Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ugandan Archbishop Orombi describes The Anglican Way in East Africa.

But did he overlook something?

First of all in First Things (August, 2007), and then as an e-mailing from The Anglican Communion Office and the American Anglican Council, I received on July 10-12 the text of an essay by Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda. Its title is dull ("What is Anglicanism?") but its content is exciting.

It is a well-written and coherent piece containing sufficient testimony to historical facts and vital Christian experience as to make educational, edifying, and existential. He writes as the leader of a Church whose problems are caused more by its success in growth in maturity and numbers than—as in the West—demise and secularization.

After having read it at 37,000 feet (on a Boeing 757) and at sea-level (in Seattle) in my condo, I want to say that in everything that if affirms and commends I say a hearty "Amen." I have in mind here his description of what he calls the "pillars" of Ugandan Anglicanism and that these are all founded on the Word of God..

The Archbishop insists that the Anglicans of Uganda are a scriptural people, reading and interpreting the Bible in the tradition of the British evangelical missionaries who came to them initially in the late nineteenth century. That is, they treat the Holy Scripture as the Word of God written and thus it is the authority for faith and conduct. Therefore they seek to memorize it and meditate upon its message, so that they can live according to its message.

The Three Pillars are: martyrs, revival and the historic episcopate.

The first martyr was an English missionary bishop, James Hannington, who was killed when he sought to enter the Bugandan kingdom with the Gospel on October 29, 1885. Less than a year later, the king of Buganda had twenty-six servants at his court killed because as Christians they confessed king Jesus and refused to become homosexual objects for the king and his circle. More recently on February 16, 1977 Archbishop Janani Luwum was martyred by the command of the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, because of he had spoken out boldly against the atrocities committed by Amin on the Uganda people. This testimony of witness to the Lord Jesus Christ by the martyrs is treasured by the Anglican people of Uganda, and it serves as an inspiration and model for them, alongside the holy martyrs of apostolic times –not to mention those honored in Foxe's "Book of Martyrs". No wonder they cannot entertain the toleration of active homosexual relations between male clergy!

The evangelical revival occurred initially in 1935 in northeast Uganda, and it spread rapidly throughout the country. Its major impact was to make what we may call nominal Christianity into vital Christianity and to heighten the sense of Christian assurance of God's grace and of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in and through the Spirit. But this only occurred because first of all the revival brought—as Americans had known in the Great Awakening—the sense of personal sinfulness and the urgent need to repent and to turn away from all known sins. Today the fruit of the revival lives on and is felt in the warmth and glow of worship and in the passion for evangelism and personal holiness.

For the historic episcopate to be presented as a pillar, and also as a pillar grounded in the Word of God will surprise many, not least good English evangelicals, for whom the episcopate is more of the " bene esse" (the well being) than of the "esse" (essential being) of the Church. But Orombi and his fellow bishops are apostolic men in the sense that they see their vocation in dynamic terms of being shepherds and evangelists, pastors and teachers, real leaders and fathers-in-God to their flocks and people. For them a pipeline theory of apostolic succession, and dressing up in finery as prelates, do not any way at all describe what they are and do. They are the successors of the apostles because they are committed to the Gospel and to the Word of God, to the commendation and defense of the Faith. They actually like the apostles make converts and found churches; they guard the flock from ravening wolves and they labor to present their people as a holy people to the Lord Jesus Christ though their ministries.

So three pillars—the blood of martyrs, the experience of revival and apostolic mission—are for Archbishop Orombi the distinguishing marks of Anglicanism in his province. Those who know Uganda ( and I had the privilege of teaching not a few clergy from there and know it through them) sense that he is right.

Yet, if I may be so bold to say so, I think he would have done a better job if he had described a fourth pillar and described it also as founded on the Word of God—a pillar which the English evangelical missionaries brought and used, and which is very widely in evidence in village and town churches today. I refer of course to what the Archbishop notices in passing when he speaks of the importance of the Formularies of the Anglican Way—i.e., The Book of Common Prayer, The Ordinal, and The Articles of Religion. The doctrinal stance of the Ugandan Church is very much that of the theological content of the Articles of Religion (especially those on justification by faith and vital religion) and the sense of apostolic ministry of the episcopate and presbyterate is a modern application of the rich teaching of The Ordinal.

The fact that there is a strong demand right now in the country for more copies of The Book of Common Prayer (1662) in English and also for the reprinting of the same Prayer Book (or parts thereof) in various Ugandan languages reminds us that the basis of worship for this Province remains basically the BCP of 1662—not used as in dreary English 8.00.a.m. celebrations but as a living text for a committed and celebrating people, who often know large parts of it off by heart.

So, I say to Henry Luke Orombi: "Dear Archbishop, whom we salute as an apostle of Jesus, please consider in your next essay adding the fourth pillar, The Anglican Formularies, which loom large both in your Provincial Constitution and in your practical worship and experience. Thankyou!"

[People will be interested to know that the Prayer Book Society of the USA is currently sending copies of the BCP in English to Uganda to meet an expressed need, and it is also seeking to help the reprinting editions of the BCP in local languages. To participate in this ministry write to ]

Peter Toon, President of the Board of The Prayer Book Society of the USA. July 13, 2007

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