The Primate of Southern Africa, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane preached a sermon at the annual convention (synod) in Washington DC of the Diocese of Washington last weekend. The full text of this sermon is available here. An extract follows.
As was clear from our epistle reading, the rich abundance of God’s love finds expression in creative diversity. We are each formed unique, with different gifts. In this way we complement one another as we contribute to the life of the Church, the one body of Christ and to God’s mission in the world.
Created diversity should not surprise us. We are created in the image of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, each distinct, yet united in communion with one another and united in purpose. This is God’s pattern for God’s people. ‘The body is one unit, though it is made of many parts.’ (1 Cor 12:12)
Recognizing that God creates us for unity in diversity has important consequences for how we construe difference, especially within the body of Christ. We should expect it, and see it as a generous gift from the overflowing love of God. This creative complementarity is at the heart of the life of the Godhead and at the heart of the life of the Church. It gives immeasurable godly potential to the partnership we have between Washington Diocese and the Church of the Province of Southern Africa. The same is true at every level: within congregations, in Diocese and Provinces, across the whole Anglican Communion, and in all our ecumenical relations.
These are fine words, but I am not so spiritually minded that I fail to see that they are a tough challenge to us – especially in the life of the Anglican Communion today.
The Church is little different from human families. Like them, we often find ourselves alongside people with whom it is all too easy to disagree. As you look around this Convention no doubt you can see people here who you would not want to call your good friend. But God says ‘they are your brother and sister in Christ!’ We cannot choose our human family, and we cannot choose our Christian family.
Sometimes, of course, we think we can choose, and we talk of schism. Sometimes congregations split or churches divide. When any human family falls apart, it causes heartbreak, and when brothers and sisters in Christ try to go their separate ways, it grieves the heart of the Lord.
When we are tempted to think life would be easier if we split, we must remind ourselves that Christ died for each one of us and the Holy Spirit wants to give something through each one for the sake of all the others – ‘to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (2 Cor 12:7).
This Gospel imperative urges us to hold together as we work through disagreements. We must face the challenge to develop an ethic of together-in-difference. This is a particular challenge to the Anglican Communion world-wide at present, when there is no clear agreement – indeed, much overheated disagreement – on the question of homosexuality.
Yet I do not think that homosexuality is really the issue at stake. There is a far more important principle, which the political struggles of today’s globalizing world are echoing. It is the question of whether one world view, one political perspective, one theological stance, over-rules, is right, can assert dominance, and renders all other standpoints inferior and illegitimate. Or can we comprehend that none of us has the monopoly on knowledge and understanding, and, more than that, our lives are enriched and our horizons expanded when we encounter other, authentic expressions of human life, culture and spirituality?
Perhaps thinking that every question has only one valid perspective and one right answer is a legacy of the Enlightenment that we need to recognize and lay aside.
Only God sees the whole picture. Only God knows all the answers. And his word tells us that Jesus is the head of the body, and we are just parts.
Our job is to recognize that we belong to God, and we belong together – more than that, we need each other, if the body is to work well. It may be hard for the eye to appreciate the hearing function, or for the ear to comprehend sight, but the body needs both. Each part must respect the rest. God wants us to be united in diversity. He created us that way, and he will help us to develop an ethic of together-in-difference. It is an ethic that the world around us desperately needs.
Anglicanism has great strengths and experience to draw on in facing this challenge. We have never been a denomination based around a single statement of faith or set of rules. Rather, we are a Church that has held together through a shared past of deep historic roots, and through the maintenance and development of these relationships as the Anglican Communion has spread through the world into its many (and still hanging) cultures.
That is what Communion is all about – koinonia, fellowship. Relationship, not rules. We are a communion, a family, of 38 ecclesiastical provinces, bound together by bonds of affection, and mutual commitment and respect.
This means we respect the autonomy of each Province. Yet each Province must also respect the others, and especially the Instruments of Unity: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference.