Jeff Walton reports on the ACNA Assembly in Wheaton
Immigrants, study-abroad students and those in need of healing from addiction all constitute a mission field “on our doorstep” according to speakers at the 2017 Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Provincial Assembly.
“God didn’t save you to sit in a pew,” Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria pointedly declared in a fiery address before approximately 1,400 lay people, clergy and bishops gathered for the denomination’s Provincial Assembly June 27-30 on the campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
Speakers portrayed a mission field ripe for harvest, but also beset by both pervasive false teaching and disagreement among faithful Christians. ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach called for Anglican Christians to pray earnestly and to send laborers to churches, communities, cities, and nations. Preaching that the harvest described in Luke Chapter 10 is “on our doorstep,” Beach declared that the mission of God “is in front of us” with people suffering in many different ways and in need of good news, love, care, healing, and forgiveness.
‘A Family on Mission for Jesus’
At nearly 1,000 congregations in 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces (plus congregations in Mexico and Cuba), ACNA has grown significantly since its launch in 2009. According to Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton, ACNA should no longer consider itself a lifeboat to rescue Anglicans, but as an amphibious landing craft to grow the Kingdom of God. Anglicanism, Stetzer proposed, is not about “the feels” but instead is “a family on mission for Jesus.”
The denomination formally welcomed the Diocese of South Carolina – the oldest religious jurisdiction in the United States – one of nine founding dioceses of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, which immediately becomes the largest ACNA diocese measured by attendance.
The gathering had an unmistakable international flavor, with bishops from Chile, Nigeria and several other provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion speaking and participating. At the Assembly closing Eucharist, Andy Lines was consecrated a missionary bishop for congregations in Europe. Lines is initially expected to provide oversight for congregations departing the Scottish Episcopal Church after it changed its canons to redefine Christian marriage.
Unlike most Mainline Protestant governing conventions, the ACNA Assembly is primarily a mission conference with only a short business session devoted to governance changes. Resolutions weighing in on public policy proposals are eschewed, but topics in the life of the church that overlap with the current U.S. political conversation – such as race relations and migration – did feature prominently in some sessions.
Points of ongoing tension within the denomination were either lightly addressed or unmentioned. The Provincial Council, which preceded Assembly on June 27, received a 300-page report from the Task Force on Holy Orders, which outlined different views on the ordination of women to the priesthood, but the report was not discussed during Assembly. The delicate choreography of women in public worship events during Assembly illustrated attempts by the leadership to, in the words of retired ACNA Archbishop Bob Duncan in 2009, “keep the main thing the main thing” and not detract from the points of common agreement.
ACNA continues to find its identity sometimes uncomfortably straddling both mainstream American Evangelicalism and traditional, liturgical Christianity. Sessions featured both the language of church growth (replete with corporate strategy diagrams and market research) alongside discussions of the church’s sacramental ministry, catholicity and monastic orders.
That seems fine with Stewart Ruch, bishop of the ACNA Diocese of the Upper Midwest, host of the Wheaton Assembly. Ruch spoke of Pauline and Petrine views of church growth — named for their respective Saints. Speaking jointly with Canon William Beasley of the Chicago-based Greenhouse Movement, Ruch testified to overcoming different outlooks and frayed relationship to unify around the need to grow the church for the sake of the lost and the least. Displaying Caravaggio’s altar-framing paintings of the images of Saints Peter and Paul, Ruch called for goal-focused persons in the church who gravitate towards building, then catalyzing, to acknowledge and respect those whose strategy is adaptive to immediate needs – and in return for those to acknowledge and respect those who catalyze first and then build.
Who is my Neighbor?
Today there are over a million international students studying in the United States, an opportunity for Christians to show hospitality.
“We open our door so that God’s glory will be made known among the nations,” explained Lisa Espineli Chinn, former National Director of International Student Ministry of InterVarsity/USA. “We bring delight to God when we love our neighbors.”
Chinn was one of several speakers to examine how the Biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself” could be followed.
“They will always remember a home cooked meal. Unfortunately, the vast majority has never been invited into an American home,” Chinn reported of international students. “Our worldviews are in dire need of expansion, and befriending internationals [students] will do just that.”
Sharing about the small St. Matthew’s church in South Carolina, Chinn told of their experience hosting international students, even though they were “in the middle of nowhere” – but their hospitality was used by God “to be the center of his heart for internationals.”
Global migration was also presented as an opportunity to minister to newcomers.
“Foreigners understand what it is to be strange,” Wheaton College Professor M. Daniel Carroll Rodas said. “We need migration to learn how to be better Christians again.”
Rodas portrayed the story of Old Testament as migration and mission coming together. Old Testament narratives about building and fortification, such as the Book of Nehemiah, were not raised. Combined with the diaspora movement in the Book of Acts, Rodas cautioned against making immigrants a “target or trophy” but to embrace migrants as people.
Gospel-centered apprenticeship was highlighted by Author Dave Ferguson of Chicago’s Community Christian Church. Ferguson explained that Christians are learning in order to take on more kingdom responsibility. Advising churches to create “an apprentice-making culture” Ferguson defined culture as spontaneous, repeated patterns of behavior.
“Teach the values, tell the stories old and new, but do it yourself,” Ferguson advised. “Find someone you can apprentice.”
A Serious Task
Among the most impassioned addresses were those from Global South speakers, emphasizing inevitable suffering in the present life and final judgment in eternity.
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria and Chairman of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) warned about false teaching: “It is not true and never will be true when we water down the Gospel that more people will come to Jesus Christ. The opposite is true because the Gospel without repentance is not Christianity.”
Kwashi reminded the Assembly about the reality of Hell, imploring people to take seriously the need to witness about the Gospel.
“Pastors, you hold the key to salvation: if you lock the door, they perish, but if you open the door, they can eat,” Kwashi gravely stated. “Listen, I have no business being a bishop, it is useless if people are not coming to Christ. I’m going to stand before Jesus one day.”
The Jos, Nigeria archbishop asserted that “the revival we are asking for is already on the ground.”
“Can’t you hear God talking to us, can’t you hear God saying ‘you need to move’?” Kwashi asked. “We cannot go back to our dioceses and churches the way we came here,” he exclaimed, inviting people to pray with one another and to repent.
Reprinted with the author’s permission from Juicy Ecumenism