The chairman of the GAFCON movement writes about his hopes for the January gathering of primates in Canterbury
Archbishop Justin Welby has called the Primates of the Anglican Communion to meet in Canterbury 11th-16th January to find a way to resolve the spiritual and moral crisis that has beset the Communion throughout the opening years of the twenty first century.
This is a courageous initiative and the GAFCON Primates will attend in the hope that Archbishop Welby will, like them, stand firm to guard the gospel we love, knowing that we cannot rewrite the Bible to suit the spirit of a secular age.
Many orthodox Primates did not attend the last Primates Meeting in 2011 under the chairmanship of his predecessor, Rowan Williams. They were not prepared to share in fellowship with provinces like The Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) which had rejected the clear teaching of Scripture and the collegial mind of previous Primates Meetings and the Lambeth Conference 1998 by pressing ahead with the blessing of same sex unions and ordaining those in such relationships.
This time, GAFCON and the other orthodox Primates are willing to attend, but they know that after many years of debate, action is needed to restore the spiritual and doctrinal integrity of the Communion they care for so deeply. They are clear that their continued presence will depend upon action by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a majority of the Primates to ensure that participation in the Anglican Communion is governed by robust commitments to biblical teaching and morality.
It has been suggested that the way forward is for the Anglican Communion to abandon the idea that there should be mutual recognition between the provinces and that it should instead find its unity simply in a common relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
This is not historic Anglicanism; the See of Canterbury is honoured and respected as the Mother Church of the Communion, but the unity of the Communion does not depend upon the Archbishop of Canterbury. Rather, it depends upon the various provinces being able to recognize each other, with all their differences of culture, as truly apostolic and committed to the faith as it has been received. Tragically, that recognition has now broken down and affection for Canterbury is no substitute. As the GAFCON movement affirmed in the Jerusalem Declaration of 2008,
‘While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury’.
The Anglican Communion is in danger of losing the gospel of God’s costly grace to us sinners for the poor substitute of cheap grace which makes us comfortable but can neither save nor transform. The choice before the Primates as they gather in Canterbury is whether they will recognize this reality and take the difficult but necessary action to restore the bible to its central place in the life of the Communion, or whether they will accept a merely cosmetic solution which will see it increasingly taken captive by the dominant secular culture of the West.