Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, delivered a November 14 address at Trinity Theological College in Melbourne, Australia, titled "Finding the Heartlands of Anglicanism," in which he expressed optimism for the future of the Anglican Communion.
Citing an incident in 1832 when Thomas Arnold, then head of Rugby School, said, "The Church of England as it now stands, no human power can save," Ndungane noted that "over a hundred and seventy years later, the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion, are still standing."
"But once again, we might be tempted to look at our situation and say no human power can save us," he added. "I would agree with this. Because it is not by human power that we stand or fall - it is by God's grace. This is God's church, and we are in his hands. Therefore I am optimistic about our future."
Ndungane, who was imprisoned for three years on Robben Island under the South African apartheid regime, has consistently delivered a message of peace and reconciliation, and is an advocate for the inclusive theology that welcomes all people, regardless of gender, race, color, creed or sexual orientation, into the church.
"One of the strengths of the Anglican way of being Christian is the enrichment that comes from legitimate diversity," he said in his address, emphasizing the word legitimate "because the faith I am describing is certainly not 'anything goes.'"
He used 16th century theologian Richard Hooker's model of scripture, tradition and reason to highlight his message. With scripture, there is both good and bad exegesis, he explained, and "tradition is holy remembering - remembering as Scripture teaches us to remember."
"The reason which we must employ today can stand comfortably within the traditions of 'faith seeking understanding,' re-appropriating for our own times the intellectual rigor of Thomas Aquinas and other great Christian thinkers of the past," he said.
Ndungane described the best of Anglicanism as being true to Jesus, "who promises that we will continue to be led into all truth."
He also spoke about the "Anglican style," offering a historical context of the Lambeth Conference, and making suggestions about how the conference should be modeled to serve the church more appropriately in its present context.
"I would rather see a much larger gathering, with a better balance between Bishops, Clergy and Laity; in which participants can freely speak their own minds," he said. "I would like to see a very flexible and open agenda that concentrates on informal encounter and the sharing of faith. We need space to get to know one another, our contexts, our cultures, our challenges. We need to listen to one another and our faith journeys, and recognize the marks of Christ in one another."
Ndungane acknowledged that too much energy was being devoted to controversial issues, rather than those which serve the world’s poor and marginalized, and noted that this agenda is being driven mostly by Anglican bishops and archbishops.
"It does not help when we issue statements like that from Kigali, which claim to be associated with Provinces which have had no opportunity to share and debate them across all orders," he said, referring to the Kigali Communiqué that was disavowed by leaders of some provinces who had initially been associated with the document.
"If we want to pursue a truly Anglican solution to our current predicament, we cannot sideline laity, and parish clergy, as we are currently doing," he added.
In his conclusion, Ndungane reiterated that his "greatest regret is that so much of our time and energies are being taken up by these internal quarrels, when we should be bringing Jesus' gospel good news to all who need it."
"I am optimistic," he added. "This is God's church, and he is always working his purposes out, in spite of the confusions of our minds."
The full text of Ndungane's address is available here