Archbishop Okoh asks English evangelicals if they will act upon their convictions.
‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2 Corinthians 5:17
God’s words are powerful words. They are never empty. At the beginning of creation ‘God said, “Let there be light” and there was light’ (Genesis 1:3) and when God’s word is proclaimed faithfully today there is new creation. It was this conviction that drew us to Jerusalem in 2008 and our Jerusalem Statement and Declaration began by affirming that we had gathered as ‘a spiritual movement to preserve and promote the truth and power of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as we Anglicans have received it’.
We cannot truly promote the gospel if we are not also careful to preserve it from distortion or dilution and I therefore commend the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) for their recent document ‘Gospel, Church & Marriage: Preserving Apostolic Faith and Life’. At a time when the Church of England’s senior leadership seems unable to resist the pressure to compromise with a highly secular culture, it is a sign of hope that evangelical leaders are able to come together in this way.
They affirm that biblical and apostolic teaching on marriage and sexuality is not a secondary matter over which we can agree to disagree, but is essential to the integrity of the Church’s witness and to Christian discipleship. As the New Testament shows, ‘the apostles had to guard the Church’s distinctive boundaries on matters of both doctrine and ethics, including sexual morality’.
The statement insists that this does not in any way narrow the inclusivity of the gospel message, but to retain the integrity of that message the Church of England ‘should not accept teaching or affirm behaviour—whether implicitly or explicitly—which contradicts or undermines the boundaries laid down by apostolic teaching and practice’. Where such teaching is accepted, the statement concludes, there needs to be ‘visible differentiation’, a distancing so that the Church is ‘able to offer a faithful and coherent witness to a confused and needy world’.
However, the question I humbly wish to ask my brothers and sisters in England is this: will you take courage and act on these words? As members of the Mother Church of our beloved Communion you have a great responsibility. We will pray for you and stand with you, but we cannot stand for you. If you do not act, sexual practices and gender identities which represent a radical rejection of God’s will and purpose will become entrenched and lead to a tragic separation from the great majority of the Communion.
Our urgent need is for the Bible to be restored to the heart of our life together so that our Anglican identity can be shaped and ordered by God’s Word. There is much in our shared history that we can thank God for, but that alone will not hold us together in the present. In a globalised world, Gafcon’s vision is to see the full potential of our Communion realised as faithful Anglicans from every nation, race and culture unite in a clear, confident and joyful witness to Jesus Christ who makes all things new.
Please pray therefore for a fresh outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit as we prepare for our third global conference in Jerusalem in June. I also commend to your prayers those elected last month to lead two Gafcon-aligned provinces, the Bishop of Maridi, Justin Badi Arama, chosen as the next Primate of South Sudan, and the Bishop of Shyira, Dr Laurent Mbanda, chosen as the next Primate of Rwanda. Pray for them as they prepare to take on the burden of this great responsibility as leaders in their Provinces and the wider Communion.
The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council