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An African Anglican is an Anglican, Twice

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Credit: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

Many an African Anglican has been accused, and perhaps felt a pang of conscience, of belonging to the church of the colonizer. However much they are thankful for the Gospel, the church in popular understanding remains essentially English.

Little do they know the opposite is true. The Anglican Church is essentially African.

Delegates at the sixth Anglican Global South conference in Cairo heard new research from the foremost scholar of the formational Anglican, Thomas Cramner, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr. Ashley Null is an elected fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is currently compiling a five-volume study of Cramner’s private theological notebooks.

What these notebooks reveal is the reformer’s deep dependence on the writings of Augustine. Imagined today as a Latin scholarly giant, in his day Augustine was derided as the son of a Berber who spoke Latin with an African accent. Much like many see Africans today, he was considered an outsider with just enough education to exist on the margins of civilization.

Null encouraged the delegates that the scholarly comparisons continue today. The progressive wing of the Anglican Church believes that God will lead them into all truth, which the church today can perceive better for modern times than those from two thousand years ago.

Yet this was exactly the challenge Cramner faced in his day, taking on Medieval Catholicism. Equating tradition with scripture led the church into all sorts of error, which only a return to the Bible could correct. In many examples Null demonstrated how Cramner’s writings drew from Augustine, who himself distinguished between the holy texts and the illumined church fathers who applied them for their day.

Their interpretation, Cramner echoed Augustine, is to be done by scripture. Yet the flexibility of a changing medium for the gospel is built into the original 39 Articles. Article 34 declares it is not necessary for all ceremonies to be alike in all times, places, and manners, so long as they are not contrary to the word of God.

“An African Anglican is an Anglican, twice,” Null said. “It is not just a great line, it is the truth.” Africans need not replicate an English church. And why should they, when the Anglican Church was designed to be culturally adaptable from the beginning, patterned after the teachings of a Berber?

Null demonstrated this was not just a missiological principle, but the very DNA of Anglicanism. But in the day’s Bible study, an Asian walked delegates through the challenge of mission.

Bishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore said this is mission wider than world evangelization. It is extending the Kingdom of God through the church to the whole created order, bringing it all under God’s rule of righteousness, justice, and compassion.

Ponniah focused on three primary dimensions of this mission. The first is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully. The second is to overcome the hostility of evil boldly. And the third is to shine the light of God’s rule winsomely. And all of these should be practically achieved through vibrant local parishes, for this is where the people are.

And on this day the Anglican Global South received the greetings of many parishes around the world. Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, Bishop Tim Dakin of Winchester, and Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney all expressed appreciation for support received from their fellow orthodox Anglicans. Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina and Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America expressed similar sentiment.

But Bishop Bill Love of Albany was unique. A conservative American who has chosen to stay within the Episcopal Church, he described the ‘companion partners’ of the Global South within his province. There are six diocese including his own, Central Florida, Dallas, North Dakota, Springfield, Illinois, and Tennessee. Fifteen bishops identify also, representing 10 percent of the whole, a remnant, Love said, which has not bent the knee. One reason he remains within the Episcopal Church is to remain faithful to them.

Much like Cramner was faithful to Augustine, and Augustine faithful to scripture. Even an American Anglican is African at heart.

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Global South Anglicans Open 6th Conference with a Nod to Athanasius

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Credit: Michael Adel

Anglicans of the Global South met today in All Saints Cathedral, Cairo, taking communion and opening their sixth conference. Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt, chairman of the Global South Steering Committee, welcomed 12 primates and 90 delegates from 20 provinces of the Anglican Church.

In his opening address he gave a brief history lesson, recalling an earlier archbishop of Egypt, the 4th century Athanasius of Alexandria.

“He was known as ‘contra mundum’, ‘against the world’,” said Anis of the ancient champion against the heresy of Arianism. “He was opposed at that time even by the emperor, but eventually the false teaching disappeared, while orthodoxy flourished.”

Anis encouraged delegates to take two lessons from this history. First, drawing on the conference theme from I Corinthians 4:2, the church must be “found faithful” to the gospel received from the apostles. Second, the truth will prevail in the end.

Anis decried an “ideological slavery” in which some in the Western church use their money and influence to push their agenda on the Global South. They undermine the scripture and the traditions of the church in redefining the definition of marriage, he said, and their unilateral choices to ordain homosexual bishops is fraying the fabric of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“I want to weep,” Anis said, “as Jesus did over Jerusalem.”

Anis also challenged delegates over the weaknesses of churches in the Global South. Corruption, tribalism, polygamy, poor treatment of women, and the prosperity gospel all show the need for greater theological education.

The church must also address the issues of poverty and economic migration, moving away from a dependency on Western aid into a more sustainable development. And as concerns terrorism and religious violence, Christians must again look to history, following the example of the martyrs, if necessary.

During the communion service, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria preached on the peace of Christ that is able to prevail in a crisis situation. The world has not achieved peace, citing examples in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and his own homeland.

Christians, however, are called to be peacemakers focused on justice, fairness, and the love of God. This is also a call for world evangelization, he said, that the knowledge of the Lord may fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, quoting the prophecy of Isaiah 11.

Bishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore prayed for the delegates, that God would melt their pride, free them from biases, and strip away all rivalries. He urged humility and submission to follow Jesus, that God would reveal what this means for them in the Global South.

“Let us weep over what breaks your heart,” Ponniah prayed. “May our faithfulness be the means by which you restore your church.”

Ecumenical and interfaith guests included representatives of Al Azhar, the Vatican, the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Churches, and the Armenian Catholics. Political and diplomatic guests included representatives from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the embassies of the United States and Singapore.

The Anglican Church has 85 million members in 164 countries, the world’s third largest Christian denomination behind Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans in the 24 provinces of the Global South number 61.8 million, constituting 72 percent of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Participants included archbishops from the provinces of Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Southern Africa, Western Africa, Indian Ocean, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and South East Asia. Joining them from outside the Global South were archbishops from North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Archbishop Anis urged them to adopt a joint statement of faith.

“Our unity in the Global South is very important,” said Anis as he closed the opening session. “We must face our many challenges together.”