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Leader: The GAFCON Reformation

25 June 2008

IN THE WORLD, not of the world. The official message of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem has yet to be formalised, but the mood can be judged after several days of debate and informal discussion. What might surprise some is that homosexuality, the topic that triggered the crisis that led, eventually, to this conference, is hardly ever mentioned; nor are liberal Anglicans in the United States or elsewhere. When one of the leaders spoke about the streams within Anglicanism, he listed Evangelicals, Catholics, and Charismatics, and conceded the existence of a liberal stream only when questioned.

The focus, instead, is on secular culture. The Bishop of Rochester spoke of “militant secularisation”, and an earlier plenary debated whether Islam or secularism was the greater threat. (Participants divided, largely, on the grounds how close to north Africa they lived.) The narrative being told at GAFCON is that popular culture had been predominantly Christian in the West and in much of Africa until the latter part of the 20th century. This had now changed, but many in the Church had failed to notice. The charge against Western Christianity, and Lambeth Palace is close to becoming the shorthand way of referring to this, is that it is too embedded in secular culture, and has therefore compromised the gospel.

In a throw-away remark on Sunday, the Primate of Rwanda talked of a “second Reformation”. References to sola scriptura and dissatisfaction with “the Lambeth authorities” lend weight to this. Another of the conference leaders rejected the description of them as “the loyal opposition” because he felt that not only did they have the majority of Anglicans on their side, but they also held firm to the central tenets of the faith as traditionally received by Anglicans.

What impact this has on the way the GAFCON participants choose to organise themselves after the conference has yet to be seen. One of the conference leaders spoke of developing principles, and of a “higher level of commitment” to each other. A structure might develop “ultimately”. But GAFCON will want to plant its flag somewhere, so that those who agree with its principles can rally behind them in some way.

The rest of the Anglican Church is at a disadvantage since, despite the impression given at GAFCON, it is not a united entity. But if GAFCON claims to have a loyalty to the gospel, and the correct approach when applying it to modern life, the rest of Anglicanism must be more convincing in its claim that it, too, follows Christ faithfully and diligently.

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