The highlight of my experience during Moving Forward Together was Bishop Julian Dobbs and his no-nonsense, Biblical, classically Anglican presentation based on Nehemiah. I highly encourage you to watch it all:
Bishop and Jedi Knight Julian Dobbs has written a good short summary of why he is Anglican here. An excerpt:
The Anglican Church provides a place of worship—common prayer for all people. One of the greatest strengths of the Anglican Church is the rich tradition of liturgical worship, which provides an opportunity for all people to connect with the Living God through prayer, sacrament, the public reading of the Bible, teaching, the creeds of the church, song and dance. The Anglican Church recognizes the primacy and centrality of the Bible and is enriched by reason and tradition. Reason and tradition must always be subservient to the Bible, however they help us understand and comprehend the word of God and the function of the church.
The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved. The Lord is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people. Let them praise thy great and terrible name; for it is holy. Psalm 99.1-2
I am generally allergic to overly sentimental and pious language as it is typically deployed in the Church. However, today was a real mountaintop day for me in many ways, and it engaged my emotions as well as my mind.
Before I describe the events of the day, let me summarize what I see as the mood down here in Raleigh, at least from my limited perspective. First, it is humble. There is not a spirit of boasting or exulting in the situation. Rather, there is a sense of the seriousness of the hour we find ourselves in and a sense of our own brokenness. Second, there is a sense of unity despite our many and very real differences. That unity is exemplified in the worship of our Triune God every day, where we are all equally united in praise of God. This in no way minimizes the difficulties of relating to folks who hold very different positions on key issues, but it does show that we can agree on the essential function of worshiping God and finding a way forward. Third, there is a a sense of gratitude to our Rwandan brothers, Archbishop Duncan and CANA for standing so visibly by our sides during this moment of trial. There is no doubt that we are one body, whatever our earthly jurisdictions are. On to today:
We began with Morning Prayer and a sermon from Bishop Louis Muvunyi of Kigali. Bishop Muvunyi preached on wearing the whole armor of God. His sermon was expository and emphasized the spiritual warfare that we are engaged in. He said that Paul could have blamed Nero, Herod or the Jews for his troubles, but instead he pointed out the spiritual enemy. He encouraged us to keep preaching and keep planting churches. He said that we need prayer warriors who will pray for church leaders.
After a short break, CANA Bishop Julian Dobbs spoke on the theme “Come, Let us Arise and Build” from Nehemiah. This sermon ministered to me and many others in a most powerful way. The unction and annointing of the Spirit was upon Bishop Dobbs and I was ready to run out and plant three or four churches at the end of his sermon. Further, we have decided that he should be the next Archbishop of GAFCON, Canterbury, and possibly the Pope for good measure! Just kidding of course, but his Anglicanism is one that we can fully support.
Bishop Dobbs pointed out several paralells from the story of Nehemiah to the current situation in North American Anglicanism. Nehemiah dealt with false accusations, parties and misappropriated funds. Dobbs honored the Rwandans, saying “my brothers, thank you.” He also frequently broke into other languages, seemingly knowing three or four with some ability. He presented six insights for the task of rebuilding:
1. A confident commitment to Biblical truth. Jude 3 tells us to contend for the faith, this implies a struggle. When doctrine goes bad, so do hearts and minds. We submit to the Bible, period. This is the faith for which our martyrs died. Not everyone will like the gospel message, show me in the Scriptures where they are supposed to, said Dobbs. ACNA should re-read and re-appropriate the Gospel. Dobbs mentioned the Jerusalem Declaration and the Prayer Book and said they contain the same gospel. GAFCON has given these things as a gift to America.
2. A determined commitment to evangelicalism. This means regularly, personally sharing the Gospel. Not the occasional mention to the guy at your gulf club, but something regular. Lord have mercy on me, this was a cause for great self-examination and grief. Dobbs said, “Let’s get busy.” His call was a call to action.
3. A radical investment in church planting.
4. A conduit for new leaders. We need bi-vocational ministers. We must offer ourselves for Gospel service, not someone else. What about you, he asked. Have you considered entering the ministry, planting churches and serving. Why not? Again, this was the type of direct preaching that comes down from on high, and I was very moved to at least reflect on what God would have me do.
5. This is an Anglican moment. Bishop Dobbs firmly believes that we are in a situation akin to Nehemiah’s and that is may not come again for a long time. Moses discovered that not everyone who departed with him from Egypt was fit to obey the commandments of God and enter the Promised Land. What unites us as Anglicans is a vision of a global Christianity. We need the Africans to remain in relationship with us.
6. A dedicated and determined discipleship. A life of dedicated sacrifice. Leave the palaces behind. Israel quickly looked back to Egypt when they had been delivered, how many of us miss the buildings and the pension plans, Dobbs asked.
This post has gone on long enough. I highly encourage you to listen to Bishop Dobbs’ presentation when it becomes available and to prayerfully consider his exhortations. Thank you Lord for sending him to us today and may we heed your call through him.
From the beginning, I have believed that it was a mistake for the CANA churches to defend their property. Having said that, I think it is outrageous, sickening and yet entirely predictable that this ruling has come down. As Van Til taught, we do not live in a world of neutrality. I don’t know anything about the judges in this case, but I do know that ‘the system’ is not neutral. There is a natural presumption against Christ and his Church.
I have believed from the first that CANA should have turned the keys over and walked away, starting new parishes down the street and saving their money to maybe buy these buildings back someday. Instead, they have spent a fortune defending these buildings. I have been to Truro several times and it is a gorgeous old place. To see it transformed into a mosque or something in the future is detestable.
We live in a time where God seems to be killing old structures and resurrecting them in new configurations. The Protestantism of the past is essentially dead. James Jordan puts it this way:
As I maintained in Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, the Protestant age is coming to an end. That means that the Reformed faith and Presbyterianism are also coming to an end. The paradigm is exhausted, and the world in which it was worked out no longer exists. We must take all the great gains of the Calvinistic heritage and apply them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living. We must be aware that there is far more in the Bible than the Reformation dealt with, and that many of our problems today are addressed by those hitherto unnoticed or undeveloped aspects of the Bible. Those who want to bang the drum for a 450-year old tradition are dooming themselves to irrelevance. Our only concern is to avoid being beat up by them as they thrash about in their death-throes.
We are seeing this before our eyes in the Anglican Communion. Indeed, God in his providence is bringing to pass events this week that are reshaping the lay of the land. I believe that this month marks the end of the first act of the reconfiguration of Anglicanism. AMiA is it was will cease to exist, the Rwandan Mission will go in a new direction and these historic CANA parishes will be forced to do something new.
It isn’t easy to move on from the past. Those buildings represent the work of God in history and they were places for the proclamation of the Gospel for centuries. Our evil age has caught up with them and now congregations may be forced to move on. Bishop Guernsey put it like this: “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom.”
This month is the opening of Act Two in the reconfiguration. The way forward is being sketched out and it looks like what the earlier advance of the Church looked like: a Bible saturated, liturgically faithful, missionary effort to baptize the nations into the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Lost in the AMiA kerfuffle has been the CANA story. If you think back to the first AnglicanTV episode with tidings from Pawley’s Island, you’ll remember that there was also a story about CANA creating a new diocese in America geared towards Nigerians. This was met by mutual statements of support from ACNA and Bishop Dobbs (a man that I respect a great deal).
In my view, the problem is not so much the creation of a new diocese, but rather the continued existence of CANA. CANA issued a pastoral statement yesterday, saying in part:
The bishops rejoiced in the recent creation of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic where many clergy and congregations continue in their relationship with CANA. While acknowledging that the concept of ‘dual citizenship’ continues to raise some questions we heard a number of testimonies from those who have embraced this gracious provision and celebrate this opportunity for a direct connection to the Anglican Communion through the Church of Nigeria. We believe that this can only strengthen the ongoing work of ACNA in its determination to demonstrate the transforming love of Jesus Christ throughout North America.
Yes, this concept does raise some questions, such as, what is the end game? I can understand why groups with theological qualms might hesitate to jump into ACNA with both feet. The REC seems to be sticking only one foot in the water, for example. But as far as I can tell, there is no discernable theological difference between ACNA and CANA. Further, there is not a difference in praxis. Both ordain women, both do not seem to be particularly affectionate for the Prayer Book in their worship and so forth. So why the separation? And what event or series of events will signal to CANA bishops that their structure can come to an end? The pressure should be on Bishop Minns and the other CANA bishops to answer these questions clearly.
I must say as an observer of the Anglican scene in North America that the lack of transparency from all parties does not engender trust. Statements from bishops seem to assume knowledge that does not exist. ACNA has not revealed its “Theological Lens” document, CANA has not revealed why it keeps a separate identity, and the issue of women’s ordination is as clear as mud. For there to be unity, these discussions should be had in the open, not revealed to the masses when the bishops feel that it’s safe. Perhaps an unfortunate legacy of the Episcopal Church is this tendency to do things quietly behind closed doors and only reveal a matter when it has been decided. CANA should lead the change here by openly stating why they continue to exist, and what would allow them to cease existing.
I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.
With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.
Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.
So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.
With the creation of the Anglican Church in North America, the time has come to end the various sub-groups which were necessary for the time of trials just passed through. Part of me doesn’t like this much because I think that parts of the AMiA are the best current representation of what a Biblical Church should look like. But it seems to me that every dollar spent on maintaining separate organizational structures is wasted. Why have a separate communications structure for CANA, AMiA, REC, etc? It’s waste of effort and money. And yet we see Bishop Minns saying:
Since Day 1, CANA has been and will continue to be a full participant in the life of the new province, and will continue to maintain our own identity. We will encourage groups of congregations when they are ready, to establish themselves as free-standing dioceses. Our goal is to support the work, mission, and ministry of the gospel on this continent and bring our own particular distinctive to that task.
Bishop Murphy has said similar things about AMiA continuing in something of a “Canterbury and York” model. Indeed, as I was writing this I received an e-mail from AMiA where Bishop Murphy says:
As a founding member of both the Common Cause Partnership and the emerging province, we will continue to fully participate in ACNA. As we have consistently explained, however, we remain a missionary outreach of the Province of the Anglican Church of Rwanda under the authority of Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini. This allows us to enjoy dual citizenship, a similar relationship to that of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).
But I think we need to ask whether in ten or twenty years we will need all of these separate groups? It’s great for AMia and CANA to continue missionary efforts, but they should be able to do this as some kind of missionary diocese under ACNA, without needing their own leadership and headquarters. How much of this division is due to leftover animosities between bishops and churches?
I do understand some legitimate reasons for staying apart. As my friend Jim said to me, many folks won’t want to be under a Bishop who approves of women’s ordination, for example. But these issues need to be worked out from within ACNA unless it becomes obvious that it will never change and is un-reformable, which is hardly the case right now at its inception. I think good Anglican in all the bodies that make up ACNA should voice their desire for unity to their leaders and pray for change.