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Archbishop of Cape Town responds to Nigerian Bishops' statement

Posted on: November 23, 2003 1:45 PM
Related Categories: Southern Africa

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, has issued a statement responding to the reported severing of ties with the Episcopal Church in the USA by the Anglican Church in Nigeria. The full text of the statement follows:

[ACNS source: Church of the Province of Southern Africa] "If these reports are accurate, my prayer is that the Nigerian bishops will come to reconsider their action and await the outcome of the commission established by the worldwide Communion.

Christians don’t just believe in life after death, we also believe in life before death. Jesus builds his kingdom day by day, in us, and through us to his world.

Jesus came to bring us life in all its fullness, and calls us to share in that life now, and to share it with one another and with all around us. Christians are theologically bound together and ours is a ministry of reconciliation.

This is what it means to be the Church, ‘members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God’ (Eph 2:20-21).

Everyone who is a child of God is a ‘member of his household’ and, just like human families, in the Church we often find ourselves alongside people with whom it is all too easy to disagree. But God says ‘they are your brother and sister in Christ!’.

Sometimes, of course, we mistakenly think we can choose our family and we talk of schism. When any human family falls apart, it causes heartbreak, and when brothers and sisters in Christ try to go their separate ways, it grieves the heart of the Lord.

But God is the God of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19) and in reality there is only one Church, only one body of Christ. The Church is not a club of the like-minded, a group of those who are happy to agree. We belong together whether we like it or not, and ultimately we cannot get away from one another.

We should not be daunted or downhearted by this. For it is God’s good will and pleasure that his Church should be this way. One of the main characteristics of our worldwide Anglican Communion down the centuries has been an element of creative diversity. We have lived with and disagreed on different issues at different times. These have ranged from slavery, to economic sanctions, the ordination of women priests and women bishops and, more recently, the gay issue. We have achieved this by modelling that diversity on the Trinitarian nature of God.

The Church, like all of creation, reflects the life of the Godhead, rich and abundant in its unity and diversity. Three in one and one in three - God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Inextricably together, yet each distinctive in who they are and in how they operate.

Each of us is a member of the body of Christ, each with our own role to play. We are enriched and empowered by our common life and impoverished and weakened when we are divided. When we are tempted to think life would be easier if we went our separate ways, we must remind ourselves that Christ died for each one of us and the Holy Spirit wants to give something through each one for the sake of all the others - ‘to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (2 Cor 12:7).

This Gospel imperative urges us to hold together as we work through disagreements. We must face the challenge to develop an ethic of together-in-difference. This is a particular challenge to the Anglican Communion worldwide at present.

Yet Anglicanism has great strengths and experience to draw on in facing this challenge. We have never been a denomination based around a single statement of faith or set of rules. Rather, we are held together through a shared past of deep historic roots, and through the maintenance and development of these relationships as the Anglican Communion has spread through the world into its many and still changing cultures.

That is what Communion is all about. Relationship, not rules. We are a federation, a family, of 38 ecclesiastical provinces, bound together by bonds of affection and mutual commitment. We know that unity, especially unity in diversity, is often hard to maintain but Jesus would not have prayed for unity as he did at the Last Supper if it were easy."

The Statement from the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Nigeria can be found at: