This is the SEVENTH of FOURTEEN THESES TOWARD REVIVING, REFORMING, AND REORDERING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION, with Commentary.
By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
The 2008 Jerusalem Statement on the Global Anglican Future provides an authoritative basis for a new Communion of orthodox Anglicans. The Statement contains three elements: a prophetic indictment of the existing Communion, a confession of Anglican faith (the Jerusalem Declaration), and a new governing structure (a Primates Council).
The convening of the Global Anglican Future Conference was remarkable: it was organized in six months; it attracted 1,148 members, including 291 bishops and 7 archbishops who paid their way to get to Jerusalem (unfortunately those from Muslim nations could not get visas from their home countries and participated in a parallel meeting across the Jordan River). Attendees were treated to first-class teaching, joyous plenary worship, regional fellowships, and a side trip to the Sea of Galilee. Above all, there was a sense of God’s presence and blessing, such that the Jerusalem Statement claimed that this occasion was “not a moment in time but a movement in the Spirit”; and as of April 2023, there will have been three Assemblies since then.
The question arises: what was this movement that birthed these conferences?
Soon after the first GAFCON Assembly, “Gafcon” came to be a moniker for the “Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.” There are four important claims staked out in this title.
First, Gafcon is a movement arising from the global character of Anglican Christianity. While it is an historical fact that the Gospel accompanied the extension of British imperial power across the seas, it is also true that it was conveyed, often at great price, by missionaries from England and then by national local evangelists and martyrs (Bishop Hannington and the Uganda martyrs being symbols of this reality). Gafcon represents the coming of age of that global movement, both in the sense of finding a mature identity and in the sense of “leaving home base.”
Second, Gafcon is a spiritual fellowship, aimed at reviving the church. GAFCON II in Nairobi focused on the East African Revival, which was a second-generation outpouring of Holy Spirit power that spread from Rwanda and Uganda throughout East Africa and beyond, as exemplified in charismatic renewals as wide apart as North America and Singapore. As such, it was a reminder that the invisible Church is a creation of the grace and the Spirit of God, not of man’s invention.
(As I write this, there are reports of a revival on several Christian college campuses in the USA. As a veteran of the charismatic renewal fifty years ago, I can testify that, despite theatrics and exaggerations, revival in the Spirit is genuine and can lead to profound transformations in the life of the Church, as well as in the lives of individuals and the wider society [the most recent appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court was a participant in the renewal]. Surely there is precedent in Scripture and church history of God working to revive and reform His church and the wider society. Let us pray for any such movement in the West and Global South, in the Anglican churches and other Christian bodies.)
The true Church is a koinonia in the Holy Spirit, where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered (Acts 2:42; Article XIX). The word koinonia can be translated “fellowship” or “communion.” As such it refers not to an organization but an organism, the Body of Christ: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Gafcon claims to be a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church in the service of a particular historic tradition.
Third, Gafcon is a confessing fellowship, aiming to reform the church according to God’s Word. The confession of the one God, who had delivered His people from Egypt, was foundational to the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 6:4; Exodus 20:2). Similarly, the apostolic church confessed “Jesus is Lord” in short acclamations and in longer “creedal statements (1 Corinthians 8:5-6; 15:1-11; 1 Timothy 3:16). Confessing the faith and reforming the church go hand in hand. The patristic church expanded these statements into the catholic creeds in order to clarify the nature of the Triune God and the Person of Jesus Christ. In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformers added confessions to make clear that “we are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith” (Article XI).
In our day, the doctrine of human nature has proved the point of contention and division in church and society, and the Lambeth Conference addressed this matter in 1998 with a clear statement on “human sexuality.” Although the rejection of this doctrine and the failure to discipline those who denied it was the proximate cause of GAFCON 2008, the Gafcon movement took the opportunity to reaffirm Anglican essentials and address related issues of world mission, environmental stewardship, ecclesiology, and eschatology.
Fourthly, the Gafcon movement took the first step toward reordering the church. While the first GAFCON was a living example of the global church gathered, it also proposed structures of continuity for the movement. These structures mirrored in some ways the so-called “Instruments” of the Anglican Communion, especially in the enhanced roles of the Primates, but the Gafcon movement did not go so far as formally to replace these Instruments. Still, it introduced a tension between them. By boycotting Lambeth 2008 and the subsequent “Canterbury” Primates meetings, some churches began to look to Gafcon and to its Primates and its Assemblies as authoritative.
This differentiation became more pronounced as congregations, clergy, and laity in North America began to separate or be expelled from the official heterodox bodies in what came to be called “realignment.” As early as 2009, the Gafcon Primates recognized the Anglican Church in North America as a legitimate Anglican Province and admitted its Archbishop, Robert Duncan, as a full member of its Primates Council. Since that time, one other Province (Brazil) has been added, along with a number of confessing “branches.” The Global South Fellowship likewise has recognized these entities.
What I am arguing in these Theses is that what we are seeing before our very eyes in this movement is God’s reviving, reforming, and reordering of the Anglican Communion. The defection of the Church of England from its Christian heritage will accelerate this development greatly in the days to come.
In the next three Theses, I shall seek to demonstrate how the seeds of this development were sown in the fundamental declaration of GAFCON: the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration.
Note: See here the Introduction to the Fourteen Theses. On each subsequent week, I shall comment on one of the Fourteen Theses. The FIRST FIVE theses with Commentary on “The Crisis of Contemporary Anglicanism” have now been collated and are available HERE.
Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry, former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University and author of two books and numerous articles on global Anglicanism.