Anglican Self-understanding

The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, considers the global picture while reflecting on his second year in the post:

Tensions within families — and that includes families of churches — are part of the human condition and were certainly experienced in the New Testament churches. While they were, and are, to be regretted, we are people of resurrection hope and must not be ground down by them. When divergent views are held with equal conviction, we are especially called to love one another. Such unity will be our witness “that the world may believe.”

As bishop and archbishop in Nigeria I was called to be a bridge-builder between Christians and Muslims and was used to promote understanding and respect between previously warring factions. It was that experience which prompted me to apply for the post of Secretary General in the Anglican Communion, where there is an acknowledged need to build a culture of respect and mutual understanding.

The personal ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury is an exemplar of patience and humility. It has been used by God to bring about reconciliation between provinces which were at odds with the rest of the Communion. I believe the Archbishop demonstrates what it means to be gracious. I value deeply the regular conversations I have had with him ever since I was appointed.

The next phase of my work as Secretary General will be to promote understanding across the Communion of the different cultures in which member churches are rooted. We should not expect other parts of the Communion to be exactly like us when their culture and history are different from ours. I want the Communion to develop a better understanding of itself. Sometime deeply-held convictions about churchmanship and authority (including that of bishops and archbishops) are more influenced by local culture than Christ.

It may be painful for some to abandon the claim that they alone are the church, with the implication that others are not. But we cannot afford to say “I have no need of you,” for that would deny the opportunity to give and receive the blessings which we owe one another.

Within the Anglican family, from whatever part of the Communion we come, we become members of the Church by accepting Jesus as our personal Saviour and by being baptised. Thereafter, even though we sin, we remain church members. So we cannot “unchurch” one another on the grounds that we disapprove of their behaviour. In the final analysis, it is God who distinguishes between the faithful and unfaithful. It is for us to love one another and leave judgment to the Almighty.

There is no room in the Anglican tradition for dictatorship: decisions must be made in recognised, constitutional ways. The bishop is a servant, teacher, guide and protector of the people. The theologian Richard Hooker identified three sources of authority: Scripture, Tradition and Reason, with Scripture having what we might think of as the casting vote. This analysis could be the means of shifting the logjam when Christians seem to have taken up intractable positions in opposition to one another.

My strong recommendation is that from the Anglican Communion Office we facilitate a series of intra- and inter-provincial visits, so that Anglicans meet and learn from one another, engage and support one another in mission, and attend each other’s synods as observers. Visitors could be invited to address brothers and sisters of the other province. Mutual understanding should result, especially as we see how authority is exercised.

Read the rest at ACNS.


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