GAFCON HAS BEEN LED ASTRAY
GAFCON IV, a conference of “1,302 delegates from 52 countries, including 315 bishops, 456 other clergy and 531 laity” adopted a “Commitment” statement supported byu the GSFA (the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches). This “Committment” proposes to renounce the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as “an instrument of unity,” and to “reset” the Anglican Communion.
The writers: The drafting committee for the Kilgali Statement consists of ten people, six of whom are from the west/ north (Australian, UK, Irish or US) and white. Three are African (Nigeria and Uganda) and one from South America. One was a woman. For an organization touting itself to be speaking the majority of the world’s anglicans, this seems an odd way to show it. We are assured by the press release about the Kilgali Statement (https://anglican.ink/2023/04/21/kigali-gafcon-closing-press-statement/ ) that everyone at the conference was asked for feedback.
I doubt it. It smacks of the same leadership and agendas of the discontented west and north that has driven much of the effort to halt the move to inclusion of women and gay people in the sacramental ministries of the church. GAFCON has been hustled once again by discontent in the west and north.
Here is what the “Kigali Commitment” says:
“We were delighted to be joined in Kigali by leaders of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) and to host a combined Gafcon-GSFA Primates meeting. Together, these Primates represent the overwhelming majority (estimated at 85%) of Anglicans worldwide.
The leadership of both groups affirmed and celebrated their complementary roles in the Anglican Communion. Gafcon is a movement focused on evangelism and mission, church planting and providing support and a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces. GSFA, on the other hand, is focused on establishing doctrinally based structures within the Communion.
We rejoice in the united commitment of both groups on three fundamentals: the lordship of Jesus Christ; the authority and clarity of the Word of God; and the priority of the church’s mission to the world. We acknowledge their agreement that ‘communion’ between churches and Christians must be based on doctrine (Jerusalem Declaration #13; GSFA Covenant 2.1.6). Anglican identity is defined by this and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.
Both GSFA and Gafcon Primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion.
We welcome the GSFA’s Ash Wednesday Statement of 20 February 2023, calling for a resetting and reordering of the Communion. We applaud the invitation of the GSFA Primates to collaborate with Gafcon and other orthodox Anglican groupings to work out the shape and nature of our common life together and how we are to maintain the priority of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.
Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans. We therefore commit to pray that God will guide this process of resetting, and that Gafcon and GSFA will keep in step with the Spirit.”
THE FACT OF THE MATTER:
So there it is. Gafcon and GSFA are no longer in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and therefore the Church of England.
The intemperate, angry and devious letter from the GAFCON/ GSFA meeting seems to seal the deal. A number of churches formerly in the Anglican Communion are not playing nicely any more. They have formally stated that “they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates.”
Given that several of these churches have also refused to attend the Lambeth Conference and meetings of the Primates, and a number of these churches are not recognized as churches in the communion anyway, and are therefore not part of the Anglican Consultative Council, it would appear that these churches are backing away from any of the instruments of communion.
There is no possibility for them, if they have so distanced themselves from the “instruments of Communion” to change the structures of the Anglican Communion from within. The “resetting” that they propose is not a resetting at all. That would be an interior matter for the councils of the Communion.
Rather, it is an attempt to take the brand “Anglican”, divorce it from anything English, and reapply it to something other than the Anglican Communion. The GAFCON/ GSFA proposal is really an attempt to dismantle or disregard the Anglican Communion as a communion of churches and replace it with a new thing: A World Wide Anglican Church.
The Reformers would have been appalled. For that matter I suspect many in the various Provinces who have leaders who have joined in this “Commitment” will also be appalled.
The Polite Response:
There has been a response from Lambeth Palace. It states in part, ““We note that The Kigali Commitment issued by GAFCON IV today makes many of the same points that have previously been made about the structures of the Anglican Communion. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has previously said, those structures are always able to change with the times – and have done so in the past. The Archbishop said at the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Ghana (ACC-18) that no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion.
“At the ACC-18 meeting – which was attended by primates, bishops, clergy and laity from 39 of the 42 Anglican provinces – there was widespread support for working together patiently and constructively to review the Instruments of Communion, so that our differences and disagreements can be held together in unity and fellowship. Archbishop Justin Welby has welcomed this decision – just as he also welcomed last year’s decision by the Church of England’s General Synod to give the Anglican Communion a greater voice on the body that nominates future Archbishops of Canterbury.
“The Archbishop continues to be in regular contact with his fellow Primates and looks forward to discussing this and many other matters with them over the coming period. Meanwhile the Archbishop continues to pray especially for Anglicans who face poverty, conflict, famine, discrimination and persecution around the world, and Anglican churches who live and minister in these contexts. Continuing to walk together as Anglicans is not just the best way to share Christ’s love with a world in great need: it is also how the world will know that Jesus Christ is sent from the Father who calls us to love one another, even as we disagree.”
The Lambeth response suggests there is nothing new here. But there is. It is just not polite to say so.
A NOT SO POLITE RESPONSE:
I’ve been wondering why there has not been any sort of statement of regret, befuddlement, acknowledgement or even outrage about this letter from any of the usual authorities in the Anglican Communion. A statement from Lambeth Palace” is pretty tame. It doesn’t come out under the Archbishop of Canterbury’s signature. And I see no whisper of any response from any other church leaders. GAFCON may have spoken, but it doesn’t seem to kick up much dust.
I think GAFCON / GSFA need to be at least told, politely, that various powers understand quite well what they are up to. They are trying to capture the flag… to take “Anglican” and make it about some world wide church thing, and not a communion of churches. What they will have if they do this is yet another church pretending to be THE TRUE CHURCH. It will be, as all such churches, defective at the core.
I am not at all worried that the Anglican Communion is or is not alive or dead. I wrote long ago that my sense is that the Anglican Communion will not endure. In “The Challenge of Change” I wrote,
“There will be no enduring Anglican Communion, not if we can help it. But that is not the point. Being Anglican is simply the way some Christians have tried to work out the implications of baptism in specific times and locations. What we have been will be of value to those who come after, and they will count us as among their ancestors. In doing so we have been greatly blessed by God. Often we have been under judgment by God, and yet most often led by God to what it is we are called to next. The vocation of the Anglican Communion is to be a force for greater koinonia, for overcoming the fragmentation of life in a vision of the whole people of God, in a time when fragmentation is what seems to be the rule of the day. It remains only for us to take heart in our “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12: 1b–2a).” ( The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post-Modern Era by Mark Harris)
The Anglican Communion will not endure. But I believe it still has work to do and that there is no reason in the world to have it taken over, “reset” by those who have no sense at all of what it means to have “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.” (That being part of the Lambeth Quadrilateral.)
The notion that the Anglican Communion should be reset on the basis of a “doctrine” pushed through Lambeth 1998 by western/ northern malcontents playing on and using the energy of anti-colonialist feelings (often justified) in the Global South, is absurd.
It is yet another example of the need to be clear about division. Any member church of the Anglican Communion is free to leave the table of this communion at any point, and we should wish those who leave well. But they cannot take the table, or the silver, with them.
And, not to put too fine a point on it: those who are post colonialist (and I hope many are) must find it odd to be battling for the future use of the word “Anglican.” Why, if there is a desire to have a Global Church, would any post colonial church based on English occupation want to be called “Anglican”?
This whole thing reeks of western/ northern needs by the discontented who left the Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia, etc., to “capture the flag.” My hope is that the Global South Primates will see this, and see that they are being misled by the West into an ecclesiastical mess of pottage.