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A heartfelt plea to Orthodox Bishops gathered at Lambeth 22

Dear Orthodox Bishops gathered at Lambeth 22, There is a need for great wisdom amongst orthodox patriarchs and bishops gathered at the Lambeth conference. Now is a time to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, to discern the schemes of the enemy and thwart them. It is important to keep the main thing the main thing. This conference is titled “God’s Church for God’s World” and it is precisely here that the orthodox need to focus their gaze and in doing so set their focus on the Lambeth call for Anglican Identity. The call defines the nature of the Church and the Anglican Communion in evil terms and in doing so reveals the root of the confusion found in the call on Human Dignity. It is important to address the root of the problem rather than simply treat the symptoms, even more so given the serious nature of these symptoms.

Anglican Identity 2.2 states

“Governed by Scripture, Anglicans belong to a tradition that seeks faithfulness to God in richly diverse cultures, distinct human experiences, and deep disagreements. In communion with the See of Canterbury, the Anglican Communion has grown into a family of interdependent churches and provinces in over 165 countries”

The first sentence of 2.2 is deliberately structured, so that “Governed by Scripture” is interpreted by what comes after the comma, the second part of the sentence is an explanatory clause. To affirm 2.2 is to affirm the idea that to be governed by scripture means to deeply disagree. Bishops are not invited to affirm the work of the Spirit of God, of freedom and peace, which reconciles us with God and one another through his Word, but rather are asked to affirm the work of a spirit of lawlessness and bondage to sin, which does not reconcile us to God, but seeks to accommodate us to the world, thus sowing continuous and deep division in God’s body. Bishops are not asked to issue a call to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ the author and perfecter of our faith, in repentance and gratitude, but rather to issue a call for each of us to look to ourselves, to our own experience, that you and I may define (author) and develop (perfect) our own faiths. To affirm 2.2 is to put the individual rather than Christ at the centre, as the fulcrum, around which all else turns. That said 2.2 does get one thing right, being governed by scripture does mean seeking faithfulness to God in diverse cultures, and in this, Anglicans are called to follow the example of Paul at the Areopagus who contextualized God’s word so that it could be understood and received by his hearers.

Here then I offer a replacement for the first sentence:

“As Anglicans, we are governed by Scripture, as witnesses of the Gospel and guardians of the faith contained therein, as such “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”(Article 20) We safeguard this deposit by passing it on, speaking in the different tongues of the peoples of which we are a part(Article 24), so that our words may be intelligible and the people instructed in the faith.”

The second sentence again has two clauses that define each other. Here communion with the See of Canterbury is offered as the defining feature of what it means to be part of the Anglican Communion. The consequence of this would be that to be Anglican is the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the same way that to be Roman Catholic is the gift of the pope. This flies in direct contradiction to the Anglican way which resisted the unipolar claims of the Bishop of Rome long before the reformation. Then in the reformation, the Anglican reformers looked repeatedly to the years of the undivided church to come to diagnose and then treat the malaise in the wider church drawing heavily on theologians who learnt their faith on African soil, and whose Patriarchs seat was in Alexandria, not Rome. The central role of the Archbishop of Canterbury within the communion is a result of the history of the Church of England planting Anglican churches in other lands wherever the English went and not a matter of principle for Anglicans.

I offer then an alternative to this second sentence that defines Anglican identity in terms of its purpose:

“The See of Canterbury is the guardian of the gifts of faith received from its forebears such as Cranmer and Laud who valued faithfulness to God more than their own lives. The Anglican Communion was birthed out of obedience to the call of Christ to “make disciples of all nations”(Matt. 28:18-20) and in doing so has returned the deposit of faith to places from which it was first received and carried it to other peoples too. It is in our shared fellowship of the giving and receiving of the faith once received that the Anglican Communion finds its identity.”

If 2.2 is left as it is, the communion will be defined along colonial lines, with inclusion in the communion based on the whims of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose appointment depends on the approval of the British Prime Minister. It will also leave Orthodox Anglicans in the British Isles vulnerable to disinheritance were the Church of England to reject the path of Orthodoxy in favour of accommodation with the world. It is up to Orthodox Bishops to stop this from happening.

This is my plea to all Orthodox Bishops gathered in Lambeth to not forget the work that Christ is doing in the Church and of which he calls you to be a part, by this I mean the beautification of his bride so that she might be presented “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:27)

Cornelius Harding,

A layman, Holy Trinity Church, Norwich

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