Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nigeria, The Anglican Communion, The Book of Common Prayer and The See of Canterbury

“This Constitution shall be known as the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) 2002.” Thus begins The Constitution of the Anglican Church in Nigeria.

Though it often refers to “The Anglican Communion,” nowhere does it mention “The See of Canterbury” for this connection was removed in the 2002 revision. It thus envisions the possibility of an Anglican Communion, of which it is a bona fide member, without the See of Canterbury as “the first instrument of unity,” or technically, in it.

Here is the opening section of the General Provisions:

“1. This Constitution shall be known as the Constitution of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), 2002.
2. (1) The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion),hereinafter called “the Church of Nigeria”, shall remain one united and indissoluble Church under God.
(2) The aims, objectives and principles of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) are:
(a) To evangelize, and promote the knowledge of God and the adherence to the teaching and examples of Jesus Christ;
(b) To promote Christian education, values and morals;
(c) To assist in the care and welfare of the people,
Particularly the poor, the aged and the needy;
(d) To provide for the spiritual welfare of her members;
(e) To acquire land for the attainment of her objectives;
(f) To raise funds through launches, contributions and any other lawful means;
(g) To undertake all other things which are reasonably incidental to the foregoing objectives.”

In the light of the various secessions and schisms of very recent Anglican history , especially in North America, it is noteworthy that the following words appear at the very beginning of the Constitution: “The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) hereinafter called ‘the Church of Nigeria’ shall remain one, united, and indissoluble Church under God.” Here the Nigerians express the classic Anglican ecclesiology, that in one geographical region there is to be one and one only form of the Anglican Church, not a series of parallel and competitive ones (as most regrettably there is in the U.S.A. , and, ironically, partly by the encouragement of the Nigerians!).

In terms of the doctrinal foundation of the Church of Nigeria, this is made very clear:

“3. (1) The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) hereinafter called “The Church of Nigeria” or “This Church” shall be in full communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His holy word and as the same are received as taught in the Book of Common Prayer and the ordinal of 1662 and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

(2) In the interpretation of the aforementioned formularies and in all questions of Faith, Doctrine and Discipline, the decisions of the Ecclesiastical tribunals of the Church of Nigeria shall be final.”

Thus the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has the same Formularies as the Church of England, the Archdiocese of Sydney and many other Provinces, but (a) a different means of interpreting them; and (b) a different set of Canon Laws to accompany them.

In terms of the Prayer Book, authorized and used in the Church of Nigeria today this is called “The Book of Common Prayer,” but it is not dated 1662 as is the Formulary in the Foundation. Rather, it is an example of the new type of Prayer Books created from the 1970s onwards and modestly called in England, Alternative Service Book 1980 and in Canada Book of Alternative Services 1985, but in the U.S.A. regrettably called The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, and in the West Indies also, The Book of Common Prayer (1995). [The West Indies Book has no traditional language of Prayer in it at all!]

The Nigerian 20th century prayer book, like the new books in both the U.S.A. and the West Indies, was given the unfortunate title The Book of Common Prayer (1996) and it is very much a western type mixture of services and doctrines, together with a few distinctive Nigerian additions. [For details see The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Prayer, 2006, pp.301-2.] This 1996 prayer book is now being revised and some of the proposed changes have recently been published, and were commended by Archbishop Akinola and then discussed at the Bishops Retreat in Nigeria in the week of January 7. [Interestingly, the retiring Primate of the West Indies, Drexel Gomez, was present as the liturgical facilitator of the Nigerian retreat, and he was primarily responsible for the West Indies 1995 Prayer Book, regrettably called The BCP!]

In the Nigerian Constitution there is given to the General Synod of the Church of Nigeria the right and power to authorize liturgical revisions in cooperation with the House of Bishops:

For the avoidance of doubt, the General Synod as hereby constituted shall be the legislative body of the Church of Nigeria and every enactment, resolution or directive of the said Synod shall have effect and be binding upon the Church, every Ecclesiastical Province or Diocese therein and upon all officers and members thereof
……and in particular:
(i) the constitution and organization of the General Synod including the regulation of the time and place of its meetings, the order and conduct of its proceedings, and the appointment ,functions and duties of its officers, committees and other organs;
(ii) the national character, constitution, integrity and autonomy of the Church of Nigeria;
(iii) the relations of the Church to other religious bodies in
Nigeria and elsewhere;
(iv) the relations of the Church to other Churches of the Anglican Communion;
(v) the election, retirement or resignation of the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, the Provincial Archbishops and Diocesan Bishops including the consecration of Diocesan Bishops;
(vi) discipline of Clergy and of Laity of the Church of Nigeria;
(vii) the constitution and powers of and procedure in courts of original and appellate jurisdiction for the trial of offences and the enforcement of judgments;
(viii) the revision, adaptation and publication of a Book of Common Prayer and a Hymnal for the Church;
(ix) the establishment of minimum standards of theological education and minimum qualifications and training of candidates for the Ministry of the Church;
(x) the regulation of inter-diocesan transfer of clergy; (xi) the relinquishment or abandonment of the Ministry of the Church;……..

In conclusion:

Since it appears that the large Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is going to have a massive influence in the immediate future on the present global Anglican Communion, even over whether or not it formally splits or tragically falls apart, it would be good if the following could occur. That this Church make easily available to overseas churches its Prayer Book and the proposed revisions of it, so that those likely to be influenced by this Church know what to expect in terms of its worship, doctrine and discipline; and, at the same time, can also learn from what this large and expanding Church has to say about the worship of the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit.

January 15, 2008,

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