Welby backs GAFCON vision for a renewed Church

Nairobi: The Archbishop of Canterbury offered his qualified personal endorsement to Gafcon today, telling the congregation of All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi his vision for the future of the Anglican Communion was of a Bible-based church dedicated to mission and evangelism – goals shared by the Gafcon movement of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA).

While Archbishop Justin Welby stopped short of giving Gafcon his formal imprimatur, he conceded the existing instruments of communion were no longer fit for purpose in ordering the life of the Anglican world.

The archbishop also hinted the Communion may not be able to count upon the Church of England to hold the line on issues close to the heart of the Gafcon movement. Archbishop Welby recounted his strong public opposition to the British government’s same-sex marriage bill, noting it had come at a great “personal cost” to him as the culture and government were hostile to the church. However, he was silent on whether the Church of England would permit the blessing of gay civil unions.

The archbishop’s multi-layered sermon evolved over its two presentations – after being all but silent about Gafcon in his first sermon, in its second reading the archbishop spoke three times about the forthcoming Gafcon conference, set for 21-26 October 2013, at All Saints Cathedral.

His sermons also sparked mixed responses. Following the first presentation, Archbishop Pete Akinola, the former Primate of All-Nigeria, told Anglican Ink Archbishop Welby’s sermon was “outrageous”. The Nigerian leader was incensed that Archbishop Welby had suggested there was a moral equivalence between the normalization of gay bishops and blessings by the Episcopal Church and the violation of ecclesiastical boundaries by church leaders from the Global South. 

“Did you hear what he said? He is saying the sins of the Episcopal Church are as bad as border-crossing,” Archbishop Akinola said.

However, after the second presentation, Archbishop Welby walked back his moral equivalency comments. Dr. Peter Jensen, the former Archbishop of Sydney and the current General Secretary of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans — the sponsor of the Gafcon conference — said he was encouraged by the address. The archbishop’s statement “the old ways are no longer appropriate, the old structures no longer work, given on the eve of Gafcon, give us hope,” he said.

A tired and wan Archbishop Welby spent only 18 hours in Kenya, arriving in the early hours of Sunday. Travelling without his minders, the archbishop stayed at the home of Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya, before preaching before the 9:30 and 11:30 congregations at the Cathedral. Following his sermons he went into a closed door meeting with the primates’ council.

The archbishop is scheduled to leave Nairobi on Sunday evening and fly to Iceland to chair a meeting of the primates of the Poorvoo Communion on Monday.

Archbishop Welby opened his sermon with a word of thanks to Archbishop Wabukala for having invited him to preach at the cathedral on Mashujaa Day (Heroes’s Day) – Kenya’s national holiday marking its struggle against British colonial rule, before warming to his theme of the centrality of the Bible in the reform of the Anglican way.

He opened his sermon with the historical example of the Church of England’s cool reception to West Indian and African immigrants. “In the 1960s we did not recognize that we belonged to one another,” he said, and by its refusal to welcome immigrants the Church of England “lost the new life brought” to it from the developing world.

Historically the church had failed to recognize the hand of God in people who did not share its cultural roots. In the apartheid era, separation of races was given a Biblical mandate by some churches that saw in the story of Noah’s sons a warrant for political exclusion of Black Africans. “People begin by looking at the Bible through their own eyes,” he said, adding the “misuse of Scripture for our own power.”

 To combat the subordination of the church to the culture of the world, the “Bible must be at the heart of our study, our life, our walk with Jesus” he said, but a “church that only reads but does not act, disgraces the Bible.”

The archbishop then moved into the heart of his sermon, saying “our differences will always exist. How we deal with them is clear from Scripture; but the church seldom follows” Scripture when dealing with conflict.

“There is a need for new structures in the Anglican Communion, “the archbishop said, adding the issues that divide us are “simple and complicated.”

To address them “we need a new way of being in communion, not the colonial structures” of the past, he said. But it was unclear as to what the solution was as each province offered its own solution to the problem, yet “we must find a way to live together, so the world will see” Jesus is Lord.

The Anglican world must be a sign to the world of the power of Christ and must engage in a deliberate program of “witness, worship, evangelism, and a passion for the Holy Spirit.”

“The more seriously we take the Bible” the more effectively we will be able to deal with our divisions, he said.

The archbishop then offered personal vignettes of the power of prayer and the freedom found in God’s word, recounting his experience of being held hostage by bandits in Nigeria, and of his conversion experience as a young man in Kenya.

He then turned to the situation in England, recounting the difficult debate in the House of Lords over the government’s bill to permit same-sex marriage. “In England, we in the church disagree with same-sex marriage because we honor marriage, not out of hate, or fear or anger.”

“I spoke at great personal cost” against the bill and received opprobrium and “hatred” from those who supported changing marriage. But as the Letter to the Hebrews said we must keep “the marriage bed undefiled”, the church could not support this change, just as it could not support “adultery or pornography.”

A “church that flourishes” is a church that is “based on the Bible” he said. “We all fail,” he said, because “we all sin,” but a “Biblically-centered, practically loving” church is what God wants Anglicans to be.

While the Lambeth Palace Press Office had released a statement saying Archbishop Welby was visiting Kenya to stand in solidarity with its people in the wake of the Westgate Mall terror attack, he made no mention of terrorism in his sermons and his time in Nairobi was spent exclusively on Gafcon.

The Video has been posted by AnglicanTV and can be viewed by clicking here

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