Archbishop Rowan Williams
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.
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)