GAFCON, the future and the Jerusalem Statement

GAFCON, the future and the Jerusalem Statement

by the Rev David Holloway, vicar of Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, England.  August 3 2008

GAFCON and its history

The Global Anglican Future CONference held in Jerusalem at the end of June 2008 occurred not to stop a split in the Anglican Communion but because there already exists such a  split. That is a sad but hard fact. The presenting problem is homosexual relationships, with things coming to a head in 2003 in the United States with the consecration as bishop of New Hampshire of a partnered homosexual, Gene Robinson. Since the 1970s and the “Gay Liberation” movement the Western Churches have tried to pretend the “gay agenda” is not a problem. The leadership has wanted this to be considered a secondary issue over which there is liberty to disagree. The majority of Christians, however, think otherwise. Votes in the Church of England’s General Synod in 1987 and the Lambeth Conference in 1998 made this crystal clear. A significant number of bishops, however, ignored these resolutions.

In 2002 Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Rowan Williams had publicly admitted to ordaining a man he knew had a homosexual partner and acknowledged “that ‘conforming your life … to Christ’ doesn’t necessarily mean giving up a homosexual lifestyle.” Before his appointment was official, therefore, some of us, incumbents of larger Anglican churches, felt obliged to write to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, registering our opposition. We said:

“such actions and views [as those above] fly in the face of the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference 1998. Rowan Williams would not have the confidence of the vast majority of Anglicans in the world, who are now in the third world and who, as loyal Anglicans, take the Holy Scriptures as their supreme authority. His appointment would lead to a major split in the Anglican Communion (including the Church of England).”

Sadly we have been proved correct.

The last straw

In the summer of 2003 Rowan Williams, at the start, approved the appointment of a partnered homosexual as the new Bishop of Reading. Fortunately Jeffrey John, the man concerned, offered his resignation after Oxford clergy had vigorously protested. Then came the autumn of 2003. Rowan Williams now found himself presiding at a meeting of Primates (senior archbishops from around the world) at Lambeth. The meeting was over the proposed consecration of Gene Robinson [already referred to] and it warned:

“If his consecration proceeds … many provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues as provinces have to decide in consequence whether they can remain in Communion with provinces that choose not to break Communion with the Episcopal Church (USA).”

The consecration, however, went ahead. Discussion after discussion was held to resolve problems that followed. But little was changed. Indeed, discussion without discipline means more and more church gay activity with impunity. In England, for example, bishops were soon equivocating over homosexual Civil Partnerships (virtual “gay marriage”) with one of the first, if not the first of these, taking place in our own parish of Jesmond at the Newcastle Civic Centre. A clergyman from the Durham diocese was there registering his relationship with his male lover in December 2005. A service followed in St Thomas’ Haymarket at which the former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, preached and a former suffragan bishop of Durham was present. The clergyman involved has now retired from Durham diocese. But he is living in retirement in Newcastle and with Permission to Officiate (as a clergyman in the Newcastle diocese) granted by the Bishop of Newcastle.

The last straw for the GAFCON Primates, however, was in February 2007. At the main Primates meeting in Tanzania it was decided that the Episcopal Church of America should be given just one last chance to repent of its support for the gay agenda and being complicit in the consecration of Gene Robinson. But its decision had to come before 30 September 2007. But what did Rowan Williams do? Let me now quote Archbishop Peter Akinola, the Primate of All Nigeria (and on the GAFCON leadership team). In his opening address at the conference he reminded the 1100 plus participants of what happened next:

“Strangely, before the deadline, and before the Primates could get the opportunity of meeting to assess the adequacy of the response of TEC [the Episcopal Church] and in a clear demonstration of unwillingness to follow through our collective decisions which for many of us was an apparent lack of regard for the Primates, Lambeth Palace in July 2007 issued invitations to TEC bishops including those who consecrated Gene Robinson to attend the Lambeth 2008 conference. At this point it dawned upon us, regrettably, that the Archbishop of Canterbury was not interested in what matters to us, in what we think or in what we say.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury seemed so “not interested” that last November (2007) he decided to preside and preach at a “secret” service of Holy Communion for Church of England gay clergy and their partners. This shocked many as Holy Communion should never cause a “scandal” (according to the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer service – the Anglican standard).

Why GAFCON?

It was for all these, and other reasons, said Archbishop Akinola, that GAFCON came about: “we cannot succumb to this turmoil in our Communion and simply watch helplessly. We have found ourselves in a world in which Anglican leaders hold on to a form of religion but consistently deny its power.” To be fair to Rowan Williams, he now is seeking, as Archbishop of Canterbury and as best he can, to “uphold” the orthodox position. But if he personally is still not convinced of the clear biblical teaching prohibiting gay sex, he will not be teaching the orthodox position effectively nor will he properly refute erroneous views. Yet the Church of England Canon C18 requires “every bishop … to teach and to uphold sound and wholesome doctrine, and to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange opinion.” Nor is this a secondary issue. “Let’s talk about knife crime and the poor and not sexuality,” say some, including Gene Robinson. But according to the Archbishop of the Sudan, Daniel Deng Bul, speaking at the Lambeth Conference at the end of July 2008 and calling on Gene Robinson to resign, this is certainly not a secondary issue for him. It is a life and death issue:

“This issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has a very serious effect in my country. We are called ‘infidels’ by the Moslems. That means that they will do whatever they can against us to keep us from damaging the people of our country. They challenge our people to convert to Islam and leave the infidel Anglican Church. When our people refuse, sometimes they are killed. These people are very evil and mutilate and harm our people. I am begging the Communion on this issue so no more of my people will be killed.”

Scriptural authority

The real issue, of course, is scriptural authority; and that relates to the question “what does it mean to be Anglican?” Is Anglicanism to be defined as a Communion of those who can subscribe to a doctrinal basis, namely the legal basis of the Church of England, that says Anglican doctrine …

“… is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal” (Canon A5)?

Or is Anglicanism to be defined by the so called four Instruments of Unity – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and the ACC (Anglican Advisory Council) even when there is no longer doctrinal agreement? The idea that mere structures can sustain unity without an agreed agenda of adequate common belief, is to live in cloud-cuckoo land. Indeed, it is a recipe for chaos. So the GAFCON statement makes it clear where it stands. It defines Anglicanism as a Communion of those united by their confession of Canon A5 (and it underlines the value of the Thirty-nine Articles). It does not see invitations to the Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury as necessarily definitive. It follows, of course, that those who do not subscribe to that Anglican confession are the schismatics, not those who absent themselves from a Lambeth Conference. It is interesting to note that a document discussed by the bishops at  the Lambeth Conference at the end of July and called the St Andrew’s Draft Covenant has a less robust profession for Anglicanism:

“it professes the faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as containing all things necessary for salvation and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith, and which is set forth in the catholic creeds, and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear significant witness, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.”

This form of words follows the “liberal” revised Church of England Canon C15 that since the 1970s has allowed clergy to hold any and every belief. It looks good. But without requiring assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England that previously was required, there is no control on how little you need to be believe to be a clergyman. In the words of a Church of England Doctrine Commission report, there are now people who

“would respect the dogmas of the Church (epitomized in the creeds) as showing, in the language and thought-forms of the age that produced them, balanced and authoritative affirmations, excluding false theological solutions and including the necessary theological ingredients. For such Christians, however, both doctrines and dogmas are so inadequate to the living reality of whom they are the attempted theological formulations that they cannot command full commitment or loyalty. In the best sense of the word they are ‘provisional’.”

So GAFCON is once again taking the Thirty-nine Articles seriously. Without doing so people can believe all or (almost) nothing while claiming to be “Anglican”.

“Expressly declared”

But why is it the homosexual issue in particular is the issue that has fractured the Anglican Communion? The answer probably is in the last words of Article XVII of the Thirty-nine: “in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.”

The prohibition on same sex relationships is “expressly declared” in the Bible. It is not ambiguous. That is the consensus of the Church of England bishops who have admitted that there is …

“… in Scripture an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Sexual activity of any kind outside marriage comes to be seen as sinful, and homosexual practice as especially dishonourable” (Issues in Human Sexuality 1991 p 18).

Such an “express declaration” means it is not possible to claim submission to biblical authority with integrity and say that such relationships are right. They are “expressly declared” as wrong. (Of course, the Bible is not saying it is wrong to be tempted sexually; rather it is wrong to pretend such desires are right and good).

Because this prohibition is clear from the Bible, its rejection raises much deeper questions about biblical authority. As the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion, bases itself (or “grounds” itself – Canon A5) on the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, which you have in the Bible, plain rejections of biblical authority require church discipline. The GAFCON leadership, representing two-thirds of world Anglicanism, felt that such a lack of doctrinal discipline on the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury was serious. This lack of discipline was especially evidenced by the invitations to Lambeth of those who consecrated Gene Robinson while there were no invitations for their own bishops who have been helping believers in heretical dioceses. It, therefore, seemed wise to set up an international conference for Anglican bishops and other leaders to consult, to encourage one another and to begin something that, God willing, will help unite the true Anglican Communion.

So much for background. The following is the final statement that came out of Jerusalem – and it was a truly collaborative effort.   Read the Jerusalem Statement here www.gafcon.org/index.php

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