Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Thoughts on the Primates Meeting from Archbishop Gregory Venables

[W]e do not really agree on the essential salvation issues

Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of South America, was one of the founding Gafcon Primates and attended the Primates Meeting between 2002 and 2011 before stepping down as Primate.  He was re-elected as Primate in 2017 for another term, succeeding Archbishop Tito Zavala (Chile).  Archbishop Venables shared his experience of the recent Primates Meeting in Canterbury. 

He recently spoke about his experience at the Primates Meeting.  In the conversation, Archbishop Venables expressed his strong desire for Gafcon to improve the communication amongst the movement’s members, be robust enough to attract new members, and to hold together in the face of powerful challenges to the word of God.

Below are a few more of the topics he covered:

  1. He clarified that there were 3 groups identified during the meeting: those who were walking together, those walking apart, and those walking together at a distance
  1. He questioned the accuracy of the Communique and the process by which it was produced.
  1. He expressed concerned about the danger of the appearance of orthodoxy without its substance
  1. He speaks about the necessity of discipline, and the inability of the Anglican Communion to function coherently a church.

Below are quotes from Archbishop Venables on each theme.
Are The Primates Walking Together?

What was identified clearly in the meeting is that some aren’t walking together, some are walking together but at a distance, and some are walking together.  But even those three ways of grouping that situation don’t deal with the issue.  The issue is, why aren’t people walking together? And we aren’t walking together because the situation has not been dealt with.

Does it Matter?

People are being led away from the truth.  People are being led away from the safe place that God has provided in his Son Jesus Christ who died for our sin.  He didn’t just die to affirm us and get on because everything is alright. He died because we were in rebellion and separated eternally from God.  So a sort of “sanction” might look fine for those who are looking for some way of saying, ‘well, it’s not right.’ 
It’s more than ‘not right.’  It’s life and death, and it has to be dealt with. That was expressed clearly in the meeting, but of course isn’t there in the Communique.
Who Wrote the Communique?

Every other Primates Meeting I have been a part of has begun with a moment when we set up a communique commission; a draft commission whose job it was to prepare a draft communique which we checked every morning and every evening of every day to see how we were doing.  Admittedly, I left on the lunch on Wednesday, but I heard nothing about a draft communique.  So who wrote it?  It does not reflect what I experienced and heard in the meeting.  That’s fine, it might be somebody’s perception, but it wasn’t my perception and that leads me to ask more serious questions. 
The Authority of God’s Word and Sexuality

Why do people not get that the Bible is the Word of God?  That God has expressed his opinion on this issue clearly, in the way that nobody can doubt.  It’s not down to my opinion.  It’s not down to how I see it.  The whole question of Christianity isn’t, “What do I think?” but “What does God think?”  And God has said, very plainly, he has made us male and female, and that relationships of that nature are between a man and a woman in marriage.  Everything else is sin.  It doesn’t matter what the elements are, it’s sin.  It is forbidden by God, and he has told us so in his Word.”
The Word of God is always going to be questioned, but it’s God’s Word.  And I believe that The Anglican Communion has lost touch with the plain truth as revealed in Scripture, and that’s a tragedy, but we’ve gotta keep on being there proclaiming it and speaking it.  Not walking away, but not pretending either that we are walking together with people who are ignoring the plain truth of scripture, even though they might appear to be orthodox.”
What worries me far more now is the appearance of orthodoxy.  We might be in language, but are we in our attitude to the Word of God.  What did the Reformation take as fact?  The Word of God.
In all our services we read the Word and say, “This is the Word of the Lord.”  If scripture is not our final authority then we have no authority.

Discipline in the Anglican Communion

Every time that [discipline] came up, what was said was, “We don’t have the authority to do this.  The question is, ‘Well why give the impression at the beginning that we do?’” 
Maybe the Anglican way doesn’t have a way of doing this.    Maybe that is what we just have to accept. The problem is part of the role of church leadership is discipline.  If we cannot exercise discipline when people wander away from the truth, then the church cannot function as the church, and that’s where the wheels have dropped off. Because when push comes to shove, and we make the decisions as we did in Dar es Salaam, we talked about them in Dromantine, we talked about them again in Alexandria, it was talked about again last year in January, and then someone says, ‘But we don’t have the authority to do it.’  Then it means that we are not able to fulfill our responsibility as church leaders, because there has to be discipline.
If you read the New Testament, Paul does not assume some sort of Papal figure.  There is no one overall leader in the New Testament, and I don’t believe there’s meant to be.  Maybe there’s meant to be a group of people who come together and come to some decision, but certainly there is a need for leadership to exercise discipline.  And we haven’t found it.  And I don’t know who now is going to sit down now and say, ‘How do we do that?’ Although we talked about it in the Primates Meeting, we did not get to a place where we were really becoming pragmatic in what we were talking about.  And that’s a great pity. I’m looking for cohesion and accountability, and people being able to do what they are called to do as church leaders.

What is the Message Coming Out of the Primates Meeting?

Maybe the message is, you have to either be a relativist, pluralist or there’s no place for you.  Maybe that’s the message, but I don’t see that very many people within the Anglican Communion have actually understood that. I don’t see that people have realized that we do not really agree on the essential salvation issues, because if we did we would not be in the situation that we’ve been in for a long time.  It was marked in 1998, we discussed it in Lambeth 1998, it was absolutely confirmed in November 2003 when Gene Robinson was consecrated, and it’s gone on being confirmed in the time up until now.  In that sense, one of the messages from the Primates Meeting was it’s “business as usual.”  Things haven’t changed.  This is how it’s going to be, and that saddens me deeply.

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