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Two thousand meet at GAFCON conference in Jerusalem

22 June 2018


Participants in the GAFCON meeting visit the Dead Sea

Participants in the GAFCON meeting visit the Dead Sea

CHURCH OF ENGLAND bishops and priests are among the participants — estimated to number almost 2000 — at the third GAFCON meeting this week.

It concluded with a statement that urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite to the Lambeth Conference in 2020 the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church in Brazil, and not to invite “Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions.”

If this did not occur, the statement added: “We urge GAFCON members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion.”

The statement also reiterated the assertion that GAFCON was not leaving the Anglican Communion, referring instead to a “reordering” of the Communion.

The gathering has returned to Jerusalem, the site of the first Global Anglican Future Conference a decade ago (News, 27 June 2008).

It is reported that there are 1966 participants: 993 clergy, 973 laity, 333 bishops, 38 archbishops, ten active Primates, and six retired Primates. The figures were reported by the Revd Dr Esau McCaulley, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, New York. He is a member of the Anglican Church in North America, and will be reporting from GAFCON for the magazine The Living Church.

The theme of the conference is: “Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations”.

On Tuesday, the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, reported that his Province’s House of Bishops had confirmed that they would not be attending the Lambeth Conference in 2020, or other meetings to which they had been invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, citing a 2010 moratorium on attending unless “godly order was returned to the Anglican Communion”.

Another condition had now been attached: the invitation must be extended to the Anglican Church in North America and the new Anglican Church in Brazil (News, 18 May). “We continue to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the nations uncompromisingly,” he said, to applause.

A plea for reconciliation was made by the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, who spoke on hospitality, and urged delegates to remember that “we are called to exclude no one from the love of God.”

It is understood that the UK delegation numbers 204, including three bishops: the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas; the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair; and a former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali.

In an online GAFCON interview, the Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, the Revd William Taylor, described it as “bizarre” that none of the Church’s diocesan bishops was present. He spoke of a “coalescing around the lowest common denominator of what I would call an idolatrous unity”.

In another interview, the Revd Richard Tice, an assistant curate of All Souls’, Langham Place, spoke of “the road to destruction in England”, defined by “tolerance and permissiveness: you can do what you please, and you can think what you please. If we have church leaders who are putting people on that road to destruction, it’s a salvation issue, and that’s why we have to distance ourselves.”

This was why he stepped down from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “Commission” [understood to be the evangelism task group], he said, a decision that had caused him to weep. It had been a “great honour” to be asked, but he had been asked to “submit to the leadership of a man who is contrary to scripture”. The task group was chaired by Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, as vice-chair.

On Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted: “To our Anglican brothers and sisters meeting in Jerusalem this week for #GAFCON2018 you are in my prayers. I pray the Holy Spirit will bless you with wisdom, insight and fresh vision for the renewal of God’s world – and our role as Anglicans in that great work.”

In his keynote address, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, said: “We do not accept that the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury necessarily defines Anglican identity and belonging. Canterbury occupies a privileged position in the spread of the gospel around the world. She should not distort the gospel in order to take away offence, for the gospel without offence is an empty gospel.”

In a critique of the commitment to “walk together”, outlined in a communiqué issued by the Anglican Communion Primates (News, 13 October 2017), he said: “If we walk together with those who deny the orthodox faith in word or deed, we have agreed that orthodoxy is optional.”

A list of threats to the gospel, reported by his “friends in different parts of the world” was extensive. In Asia, this included “inclusivism: the belief that all religions lead to God”. In North America, people needed to know that they were “alienated from God because of their sin”, manifest in “materialism, idolatry, obsessions with sports, sex, drugs, alcohol, religion, and success”. In South America, the spread of Pentecostalism “should be monitored, to avoid adoption of elements of another gospel: strands of Pentecostalism, especially Prosperity, can become a danger”.

In Africa, emphasis was laid on “the power of the Church to solve existential problems”, with churches emphasising “healing, exorcism, breaking of curses and protection from evil and even some forms of prosperity doing quite well, since these are things Africans respond to”. This, too, could become “another gospel”.

In the West, the Church of England had, historically, “tended to substitute moralism for the Biblical gospel of grace. When the morality of society broadly coincided with Judeo-Christian morality this problem was not so evident. But with the profound changes brought about by the sexual revolution in the 1960s, church leaders who see their role as articulating the moral consciousness of society found themselves increasingly distant from a Biblical understanding of morality, sin and human nature.”

The Living Church reported that the first gathering of a “GAFCON synod” would take place at the meeting, consisting of three members from each province and fellowship of GAFCON, with a remit to “provide a council of advice to the Primate’s Council”.

It also published an interview with the Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Most Revd Jackson Ole Sapit, who said that Kenya supported what GAFCON stood for 100 per cent. But, he said, “if it reaches a point that GAFCON says that it wants to pull out of the Communion, we will have to go back to our synod and ask for direction.”

One of the nine networks being launched at the meeting is a “lawyers’ taskforce” led by Canon Phil Ashey, president of the American Anglican Council (a network seeking to “build up and defend Great Commission Anglican churches in North America and worldwide”), and Dr Robert Tong, of the Province of South Australia.

In an online GAFCON interview, Canon Ashey said that there were “legal issues we need to think about, as we’re in this great Anglican reformation and realignment. Issues of religious liberty, secularism, and how do we face sharia law. . . What about Anglican identity?”

It would be there to help “those who have to think about exit strategies”, drawing on lessons learned in North America. Asked whether it was necessary to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury to be part of the Anglican Communion, he replied: “No. Unequivocally, no.” He described it as an “artefact of a colonial time, when Anglicanism was described geographically”. The Church in Nigeria had “deleted Canterbury entirely” from its constitution and canons in 2005, he said.

The Revd Richard Coekin, director of the Co-Mission church-planting organisation, referred in his remarks to the Grenfell Tower fire.

“There has been outrage at the ‘stay put’ message of the fire services, failing to warn people to flee when they could,” he said. “Could any of us imagine walking past one of those flats and seeing the flames billowing out of the windows, and just walk on by and head home? Surely we’d be banging on the doors of the flat. ‘Get out, get out! Flee! Get out!’. . .

“The Bible says that you and I, wherever we live, live in the Grenfell Tower, surrounded by those bound for flames. And so, like Jesus, we of the GAFCON movement must love people enough to preach the wrath to come.”

Writing in a blog on Monday, Dr McCaulley described, how walking into the lobby of the conference centre in Jerusalem, “It was so gloriously black and brown that I almost wept.”

He wrote: “I am grateful for the Nigerians, Kenyans, Ugandans, Australians, and Malawians gathered in Jerusalem for helping me remember that our struggle isn’t just against something. It is for something beautiful.

“When I became an Anglican, I was told that there was this global fellowship of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation; but it was a concept, an idea. Now I have witnessed the nations gathered.”

Writing for Anglican Communion News Service on Friday of last week, the General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon spoke of “confusion about who is and isn’t in the Anglican Communion” and reiterated that neither the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) nor the Anglican Church in Brazil were members. “The answer is very simple: it is necessary to be in communion with the See of Canterbury in order to be part of the Anglican Communion.”

He went on: “I am a firm believer in renewal movements. . . I would encourage Anglicans to imbibe the spirit of renewal. The Anglican Church has always made room for various theological positions. As a family, we should be able to discuss issues together — even the difficult ones. That is the way forwards, not to be separate and somehow try to operate in parallel. This creates confusion especially among some of the lay members and it can damage the work of renewal. Our God is not a God of confusion; he is a God of order.”

In an account of visits to various Provinces, he emphasised a spirit of unity. There was, he said, “a great spirit of oneness and mutual support” at the Council of the Anglican Provinces in Africa. The Primates were committed to Resolution I.10 from Lambeth 1998 [which describes homosexual practice as “incompatible with scripture”] but “willing to listen to other members of the Communion who find that Resolution restrictive”.

He was “interested” in the approach of the Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesi, which had not changed it’s canon law on marriage, but made provision for those in New Zealand who want to bless same-sex relationships (News, 11 May, 2018).

ACNS has released a number of videos of Primates “previewing” the Lambeth Conference, due to take place in 2020. They include the Archbishop of Tanzania, the Most Revd Maimbo Mndolwa, who said: “I don’t think it is healthy in the Church, thinking to break away. I think if there is something that we need to make sure that we correct it, let us correct it within.”

The Archbishop of Congo, the Most Revd Masimango Katanda, a member of GAFCON’s Primates Council, said in his video: “When we talk with Anglican Christians in Congo their identity is in the See of Canterbury, so breaking the See of Canterbury is like starting a new church, which is not the Anglican church.” 

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