I was directed to this article
in the L.A. Times. It regards an exchange of correspondence between Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America (hereafter referred to as the "Episcopal Church") and Bishop Peter Akinola, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Nigeria. Now, while I am a Southern Baptist and have no horse in this race, as it were, I am very interested in seeing how this plays out. While their are definitely areas of Anglican doctrine that I do not agree with, there is a basic foundation of biblical Christian doctrine where we do agree. It is on this basis that I watch this controversy with great care and concern and am encouraged by those who would stand up for the word of God in the midst of great controversy and declare that the Scriptures alone are the final arbiter of how the Church is to believe and behave.
As a bit of background on this issue: the Episcopal Church is under fire in the greater worldwide Anglican Communion for ordaining and installing an openly gay bishop (namely, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire). During a meeting of bishops in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania last year, the Anglican Communion gave an ultimatum to Bishop Jefferts Schori stating that the Episcopal Church must cease and decist from pursuing the clear agenda of normalizing homosexuality within the church. In spite of the doctrines and practices being supported by Bishop Jefferts Schori and other upper-level leaders within the Episcopal Church there are several individual congregations within the United States that are opposed to these actions and are seeking a way to maintain a biblical, conservative doctrine while remaining a part of the greater Anglican Communion. With this in mind, Bishop Akinola has planned a trip to the U.S. to install Martyn Minns as Bishop over the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). This group would actually be an off-shoot of the Anglican Church in Nigeria and, thereby, under the authority of Bishop Akinola and would be open to any congregations in the U.S. seeking to follow a more biblical and traditional body of doctrine and practice within the Anglican C0mmunion.
Using the links in the article I was able to obtain copies of the letters that were exchanged and it presents a very interesting scene.
In the initial, rather brief, letter, Bishop Jefferts Schori makes an appeal to Bishop Akinola to refrain from coming to the U.S. to install Bishop Minns as head of CANA. She gives three reasons for this:
1. It would be a violation of the customs of the church (regarding limits of episcopal activity and respect of jurisdictional boundaries).
2. The action would damage efforts at reconciliation between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
3. The action would display to the world "division and disunity that are not part of the mind of Christ, which we must strive to display to all."
Now...let that soak in a minute. Bishop Jefferts Schori, the woman who favors promotion of openly gay clergy to the rank of Bishop and thumbs her nose at those who disagree, calling them, in effect, backwards and "behind the times" (note her interview with the Boston Globe
, "Where the protesters are, in some parts of Africa or in other parts of the Anglican Communion today, is where this church and this society we live in was 50 years ago, and for us to assume that people can move that distance in a year or in a relatively instantaneous manner is perhaps faithless," she said. "That kind of movement and development has taken us a good deal of pain and energy over 40 or 50 years, and I think we have to make some space so that others can make that journey as well
." -- How arrogant! -
is now, all of a sudden, interested in the time-honored customs of the church! And the idea of reconciliation? The quote above tells us that he only reconciliation she's interested in is for the world to reconcile their views to hers! And I'll let Bishop Akinola address the last point (as well as the others) as he responded with a well-written letter of his own (with my comments interspersed):
First, Bishop Akinola brings to the fore the fact that Bishop Jefferts Schori's letter was not actually sent to him, but was posted on the Episcopal News Service website
! He then recounts the history of the controversy that has led to the current situation. Regarding Bishop Jefferts Schori's objection that Bishop Akinola's actions were a violation of tradition and protocol, Bishop Akinola responds, stating that "our Provinces are divided, and so the usual protocol and permissions are no longer applicable
." Essentially, the Bishop states that, since the Episcopal church has turned its back on the Anglican Communion in this matter, there is no longer an ecclesiastical boundary. Bishop Akinola has basically declared that he no longer sees the Episcopal church as part of the Anglican Communion. He then states that he is willing to "renew the pledge
" that was made to former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold that "the Church of Nigeria will be the first to restore communion on the day that your Province abandons its current unbiblical agenda
." (emphasis added)
YES! Here is the key! Bishop Akinola has a firm and unchanging foundation for making the judgments he is making. It is the Bible! I was just reading in 1 Corinthians 5 this morning with my family and we were discussing that, if someone who claims to be a Christian is living an immoral life, we are to remove the immoral brother
! This is what Bishop Akinola is doing, only on a higher level. He then commences to rip
(in the most loving way) Bishop Jefferts Schori's appeal to church custom and turns her argument on its head. I'll let the Bishop speak for himself:
"I also find it curious that you are appealing to the ancient customs of the church when it is your own Province's deliberate rejection of the biblical and historic teaching of the Church that has prompted our current crisis.
Again I say, YES!! One cannot pick and choose which doctrines of the bible are to be held to! Also, one cannot pledge fealty to a particular body of faith, doctrine and tradition and then decide for themselves which articles they will uphold to their own benefit while discarding the rest.
Bishop Akinola wraps up his letter with the following paragraph. I will quote it in its entirety but it brought to mind 1 Cor 6:1-11 when I read it:
"You mention the call to reconciliation. As you well know this is a call that I wholeheartedly embrace and indeed was a major theme of our time in Tanzania. You will also remember that one of the key elements of our discussion and the resulting Communique was the importance of resolving our current differences without resorting to civil law suits.
(cf. 1 Cor. 6 - JV) You agreed to this. Yet it is my understanding that you are still continuing your own punitive legal actions against a number of CANA clergy and congregations. I fail to see how this is consistent with your own claim to be working towards reconciliation.
So, how interested is Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in reconciling the Episcopal Church with the other bodies within the worldwide Anglican Communion? It would seem that she's not nearly as interested in that as she is in pushing her own agenda upon the rest of the Communion. I personally applaud Bishop Akinola for what he is doing and what he is standing for. While it is a tragedy whenever a schism occurs within a denomination, it must be handled with the word of God as the arbiter between the sides. If there is disagreement the Scriptures must be the deciding factor. While Bishop Jefferts Schori has stated that she does not desire to cause schism within the Anglical Communion, her refusal to adhere to Scripture and its commands has already done the work. Bishop Akinola is now under obligation to step in (since no one else has taken the initiative) and provide for those who seek to follow a more Christ-honoring ecclesiastical body. May God be with Bishop Akinola as he seeks to honor the Lord in this.