Global South Primates response to Archbishop Rowan Williams

  Archbishop Rowan Williams
  Lambeth Palace

  November 15th, 2005


Thank you, your Grace, for coming to join us at the Third South South Encounter in   Egypt and sharing your thoughts on the four “marks” of the Church as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Your attempt to take on this major topic in sweeping   strokes was bold, and it was delivered with your usual scholarly eloquence. We   agree with what you said. We were disappointed in what you left unsaid, in   particular, the application of the Church’s identity to the current situation   that has left the fabric of our Communion torn at its deepest   level.


It   should come as no surprise to you that we consider the crisis facing the whole   Communion to be a crisis of Biblical authority. For that reason, one of the   consistent themes of the entire South to South Encounter has been the supremacy   of Scripture and the clarity of its teaching on matters of Christian faith and   life.


We   were pleased by your positive comments regarding the four papers that were   presented to the Encounter. Although it could not be expected that you would   interact in a detailed way with them, you could not have failed to have noticed   that each paper strongly asserted the authority of Scripture and applied this   theme to the current crisis.


They   were able to do this because two features marked each paper: First, the attempt   to expound biblical theology, reflecting the authority of scripture. Second, the   recognition that the four marks of the Church are traditionally used to   establish its calling and identity and to delineate its borders. It is for this   reason the theme of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” is particularly apt for   this Encounter.


Your   approach was to link the marks of the church to one another through Jesus   Christ. They are his attributes before they are the attributes of the Church.  You referred in particular to Jesus’ High Priestly prayer: “Sanctify them by the   truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into   the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”  (John 17.17-19)


Promising though this approach is, and in many ways   consonant with the gospel, it seemed to offer a way of bypassing rather than   expounding the specificity of Scripture. In a sense it transcends the other   approaches offered here at the Encounter, but with the danger of a lack of   specific application.


Thus,  for example, your account of the holiness of the Church focuses on the holiness   secured by Christ at the cross and the consequent holiness as a gift to those   who are in union with Christ. But you did not take the next step, so obvious in   the Epistles, of showing how this holiness of union with Christ is demonstrated   in the obedience to the word of God.


Even   within the Johannine literature, the connection between faith in Jesus and   obedience to his commandments appears repeatedly:


If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John   14.15)


“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,  just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John   15.10)


“By this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his   commandments.” (I John 2.3)


“All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in   them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given   us.” (I John 3.24)


“For this is the love of God, that we keep his   commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (I John   5.3)

After   all, this truth must lie at the heart of holiness: that we so depend on the Lord   that we are obedient to his word, whatever the cost. And in the Epistles, this   holiness is the holiness of the Church, the holiness of those who build each   other up, and also the holiness that must be defended in controversy against   false teachers, whether legalists or libertines.

This   surely is the context of the Gospel of John because a line has already been   drawn against those who have resisted the claims of Christ. John chapters 13-17   are addressed to those who not only have the commandments but also keep them.  John 15 warns of the pruning or cutting away of dead branches that have failed   to bear fruit because of not abiding in Him and His word. The stark contrast of   the language of light/darkness, seeing/blind, life/death shows clearly that   there is the realization that disobedience will lead to division and   exclusion.

You   did offer an indication of how a Christ-centred method may be applied in   controversy. You scanned the New Testament for controversies of such magnitude   that the unity of the Church was threatened. You instanced two such challenges:  over the Person of Christ (I John 2.22) and over the Grace of the Gospel   (Galatians 1.8 and 3.2).

By   using the same method, however, we may also speedily find another challenge to   the unity of the body of Christ posed by unrepented sexual immorality, an   offence so flagrant that Paul insisted that the sinner be expelled from the   fellowship, and one of a type of sin which he said would cut the offender off   from the kingdom of heaven (I Corinthians 5 and 6). So relevant is this to the   present crisis in the Communion that we regret that you did not either use it as   an illustration of activities that is capable of breaking unity or explain why   moral teaching and behaviour is different from other Church-dividing   essentials.

Indeed, it is not hard to find in the teaching of Scripture   other instances of behaviour and beliefs which require the cessation of   fellowship and the breach of unity. The Second Letter of Peter, which you quoted   in terms of our participation in the divine nature (1.4) describes division in   the church uncannily like the false leaders in our Communion   today:

“For,  uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh   men who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them   freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is   enslaved.” (II Peter 2.18-19)

During   our daily Bible Studies on 1 and 2 Peter we could not miss the solemn warning   about the danger of false prophets among us (note especially the series of “ifs”  in 2 Peter 2.4,5). We were reminded, sadly, that there will be ‘ignorant and   unstable ‘ people who, finding Paul’s sayings “hard” because of the call to   holiness and godliness, will twist [them] to their own destruction.” (2 Peter   3.17)

This   all reminds us of the points established for us at this Encounter, that the   marks of the Church summon us to vigilance concerning its faithfulness to   apostolic teaching and mission, its unity in the truth of God’s word, its holy   obedience to the word of the Lord, and the embrace of its catholicity in the   wholeness of the authentic gospel which it offers all.

The   essence of libertinism is the severing of the grace of Christ from his moral   commandments. This, we believe, is at the heart of our present divisions.  Although it is right to be reminded both of the grace of God in Christ and of   our own frailty and sinfulness, neither the greatness of grace nor the   sinfulness of sin can be advanced as reasons for failing in our duty to guard   the gospel. The church is, after all, “a pillar and buttress of truth” (I   Timothy 3.15) and “Your word is truth” (John 17.17).


Questions and   Answers

We are   grateful for your willingness to answer the many questions that our members   wished to ask, and we hope that you may take time to answer some of those that   were not mentioned in the session. Having said this, we do feel that on a number   of points your replies raised more questions.


Human Sexuality   and Authority


1. We   appreciated your acknowledgement of the “overwhelming consensus” of the Church   in time and space in believing that sex is intended by God for married couples   only and therefore that same-sex sex is unacceptable and cannot be described as   “holy and blessed”. You stated that you as Archbishop must stand with this   consensus. We are most grateful for your unequivocal words. We wonder, however,  whether your personal dissent from this consensus prevents you from taking the   necessary steps to confront those churches that have embraced teaching contrary   to the overwhelming testimony of the Anglican Communion and the church catholic.  We urge you to rethink your personal view and embrace the Church’s consensus and   to act on it, based as it is on the clear witness of   Scripture.


2. In   the matter of the Civil Partnerships Act, we appreciate the dilemma faced by   bishops as members of the House of Lords of the English Government. The   willingness of the Government to override clear Christian teaching in an area of   life where the church has a unique role raises a serious question whether the   church-state relationship is obsolete and a hindrance to the Gospel. According   to your explanation, the Roman Catholic Church was able to seek a conscientious   exception to the Act for the very reason that it was not part of the   Establishment. Surely the Church of England should have sought a similar   exception. Not doing so gives the appearance of evil with regard to its   “partnered” clergy even if meaningful discipline is exercised and you failed to   mention the implication of this new act with regard to the laity that will force   all parish clergy to accept openly gay partners to the altar rail on penalty of   church discipline.


Instruments of   Unity and the Anglican Communion


3. We   welcome your pastoral example of coming amongst us as presiding Primate of the   Anglican Communion. We recognize the limitations on your office, as the   Communion has few legal structures. We agree with you that a Communion Covenant   is needed. However, we are troubled by your reluctance to use your moral   authority to challenge the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to   call for the immediate cessation of any blessings of same sex unions and on any   ordinations of those in such unions in every diocese in the Episcopal Church USA   and the Anglican Church of Canada. The apostle Paul never invoked law for his   churches (indeed there was no canon law at that time), but he nevertheless   exhorted them to be of one mind with him and to conform their lives to apostolic   tradition (II Thessalonians 2.15). We do not see why you cannot warn these   churches now, based on the Windsor Report and your own convictions about unity,  that they will not be invited to Lambeth 2008 unless they truly   repent.


Miscellaneous   Questions


4. In   regard to the appointment exclusively of first-world liberals to head the   Communion Secretariat and committees like the Panel of Reference, we are   disappointed with your deferring to “process.” You seem to keep saying, “My   hands are tied.” We urge you to untie your hands and provide the bold, inclusive   leadership the Communion needs at this time of crisis and distrust. One area of   particular concern is the manner in which people are appointed to the various   commissions and task forces, often without the knowledge or recommendation of   their Province. We are more than ready to offer you the names of gifted, and   highly competent men and women who could serve to guide our Communion into the   future.


5. We   are glad that you are concerned about new approaches to evangelism in England.  We know that Europe has become a spiritual desert, with the European Union even   proposing to drop reference to the heritage of Christianity from its   Constitution. We urge that re-evangelization and mission to Europe be a top   priority of the Church of England and we pledge our   support.


6. We   also agree with your desire to listen to Muslim views and understanding their   context. We applaud the initiatives that you have taken to engage in such   conversations. We were pleased to hear your conviction that in all such   conversations we pray for opportunities to make a grace-filled presentation of   the unique claims of Christ. However, we are troubled by your reference to   “crude threatening proselytizing.” None of us would support such an approach   during these critical times and we wonder to whom you were   referring?




7. We   appreciate your sharing the testimony of your own pilgrimage of faith, including   your early encounter with Russian Orthodoxy. We agree there is much to learn   from other traditions, such as the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Baptists and   Pentecostals, who are equally part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic   church. We are sure you must feel the shame caused by the brokenness within our   own Communion when you interact with these churches ecumenically.


Once   again, we wish to commend you for taking the effort to be with us in   Egypt.


With   gratitude and fraternal greetings




Your   brothers in Christ,


  The Most Rev’d Peter J. Akinola   (Church of Nigeria)
  The Most Rev’d Dr. Justice Akrofi   (West Africa)
  The Most Rev’d Fidele Dirokpa   (Congo)
  The Most Rev’d Emmanuel Kolini   (Rwanda)
  The Most Rev’d. Bernard Malango   (Central Africa)
  The Most Rev’d Dr. Joseph Marona   (Sudan)
  The Most Rev’d Benjamin Nzimbi   (Kenya)
  The Most Rev’d Henry Orombi   (Uganda)
  The Most Rev’d Remi J. Rabenirina   (Indian Ocean)
  The Most Rev’d Ignacio Soliba   (Philippines)
  The Most Rev’d Gregory Venables   (Southern Cone)
  The Most Rev’d Yong Ping Chung   (SE Asia)


Present but had to leave before   the final draft was circulated:


The Most Rev’d Donald Mtetemela   (Tanzania)
  The Most Rev’d Bernard Ntahoturi   (Burundi)
  The Most Rev’d Dr. Peter   Sugandhar (Church of South India)


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