Many an African Anglican has been accused, and perhaps felt a pang of conscience, of belonging to the church of the colonizer. However much they are thankful for the Gospel, the church in popular understanding remains essentially English.
Little do they know the opposite is true. The Anglican Church is essentially African.
Delegates at the sixth Anglican Global South conference in Cairo heard new research from the foremost scholar of the formational Anglican, Thomas Cramner, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr. Ashley Null is an elected fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is currently compiling a five-volume study of Cramner’s private theological notebooks.
What these notebooks reveal is the reformer’s deep dependence on the writings of Augustine. Imagined today as a Latin scholarly giant, in his day Augustine was derided as the son of a Berber who spoke Latin with an African accent. Much like many see Africans today, he was considered an outsider with just enough education to exist on the margins of civilization.
Null encouraged the delegates that the scholarly comparisons continue today. The progressive wing of the Anglican Church believes that God will lead them into all truth, which the church today can perceive better for modern times than those from two thousand years ago.
Yet this was exactly the challenge Cramner faced in his day, taking on Medieval Catholicism. Equating tradition with scripture led the church into all sorts of error, which only a return to the Bible could correct. In many examples Null demonstrated how Cramner’s writings drew from Augustine, who himself distinguished between the holy texts and the illumined church fathers who applied them for their day.
Their interpretation, Cramner echoed Augustine, is to be done by scripture. Yet the flexibility of a changing medium for the gospel is built into the original 39 Articles. Article 34 declares it is not necessary for all ceremonies to be alike in all times, places, and manners, so long as they are not contrary to the word of God.
“An African Anglican is an Anglican, twice,” Null said. “It is not just a great line, it is the truth.” Africans need not replicate an English church. And why should they, when the Anglican Church was designed to be culturally adaptable from the beginning, patterned after the teachings of a Berber?
Null demonstrated this was not just a missiological principle, but the very DNA of Anglicanism. But in the day’s Bible study, an Asian walked delegates through the challenge of mission.
Bishop Rennis Ponniah of Singapore said this is mission wider than world evangelization. It is extending the Kingdom of God through the church to the whole created order, bringing it all under God’s rule of righteousness, justice, and compassion.
Ponniah focused on three primary dimensions of this mission. The first is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ faithfully. The second is to overcome the hostility of evil boldly. And the third is to shine the light of God’s rule winsomely. And all of these should be practically achieved through vibrant local parishes, for this is where the people are.
And on this day the Anglican Global South received the greetings of many parishes around the world. Bishop Paul Butler of Durham, Bishop Tim Dakin of Winchester, and Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney all expressed appreciation for support received from their fellow orthodox Anglicans. Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina and Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America expressed similar sentiment.
But Bishop Bill Love of Albany was unique. A conservative American who has chosen to stay within the Episcopal Church, he described the ‘companion partners’ of the Global South within his province. There are six diocese including his own, Central Florida, Dallas, North Dakota, Springfield, Illinois, and Tennessee. Fifteen bishops identify also, representing 10 percent of the whole, a remnant, Love said, which has not bent the knee. One reason he remains within the Episcopal Church is to remain faithful to them.
Much like Cramner was faithful to Augustine, and Augustine faithful to scripture. Even an American Anglican is African at heart.