Wednesday, August 12, 1998

Lambeth Report: Was It a Defining Moment?

I had, frankly, feared this Lambeth Conference might be the last. But in the light of the Conference’s clear affirmation of the authority of the Bible in its common life, I now hope to see another in ten years time (though some hinted maybe not in Canterbury!). This Lambeth Conference, according to Archbishop George Carey, was a “defining moment” for Anglicanism. For this reason, Encompass will devote two issues to it. First, we will give a little of the color of the Conference, for it was colorful, with the greens of England in summer, the purpose of 735 bishops in suit, and the rich variety of races and cultures who met in Christ.

During the first two weeks of the Conference, bishops met in four “sections” to discuss matters of ethics, mission and evangelism, pluralism, and ecumenism. Each of these sections produced Resolutions, as did the nine global “regions.” The final week was taken up with presenting, amending, and voting on these Resolutions.

The Human Sexuality Resolution was the fruit of a very complex “process” that often looked like a chess match. Significantly, the official committee plus four regions – two in Africa, South East Asia, and Latin America – all produced orthodox, biblical Resolutions. The trick was to gather them into one resolution that could be passed. With the help of Archbishop Carey and the cooperation of the African bishops, the strong final Resolution was crafted on the floor of the Conference after three sweaty hours.

The bishops of the South did not want to talk about sex, but they did want to talk about Scripture, so the next day they passed a Resolution on Scripture that “reaffirms the primary authority of the Scriptures, according to their testimony and supported by our own historic formularies.” It goes on to urge “that the Biblical text be handled respectfully, coherently, and consistently… believing that Scripture revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge, and transform cultures, structures, and ways of thinking, especially those that predominate today.”

International debt was as major issue at the Conference. The Conference called for a macro-economic policy of restructuring debt, as is being done by the World Bank, and forgiving “unpayable” debt. It also endorsed the Five Talents Project, a micro-credit plan for poor people in the Third World, which was sponsored by your affiliate Institute for Religion and Democracy. Bishop Simon Chiwanga, the chairman of the Anglican Consultative Council, sponsored Five Talents and Archbishop George Carey gave the first gift of £1,000. “We are delighted and ready to go to work raising the start-up money,” said Diane Knippers of IRD.

The most coherent Report of the Conference was titled “Called to Live and Proclaim the Good News.” Based on this Report, which we strongly supported, the Conference resolved to “reaffirm our faith in the doctrines of the Nicene Creed as the basis of what is to be believed, lived and proclaimed by the churches of the Anglican Communion,” and to “accept the imperative character of our call to mission and evangelism as grounded in the very nature of the God who is revealed to us.”

With regard to the Unity of the Anglican Communion, the Conference rebuffed the American Church’s canon revision last summer that delegitimized those who are opposed to women’s ordination. In Resolution III.2(b), the Conference “for the purpose of maintaining this unity, calls upon the provinces of the Communion to uphold the principle of an ‘Open Reception’ as it relates to the ordination of women to the priesthood.” This Resolution confirms the stance taken by the AAC at the 1997 General Convention.

We had two setbacks. The Conference accepted in its Euthanasia Report a proposal to consider the withdrawal of food and water from persons in “permanent vegetative state” as acceptable “medical intervention.” Archbishop Moses Tay, who is himself a doctor, opposed this on the floor, but our amendment got finessed in to a committee and lost.

On the last session of the last day, the Americans won a pyrrhic victory in passing a Resolution on Diocesan Boundaries, which reaffirms that “it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese.” This was aimed at Bishop John Rucyhana of Rwanda, who has taken oversight of a church in Little Rock, Arkansas. We shall comment further on this question in the next issue.

So was Lambeth 1998 a “defining moment”? I asked this question to Bishop Colin Buchanan, who published a book on the eve of the Conference titled Is the Church of England Biblical? “I suspect the real thing it will be remembered for,” he said, “is the power shift from the West to the South. The Sexuality Resolution may be important for its reaffirmation of the biblical base of the Communion, and it also illustrates the power and continuing influence of the Third World churches.”

I also interviewed a dynamic young Nigerian bishop, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who has taken the Decade of Evangelism to heart, multiplying churches in two dioceses in eight years. What does he hope the next decade will mean for the Anglican Communion? Idowu-Fearon replied: “The Decade of Transformation.” The first transformation, he told me, is personal transformation through faith in Christ: “If you don’t have Jesus Christ, you don’t have the message.”

But he also noted that churches that have experienced explosive growth need to consolidate that growth with solid teaching and discipleship. “We need to provide the instruction and guidance that will bring those who have the new birth to maturity.”

If leadership does indeed pass to the hands of such leaders as Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Anglicanism’s future in the new millennium may be bright indeed.

Stephen Noll

This editorial was published in August 1998 in the post-Lambeth edition of Encompass, the newsletter of the American Anglican Council. Used with permission.

Have a comment? Please send it via email.

Follow-ups from Stephen

There are no follow-ups to this post at this time.