By Duane Alexander Miller
I attended the International Congress of Catholic Anglicans in 2015. I was there representing our missionary society, Anglican Frontier Missions, whose vision is to take the gospel to where there are no Christians and no Church. I spoke with scores of people as I manned our table. The main response I heard was, “We did this a hundred years ago in Africa, and that bishop over there is from one of those countries.”
That reminded me a lot of living in the Arab world. Every now and then a conversation would turn to the question What have Arabs accomplished lately? Two stock answers: not much, but that is because of imperialism, and we’re always victims, and there’s a huge Masonic-Jesuit-Zionist conspiracy devoted to repressing us. The other answer, more interesting, was that the Arabs made great contributions to science and knowledge a thousand years ago.
In the Anglican world, we might ask the same question. What have Anglicans done in world mission lately? Same dynamic, pretty much.
With that in mind, take a look at our map. Why are there blank countries where the Anglican Communion has no official presence? Standard answers are that it is illegal to preach the gospel there and that missionaries are not allowed in.
None of those hold water, though. Since when did the Church ever decide to obey the laws of man over the command of God? (Actually, don’t answer that.) How can you know the people don’t want the gospel? Jesus was quite clear in giving us a clear command to go to all peoples — no exceptions.
So, let’s imagine a country where the Communion has no presence. Let’s imagine a country where having a Bible is against the law and where citizens who become Christians might be executed. Let’s think about a place where there is not a single church building. In the words of John Lennon, “It’s easy if you try.”
What would establishing a missionary diocese there look like?
First, there are no missionary visas. So you use the visas that are available: Are they for long-term tourists? Work visas for particular professions that are not present there in sufficient numbers? Entrepreneur visas for people who are willing and able to start businesses? This is the path that must be taken. It’s not a new discovery; it’s called Business as Mission (BAM). For the sake of honesty and integrity, it’s important that the people sent there really do their work — whether that be teaching or engineering or what have you.
Nor is it necessary that all of our missionaries be ordained. After all, the sacrament of initiation can be administered by any baptized Christian. Baptism should be done by immersion, even if in a bathtub. The reality is that the great majority of other Christians active in our hypothetical country would probably be evangelicals and Pentecostals who insist on immersion. Why create a needless division in the new mission field when it can easily be avoided? Saint Paul said, “I put a stumbling block in no one’s path, so that my testimony will not be discredited” (2 Cor. 6:3) Furthermore, in such a field where all the new Christians are converts, the venerable disputation regarding paedobaptism v. believer’s baptism is not yet on the radar.
In the famous words of St. Ignatius of Antioch, “Where the bishop is, there is the Church.” We ultimately need a missionary bishop. Such a country would not allow other bishops to make official episcopal visits for ordinations and confirmations. Furthermore, if our missionaries left regularly to meet with a bishop outside of the country, it would be obvious to the government that they are part of our mission team. This fact must be closely guarded since we must be as innocent as doves, but also as shrewd as serpents (Matt. 10:16).
The solution is to have a secret missionary bishop. No public ordination to the episcopate. A few sponsor bishops from interested missionary societies would secretly gather to consecrate the man the societies discerned would be right for the task. He must have excellent credentials in the secular, professional world since he will need to move to this new missionary diocese as a legitimate ____. You fill in the blank. But certainly he cannot move about visibly as a bishop. No copes or purple shirts for this fellow.
But the missionary bishop can take comfort that he is working in the same pattern as the apostles, who had no such accoutrements. Meetings are in homes. Communications are not carried out by phone or email. The bishop knows some of his missionaries only by a given name and nothing else. But all is well.
Maybe he is a layman when he is selected for this great role. That may grate against the canons of this or that province, but it has an ancient, apostolic pedigree that should not be dismissed without consideration. The canons of the Church exist for the sake of the mission of the Church, not the other way around. (Here I’m thinking of Popes Fabian and Martin V.)
In 1841 Michael Solomon Alexander was ordained as the Bishop of Jerusalem. He was the Protestant bishop, though — not the Anglican bishop. This is because this mission to the Holy Land was sponsored by both the Church of England and the Lutheran Church in Prussia. I envision our bishop as being little-e episcopal. Why not have episcopal Lutheran and Methodist mission societies be part of the endeavor? Our standard really should be the Chicago Quadrilateral of 1886:
As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:
The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.
The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
The two Sacraments – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.
Since our new missionary bishop will have a valid ordination through the Communion, we will not need to worry about the fourth point. Perhaps our missionary bishop will be able to impart apostolic succession to some other ecclesial community?
As our missionaries — both lay and ordained — go about their work of evangelizing, baptizing, and founding fledgling gatherings of their people, our bishop will from time to time make brief visits to friends to confirm and ordain, all the while devoting most of his time to his secular work. That there exists a bishop of the Communion in that country is known to a few bishops and societies. His identity and the identities of his ministers — whether lay or ordained — are known only to the societies and churches immediately involved in the endeavor.
It is an approximate map. It is likely to fail if attempted. It is a fool’s errand, really, for it is based on the conviction that the we really are a Church Apostolic, not only in a historical sense but also in the sense that we must go into all the world and preach the gospel to all peoples. I hope someone proves me wrong.
Let’s fill in the map and not rest on the accomplishments of the 19th century.
The Rev. Dr. Duane Alexander Miller is author of Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity (Credo House, 2018) and keeps a weblog at duanemiller.wordpress.com. He serves on the pastoral team at the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid, and is adjunct faculty for the Protestant Faculty of Theology at Madrid (UEBE).