This is the NINTH of FOURTEEN THESES TOWARD REVIVING, REFORMING, AND REORDERING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION, with Commentary.
By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
The Statement from GAFCON 2008 includes the Jerusalem Declaration, which has been widely hailed as an excellent confession of Anglican faith and has been used as the basis for subsequent Conferences. Its first seven clauses recall historic Anglican essentials: the Gospel and Lordship of Christ, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and in accordance with Scripture, the Creeds, the Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal. The second seven clauses address contemporary issues: sexuality and marriage; the Great Commission mandate; stewardship and social justice; and unity in diversity of the flock, while rejecting false shepherds.
The Old Testament prophets are backward-looking as well as forward-looking, or perhaps better, they look through the lens of the past to envision God’s future for His people. The same Jeremiah who foresees a new Covenant calls on the people to “stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16).
Similarly, the Jerusalem Statement envisions a future grounded in the “ancient roads” of Anglicanism. In line with the vast majority of attendees in Jerusalem, it states: “Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion.” The Statement, however, defines Anglicanism not by formal structures, the so-called “Instruments of Identity,” but by the historic formularies. In particular, it cites the canon law (A5) of the Church of England:
The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.
It continues: “We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it.” Implicitly, the GAFCON Assembly is accusing churches of the Anglican Communion, and the Instruments, of having wandered off the ancient path. As Jeremiah put it to the church of his day: “They said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
The Jerusalem Statement does not deny, indeed it honours, the history of the Christian faith in England, stretching back to Augustine of Canterbury and beyond and up through Thomas Cranmer to the present, but as the English Reformers themselves said, historic churches can err and have erred in matters of faith and practice insofar as they “ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written” (Articles XIX-XX1).
For this reason, the Statement makes clear: “While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.” In 2008, Canterbury was judged deficient in confronting the false doctrine of the North Americans, and the Jerusalem conference felt led to offer a new confession of faith to guide its churches: the Jerusalem Declaration.
The Jerusalem Declaration
As the Statement Group formed itself in June 2008, I was appointed scribe for its drafts. I recall urging that the Statement be as concise as possible and theologically cohesive, not simply a laundry list of sundry concerns. As it turns out the Statement is less than 2,500 words and the Jerusalem Declaration just over 700 words in fourteen brief clauses. These clauses “build upon the doctrinal foundation of Anglican identity” and hence become paving stones of the new movement.
The introduction to the Jerusalem Declaration refers to two great pillars of catholicity, the Triune God and the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by the Lord Jesus, which liberate and transform individual believers and constitute the Church. “In light of the above,” it continues, “we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.”
As I have expounded the fourteen clauses of the Jerusalem Declaration elsewhere in some detail, I shall summarize its main themes here.
The Jerusalem Declaration is backward-looking and forward-looking. Just as Articles I-V of the Thirty-nine Articles receive the Trinitarian orthodoxy of the first five centuries, so the Jerusalem Declaration lists simply in clauses 1-7 basic tenets held by Anglicans: the Gospel of salvation and Lordship of Christ and His atoning death (clauses 1 and 5), the authority of Scripture (clause 2), the Ecumenical Councils and Creeds (clause 3), the Thirty-nine Articles (clause 4), the Book of Common Prayer (clause 6), and the historic episcopate and Ordinal (clause 7).
The second group of seven clauses addresses current and future matters facing the Church today: sexuality and marriage (clause 8), the Great Commission to evangelize the nations (clause 9), stewardship of the earth and relief of the poor (clause 10), church unity and differentiation (clauses 11-13), and Christ’s Return (clause 14).
The Jerusalem Declaration is biblical. It affirms the inspired revelation of Holy Scripture as God’s Word written, which alone is sufficient for salvation (cf. Articles VI and XX). It also affirms the need for the Church and its members to appropriate this Word through reading, preaching, teaching, and obeying it. Contrary to claims that Scripture yields radically diverse interpretations, Clause 2 establishes a hermeneutic rule for reading the Bible in its “plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” This clause upholds the unity and clarity of Scripture which is useful for comforting the believer and building up the church (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16 and Cranmer’s Scripture Collect).
The Jerusalem Declaration is eirenical and ecumenical. It seeks to embrace Evangelical, catholic, and charismatic strains of contemporary Anglicanism. It also seeks unity among all orthodox Christians, distinguishing between essential truths and secondary matters (adiaphora). While recognizing that this distinction can be and often is disputed, the Gafcon movement is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). On this basis, its Primates Council in 2015 commissioned a task force, with diverse members, to study the contentious issue of women in the episcopate.
The Jerusalem Declaration calls for church discipline. Clause 13 reads as follows: “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.” Even as Global Anglicans seek unity and peace, they also recognize that heresy and schism have existed in the church since apostolic times. In their indictment, they claim as a “fact” that certain Anglican churches have been holding a false Gospel and that the Communion Instruments have failed to discipline those churches. On this basis, Gafcon churches have declared themselves out of communion with those churches and have recognized alternate jurisdictions. This break in fellowship was done only after a decade of fruitless negotiation. Nor is Gafcon being schismatic: like the Anglican Reformers, they argue that those who rejected Lambeth I.10 have in effect embraced schism. “Who moved?” it is saying.
Finally, clause 13 holds out the goal of church discipline – repentance, reconciliation, and restoration – with the hope that God may grant revisionists repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25). Just as there are always two sides to a marital separation or divorce, so there are two sides to discipline. To be sure, the revisionist side owns the primary fault of breaking the Communion, but Global Anglicans recognize their own failures and accountability (see clause 8), and they beseech the Bridegroom to sanctify and cleanse His church that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:26-27).
Before the 2018 Gafcon Assembly, Archbishop Welby warned the English bishops not to attend because to affirm clause 13 would abrogate their “good disagreement” with fellow revisionist bishops in the Church of England. What happens now that that House of Bishops as a body has openly endorsed false doctrine and practice? A painful time lies ahead for those in the Church of England. Clause 13, as I see it, gives those within and without a place to stand.
Finally, the Jerusalem Declaration is amendable. There is good precedent for this. Recall, for instance, that the original Nicene Creed in 325 AD was amended at the Council of Constantinople in 381, and Thomas Cranmer’s Forty-two Articles in 1553 became the Thirty-nine Articles in 1563. To be sure, no formulary should be lightly revised, but neither should it be sacrosanct. As I recall, the Statement Group in 2008 never considered the issues surrounding human life, such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, gender identity, and artificial intelligence, yet these matters are bound up in the larger attack on God’s creation of humankind and his lordship over life and death. I hope the Gafcon and Global South leadership will carefully weigh these issues and amend the Declaration at the right time.
The Jerusalem Declaration has been accepted as an authoritative confession of faith for those churches of the Gafcon fellowship, and attendees at the upcoming meeting in Kigali are asked to affirm it. It has been included in the “Documentary Foundations” of the Anglican Church in North America. It has also been endorsed by the Global South Fellowship. It is my hope that it may serve as a basis for a future Communion of Global Anglicans (Thesis 13).
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.