Introduction to Theses 11-14
In this third section of my commentary, I intend to sketch the movement of Global South Anglicans in the decade-and-a-half after GAFCON 2008, during which two opposing roads were charted for the future of the Anglican Communion. One road – that taken by many churches in the West – was identified by Gafcon based on a false Gospel and leading to destruction. The other road was grounded in faithfulness to God’s Word as expressed in historic Anglican formularies and lived out in a worldwide community of churches. The divergence of these two roads has become critical as the Church of England and Archbishop of Canterbury have made their unfortunate choice. In reacting to this crisis, Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship have taken two parallel lanes of this second road, but it is now time for those lanes to converge.
Where do Global Anglicans go from here? That will be my proposal for GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship: a united communion of gospel-centered Global Anglicans independent of Canterbury.
THESIS 11: PARALLEL LANES TOWARD A NEW COMMUNION
In its “Letter to the Churches” from Jerusalem in 2018, the Gafcon Assembly urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite bishops from the Gafcon churches in North America and Brazil and to disinvite those bishops who had rejected and violated the teaching of Lambeth Resolution I.10, with a warning that otherwise Gafcon bishops would once again not attend the next Lambeth Conference.
2008. Gafcon was launched. A movement of global Anglicans had taken its stand. A clear and concise statement of identity had been published in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. A Council of Primates began to meet and recognize alternate jurisdictions within the Communion.
The next decade was to see two further Conferences, GAFCON II in Nairobi (2013) and GAFCON III again in Jerusalem (2018). By this time there had been significant retirements of leading Primates, Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi, and the emergence of new Primates, Nicholas Okoh from Nigeria, Eliud Wabukala from Kenya, and Robert Duncan from the Anglican Church in North America. Archbishop Peter Jensen, while not a Primate, served as General Secretary during this decade, assisted by Bishop Martyn Minns and the Rev. Charles Raven. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali was to serve as an important theological advisor during these years.
The Gafcon Primates met regularly, semi-annually or annually, in person or by Zoom. Six months after GAFCON I, the Primates admitted the Anglican Church in North America as a full-fledged Province and seated Archbishop Robert Duncan as a member of the Primates Council. Bob Duncan had been the architect of the Common Cause movement that brought together North American Anglicans under one banner, and he contributed his wisdom now to the global scene.
GAFCON II was held in the tense atmosphere following an Islamist bombing two weeks before in Nairobi. Despite strict security protocols, 1,358 gathered in the same spirit of fellowship and worship as in Jerusalem five years before. The “Nairobi Communique and Commitment” reaffirmed the work of GAFCON I:
Our willingness to submit to the written Word of God and our unwillingness to be in Christian fellowship with those who will not, is clearly expressed in The Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. This means that the divisions in the Anglican Communion will not be healed without a change of heart from those promoting the false gospel, and to that end we pray.
The Communique was jointly read at the final Assembly by the Rev. Canon Dr. John and Mrs. (Dr.) Ruth Senyonyi of Uganda. John and Ruth are heirs of the East African Revival (many of the early Revivalists were married couples), and they highlighted the Conference theme of repentance, both personal and institutional.
GAFCON III was held again in Jerusalem, attended by 1,950 delegates from 50 countries. In the Conference statement – “Letter to the Churches” – Gafcon grounded its ecclesial identity in the Gospel: “The Gospel of God creates the Church of God.” The Gospel, it says, leads to proclamation and reformation, which requires confronting the false Gospel which had continued unaddressed by Canterbury. For this reason, the Gafcon bishops warned Justin Welby that they would not attend the upcoming Lambeth Conference unless he invited the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church of Brazil and refused invitation to those churches that had defied Lambeth I.10.
GAFCON III also addressed the matter of perpetuating its mission. While the structure of Primatial governance had followed naturally from the existing Communion practice, in some cases when a Primate retired, the successor did not share his commitment to Gafcon and the Province was lost or divided. The Letter to the Churches proposed a Council of Advisors for each Province to give deeper rooting in the life of the churches. This proposal, while approved by the Assembly, has not been carried out as yet.
The Global South Fellowship
I described (Thesis 6) the diversion in the road between Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship when Archbishop John Chew was appointed to head the Lambeth-sponsored covenant process. Until that time, almost all Global South Anglicans favored some sort of covenant as a way forward, and in a real sense the Jerusalem Statement was a preamble of sorts to such a covenant. The “official” Anglican Communion Covenant went through three editions, each doctrinally weaker, and under intense pressure from the Left, Rowan Williams gutted it of any disciplinary authority. Recognizing its weakness, South East Asia appended a long “Preamble” to its Letter of Accession. In the meantime, many churches in Gafcon and then the Episcopal Church and Church of England rejected it. The truth was simple: there was no way to paper over the divide between orthodoxy and heresy in the Anglican Communion.
The Global South Fellowship began again in 2016 to draft a detailed “Covenantal Structure for the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches.” This proposal has many of the same features of the Jerusalem Statement. It defines the Anglican Communion in terms of its historical origin and its Reformation formularies, and it makes no mention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the “Instruments of Unity.” Its “Fundamental Declarations” largely overlap with the Jerusalem Declaration. In line with clause 13, the covenant declares that “our churches are out of communion” with those who allow same-sex blessings or marriage or ordination of those in same-sex unions.
The Global South Covenant outlines a governing structure far more detailed than the Jerusalem Statement, but one can see basic similarities in the role of Provinces and dioceses (“Branches”), of periodic Assemblies, and of mutual accountability.
The parallel lanes seem to be converging. The only major matter that separated them was tactical: whether or not to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2022.
THESIS 12: AFTER LAMBETH 2022
Archbishop Welby dismissed Gafcon as a mere pressure group, ignored its plea, and has sought to divide and conquer its members. Three Provinces and their Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda), representing over 30 million Anglicans, chose not to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2020 and explained their determination not to associate with heretics. Another group of Primates and bishops, representing nearly 10 million Anglicans of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, attended Lambeth, appealed to the Conference to uphold Lambeth I.10 and refused Communion with those who violated it. As ever, Canterbury and the Conference ignored their appeal.
GAFCON III addressed its appeal to Canterbury along with a warning of absenting its bishops from the 2020 Lambeth Conference. Covid-19, however, had other ideas, and Lambeth was rescheduled for July-August 2022. But no amount of time was needed by Archbishop Welby to turn a deaf ear to what he contemptuously called a “ginger group.” There would be no invitations forthcoming to the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church of Brazil.
As Lambeth 2022 drew near, three of the Gafcon Primates from among the largest Anglican Provinces – Henry Ndukuba of Nigeria, Laurent Mbanda of Rwanda, and Stephen Kaziimba of Uganda – published a forthright statement of their position:
The Anglican Communion has been in a crisis of unity, faith, and ethics since about two decades ago. Although the presenting issue is the recognition of homosexual relations and consecration of active Gay Bishops by The Episcopal Church (of America) and allied Provinces, the underlying question has been that of Biblical revisionism, arising from the adoption of secular culture within the Church.
The Anglican Church in the West is in rebellion; having rejected fundamental beliefs in the authority of the Holy Bible, sound Biblical ethics, uniqueness, and Lordship of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a form of apostasy, which Jesus Christ warned against in Matthew 16:11.
The Anglican Communion is undoubtedly experiencing spiritual warfare between the Kingdom of God and that of Satan. The cry of Moses, “Who is on The Lord’s side?” (Exodus 32:36) calls for the crucial decision which all genuine Christians and church denominations must make at this period.
Consequently, the bishops of three Provinces stayed away from the Lambeth Conference en bloc. The Primate of Kenya and other individual bishops joined in this boycott.
In the meantime, a second approach – I would call it a strategy of engagement – was taken by the Global South Fellowship: to attend Lambeth with the stated objectives to:
- Foster the Unity of the Orthodox, whilst being a faithful witness, and defender of ‘the faith once delivered’;
- Sound a ‘Clarion Call’ to Biblical Faithfulness, including seeking the ‘re-affirmation of Lambeth 1.10’ as the ‘official teaching’ of the Anglican Church on marriage and sexuality;
- Stand by GSFA’s principle of not being a ‘breakaway group’ from the Anglican Communion. (GSFA sees itself, and seeks to be part of, the ‘holy remnant’ that God has preserved in the Anglican Communion), and to
- Spur on the faithful in the Communion to get the Gospel out into the world, earnestly defending the purity of the faith in order that it might be propagated to a lost and needy world.
On this basis, several Gafcon Primates and Provinces, whose membership overlapped with the Global South Fellowship, attended Lambeth. Justin Welby saw the willingness to attend as an opportunity to split the Global South opposition. He had no intention, however, of acceding to their substantive objectives or of affirming Lambeth I.10 without insisting on “good disagreement” and “walking together” with those who openly violated it. This duplicity resulted in several stressful confrontations with Global South leaders and their refusing to take Communion at the final plenary worship.
If there is any doubt about the direction the Archbishop of Canterbury intends to take, it has been settled by his recent support of same-sex blessings in the Church of England.
So the question for the Gafcon movement and the Global South Fellowship is this: in what sense do they, in fact, constitute the Anglican Communion? As I noted (Thesis 8), since GAFCON 2008 no one intends to “leave” the Anglican Communion, but neither are they willing to compromise the fundamental doctrine, discipline and worship of classic Anglicanism. What may be emerging from the past year is the conviction that the “official” Communion and its Instruments have forfeited their birthright and legacy and have set out on another road to a far country.
Does there come a time when the Lord declares that a particular people are “not my people”? Looking through the prism of his own broken marriage, the prophet Hosea wrestled with this question with regard to the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Hosea 1). The Lord made clear to him that the current kingdom – “the house of Jehu” – would be destroyed and that its claim to represent God’s covenant people was null and void. Yet at the same time, He assured Hosea that the Covenant itself remained unbroken and that He would ultimately unite His people under one Head.
Those of us in North America passed through a similar quandary. At what point, we asked, has the official church forfeited its claim to authority? At what point must a person come out and say of his beloved church, “You are not my people.” For most of us in North America this was a decades-long struggle, but when we finally did depart or were expelled, the Gafcon Primates and the Global South Fellowship recognized the Anglican Church in North America not as a “breakaway group” nor as one option alongside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada but as the legitimate replacement for two churches that had become irrecoverably heretical and hence schismatic.
This same troubling question is now raised for the Communion as a whole and its Instruments.
THESIS 13: A NEW COMMUNION OF CHURCHES
Plans should be laid at the 2023 Gafcon Assembly in Kigali – in conjunction with the Global South Fellowship – authorizing a working group to develop and present a final proposal for a revived, reformed, and reordered Communion to a joint Assembly in Jerusalem in 2028. This proposed new Communion – the “Jerusalem Communion of Global Anglicans” or the “Global Anglican Communion” – will fulfil Gafcon’s original vision to be an instrument of revival of historic Anglican faith and mission based on the confession of the Jerusalem Declaration. The final proposal will develop further covenantal structures of governance and mutual accountability appropriate to a communion of churches.
The proposal of forming a Communion of Global Anglicans is both visionary and practical.
I suppose the most powerful vision of the Church triumphant is found in the penultimate chapter of the Bible:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed – on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev 21:1-2,12-27)
While the Church expectant here on earth hardly compares with the glory that is to come, there are points of continuity.
- She is a forerunner of the Kingdom of God, as promised by Jesus Himself.
- She is holy, and her members, while sinners, are justified by faith in Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit in what Paul calls the mystery of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32).
- Her sanctity is set apart by a moral and spiritual wall of separation from those who have refused God (verse 8).
- She participates in the fellowship of the angels, who watch over and guard the identity and sanctity of the churches on earth.
- Her gates open in all directions of the compass, fulfilling the promise to Abraham “that in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 28:14).
- Her foundation is that of the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, worship, and evangelism and in particular in the apostolic scripture and the apostolic ministry (Acts 2:42-47; 1 Timothy 4:12-16).
This vision is defined succinctly in the Creeds as the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” No one tradition, however ancient or however widespread, has an exclusive claim to this vision, but the Anglican tradition is one of those widely recognized and respected throughout the world today.
So what makes a communion of churches? The Church in the New Testament is described in terms of koinonia, usually translated “fellowship” or “participation.” In its deepest sense, koinonia proceeds from the relations of love of the Persons of the Triune God. St. Paul confers koinonia on the Church in this blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Likewise, St John identifies the goal of the proclamation of the Gospel is koinonia with God and koinonia among believers:
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ…. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:3,6-7)
Just as John connects koinonia with the blood of Jesus, so Paul speaks of the participation in the body and blood of Christ which believers enjoy when they take and eat the bread and drink the wine of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16).
Koinonia is also a sign of the Church’s unity in Christ, according to Jesus’ high priestly prayer that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us (John 17:21). So Paul exhorts his church in Philippi to seek unity: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2).
I have dwelt on the sacred background for “communion” in order to distinguish the church from a mere political assembly or social club. To be sure, the church at every level will be ordered in some way, often reflecting secular polities, e.g., with a constitution and rules of order. The word “covenant,” even in secular usage, carries an added weight, being enacted before God. For this reason, I think the idea of an Anglican Covenant is appropriate for an Anglican communion of churches.
So now I turn to the practicalities of a revived, reformed and reordered communion, uniting the work of Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship. What’s in a name? I’m suggesting “Jerusalem Communion of Global Anglicans” or “Global Anglican Communion” as making clear the continuity with the historic Anglican Communion. “We are not leaving the Anglican Communion, we are the Anglican Communion!” many have said since 2008. True perhaps, but while we cherish our bonds of affection as part of the ecclesia Anglicana, wrangling over titles is not Christ’s way. Let’s leave the historic name to Canterbury for safe-keeping.
The thought behind adding “Jerusalem” to the name is this: the new communion will not claim an historic see, but Jerusalem was chosen for the first Global Anglican Future Conference and for decennial Assemblies thereafter; and for Christians everywhere, Jerusalem is our “mother,” our heavenly destination (Galatians 4:26), and the place from whence the Spirit-empowered Gospel was taken to the ends of the earth.
I am suggesting – and it is merely a suggestion – that the leadership of Gafcon and Global South Fellowship aim toward producing a final covenantal structure to be inaugurated in 2028.
Why wait so long? Simply because establishing such a revived, reformed and reordered communion is a solemn, historic act. The formation of the Christian Church and of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion itself took time, and indeed the coming to be of Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship have their own histories, travelling along what I have called “parallel lanes.” As I see it, each group has brought valuable resources – especially the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration and the proposal for an Anglican Covenant – but they should be carefully integrated. Finally, each of the Provinces and regions – from Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America, and, yes, from Europe – have their own cultural and theological distinctives. Would it not be worthwhile to take counsel diligently and patiently so as to include all these Anglican jurisdictions in a new communion of churches?
The Constitution of the United States of America has been seen – rightly, in my opinion – as a model of political governance which has lasted for nearly a quarter of a millennium. It was not arrived at in a day. It began with a Declaration of principle, that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” That Declaration united the Founders, at the risk of their lives, to enter into a War of Independence with the King of England and even with “loyalists” at home. The new republic was established under a makeshift “Articles of Confederation” that failed to balance the roles of the central government and the semi-autonomous States. In 1787, five years after the war ended, a Convention was called among the wisest of the nation’s leaders, which proposed a new Constitution, instituted “in order to form a more perfect Union.” That Constitution was debated vigorously, to which was added ten Amendments – the Bill of Rights. And, tragically, even that Constitution failed to carry through its fundamental principle by bowing to one stubborn faction and leaving the abomination of slavery in place – a failure which our nation has paid for in bloodshed, strife, and shame even to this day.
The purpose of my analogy here is strictly limited. I am not proposing a constitution like that of the United States or even like that of Provincial constitutions and canons. A global communion is something more like an international treaty entity, in which national and regional churches have significantly more sovereignty. What I am saying is that we are at an historic moment in the life of the Anglican Communion, and it will repay leadership to work together and employ a “strategy of time” to come to one mind.
Thesis 13 is offered with no precise blueprint in mind, just a conviction that if the current leadership of Gafcon and the Global South Fellowship will come together and confer, the Lord may have mercy on His Church and lead this movement into the future.
Thesis 14: WHAT IS GOD SAYING TO GLOBAL ANGLICANS?
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). The first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 proclaimed that it was “not just a moment in time but a movement in the Spirit.” Fifteen years later, Global Anglicans are being called to assume leadership of a revived, reformed, and reordered Anglican Communion worldwide.
And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only…. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:3-4,12)
These Fourteen Theses represent an attempt to sketch a providential history of global Anglicanism over the past twenty-five years. There is biblical precedent for this attempt in the prophetic history that runs from Deuteronomy through Kings, which details God’s judgement on the persistent idolatry of Israel that led to the overthrow of David’s kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the exile of the people, to be followed by the dawn of a new age and a new covenant.
These Theses describe an “Ebenezer moment” for the Anglican Communion and propose a critical next step: a costly but necessary separation from the Church of England as the mother church and from the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of Anglican unity. In truth, this separation has been happening since 1998, as Global Anglicans have begun charting their own way forward.
Any genuine reform of the Church involves a threefold cord: renewal of faith and mission; reform of doctrine, discipline, and worship; and reordering of church polity at the local, regional and international levels. This pattern was true in ancient Israel, in the early church, and at the Protestant Reformation in Europe and England. The challenge for contemporary Anglicanism is to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches in the context of Global Anglicanism.
This proposal is offered to Global Anglicans as they assemble in Kigali in April 2023. It reflects my own focus on the “movement in the Spirit” that took place in Jerusalem in 2008. It is offered as well to the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, which will meet in 2024. The Global South Fellowship is a sister movement with Gafcon, with overlapping memberships and visions. Gafcon has contributed the movement’s best formulary in the Jerusalem Declaration; the Global South Fellowship has approved a Covenant, which can serve as a first step in constituting a new Communion.
I write today from Lent’s long shadows and the “darkling plain” of contemporary Western nihilism.
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders… (Joel 2:12-16a)
GAFCON IV will meet in one month’s time in the dawn of the Easter season, looking toward Pentecost. May the spirit of Samuel, the spirit of Joel, the spirit of Isaiah, the Spirit of the Incarnate and Risen Lord invade that gathering. For without repentance nothing is possible, but with God all things are possible.
23 March 2023