Monday, September 19, 2005

A thought on the Church of Nigeria’s constitution change

There’s been much speculation that ++Peter Akinola and the Church of Nigeria are in a big hurry to split with Canterbury. There was a rather sensationalistic Scottish newspaper article, then last week’s change in the Church of Nigeria’s constitution to fuel the speculation.

But ++Akinola has just released a letter to his fellow Archbishops making clear that he’s in no hurry to split. The following passage is most notable:

We treasure our place within the worldwide family of the Anglican Communion but we are distressed by the unilateral actions of those provinces that are clearly determined to redefine what was once our common faith. We have now amended the language of our constitution so that those who are bent to walk a different path, may do so without us. We have chosen not to be yoked to them as we prefer to exercise our freedom to remain faithful.

What ++Akinola was in a hurry to do was to more formally split with the North American provinces and like-minded dioceses. And his church could not afford for that split to drag out. Association with ECUSA, however tenuous, has fueled the fires of Islamic persecution of Christians in Africa.

So I have a thought on the church constitution change and what ++Akinola is up to. Perhaps he is acting to increase his flexibility. By going ahead and making his split with the North America provinces more explicit, he now has more flexibility and time to decide his relationship with Canterbury and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

And by “redefining” the Church of Nigeria’s communion with other Anglican churches as being with those “Anglican Churches Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662 and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion”[takes breath] ++Akinola sets forth both a standard and invitation. His church makes clear what the standard will be for full communion, but that standard is also an invitation to orthodox communion without writing out any Anglicans. There’s no bridge burning here.

So again, I think the recent actions of the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Akinola may have more to do with setting out clear standards for communion while at the same time providing more flexibility and room for communion.

And I think that common view that ++Akinola is in a big hurry to split from anyone other than the North Americans is mistaken.

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