This is the TENTH of FOURTEEN THESES TOWARD REVIVING, REFORMING, AND REORDERING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION, with Commentary.
By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
The Jerusalem Conference established a Primates Council independent of the Lambeth “Instruments” and authorized it to recognize new confessing Anglican jurisdictions. Subsequently, the Gafcon Primates Council has recognized the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Church in Brazil, and a number of “Branches” inside existing unfaithful Anglican provinces.
I recall the following anecdote from my dear friend John Rodgers. As John headed off for one of the many Anglican meetings he was involved with in the late ‘90s, his wife Blanche said to him: “John, don’t just come back with another statement.” Shortly after, John came back from a meeting in Singapore consecrated as an extra-provincial bishop in the Anglican Communion!
This was the spirit which most attendees brought to GAFCON 2008. So there was great rejoicing as the eight Primates present – Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Valentine Mokiwa of Tanzania, Bernard Malango of Central Africa, Justice Akrofi of West Africa, and Greg Venables of the Southern Cone of South America – walked solemnly to the front of the Assembly and signed the final Statement.
The Assembly that day unanimously ratified the establishment of a new entity, as expressed in the final section:
We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, do hereby acknowledge the participating Primates of GAFCON who have called us together, and encourage them to form the initial Council of the GAFCON movement. We look forward to the enlargement of the Council and entreat the Primates to organise and expand the fellowship of confessing Anglicans.
In particular, the Assembly authorised the Primates to take emergency action within the Anglican Communion by recognizing its own Primates Council, with partially overlapping membership but independent authority of the “official” Primates Meeting. The first independent action of the new Primates Council authorised by the Jerusalem Statement was to recognize new Anglican churches:
We urge the Primates’ Council to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.
The first step in this direction had already been taken after 2003 when Global South churches gave recognition to those churches, clergy and laity who had felt conscience-bound to separate themselves from the Episcopal Church USA, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Province in Brazil, as noted in the Statement:
We thank God for the courageous actions of those Primates and provinces who have offered orthodox oversight to churches under false leadership, especially in North and South America.
The justification and authorization of this extraordinary action had been given in the prior sections: the indictment of certain Anglican Provinces as heretical and clause 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration, which denies their spiritual and ecclesial authority.
Now, however, those caretaker Provinces were free to allow those churches to organize their own jurisdictions, beginning in North America.
We believe this is a critical moment when the Primates’ Council will need to put in place structures to lead and support the church. In particular, we believe the time is now ripe for the formation of a province in North America for the federation currently known as Common Cause Partnership to be recognised by the Primates’ Council.
Since 2008, the Gafcon Primates Council has recognized two Provinces: the Anglican Church in North America (2009) and the Anglican Church in Brazil (2018) and a number of “Branches” which have not yet reached provincial status in New Zealand, Great Britain and Europe, Ireland, South Africa, Ghana, and Australia.
The legitimacy of the Gafcon Primates Council and its actions have never been accepted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “Instruments of Unity.” Justin Welby dismissed Gafcon as a “ginger group” and did not deign to reply to the 2018 Assembly, representing 40 million Anglicans, when it appealed to him to invite bishops from the Anglican Church in North America to Lambeth 2020.
While some may have been inclined to see Archbishop Welby as simply abiding by the rules of the Communion, his recent embrace of the Western agenda, coupled with his abrupt treatment of the Global South bishops who attended Lambeth 2022, should dispel any such charitable interpretation.
The Form and Future of the Primates Council
By speaking of a “Primates Council,” Gafcon was identifying a kind of authority known to Anglicans worldwide. Anglicans had lived within the regional Provincial structures of the Communion for more than a century. Provinces are “episcopally led” by diocesan bishops and a metropolitan Primate and “synodically governed” by a representative assembly of bishops, clergy and laity, all in conformity with diocesan and provincial constitution and canons.
For historical reasons having to do with the Established Church of England, Provinces were considered “autonomous,” while being recognized by (“in communion with”) the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was accorded “primacy of honour.” As the Global South Provinces emerged from the shadow of colonialism, the formation of a “Primates Meeting” as an “Instrument of Communion” and the idea of “enhanced primatial authority” had been promoted by successive Lambeth Conferences. Then when the crisis of truth arose following Lambeth 1998, the Archbishop of Canterbury unilaterally decided that the Global South Primates had overstepped their bounds.
There was, however, no formal reason preventing a group of Primates from constituting their own Council, just as was no formal reason preventing global Anglicans from recognizing a new entity as authoritative. According to the Statement from GAFCON II in Nairobi in 2013: “We believe we have acted as an important and effective instrument of Communion during a period in which other instruments of Communion have failed both to uphold gospel priorities in the Church, and to heal the divisions among us.” In a similar fashion, the Gafcon movement now looks to its Assemblies to exercise the kind of function held by previous Lambeth Conferences.
Many in the Gafcon movement – and even more in the Global South Fellowship – are looking ahead to a church order based on “conciliarism,” which makes church councils, guided by a Covenant, to be the locus of unity for the Communion. There is a long history of church councils, from the first Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 to the ecumenical councils of the early church, which commend conciliar governance of the church, from the local to the national to the international level.
But conciliarism is not enough. One could argue that the structure of the official Anglican Communion is conciliar, with subsidiary levels of representation, dialogue and oversight built into its “Instruments,” and it functioned adequately for its first century. The crumbling of the Anglican ethos is due to the undermining of its foundation by a false and demonic ideology, which replaced the truth of the Gospel with a lie and is out to destroy the precious children of the heavenly Father.
That is why reforming and reordering the Communion must begin by speaking the truth in love to those who are promoting a false Gospel, by separating from the false structures of the Communion, and by restoring the biblical foundations and mission of Anglicanism to preach the Gospel to all nations. The Jerusalem Declaration, as I see it, gets those priorities straight. From that start, God willing, good structures of order can be returned to the global Anglican Communion.
The next four Theses will sketch certain directions this movement may take.
Note: See here the Introduction to the Fourteen Theses. On each subsequent week, I shall comment on one of the Fourteen Theses. THESES 1-5 WITH COMMENTARY on “The Crisis of Contemporary Anglicanism” and THESES 6-10 WITH COMMENTARY on “The Gafcon Response” have now been collated and are available HERE and 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.