DR. MOUNEER ANIS: ”˜RECOVERING THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION’
Well I am jealous for his time so I will be very brief. Archbishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, was called by God from being a physician of the body to being a physician of the soul. And if there is any one that has his finger on the pulse of the Anglican Communion better than Archbishop Mouneer Anis I do not know him. Thank God he also has his stethoscope on the heart of the Anglican Communion. I just hope he finds the medicine of eternity soon that he can administer to it, but he will minister a healing balm to us today because God has gifted him as a physician of the soul for those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians and God has grafted into this thing we call Anglicanism. So I am not going to take any more of his time. Archbishop Mouneer:
Archbishop Mouneer Anis:
Thank you Bishop Mark for your welcome and your warm welcome here for me and Nancy. We enjoyed the time with you when you came and visited us and led the retreat for the clergy in the desert of Egypt and we enjoyed also Allison talking to the wives of the clergy. And for those who don’t know, the Diocese of South Carolina and the Diocese of Egypt are companion dioceses, so it is a special joy to be here in South Carolina.
I know some of you asked many questions about the bombings in Alexandria, and I want to tell you that this is the second year it happened. The first year it happened on the 6th of January 2010 as people were [Coptic Orthodox] coming out of their Christmas Eve service on the 6th, and a man killed eight of them by gun. And this year they were in the New Year’s Eve, just 20 minutes in 2011, and as they were coming out of the church, this bombing took place. It shaked the nation, not only the Christians, but also the very moderate Muslims as well, were very much shaken, because this is not something we are used to. We are used to being a very peaceful country. People can go round without any fear. But the threats that come to the church – that bombing like this is going to happen – is actually disturbing many Christians. And we ”“ I want to tell you that something good may come out of this. Many moderate Muslims condemned this attack, and they started to see the rights of the Christians and speak about the rights of the Christians. So I want you to pray that something good will come out of this.
Along the history, Egypt is famous for this shedding of blood; especially the church. In fact the church in Egypt was founded on the blood of the Martyrs. The first one of them is St. Mark himself, whose blood baptized the city of Alexandria. So pray for us, and we are not afraid. We are ready to die, for the sake of Christ, in Egypt and pray that something good will come out for the church and out of this.
When I thought of this topic ”˜Recovering the Word of God for the Anglican Communion’, I felt that I should talk about the following areas. So four areas I would like to talk about:
1. The importance of the Word of God as we see it in the Bible;
2 The importance of the Word of God as affirmed by the early Anglican Reformers in the 39 Articles and Lambeth Resolutions;
3. Where we have fallen as Anglicans; and
4. How we recover the importance of the word of God for the Anglican Communion today.
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD AS WE SEE IT IN THE BIBLE
The writer of the letter of Hebrews, when describing the word of God, he wrote these words:
“For the word of God is alive, active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” [Hebrews 4:12]
Note here that the Word of God is described as ”˜living’, ”˜active’, ”˜sharp’, ”˜it penetrates’ and ”˜it judges’.
It is living means that it continues to speak to us every day, at every age, and in every situation. It continued to speak, it is alive, it is a living word.
It is ”˜active’ and this means that it works in us, it transforms us, exactly like the yeast working in dough which causes growth. So the word of God grows growth of the church.
It is a sharp double-edged sword ”“ it is similar to the sword that comes out of the mouth of God in the Book of Revelation, you know the Book of Revelation puts this image of God with a sword coming out of his mouth. It is like this because it is the Word of God. This means that it does not change and it is decisive and honest. In Egypt we have a saying that describes the word of a person who keeps his or her word as a sword. So we say “This man – his word is like a sword.” It means he does not, or she does not, change his or her word – keeps it – he cannot say lies ”“ he speaks the truth all the time. And that is perhaps the idea about describing the Word of God as a sharp double-edged sword.
”˜It penetrates’ means that it can reach to the deepest and most hidden part of our soul and spirit.
”˜It judges’ and discerns the thoughts of our hearts. It helps us to discern, if the thoughts of our hearts are Godly or not. Jesus in the parable of the farmer sowing the seeds described the Word of God as seeds which when accepted by the good hearts brings forth fruits of eternal life. Indeed the Word of God helps us to know Jesus and his plan for our salvation.
There is an Egyptian prostitute in the 5th Century, who converted and became a hermit. Her name is Mary. She said these words: “When I think from what evils the Lord has freed me, I am nourished by incorruptible food and cover my shoulders with the hope of my salvation. I feed upon and I cover myself with the Word of God which contains all things.”
Also the Book of Acts tells us that whenever the Word of God was preached the church grew. So, it is written like this in Chapter 6:
“So the Word of God spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” [Acts 6:7]
Therefore I hope and pray that this paper would encourage all the faithful within the Anglican Communion to give the Word of God the most important place in teaching, preaching, worship, and theological studies.
2. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD AS AFFIRMED BY THE EARLY ANGLICAN REFORMERS IN THE 39 ARTICLES AND THE LAMBETH RESOLUTIONS
Now I would like to speak about the importance of the Word of God as affirmed by the Early Anglican Reformers. We all know that the Church of England, the historical mother church of the Anglican Communion played a key role in the Reformation. This role focused on making the Word of God available in languages of the people. John Wycliffe, the morning star of Reformation started the movement of translating the Scriptures into English, the language of the people, two hundred years before Martin Luther led the Reformation. It was the recovering and understanding of the Scriptures that opened the eyes of the Reformers to see what was wrong in the practices of the church. Today the Scriptures are available in many languages and millions of copies are printed every year.
However, we need to recover its centrality and authority within our Anglican Communion in order to see what is wrong in the life and practice of the church and how we can correct it. One may ask: ”˜Are we under God’s authority or the authority of the Scriptures?’ Of course we are under God’s authority; that is why we take his words as authoritative commandments which guide our lives and reveal him and his mind to us.
My brothers and sisters, we need another Reformation within the Anglican Communion. Isaiah wrote these words:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.” [Isaiah 60:1-2]
I read these words and hear them as if they are for our Communion today.
When we look at our history, we find that the Word of God was at the heart of the Anglican Reformation. The authority of the Word was put higher than any other human authority, such as the Popes. Reformers like Thomas Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley and William Tyndale were ready to be burned at the stake in order not to go against the Word of God. Cranmer in particular was so keen for ordinary people to read the Bible. For this reason the first and the second book of Common Prayer were very much Bible-centered. He also encouraged the people to read the Bible as he wrote these words:
“Here may all manner of persons, men, women, young, old, learned, unlearned, rich, poor, priests, laymen, lords, ladies, officers, tenants and mean men, virgins, wives, widows, lawyers, merchants, artificers, husbandmen and all manner of persons of what estate or condition soever they be, may in this book learn all things that they ought to believe, what they ought to do, and what they should not do, as well concerning Almighty God as also concerning themselves and all others.”
Richard Hooker came to affirm that the Scriptures contain everything necessary for salvation. He also stated that Christ is the focus of the Bible message. In Hooker’s teaching, Scripture comes first, reason comes second, and the voice of the church, the tradition comes third. In other words, people need to examine human reason and traditions of the church in the light of the Word of God.
This understanding helps the Church to make its message and mission relevant to the time and culture in which she lives, while remaining faithful to the Biblical truth. This faithfulness to the Biblical truth led the Anglican Communion to make its motto: ”˜The truth shall make you free’. What a great motto. We are set free when we know Jesus through the Word of God. However, Jesus puts a condition for receiving and enjoying this freedom. He said:
“If you abide in my Word, then you are truly my disciples and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free.” [John 8:31-32]
So it is not just a motto on the air, it is something linked with abiding with the Word of God and knowing him as our saviour. I want to come back to this point later, but here I want to affirm that the source of this truth is the Word of God.
As we read the 39 Articles of Religion we see that Scripture is quoted to affirm what Anglicans believe. Practices that are not supported by Scripture are rejected. For example Article Six states:
“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not be required of any man.”
Some who seem to want to reform the Anglican Communion by accommodating it to culture have neglected this Article by proposing that something be required in addition to Scripture, namely the submission to supposedly popular norms of modern culture, especially regarding sexuality. But see the Article itself, it says “whatsoever” ”“ it is not read ”˜therein’ ”“ it is “whatsoever” in the Scripture. If it is not written in the Scripture, it cannot be accepted as a norm; is not to be imposed on the Anglican faithful.
Article Twenty says this:
“The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”
So the church has the authority to interpret, but the church does not have the authority to change the Word or to interpret in a way that is different from the Word of God.
When we look at Lambeth Resolutions, we find many references to the vital importance of the Word of God in forming us as Anglicans. At this point I will share with you some of these Resolutions.
Lambeth Conference 1888, Resolution 11.1 ”“ “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as “containing all things necessary to salvation” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.”
Lambeth Conference 1920: Resolution 9 and Article VI – “We believe that the visible unity of the Church will be found to involve the Whole-hearted acceptance of the Holy Scriptures as the record of God’s revelation of himself to man and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith”.
Reading this resolution in particular one would say that is the very reason we are not united in the Anglican Communion because we are different; our position is different in regard to the Word of God.
Lambeth Conference 1930: Resolution 3 says this: “We affirm the supreme and unshaken authority of the Holy Scriptures as presenting the truth concerning God and the spiritual life in its historical setting and in its progressive revelation both throughout the Old Testament and in the New”
Lambeth Conference 1958 Resolution 3 “This conference affirms that Jesus Christ lives in his Church through the Holy Spirit according to his promise and that the Church is therefore both guardian and interpreter..”
And it is speaking about ”˜the’ Church, it means that the whole church of Christ, not only the Anglicans. In fact, it is the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics and the others, – “The Church” ”“ “The Body of Christ”
“..is therefore both guardian and interpreter of Holy Scripture; nevertheless the Church may teach nothing as ”˜necessary for eternal salvation’ but what may be concluded and proved by the Scriptures.”
The interpreter, the whole Church, does not place herself above the Scriptures. The Scriptures interpret us, rather than we interpret the Scriptures. We are never above the Scriptures, we interpret, we are the servants ”“ who interpret, who read together, who interpret together.
Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution III.5.b. “In agreement with the Lambeth Quadrilateral and in solidarity with the Lambeth Conference of 1888 affirm that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation and are for us the rule and ultimate standard of faith and practice.”
I am so glad that 1998 affirmed 1888 – the same thing.
The Lambeth Conference 2008 – did not make any resolutions. [laughter, lots of laughter] but recorded a summary of the bishops’ discussion in what was called ”˜Indaba’ ”“ and NO ONE knows what is the meaning of Indaba [lots of laughter] except Africans, [laughter] like me [laughter]. Indaba means to listen to two sides and make a decision, not just listen and listen and listen and listen [laughter]. This means that what is recorded does not have the same moral authority like the other Lambeth Conferences Resolutions.
Lambeth Conference 2008 Section G in the Summary, [pg. 134], in this summary, we read this: “God’s Living Word, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and revealed in Holy Scripture, challenges and transforms us in ways that can be full of joy and at other times quite unsettling, even as our context influences our interpretation of Holy Scripture. We affirm that the Scripture also addresses our contexts with both judgment and consolation, with conviction and with grace. The Word of God has always held a primary and cherished place in the churches of the Anglican Communion. So shall it always be”
The Anglican Covenant includes many sections worth mentioning here, especially Section 1.2.2: “to uphold and proclaim a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the catholic tradition.”
In regard to the interpretation of the Scriptures and the authority of the Church, the Lambeth Conference 1978 Resolution 11 says this: “The Conference advises member churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the Episcopate through the Primates’ committee and requests the Primates to initiate a study of the nature of authority within the Anglican Communion”
Lambeth Conference 1998 Res III.6.b states this: “That the Primates’ Meeting under the presidency of Archbishop of Canterbury includes among its responsibilities positive encouragement to mission, intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within Provinces and giving of guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies”.
3. WHERE WE HAVE FALLEN AS ANGLICANS
This means my brothers and sisters that within the Anglican Communion we already have what we may call, we may call, a Conciliar body which is the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of bishops and Primates. This body represents all the faithful within the Communion and is capable by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in consultation with ecumenical partners to express the mind of the Communion regarding the interpretation of controversial issues.
Unfortunately, the Lambeth Conference resolutions are not binding. In other words the Lambeth Conference as well as the Primates Meeting does not have the executive authority of a Conciliar Council. It sounds from all I mentioned – all these Resolutions and Articles – that the Anglican Communion is a very Biblical Communion founded on the Word of God, formed by it, and our practices are examined by it. It also gives the impression that we are committed to read and interpret the Scripture together as Communion and with our sister churches in order to define the limits of Anglican diversity in submission to the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures. But the question is: ”˜Are we really doing this?’ I honestly think that we are far from it. In fact if we followed what we and our predecessors decided since 1888 we would not be an impaired and dysfunctional Communion today.
4. HOW DO WE RECOVER THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION TODAY?
How can we recover from this state of dysfunction? How do we recover the Word of God as our ultimate standard of faith? How can new Anglican generations grow in a healthy, strong, united and effective Communion?
We find the answer in Christ’s Word to the church of Ephesus:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works or else I will come to you quickly and I will remove the lampstand out of this place except if you repent.” [Revelation 2:5-8]
So Repent is repeated twice here. So we as an Anglican Communion need to do three things:
 Remember from where we have fallen, and
 we need to Repent; and
 we need to do things we did at first when the Anglican or the Church of England started at the time of Thomas Cranmer.
 Remember from where we have fallen
First we need to know from where we have fallen. We have fallen when some of the churches of the Communion lost confidence in the Word of God and its authority. This leads to neglecting the study of the Bible and the Biblical teaching which further leads to Biblical illiteracy. This Biblical illiteracy produced a generation of clergy and laity in those churches who do not believe in the essentials of faith, like: the virgin birth, divinity of Christ, crucifixion, the resurrection, salvation by faith, and eternal life, as defined in the three creeds: the Apostles creed, the Nicene creed and the Athanasian creed.
For some, the Bible became an ancient book of wisdom, like other ancient religious books. The Scripture become like a hermeneutical supermarket [laughter] where you pick what you like and leave out what you don’t like. The motto which I mentioned at the beginning ”˜The truth shall make you free’ became meaningless, because Jesus Christ became a truth among many truths, not ”˜THE TRUTH’. Revelation ends with a harsh judgment on those who add or those who take away from the Word of God.
We have also fallen when we lost the Conciliar concept that characterized the early church and the early days of the Anglican Communion. The individualistic and hedonistic spirit of our world today has penetrated the Communion deeply. This encouraged some churches to interpret the Scriptures without listening to and consulting with the other churches within the Communion. The interpretations that are produced by Lambeth Conferences have only a moral authority and are not binding.
In fact the trace of Conciliar concept that was there in the Lambeth Conferences of bishops and Primates was diluted and almost completely lost at Lambeth 2008.
The absence of conciliarity and the individualistic interpretation of the Scriptures led the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada to take decisions in the light of what is prevalent and accepted in the culture; not in the light of the teaching of the Scriptures and what is accepted by the rest of the Communion. In other words these provinces allowed their cultures to influence the interpretation of the Scripture instead of allowing the Scripture to address the culture. In other words the contemporary cultural norms are given more authority than the Scripture.
In order to be fair, I must be self-critical too. Some churches in the Global South, especially in my continent of Africa, also suffer from shallowness of Biblical knowledge; not because of lack of confidence in the Scriptures, like in the West, nor in the intentional neglect of it, but because some of these fast-growing churches in Africa do not have the resources to equip enough clergy and Bible teachers in order to meet the needs of the church growth. Moreover there is more focus on praise and worship rather than the teaching of the Scriptures. This has made Africa vulnerable to the emerging heretical sects like the ”˜prosperity gospel’, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormonism. It is also worth mentioning that the Bible is not as yet available in some tribal languages even within my own diocese.
 We need to Repent
Secondly, having said all this, we can clearly say that the need of repentance is absolutely crucial. Consider the great need of resources in Africa and the huge amount of money spent in lawsuits between churches in the United States. Indeed we need to repent.
 We need to do things we did at first
How do we recover the Word of God for our Anglican Communion today? After we repent, we need to do the things we did at first when the Anglican Communion started.
We need to regain the trust in the Scripture, as it contains everything necessary for salvation. In order to have this trust back, we have to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit that inspired the people of God to write the Scripture in the first place. We also need to prayerfully read, study and make every effort to live out God’s Word.
It is important to start Biblical literacy programs, and I want to say this is very, very important. It is important to start Biblical literacy programs for all ages in every province. Let us start with our children in Sunday Schools. The new generations widely use computers and the Internet in education, communication and entertainment and therefore and therefore it is necessary to develop computerized programs and curricula that can help the young people to learn the Word of God in a way that is interesting to them.
The use of drama as a way of teaching the Bible is very effective in areas where computer technology is not available or where illiteracy is a problem. When Temple Gardiner came to Egypt in 1800 and he found that there are many people who are illiterate – he wanted to teach them the Bible. He started to think, and write plays and drama to dramatize the Bible and that was a very important tool at that time.
We need to use the gifts of our laity and train them as Bible teachers so that they may teach others. It is worth mentioning that the Diocese of Singapore already started a few months ago a very ambitious program to teach lay people to teach the Bible.
We also need to support the existing Biblically-sound theological schools and establish new ones in order to equip orthodox church leaders.
It is also important to translate the Bible in order to make it available to the tribes which do not have the Bible in their own language.
The Anglican Communion needs to give the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting a Conciliar authority in matters of faith and order, including the area of interpretation of the Scriptures. The principle of: ”˜What affects all, should be decided by all’ is crucial to avoid further crisis.
The Windsor Report, Section B, speaks about Authority of Scripture. It says this:
“The current crisis which constitutes a call to the whole Anglican Communion to re-evaluate the ways in which we have read, heard, studied and digested the Scripture. We can no longer be content to drop random texts into arguments, imagining that the point is thereby proved, or indeed to sweep away sections of the New Testament as irrelevant to today’s world, imagining that problems are thereby solved. We need mature study, wise and prayerful discussion and a joint commitment to hearing and obeying God as he speaks in Scripture, to discovering more of the Jesus Christ to whom all authority is committed and to being open to the fresh wind of the Spirit who inspired Scripture in the first place. If our present difficulties force us to read and learn together from Scripture in new ways, they will not have been without profit.”
My brothers and sisters, I am aware that during the current crisis within the Anglican Communion it will be extremely difficult to develop a joint effort across the Communion in order to carry out these suggestions to read and interpret together – because there is no trust, at all! What is happening caused no trust. And already provinces are taking actions and going away completely from the norm of the Anglican tradition. So it is very difficult to do this.
We have to first sort out the crisis in order to regain the trust between the churches of the Communion and its Instruments. However, the Global South and other orthodox dioceses all over the world should start today if we want to rescue and revive our beloved Communion.
Finally, I would like to remind myself, and you, with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Apostle Timothy his disciple:
“What you heard from me keep as a pattern of sound teaching with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you ”“ guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” [2 Timothy 1:13-14]
Thank you so much.
[Our thanks to a faithful T19 reader who provided this for us–KSH].
Video here thanks to Kevin Kallsen at Anglican TV
See also: Q & A with Archbishop Mouneer Anis – Video and Transcript here