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:
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.
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.