Being Anglican: Perspectives from Africa
Date added: 21/03/2016
BEING ANGLICAN: PERSPECTIVES FROM AFRICA
By Dr Titre Ande Georges, Bishop of Aru Diocese
I’m delighted to be with you. May I take this opportunity to express my profound appreciation to the Principal of Ridley Hall College for his kind invitation to be here on Sabbatical and be part of this community. I am also grateful for your most valued presence in this room.
When I went back from the last Lambeth Conference, the Congolese immigration officer welcome me with an unusual question, ‘Bishop, are you still my brother?’ I did not expect to have such question from a Congolese immigration officer. Then I discovered he was a Christian from the Evangelical Church. In fact, his question meant, ‘Anglicans, are you still Christian brothers and sisters?’ Of course, he knew that the Anglican Communion has been tested by difficult theological tensions which in many of its parts have not only caused alienation and pain, but have also affected mission in different contexts. There is still continuing deep difference and disrupted relationships in the Anglican Communion. Around the world too, many Anglican churches are also asking what it really means to be Anglican.
When the Principal of Ridley asked me to talk about ‘Being Anglican: perspectives from Africa, I wondered if he knew about my conversation with this Congolese immigration officer. So, I’ll give you in my talk the summary of my response to the officer that being Anglican is to be Evangelical, Missionary and socially active for community transformation. I’ll consider the legacy left by two of great African leaders: Samuel Crowther Ajayi and Apolo Kivebulaya.
Samuel Crowther Ajayi, a Nigerian boy slave who was freed, converted, educated in Sierra Leone and England, came back to his native region as a member of the missionary expeditions of the 1840s. He was ordained and later consecrated in Cantebury Cathedral as Bishop of West Africa. He used his vision, commitment, determination and linguistic capabilities to the full for the founding of the Anglican Church in Nigeria.
Apolo Kivebulaya (c.1864 - 30 May 1933) was a Ugandan missionary considered the principal pioneer of the Anglican Church of Congo. He was a Muslim soldier, but attracted by the Christian life. He chose the name Apolo during his baptism in 1895 because he remembered another Apolo who "being fervent in spirit, spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus" (Actes 18:25). He obtained the name “Kivebulaya,” meaning “the thing of Europe,” when he began wearing the jacket of a British soldier with the long white Ganda robe. Despite some persecutions from the local chief, he was loved by local people and his spirit was always towards his work.
Africa is a huge continent with variety of tribes, cultures and theologies. Even African Anglicans have different approaches to the Bible and theology. So, I’ll use ‘Africa’ in a broad sense, mostly from my own experience of being myself an African Anglican and having been in many Anglican meetings worldwide.
On any journey we need to know not only where we are, but also where we have come from because where we are has been largely shaped by our past. In one sense, of course, we all have a similar history because we have all benefited from a rich Anglican heritage. There are however very significant differences of timing, approach and experience.
It will therefore be helpful if I begin my consideration of An African Perspective of being Anglican by looking briefly at where we in Africa are coming from.
Christianity is not new in Africa. There was a flourishing church in the earliest days of the church in North Africa. We are grateful to the Lord for giving to the church in that period, ‘eminent Christians and Theologians like St Augustine of Hippo, who have worked on Doctrines that today serve as the basic foundations of our faith. They have fulfilled their ministry in their generations’.
Further south, Christianity was introduced later by European Christian missions, initially on the heels of Portuguese expansion into the Kingdom of the Kongo and Angola in the 16th century, the slave trade in the following centuries, and the general expansion of European influence and colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries in an explosive combination of “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization.”
Catholic missionaries also penetrated independent kingdoms as in Angola and the powerful realm of Kongo, where a king was baptized in 1491. The Kongolese people widely knew and accepted Catholic Christianity. This conversion was not simply for the purpose of securing European guns and gold. It was true conversion to be member of the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’. One of the first Christian Kongo rulers, Mvemba Nzinga, has been described as ‘one of the greatest lay Christians in African Church history’.
As heir of this deeply faithful African Christianity, I am proud of being a Christian in Africa, and able to speak about African Christianity. ‘Being Anglican’ in Africa, is being part of this Catholic faith, deeply committed to Christ and Christian values.
Names are often central to the identity of people. Is ‘Anglican’ simply ‘English’? Such a loose meaning has led some Anglican churches to call themselves ‘Episcopalians’. But being ‘Anglican’ means belonging to the worldwide communion of churches originally founded by the Church of England. More than that, it is to be:
The Anglican Church has always been a biblical and Church. It has always made an explicit appeal to Scripture, and its members, both laity and clergy, are encouraged to read Scripture regularly. Anglicans use the Bible to shape their lives, and feed their hearts, minds and souls. The Anglican belief in the authority of Scripture thus asserts that Scripture is good for us as it breeds good healthy Christians.
As said in article 6 of the 39 articles, Scripture is also the text that is final for Anglicans, not papal decrees, canon law, unwritten traditions, nor even psychological theory, sociology, opinion polls or the voice of the media, however important it may be to listen and learn from them.
Therefore, linked to our heritage and identity, African Anglicans’ appeal to biblical authority is a call to live by the story of the Bible; it is a call to be different, to avoid the social conformity which has been one of Anglicanism’s transgressions. It is in this context that, in the last synod of the Diocese of Aru, we reviewed and reaffirmed again our biblical teachings.
The community Jesus founded is built upon Apostolic Truth – the word of God. We are that community in as much as we also adhere to that truth, we are in continuity with the early church in as far as we are confessional – Jesus said to Peter “on this rock I will build my church” the rock of his confession of the truth as had been revealed to him by the Father. The first Christians made an impact on their communities because they were grounded on this very foundation. Consequently we will not secure our future or have any hope of impacting our communities and releasing their potentials without a firm knowledge of and adherence to the truth as revealed through the Word of God which Christ incarnates. This Word of God needs to be contextualized.
Dr Williams once said that the strength of the Anglican tradition has been in maintaining a balance between the absolute priority of the Bible, a catholic loyalty to the sacraments and a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility:" To accept that each of these has a place in the church's life and that they need each other means that the enthusiasts for each aspect have to be prepared to live with certain tensions or even sacrifices.
I think such tensions or sacrifices can be reduced if contextualisation of the gospel has been taken seriously. The challenge to the Church of Christ is been to communicate the Gospel in a theologically faithful way and, at the same time, humanly intelligible and relevant for distinct contexts, whether cultural or existential. It needs an appropriate contextualisation with the vision that Jesus Christ and his Kingdom find fuller expression in the whole life of people in every culture.
Culture is thus to be regarded as part of God’s creative work, of which human creativity is a result. Culture is given by God for the sake of human flourishing, but all cultures must take the human fallenness into consideration.
The gospel judges and evangelises the cultures, but also the gospel needs to be incarnated in the culture. So, the Christian faith can be exposed brilliantly without compromise if there is contextualisation. It is the process by which the Gospel message is incarnated into cultures and local contexts, so that it is meaningful to the members of a given Christian community and is easily understood by those outside it. Hearing the Gospel can lead to a purifying of cultures, while different cultural expressions can enrich the proclamation of the Gospel message. Therefore the Gospel can redeem culture as well as individuals.
In Romans 12, 2, Paul says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Therefore, contextualisation should make us free from our culture so we can live our Christ-likeness. In this sense, I am still teaching the African worldview so students live their culture with a critical mind. Our diocesan theological commission meets once a year to asses the new trends in African Christianity.
Concerning the intellectual flexibility, Africans tend to ask whether there is a limit to such intellectual flexibility. We need to do theology with commitment. Such theology sets a clear spiritual and moral direction in the church. Some theologians unconnected to the church may be misleading. They are like a well-trained driver, who unfortunately has lost the direction in a busy unknown city, but still drives fast and ends no where.
This needs modesty. Another of Anglicanism’s besetting sins has been arrogance. During one of our sessions, an American lady said, ‘the trouble in the Anglican Communion is that Africans do not know how to interpret the Bible’. We managed our emotions simply by laughing. Some even say, ‘we can share: the West gives money and Africa offers spirituality’. Or, ‘dead churches in the West, spiritual Christians in South’.
What happened to Crowther and Apolo can inspire us again here. Despite his passion and high achievements, Bishop Crowther’s mission was undermined and dismantled in the 1880s by racist white Europeans, including some of his fellow missionaries. Crowther’s mission was dismantled: by financial controls, by young Europeans taking over, by dismissing, suspending or transferring the African staff. Crowther, desolated, died of a stroke. Bishop Crowther was replaced by a white bishop. Humility overcomes arrogance. This has been demonstrated by some faithful leaders.
Preaching at a ‘thanksgiving and repentance’ service marking the 150th anniversary of Bishop Crowther’s ordination, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “This is a service of thanksgiving and repentance. Thanksgiving for the extraordinary life, which we commemorate [and] repentance, shame and sorrow for Anglicans who are reminded of the sin of many of their ancestors.
“We in the Church of England need to say sorry that someone was properly and rightly consecrated Bishop and then betrayed and let down and undermined. It was wrong.”
Archbishop Welby added: “Crowther did not make himself grand. He lived out the commands of the words he took at his consecration. And from his time forward, God has demonstrated his grace through that ministry. Today well over 70 million Christians in Nigeria are his spiritual heirs. And, he concluded, ‘we seek to be a church that does not again exclude those whom God is calling. We seek new apostles, and the grace to recognise them when they come.”
In 1516, a Portuguese priest wrote of Kongo’s king Afonso that ‘Better than we, he knows the prophets and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all the lives of the Saints, and all things regarding our Mother the Holy Church’.
The ‘better than we’ of this Portuguese priest to an African Christian is a very humble expression of modesty, to recognize Christ in the ‘other’. The ‘better than we’ principle should characterize Anglicans from the West to the East, from the North to the South. We sometimes allow our ‘having’ to determine our ‘being’ in living our Christian life and in our relationship with fellow Anglicans. We are tempted to have ‘first class’ Anglicans (the west), the second class Anglicans (emerging countries) and third class Anglicans (Third world). Our ‘being’ is determined by our relationship with Christ. Being ‘Anglican’ is to be ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ. The ‘better than we’ should unite Anglican evangelical churches whether conservative, charismatic, contemporary or traditional. In the Diocese of Aru, our partnership with others is always based on mutual relationship: we visit each other, we get know each other better, we share together in the ministry and we share our resources. We plan more inter-tribal activities to bring all the tribes together and value them all.
The ‘better than we’ needs a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with the diversity of views that inevitably arise in this world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety. It needs faithful church leaders with clear vision and enough power to sustain authority given by the Lord to lead his Church in unity and truth. Too much power destroys. But also no power ends in chaos. Seeing each other ‘better than we’ makes our mission together possible and fruitful.
I understand that the modern society is more suspicious about ‘authority’. However, while we dream up new ways of being church, new styles of worship and new approaches to ministry, let us do it with right and proper consultation, and submitting ourselves duly to the authority of those God has placed over us, just as the Scripture says (1 Cor 16.15-16). With such modesty, we become a humble missional church.
The burning concern for mission is at the heart of what it means for us to be Anglican. As Vincent Donovan said,
"Mission is the meaning of the church. The church can exist only insofar as it is in mission, insofar as it participates in the act of Christ, which is mission. The church becomes the mission, the living outreach of God to the world. The church exists only insofar as it carries Christ to the world. The church is only part of the mission, the mission of God sending his Son to the world. Without this mission, there would be no church. The idea of church without mission is an absurdity."
Being Anglican is to participate in this Great Commission not only of sending, but also of training. Anglican churches should therefore train and send missionaries further and further in field, as in the days of St Paul, those who first accepted the gospel at once became missionaries themselves. Crowther did the same in Nigeria: as soon as a baby local church could stand on its own the original missionaries moved on to another area, leaving the African agents to lead the local congregation.
Mission was Apolo Kivebulaya’s priority too, even in unknown and dangerous places. Encouraged by the Lord, he took the gospel to the inhabitants of the forest. He said: "Christ appeared before me as a man. It was like seeing a man who was my brother. He said to me: 'Go, preach in the forest, because I am with you. I am who I am--this is my Name.'" God strengthened him and he did not get weak in Our Lord’s work. But Apolo’s conviction and experience was that God helps those who believe in him for he (Apolo) believed and God rescued him. He had a dream which greatly helped him in his spiritual life. He said: "I saw Jesus shining like the sun. He said to me, 'Take heart, for I am with you.' Since that year whenever I preach, people leave their old customs and repent." From this point on Apolo was convinced of his call and developed a profound joy in the gospel that others found infectious. We, as his missionary followers are still very committed to the Lord’s Great Commission of preaching and planting the new churches. They powerfully preach a message of deep repentance, renewed love for Jesus, confession of sin, and the call to “walk in the light” with one another.
In Aru Diocese, evangelism is one of our top priorities. We have trained more than two hundred evangelists, both lay and ordained people; they preach and plant new churches in new areas. We are a powerful missionary presence in our region.
Today more than ever we need to see the Lord confirming the preaching of the word with signs following, as He promised He would (Mark 16,17). It doesn’t mean that we are seeking signs, but it is important when the world is led more and more by many ‘ugly heads of the hideous anti-God monster,’ including secularism, spiritual indifference and relativism. I understand that the western worldview doesn’t allow any room for miracles. But we should take these factors into account and develop such spirituality in our churches. An example:
In Switzerland, a family was attacked by evil spirits every night. But their pastor, dominated by the western view refused to recognize such reality. But after he came to experience it himself with the family, he went to call an African pastor in the area because he hadn’t learnt, according to him, how to take authority over such spirits. The African pastor did it and the family was released.
Whether you call it a psychological problem, it happened and was healed by prayer. Why do we pray? Denying a reality does not annihilate it! In a world of brokenness, wholeness breaks in. This wholeness is evident in the local church I attend, where members of the prayer group believe to have been empowered by God to overcome hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Through this and other services in the church, many find God’s healing and deliverance. I saw a 18 year old young boy who was seriously ill for almost 6 years completely healed after a month of prayer.
Catalyst for community development and transformation
The gospel is all about the Kingdom. At the start of his ministry, Jesus expressed his holistic mission by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. (Lk 4.18-19).
Jesus’ holistic approach to the ministry implies that the mission of our church consists also in responding to people in need and seeking to transform unjust structures, witnessing to the love of God. Members of the Anglican Communion around the world are involved with a range of life-changing activities that include providing food, shelter and clothing to those in need. In the Diocese of Aru, we take seriously this holistic approach to the ministry: we set up schools, hospitals, clinics and universities, we work for a world free of poverty and injustice by building the capacity of local communities to have small self-supporting projects; we speak out with and for the oppressed through our Diocesan Commission for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, we are a voice for the voiceless, we reconcile those in conflict, and we have programs and actions to safeguard the earth.
Crowther applied this holistic approach to develop and transform his local community. His vision, commitment, determination and linguistic capabilities were gifts from God which were used to the full for the founding of the Anglican Church in Nigeria. His concern for education, agriculture, the welfare of the people, and the building of the economy which was linked to the elimination of the slave trade, all grew out of the gospel and in turn furthered the work of the gospel. But such mission must be both local and universal.
Apolo Kivebulaya is a good example for the Anglican to be local and international. As Emma Wild-Wood noticed, Apolo was a regional actor entangled in transnational projects to which he contributed and the perceived benefits of which he transmitted to others. He demonstrates a comprehension of Christianity as a religion that is both locally and personally focused and connects beyond human boundaries of ethnic groupings and state borders.
Another challenge for Anglicans is to tackle the issue of good governance, respect for the law and the right exercise of power in a world driven by money, status and power. Authority within the Christian community is grounded in Jesus Christ. He used his power to confront evil and to challenge untruth; he acted in service to his brothers and sisters, he valued humility highly and includes those whom society cast out to margins. His saving and caring power was for the good of people.
The authority of Christ himself, and therefore of all who share in it, is an authority only for the sake of service; an authority to care for others and to consider their interests. Authority in the Church is not to be exercised in manipulative and oppressive ways. It takes seriously Jesus’ warning, ‘It shall not be so among you.’ Authority brings salvation and liberation of people from all that enslaves them. It challenges and transforms the whole notion of ‘legitimation of authority’ informed by ‘wordly’ models available in societies.
Furthermore, the church is a guide of the people on the road to true humanity and this implies service. As the Prophet Nathan confronted the all powerful King David, Anglicans in conflict region like Africa must be courageous in confronting power. They must follow the footsteps of leaders like the Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda who was murdered by the powerful because he stood up for the weak and the poor. And speak out against any abuse of power in the society.
So, we have a church where faith is vital and real. It is a faith worth living for and a faith worth dying for - and thousands have so died. The very possibility of persecution makes a difference.
It’s wonderful to be an Anglican, making people feel not simply comfortable in their politics and culture, but making them feel the comfort of absolution, communion and strengthening of faith. We are part of the worldwide Church with biblical orthodoxy in winning converts with conviction that, no matter how bad things seem, the Gospel is changing lives and societies; and people of every tongue bless Jesus.
 Sundkler and Steed. A History of the Church in Africa, 51.
 Oliver O'Donovan, On the Thirty-Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity (Exeter: Paternoster, 1986). See also Article 6 of the 39 Articles
 Chairman’s address, All Africa Bishops’ Conference, 23-29 August 2010, Entebbe, Uganda
 Vincent J. Donovan. Christianity Rediscovered. London, SCM, 1978, p.102.
Articles by The Revd Dr Titre Ande Georges
Being Anglican: Perspectives from Africa (21/03/2016)