Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Really Happened at the Anglican Primates Meeting


By Archbishop Gregory Venables

THE ASSUMPTIONS of the natural evolution of society towards liberalism in the West have proceeded for decades relatively unchecked. From the rise of the Enlightenment, when values and beliefs began to be viewed with more skepticism, there have been few challenges to the slide.

The strengths of enlightenment went awry, and were lost, as momentum gathered and influential social and religious philosophers assumed they knew better than previous generations. The result has been moral chaos, and a large portion of the Church that has nothing to offer.

By contrast, the gospel runs counter to the culture. It always has, but something more resonant with the values and assumptions of society has made its way into the halls of influence in Western Churches. The foundational Christian message - "This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be believed, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" - has been replaced by other messages of unchallenging
acceptance and uncritical licence to pursue any lifestyle. Living (yet historic) faith has been on a collision course with the unbounded message of liberalism for more than a century.

Wonderfully, Evangelical and Catholic Christians in the Western industrial nations have been energized by the commitment, zeal and sacrifice of those from the Two-Thirds World, who come from cultures in which evangelism and mission are current passions rather than just historic ones.

So we arrived in Northern Ireland at the Dromantine, a Roman Catholic centre for African mission. The Archbishop of Canterbury set the stage for us to hear from God, instead of just each other, by beginning with spiritual retreat and Bible reflection. In the periods of silence, many of us were keenly aware of God's presence, as well as of the prayers of millions of people around the world.

Dr. Williams also set the stage for us to own and organise our agenda.

The difference from previous meetings was profound. One seasoned non-Western Primate remarked how wonderful it was to meet without "being dominated by Western arrogance."

The atmosphere allowed for respectful forthright discussion, which led to the unmistakable realization by all of us that the Anglican Communion had reached the point of irreconcilable differences. While painful and terrifying, it was an important passage, without which we would probably not have had the will to address the crisis adequately.

Pivotal in the discussion was the fact that those who were pressing the same-sex agenda were willing to speak with a clarity that had not been present at any of our previous deliberations. North American confidence came across to many Primates as presumptuous, and even arrogant.

The dynamic was so powerful that it overcame the cultural reticence of some of the Two-Thirds World Primates to speak clearly.

IN A MOMENT of time, at a pause in the conversation, it became obvious that the overwhelming majority of the Primates (who represent the clear majority of Anglicans around the world) were not willing to assimilate the innovations pressed by the United States and Canada into the teaching of the Communion. On the contrary, historic biblical faith was clearly going to emerge from the meeting as the conviction of the vast majority. The question was whether the Communion would remain intact or shatter.

At that point, two critical pieces of the puzzle fell into place.

First, the suggestion was made for ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw voluntarily, while considering formally whether or not to conform to agreed Anglican teaching, as expressed in the historic interpretation of the scriptures and the Lambeth Conference.

The second piece was the realization by the North Americans of the gravity of the situation. Having ignored every previous voice of disagreement, it was a great mercy that they were able to embrace the clarity of the situation.

One might ask what prompted the last shift. That it was a response to the Holy Spirit is clearly tempting to suggest, but far more so is the undeniable and inescapable reality that there was no other option open.

One indication of this was the refusal of a significant number of our colleagues even to attend the daily celebrations of the Eucharist, a decision that was implemented only after much prayer and pain.

As one brother Primate said to me: "Since we are not in communion as Anglicans, I cannot give those who do not believe the simple truth of the Bible as revealed the impression that all is well, and that it's just a matter of opinion."

THE CLARITY of the communique is undeniable, notwithstanding the graceful terminology and loving restraint evident throughout. Sadly, the revisionist agenda is sufficiently hard-faced to deny it and the atmosphere that accompanied its preparation.

So what will happen? ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada will have to repent and conform their teaching and practice to historic and biblical faith, in order to have the broken relationship restored. If they fail to do so, the separation that is gracefully modeled in the communique will become stark and formal.

Any thought that the passage of time will soften the resolve of the majority is unfounded. To do so would be a rejection of our core values. It would be a rejection of the gospel itself, and a denial of the price that Jesus paid on our behalf.

--The Most Revd is Presiding Bishop (Primate) of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America.

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