GAFCON – A New Era for the Anglican Communion
During the week of GAFCON, participants were given opportunity for input into a final statement released on the last day of the Conference. This 'Statement on the Global Anglican Future' made it clear that GAFCON was not the end of a process, but rather the beginning of a new era for the Anglican Communion. It categorically stated that it was not departing from Anglicanism to start a new denomination, nor was it departing in any way from the common Anglican heritage. On the contrary, it was continuing as a new dynamic within Anglicanism – a fellowship of confessing Anglicans, committed to the preservation and progress of the Gospel to make disciples of Christ (according to the 'Great Commission of our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20); that its doctrinal basis is the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal; and that its agreed manifesto (The Jerusalem Declaration) could form the basis, under God, of a bright future for Anglicanism. The 'Statement on the Global Anglican Future', then, indicated three ways in which a new era for the Anglican Communion has begun.
A Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans
GAFCON recognized that a major result of the present crisis within Anglicanism is that faithful Anglican provinces, dioceses, pastors and churches, can no longer have fellowship with liberal-revisionist bishops and provinces, which are promoting 'another Gospel' which is no gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-8). At a worldwide level, many of the provinces of the Global South have already indicated that they are out of communion with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. Within North America, faithful Anglicans have found themselves either persecuted out of their churches or having to leave their dioceses because of the liberal-revisionist agenda. In response, many of these faithful Anglicans have already received episcopal oversight from other provinces of the Anglican Communion.
In the light of this, GAFCON has decided to continue as a movement, a fellowship of confessing Anglicans, whose aim is to combine faithful, Gospel-minded Anglicans, into a fellowship committed to the Great Commission, doctrinally based on the 39 Articles, Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, and committed to a common rule or guide for action – 'The Jerusalem Declaration.' The goal of this fellowship is to 'reform, heal, and revitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world.' As such, it is not merely aimed at those who have been directly affected by liberal-revisionist persecution, but has in its sight the great majority of Anglicans worldwide who are faithful to the Gospel. This includes whole provinces, dioceses within provinces, individual churches, para-church agencies, and individual Anglican Christians.
Consequently, then, a new era has begun within the Anglican Communion. Here is a deliberate attempt by faithful Anglicans throughout the world to network in a new way. Up to now, Anglicans have networked within the worldwide communion through meetings of bishops, such as Lambeth or the Primates' gatherings; or through the Anglican Consultative Council; or through para-church agencies; or through individual churches and people with formal or informal links to other Anglicans worldwide. No doubt, these things will continue in the future, but now GAFCON has added a new network – a much more significant network. What GAFCON has inaugurated is a worldwide Gospel network within Anglicanism. This seeks to combine in a confessing fellowship all those who are committed to the preservation of the Gospel within Anglicanism and its promotion throughout the world in evangelism and church-planting to make disciples of Christ. It offers a new way of connecting within the Anglican Communion for individual Christians, churches, dioceses, bishops, and provinces, that puts the Gospel first. This is the very thing that the majority of Anglicans want and the kind of new era within Anglicanism that they are looking for.
The Jerusalem Declaration
The publication of 'The Jerusalem Declaration' in the 'Global Anglican Future Statement', is the second indication that a major new era has begun for Anglicanism. This 'Declaration', built on the doctrinal foundations of Anglicanism, is intended to be the guide or basis for action for the fellowship of confessing Anglicans. Not only that, it is also the basis for future relations between the majority of faithful Anglicans and those heterodox leaders who are pursuing their own liberal-revisionist agenda. Its 14 points are outlined in the appendix and there are a number of implications that flow from them.
First of all, this 'Declaration' is effectively the new Anglican covenant. The Anglican Communion has been deliberating over recent years to come up with a 'covenant' to address the problems that it faces because of the division caused by liberal-revisionism in the West. In the light of the publication of 'The Jerusalem Declaration', whatever emerges from the process of forming an Anglican covenant is already 'dead in the water'. The majority of Anglicans, represented by GAFCON, have already decided the shape of future relations within the Anglican Communion. The emergence of 'The Jerusalem Declaration' makes that crystal clear. GAFCON Anglicans have indicated in this 'Declaration' that they will gladly continue fellowship with other Anglicans, but only on the basis of a common committment to the biblical Gospel, not on the basis of a political 'fudge' drawn up to hold liberal-revisionists and faithful Anglicans in the one Communion.
A second major implication of 'The Declaration' is that it re-shapes relationships within Anglicanism. 'The Declaration' states unequivocally that the majority of Anglicans 'reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word and deed'. Rather than meet in false fellowship with those who are undermining the Gospel of Christ by their pursuit of a false 'gospel', those who adhere to 'The Jerusalem Declaration' will urge them to 'repent and return to the Lord'. This will certainly change the face of relationships within the Anglican Communion! Not only will it change relationships between bishops and provinces of different countries, but it will change relationships between bishops, dioceses, and clergy within the same province and same country.
A third implication following on from this is that the future will witness overlapping Anglican jurisdictions within one territorial area. In other words, where clergy and churches find themselves in dioceses or provinces that are denying the orthodox faith in word and deed, they will be able, through the network of confessing Anglicans, to avail themselves of alternative episcopal oversight from outside that territorial area. This is already happening in the Anglican Church of Canada where the diocese of New Westminster now shares the same territorial area as the Anglican Church in New Westminster: and, in the USA, churches within one territorial diocese now belong to different jurisdictions, some to TEC and others to African or South American provinces. 'The Jerusalem Declaration' has effectively legitimized such arrangements on the basis that the integrity of the Gospel is more important than the outrage of heterodox bishops who feel 'their territory' has been invaded!
The Primates' Council
If the establishment of a fellowship of confessing Anglicans and the issuing of 'The Jerusalem Declaration' have signalled the arrival of a new era in the Anglican Communion, so too has the call by the 'Global Anglican Future Statement' to set up a Primates' Council . This council is to include not only the original council that organized GAFCON, but also it is to be expanded to include new members as the numbers joining this new movement increase. In setting out plans for the road ahead, the 'Global Anglican Future Statement', has called on this new 'Primates' Council to undertake certain actions that will help to usher in a new era in the Anglican Communion.
This includes action 'to organise and expand the fellowship of confessing Anglicans'. Undoubtedly, the Primates' Council will be seeking the co-operation of other provinces from the Global South and from the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, as well as seeking to expand its support base amongst orthodox dioceses, churches, para-church organisations, pastors and individuals presently in liberal-revisionist provinces of the West. The expectation here is that these groups will respond to the message coming out of GAFCON, and signify their desire to to be part of this movement by joining this new fellowship of confessing Anglicans.
The Primates' Council has also been requested by this 'Statement' to 'authenticate and recognize confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the Gospel and defend the faith'. This will result in the inclusion of some Anglican jurisdictions that are presently not recognized by the Anglican Communion, for example the Church of England in South Africa (CESA). Indeed, CESA bishops and representatives were present at GAFCON and their evangelistic energy and growth is the kind of expression of the Gospel that the Primates' Council particularly wants to encourage. As regards the USA, this direction by the 'Statement' calls on the Primates' Council to set up a structure to authenticate a new North American Anglican Province that will hopefully be soon set up as the authentic expression of Anglicanism on the North American continent.
How this Primates' Council will relate to the so-called 'instruments of unity' within the Anglican Communion is difficult to see. One thing is for certain, it is not going to wait for permission from any of these bodies before implementing its Gospel agenda, urged on it by the GAFCON movement. These other bodies will simply have to come to terms with a new reality within the Anglican Communion.
The Church of Ireland cannot avoid the new era that GAFCON has brought about for Anglicanism. Not only were Church of Ireland members present at GAFCON, but also the movement inaugurated by GAFCON, the establishment of a fellowship of confessing Anglicans, the new relations being brought in by 'The Jerusalem Declaration', and the founding of a Primates' Council, will continue to impact Church of Ireland churches and individuals. There are many Gospel people who fill the pews of the Church of Ireland, with whom the aims and purposes of GAFCON deeply resonate. They want to see the Church of Ireland remain true to the Gospel; they do not wish for a false 'gospel' of liberal-revisionism to paralyse the work of witnessing for Christ. They want the Church of Ireland to give a clear witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not wish for their bishops and clergy to lead them into error. They want to see the Gospel standard of Christian living upheld in every area of life including, and especially, within the sphere of human sexuality: they expect their episcopal leaders not to undermine but to uphold biblical truth and morality, and for that reason will respect and support the aims of GAFCON.
The truth is, the Church of Ireland is in a new era for Anglicanism, whether it likes it or not. GAFCON and what it has inaugurated is here to stay - and it will change the global face of Anglicanism. Already, it is posing significant questions to the Church of Ireland and that will only continue to increase. GAFCON speaks for a new and Gospel-focused era in global Anglicanism, but the question is, will the Church of Ireland hear? If Gospel-minded people within the Church of Ireland eagerly embrace what GAFCON stands for, then the Church of Ireland will indeed have to listen, especially if there is a coalition of bishops, churches and people standing together under a GAFCON-inspired Gospel banner!