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Article No. 162

The worst sort of schism

The long awaited deliberations of Gafcon - the alternative conference of ‘traditional’ (i.e. conservative evangelical) Christians in Jerusalem - have just been published and will require careful thought and consideration before the full import of what is now set in motion is fully explored.  So these comments of mine are in the form of an hors d’oeurve - a tasting of what the documents say and what they may mean for the future.

The hard evidence of what has taken place is in two documents - a Statement by the organisers of the Conference and a Jerusalem Declaration. Before looking at them in more detail - what is the overall result of the conference?

Basically what Gafcon has said is that it is not appropriate for churches to depart the Anglican Communion and in the main for two reasons. The first is that they hold that they are the true Anglicans, and why therefore should they leave what is rightfully their spiritual home? They maintain  that it is the others who have walked away from the true Anglican beliefs and practices. The second reason they give is that the legal position in some countries is such that to walk away would mean that they would have to leave behind all the property, money, pension funds etc. They don’t specifically say it in those words but, in my opinion, that is what it amounts to. They are mindful of what has happened in America where judges have ruled that departing congregations could not take the assets with them. They declare their purpose to be a fellowship of Christians whose goal is to reform, heal and vitalise the Anglican Communion and expand its mission to the world.

So instead of departing they intend to stay and fight. They hold that those who believe that the church should accept gay people and gay priests are apostate - the actual  word they use. They intend to fight in every way possible - in effect they are going to try to wrest the Anglican Communion back for the true gospel and they will do that by being active on all fronts, in all countries, and by all means.

So lets look at the Statement and Declaration in more detail.

In the Statement they say they have had 1148 lay and clergy participating including 291 bishops.  They don’t say, but they have also had eight (out of thirty eight) or so Archbishops in support. Their intention is to launch a GAFCON Movement across the whole of the Anglican Communion, based on the Jerusalem Declaration, and under the direction of a new GAFCON Primates Council. This last is a new council formed to direct their attempts to take control of the Anglican world wide Communion. Immediately one sees that this is no vague religious movement or a temporary organisation - it is set up to carry world wide responsibility and to conduct its struggle with the rest of the communion, which they consider under the control of apostates.

In order to reach their aim of world wide domination of the Anglican Communion they intend to open operations in all the Anglican churches across the Communion. They have thrown over any inhibition against invading the territory of another Province.  They will attempt to convert to their side individual Anglican Christians, para-church organisations, missionary jurisdictions, churches, dioceses, provinces of the Anglican Communion.  No country or church will be exempt - all will be equally open to their endeavours.

In order to further this ‘return’ to authentic Anglicanism they will follow the tenets of orthodoxy, as they call it. They will explicitly base themselves on the Four Ecumenical Councils of the early Christian centuries, the three historic creeds, the Thirty-nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer duly translated and adapted for each culture. Obviously the new Council of Gafcon Primates will be the controlling and directing force.

They firmly and explicitly reject homosexuality as they reject all “immoral behaviour“. They hold to the belief that sex is meant to be only between man and wife - two people of opposite sex.

They declare that they are out of communion with any of the leadership of any Anglican Church that departs from their standards - and they demote the Archbishop of Canterbury to just another Archbishop, although they recognise his historic role.

The second document to examine is the Jerusalem Declaration.

This lists their beliefs, and sets out the documents on which they rely.  In particular it sets out the view that marriage is between a man and a woman and that such a marriage is the only place proper for sexual intimacy. It does say inter alia that they acknowledge freedom in secondary matters.

These seem to me to be the important points. Now for an initial reaction to this major move by those who are leading a large portion of the Anglican Church across the world.

The most important things about all of this is what happens next. In the Statement they outline the road ahead. This declares that they will plant churches wherever and whenever they think it right. Indeed, wherever churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread.

So what will be the effect of all, of this?  It is impossible to forecast at this point what the outcome will be as so much will depend at least initially on the reaction to the Gafcon move. That is - the response by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his advisors and by the larger Anglican Communion in its various leaders. But some comments are in order.

The first is about the attitude that will be taken to this action by Gafcon. Some will attempt to minimize its importance.  ‘Let them try’ might be the response of some - for example in England. It is to be hoped that Church authorities in England won’t take the line that any Christians - even Gafcon Christians - trying to reform the church are to be encouraged and helped!  On the other hand there may be those who see endless conflict and dispute arising for Anglican Churches across the world. I suppose the general opinion will be somewhere between the two.

So what might we expect?

The Gafcon effect will take time to gather momentum. Despite the fact that according to the Times Correspondent, Dr Jensen of Australia and Archbishop Orombi will be among the leaders of the new Gafcon Fellowship at the All Souls meeting in London on Tuesday next - and no doubt will attempt to recruit England’s conservative evangelicals.

In this interim period we will all be working out the implications of Gafcon and the Archbishop of Canterbury will be attempting to work out how he should approach the rebellion - for that is how I see it - a revolt against his leadership.

He will have many aspects to consider. His main question must be what attitude the Church should now take towards Gafcon. How can Gafcon work legitimately in England, say, without recognition by Canterbury?  And how can Canterbury recognise an organisation that is in open revolt against all the present rulings and guidance of the Church Authorities? Must we now expect that some - all? - the conservative evangelical churches in England will start to withhold their money from their dioceses? They will want to fund Gafcon, not Canterbury. How should he deal with that?  

Then there is the question of the planting of new Gafcon churches in England - how should they be treated?  If Gafcon is to offer alternative churches where there are liberal bishops, we are seeing the possibility of the English Church being split down the middle with some going to Gafcon churches and some staying with Canterbury. And what about churches refusing to have their bishop (perceived by them, as liberal) in their churches?  And what about donations and giving to missionary organisations and churches that are linked to Gafcon in some way, when there are other organisations and churches that are in the other lot?  There will be a host of decisions to be made over the coming months - and years!

There has been talk of this move precipitating the transformation of the Anglican Communion into a federation. A federation type structure would to some extent insulate the different sides from each other.  But to what extent?  Clearly Gafcon are now going to invade any territory of other churches anywhere they please.  The idea of federation is that it is a system that to some extent insulates the different elements - but the time for that solution is long past. Now there is open struggle declared by Gafcon on the rest of the church who are deemed apostate - or, at least, misled.

It is clear that the period of dialogue is over. Gafcon have in effect declared a spiritual war on what they consider to be an evil influence that has pervaded the Anglican Communion - across all its churches. They see themselves in a spiritual battle with fellow Anglicans. It would be a great mistake to play down the challenge that this presents to the non Gafcon Church. It is going to sow disharmony and trouble wherever it raises its head - and the promise is that that will be everywhere. This is not going to be friendly rivalry in the name of the Lord. Rather more like a blood bath, I fear!

On the other hand one has to admit that the hard line taken by Gafcon and the intransigent attitude by their leaders is partly because of desperation. They know that they are not going to convert vast swathes of the churches to their way of thinking. They see no other way they can preserve their integrity but by these desperate measures. The trouble is that their voice will find an echo in all the countries of the Anglican Communion - wherever the conservative evangelical approach flourishes. And it is this discord and separation into alternative camps that is so very sad.

That Anglicanism should come to this is very sad - but there is a battle to be fought through and in it all we must remember that these are our brothers and sisters. The only possible way forward is to hold to the proper use of modern scholarship and the scientific knowledge and understanding which now illumines all those who don’t adhere to a literal bible or an unchanging view of everything.

It remains to be seen how far the call of Gafcon will be responded to by evangelical churches. Perhaps the more conservative evangelical churches will run into the embrace of Gafcon, but maybe many other churches that would not dissent from being called evangelical - or at least having an evangelical element - will hesitate long and hard before jumping ship. There may be an appreciable number who do not want to fight under the banner of Gafcon. It will be interesting to see which way the charismatic churches go.

I don’t now feel led to pray for unity in the same way that I was praying for unity. Instead I think we should concentrate our prayers that the established division in the churches will not deter non Christians from seeking the Lord, who has the words of eternal life. And that love will characterise all our dealings between the different parties in the Anglican Churches across the world. The future looks dark to me - I cannot see further through the mist yet.   

Tony Cross
29th June 2008

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