Charles Raven Evangelicals Now July 2012
In the West the adjective ‘divine’ is used more to describe chocolate or clothes than the things of God, but the ‘Divine Conference’ held at Nairobi’s All Saints’ Cathedral last month, 24-27 May, was intended to be exactly what it said it was – a time given to God for his glory and to seek his face.
Although a Conference of the Cathedral Diocese, this gathering of some 2,000 people had a much wider significance. The Cathedral is a national institution and the conference was led by two Anglican Archbishops – the host Dr Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Bishop of All Saints’ Cathedral Diocese, with Archbishop of Jos Ben Kwashi as the main speaker.
The theme was taken from Psalm 85:6 ‘Revive us again’. It followed a similar pattern to the Anglican Church of Nigeria’s ‘Divine Commonwealth’ Conference last November, but the emphasis was on recovering the distinctives of the East African Revival. The conference was about ‘reviving the revival’. Before the original revival of the 1930’s nominalism was rife. But now being ‘born again’ has become the new nominalism and is often bound up with forms of prosperity and success teaching. As Ben Kwashi remarked ‘everyone in Africa is born again’.
The recovery of authentic East African Revival emphases was clear – the Bible and the cross were right at the centre and the need for the power of the Holy Spirit, personal holiness and the unconditional surrender of our lives to Christ were recurring themes. But Kenya, along with Africa as a whole, is changing fast and it would have been tempting to try and recreate the past or cut through complexity by treating revival as a magic bullet.
It was therefore encouraging that the spiritual resources of the past were being used to confront the challenges thrown up by an increasingly globalised present, felt nowhere in Kenya more acutely than in Nairobi itself, a city of some 4 million people of whom nearly 80% are under 30. Workshops for delegates included topics such as Nurturing Tomorrow’s Church, Urban Evangelism and Empowering Christian Family for Mission, giving an opportunity to face squarely the impact of urbanisation and the inroads of a youth culture strongly influenced by Western secularism.
The other potential danger of focussing so strongly on the East African Revival was that the rest of the world would be forgotten. But the vision of this conference reflected a global awareness. Archbishop Ben Kwashi spoke of the need to reclaim ground lost to the revisionists in the West. In one of the evening services Bishop Joseph Kanuku, speaking on the text ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days’ (1 Samuel 3:1), the days of Eli’s weak and complacent leadership, argued that the response of the Anglican Communion’s official organs to the crisis over homosexuality had marginalised the Scriptures. ‘We should not talk about this because this is what God calls sin’ he said ‘but instead have been told we should keep talking in order to stay together’.
The Anglican Church in Kenya, whose Primate is also the Chairman of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, is recovering its spiritual heritage to find an authentic biblical response to the challenges of secularism, both outside the church and in the guise of revisionism within. It is also gaining a sense of the leading role it and it’s sister churches in Africa must play if the revival of God’s work is to touch the whole Anglican Communion.
So it is disappointing that the sole representative of the wider Anglican Communion on the Church of England’s Crown Nominations Commission, charged with selecting the next Archbishop of Canterbury, is the Archbishop of the Church in Wales. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a Communion facing role as far as the Church of England is concerned. But there is no African or Asian on the Commission at least to share how they see matters affecting the Christian faith worldwide. The many rich contributions that African and Asian Anglicans bring to the wider communion are being treated as irrelevant.
Charles Raven is a missionary presbyter of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
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