The Archbishop of Nigeria believes I am on the road to destruction. I have lots of good company since it appears he lumps "The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada" as a whole as pilgrims on the road to ruin. He has brought this criticism to light in his most recent new and improved letter to the bishops and synods of the Church of Nigeria, where he has produced a list of affirmations that those on the 'right road' will of course all follow.
Remembering that this is not a letter to us, but to his own bishops, one wonders just why he has taken the time to condemn us once again. Various theories have been put forward: (i) he loves us all very much and wants to see us saved (a commendable and ancient view which unfortunately has sometimes supported the rack, compulsory baptism, shunning, etc.); (ii) he is trying to keep his own bishops focused on acting as a block against TEC and ACoC and for the Global South (this makes it a "hold the line" sort of statement, useful in the Lambeth invitation squabble); (iii) he is really trying to reach American bishops of the moderate sort who really don't what to be pushed to comment on matters such as "teaching on morality that is rooted and grounded in the Biblical Revelation (this being a tried and true method of using pious language as bait.) Well, perhaps he is doing all three.
This list of affirmations is, according to the Archbishop, "designed to set us free from the bondage of sin and give us the assurance of life eternal." These are contrasted to "the first road,… the road of compromise of biblical truth, (that) leads to destruction and disunity." "The first road, the one that follows the current path of The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, is one that we simply cannot take because the cost is too high. We dare not sacrifice eternal truth for mere appeasement; we cannot turn away from the source of life and love for a temporary truce."
About this second road, the one for which the Archbishop has been so kind as to offer the list,
"It requires an unequivocal acceptance and commitment to:
a. The Authority and Supremacy of Scripture.
b. The Doctrine of the Trinity
c. The person, work and resurrection of Jesus the Christ
d. The acknowledgement of Jesus as Divine and the One and only means of salvation
e. The Biblical teaching on sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation by the Holy Spirit through Christ.
f. The sanctity of marriage.
g. Teaching about morality that is rooted and grounded in the Biblical Revelation.
h. Apostolic Ministry
Well, I'm doomed. I want to ask more questions, poke about a bit and find out just what he really means, raise the specter of past purges and pogroms and gulags, and otherwise engage in conversations that would clearly be equivocal (therefore not accepting) and uncommitted. But no such luck. The Archbishop has determined that this would be the wrong road and I am on it. Well, there it is.
Snide remarks from readers that the Archbishop is right about my wretched condition will be faithfully ignored until such time as I have had enough of that, at which point I will delete such comments.
But on the outside chance that there might be some possibility of a somewhat wider road, let me suggest that the Archbishop has fallen into a mire of unintended consequences by providing this handy-dandy list of requirements for salvation or the journey to eternal life.
The "Authority and Supremacy of Scripture" is not as simple a notion as it seems. There are notable Scripture passages which almost no one considers authoritative and supreme – as for example in Leviticus (20:9) where cursing father or mother carries the mandate that they be punishable by death. No matter that such cursing is counter to one of the big Ten Commandments to honor father and mother, we would be hard pressed to find any Jew or Christian in the modern world willing to execute the child who curses the parent. That way lies the cruelty of the worst sort of religious laws.
The problem is that on a moderate level, we sort of want to affirm unequivocally the "authority and supremacy of Scripture." It sounds right. But it isn't. The testimony of the followers of Jesus is clear that scripture informs the Christian but the Christian is not conformed to scripture. The unfolding of the realization that in Christ Jesus all has been made new is accompanied by struggles that effectively cancel the physical requirement of circumcision, the whole of the notion that there are things and people unclean, and develops beyond anything previously seen in Scripture the understanding of what is meant by the Anointed One.
Perhaps what is meant is the 'authority and supremacy of Scripture' is as seen through the lens of Jesus the Christ. In that case we only find Scripture authoritative and supreme as the mind of Christ so informs us. Perhaps this is what the Archbishop is getting at.
But the point is that whatever he is getting at is NOT clear in the demand that we give "unequivocal acceptance and commitment to "the authority and supremacy of Scripture."
As to "the doctrine of the Trinity," let me say that I do not give unequivocal acceptance and commitment to any doctrine. It is not that I am opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity; rather I have engaged with the doctrine for many years and have a fondness for it, one that grows from the rich mining of its meaning. But my relationship to doctrine is clear: it is there, I exercise my faith with doctrine always there as a teaching and informing tool, and I learn from the doctrine as I engage it. But my commitment and acceptance relates to persons, not doctrines. I give my unequivocal acceptance and commitment to Jesus, not to the precision of this or that doctrinal formulation.
Well, you can see where this all leads. The Archbishop seems to believe that any of us who talk like this are on the road to destruction. But I say I engage Scripture with great seriousness and sometimes playfulness and likewise am always ready to engage the doctrine of the Trinity. I might add I am ready to engage with the same seriousness and playfulness all the other propositions in his list. That does not mean I agree with "unequivocal acceptance and commitment."
There are lots of questions I would ask the Archbishop about the things on his list were he to have the slightest interest in using the list as a tool for greater unequivocal acceptance and commitment to Jesus or to each other.
Regrettably the list seems to be concocted for the purpose of consigning folk in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to perdition, ruin, destruction and disunity. Worse, it is here to cajole those who would like all the messiness of the Anglican Communion to go away to an easy answer. It is a list for the manipulation of opinion at home and abroad.
The Archbishop of Nigeria is using up his time. It is time to move on and time for him to go.