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December 12, 2011Missiology

Monday is for Missiology: Understanding Anglicanism, Alternative Jurisdictional Oversight, and Cross-Cultural Ecclesiastical Relationships

The Anglican Church (and its U.S. counterpart, The Episcopal Church) has seen seismic shifts in both theology and practice in the last few years. These shifts have led to the formation of new Anglican fellowships that are often in the news-- and these new groups broke into the news again this week with the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) and the Church of Rwanda.

Anglicans represent the third largest Christian community in the world and have disproportional influence here in North America for their size. There were at last report an estimated 80 million Anglicans worldwide. With no centralized Anglican Church "office," the denomination is tied together by the Anglican Communion, an international association of 38 localized "provinces" led by "Primates."

Anglicans are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-national family with an especially strong presence in Africa. Closer to home, the theological shift by the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA)–the officially recognized Anglican province in the US–and subsequent formation in 2009 of the more conservative and more evangelical–but unofficially recognized as of now–province of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) has greatly impacted what Anglicanism means and how it is perceived here in the U.S. (Full disclosure, I have relationship with people in the Anglican realignment including AMiA and will be keynoting the ACNA Provinical Assembly.)

This great realignment is rooted in decades of change and history, but two major decisions in the past decade by the ECUSA accelerated the process: to allow the blessing of same-sex unions (2009) and homosexual bishops (2003). In some cases, it was also influenced by the ECUSA's 1976 decision to allow for the ordination of women bishops in the US.

It's these great theological shifts that have led to the birth of the ACNA, the AMiA, CANA, and other conservative groups out of the ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

I am sure that the "oversight" issue does not matter to many readers, but it does to Anglicans (and others). Thus, the leaders of the Global South spoke into the jurisdictional issues in Jerusalem. These GAFCON Primates called for a province to be formed in response to the theological crises in North America. They issued The Jerusalem Statement, which is worth your time to read.

Neither the ACNA nor the AMiA are officially recognized by the Anglican Communion. However, other provinces within the Anglican Communion have begun to officially recognize both the ACNA and the AMiA, including the Anglican Church of Rwanda and Nigeria. In years to come, I (and many others) believe that ACNA will be a recognized jurisdiction in North America, perhaps alongside ECUSA.

But, not surprisingly, the realignment is not without challenges. For example, the latest splinter in Anglicanism was precipitated by the retirement of Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini. His connection with AMiA chairman Bishop Charles "Chuck" Murphy had been one of the main ties in the partnership between the South Carolina-based AMiA and the Church of Rwanda. Under this partnership, and the Rwandan oversight, the AMiA had grown to over 150 member congregations in the United States and Canada.

Now, after 11 years, it appears that partnership is ending. Hence the news.

When the dust settled last week, Chuck Murphy and most of the bishops who served under him had resigned their positions from the Church of Rwanda. Things are still in flux as a conversation about who is "canonically resident" in Rwanda goes on-- but that is too much detail here and far deeper into the Anglican rabbit hole than most of my readers will want to go.

However, Christianity Today asked me to comment on the missiological implications of the rise of the Global South and used part of my answer in this article. I thought I would share the rest here at the blog.

My focus was on the missiological challenges of cross-cultural jurisdiction. I do understand that there are theological issues about oversight and apostolic succession due to the Anglican beliefs about polity. But, my focus was on the issue of cross-cultural jurisdiction and how it generally does not work, except in a temporary situation driven by a theological crisis.

The issue of jurisdictional oversight is the real missiological challenge when you seek to move across cultures-- which is why most denominations do not function that way. Finances, communication, and leadership are exercised differently in different cultures and contexts.

But as we move forward, I can see the ascendancy of the Global South. It is real and coming, but we are in new territory in regard to polity due to economic and cultural differences.

I think Lausanne is a portent of things to come-- with increasingly substantive leadership coming from the church in the Global South. However, a healthier model will be required in regard to polity-- one where churches (and denominations) are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.

That "three self" formula has long been a mission principle in the establishment of churches. Now, the self-governing element will be the issue in dealing with the relationship between continents, as seen with the AMiA. When there is a great socioeconomic and cultural distance between the parties-- particularly when one is in the two-thirds world and one in the developed world-- the issues of mission dependency can be very real, though in this case perhaps reversed.

Ultimately, Anglicans want to (and I think will) end up with a self-governed jurisdiction in North America that is in fellowship with the Global South, but not "under" it. The temporary situation will not work long term-- the Global South will lead Anglicanism (and perhaps much of evangelicalism), but not by providing oversight of the denominations and receiving money from churches here.

In other words, if you're Anglican in the United States, it may be theologically necessary to have oversight of an evangelical Primate (chief bishop or archbishop), but it is not generally considered a good missiological strategy.

A day is coming when the Global South will rightly gain influence in all denominations. But in most situations that influence will not include governance over the national churches any more than Lutherans here govern Lutherans in Germany.

Most of my readers are not Anglicans, but be praying for those who are. These are important times and what happens here can (and will) have a disproportionate impact on evangelicalism.

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