Why hold a conservative Anglican conference?

by
09 January 2008

The gathering is vital to ensure that Churches are not overwhelmed by Western culture, arguesChris Sugden

 

Archbishops and bishops from both the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings of the Church, who lead 30 million of the world's 55 million active Anglicans, will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in June 2008 for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON: News, 4 January). They are travelling to the places of Christ's ministry, where the gift of the Holy Spirit was first poured out, in order to strengthen them for what they believe will be difficult days ahead.

The vision, according to the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Benjamin Nzimbi, is to inform and inspire the invited leaders "to seek transformation in our own lives and help impact communities and societies through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ".

 

The convening Primates have said that their pastoral responsibility requires that they provide an opportunity for their bishops, who would normally have looked to the Lambeth Conference, to meet for prayer, fellowship, and counsel, on matters vital to their Church's mission and ministry.

The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, the Most Revd Gregory Venables, said: "Shared mission clearly must rise from common shared faith. Our pastoral responsibility to the people that we lead is now to provide the opportunity to come together around the central and unchanging tenets of the central and unchanging historic Anglican faith. Rather than being subject to the continued chaos and compromise that have dramatically impeded Anglican mission, GAFCON will seek to clarify God's call at this time, and build a network of co-operation for global mission."

 

The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, has written: "The conference is to discuss the future of mission and relationships within the Churches of the Anglican Communion. Those who wish to retain biblical standards, especially in the area of sexual ethics, want to move on together with the gospel of Christ's lordship, a gospel which challenges us and changes lives."

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There are challenges to the world of religion, the world of secularism, and the role of the family in world peace, and impediments to the means of economic empowerment for families and communities.

 

The conference will grapple with the crisis of authority and ecclesiology that has occurred as a result of North American actions. We want to ensure that our relationships in the Anglican Communion reflect gospel values. We seek to affirm both biblical orthodoxy and Catholic order, but a Catholic order that will serve the Catholic faith, not the other way around. Were Catholic faith to serve Catholic order, there would never have been a Reformation.

 

Responses have been positive: One senior English cleric spoke for many: "We have to find a way which does not leave us endlessly stuck waiting for decisions which never come and allow us to move on with the gospel." Another called the decision to hold the conference "momentous". From East Africa, a senior official has written: "The vision is timely."

 

As the principle of calling the conference was being discussed in December, a clear sense emerged that there was only one global venue for Christians seeking to affirm the basis of the apostolic and biblical faith: the Holy Land.

 

The Lord spoke through Psalms of ascent - for example, in Psalm 122: "I rejoiced with those who said to me 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.' Our feet are standing in thy gates, O Jerusalem. That is where the tribes go up to praise the name of the Lord. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." The difficulties and complexities were faced, and discussed with others, but the conviction remained.

 

Bishops and their wives, and clergy and laity, including the next generation of young leaders, will attend GAFCON. It will bring together Anglican leaders from around the globe, who are committed to the accepted teaching of the Bible, of the Church throughout the ages, and of the Anglican Communion.

 

This will enable Anglican Churches in all parts of the world to develop their understanding of the gospel by building relationships across the usual dividing lines of humanity, race, culture, gender, and economics. This expresses the true inclusiveness of the gospel - that all who receive the good news of Jesus have a contribution to make to the spiritual health of the whole.

 

This is one of God's ways of ensuring that Churches in the West are not overwhelmed by the power of their surrounding culture, because they are in fellowship with and accountable to Christians in other cultures and contexts.

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God is clearly at work. This is a time of asking people to reaffirm their Anglican identity by being clear about their commitment to the biblical gospel and the faith of the Church as expressed in its creeds and formularies. We have to be ready to make a clear witness, not to compromise what has been entrusted to us, for the health, wholeness, and salvation of men, women, and children.

 

We must put our hope in God; we must pray for his will to be done; we must be ready to be willing instruments of his purpose; and we must look for him to give the increase.

 

Canon Dr Chris Sugden is Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream.

 

www.gafcon.org

 

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