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EFAC Australia

What is GAFCON?

The Global Anglican Future Conference was an 8 day conference in Jerusalem, with 1148 lay and clergy participants, including 291 bishops from across the globe! The estimate is that 70% of the world's Anglicans were represented.1

There was a sense that this was an historic time in God's plan for his church. There was the recognition that there was a steadfast need to reclaim and re-proclaim the authority and truth of the scriptures, as the true ground for Anglican formularies and practice. There was a sadness that GAFCON was necessary.


We heard of the persecution and attempted murder of African Bishops seeking to proclaim Christ in Muslim regions (there were security guards for a number of the speakers). We heard of the ruthlessness of the Episcopal Church in the USA in crushing opposition to their liberal agenda.

A highlight was the way the Africans joyfully and openly express their faith in Christ and seek every opportunity to share that faith. The comment is made "Westerners have watches but Africans have the time".

Why GAFCON? What got us to this point?

In the Jerusalem Declaration reference is made to Resolution 1.10 from Lambeth, 1998. This resolution holds to the orthodox view of scripture on matters relating to human sexuality, appeals for pastoral sensitivity towards those who experience same-sex orientation and calls on those who disagree within the Anglican Communion to not pursue the blessing of same sex unions or accept homosexuality as right for Christians.

Large swathes of the Anglican Church in the USA (TEC – The Episcopal Church) and Canada have variously ignored this resolution, gone ahead with the blessing of same sex unions, the ordination of practicing homosexual priests and consecrated a homosexual Bishop in direct defiance of resolutions from various Anglican bodies requesting them not to do so2.

While the "Instruments of Communion"3– various groups and bodies within worldwide Anglicanism – called on TEC and the Episcopal Church of Canada to repent or hold back on these decisions they have, after a "period of reflection", declared their intention to do no such thing. They have ignored directives to change their decisions, were warned that they could not expect to be invited to Lambeth (but still were), while orthodox bishops who have offered alternative Episcopal oversight to orthodox Anglicans were not invited.

They have then gone on to persecute those orthodox clergy, parishes and dioceses who have disagreed with their decisions. Their intention is to crush opposition through any means possible, including suing parishes who wish to have alternative Episcopal oversight as well as suing individually priests who have disagreed and have sought alternative leadership to the liberal bishops over them.

These actions through the secular courts are designed to bankrupt both parishes and individuals and warn those who might be thinking of taking a similar course of action. We heard many stories of North Americans who are fearful of stating views contrary to those held by the TEC leadership for fear of retribution.

It is these final actions, after years of debate and warnings, after directions and decisions by Primates Councils and the Instruments of Communion, which have created the current crisis within Anglicanism. They have created the rift and division. Worldwide Anglicanism is divided over fundamental issues and it is naïve to suggest otherwise.

GAFCON was a response to a system that has not worked and is not working. The implication of this system not working is a dilution of the gospel message. So action must be taken. GAFCON has come about after 10 years and more4 of talking!

Its worse than you think!

The problems are greater than structural issues, they also run to the deep corruption of the faith that is destroying people's faith. Not quite the worst story, but close to it, was the story of an Anglican priest in the United States who when celebrating communion, puts a little statue of the ancient Egyptian fertility god Isis on the communion table.

Nothing could break the first commandment more obviously that a statue of a pagan goddess in a Christian service. Yet our own Adelaide Cathedral in 1992 allowed an exhibition to the Hindu goddess Kali to be displayed in the church. Altars of seed pods in the shape of vaginas were spread throughout the building in name of an art exhibition. And the then Archbishop and Dean of the cathedral saw nothing wrong with it and were astounded and annoyed by criticism of their ungodliness. Our current Dean has invited John Spong to preach in the Cathedral in the past, continues to deny the reality of Jesus' miracles and numbers of our clergy do not believe in the clear Biblical witness that Christ is the only way to the Father. They preach and teach these things in our pulpits Sunday by Sunday.5

These are not just problems in North America. These events, both globally and locally, are a capitulation to our age, show a loss of confidence in truth, stunt and blunt our evangelism and are a betrayal of God's words to us.

I'd like now to respond to some specific objections that I have heard raised about GAFCON.

Objections to GAFCON

Bishops Should Not Boycott Lambeth

GAFCON included lay people and clergy, not just bishops – one of its strengths from my point of view! It enabled lay and clergy to have a voice that Lambeth does not give. Some bishops have gone to both. It was clear that each group, diocese, region or bishop (depending on their authority structures and relationships) would make up their own mind about what action to take.

Many orthodox bishops (especially those from Africa) see Lambeth as a waste of their precious resources better spent on gospel ministry. Remember these dioceses have few resources and what they have is being poured into the incredible growth of God's church in their locations.

To go to Lambeth would give it an authority and credibility they believed it does not deserve.

They are tired after so much talking when the TEC has made it clear it will not change its actions and has ignored previous resolutions and calls for change that have come from Anglican bodies. GAFCON was a positive alternative, focussed on reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was all about sexuality

There was very little comment about homosexuality publicly. It was mentioned only twice in my memory in the main sessions. The reason we gathered was the slow but steady dilution the place of the scriptures have in the life of the church, especially in western churches.6

It is unfortunate that the focus has come down to human sexuality, as there are also other areas of sinful behaviour for which the Western church, including us, should repent (materialism for example). The distinction in this particular issue is that sexually immoral behaviour is not considered sinful by large swathes of the Anglican Church. The North American churches that have been blatant and unashamed about rejecting this Biblical truth. Note that this change in attitude has occurred in less than a generation – how quickly the slide can happen.

It is likely that this liberal view on sexuality is more widely held, but not declared publicly, by Bishops, Clergy and lay people in the Anglican Communion including in our local parishes in Adelaide.

They are Anti-Women's Ordination

There was a mix of points of views on women's ordination amongst the people that attended GAFCON although it was not publicly debated. There were women priests at GAFCON and they on occasion participated in the public services. I spoke to one of them and asked how they felt and she said "we have been treated with nothing but respect here". 4 out of the 6 primates at GAFCON ordain women.

GAFCON is Triumphalist, Arrogant and Divisive

One of the things that surprised and pleased us was that there was none of the triumphalism that we feared might mar the conference. Speakers were humble, sad and repentant over the state of the church. There was a time of reflection and repentance before our Lord as it is partly our fault that things are as they are in the Anglican church. There was a sense of responsibility amongst the delegates and leaders for our past and a resolve to stand firm in the gospel for the future.

There has been some criticism - especially from Bishop NT Wright and the Archbishop of Canterbury - that GAFCON is saying unless you agree to the Jerusalem Declaration or support GAFCON you are not orthodox. This is not so.

While we believe that the Jerusalem Declaration is a restatement of orthodox, biblical belief, and ask people to reaffirm it, just because someone doesn't or doesn't want to join the GAFCON movement, doesn't mean they are not faithful, biblical-based Christians.

What Now?

One of the outcomes of GAFCON is that a structure is now developing that will offer those who are being persecuted by TEC and the Episcopal Church in Canada a viable, orthodox, alternative structure within the Anglican Communion. As such it is not a split, and GAFCON is clear that it is within the centre of mainstream Anglicanism, with a clear commitment to scripture, the creeds and orthodox faith. We hope that GAFCON's proposed future structures and Biblical orthodoxy will give heart to those who feel the need to move away from their current Episcopal leaders to seek alternative Episcopal oversight. We hope GAFCON will give moral support and encouragement to those in mixed dioceses to hold firm to the faith "handed down" (Luke 1.2).

What the future holds is uncertain. Various bodies now exist within the Anglican Church for those who have sought alternative leadership - some are now connected to dioceses in Africa, some connected to the Southern Cone (South America). Some are fighting in the courts for access to and use of their church facilities, others have left their church properties and are meeting elsewhere and may come back under an orthodox Anglican umbrella. Some are in a "wait and see" mode observing what will happen before taking any action.

The GAFCON movement is working through the most effective way to proceed, although an alternative to Lambeth such as a Primates Council as a point for Anglican association is clearly one of the options (see the Jerusalem Declaration). Some English critics are dismissive of the GAFCON statement that they can be Anglican without a connection to the See of Canterbury. GAFCON contends that it is not necessary to continue that connection to Canterbury to define itself as Anglican.

[Editor's note: as we go to press the GAFCON Primate's Council has completed a first meeting and released a communiqué via www.gafcon.org ]

What About Australia?

There are uncertainties about what the direction the Australian Anglican church will take. There is no doubt some Anglican Church and leaders have the same core beliefs (or lack thereof) about scripture as the TEC and would like to pursue the same direction on human sexuality. Possibly they are waiting to see what will happen before following that path. Some already promote a liberal view of the scriptures and will continue to exercise their authority and influence in that direction with all its consequences.

What Should We Do?

It is my view that we must take action. We must set a Biblical agenda for our church and call our church leaders to do the same. The idea of an infinitely stretchable elastic band of Anglicanism does not work – it is at breaking point!

I think there are a number of steps that we can take.

One: A Restatement of the Truth

We need to re-state and reassert the truth about the scriptures as the foundation of our faith and the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many of our leaders have moved away from orthodoxy.

Many in our pews do not understand how eroded orthodox belief has become.

We cannot take for granted that these truths are understood or agreed upon.

Restating confidently what we believe is a helpful step.

Restate the scriptural teachings about Christ and holiness at every opportunity – in small groups and in discussion, in your churches and homes. Do not take for granted they are believed.

Two: A Call to Reaffirm the Truth

The warning has been sounded about the corrupting influence of liberalism.

GAFCON's call to reiterate and reaffirm orthodox scriptural truths that stand at the heart of Anglicanism has reminded parts of the church just how far they have moved or are in danger of doing so. The Jerusalem Declaration, while not a perfect document, does this concisely and helpfully.

Our church leaders need to be reminded what they have signed up to in our Anglican formularies. While this should not be necessary, it is.

We need to ask them whether they believe what the church has believed for generations. While this is controversial and seems confronting there comes a point in our faith when we need to stand up for what we believe. Is it wrong to ask, particularly our church leaders, where they stand?

Please show your assent and support for the Jerusalem Declaration.

Ask others to consider doing the same.

Three: Turning Back the Tide

There is a need to act rather than be passive in the face of militant liberalism or its collaborator - "a slow, creeping liberalism".

We must stand firm against liberalism and push back against their revisionist and destructive agendas. They are killing the church and leading God's people back out into a faithless desert.

Doing nothing is not an option! Polite disquiet will be ignored. It has been so far.

This is a crisis and it requires action. The threads of the problem are clearly evident in our own church in Australia and even more clearly in New Zealand. We cannot think this is a uniquely American phenomenon.

Action can happen in many forums.

Privately and publicly, in writing, in conversation, in our church forums and synods, in EFAC meetings and clergy gatherings, we need to speak humbly but confidently, and joyfully(!), about our Lord Jesus Christ and his offer of salvation to our world. We need to respectfully challenge those who do not preach faithfully. We need to study the Scriptures and pray for wisdom, boldness and godliness.

Turn back the Tide – speak the truth in love and challenge those who teach heresy.

Four: Support for Those Persecuted

A new Anglican model is being set up to allow those persecuted by TEC and the Anglican Church in Canada to remain Anglican but under alternative oversight that will be more effective in our witness of Christ to the world.

It seems unlikely, arguably, at this stage that dioceses or churches in Australia will need to follow a similar path. But it may not stay this way. Other options may be needed if the Anglican Church in different in Australia parts promotes a more overt liberal agenda than it already has. Some clergy are already under extreme pressure by bishops pushing a liberal line.

I believe that EFAC's role will become even more strategic in the future. We need to work much more closely together within the EFAC network in supporting and promoting gospel ministry across Australia.

Can I invite and urge you to sign up to be a member of EFAC? It can be a strategic voice in our diocese and help support those in other dioceses who are under pressure.

A Note of Caution?

As I finish, let me now sound a note of caution. I have already said that GAFCON does not presume that if people do not sign up to GAFCON or the Jerusalem Declaration they are by virtue of this not orthodox. Our goal is not to be divisive. If there is division may it truly be over the things that matter to God.

There is no conflict between strong, passionate dispute and respectful treatment of the party we disagree with. We must act in a Christ-like manner towards those whom we oppose. Dishonour is done to Christ if we do otherwise. I do not want to see an ungodly excitement of potential conflict or Australian anti-authoritarianism to detract from our core message.

So there is no contradiction in holding firm to Scriptural truth with confidence and loving those who disagree – 2 Timothy 2: 24-25

And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Contend boldly, faithfully, lovingly, prayerfully for the faith

Conclusion

GAFCON was a Conference that was profoundly spiritually based. It was grounded in the reading and exposition of God's word and focussed on seeking to honour our Lord. It sought to work through how to be a more effective witness to Him where that witness has been blunted and marginalised in our world. That was and continues to be its goal.

It was concerned to be "a movement not just a moment" so that it can continue to have an ongoing impact on gospel ministry across the world.

It will take some time to sort out, but it is our prayer that the result will not be just a reorganising of Anglican structures (do we need more of those?!) but a refreshed and more faithful gospel proclamation to a world that needs to hear of the love and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Under God's hand I pray that it will be so.

To Him be the glory.

Rev Paul Hunt



Paul and Lee-Ann Hunt attended GAFCON as pilgrims from South Australia. Paul is Senior Minister and team leader at St George's Magill, and the new chair of EFAC SA. The full version of this talk is available from them: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or www.stgeorgesmagill.org

This is an edited version of Paul Hunt's EFAC Presentation, July 22 2008 at St George's Magill, Adelaide, South Australia

Paul is Senior Minister and team leader at St George's Magill, and the new chair of EFAC SA. The full version of this talk is available from them:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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