GAFCON 2018, Jerusalem
Posted by Chik Kaw Tan, 3 Jul 2018
Chik Kaw Tan shares his personal reflections on the third GAFCON held last month in Jerusalem and its potential ramifications.
Statistically, GAFCON 2018 was the largest global Anglican gathering in the last 50 years. It brought together 1,950 representatives from 50 countries, including 316 bishops, 669 other clergy and 965 laity. The theme of the conference was ‘Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the Nations’.
The slick organisation, coupled with the heavy use of social media, projected an image of total engagement with one another, a spirit of unity and purpose, a spiritual vibrancy, and a sense of the future in the present. The programme comprised heartfelt worship, powerful exposition of Scripture, and thrilling plenary sessions on God’s gospel, God’s church, God’s world and God’s strategy. There were seminars, presentations and network meetings on a wide range of relevant issues, as well as prayer gatherings, celebrations of Eucharist and regional meetings in respective provincial contingents. There were deeply moving testimonies on the cost of discipleship and personal accounts of persecution across the globe.
On 22nd June, delegates endorsed a statement (‘communique’) that has far-reaching ramifications. In this, the GAFCON movement called on the Archbishop of Canterbury:
• To invite as full members to Lambeth 2020 bishops of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil (ACB) and
• Not to invite bishops of those Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions
Further, in the event that this does not occur, the statement urges GAFCON members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion (the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council).
Archbishop Welby will certainly not agree to these requests. He has steadfastly refused to recognise ACNA, let alone the new ACB. Any withdrawal of invitations to the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church of Brazil and the Scottish Episcopal Church will lead to serious discord and division amongst non-GAFCON provinces. This unsolvable conundrum can only be exacerbated by the election of Foley Beach as the next chairman of GAFCON. On such decisions is history made.
The statement also affirms the GAFCON primates’ decision to:
• Authenticate and recognise the provinces of the ACNA and the ACB
• Recognise the Anglican Mission in England and to consecrate a Missionary Bishop for Europe
• Assist faithful Anglicans in New Zealand where the Anglican Church has recently agreed to allow bishops to authorise the blessing of same sex unions.
The conference announced two key transitions. In place of Archbishop Peter Jensen, Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, Province of Jos (Nigeria), will be the next General Secretary in January 2019. Archbishop Foley Beach, primate of the Anglican Church in North America, will be the next Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council (in April 2019), replacing Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of all Nigeria.
Archbishops Foley and Kwashi are personable, gentle, and soft-spoken men, but they are men of iron resolve, having undergone persecution and trials by intolerant revisionists and militant Islam. The style might change, but the substance will not. There will be consolidation and expansion.
Whilst I understand that the Anglican Church is episcopally-led, the overwhelming impression is that GAFCON is a network of bishops and clergy for bishops and clergy. Lay speakers and leaders were notable by their absence. In the interactive seminar on ‘Empowering, Mobilising, and Freeing the Laity’, there was a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the minimal role of laity across the continents, except as foot soldiers to fulfil the vision of individual clergy and bishops. If the GAFCON movement is to help fulfil the Great Commission, there needs to be more lay leadership and mutual accountability between bishops, clergy and laity. All aspirations of grassroots renewal will not happen otherwise.
There is also a palpable sense of tension within the UK delegation between complementarians and egalitarians, those who want to stay and those who are ready to leave the Church of England, those who want to form a broad coalition of Church of England and those who want a GAFCON-recognised Anglican Church in England, those who want to wait and see before responding and those who believe that we must ‘begin with the end in mind.’
Finally, there were some statements made which I believe encapsulate the heart of the conference:
• In his opening address, Archbishop Okoh threw the challenge, ‘If we walk together with those who deny the orthodox faith, in word or deed, we have agreed that orthodoxy is optional’.
• Several speakers reiterated that “We are not leaving the Anglican Communion; we are the majority of the Anglican Communion seeking to remain faithful to our Anglican heritage.”
• One UK delegate shared this with me, ‘This is the most spiritually uplifting time since my conversion!’
Dr. Chik Kaw Tan is a member of Church of England General Synod and speaker at one of the seminars at this year's GAFCON.
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