I read yesterday on Stand Firm that Archbishop Mouneer Anis has stated publicly that he does not intend to attend the GAFCON meeting but will go to the Lambeth Conference to once again state his case for the Anglican Communion sticking to the historic Christian faith. His reasoning for this decision is not entirely clear to me. I must admit that I experienced several different reactions, ranging from being concerned that his non-attendance at GAFCON may be interpreted by our Worthy Opponents as a "win" of sorts, to disappointment that he would not be a "player" in whatever may happen at GAFCON, to understanding that Archbishop Anis, unlike the "simple country bishop" of New Hampshire, understands that his day job is to serve the flock to which he has been assigned.
I then thought back to Archbishop Anis's strong words to the HOB meeting in New Orleans last fall, where he gave full voice to the phrase "speaking truth to power." A sampling:
"My friends, you may believe you have discovered a very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion. It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel, and the authority of the Bible. Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion."
"With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church one faith and one Lord."
"For the first time in centuries, the fabric of our Communion is torn. Our energies have been drained and our resources are lost and it is difficult for both of us to continue like this. My friends, if you really believe that the truth revealed to you is different from that shown to the rest of the Communion, then you need to uphold that claim with boldness even at the risk of losing unity. If you think it is right and necessary to ordain and consecrate practicing homosexuals and that you should bless same sex partnerships or even marriages, you should be true to what you believe is right and accept the consequences."
"However, if you appreciate being members of the global Anglican family, then you have to walk along side the members of your family. Those who say it is important to stay together around the table, to listen to each other and to continue our dialogue over the difficult issues that are facing us are wise. We wholeheartedly agree with this, but staying around the table requires that you should not take actions that are contrary to the standard position (Lambeth 1.10) of the rest of the Communion."
"Sitting around one table requires humility from all of us. One church cannot say to the rest of churches “I know the whole truth, you don’t”.
It would be extremely difficult to sit around one table when you have already decided the outcome if the discussion and when you ignore the many voices, warnings and appeals from around the communion."
"If you don’t commit yourself to the Dar Es Salaam recommendations would you be willing to walk apart at least for a period during which we continue our discussions and dialogue until we reach a common understanding, especially about the essentials of our faith? Forgive me when I say that for many of us in the Communion, we feel that you have already walked apart at least theologically from the standard teaching of the Communion."
"I know that you value personal freedom and independence. The whole world learns this from you. You need to demonstrate this by securing freedom for the American orthodox Anglicans who do not share your theological direction. Show your spirit of inclusiveness when you deal with them. I am afraid to say that without this more and more interventions from other provinces is going to happen. No one wants this."
His directness and ability to clearly enunciate the issues, standing in front of the very body that is responsible for a very great deal of the mess in which the Anglican Communion finds itself, is still impressive these many months later, and, unfortunately, is a too-rare quality in Anglican clergy as a group. So, if anyone wishes to question Archbishop Anis's courage or dedication, hearken back to this speech in New Orleans.
One thing he said caused me to step back and take a deep breath about the whole Anglican/TEO controversy. It's worth a replay: "With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church one faith and one Lord."
I would even take this thought one step further - there is nothing in the Bible, in the Word of God or of His Son, Jesus Christ, or of any of the saints or apostles, that tells us that any one denomination is better, or knows more, or is closer to the Holy Spirit than another. I believe that any reference to "the Church" is meant universally, of the whole body of those who worship and follow Jesus Christ - Christians. Anything that exists outside of what Archbishop Anis calls "the common cause of Jesus Christ" is thus of man, not necessarily of God. By this I refer to the structure, governance, polity, conferences and conventions, and so on within which we all become so consumed.
Archbishop Orombi recently quoted a passage from Acts to the P.O.: Acts 5:38-39, "And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."
These fine Christian leaders "get it" and we all, myself most certainly included, need to constantly remind ourselves that this all amounts to nothing if we do not follow the teachings and principles given us by God and Jesus Christ. We can argue Canon law until the cows come home and go out again (bovine flatulence?), but in the end all it means is that some humans, at some time in the past, set up a system to govern their denomination. Canon law, and everything else having to do with structure, governance, etc., is not the Word of God. Period. End of story. So when we debate these issues, but in doing so lose sight of the Word of God, we are all guilty of missing the point.
I have always contended that anyone can be a Christian without the necessity of membership in any particular denomination. This statement horrifies some seminarians I know; one even told me I would go to hell if I didn't go to church. But what God requires of us is our faith and belief in him, that we try to follow the tenets of the faith He has given us, and that we earnestly ask for his forgiveness and eternal love. He does not require us to choose the "right" denomination, except perhaps to eventually shake the dust from our feet and absent ourselves from one that does not follow his holy laws. He has given us the entity of "the Church" as a vessel within which we can nurture and share our faith, and a base from which we can spread his Word to the world. When any particular denomination becomes an entity unto itself, i.e., we worship the entity and not God, then that denomination, or Diocese, or parish, is no longer "the Church" to which the Bible refers.
Yesterday morning I was feeding our two horses and looked up to see the wind rippling across an adjacent hay field. It was a scene of beauty only God could have crafted. I thanked God on the spot for allowing me the privilege of seeing such sights. I later shared the story with Corinne and was in tears telling her about it. To me, that moment was an act of worship every bit as much as reciting a creed written by men hundreds of years ago. It was profound, it had meaning to me, and it reminded me that such sights and this world would not exist but for God's creation of it. I reaffirmed my faith in God in that, and many other such moments. Are such moments not worthy of being considered "worship" simply because they do not occur in a particular building or within a particular liturgy?
So, really, while the whole Anglican Communion/TEO "fight" continues, and while us bloggers will continue to argue the many points of Canon law, governance, etc., that have come up, I hope we can bear in mind the ultimate priority of "the common cause of Jesus Christ". Without it, we are all nothing but dust in the wind.