Making sense of the Coming of Age of the Church of the Global South - by Dr Michael Poon

A Message to Anglican friends in Canada and the United Kingdom

Posted at Fulcrum  by Dr Michael Poon,  Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia


When I was an Anglican in Canada, Anglican ethos was defined by WASP identity (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), the Queen’s Christmas messages, gin and sherry, and perhaps a sampling of haggis on Burns’ night. That was only thirty years ago. And what a different Anglican world we live in today. What’s the difference? I am not referring to the many new forms of political and social injustice around the world, or to the rising political power of the Global South in the Anglican Communion. What is new in the Anglican Communion is that, as the Communiqué of the Third Anglican Global South to South Encounter (2005) puts it, the Global South has “come of age” theologically.

I am not sure whether my fellow Anglicans in the West have understood this change of status. After all, the West, especially North America (at least in districts where Anglican presence is strong), life is still rather idyllic and parochial. Life gravitates around the highways. One can still hop in one of the private cars in the garage, drive to our workplaces and hypermarkets with minimal contact with those whom we choose not to encounter. Oil supplies, and hence petrol prices, are what interest us most in foreign affairs. Engagement with the wider church is best left to the experts in the foreign offices in our churches, but is not the central concerns of Christian life.

Perhaps therefore Anglicans in the West may regard the recent critique from the Global South as incoherent polemics from those who are theologically inarticulate and conservative. This would be rather strange. After all, many of the most vocal critics were once students in theological colleges in the West, or were under the tutelage of former missionaries.

It is time for Anglican churches in the West to understand the critique from the South, not as a nuisance, but rather as a gift and an opportunity for revitalization for the whole Communion. It is something that is important for us all.

The Third South to South Encounter was a statement that deserves requires theological attention, in the following respects:

The Global South is inviting the Communion to engage the present crises facing the Communion on theological grounds.

It revisits the theological foundation of the Anglican Communion. What does it mean to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (para. 1)? It calls the Communion to reach back to the higher traditions within the genesis of our church: For the first time, the Global South presented the Communion with an ecclesiology that is borne out of their present mission experience.

The Global South moves away from an institutional understanding towards a theological definition of the Church. It reminds the Communion the grounds of its uniqueness and strength: it is a community that is submissive to, and is authorized by the Word of God. The Communion for the past decades has placed considerable confidence in the instruments of unity, which after all, except for the office of Canterbury, have recent histories. The Communiqué reached back to the Holy Scriptures and the historic formularies as the basis of unity. It is important that Rowan Williams accepts that such instruments are not to be regarded as conditions to be met for Christian faithfulness. They are better regarded as the servants of unity (ACNS 4063). This admission opens to fresh discussion on how stewardship can be more effectively exercised in the Communion.

The Communiqué draws attention of the need to revisit the Lambeth Quadrilaterals, drafted in a time when North American and British bishops governed the churches in the colonial lands. The Global South appeals the Communion to a more explicit accountability in Anglican faith and order by supporting a Covenant “that is rooted in historic faith and formularies, and that provides a biblical foundation for our life, ministry and mission as a Communion” (para.22).

There is no reference to reconciliation in the discussion on holiness in the Communiqué. The omission is telling of the mentality of the gathering. At the same time, reconciliation only comes with repentance. Will the leadership in Canada and the Episcopal Church in America openly repent? That has become a necessary condition for churches in North America to remain in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church while the rest of the Communion presses on. Churches in the West would find themselves sadly privatized and marginalized, not only by their societies and nations, but by the children whom they have given birth. This prospect would be, for me, not an occasion of rejoicing, but for lament. Yet out of the fall of Rome, the unmasking of idolatry to the old country, will the destiny of the New Jerusalem be revealed.

November 3, 2005

13 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Terrence McCabe Says:

    Dr. Poon the fact that you feel the need to call some of your sisters and brothers in Christ the Church of the West and see yourself as a member of the Church of the Global South is very sad to me. Dr. Poon there is only Body of Christ. Have you forgotten that in Christ: there is no male or female, there is no slave or freeman, there is no Greek or Jew?

    Perhaps you are telling us that you really wish to have a communion of your own. A collection of churches outside the Anglican Communion that you see as tainted because it contains your sisters and brothers in Christ born in the European tradition. If that is your desire and your goal then go in peace and with my love.

  2. James Says:

    Terrence

    I don’t think this article is expressing that ...

  3. Terrence McCabe Says:

    Dr. Poon states: “Will the leadership in Canada and the Episcopal Church in America openly repent? That has become a necessary condition for churches in North America to remain in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church while the rest of the Communion presses on”. The Bishops in the United States have already asked for forgiveness for causing pain in the communion. What else should they do? We usually use passing on as a reference to death. Is that what the global south wishes for us all - death?

    The Holy Spirit that inspired the writings of the early church guides the church today as well as he did in the apostolic age. Have you forgotten that it was in the Pentecostal fire of the Holy Spirit that the church was born. The Holy Spirit did not manifest himself in a written book on that glorious day. He came to us as a living tongue of fire. I accept that the God we worship is a trinity of being. The Holy Spirit governs the church. He speaks to us all today in our councils and we pray for his inspiration to guide and cleanse us in every meeting. God is not just a series of books. He is not dead. He brings us to a closer understanding of him in every moment. We and the church live because of the Holy Spirit - the Lord and giver of life - allows us being in Him.

    Evangelical statements seem perilously close to idolatry to me. They make a collection of books into a god and expect us to bow to ink on a page. I believe that the Holy Spirit is the only source needed to protect the church in all ages. He is alive and working with his people today as surely as he did in the apostolic age. As the grace of salvation flows to us from Christ Jesus; the spirit of life and truth flows to us in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working in the churches today. As the Roman church states so beautifully: As it was in the beginning, is now and shall ever be.

  4. Phillip Anderas Says:

    Very well indeed, but where does the Spirit speak, and who gets to decide that?  Might the Spirit speak through Scripture?

  5. Terrence McCabe Says:

    Phillip,

    Of course the Holy Spirit revealed his truth to us in the writings of the early church. However, the Holy Spirit did not stop his revelation at the end of the Apostolic Age. Christ himself promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us in all ages until he himself returned to earth to govern us.

    Who is to judge what the Holy Spirit teaches us today. We ourselves are given that wonderful right to decide how best to bring God’s never ending love into this world in our own time and in our own place. The Holy Spirit speaks to his church in the USA via the General Convention. It is the sole source of goverance in our church.

    I do not care how other churches govern themselves or how they decide what is canon law or how to organize themselves or what dogma to follow in thier faith community. That is the gift of God given to that community of faith in that place. I trust that the Holy Spirit will lead them to expand the church in whatever way best serves the faithful in that place and in that time.

    I am only responsible for maintaining my Baptismal vows. I can only do that with the help of God. I am also responsible to see that the elected officers of my church (Bishops and priests) fulfill the oaths and vows as our elected officers of the church in the USA. If they can not fulfill thier obligations as our elected officers then it is our duty to remove them from office for violation of the thier corporate trust. The origin of the term Warlock is oath breaker. I will not willing be governed by Warlocks calling themselves Bishops or priest.

  6. Phillip Anderas Says:

    Terrence,

    Why are you so certain that the Spirit speaks through the convention?  Can the convention err?  How would you respond if the convention determined that the Spirit were leading the church to, say, ignore the poor, or to begin supporting nuclear weapons production, or to vote republican?  I would be greatly troubled by any such developments, and I have my reasons for being so troubled—but then again, I don’t look to the convention as either a theological source or norm. 

    If, as you say, “The Holy Spirit speaks to his church in the USA via the General Convention. It is the sole source of goverance in our church”, then I have difficulty seeing how you might be able to critically assess any such developments, were they to occur.  Against what standard would you hold up such hypothetical actions for judgment?  Certainly you would be troubled if the convention did such things—but why? 

    Were the convention to suggest that we ignore the poor, and instead invest our resources in, say, the clergy pension plan, I would be furious.  Why?  Because the Spirit led me to a different judgment?  Yes & no: the Spirit indeed contradicts such a move, but not because I feel like he does, or because any number of ordained people get together and vote that he does, but because the Spirit has thusly testified to himself, and to the church whom he likewise breathes forth (inspires), in Holy Scripture (cf. Mt. 25.31-46 for a good start). 

    The real question is not “where is the spirit speaking today” but “how is the Spirit taking up what he has already spoken (Holy Scripture) for his kingdom purposes at this present moment?”  Such is the universal testimony of the Spirit-led tradition of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. 

    Peace,

    PA

  7. mccabe Says:

    Phillip,

    You points are beautifully presented and well reasoned. I have total faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to prevent such errors from occurring.

    It seems to me that there is an inherent tension in Judio-Christian thought and practice between the legalistic traditions and the mystical traditions. We live in a period were the tensions inherent in the two traditions threaten to split the church and the communion. Each side is wounding the Body of Christ by its’ willful pride.

    I pray that the Lord sends us Peacemakers, who are the true children of God, to help us heal ourselves of our sin. The only victor in the continuing the conflict is pride. The sin of pride has a long tradition of its’ own in our faith community. Let us work to stop it now and seek peace. Listening is the start to our healing.

  8. JimmyLane Says:

    Mccabe

    I think for a start, we ought to listen to Scriptures and what the church has passed down to us. It is not a quesiton of legalistic tradition vs mystical tradition.

    It is one between those who uphold the plain orthodox teaching of the Church and her Scriptures, and those who seek to revise it in the light of modern biblical criticism, the weight of secular thinking, and experience of despair and failure on the part of those who tried to walk in holiness in a world where traditional values have been systematically and slowly removed, no least by the compliance and non-action of some parts of the Church. 

    I find it easier to discuss with those who will say it as it is - that for whatever reasons, they have lost confidence in Scriptures and the traditional teaching of the Church.

    If you go by any other way, the arguments are strenuous, to say the least.

  9. mccabe Says:

    Jimmy,

    I am both ‘traditional’ and ‘orthodox’ and I know that we are not an Evangelical church like the Southern Bapitist Convention. Thanks be to God!

    If reactionaries in the church want what the Evangelical chruches have to offer then they should leave us in peace and walk their own path. We who are really ‘traditional’ and ‘orthodox’ will remain faithful to the truth unfolding before us.

    I have noticed that Evangelicals tend to teach just about anything that stands in favor of exculsion and encourages discord in the congregation. That is why so many see the church as meaningless in the world today. I know that because I so often have to explain our horrible in fighting to my unchurched friends. They are the people that do not understand how any intelligent person could be a Christian. They are the people that I bring Christ to in every encounter I have with them. They listen to me because they know me to be a good, kind and thoughtful person. They know me to be a person that works to improve the world around me. They listen because they hear the love of Christ.

    You will know them by the love they show one another, Christ said of his followers. Evangelicals are so interested in preaching self sanctification and self righteousness that they have forgotten to preach the good news of God’s love for all his children.

    I believe that they must look to Christ’s own life to understand that he died at the hands of the evangelicals of his time while reaching out to the outcasts he saw all around him. Read Matthew and see what standard Christ will use to judge us on Judgement day. “I was was hungry and you did not feed me….”. Evangelicals fail to see what Christ himself did and said. They are the troubled sea and there is no peace in them.

  10. Phil Anderas Says:

    Terrence,

    You have complimented my eloquence, and you have reasserted your faith in the Spirit’s guiding, but you have not yet answered my question: why can you be so certain that the Spirit speaks in the GC?  I am anxious to hear your response.

    Notably, in an earlier post you cited a particular exegesis of Jesus’ promise that he would send the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit would lead the disciples into all truth.  In doing so, you begin the work of biblical exegesis, which I applaud.  You assume that this turn to John’s gospel is a turn to an authoritative text.  Then, on the authority of the biblical witness, you argue that the biblical witness does not have authority vis-a-vis the greater authority of the GC. 

    You cannot, brother, have it both ways.  Either appeal to the biblical text as authoritative, and join with the prevailing belief of the the tradition—or do not use the bible at all, and continue in your faith in the GC. 

    I, for one, have trouble seeing how a commitment to the authority of holy Scripture is any more ‘idolatrous’, as you put it, than your appeal to the authority of the convention.  Indeed, I believe that the latter is a far greater impiety, for it is faith in the mere opinions of men/women, whereas the former is faith in the divinely authorized testimony to what God has done—praise God!—in Jesus Christ. 

    On a more personal note: I agree with you, Terrence, that ‘evangelicals’ often fail greatly in proclaiming the boundless love of God in JX.  Indeed, it is often difficult to see how many evangelical churches are really Christian at all, particularly in the sense of Matt. 25, as you yourself cited.  Often times they “fail to see what Christ himself did and said.”  I have often remarked at the great irony that evangelicals maintain so fervently that scripture is inerrant, yet they fail to even read, much less hear and obey, such damning passages as Matt. 25. 

    BUT—such generalizations are dangerous, and when we make them, we fail ourselves to extend the gracious and all-embracing love of God, not to mere strangers, but to brothers and sisters in Christ.  Please take great care when you make such critiques. 

    Preaching “self sanctification” is an emminently biblical and traditionally Christian thing to do, and I trouble to see why you take issue with it.  Preaching “self-righteousness”, of course, is a bastardization of a truly Christian preaching of costly discipleship, and is to be firmly, but lovingly, rebuked. 

    The opposite, my friend, of the preaching of “self-righteousness”, is not the preaching of liberal-democratic standards of tolerance.  Rather, it is the proclamation of God’s love in Christ for damned sinners, of which I am among the very worst—a proclamation only complete when it is also the proclamation of the grace of God that sanctifies, calls to new life, and enables joyful obedience to the gospel.

  11. Phil Anderas Says:

    I should clarify, when I refer to ‘evangelicals’ in the post above, I am thinking specifically of those in the USA; I dare not, and I’m sure that Terrence would agree with me here, speak of the many, and especially the persecuted, evangelicals around the world who do indeed read and heed Matt. 25, etc.  These Christians shame me, and I would not dare to criticize them.

  12. mccabe Says:

    My Dear Brother in Christ - Phillip,

    Let me start by pointing out some important points that are often overlooked when speaking about the Bible. St. John tells us the Christ Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. Christ Jesus did not write a single verse of the Bible. In fact, Christ Jesus did not write any text for his followers to live by in his own hand in Arameic (His spoken language), in Hebrew (His religious language) or in Greek (the language of the NT).

    Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, clearly intended to have his message passed on in an oral tradition. We know from St. John that he did gave us the great commandment: This new commandment I give you; that you love one another as I have loved you. He did not write this commandment; he gave it to his disciples in an oral form only.

    We must understand that the living Word of God gave his entire message to us in oral form only. He was teaching us a vital lesson by showing us that our actions are more important then any written word (even the Law of Moses). He was not put to death for what he had written. He was put to death by what he said and did to provoke the religious leadership of his time and place.

    In all of the stories we have about Christ Jesus we see Him reaching out to the sinner with his healing power and His teaching. The most unclean person was available to Christ Jesus. Pagans were available to Christ Jesus. He put no barrier between Himself and the individual. He spoke directly to the individual and to groups. He took action directly to effect a specific individual and group. He made no effort to write down His thoughts for us to study after His death or His resurrection. He willed his message to be passed on in an oral tradition. He directed his followers to action not writing. Acts of love directed to the outcast of the world and the congregation of faith. Is that not a beautiful gift to all of us?

    You want to know why I would pick the General Conventions judgement over the wisdom of the Bible. I would never make that argument. It is not an either/or decision for me. The faith and wisdom of the early church is a guide to our faith today. 

    see next note

  13. mccabe Says:

    The apostolic church was a diverse body with many different traditions and teachings. Within that diversity, Jews had rules and traditions different from gentiles. The church in Jerusalem had different practices from the church in Rome. Out of that great diversity the Bible was born for political reasons.

    Constantine decreed conformity and imposed order on the diversity found in the church of his time. He ordered the Bishops to codify the scriptures and creed(s). Romans have always preferred clear rules of law in government. In the process of his need for order, we had the opinions of the church frozen in time. The Holy Spirit worked in all of this activity. However, it was not the Holy Spirit that declared the Bible’s creation. It was Constantine that declared the truth must be codified and sealed. So when I am asked to accepted the Bible as the only source of truth; I must say no it is not. It is only the opinions of the church, at that time of its creation, conforming to orders of the civil authority of the Roman Empire.

    The tradition that it is the ‘only word of God’ is a man made tradition based on imperial Roman history. The Holy Spirit worked in the Council(s) that developed the canon of the Bible and the Creeds. However, He did so only because the church had not other options under Imperial Roman rule.

    We still our the heirs of the good news of Christ Jesus and the out flowing grace of the Holy Spirit. We are the church of Christ Jesus governed by the Holy Spirit today. In our General Convetion today, we are given the grace to determine what is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit’s in our time and place. We have the same right to do so as those that walked the earth in earlier times. We are no less Christian the those people in the apostolic church, those people in the church of Constantine or those people in the American church of 1790. One Body of Christ, now and forever, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit working in council to bring the love of God to all people.