Friday, January 18, 2008

INDISSOLUBLE NIGERIAN CHURCH: Not capable of being dissolved, undone, or broken up

I write this from the perspective of believing that the normal Anglican doctrine of the Church is that there should be in one specific territory—region or country—one united Province; thus the presence of parallel provinces is an anomaly and most probably (for each situation has to be analyzed) a denial of the polity of Anglican Way.

Ever since I read a week or so ago the word “indissoluble” in the opening section of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, I have been intrigued by the use of this word. Here is the context in which it occurs:
This Constitution shall be known as the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), 2002. The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), hereinafter called “the Church of Nigeria”, shall remain one united and indissoluble Church under God.

What is being stated here?:

• First of all, this Church is the Church of and for the whole of the State of Nigeria;

• secondly, it is a Church which identifies itself not as Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Lutheran, but as Anglican and as a member of “the Anglican Communion”;

• thirdly, it intends to be, and commits itself to be (“shall remain”), one Church, truly united and not divided into subgroups or parallel entities;

• and finally, it commits itself to the position of not being open to, or even capable of, being dissolved, undone or broken up.

As we reflect upon this commitment, we note that there is no reference to the See of Canterbury or to the Church of England as identifying what is “the Anglican Communion.” What this expression means is presumably left open for the Synod of this Church to determine whenever needed. In the previous Constitution of 1997 a relation with the See of Canterbury was stated but that was removed; thus the Synod is now at liberty to define the Anglican Communion in whatever ways seems best to it. (In the light of the current crisis in the Anglican Family of Churches, and the disagreements between the See of Canterbury and Nigeria, this may seem to be a distinct advantage!)

Then, we note the strong form of the commitment to the unity of this Church in a large country where tribal and regional conflicts are all too common. In this context, we can readily understand the commitment to indissolubility, and the refusal to let go any diocese or province; but, we also move on to ask ourselves whether or not the claimed indissoluble nature of the Nigerian Church applies outside of Nigeria proper to the missionary dioceses of this Church in the Congo and in the U.S.A.

This question is difficult to answer because it is not wholly clear whether these “missionary dioceses” are really and truly regarded as dioceses or simply as administrative arrangements for the short term.

But let us, for the sake of gaining clarity of mind, suppose that what is called in the U.S.A. “The Convocation of Anglicans in North America” (CANA) and which has at least sixty congregations and six bishops is in fact truly a diocese of the Church of Nigeria. Then the question arises: Being an overseas diocese does it partake of the indissolubility stated in the Constitution? Is it in the U.S.A. for the long term, in fact, for ever?

If it is a diocese and the mark of being indissoluble applies to it, then, we may suggest that this has important ramifications in the immediate short term for what is known as the Common Cause Partners, of which the CANA is one. It means that CANA as an entity cannot dissolve and become one wholly new ecclesial unit with the Rwandan and Kenyan and Uganda missions, not to mention the various American partners. If there is to be unity, it appears that the others will have to dissolve themselves into CANA and then this will be the nucleus of the proposed new Province to replace The Episcopal Church.

But what if the other African Churches which have outposts in the U.S.A. also regard their Churches as indissoluble (even if the word is not in their constitutions)? It means that at best there can only be in the U.S.A. a Federation of independent Dioceses working in parallel and in competition (as already is the case in some places) on American soil.

Did anyone ever think of the multitude of problems that would be created when they invited the various African Anglican Provinces—not to mention the Southern Cone— to invade “the land of liberty”? These problems are just beginning to appear and it would seem that they are many yet to surface! Let us pray that we are wise enough and gracious enough to handle them well! December 18, 2008

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