In recent weeks the media has been awash with stories of the further disintegration of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. As is often the case, the carefully worded statements of principled biblical leaders are presented as the bigoted ranting of schismatic homophobic militants at the lunatic fringe of mainstream Christianity. Not by everyone, admittedly. Rather wonderfully some of the press reporting, particularly by the BBC’s Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Piggott, has been very fair. One of the newsworthy items has been the Global Anglican Future Conference [GAFCON] held in Jerusalem at the end of June.
I had the privilege of attending with the Co-Mission Senior Pastor, Richard Coekin. It was more enjoyable and encouraging than I ever imagined it would be. Though it was hard to be separated from church and especially from family, it was wonderful to be among old and new friends from all around the world. There were so many highlights that it seems miserly to limit them to a few. But chief amongst them must be the private tour of the biblical sites of Jerusalem by Australian historian and theologian Paul Barnett, conversations on the bus with Archbishop Josiah Fearon from Kaduna, Nigeria and relaxing by the hotel pool with the great and the good from the English evangelical church scene!
One of the key things to come out of GAFCON was the Statement on the Global Anglican Future. For those of us who are cynical about such things or overly pedantic about the precise details of statements of faith you need to remember that when the draft statement was read to a room of approximately 1,200 people, grown men whooped, wept, jumped for joy and hugged one another. The British did it on the inside. One senior clergyman said to me, ‘this is the best thing to come out of Anglicanism in all my years of ministry’. Another said, ‘for the first time in my ordained life I’m not embarrassed to be an Anglican!’
Let me suggest that this is a great statement for at least these three reasons.
1. It’s a reassertion of authentic Anglicanism
Opponents of GAFCON are already suggesting that the motivation behind the movement is schismatic separation. It is most definitely not that. These orthodox Anglicans are going nowhere. Though the statement launches a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, the document states that ‘our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion’. Instead they are committed to the preservation, recovery and growth of authentic Anglicanism. This is defined not by recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury but by a doctrinal commitment to the authority of the scriptures as expressed in the Creeds and the 39 Articles. This ought to be music to evangelical ears. It means that the Church of England belongs to people like us and not the liberal revisionists who currently wield so much influence. In actuality they are like a parasitical cuckoo that has flown uninvited into the biblical nest of Anglicanism and is in the process of forcing out the rightful heirs to the denomination. It’s a deliberately provocative metaphor, but it’s accurate.
2. It’s a potentially divisive statement
Though lots of faithful Anglicans may agree that things are a mess at the moment, not everyone will like what’s been suggested. And therefore self proclaimed evangelical leaders like the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, who has written many useful things and with whom we would agree on a whole range of issues, have come out strongly against what’s been proposed. But over the last ten years there’s been a growing consensus that evangelicals cannot simply stay in the Church of England and accept further compromise. For the sake of Christ and his gospel we must contend, graciously but firmly. And in so doing we’re not doing anything un-Anglican. Anglicanism ought to welcome evangelical Christians. And yet in some dioceses the central structures are opposing gospel work and even persecuting gospel churches. Courageously, the leaders of GAFCON have decided that they cannot stand by whilst others preach another gospel, whilst principled Anglicans are forced to seek alternative Episcopal oversight and whilst no effective disciplinary measures are taken against the liberal revisionists. In my view, GAFCON is realistic about the mess that we’re currently in and it promises help in those situations.
3. It’s a distraction from the job of ministry
I’ve deliberately overstated that in order to make unmistakably clear that though this is a political statement of real substance it won’t bring anyone to faith and it won’t grow anyone in Christian maturity. That’s our job. It will be tempting for us to become distracted and forget that Christ commissioned us to make disciples of all nations not make us familiar with the endless round of opinions expressed in the ‘blogosphere’. Let’s be informed on the issues but not sidetracked by them. The Jerusalem statement is significant, please don’t misunderstand me. It’s especially encouraging and supportive of the gospel ministry that we’re trying to do in launching new congregations and raising up future church leaders. But it will not do it for us. We must encourage one another to keep going in the demanding but rewarding work of gospel ministry. Of course, we still think that the Church of England is worth fighting for. We’d like there to be Anglican churches up and down the country in years to come so that our children and grandchildren can hear the gospel in them. But the battle for the Church of England will not be won on pieces of paper, but on the ground. If Anglican Evangelical churches like ours keep growing and producing informed and godly mums, dads, workers, pastors and kids then we’ll have a massive influence on the direction of the Christian faith in this country. Ultimately that’s our aim. We seek not simply the preservation of an ancient denomination but the glory of Christ through the salvation of sinners. It’s just that we think the Church of England is still a great place to do that from.
If you’ve not already done so, why not read the Statement on the Anglican Mainstream web site. You’ll find it so encouraging. And if you sign the petition and express your support, you’ll encourage others.