, but asked them if this was their orientation: To let God achieve it, rather than their own activism.

Afterwards, Musk led the delegates in exploration of the history of the church in Carthage, Tunisia, guiding them through the Donatist controversy and the religio-political shifts in the Latin-Berber, Vandal, and Byzantine eras.

The early church was divided along cultural lines, he said, between a foreign Latin elite that favored a compassionate response to Christians who denied their faith under persecution. The indigenous Berbers, however, held to a standard of purity that insisted upon faithfulness until death.

Various church fathers responded in different ways under different circumstances, Musk explained. But he esteemed the Council of Carthage which affirmed the right of a diocese to regulate its own affairs, rejecting the right of one to discipline leaders in another.

Similarly, Musk asked delegates if they could also create a mutually supportive Global South despite differences of viewpoint, while at the same time speaking the truth as they understand it on the important issues of the day.

Like the Christians of North Africa then, Christians of North Africa and elsewhere are persecuted now. Musk urged the lesson be learned of the dangers of a divided Christian community. The Arab invasions eventually overwhelmed the church, but the seeds of its demise were sown long before. Alongside apostolic gifts, a patient, long-suffering pastoral ministry is also of vital importance.

Anglican delegates closed the day by self-selecting themselves into four taskforce groups on the topics of theological education and leadership development, economic empowerment, evangelism, discipleship, and missions, and ecumenical and interfaith relations. Their practical recommendations were forwarded to the primates for further deliberation and planning.

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