Archive for October, 2017

Nigeria slams stage managed primates meeting

Thursday, October 19th, 2017


Nicholas Okoh

To the Faithful of the Gafcon movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

On the 31st October, it will be 500 years since Martin Luther’s 95 Theses triggered the Reformation. He was fired by holy indignation because of the way ordinary Christians were being abused by a church which was turning the need for divine forgiveness into a money making machine through the sale of indulgences, but that led him on to see the root of the problem.

The message of God’s free grace in the gospel had been buried under layers of superstition and human tradition, which Luther and the Reformers then exposed to the light of God’s Word. The recovery of the Bible as the first and foremost source of authority in the Church was the basic principle of the Reformation. Everything else depended on this and still does.

Anglicanism claims to be an expression of Reformed Catholic Christianity, but the Canterbury Primates Meeting held earlier this month shows once again that the Anglican Communion is in urgent need of a new reformation. I and a number of brother Primates (representing between us over half of practising Anglicans worldwide) did not attend as a matter of conscience. We cannot ‘walk together’ with those who have abandoned the teaching of the Bible, but that is what the Communiqué issued from the meeting encourages us to do. The painful truth is that the authority of Scripture is being replaced by the authority of Canterbury.

There is no mention in the Communiqué of Lambeth Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference where the vast majority of the Communion’s bishops reaffirmed the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, including the clear statement that homosexual practice is contrary to Scripture.

Same-sex ‘marriage’ is referred to merely as a difference of understanding while the only call to repentance is to those who have crossed provincial boundaries to support orthodox brothers and sisters unchurched by leaders who have rejected God’s Word.

The Conference also affirmed the LGBTI community and their lifestyle, while unequivocally disowning the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), an orthodox Anglican Province.

If we may be reminded, it was the unwillingness of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to provide oversight to dissenting orthodox Anglicans in the USA as advised by the Primates Meeting that led to the formation of ACNA, to keep it in the Anglican Communion fold. ACNA is therefore authentically orthodox, Anglican and Gafcon altogether.

Let me humbly advise Canterbury here to take urgent steps to recognise ACNA as an authentic Province of the Anglican Communion before new realignments make that need unnecessary.

It appears that the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and other revisionists have now got what they failed to get at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It seems it is now ‘officially’ possible to teach the opposite of what the Bible teaches and still be fully part of the Communion, with the only penalty being a few procedural handicaps which in practice amount to very little.

Is this now how the Primates of the Anglican Communion understand ‘Walking Together’? It has become clear that the Communiqué does not represent the reality of the meeting.

Some Gafcon Primates did attend the meeting in the hope that they could make a difference, including Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Church of South America who was one of the original members of the Gafcon Primates Council in 2008. Commenting on the Communiqué, he has said ‘It does not reflect what I experienced and heard in the meeting.  That’s fine, it might be somebody’s perception, but it wasn’t my perception and that leads me to ask more serious questions.’

Our Gafcon Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 got to the heart of a painful truth when it concluded that ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’ and the appearance of a few African faces in those structures does not mean that anything has changed. The Primates Meeting Communiqué does not embarrass the Archbishop of Canterbury who, as widely reported just before the meeting began, refused to answer a journalist’s direct question about whether or not homosexual practice was sinful, but it should embarrass all Anglicans who seek to live under the authority of the Word of God.

Also, the outcome of the meeting helps the Archbishop of Canterbury to continue tolerating almost routine breaches of Lambeth Resolution I.10 in the Church of England, but it does not help the global majority of ordinary Anglicans who wish to see their families and societies enjoy the great blessing of godly living.

So how should we move forward? The process of reformation is never smooth sailing, but we can be sure that as we remain faithful to our vision of restoring the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion, we shall have success in God’s good time. Already, Gafcon is enabling training, building global mission relationships, gathering the marginalised and resourcing Anglicans worldwide. Our next conference in Jerusalem in June 2018 will mark a further step in the great project of reformation begun ten years previously and by the grace of God will enable Anglicans around the world to walk together in the true communion of gospel partnership.

The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

“Don’t abandon the flock” – command from the Lord, or excuse for inaction?

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Over the past 60 years English Anglican evangelicals, who share the same commitment to the core elements of biblical faith “once delivered to the saints”, have disagreed, sometimes sharply, about very important, but ‘secondary’ issues. These include: should we expect the Holy Spirit to operate in the life of the believer and of churches in the form of (for example) physical healing, tongues, tangible experience of God’s presence? Can women be vicars? To what extent is social action part of mission? Should preaching always mainly consist of biblical exposition? How often should we use liturgy and Holy Communion? Should evangelicals focus on local church ministry, or try to influence the denominational structures at senior level? And then, a question which took shape famously during a debate between John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966: should the bible-believing Christian leave the Church of England if the denomination heads in a direction which threatens faithful witness?

Various factors have led to this latter question re-surfacing recently. The increasing acceptance of “affirming” views on same sex relationships by senior C of E leaders points to the real possibility of the denomination following the path of TEC, Anglican Church of Canada, and Scottish Episcopal Church in formally abandoning Christian orthodoxy in this and other related areas. Then, the emergence of strong united global witness for orthodox Anglicanism through Gafcon and now the partnership of Gafcon and Global South, who have validated an alternative and viable Anglican jurisdiction in North America, and made possible the idea of something similar happening in the UK. Added to this, social media has meant that people ‘think out loud’ about these and other issues much more than we used to!

The last few months have seen the consecration of Andy Lines as Gafcon missionary Bishop, while at the same time Gafcon UK held public meetings seeking to unite those committed to the biblical reform and renewal of Anglicanism both inside and outside the official structures. An open letter calling on the Church to be faithful and counter-cultural, and accusing the House of Bishops of failure to clearly uphold the Bible’s teaching in the July General Synod, received over 1800 signatures, and coincided with a number of parishes expressed ‘no confidence’ in their Bishop or Archbishop. This was interpreted by some as signaling that the time had come for a split in the C of E.

Others have responded to argue strongly against the impulse to leave the Church of England, describing this as “jumping ship” and “abandoning the sheep”. For example, Mark Pickles, writing in Church Society’s Crossway magazine, says that the two temptations in the face of attacks on orthodoxy from the world and some in the Church are either to “abandon the flock when fierce wolves come in”, or “change or compromise their message to make it more culturally acceptable”.

I am currently still in the Church of England, and my understanding is that Gafcon looks to support, and be supported by, biblically faithful Anglicans within the official structures as well as those who have left for various reasons, or are planning to in the face of overt revisionism as in Scotland. So I am not advocating either a “stay in” or “leave the C of E now” position. But having said that, it is worth looking in more detail at this new, stronger line taken by some influential voices suggesting that C of E clergy should never consider being part of an alternative jurisdiction, as if this would somehow constitute abandonment of the pastoral mandate.

Firstly, faithful clergy move from one post to another all the time. It may be that they feel they hear a call to a new challenge; that they need to be closer to ageing parents; that they have an opportunity to look after a larger and more influential congregation. This is generally accepted as part of the life of ministry: clergy who move like this do not have to face the accusation that they have abandoned their flock, as if they are expected to remain with the same group of people until retirement. So it seems inconsistent and unfair to suggest that those clergy who have left to pastor a church outside the C of E, or who are thinking of doing so, for reasons of theology and conscience, are guilty of abandoning their post.

Secondly, the biblical image of the flock and the shepherd is not the only one for the Church that we find in the New Testament. While Peter, and the Ephesian elders, are urged to feed and keep watch over the sheep, the Bible does not portray the Church as made up of helpless, docile lay people who may grow in number but cannot do anything for themselves, passively sitting in rows while a pastor feeds them, and unable to think for themselves in the face of false teaching. The church is a dynamic body, with each one carrying out a different function; the leaders’ role is to prepare the people for their works of ministry. While sound teaching and pastoral care is needed in a community of healing and learning, leadership and defending against ‘wolves’ is never seen as down to one person, but the responsibility of a plural eldership under the one Good Shepherd, part of the priesthood of all believers.

Thirdly, it is surely the context which determines whether the pastor should leave, and/or suggest to his flock that they leave the C of E sheepfold and move elsewhere, to continue the metaphor. Some clergy will feel that their congregation is a mix of mature Christians, new Christians and nominal or seeking folk. They may have decided that it would create controversy and upset to teach a clear biblical line, for example on sexuality, so best to wait until more people have grown spiritually and accept the Bible’s authority. This may be so, but of course it may happen the other way: many in the congregation are heading in the opposite direction, towards contemporary culture, so if you wait for them all to accept the Bible’s authority you never get to tell them the truth on the subject! In the meantime, some of the biblically faithful lay people may be frustrated and embarrassed by the teaching of Bishops, Synods and Diocesan staff, and have already voted with their feet. They are “sheep” with a mind of their own, who want to be in a church with less compromise. Is the pastor’s primary duty to the spiritually growing believers under his care, or those who are rebellious or even wolves in sheep’s clothing?

Then, it is unhelpful to suggest, as some have a tendency of doing, that staying in the C of E means fighting for truth, whereas being part of an alternative, faithful Anglican witness means cowardice and dereliction of duty. There are some good examples of clergy both within the C of E and who have those who have moved out of the structures, who have bravely put their heads above the parapet to oppose revisionism in church and sin in society. On the other hand, while some may have opted for a role as pastor in FIEC or AMiE for a quiet life, there are certainly many in the C of E who though orthodox, are reluctant to publicly oppose error and have even been quick to denounce those who have done so as “shrill” and “lacking winsomeness”. The concept of friendly association with revisionist leaders in order to try to bring change through ‘quiet and gentle influence’ is increasingly difficult to sustain – apart from anything it can be used to argue that conservatives are part of a process of ‘good disagreement’. Those who say publicly that they are staying in the C of E to contend for the truth, need to actually do it!

Lastly, it’s important to be honest about our motives. One vicar said to me “I’m very concerned about the trajectory of the C of E, but I could never think about leaving, because it would mean giving up my family home, my means of earning a living, and my pension”. This seems to me to be completely fair, and those who have left or are making plans to do so, who have the financial arrangements worked out, should be careful not to judge. But at the same time, it is surely wrong for those determined to remain in the C of E to criticize the (currently) relatively small number of ‘leavers’ for abandoning the flock, when they are making a considerable sacrifice by stepping outside what is certainly a secure way of life as stipendiary clergy.

Thoughts on the Primates Meeting from Archbishop Gregory Venables

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017


Gregory Venables
Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of South America, was one of the founding Gafcon Primates and attended the Primates Meeting between 2002 and 2011 before stepping down as Primate. He was re-elected as Primate in 2017 for another term, succeeding Archbishop Tito Zavala (Chile). Archbishop Venables shared his experience of the recent Primates Meeting in Canterbury.

He recently spoke about his experience at the Primates Meeting. In the conversation, Archbishop Venables expressed his strong desire for Gafcon to improve the communication amongst the movement’s members, be robust enough to attract new members, and to hold together in the face of powerful challenges to the word of God.

Below are a few more of the topics he covered:

He clarified that there were 3 groups identified during the meeting: those who were walking together, those walking apart, and those walking together at a distance

He questioned the accuracy of the Communique and the process by which it was produced.

He expressed concerned about the danger of the appearance of orthodoxy without its substance

He speaks about the necessity of discipline, and the inability of the Anglican Communion to function coherently a church.
Below are quotes from Archbishop Venables on each theme.

Are The Primates Walking Together?

What was identified clearly in the meeting is that some aren’t walking together, some are walking together but at a distance, and some are walking together. But even those three ways of grouping that situation don’t deal with the issue. The issue is, why aren’t people walking together? And we aren’t walking together because the situation has not been dealt with.

Does it Matter?

People are being led away from the truth. People are being led away from the safe place that God has provided in his Son Jesus Christ who died for our sin. He didn’t just die to affirm us and get on because everything is alright. He died because we were in rebellion and separated eternally from God. So a sort of “sanction” might look fine for those who are looking for some way of saying, ‘well, it’s not right.’

It’s more than ‘not right.’ It’s life and death, and it has to be dealt with. That was expressed clearly in the meeting, but of course isn’t there in the Communique.

Who Wrote the Communique?

Every other Primates Meeting I have been a part of has begun with a moment when we set up a communique commission; a draft commission whose job it was to prepare a draft communique which we checked every morning and every evening of every day to see how we were doing. Admittedly, I left on the lunch on Wednesday, but I heard nothing about a draft communique. So who wrote it? It does not reflect what I experienced and heard in the meeting. That’s fine, it might be somebody’s perception, but it wasn’t my perception and that leads me to ask more serious questions.

The Authority of God’s Word and Sexuality

Why do people not get that the Bible is the Word of God? That God has expressed his opinion on this issue clearly, in the way that nobody can doubt. It’s not down to my opinion. It’s not down to how I see it. The whole question of Christianity isn’t, “What do I think?” but “What does God think?” And God has said, very plainly, he has made us male and female, and that relationships of that nature are between a man and a woman in marriage. Everything else is sin. It doesn’t matter what the elements are, it’s sin. It is forbidden by God, and he has told us so in his Word.”

The Word of God is always going to be questioned, but it’s God’s Word. And I believe that The Anglican Communion has lost touch with the plain truth as revealed in Scripture, and that’s a tragedy, but we’ve gotta keep on being there proclaiming it and speaking it. Not walking away, but not pretending either that we are walking together with people who are ignoring the plain truth of scripture, even though they might appear to be orthodox.”

What worries me far more now is the appearance of orthodoxy. We might be in language, but are we in our attitude to the Word of God. What did the Reformation take as fact? The Word of God.

In all our services we read the Word and say, “This is the Word of the Lord.” If scripture is not our final authority then we have no authority.

Discipline in the Anglican Communion

Every time that [discipline] came up, what was said was, “We don’t have the authority to do this. The question is, ‘Well why give the impression at the beginning that we do?’”

Maybe the Anglican way doesn’t have a way of doing this. Maybe that is what we just have to accept. The problem is part of the role of church leadership is discipline. If we cannot exercise discipline when people wander away from the truth, then the church cannot function as the church, and that’s where the wheels have dropped off. Because when push comes to shove, and we make the decisions as we did in Dar es Salaam, we talked about them in Dromantine, we talked about them again in Alexandria, it was talked about again last year in January, and then someone says, ‘But we don’t have the authority to do it.’ Then it means that we are not able to fulfill our responsibility as church leaders, because there has to be discipline.

If you read the New Testament, Paul does not assume some sort of Papal figure. There is no one overall leader in the New Testament, and I don’t believe there’s meant to be. Maybe there’s meant to be a group of people who come together and come to some decision, but certainly there is a need for leadership to exercise discipline. And we haven’t found it. And I don’t know who now is going to sit down now and say, ‘How do we do that?’ Although we talked about it in the Primates Meeting, we did not get to a place where we were really becoming pragmatic in what we were talking about. And that’s a great pity. I’m looking for cohesion and accountability, and people being able to do what they are called to do as church leaders.

What is the Message Coming Out of the Primates Meeting?

Maybe the message is, you have to either be a relativist, pluralist or there’s no place for you. Maybe that’s the message, but I don’t see that very many people within the Anglican Communion have actually understood that. I don’t see that people have realized that we do not really agree on the essential salvation issues, because if we did we would not be in the situation that we’ve been in for a long time. It was marked in 1998, we discussed it in Lambeth 1998, it was absolutely confirmed in November 2003 when Gene Robinson was consecrated, and it’s gone on being confirmed in the time up until now. In that sense, one of the messages from the Primates Meeting was it’s “business as usual.” Things haven’t changed. This is how it’s going to be, and that saddens me deeply.