Africa's Anglican Bishops began a five-day conference Tuesday with a declaration that the "African Church has come of age." The church must now become self-sufficient to withstand unbiblical Western spirituality and the advances of militant Islam, said Peter Akinola, the Chairman of the Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) and the head of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

The church in Africa had for a long time remained dependent on the Western church, Akinola said. As a result, the church adopted Western spiritual values that have not addressed the physical and spiritual problems of the African church.

The conference, held in Lagos, Nigeria, is the first meeting of the African bishops. CAPA was founded 25 years ago, but until this week, the African Anglican Bishops never met except every ten years at the Lambeth Conference in England.

With more than 5 percent annual growth, the Anglican Church is Africa's fastest-growing denomination. According to Operation World, 4 percent of Africans are Anglican, while 48 percent of the continent is Christian.

It is time for the Anglican Church to focus on addressing the physical and spiritual needs of the African church, Akinola said. The conference would be the beginning of an independent African church committed to tackling disease, hunger, poverty, and war.

Shedding Western vices

Akinola charged the 282 African bishops to shed the social vices that are killing the church in the West, and Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, backed the bishops' stand.

Same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay bishops in the Anglican Communion are against Scripture and un-African, Obasanjo said.

The practice "is clearly unbiblical, unnatural, and definitely un-African," said the president. "Surely the good Lord who created us male and female knew exactly what he was doing. To my understanding of the Scripture, any other form of sexual relationship is a perversion of the divine order, and a sin."

"I wholeheartedly salute the wisdom, courage, and resilience of African bishops within the Anglican Communion for standing so firmly against attempts to undermine our faith and falsify the gospel and the Word of God," Obasanjo said.

"Do not succumb to intimidation, blackmail, isolation, or even barefaced persecution," he told them. "Stand firm for the gospel and the Word of God once delivered to the saints."

President Obasanjo called on the bishops to use the church in Africa to build harmonious relationships among African people, and create understanding, love, inclusion, tolerance, mutual support, and accommodation.

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He said the African continent needs prayer more than anything else, and he pleaded with the bishops to intercede for Africa so that "this may turn out to be Africa's century."

The Islamic threat

Islam poses a serious threat to the existence of the church in Africa, Akinola said. Bickering over doctrine distracts the church and will cause it to fall to militant Islam.

The current situation is similar to the seventh century, when Islamic forces wiped out the church in North Africa. The same mistakes made by North African church leaders are again threatening to destroy the church in Africa, Akinola said.

Theological controversy distracted Christians in North Africa then, and the issue of homosexuality is distracting church leaders today. Akinola said African Anglican leaders would not be distracted from missions and evangelism.

"We praise God for the church fathers who formulated the church doctrines and creeds that were necessitated by the theological controversies of those days: Tertullian, Athanasius, St. Augustine, Ignatius—they fulfilled their ministry in their generations.

"However, it must be said that they gave such a disproportionate attention to the controversies and definition of the Christian faith that there was hardly any time left for missions and evangelism. Among those who were to do the task of evangelization there was disputation, rancor, division, and discord," Akinola said.

"So, when in the seventh century the militant and aggressive Islamic forces advanced and struck, they met with little resistance from a church that was unprepared, weak, and asleep in terms of missions. Thus, the church was wiped out."

"It is a common saying here that 'Once bitten, twice shy.' Today, we all know that Islam is struggling to take over Africa. Poverty and diseases are desirous of swallowing us up. As we reflect on the issues that now compel us to articulate and rescue our true Christian identity, we find ourselves on the same path that our forebears in other generations trod.

"We cannot allow the same costly mistakes," he said.

Related Elsewhere:

More Christianity Today coverage of the crisis in the Anglican Communion includes:

N.T. Wright: Anglican Report Is 'Fireproofing the House' | Top theologian on Lambeth Commission talks about what happened behind the scenes, whether the report should have been tougher, and why it's critical of some conservative bishops. (Oct. 21, 2004)

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Windsor Report Leaves Conservative Episcopalians Hopping Mad | Conservative network leader: "The disease of the U.S. church has found its way into this report." (Oct. 19, 2004)
Stronger Action Needed, Say Global Anglican Leaders | "The primates will add teeth" to Windsor Report, conservatives predict, hope. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Disappointed Anglican Conservatives Mull Options, Threaten Revolt | Americans must belong to Episcopal Church, report says. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Report Rebukes Episcopalians for Disunity but Declines Sanctions | U.S. church in limbo as conservative dissidents mull their options. (Oct. 18, 2004)
Weblog: Anglican Report Treats Conservatives Harsher than Liberals | News, predictions that commission would sanction Episcopal Church were greatly exaggerated. (Oct. 18, 2004)
Anglican Primates Respond to the Windsor Report | What church leaders from around the world are saying about the Eames Commission and the future of Anglicanism. (updated regularly)