GAFCON II was a truly historic event. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans formed at GAFCON I in Jerusalem in 2008 is moving into its second chapter with increasing momentum and commitment, now as the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA) representing the majority of Anglicans worldwide.
Note: the word “confessing” refers to the fact that we confess our commitment to the authority of Scripture as interpreted by the historical Christian Creeds and the first Councils of the undivided church. The essence of this commitment was formulated in the Jerusalem Declaration in 2008, and reaffirmed in the Nairobi Communique and Commitment last week.
The conference began with an affirmation of the Gospel and the Great Commission, taking the East Africa Revival as a guiding case study of authentic Christian renewal. The hallmarks of that great movement of God were: 1) Deep conviction of sin and the need for personal encounter with Christ as Savior 2) Exaltation of the Cross as not only the place of forgiveness, but also the great equalizer erasing all barriers of race or tribe or class, 3) Confession of sin, reconciliation and restitution, 4) Small group fellowship and prayer, 5) Public witness through personal testimonies of God’s saving work in the lives of ordinary people, 6) Christ-centered praise and worship, 7) Radical community, support and service. I recommend the following video collage of testimonies, and especially this address by Rev. John Senyonyi.
Up to the last minute many people hoped for some positive affirmation of GAFCON from Canterbury. While there were almost 100 delegates from the Church of England attending, GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans have not been recognized by Archbishop Justin Welby. In fact his press releases have explicitly stressed that his recent visit to Kenya should not be interpreted as an affirmation of GAFCON. On the other hand, he did send a video greeting to the group.
This strange yes and no behavior is indicative of a deep ambivalence and, I believe, a sincere desire to maintain a pastoral presence in an impossible situation. I can only imagine his internal conflict. While personally Welby identifies himself as an evangelical he leads a church that is moving full steam ahead toward establishing and aggressively promoting non-biblical positions on marriage and a number of other progressive agendas. These have been framed as civil rights issues and the consensus in England is that it would be “immoral” to oppose them. As the head of a “state” church, taking a stand against the decisions of parliament, the queen and public opinion would likely end his service as Archbishop.
I believe AB Welby sincerely hopes he can somehow bring “reconciliation” between the progressive and traditional (biblical) groups within the C of E. But it is difficult to visualize what that reconciliation might look like on the ground and in local parishes if priests on either side of the same-sex “marriage” debate are required to violate their core convictions. Allowing parishes or dioceses to decide for themselves would not work, as those who took the traditional biblical position would inevitably be challenged in court for failure to honor the law of the land. The way the issue has been framed precludes any possibility of a live and let live approach. The champions of tolerance are militant on this issue.
Within the Church of England there are a good number of clergy and even bishops who oppose the progressive agenda. They may soon find themselves in the position of their counterparts in the US and Canada who will not be able to remain in communion with their mother church. The Anglican Mission in England has already formed and has been officially affirmed by the Primates Council of the GFCA just as the ACNA was affirmed in Jerusalem in 2008. This is a movement to keep your eye on in the coming months.
Many wonder what this means for the Anglican Communion as the differences between its member provinces on core theological convictions have become irreconcilable. Some have concluded that the Anglican Communion is already dead. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church the Anglicans do not have a Pope, nor any means of enforcing unity. The Anglican Communion was always just a fellowship of churches united in common views on Scripture and Worship, loosely held in the magnetic field of traditional and personal loyalty to Canterbury, a vague common “culture,” nostalgia for what England used to stand for, (and, yes, some financial incentive too, as money from richer provinces flows through the Communion to poorer provinces). The primary public expression of this unity was the gathering of bishops at Lambeth Palace every ten years as guests of Canterbury. Each element of that unifying dynamic has been compromised in the last 15 years, and the center no longer holds. If you would like to dig deeper into this I highly recommend this article by Rev. Stephen Noll.
It remains to be seen if the GFCA can provide enough cohesion to become a viable and lasting center for Gospel unity for faithful Anglicans. The key to its future lies in a positive Great Commission vision. A negative agenda defined by what we are against will never last.