July 2016 Pastoral Letter from the chairman of GAFCON

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh reports Nigeria doubtful for Lambeth 2020

My dear people of God,

We have recently celebrated the festival of St Thomas the Apostle (July 3rd) who is often known as ‘doubting Thomas’, but we have from his lips one of the great statements of the New Testament about the true glory and nature of Jesus Christ. When he sees the wounds of the Risen Christ, Thomas exclaims ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28) and we who by those wounds have been healed from the deadly sickness of sin join in with our heartfelt ‘Amen’ to the Apostles’ words.

This exclamation of worship draws from Jesus a wonderful promise. He says ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. That promise should be a powerful encouragement to us as we press on to preach the gospel. Since the ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first day of Pentecost, believing comes not through seeing, but hearing.

In two years’ time, Anglican leaders from around the world will gather in Jerusalem for our third Global Anglican Future Conference, GAFCON 2018. Blessed indeed were those who believed as the Holy Spirit was poured out in that place on the first Pentecost and may the Lord grant us in our time a season of refreshing before we are sent out again to bear witness to the Risen Christ.

If we are to bear true witness, we must have the same total and loving submission to Jesus as Lord as did Thomas. For him, the word ‘my’ means he gives his total allegiance. He is possessed by Jesus Christ. Our struggle in the Anglican Communion today comes about because of those who turn Thomas’s words upside down. By ‘my’ they mean a Jesus who they possess, a Jesus and a Lord who fits with their desires and agrees with what they want as they go with the flow of secular culture.

I was greatly encouraged to see this truth spoken so clearly by my brother Archbishop Foley Beach as he addressed the Anglican Church in North America’s Provincial Synod last month. This is a church that is witnessing to the Risen Christ by planting churches, growing disciples and in ministries of compassion, but as he looks at the wider Communion, he notes with sadness the failure to honour the agreements reached at the Canterbury meeting of Primates in January and comments that:

‘What is tragic about all of this is not just the divisions within the Anglican Communion. What is most tragic is that because of false teaching, millions of souls will not hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, or they will hear a Gospel that appears to be the Gospel, but in reality is contrary to the very Word of God – which is no Gospel at all. Souls are at stake. Lives are at stake. Eternity is at stake. It reminds me of what the prophet Isaiah said to the people of his day: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.’ (Is.5:20, ESV).

This is the challenge of the Anglican Communion today. The message of the Bible is being turned upside down by those for whom ‘my God’ means the God I want. Last month the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) voted by large majorities to change its marriage canon to permit same sex ’marriages’ but Primus David Chillingworth said he had received assurances from the Archbishop of Canterbury that the SEC would still be invited to the proposed Lambeth Conference in 2020. Despite the hopes that we had for progress earlier this year, it is clear that the proposed Lambeth Conference seems set to repeat the mistakes of 2008.

There is better news from Africa. I was able to share in the Enthronement Service of Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit as the new Primate of Kenya on 3rd July and, with the other GAFCON Primates present, had a meeting with him after the service at which he was very warmly welcomed into the GAFCON family. We look forward to lively fellowship with him and his province in the years ahead.

Let us pray for Archbishop Ole Sapit as he takes up the burden of office and also for both the newly appointed Archbishop of Burundi, The Most Rev’d Martin Blaise Nyaboho and for the Anglican Province of the Congo as a new Archbishop is very soon to be elected to succeed our brother Primate, Archbishop Henri Isingoma.

Leadership changes, but we shall press forward in faithfulness to an unchanging gospel. So please be in prayer for the detailed planning as we make preparations for GAFCON 2018 in Jerusalem and for the fulfilment of the mission the Lord laid on our hearts when our movement was born there in 2008. As we affirmed in the Jerusalem Statement, we gathered ‘to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ’ and we shall give ourselves no rest until that great purpose is achieved.

The Most Revd Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

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