Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi on Bibical Authority

The most recent issue of First Things is out, and there is a very interesting essay by Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi entitled "What if Anglicanism." It offers a good explanation of the views of African Anglican members of the Global South. The entire essay is well worth reading, but it is quite lengthy. Here are some highlights:

Few would deny that the Anglican Communion is in crisis. The nature of that crisis, however, remains a question. Is it about sexuality? Is it a crisis of authority—who has it and who doesn’t? Have Anglicans lost their commitment to the via media, epitomized by the Elizabethan Settlement, which somehow declared a truce between Puritan and Catholic sentiments in the Church of England? Is it a crisis of globalization? A crisis of identity?

. . .

The preface to the Book of Common Prayer states, “It is a most invaluable part of that blessed ‘liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,’ that in his worship different forms and usages may without offense be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in every Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline.”

And yet, despite this clear distinction, contemporary Anglicans are in danger of confusing doctrine and discipline. For four hundred years Anglicanism represented both the theological convictions of the English Reformation and the culture of the Christian Church in Britain. The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Anglican divines gave voice to both: English Reformation theology (doctrine) and British culture (discipline). The Anglican churches around the world, however, have ended the assumption that Anglican belief and practice must be clothed in historic British culture.

. . .

In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate. Yet each of these refers back to the Word of God, the ground on which all is built: The faith of the martyrs was maintained by the Word of God, the East African revival brought to the people the Word of God, and the historic ordering of ministry was designed to advance the Word of God.

So let us think about how the Word of God works in the worldwide Anglican Communion. We in the Church of Uganda are convinced that Scripture must be reasserted as the central authority in our communion. The basis of our commitment to Anglicanism is that it provides a wider forum for holding each other accountable to Scripture, which is the seed of faith and the foundation of the Church in Uganda.

The Bible cannot appear to us a cadaver, merely to be dissected, analyzed, and critiqued, as has been the practice of much modern higher biblical criticism. Certainly we engage in biblical scholarship and criticism, but what is important to us is the power of the Word of God precisely as the Word of God—written to bring transformation in our lives, our families, our communities, and our culture. For us, the Bible is “living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, it penetrates to dividing soul and spirits, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The transforming effect of the Bible on Ugandans has generated so much conviction and confidence that believers were martyred in the defense of the message of salvation through Jesus Christ that it brought.

For the Ugandan church to compromise God’s call of obedience to the Scriptures would be the undoing of more than 125 years of Christianity through which African life and society have been transformed. Traditional African society was solely an oral culture, which limited its ability to share ideas beyond the family level. We couldn’t write our language, and there was nothing to read in our language. The first converts in Uganda were called “readers” because they could read the Bible, the first book available in our own languages. Because of the Bible, our languages have been enriched and recorded. For the first time, we heard God in our own languages. To this day, our people bring their Bibles to church and follow along with the readings.

. . .

As the Bible came with the authority of Christ, it revealed a God that is greater than the evil spirits and the kingdom of darkness that controlled so many people’s lives. In Uganda, the Bible has grown into a cherished source of authority that is central to Christian faith, practice, and mission. For all God’s people, obedience to this Bible is the source of confidence, abundant life, and joy. It is an absolute treasure that no one can take away. Isaiah, later quoted by Peter, wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:24-25). The grass on which our cattle feed, the grass from which our roofs are thatched—all this withers. But the Word of God has withstood the test of time. The Bible is at the heart of our Anglican identity, and we Ugandan Anglicans joyfully submit to its life-giving and transforming authority.

With this knowledge of the centrality of the authority of Scripture in Anglicanism, therefore, we understand ourselves to be in the mainstream of Anglicanism—from Thomas Cranmer to John Stott. The evangelical tradition in the Church of England produced William Wilberforce, whose lifelong mission to eradicate slavery and the slave trade liberated our people. It produced Charles Simeon, who inspired the beginning of mission societies that shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with us and many others. It produced Bishop Tucker and other missionaries, who risked their lives to come to Uganda. These and many more Anglican evangelicals brought us the legacy of the Protestant Reformation in England. Their commitment to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture has continued among us to this day.

Such a commitment—to the authority of Scripture as a defining mark of Anglican identity—was why the vast majority of bishops from the Global South and I insisted that Lambeth Resolution 1.10, the 1998 decision on human sexuality, include the words “incompatible with Holy Scripture” when describing homosexual practice. This standard of Holy Scripture is why we continue to uphold Lambeth 1.10 each time we meet.

In the current Anglican crisis, we are at risk of losing our biblical foundation. As bishops, we are constrained, in the words of the 1662 Ordinal, “to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word,” and we are determined “out of the same Holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to [our] charge and to teach or maintain nothing, as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which [we] shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same.”

From Thomas Cranmer to Richard Hooker, from the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Ordinal to the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the authority of Holy Scripture has always held a central and foundational role in Anglican identity. This is true for the Anglican church in Uganda; and, if it is not true for the entire Anglican Communion, then that communion will cease to be an authentic expression of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Read it all here (now available for free, but may ultimately require a subscription).

What I find interesting about this essay is that it articulates a clear view of the authority of Scripture, and the reasons why Africans adopted this view. This view, of course, gives less room to historical critical examination, experience and even reason, than that in the Episcopal Church. And that, it seems, explains why we have such different views.


bls said...

And should gay people not have the opportunity to experience "transformation in our lives, our families, our communities, and our culture"? Should we not have the opportunity to experience "confidence, abundant life, and joy," along with the rest of God's people?

This is where "reasserters" make their mistake each time.

Phil Snyder said...


Yes, gay people should have the opportunity to experience transformation. But beware. That transformation will include dying to self (including the sexual self). Being raised in new life will change you.

Phil Snyder

bls said...

Have you died to your sexual self, Phil? Can you describe the process? How has it changed you?