The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) does not trip easily off the tongue. Yet the 1000 representatives who travelled to Jerusalem at the end of June have called for the Anglican Church to return to biblical orthodoxy – which ought to raise a cheer from Evangelicals everywhere.
The conference issued a statement of principle The Jerusalem Declaration which evangelical and conservative Anglicans worldwide will be encouraged to adopt. It also proposed the creation of an alternative church leadership, the Primates’ Council, and the formation of a new province in North America for Episcopalians who have separated from the American church on moral grounds.
The declaration upholds the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Furthermore, in a clear challenge to the current leadership of Canterbury and York, it declares that Anglican identity is not necessarily determined through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It states: ‘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’.
The plan is that signatories to the declaration will identify themselves as members of a ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ and effectively establish what is already being called ‘a church within the church’. A full record of the final declaration has been posted on the GAFCON website.1
A Communion in error
GAFCON’s Jerusalem conference was called to counterbalance the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ten-yearly Lambeth Conference held in July and August this year. The prime movers were evangelical Anglicans, many from Africa, who are dismayed at the church’s liberal direction – and particularly its failure to deal effectively with the American Episcopalian Church following their ordination of an openly homosexual bishop.
It is good to see, however, that GAFCON has not simply rallied around one moral issue of human sexuality, significant as it may be, but is founded on a broader desire to re-establish the primacy of biblical authority in the global Anglican Communion. Evangelicals of all denominational shades will welcome this.
In an opening address to the conference, Dr Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, went right to the heart of the Anglican Church’s problems when he declared that ‘a sizeable part of the Communion is in error and not a few are apostate’.
This demonstrates that GAFCON’s intentions are not divisive but that conservatives and liberals are already split – with those who wish to uphold biblical orthodoxy and those pandering to contemporary moral trends heading off in different directions.
No formal split
Dr Akinola – who in recent years has demonstrated both courage and leadership in theological matters – lamented that doctrinal ‘revisionists’ want to create a new religion in place of historic Christianity. He said:
‘The bedrock of the revisionist perspective is the humanist, rather than theological approach. This is the crux of the problem: they are going in the opposite direction from what biblical orthodoxy demands. And with such a mindset, a meeting-point with those who are labelled conservatives – who have chosen to stand where the Bible stands – becomes a very remote possibility’.
However, the conference did not go so far as to announce a formal split from the Anglican Communion. Instead, permanent structures are being put into place that will allow GAFCON delegates to continue to work within the Anglican Church. For example, a new North American province will be set up ‘for faithful Anglicans who live in provinces that have abandoned the traditional teaching of the Bible’.
To some this ‘church within a church’ might seem a half-way house. Many readers of this paper would like to see Evangelicals separating completely from error and apostasy. Nevertheless, this movement for doctrinal purity ought surely to be welcomed and encouraged by those willing to recognise a positive new direction when they see it.
Evangelicals meet in London
Following the GAFCON conference, leaders and representatives from around 600 evangelical Anglican churches in the UK met to hear a report of the conference and a call to support the Jerusalem Declaration. It is claimed that the new developments in the Church of England and global Anglicanism could mark a watershed unprecedented since the Reformation.
The church leaders met at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, at the beginning of July and were addressed by some of the global Anglican leaders who had been involved in the Jerusalem Conference. Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, Archbishop Greg Venables of South America, theologian Dr Jim Packer, and Archbishop Peter Jensen from Australia all spoke. Dr Packer received a standing ovation.
Those present were encouraged to pray about responding positively to the GAFCON decision to set up a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) ‘to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world’.
Peter Jensen told the assembly, ‘We need mutual support within the Anglican communion and across it. This is the moment. England, don’t fail us. It is not for me to tell you what you must do here, apart from saying you must stand for the gospel and the Bible. We are looking to you. We need you to be strong and brave and true. We will help you. And together we will resist the forces of evil and secularism which seek to extinguish the gospel and are using the Church to do that. Stand firm’.
Need for boldness
Dr Packer said he would like to see church structures from Parish Church Councils to national central bodies publicly committing themselves to the Jerusalem Declaration as their own guiding star and as a first step in getting Anglicanism back into proper shape.
Archbishop Greg Venables declared, ‘This is not about structures, politics or even relationships. It is about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, salvation and the eternal security of many, many, many people. We cannot give it another few months. People are going into eternity without hearing about Jesus’.
And Archbishop Henry Orombi told the gathering, ‘There is a need for boldness and clarity to proclaim this gospel. The world may be deaf and may laugh, but we have God’s command to proclaim this gospel’.
Most of the churches represented in London are expected to endorse the statement and remain in the church in an effort to reform it from within. This is in contrast to around 1000 traditionalist Anglo-Catholics who have threatened to leave the church following the decision of July’s Church Synod in York to ordain women as bishops.
Evangelicals in other denominations will watch with interest the global shifts occurring in Anglicanism at the present time. We will hope that the initiatives being proposed by evangelical Anglicans are followed by action and bear fruit.
We agree that the world needs a strong voice advocating the authority of the Bible and its message of salvation by grace through faith. Secession may yet be necessary if liberals continue to demonstrate as much power as they have over the ordination of women bishops.
With evangelical and conservative Anglicans organising on a worldwide scale, the real fight for the soul of Anglicanism is now being joined.