The Challenge of, and the Challenge to, GAFCON
- Written by: Peter Jensen
In speaking of the challenge of GAFCON, I ought to indicate, of course, that I myself was present when the idea of GAFCON was born in December 2007 and helped organise the first Jerusalem Conference in June the next year. Following that I became the General Secretary of GAFCON, a position I held until 2018. Thus, I am no uncommitted bystander, although I am no longer present at the key policy-making decisions. However, I can speak with some knowledge about the history and significance of the movement, and I want to discuss something of the challenge that GAFCON represents in the Anglican Communion and a particular challenge that GAFCON faces.
Among bishops and the keen observers of the Anglican Communion, the phrase ‘Lambeth 1.10’ refers to something so well known that it needs little introduction or explanation. It is, of course, a reference to the famous (or, for some, infamous) Resolution of the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on the subject of human sexuality and especially homosexuality. The Resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority of those present and voting, namely 526 to 70.
As with all commonly used abbreviations, however, the danger is that the shorthand version will contribute to the loss of memory of the actual words. They are available on the Anglican Communion Website and are as follows:
commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;
a. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
b. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
c. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
d. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
e. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
f. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.
It is likely that this is the best-known Lambeth Resolution of all. It is integral to the genesis of the GAFCON Movement which arose ten years later in 2008. In the light of the fourth GAFCON Conference it is worth referring to it again as a way of thinking through the challenge to and of the GAFCON movement.
One of the blessings of the Anglican Communion is that its authority structures are loose. There is no way in which provinces can order each other about. For some, this is a serious weakness. They would argue that for the Communion to have the ecclesial standing that it ought to have there needs to be a constitution or a covenant to be entered into by the provinces, one which is enforceable. The danger of such an arrangement is that the majority may exert pressure on the minority over matters which are of secondary importance or even erroneous.
As well, it does not account for the legal structure of provinces, where the Primate and the General Synod may have very little power indeed. Such a province may enter covenant, but it may be unenforceable within the province.
Thus, as is often observed, resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, no matter how overwhelmingly passed, have no binding authority in the Dioceses and provinces represented within. But this weakness may also be an advantage, as it is in the case of Lambeth 1.10. What I mean is that the authority of the resolution is not legal, but moral. It was not an attempt to enforce by legislation but to address the consciences of those in the Communion who were proposing that same-sex unions be blessed.
The conscience was addressed in a twofold way. First, by the persons of those voting for the resolution. Here is a fellowship of Christian bishops, drawn together in Christ and by history, liturgy, theology and a deep respect for one another. As well, it is a worldwide fellowship in parts of which there are significant dangers of persecution and death. Many had already spoken with power in the Kuala Lumpur Statement favourably referred to in Lambeth 1.10. It could be thought that, even with strongly held convictions on the other side of this debate, those proposing innovation may hesitate out of love for others, not least when they saw the numbers of those opposing change. Is it best to change the minds of so many by radical political action or by lengthy and gentle persuasion, recognising that we may be in error, and based on the joint study of God’s word?
Secondly, however, the conscience is bound to the word of God. The appeal of Lambeth 1.10 (and the Kuala Lumpur Statement) is precisely to the scriptures. No-one can plausibly deny that the word of God has been overwhelmingly read in one way for the whole of Christian history. This, of course, does not in itself make that reading correct, but despite the debate of recent decades, even many of those who are in favour of change have agreed that the Bible’s teaching is inconsistent with anything but sexual intimacy within the bounds of monogamous heterosexual marriage. The case for innovation has to be made on other grounds.
As I contemplate the events of the last two decades in the Anglican Communion, it seems to me that the case for change has not really been argued. It has been enacted. We can see the same phenomenon in the broader culture, where the change in sexual ethics has been simply made rather than argued for. To use the old cliché, it is better to apologise after the event. Once the consequences, if any, have been absorbed, the revisers can make the next move. In this way a new culture is developed, one with its own ethical system and the habit of blaming as bad people those who do not accept it.
It seems to me that this helps explain the way in which those who have created the new way have explained the reluctance of others to make the change, and, indeed, even to blame them for it. The views of others, it is suggested, are not really scriptural, they are cultural. Whether it is the hateful ‘fundamentalism’ of the conservatives or the old-fashioned home cultures of the Global South, this, rather than Scripture, ‘explains’ their unwillingness to change. We all appeal to Scripture, the argument goes, and so the word of the Bible is not decisive. It is where you were born and whether you have absorbed the best of modern Western culture.
The Challenge Of GAFCON
The GAFCON movement, a product of the first conference in Jerusalem in 2008, is not a breakaway or schismatic group. As the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration make clear, it seeks to be nothing more or less than scriptural, Anglican, and fully committed to the Communion. Indeed it represents the Anglican Communion as it was before the fateful actions in Canada and the USA divided the churches in those provinces.
Thus, GAFCON does not represent one type of churchmanship. It incorporates the many varieties of Anglican commitment and practices characteristic of the Communion when the twenty-first century began.
Significant numbers of North American Anglicans had disaffiliated from their provinces at very considerable cost to themselves, unable to continue in fellowship with those whom, as they saw it, had disobeyed scripture, ignored the call of the majority and had set the gospel itself at risk. The fact that several years passed between these events and the creation of GAFCON is a reminder of the way that serious attempts were made, especially through meetings of Primates, to get the innovations repealed.
Ultimately, when the next Lambeth Conference was due without any resolution, and it was clear that no significant discipline would be exercised at the conference itself, and hence no support for the faithful Anglicans who had left their churches at high personal and congregational cost, it became clear to some that they must stand with the faithful and either not attend Lambeth, or go in order to speak for Lambeth 1.10. To support those who had made the choice to be absent, it was decided to have a conference in Jerusalem. The Conference became a movement and one of the first acts of the movement was to ‘gather up the fragments’, that is, to provide a thoroughly, indisputably Anglican home for those who had left their dioceses and provinces of origin.
Hence the birth of the Anglican Church of North America. None of those who left The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church in Canada had any wish to be other than faithful Anglicans. Indeed, it was their faithfulness which inspired their withdrawal. It was painful not to be recognised by the official instruments of Communion. But to their rescue came courageous Primates and provinces from elsewhere, offering them recognition and support in the hope that the day would come when their witness would be honoured and they would be fully restored to a repentant and renewed Communion. The heart of GAFCON is not schism but a gospel-based unity; it is not the destruction of the Anglican Communion but its salvation.
It is a spiritual renewal movement. When people withdrew from their home church, or declined to go to Lambeth with bishops who had defied scripture, it was always in the hope that their actions would summon those making innovations back to the authority of the word of God. In this it follows the teaching of scripture about how we are to deal with such matters (eg 1 Cor 5 and 6). As the Jerusalem Declaration says, ‘We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord’ (Clause 13).
It has never been the view of the GAFCON movement that the only way forward for clergy and people caught in a church which has denied Lambeth 1.10 is to leave. There are many who have judged it their duty for different reasons to remain. Thus in the UK, the creation of the Anglican Mission in England and the Anglican Convocation in Europe is not intended to imply that joining them is the only way forward. Originally a mission society, it has become part of the Anglican Network in Europe, recognised as truly Anglican by other Anglicans around the world. The work of the two Convocations has grown through evangelism, as was always intended. But it has also grown as others have left the Church of England and their churches in Wales and Scotland to join them. Such refugees are not joining independent churches or other denominations. They remain authentic Anglicans, awaiting the moment when unity around the teaching of scripture can once again be established. And the path to such reconciliation must be via repentance if it is to avoid being merely political.
The statement of the English House of Bishops with prayers about the recognition of same-sex unions, and the meeting of the General Synod which followed have been decisive moments for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. My own reaction when I first read the Bishops’ comments and suggestions surprised me. I live far away and have little to do with the Church of England as such – but I felt as though I could weep. It was as if I had been cut to the heart. As I have observed the reactions of others who belong to the Church of England, as well as those from other parts of the world to this and to the resolution of the General Synod I detect the same grief. It is as if we have been hurt by a parent. It will now be impossible to appeal to the formal teaching of the Church of England as cover while we fight our own cultural wars. At a crucial point – the sinfulness of fornication – it has capitulated to the sexual revolution. What does this do to the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury?
It is tragic to see a reference in the Bishops’ statement to the impact of ‘a proper twenty-first century understanding of being human and being sexual’. The irony is that there are signs at least that the sexual revolution may have run its course and even non- Christians are beginning to see that the whole cultural shift has been a disaster. What we need to have done and now need to be doing with even greater clarity and force, is to argue the case for the biblical view of marriage and sex and to demonstrate how good it is and how necessary for the well-being of society. This is not merely about same-sex activity, but about the whole contest for family and for the good health of both women and men. It is not a secondary issue, where we should ‘walk together’ in order to preserve a false unity, it is a primary, gospel matter. And it is a gift to the nations which we represent.
In that sense, the question of whether Christians need to leave their church for another is part of a much bigger issue. In a world where people are anxious to use the law to attack what they see as discrimination by Christian organisations and churches, it is truly helpful to be part of a much larger denomination which believes the same things and will defend you. Even within the church, though, will your denomination allow you to teach the great biblical truths about marriage and sex and the family, or will you be hindered and discouraged, even forbidden? It is interesting to see how cautious we have all become even now about teaching some biblical passages to do with the relationship between the sexes, for fear that we will be called out, and knowing that we will receive no support from the authorities. How much more will we now avoid Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 and other passages, or try to explain them away?
The Challenge To GAFCON
The fourth GAFCON met in April 2023 in Kigali. The love of world mission was very much on the agenda. But it is fully recognised that there is no mission worth following which is not true to the gospel as found in the Holy Scriptures. This is why, although those who gather want to engage in nothing more than getting on with sharing the gospel in a lost world, they know that they cannot do so with a mangled gospel. We must call sin what it is before we can summon the repentance and faith which is indispensable to salvation. It is precisely because Jesus is the love of God incarnate that he begins and continues his gospel proclamation with the summons to repentance. You do not love people by hiding the truth from them.
GAFCON has been much criticised for the strength of its stance. Many prefer the imagined ‘middle way’. It is as if the GAFCON leadership have been ambitious to take over the Anglican Communion (nothing could be further from the truth) or demanding that all who disagree with their own denomination must necessarily leave. The major GAFCON provinces have paid a heavy price for the stand they have taken, a stand which is vindicated by recent events. Once the 2022 Lambeth Conference was over, the English Bishops appear to have declared their hand. There were those who clearly see that the next step is the full recognition of same-sex marriage as ‘Holy Matrimony’. GAFCON has already taken action to sustain the truth in North America, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Wales and Scotland. This is not a ministry which can be allowed to lapse.
But there are two other things which GAFCON must also do. The first is to sustain the unity of the movement. Fundamentally this must be a spiritual matter. As we all know, cultural differences can easily cause dissent and division in any movement. There is a great need, therefore for continuing wise leadership, understanding, forgiveness and mutual care.
Secondly, the movement must examine the whole of Lambeth 1.10, and see that it not only forbids homosexual sex, it also acknowledges that true believers may be same-sex attracted and yet without sin, and it calls upon us all to care for such people, to honour and encourage them. Lambeth 1.10 speaks of pastoral care, of listening to the experience of same-sex attracted persons, of condemning irrational fear of homosexuals and of assuring those who are faithful that they are the children of God.
The movement has not entirely ignored these challenges. But in my opinion, we have not done enough to discuss them and apply them. We cannot make a strong appeal to Lambeth 1.10, but only to part of it. If we have failed our brothers and sisters within our provinces who are subject to same-sex attraction but do not act it out because of their faith in Christ, it is a failure for which we need to repent and seek forgiveness.
Indeed, some of the greatest heroes of the faith, not least since the sexual revolution began, have been those men and women who have lived single and chaste lives. Many would love to be married, but the opportunity has not arisen. And yet they have sought marriage only within the Christian family and failing that they have lived obediently to Christ in their sexual lives, whether same-sex attracted or not. We have been blessed in recent years by the testimony of many of our brothers and sisters with this lived experience, and we need to hear them, learn from them and respond appropriately in line with the resolution to which we make frequent appeal.
I count my involvement in GAFCON as one of the great blessings of my life. No doubt my contribution has been flawed and under my influence we may have said and done things which are less than helpful. I can think of personal mistakes for which I am deeply sorry. But one of the great benefits of meeting as we do every five years is the opportunity to hear God as we study his word together and to accept his guidance and rebuke as we hear of his promises and his glory. To the latter we respond with faith; to the former with repentance. We must, as the Kenyan liturgy puts before us so poignantly, take all our failures, all our sins, all our weaknesses, to the foot of the cross in genuine repentance and hear once more those words which we do not deserve to hear, ‘Your sins are forgiven’. For the blood of Christ remains our only hope in life and in death. In the end, this is both the challenge of and the challenge to GAFCON and, indeed, the whole Anglican Communion.
Peter Jensen is former General Secretary of GAFCON and former Archbishop of Sydney.
* This article first appeared in The Global Anglican (formerly known as The Churchman). It is reproduced in this form by permission of the author and The Church Society.
Global Implications from Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10
- Written by: Bishop Keith Sinclair
Global Implications from Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10 and Actions Since
This is an abridged version of the address given by Bishop Keith on Tuesday 18th April at GAFCON 4 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Let me begin with the global implications of Resolution 1:10 from Lambeth 1998.
It is important to remember that 1998 was the last time all the Bishops of the Anglican Communion met together as one body to take counsel together. They followed the pattern of earlier conferences, praying under the word of God and sought to express the mind of the whole Anglican Communion, as part of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.
In Resolution 1:10 they sought to express that mind in relation to human sexuality. The whole resolution was passed overwhelmingly by 526 to 70. Given the overwhelming numbers and the clear summary of the teaching of Scripture, there might have been reason for confidence that this Resolution would now shape the life of the whole Anglican Communion. The main reason for confidence, however, was that 1:10 did no more and no less than attempt to faithfully summarise the teaching of scripture in relation to human sexuality.
It spelt out;
- In view of the teaching of Scripture (the basis of all that follows), upholding faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, believing that abstinence is right for those not called to marriage.
- What biblical holiness meant especially for those ordained and the authorised prayer ministry of the Church;
- It said we “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions”;
- It recognised and committed the whole Church to “recognise(s) that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation” and “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons;
- The bishops wished to assure these people “that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ” AND
- And “while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture”, they called, “on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex”.
These were bold statements even then, and rightly based on Scripture and the gospel. They called the church to be full of truth and grace built on the word of God.
The resolution in the matter of human sexuality was calling the whole church to the obedience of the whole gospel as revealed in the whole of scripture for the blessing of the whole world.
Brothers and Sisters if we are to commend this Resolution today as expressing the truth and grace of God in the Bible, as I hope we will, let us commit to fully live this truth and grace ourselves wherever we live and whatever our cultural context, acknowledging humbly our own sin, even as we call upon the whole Anglican Communion to live fully in this grace and truth now.
COUNTER CULTURAL CALL
I hope you will agree that Resolution 1:10 gives expression to the call of Romans 12:1-3 in relation to our obedience of faith in matters of human sexuality. All of us are called to remain faithful to the gospel and the word of God.
All of us may find that difficult in different ways according to our own culture.
Different parts of Lambeth 1.10 will challenge our different cultures in different ways, sometimes in difficult ways, but that is what will happen when we do not conform to this world but allow the Spirit of God to transform us by the renewing of our mind.
At all times and in all places we will find we have to be countercultural, including in relation to sexuality.
As we are faithful and where necessary counter-cultural as Lambeth 1:10 invites us following on from Romans 12, then we can by the grace of God transform our own culture.
But faithfulness and cultural transformation is not what happened after Lambeth 1998.
We have heard already of the reaction to this resolution in North America and the consequences in relation to the Instruments of Unity, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the admonishing response of the Global South, and the creation of GAFCON. We have heard of the necessity of drafting and approving the Jerusalem Declaration in 2008.
The well-known words of the Primates meeting of 2003 bear repeating, not least in considering the recent decision of the General Synod of the C of E, 20 years later, and the Lambeth Conference in 2022, when there were for the first time ever in the history of the Anglican Communion bishops present in same sex unions.
This was the Primates in 2003 in response to the consecration of one bishop and the blessing of same sex unions then “At this time we feel the profound pain and uncertainty shared by others about our Christian discipleship in the light of controversial decisions … to authorise a Public Rite of Blessing for those in committed same sex relationships, and by the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA) to confirm the election of a priest in a committed same sex relationship to the office and work of a Bishop.”
And then “If his consecration proceeds, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level.”
We appear to be in a place where the Church of England is now proposing to do on the recommendation of the English House of Bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury what the Primates said in 2003 should not be done.
INSTRUMENTS OF UNITY TO 2008?
Before we consider briefly what has happened now in the Church of England, it is worth asking ourselves how throughout the intervening period the so called instruments of unity have tried to find a way to repair this tear. Has there been an attempt to find a way to walk apart given that the divisions on both sides recognise this as not being adiaphora?
It soon became clear in North America before and after the consecration of Gene Robinson, that those arguing for a change in the doctrine and practise of the Anglican Communion believe this to be a matter of justice, invoking all the prophetic words on the subject in scripture in support. Those Provinces following TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, in New Zealand, Brazil, Scotland, Wales have rejected Lambeth 1:10, and declared that the blessing of same sex unions is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture and those in such unions may be ordained and consecrated as Bishops.
A Commission was established in October 2003 by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the request of the Anglican Primates. As we now face the continuing consequences some of the Commissions’ comments still make for salutary reading; it said in 2004 “However, if realistic and visionary ways cannot be agreed to meet the levels of disagreement at present or to reach consensus on structures for encouraging greater understanding and communion in future it is doubtful if the Anglican Communion can continue in its present form.”
“Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart.”
But these words were not heeded; the moral authority of Resolution 1:10 was not recognised and the tear worsened.
INSTRUMENTS OF UNITY 2008 TO LAMBETH 2022
What I find extraordinary is that since that time, nearly 20 years ago now, and with another Lambeth Conference in view (even delayed by the pandemic) there has not been another attempt made to repair the tear, no intra Provincial commissions to find a way forward even if it means finding a way to walk apart. Rather after the Primates Meeting in 2016 the Archbishop of Canterbury appealed to “good disagreement” which seemed to mean that both these convictions about the “teaching of scripture” could be permitted within the Anglican Communion without any decision being made between them. This view became explicit during the Lambeth Conference 2022. A call to reaffirm Resolution 1:10 seems to have been introduced into the Call on Human Dignity (at the last minute) only to be hastily withdrawn after protest.
Here is John Stott in his book “Same Sex Relationships” quoting Wolfhart Pannenberg (Professor of Theology at Munich) with approval “The biblical assessments of homosexual practise are unambiguous in their rejection!” He (Pannenberg) therefore concludes that a church which were to recognise same sex unions as equivalent to marriage “would cease to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.
For a tremendous assessment of the Lambeth Conference 2022, please see the superb Communique from the Global South and its reaffirmation of Lambeth 1:10 in its entirety, its call for a resetting of the Anglican Communion and its call for visible differentiation from those Provinces which have impaired communion by departing from the biblical faith.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND
What of the Church of England?
It seems that what was permitted at Lambeth 2022 is now being promoted within the Church of England. The plea for unity is made constantly without regard for the truth which is at the heart of Resolution 1:10, the teaching of scripture.
There are however still many orthodox and evangelical voices in the Church of England who uphold that truth and have not accepted the claim that unity can be divorced from it.
The church which God used to bring the gospel to so many parts of the world because of her faith in that scriptural revelation, now seems to have succumbed to the very cultural captivity it appealed to so many to renounce.
Formally it remains to be seen how the Bishops’ will respond to what has been said globally and in England. At the Lambeth Conference 2022 the Archbishop said “the validity of the resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference 1998, 1:10 is not in doubt and that whole resolution is still in existence.” The question on the lips of many in England and around the world is “valid to whom”? If this is still true, then surely the revised prayers and guidance which the Bishop’s will bring to Synod, must explicitly demonstrate they are within Resolution 1:10, which must mean there can be no blessings of sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage. We are praying that the Archbishops and Bishops will draw back.
We await the final proposals, pastoral guidance and prayers in July or later this year. We are told that what is proposed is not a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England. The General Synod have required the Bishop’s to ensure that this is the case.
Let me finish with words from the prophet Jeremiah who has become a bit of a familiar friend over these last years. These words became something of a watchword for Bishop JC Ryle first Bishop of Liverpool. I am sure he would echo them now in relation to the Church of England and the whole Anglican Communion
Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it and find rest for your souls.
Bishop Keith Sinclair has just finished up as the National Director of the Church of England Evangelical Council and is an EFAC Global Trustee and retired Bishop of Birkenhead.
State of the Nation
- Written by: Stephen Hale
What is the current state of play in the Anglican Church in Australia*? That’s a big question and the following are a few perspectives.
It used to be that there were three evangelical Dioceses in Australia – Sydney, Armidale and North West Australia. It was that way for a long time. Today we can be encouraged by a big shift. Many Dioceses have changed or are changing! It is a fundamental realignment. Even in Dioceses where evangelicals are in a minority, there are great signs of change and growth. This showed up more fully at General Synod in both the range of speakers from right across the country and also in the election results.
This growth and change can be attributed to many factors (in no particular order):
- Two strong theological Colleges in Moore and Ridley (are they the two strongest Anglican Theological Colleges in the western world?)
- Healthy and encouraging episcopal ministry in many places
- The work of BCA/CMS
- EFAC’s role in being a fellowship and a place of encouragement for gospel ministry and biblical preaching. People know each other across our country because of the many Conferences held over many decades
- Healthy models of good parish ministry and good quality clergy and high calibre lay leadership
- An ongoing commitment to ministry with children and families and young people
- Strong student ministry
- Church planting and evangelism
- People’s willingness to participate in Synods both nationally and in their own Dioceses
- Community care expressed in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places
- Work in schools
- Cross cultural ministry and the growing number of language specific (non-English) churches
- Indigenous ministry and partnerships
There is much one could say here as well, but here are five major challenges.
- The future of the parish
In many parts of the country the parish system is struggling to survive. This is particularly the case in remote rural Australia, as well as in parts of our major cities where the demographic realities (aging congregations) are now pushing many churches into precarious places. The first step is often moving to part time ministry and then the cobbling together of unviable churches as a way of continuing on. Most people go to the church of their choosing and this has big implications as to the shape and relevance of the so-called local church. How many micro churches can a Diocese sustain and how do we manage decline while responding to new opportunities for growth?
- Rebuilding during an ongoing health crisis
Generally speaking, many churches are 20% to 30% smaller in mid-2022 than in mid-2019. This has been very tough as people are having to manage two things simultaneously: maintaining ministry in a context where the impact of illness is a week in and week out reality and having less people overall. At the same time, many people are seeking to rebuild ministries that may have fallen away during these past two years. The overall sense is that many people are both exhausted and somewhat disheartened.
- Children’s, Families and Youth
There has been a general decline in the number of children, families, and young people with whom churches are connecting with. While there has been a necessary focus on being child safe, this has made the task of raising volunteers much more complex and challenging. New innovative ideas are needed for connecting with non-church children and families as well as young people. Helping young people (and their parents) to navigate the complex sexual and identity issues of our day is incredibly demanding and pastorally challenging.
- Ordained Ministry
At present there is an increasing concern that the number of people offering for ordination is not sufficient to meet the ongoing needs into the future. Whether this is a temporary blip, or an on-going trend is unclear. Many (one could even suggest, far too many) clergy are being asked to go into unhealthy churches in the hope of pulling off a revival. While this is possible and does happen, in many cases it leads to people being crushed and often leaving ministry. In the main, most clergy would prefer to work in a team rather than on their own. It is easier to start a new church than to turn around an established church.
For the last decade or more there has been a huge conversation going on about mission and how we enable our churches to become missionally effective. These conversations have been important. At the same time, it has become increasingly complex and to some extent overwhelming. There are so many ways forward being promoted that it can be confusing and disempowering for many people. In the midst of all of this discussion and ferment we seem to have lost sight of simply seeking to see people come to faith. In a context where the wider culture is seemingly running against us, this passion for the gospel and for reaching the lost needs to be recaptured and encouraged. In God’s providence the language specific (non-English) ministries set a shining example for us.
Bishop Stephen Hale
Chair, EFAC Australia and EFAC Global
*Contention around orthodoxy and marriage were addressed in my report on General Synod in the last edition.
General Synod Update
- Written by: Stephen Hale
Most of the news in the secular press and various religious media from the Anglican General Synod has focussed on one motion and one issue. Indeed, General Synod did consider an important motion seeking to affirm the traditional understanding of marriage. The context for this was the Appellate Tribunal decision in relation to same sex blessing in the Diocese of Wangaratta. The Tribunal had indicated that if the General Synod wanted to make a statement on marriage it was should do so. The motion to affirm a statement on the doctrine of marriage was moved by Archbishop Kanishka Raffel in a thoughtful and sensitive speech and seconded by Natalie Rosner (Melbourne) who spoke to the pastoral challenges of upholding the Bibles teaching. While it was solidly supported in both the house of laity and the house of clergy, the house of bishops narrowly voted not to support it. It is worth noting that Sydney delegates accounted for roughly 50% of the lay and clergy support. There was therefore strong support from people from a wide range of dioceses across the country.
For those present there was significant upset at the outcome of this motion. While disappointing, it doesn’t change anything in any Diocese, nor does it change the previous statements of General Synod which have consistently upheld an orthodox doctrine of marriage. The reality is that since the Appellate Tribunal decision in 2020, Dioceses have been free to make their own decisions in relation to same sex blessings.
Another important motion did pass which clarified a definition of unchastity as sexual intimacy outside of marriage, with similar levels of support in each house, the only difference being that the house of bishops very narrowly supported it.
From an EFAC perspective there are two things to note. Firstly, the bishops of our church are now clearly out of step with the lay and clerical representatives at Synod. How this will play out is uncertain. The Diocese of Melbourne will be a focal point given the unexpected action of its bishop at General Synod!
Secondly the Synod reflected the fundamental shift that is taking place in the ACA. The majority of those elected or appointed for both the Standing Committee and the Primatial Election Board (except for the House of Bishops) are evangelicals from across Australia. During the Synod there were wonderful speeches from evangelicals from across Australia and many people from many places made great contributions. There was a high level of cooperation between evangelicals at Synod from across Australia.
EFAC Australia ran an evening session at General Synod with around 80 people present. Bishop Mark Short led an interactive panel of Kara Hartley (Sydney), Kate Beer (NT), Bishop Matt Brain (Bendigo) and Bishop Richard Condie (Tas). It was a great session and we spent time in prayer for the Synod.
General Synod reflects the life of our church in many respects. However, it doesn’t reflect the day to day reality of people serving our great God in and through the parishes, church plants and agencies of our church.
Stephen Hale is the former Lead Minister of the St Hilary’s Network and a Regional Bishop in the Diocese of Melbourne. Stephen is the Victorian Director of Overseas Council Australia and Chair of EFAC Global and EFAC Australia.
Will we embrace Anglican micro churches?
- Written by: Breeana Mills
Anglican priest John Wesley was convicted of the need to preach to English miners who were not engaged in local churches. These gatherings drew the poor and marginalised in every town, seeing many choosing to follow Jesus. So, Wesley created different structures of classes, small bands, and societies, to facilitate discipleship and evangelism within these people groups. So began the Methodist revival.
Mary Sumner experienced the difficulty of motherhood in 19th Century England, where Christian values were coming up against the industrial revolution. Driven by a conviction to support mothers, she gathered women from different social classes together to encourage them in motherhood and faith. Women with no church connections came to faith, worshipped together, and sought to reach other mothers. These meetings multiplied throughout England and were in 9 countries within 7 years. Mother’s Union was born.
Simple forms of church are not new. They have been happening for generations and bringing revival to the traditional church in different ways. Some we have embraced; some we have cast aside. Today’s movements of missional communities, micro churches or simple churches are no different. The question is, will we embrace or case aside such expressions of church?
Long before language of micro church became prevalent, missiologist Lesslie Newbigin offered two critiques of church structures of his times. Firstly, that the fundamental ecclesial unit was too large, and secondly that the current structure of the church emerged from an undifferentiated society, which is no longer descriptive of our modern society (Goheen, 2018, 123–126).
Missiologist Ralph Winter also noted in the early 1990’s that the majority of American churches currently exists for the middle class, and a cross-cultural mission approach will be need to reach the “unreached peoples” of America (Winter, 1990, 98–105). It follows that we see new and different forms of church emerging within the Anglican communion to reach unreached Australians.
Throughout history the Anglican church has adapted to changing circumstances, and in a post-covid world this will be no different.
Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury faced a similar question with the rise of many fresh expressions with the Church of England. Instead of resisting these new expressions, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested:
“It is clear to us that the parochial system remains an essential and central part of the national Church's strategy to deliver incarnational mission. But the existing parochial system alone is no longer able fully to deliver its underlying mission purpose. We need to recognize that a variety of integrated missionary approaches is required. A mixed economy of parish churches and network churches will be necessary, in an active partnership across a wider area, perhaps a deanery" (cited in Cray, 2009, x).
As we look through scripture it’s clear that ekklesia did not designate a single form, the focus is instead on a gathering of people. It is used in scripture to refer to larger public gatherings, such as in Solomon’s colonnade (Acts 5:12) as well as household gatherings, such as those who met at Priscilla and Aquila’s house among others (1 Cor 16:19, Phil 2, Col 4:15). Both approaches were held together in the early church, where believers met in the temple courts and in their homes (Acts 2:46). Paul’s letter to the Corinthians also demonstrates that these house churches often came together for larger gatherings (1 Cor 11:17, 22). While some may be tempted to see a modern church and small group network in these two structures, Paul is clear that both were a place of discipleship and evangelism (Acts 5:42). The early church used a variety of structures as needed in their context. Perhaps once again, in a post-covid world it is once again a fitting season for a movement of small Anglican churches?
So, what is a simple church or micro church?
Thom Rainer defines a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” (Rainer, 2006, 60) Brian Sanders defines church Rev as a “worshipping community on mission,” a group of people engaging together in regular rhythms of worship, community and mission, seeking to be a blessing towards a particular network or neighbourhood (Sanders, 2019, 34). These forms of churches are stripped back and simple. They are accessible not only to the dechurched, but predominately to the unchurched. Like John Wesley and Mary Sumner, these churches seek to take the church to the people, rather than asking the people to come to church. They seek to make disciples, and to multiply disciple-makers. While many of today’s churches seek to grow larger in number, these churches seek to go wider in reach, remaining small by continuing to multiply.
Micro churches are Jesus-centred communities, birthed when a small group of disciples collectively sense a call from God to love and serve a particular community in their area. Whether this is a geographical space or an affinity network, everything they do comes from a genuine desire to love this particular community. Yet, unlike a typical small group or even some house churches who engage together in times of worship and fellowship in community, a micro church also engages regularly in mission together. It’s a part of their identity, they exist for a missional purpose. This purpose shapes the way they engage in worship and fellowship as a community. Their worship still includes regular Anglican practices of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, confession, and intercessory prayer, but seeks to do so in a way accessible to those within their missional focus.
Micro churches seek to be a community conformed to the image of Christ. Graham Hill rightly suggests that the greatest issue in the Australian church today is our lack of conformity to Christ (Hill, 2020, 22). While it may be possible to hide within a larger community, within a smaller group, discipleship or the lack therefore becomes evident quickly. Jesus said people would know we are his disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35). Micro churches believe that this is an essential part of their witness. As micro churches reach out into the community, they seek to demonstrate Christ and make disciples, multiplying into every corner of our nation to the glory of God.
Finally, these communities are called to unity and collaboration with the mainstream Anglican church. In the early church it’s evident that there is partnership between house churches, and city-wide churches. As a church we are called to unity, but not necessarily uniformity. Our unity should transcend differences in practices, music, and structures, while holding tightly together to gospel truths. The Spirit is equally at work in the mainstream church, as in the many Anglican micro churches already in existence across Australia. Today as micro churches are becoming more prominent within and alongside our churches, the question is will we embrace them?
The micro church movement, by God’s grace, has gained increasing interest, traction, and fruitfulness throughout the pandemic. Whether the Anglican church chooses to accept these expressions or not, they will continue to engage in gospel-centred, Kingdom-focused ministry, taking the church to the unreached peoples of Australia. My hope is that in the future we would see them do so as representatives of the Anglican church of Australia, and we would partner with them as they go.
Recently, a small traditional Anglican church in Melbourne’s east has entered a partnership with a new micro church network church plant. The partnership is hoping that this church plant, primarily of young adults, will learn from the maturity, traditions, and experience of the existing Anglican church, while the existing church will be invigorated by the missional fervour of the church plant. While it is still very much in its infancy, it provides a picture of a possible way forward for the Anglican church of Australia. Micro churches and mainstream churches working together for God’s glory.
Rev Breeana Mills is Assistant Curate at St Philips Mt Waverly, Melbourne and leader of a nearby micro church network church plant.