“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
The recent announcement that the Lambeth Conference 2020 has been postponed till the summer of 2021 prompts a number of reflections on what the Lord of history is saying to his churches.
While the postponement will be disappointing, the Coronavirus phenomenon has demonstrated that humanity is indeed a global family, which has been struck at the same time with the same set of challenges. The Christian Church is the oldest and most long-lived global family in history. The scriptures on which we are based and from which we seek the Lord’s guidance cast a vision for how we are to be family to one another across national, political, racial, social, economic and cultural boundaries.
Ongoing concerns about the transmission of the virus may well mean that international travel and hospitality, funded by the economically well-off churches, will become a less dominant factor in the meeting and discussion of Anglican bishops for the foreseeable future. Thus the agendas of those churches will take their place on a more level playing field in such international discussions.
This factor should allow the pressing concerns of the majority of Anglican provinces—in Africa, Latin America and Asia—to come to the fore. These have been articulated among us in recent EFAC conference-calls as: the need to address corruption, poverty and rampant disease among poor people, including the long term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; the destructive impact of the climate emergency falling disproportionately on the poorest nations; the rise of authoritarian regimes, dictatorial leaders, and violently divisive politics; the problems caused by vast resources being spent on war and violence; promiscuity among young people and the increase in divorce; the need to offer training in the faith to lay people (in some provinces, especially to men); and the need to recover the power of spiritual truth.
It is imperative, however, that the social and economic issues mentioned above are addressed by the Church not with secular presuppositions but in a distinctively Christian way, committed to the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ over the whole world, to the
authority of his scriptures governing the whole of life, and to the primary task of spreading the apostolic gospel of salvation through faith in Christ who overcame the power of sin and death.
Some Anglican dioceses and provinces have made it very clear that, as planned, Lambeth 2020 would have placed them in a very difficult position by suggesting that as Anglican churches they were in fellowship and partnership with some Christian bodies who deliberately reject some elements of biblical and apostolic teaching, not by default but by deliberate choice. The difficulties of this compromising position have now been pushed further into the future, allowing a window for further reflection on the best way of solving these important issues in the common life of the Communion.
This summer’s Lambeth Conference was to have had Bible readings based on 1 Peter, with its opening proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection, its uncompromising call to holiness as God’s people, and its appeal to believers to face suffering mindful of Christ’s own on our behalf (1 Peter 1:3-4; 14-17; 2:9-12; 18-25 etc). The threat of the Coronavirus to human life, coming as it does as we prepare to celebrate Easter, reminds us that the only solid ground for the hope of human beings and the only firm foundation for the Church as a global community is the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as a result of which St Peter could close his letter by encouraging us not to fear, which is driving the response of many. ‘Cast all you anxiety upon God, for he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7).