The Long Road to Full Inheritance: Anglican Communion, Anno Domini 2007 - Dr Michael Poon

by Dr Michael Poon, Convener of Global South Theological Education & Formation Track

“Revival of church life always brings in its train a   richer understanding of the Scriptures. Behind all the slogans and catchwords of   ecclesiastical controversies, necessary though they are, there arises a more   determined quest for him who is the sole object of it all, for Jesus Christ   himself. . . . Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting   to-day for costly grace (Bonhoeffer, The   Cost of Discipleship, 1937).”

It is not a time   for elation for Global South Primates at Dar es Salaam in February 2007. If indeed what   Global South churches have strived for all along is more than a mere demand for   realignment of ecclesiastical power and inclusion in the inner circles, the   present calls sober reflection and costly discipleship.   This is no time for letting up.    If the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the Anglican Communion is our chief   concern, then as Bonhoeffer put it, ‘we are fighting to-day for costly grace”.   Narrow and hard is the way ahead.

Inheriting our   forebears’ tasks

Global South   churches have indeed made significant progress since the Kigali Meeting in   September 2006.  Their inclusion and   leadership in the Anglican Covenant processes is a case in point.   There may even be signs of a growing cordial partnership between Global   South leaders and Canterbury.   These encouraging signs, however, should not distract us of a more   fundamental revolution that must take place in world Christianity and in the   Anglican Communion in particular.

The present   struggle is neither merely about isolated issues (on sexuality and alternative   primatial oversight), nor just about positions that individual provinces and   personalities take vis-à-vis Canterbury and Lambeth 2008.    Even if the Global South were to “have it their way” in the coming two   years (which would be short of a miracle), such “victory” would still be   superficial.  No juggling of the   Communion structure after Lambeth 2008 on its own can meet the demand for   discipleship that is required of us all.   Therefore here I take a different view from my good friend Graham Kings   and others who continue to interpret and classify the diverse positions in the   Communion according to their (purported) attitude to particular Communion issues. [1]

Contrary to the   charge of schism and ultra-conservatism, the crises over the past decade have   awakened Global South churches to their calling as part of the one, holy,  catholic and apostolic church.  They   are increasingly confident in connecting their discipleship to the historic   faith and in governing their churches according to the sociopolitical realities   of their own nations.

Global South   churches are in fact inheriting and continuing the tasks their forebears two   generations ago left behind.  Let me   explain.  The end of the Second World   War was supposed to usher an era in world Christianity.   Churches outside the Christendom were meant to emerge from their colonial   and missionary past. During the early preparation of the World Council of   Churches in the late 1940s, national churches were to take centre stage.   In the event, missionary societies and confessional groups (now called   “World Christian Communions”) argued for their continued influence in world   Christianity.[2]

The fallacy of Missio Dei

The often   unchallenged concept of missio Dei in   present-day missiological discourses provides an intriguing instance of western   Christianity’s attempt to keep their influence (and dominance) in the new world   order after WWII.  This idea   supposedly serves as a reminder that mission is not merely a human and   church-centric undertaking.   Mission issues from the mission of the triune God. Karl Hartenstein put it this way: Mission is a “participation   in the sending of the Son, in the missio Dei, with an inclusive aim of establishing the lordship of Christ over the whole redeemed creation”. [3]

The context of the   above quotation is significant.  It   came out of Hartenstein’s report on the historic Willingen 1952 World Mission   Conference convened by the International Missionary Council.   Missionary societies urgently needed to reassess their positions and   strategies amid radical political changes.   The expulsion of missionaries from China and the Korean War highlighted the crisis at the time.   In the event, missio Dei became the model and justification for continuing   engagement for western churches in the wider world.

I shall argue   elsewhere that the International Missionary Council rejected the more radical   proposals from the younger churches in those confusing years in early 1950s.  Note the two conceptual shifts in this missio Dei reorientation.   There is first a shift from church to God; and secondly from   church-centered activities (e.g. church planting, conversion, education and   social services) to “establishing the lordship of Christ over the whole redeemed   creation”.  Missio Dei thus lends itself to   abstract and ideological interpretation.   Such became the case in the 1960s when churches in the West became   embroiled in the social gospel and evangelism debate.   The problem with missio Dei was   that national churches and geopolitical realities are discounted. Any individual   and group, (shaped by late-liberal vision of human rights, and armed with   technological and financial might of   America) can impose their agenda on the world.  They do all these “in the name of God”, missio Dei!

My point is that   since the Second World War churches and nations in the South and the East are   far from living in a post-colonial and post-missionary era.   The venerable Andrew Walls may be doing a   disservice to world Christianity with his celebrated observation that the centre   of gravity of world Christianity has moved southwards.   Christian numerical strength and activities have indeed moved towards   south.  But northern hemisphere   churches still pull the strings!  It   is intriguing to note how anti-Communist ideologies propagated in the Korean   War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War shaped Christian mission strategies over   the past sixty years by.  The present   American hegemony still dictates the terms of Christian discourse in the world.   Lest my friends in America and Australia see this as   another instance of a supposed anti-American tirade from   Southeast Asia, note this assessment from Adrian Hastings:

“What none of us anticipated at that time was that   the gravest nationalist threat to Christianity by the late twentieth century   might come from the United States, essentially a rehash of the traditional   Christian imperialism of western European countries.   It is just the latest example of a self-appointed ‘chosen people’  carrying forth a gospel message reshaped by its own values and bonded to its own   political expansion.” [4]

The Way for   Anglicans? The Anglican Way?

Returning to our   present situation, Global South churches should not lose sight of their calling   to take responsibility as full members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic   church.  This should be the unifying   focus for Global South churches.  The   concrete forms of partnership and trust they have developed in the past decade   should serve good stead in the present critical time.   After all, we are in better positions than our forebears sixty years ago.   Then, many new nations that were carved out hurriedly and arbitrarily by   colonial powers were mired in ethnic conflicts. Stable government in many   countries was a distant dream. Economic poverty and resultant social chaos drove   them to their former colonial masters (or “mother churches”) for international   intervention and material aids.

But times are   changing.  Many in the Global South   now live in stable societies.   We can now   begin to speak of the nonWestern world in terms of regions (for example East   Asia, Latin America, South   Asia, and suchlike) and speak of intra- and inter-regional   cooperation. Formerly “region” is not a viable concept outside the West.   Nations that are geographically proximate to one another were too weak   politically and economically to come together as a “region”. [5]   We are in changed times.   Europe and America will soon be dwarfed by new   economic blocs in the non-Western world.    Churches outside the non-Western that now own material wealth may well be   tempted to live like rich churches in the West.   It is incumbent for them to blaze a new way: to forego empire-building   ambitions,  and learn to share   materially with those who are in need, especially the household of faith   (Galatians 6:10).  [6]

I suggest the Way for Anglicans – and indeed the discipleship that is required of us all – must be   connected to this birthing of the worldwide Christian community.   The choice of the phrase “Way for Anglicans” is deliberate.   The Anglican Way may   well serve as a theological rationale for Anglicans in the West to justify their   increasingly marginalized existence; it may serve as a Way for those who have   conceded that Anglicans are merely a denominational church.   However, it would not do for the rest of the Communion.   For the Way for Anglicans is that of discipleship that binds us to the   Cross of Jesus Christ. Such must involve a radical reexamination of the   ecclesiastical and sociopolitical structures and see whether they are   distracting us from progressing in the pilgrim way.

Clare Amos’  exposition of the Anglican Way   is illustrative. [7]   Here, the Director of Theological Studies of the Communion spelled out a   comprehensive list of Anglican attributes.   And to prevent leaving anything out, she appealed to the readers “to   write from a perspective which is not covered in the above list (33).”

Amos ended her essay by suggesting that “there is something particularly ‘Anselmic’ about ‘the   Anglican Way’ (34)”.    What does she mean by Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding” approach?  She points to Jeremy Worthen exposition. [8]

To him, faith is a “trust in the living God who meets us on our way”; at   the same time, we need to understand God in whom we believe through “engagement   with public and ultimately universal norms of rationality . . .(21)”

To Amos, trusting and understanding are open-ended processes of a “work in progress”.   I am unclear however whether such   open-ended processes lead to an overall understanding.   Understanding presumes an acknowledgment of authority.   This does not occupy a central position in Amos’ proposal.    It is helpful to contrast Amos’ and Worthen’s exposition of Anselm with   that of Karl Barth a century ago.   Barth’s study on Anselm led to his rediscovery of the centrality of God’s   self-revelation in all theological pursuits. Trust and understanding are not merely human exercises. Faith and understanding are intelligible and possible only because of   God’s initiative.   Knowledge of   God and man springs from faith in God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and   rests upon the following sequence: revelation, faith, and then “ut intelligam”  (in order to understand) – faith seeking understanding”.  [9]

The Anglican Way is in danger of becoming a brochure for tourists. The comprehensive list-all   picture is indeed attractive to those who wish to sample Anglicanism. However,  it cannot serve as a road map for pilgrims along the narrow way.   The Anselmic approach is historicized. Shorn of the foundational mooring from God’s revelation in the Holy   Scriptures, Anglicans could well become unsure how to make sense of their   heritage.  We then are no longer able   to embrace tradition as a coherent legacy from the past; we just pick, choose   and improvise as we see fit.

Note Amos’  revealing words on the Anglican Way:

“One of the interesting and slightly unexpected   side-effect of the work of TEAC has been that this ‘Anglican Way brief’ (as we still call it)  has begun to acquire a bit of a life of its own.   Published on TEAC’s website, and therefore fairly widely available, it   has been read and shared by a number of people semi-independently of other TEAC   documents and has a certain ‘status’ as a definition of what the Anglican Way is   (31).”  

It is indeed   remarkable that a working document suddenly is declared to have “certain status”  as a definition of what the Anglican Way is!   Where is the accountability to the formal instruments?   Does the website hit rate now become the new instrument for gauging the   approval rating in the Communion? This shows the alarming way the Anglican   Communion Office and any Communion Commission can effect change in the Communion   ethos.

The above is not meant to assign anything sinister to   TEAC’s work.  It serves as a wake-up   call that Global South must urgently begin the hard work to work out their   theologies and chart independent courses in theological formation and education.   We can only work for the theological well-being of the Communion if we   are able to offer our independent theological contribution.   This calls for a more enduring struggle to battle against the ideological   structures that has led the Communion astray.

The cost of being   Anglican: To be Christians for the Common Good

I end by briefly proposing three questions for reflection   as we continue the Way:

1. What does it mean   for us to continue to continue to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare   of our nations?  The “established   church” and civic religion models had underpinned the ways in which Anglicans   engage the wider public. The days of “established” and colonial churches however   have gone. Far from then adopting a ghetto attitude, how should Anglicans carry   out their prophetic ministry and watch over the welfare of their nations?

The prophetic call may well bind the church to speak   against the key interpreters of the ethos of our nations, and reminded them of   their true heritage. [10]   Jeremiah’s life was a most poignant exposition of the prophetic life.   He was called to speak against the guardians of the three key foundations   of God’s people (the House of David, the   Temple, and the [false] Prophets) who promised peace   where there was no peace.

2.  How can the Church gain maturity in interpreting Christianity to their   nations?     The Church is no longer the only interpreter of Christianity in today’s world.   Social scientists, journalists and novelists are fast replacing the   Church as the chief interpreters of Christianity.    Dan Brown’s   The da Vinci Code may well be the first introduction to Christianity in many places in the   nonwestern world.   Further, the nature of religion itself is fast undergoing changes in the   twenty-first centuries.  National   leaders are seeking to fit religion into their programmes of nation-building;  while multinational corporations are refiguring and reinventing new theologies   for a consumerist society.[11]

3. How   can we move beyond the multicultural and globalization visions in our life   together in the Communion?      The multicultural vision in fact has come to mean different ethnic   groups share (or compete) the same space but live their separate lives.   St Paul   in Romans 9-11 and Ephesians 2 offered a different view of the redeemed   humanity, where paths do not merely intersect, but come together, and share in   the same household of God.  Can we   (East and West, North and South) sharing a common history? In the same way, globalization promises wealth and plenty to peoples and   nations who adopt the consumerist ethos.   The world is configured to serve the needs of the rich.  Christianity points to a vision where all are restored to be fellow   inheritors of God’s good earth.  Can our   Communion imagine new ways of engagement (aka instruments of communion) that has   fettered the Communion to American money and the Church of England’s history?   What opportunities are open to us in the Anglican Communion?

I end with this   quotation from Oliver O’Donovan:

“We speak now of possession rather than tradition.  In the fragmented cities of this history, possession of political identity   arises only through the act of tradition, the transmission of the common goods   of the society from one generation to the next. Yet even in this history   tradition goes beyond mere diachronous transmission, and takes on the character   of a synchronous sharing, a passing-round of goods among contemporaries rather   than a handling-on.  The final realisation   of a civic identity can occur only as past generations, who have handed on their   goods and identity to later generations, are restored to be hill sharers again.  The monstrous inequity of generational succession is that all our possession   becomes a kind of robbery, something we have taken from those who shared it with   us but with whom we cannot share in return. . . .   The secret guilt which infects every culture’s thoughts about its   ancestors, and which in ours has fuelled the famous ‘quarrel’ of the moderns   with the ancients – and now (good Lord!) produces ‘post’-modernity – must be   overcome. The resurrection of the dead makes equal and reciprocal sharing. It is   the condition of true politics.” [12]

The long road to   full possession lies in rediscovering the roots of our beliefs.   The makeshift artifices that the Communion devised especially in the past   sixty years have to be reexamined and sometimes dismantled to allow true   reciprocity to flourish in the Communion.   The discipleship that is required of us anno domini 2007 is nothing less than   that in the times of the Reformation.


  [1]  See e.g. Graham King’s   latest categorization of positions in   America and the Global South in “To cleave or not to cleave: the Primates’  Meeting in Tanzania”,  Fulcrum Newsletter, February 2007, [url=][/url].

  [2]  See Harold Fey,  “Confessional Families and the Ecumenical Movement” in The Ecumenical Advance: A History of the Ecumenical Movement Volume 2,  1948-1968, ed. Harold Fey (London; SPCK, 1970), 115-142; Harding   Meyer, “Christian World Communions” in A History of the Ecumenical   Movement, Volume 3, 1968-2000, eds. John Briggs, Mercy Amba Oduyoye   and Georges Tsetsis (Geneva: WCC,  2004), 103-124.

  [3]  Quoted in Tormod Engelsviken, “Missio   Dei: the Understanding and Misunderstanding of a Theological Concept   in European Churches and Missiology”, International Review of Mission 92 (2003):482.

  [4]  Adrian Hastings, “The Clash of Nationalism and Universalism within   Twentieth-Century Missionary Christianity” in Missions, Nationalism, and the End   of Empires, ed. Brian Stanley (Grand   Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 32).

  [5]  See e.g. the discussion in Samuel S. Kim, Regionalization and   Regionalism in East Asia”, Journal of East Asian Studies 4 (2004): 39-67.

  [6]  See my discussion in “Till they have homes: Christian responsibilities   in the twenty-first century”, CSCA, Trinity Theological College, [url=][/url]

  [7]  “Anglican theological   Education What next?”, ANITEPAM   Journal (November 2006): 28-35. See [url=][/url]

[8]  See “Theological   Education and Anselm: Faith seeking understanding”, Anglican World, 122   (Trinitytide, 2006): 20-22.

  [9]  See Arthur Cochrane,  “Preface to the Reprint Edition” in Karl Barth, Anslem: Fides Quaerens Intellectum (Pittsburg: Pickwick Press,  1975), 12A-B.

  [10]  See Oliver O’Donovan’s exposition of the prophetic ministry in The Desire of the Nations:  Rediscovering the roots of political theology (Cambridge: Cambridge   UP, 1996), 76-81.

  [11]  See Robert W Heffner’s discussion in his “Multiple Modernities:  Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in a Globalizing Age”, Annual Review of Anthropology 27 (1998): 83-104.

  [12]  Desire of the Nations, 287-288.

1 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. The Reverend Kevin Francis Donlon, Ph.D. Says:

    Dr. Poon has written well and wisely calling us to ponder our full inheritance as Anglicans in the fullness of the faith catholic once delivered to the saints. He has offered a keen insight for the Global South churches in stating that they/ we should not lose sight of our calling to take responsibility as full members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  This should be the unifying focus for Global South churches.

    What would this unifying effect look like amongst Orthodox Anglican Churches of the Global South and the western parishes that seek to journey with them as the Anglican expression of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

    In St. Cyprian’s work entitled “On the Unity of the Catholic Church,”  we are reminded of the responsibility of maintaining the faith received from the Apostles and safeguarding that deposit of faith from error and false doctrine. Perhaps this catholic expression of receiving the deposit of faith starts with the bishops but is in fact for all members who claim the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith leaving us with a Communion committed to a:

    1. A MINISTRY OF TEACHING - In summary, the teaching focus of the church was:
    •  Apologetics: demonstrating that the Christian faith was a viable human experience and not a marginal one in pagan culture
    •  Evangelism: through preaching, establishing that Christ and his church are plausible in the world and demand an individual response.
    •  Spirituality: offered opportunities to those evangelized for ongoing Christian Formation to help them continue on the journey and invite others to do the same.

    2. A MINISTRY OF SAVING SOULS - Most clergy and laity in the early church were committed to a ministry of making disciples. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote of this, basing his remarks on the parables of Jesus in his treatise, Faith and Works: “The servants brought in both good and bad. . .those who come to Christ are of both kinds, and thus the bad are brought in as well as the good, since they are willing to do penance.“1
    Diligence in the proclamation of the Gospel is in both word and deed when one cares for the soul, good and bad. It was understood that the bishops cared for souls and focused on nurturing and feeding the people on a variety of levels, seeking the redemption of the whole human person, the result of which was the growth of the Body of Christ.

    3. GROWTH AND NURTURE OF THE BODY - The Apostolic Constitution offers a description that synthesizes well the ministry of the church stating that it should begin with bishops who are “well instructed, meditating and diligently studying the Lord’s books and reading them frequently, so that he may be able to expound the Gospel in correspondence with the prophets and the tradition”.2

    4. ENABLING GIFTS OF THE COMMUNITY FOR MINISTRY - John Henry Newman, in his tract of 1840 entitled “THE CATHOLICITY OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH”, wrote that “the bishop is the ultimate centre of unity and an independent channel of grace.” 3 Through the turmoil of political discord and raging disagreements, the vocation of the bishop was/is to be the stabilizing force in the life of the church. That does not mean the bishop was to maintain the status quo necessarily, but was/is to lead with prudence and grace, so as to enable and empower the faithful for the work of ministry in the unity of the church.

    The timing seems to be right for the entire Communion to see that commitment and faithfulness to one’s story and identity does not suggest being irrelevant to the times. If one’s roots and identity are examined carefully and thoughtfully, the Communion may be able to provide resources for renewal in a broken world.

    Such a renewal can be offered as a new Anglican Way that has fully embraced the promise of being faithful to the catholic christian tradition, while being ever mindful of pastoral demands in the modern world. These demands should be responded to through a creative integration of catholic order and evangelical zeal.

    This integration was readily evident in the early life of the church, as any careful reading of the Church Fathers will indicate. Dr. Alister McGrath encapsulates this evangelical-catholic identity through four characteristics that echo the notion of being a church that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic/evangelical:
    1.The church is a spiritual society
    2.All Christians are made one in Christ
    3.The church is the repository of true Christian teaching.
    4.The church gathers the faithful throughout the world, together, in order, to enable them to grow in faith and holiness[4]

    The identity of catholicity has always addressed the idea of the visible part of the Church reflecting the invisible truth of God that transforms us into the mystical body as St. Vincent of Lerins in his short but enduring remark reminds us catholicity is “that which is believed everywhere, at all times and by all people”5.  There are clear marks of the catholic faith that indicate foundational truths regarding the doctrine, discipline and tradition of the church. The local church which is the mirror to the world of the catholic faith specifies the criteria for catholicity by functioning in the following three ways:
    a) A universal church which undergirds the local church.       
    b) A church which is orthodox in its theology.                     
    c) A church which is extended throughout the world in mission.

    What better time to recapture such for Anglicans today and what better ministry to offer as the church catholic on the Anglican Way?

    1 Gregory Lombardo, C.S.C. (trans.), St. Augustine: On Faith and Works, (New York:  Newman Press, 1988) Vol. 48 Ancient Christian Writers, Chapter 17, sec .31, p.39
    2 A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.7   The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Chapter 15, p.381
    3 John Henry Newman, The Catholicity of the Anglican Church, (London : J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1840)
    4 Alister E. McGrath., Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwells, 1994) p.365,406
    5 P. Schaff & H. Wade., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers- Volume 11/Second Series., (Peabody:Hendrickson Publishers,1995) Commonitorium by Vincent of Lerins, p.132