By ACNS staff
The Most Revd Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, has assured Bishop Graham Kings of support and prayers for his ministry as Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Kings’s role to connect theologians in the Communion, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and stimulate and publish their work would not be an easy one, Archbishop Idowu-Fearon stated at a commissioning service at Canterbury Cathedral on 13 September conducted by Dean Robert Willis.
“Your primary task is to equip believers to relate Christianity to their cultures so as to transform the individual for the glory of the Lord,” Archbishop Idowu-Fearon told Bishop Graham.
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon likened the commissioning service to Paul’s challenge to the believers in Romans 15.30-33 to strive together with him and use the ministry of prayer to restrain evil. “That is what prayer is so often – a way of putting barrier around someone and protecting them in their ministry,” he said.
Noting that Paul requested for deliverance from unbelievers, he warned Bishop Kings: “There will be those who will hate what you are doing.” The Secretary General said that his fervent prayer for the new Mission Theologian echoed Paul’s request that the believers in Rome pray that his service might be “acceptable to the saints”.
He said his prayer was that the saints in Africa and Asia would accept the gifts that Bishop Kings brings and that the Mission Theologian would let himself be challenged by and learn from the gifts of those he would encounter in this ministry.
In his sermon, Archbishop Idowu-Fearon lifted up several myths that he sees about Christianity in Africa.
One of these myths is that of church growth, he said. In a numerical sense, it may be the case that the churches in Africa are growing but there are no credible statistics to support most of these claims, he noted.
With regard to the reported vibrancy of the churches in Africa, the Archbishop said the question must be asked whether there is a depth of maturity, whether church members are “full of goodness, filled with knowledge and able to instruct one another” as Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (15.14). He commented that when there is a crisis, most African Christians would more often seek out a traditional native healer or self-styled prophets rather than the priest or clergy.
The Secretary General said that another common myth is that the Church in Africa is unified, while there is a divide between churches in the Global North and South. The Communion in Africa is not uniform, he asserted, but contains evangelical, charismatic, low-church, high-church and many other streams. The “unity” found in Africa is “servile unity”, where voices that are different are silenced and leadership is stifled, he continued, quoting Gratiano in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice who said: “I am Sir Oracle, and when I ope my lips, let no dog bark!”
Building a culture of respect
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon urged Bishop Kings to be prepared for what he would encounter in his new ministry. “You’ll meet those who are timid, scared but well-informed and waiting to be liberated Christian theologians.” Much prayer would be needed for the task of identifying and liberating these theologians, he remarked.
He also told the Mission Theologian that contextualisation would be a major challenge, to get African and Asian theologians who had been trained in the West to translate theology into their different contexts without altering the truth.
Archbishop Idowu-Fearon suggested that there were lessons in this regard to be learned from the healthy discourse between the theological schools of Alexandria and Antioch in the fourth and fifth centuries. The school in Alexandria was a theological centre open to challenges, with a tradition rooted in philosophy, while Antioch was characterised by literal interpretation and a strong emphasis on seeing Jesus as a man who had at some point or other been taken over by God.
The irony is that these realities are now reversed, he said. However, both perspectives were needed and thus his prayer was “for a new culture of respect from the various parts of our Communion”, as was the case earlier between the Alexandria and Antioch schools.
The post of Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion is the result of a partnership between the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church Mission Society and Durham University. The purpose of the position is to research, stimulate, connect and publish works of theology in the Anglican Communion, with particular focus on insights from Africa, Asia and Latin America, in their ecumenical contexts. Read more at www.missiontheologyanglican.org.