Reflections on GAFCON - Glenn Davies

 

On June 22, 2008 over 1200 Anglicans gathered in the city of Jerusalem for a week of prayer, Bible study, consultation, discernment and planning for their future. The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) had begun. The number of people who made their pilgrimage to the land of Jesus' birth was impressive, but when measured against the number of Anglicans represented by the 300 bishops present, the significance of this conference is brought into sharp relief. While statistics of Anglicans in England are often quoted as being 25 million, it is well known that only about 1 million people are regular church-attending members of the Church of England. By contrast Nigeria has 20 million church-attending Anglicans and Uganda has 10 million. These latter figures far outweigh the number of the active Anglican membership in the West. With the worldwide number of church-attending Anglicans being estimated at 55 million, 75% of these were represented by the bishops and archbishops attending GAFCON.


The crisis in the Anglican Communion that brought these concerned Anglicans to Jerusalem was the consecration of an active homosexual as the Bishop of New Hampshire and the failure of the Communion to bring any form of discipline to bear either upon him or those who supported his consecration in November 2003. While the presenting issue was one of human sexuality, the core issue was the authority of the Bible and the nature of the gospel. For many in the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada, the inclusion of active homosexuals is not only their belief but their cause celebre. It reflects not only their abandonment of Scriptural authority but fuels their persecution and prosecution of those who disagree. Many congregations in the USA and Canada are under threat of loss of ministry, episcopal recognition and access to their buildings. Many congregations have sought alternative episcopal oversight outside North America in Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, and South America. While they have been marginalized and ostracised by the dioceses in which they physically reside, they have sought to be true to the Christ of the Bible and to the roots of authentic Anglicanism. When someone as eminent as Dr J I Packer is deposed by his bishop (Michael Ingham of Vancouver) as having abandoned his Anglican ministry in the Church of Canada, every reformed Christian (let alone Anglican!) must surely suspect that something is desperately wrong in the Anglican Church!

GAFCON therefore came into existence in order to address some of these concerns and to seek before God a way forward for authentic Anglicanism. There was no mood nor plan for a breakaway from the Anglican Communion, but rather a reclaiming of our Anglican identity, grounded in the Bible, the interpretation of which being expressed doctrinally in the 39 Articles and liturgically in the Book of Common Prayer. The centre piece of each day was a Bible study, from five leading exponents of the text providing an overview of the Bible's story of redemption. Here was biblical theology in practice, from Creation to new creation, Genesis to Revelation. Each study was followed by 40 minute discussion groups of 8-10 persons, where a mix of nationalities came together to discuss the implications of the teaching of Scripture. National and ethnic diversity was a natural part of the mix of evangelical, charismatic and anglo-catholic traditions – yet with a common purpose to learn from God's Word and to honour the Lord of Scripture in faith and obedience.

The programme, under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, President of EFAC Australia, also had different tracks that participants could join, including Gospel and Secularism (with Os Guinness), Gospel and Religion, Theological Education, Biblical Hermeneutics, Anglican Identity, Family and Marriage, Evangelism and Church Planting. Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria gave a stirring challenge to the Conference on the opening night and Archbishop Greg Venables of South America gave a heart-warming personal challenge at the closing session. Time was also available for networking, informal groups and pilgrimage to various biblical sites of interest in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee.

At the heart of the conference was the question: What does it mean to be an Anglican in the world today? This was in part answered by the Statement endorsed by the Conference on the last day, including the Jerusalem Declaration, a succinct restatement of the fundamentals of Anglican identity. The Statement and Declaration (www.gafcon.org) was the product of the conference. Participants provided input to a drafting committee of eight persons. Unlike other conference communiqués, small group discussion and provincial meetings from each country were given ample opportunity to shape the Statement so as to express the mind of the Conference. When the draft statement was read out on the Friday afternoon, there were tears of joy and such outpourings of emotion and acclamation that I have rarely seen. With further input from participants, the final version of the Statement represented a clear way forward for faithful Anglicans around the world to endorse and affirm.

Here was a conference like no other conference I have attended: international and ethnically diverse Anglicans from around the globe seeking to submit themselves to the teaching of Scripture and give expression to faith and obedience in a compromised Communion and a hostile world. It was not just a moment in time but a movement. By God's grace it will gather momentum into the future. May God bless all that eventuates from this movement that it may bring glory to our Lord and Saviour and be used by him to bring salvation to the nations.

Glenn N Davies is Northern Region Bishop Dioces of Sydney and Chairman, EFAC Australia