Christians in a number of traditions pay lip service to an expression borrowed from H. Richard Niebuhr more than half a century ago: Christ transforming culture. But what does this mean in practice for specific contexts, e.g., subsaharan Africa? Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda gives us some concrete examples in this inspiring piece appearing in the upcoming issue of First Things: What Is Anglicanism? Orombi affirms that it is the Bible itself that has transformed his country and its people, and he highlights the treatment of women, clan revenge, and the worship of nature and ancestral spirits as examples.
The gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to us through the Word of God enables warring tribes to begin to coexist and to embrace neighborliness. Indeed, the Word of God opened the way for the nation of Uganda to be forged. When evangelists from Buganda (in central Uganda) traveled to tribes in the east, west, and north, a new day dawned in our country. Instead of being armed with spears, they came armed only with the Word of God. Instead of a message of war and destruction, they delivered a message of Good News from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the Bible came with the authority of Christ, it revealed a God that is greater than the evil spirits and the kingdom of darkness that controlled so many people’s lives. In Uganda, the Bible has grown into a cherished source of authority that is central to Christian faith, practice, and mission. For all God’s people, obedience to this Bible is the source of confidence, abundant life, and joy. It is an absolute treasure that no one can take away. Isaiah, later quoted by Peter, wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:24-25). The grass on which our cattle feed, the grass from which our roofs are thatched—all this withers. But the Word of God has withstood the test of time. The Bible is at the heart of our Anglican identity, and we Ugandan Anglicans joyfully submit to its life-giving and transforming authority.
With this knowledge of the centrality of the authority of Scripture in Anglicanism, therefore, we understand ourselves to be in the mainstream of Anglicanism—from Thomas Cranmer to John Stott. The evangelical tradition in the Church of England produced William Wilberforce, whose lifelong mission to eradicate slavery and the slave trade liberated our people. It produced Charles Simeon, who inspired the beginning of mission societies that shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with us and many others. It produced Bishop Tucker and other missionaries, who risked their lives to come to Uganda. These and many more Anglican evangelicals brought us the legacy of the Protestant Reformation in England. Their commitment to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture has continued among us to this day.
I am struck by the role martyrdom has played in the revival and growth of the Church of Uganda. Many of us remember the death of Archbishop Janani Luwum at the hands of Idi Amin in 1977. Ten years ago my friend Paul Marshall brought the plight of persecuted believers before a complacent west. At one time the heirs of the English Reformation read Foxe's Book of Martyrs, a collection that has fallen out of favour in an ecumenical age but that served for generations to confirm Tertullian's ancient maxim that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” I can testify from experience that martyrdom is not much mentioned today in the Anglican Church of Canada, which may go some way in explaining its current state.
Orombi's piece should be required reading for every Anglican and Episcopal bishop in North America. Imagine how the ACC and TEC would grow and flourish if they could manage to catch Orombi's vision. Pray God that by his grace this might happen.