Is GAFCON a Church? with a Reply to Global South Anglicans


Preface: A Reply to the Global South Anglicans

In a recent “Anglican Perspectives” video, Canon Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council announces an “historic” development: the publication of a Covenant, approved in Cairo in early October 2019 by the Global South Anglican Fellowship [or Network] (see the “Seventh Trumpet” Communiqué here and the Covenant Proposal [now adopted] here. Canon Ashey argues that this Covenant is a unique document addressing the “ecclesial deficit” in the Anglican Communion. He states (at 1:50 of the video) that in adopting this covenant “they’re not saying they are better than Gafcon or want to replace Gafcon.” But what then is Gafcon? He does not say.

Respectfully, I beg to differ with Canon Ashey’s claim of uniqueness for the Global South Anglican covenant.

In 2016, I made a presentation in Cairo to the Global South Anglican leaders, observing that they and the Gafcon movement were both addressing the “ecclesial” identity of the Anglican Communion and urging that they work together with Gafcon on a common proposal (see Essay 9 of my The Global Anglican Communion). This they have not done, because they deny that Gafcon’s purpose and work entails reordering the Anglican Communion of churches.

One sign that they do not recognize Gafcon’s identity is that they have not adopted the Jerusalem Declaration but have written their own “Fundamental Declarations” (Covenant section 1), leaving the Jerusalem Declaration, I suppose, as the peculiar mission statement of one of the “other Anglican groups.”

My contention is, to the contrary, that the Jerusalem Declaration, along with its accompanying Statement, serves precisely the role of laying a solid foundation for a reformed and revitalized Anglican Communion of churches.

I have recently posted three pieces on this blog titled “Thoughts on the Jerusalem Declaration.” I have now revised them into one essay titled: “Is Gafcon a Church?” This essay will be one chapter of a new book titled The Gospel of God and the Church of God: Global Anglican Essays, due out in early 2020. Because of the urgency of this matter, I have decided to publish it here.



INTRODUCTION: Gafcon, the Church and the Kingdom

The Jerusalem Declaration has been one of the first and best fruits of the Gafcon movement.[1] I was a member of the group at the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) that drafted the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration.[2] It is my contention that the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration constitutes the charter of a church, an ekklesia, or, perhaps better, a communion of churches, which is evangelical in doctrine, catholic in upholding the historic faith and order of the church, and charismatic in its openness to the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in our time. It is distinctively Anglican in its tradition and ethos, which justifies its claim that it is not departing from the Anglican Communion but is its rightful heir.

Not surprisingly, there are those who would claim my contention is pretension. One critic speaks from a lofty throne indeed, the See of Canterbury. In a recent Q&A session in Parliament, Archbishop Justin Welby was asked whether he was committed to the Jerusalem Statement. He was content to refer to an 800-word piece by his predecessor, Archbishop Rowan Williams, posted immediately following the 2008 Conference.[3] In this piece Rowan Williams speaks kindly of the “tenets of orthodoxy” expressed by “those who met for prayer and pilgrimage,” but after this moment of positivity, Williams moves on to question by what authority the Conference set up a “self-selected” Primates Council, creating overlapping and competing jurisdictions within the official Communion.

This is a serious question indeed, and many within the Gafcon movement continue to wrestle with it. It touches on deep-seated loyalties, personal relationships, and a host of practical and financial engagements. The churches of the Reformation faced the same kind of challenge from Rome, often with life at (the) stake: “by what authority do you claim to be a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic church?”

From its inception, the Gafcon movement has protested that the official Communion has been infected by a false gospel and that its leadership, the “Instruments of Unity,” have been unwilling or unable to stand against this infection. In each of its three Assemblies, Gafcon has publicly appealed to Canterbury to exercise discipline over erring member churches, only to be ignored, then threatened.[4]

This stubborn refusal by the Anglican establishment, while tragic in one sense, may open the way for further reform and renewal of the church. Writing on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Evangelical theologian Kevin Vanhoozer has called for a retrieval of the Reformers’ doctrine of the catholicity of the church – what he calls “a virtual sixth sola: sola ecclesia (church alone).”[5] Anglicans, as I see it, have an honor roll of teachers on the nature of the church – from Thomas Cranmer’s reformed national church to Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1597) to Henry Venn’s missionary model of self-propagating, self-financing, self-governing indigenous churches (mid-19th century) to Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1936).

I shall argue that, in the current crisis of Christian and Anglican history, the Gafcon movement is seeking to retrieve a biblical, catholic and “mere Protestant” doctrine and discipline of the church. From this perspective, I shall briefly comment on the Jerusalem Declaration.



In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit:

The church is founded in the Name of the Triune God, that divine community (koinonia) of Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and we participate in the Triune God as members of the Body of Christ, the Son of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father (2 Corinthians 13:14). It is in the fellowship of the church that believers find fellowship with God (John 15:1-17).

We, the participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference, have met in the land of Jesus’ birth.

What is meant by “We, the participants…”? This introductory language links the principles of the Declaration with the actions of the Conference, which launched a “movement in the Spirit.” The Gafcon movement has an ecclesial shape, with its own Primates Council that claims the authority to recognize or not recognize churches in the wider Anglican Communion. In fact, it is “we the participants” who acted as a constituent Assembly to approve the Jerusalem Statement (2008) and who met again to approve the Nairobi Communique and Commitment (2013) and once again in Jerusalem to approve the Letter to the Churches (2018). This claim to speak and act in the name of the church is what distressed Rowan Williams and what the Lambeth establishment has assiduously avoided dealing with.

We express our loyalty as disciples to the King of kings, the Lord Jesus. We joyfully embrace his command to proclaim the reality of his kingdom which he first announced in this land. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of salvation, liberation and transformation for all. In light of the above, we agree to chart a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world, solemnly declaring the following tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican identity.

The church is the forerunner of the Kingdom of God, prophesied in the Old Testament, proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth, manifested in His Death, Resurrection and Ascension, and to be consummated when He comes to deliver the Kingdom to His Father. The church’s primary call is to witness to this Kingdom by preaching repentance and manifesting healing works of love and mercy (Matthew 10:7-8).


The first section of the Jerusalem Declaration (clauses 1-7) lays the biblical and historical foundations of the church.

1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

The Gospel of salvation by grace through faith is the heart of the church’s message (Romans 1:16-17; Ephesians 2:8). The recovery of the fullness of the Gospel is a central gift of the Protestant Reformation, of which the Church of England and its daughter churches are a part. In this regard the Jerusalem Statement cites the formulary by which, the Church of England claims, it “belongs to the true and apostolic Church of Christ”:

The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.[6]

Anglican missionaries of both high and low churchmanship delivered this Gospel and doctrine of the church throughout the British empire. The recipients of the Gospel have expanded that work through revivals and evangelism, even as the Anglican churches in the West have declined in zeal. It is these self-governing churches that have spearheaded the Gafcon movement.

2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.

Reformation Anglicans shared in the recovery of the centrality of Scripture, with a prime contribution being the translation of the English Bible and its incorporation in readings and biblical theology in the Book of Common Prayer. As stated in the Thirty-nine Articles (Articles VI and XX) and in the Scripture Collect, the Bible is the word of God written, inspired by God for proclamation and for discipleship. It is the ultimate measure and test of the church’s doctrine and discipline.

The Bible must be interpreted, and the Declaration gives three guidelines in this regard. The first is the plain sense of Scripture, which includes its grammar and literary genres, its historical setting, and its theological aim, pointing to salvation in Christ. The plain sense includes the external clarity of the text guided by the inner working of the Spirit, opening the eyes and ears of believers to hear and heed God’s voice. To honor the plain sense of Scripture is to honor the church as a community of Bible readers “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The second guideline is the canonical sense of Scripture, recognizing that God spoke in many and various ways to the authors and editors of the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1). In particular, the two Testaments of the divine drama prepare for and witness to the coming of Christ. I have described the canon as the “tapestry of Scripture.”[7] To honor the canonical sense is to believe that God’s word is coherent and sufficient, “scripture interpreting scripture.”

Finally, there is respect for the historical and communal tradition of biblical interpretation. Scholars in recent decades have been rediscovering the rich heritage of biblical commentary from the patristic age and the Reformation, which had been arrogantly dismissed by the dominant “historical-critical” method. Evangelicals today in particular have developed a new sense of interpreting the Bible as a communal exercise, drawing from the great expositors of the past.

3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

A “rule of faith” arose in the early church to guide it in interpreting Scripture and in combatting heresy. This informal rule was later embodied in various creeds, three of which are mentioned in this clause. The Protestant Reformers argued that their teaching and practice were in agreement with the early church over against the Roman Catholicism of their day. Anglicans like Bishop John Jewell claimed to be heirs of the patristic church. Article VIII states that the three Creeds “ought thoroughly to be received and believed, for they may be approved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”[8]

Clause 3 specifically affirms the creedal “marks” of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. These are marks of the “invisible” church, i.e., the whole body of God’s elect, and they also serve to identify visible churches as opposed to cults.

4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

The Thirty-nine Articles contains a major section on the Church (Articles XIX-XXXVI), including ministry, sacraments and discipline. The introductory Article XIX “Of the Church” states:

The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

This Article turns directly to the visible church and defines it as “a congregation of faithful men” (“men” here includes women). But what does “congregation” mean? Recently, William Taylor, a prominent English Evangelical pastor, has argued that biblically there are only two “churches”: the “universal,” i.e., the invisible church, and the local congregation.[9] But is that what “congregation” meant in the 16th century? Historian Ashley Null comments: “it is a common Anglican evangelical misunderstanding to interpret ‘congregation’ by its later, rather than its proper Reformation, meaning, which is ‘the whole body of the faithful’” (private communication) [10]. Bishop John Rodgers has captured the fuller sense in his commentary on the Articles: “In the New Testament, the Church is described as a local congregation, as a regional group of congregations, and sometimes as all Christians past, present, and future. In principle, it can refer to all of the congregations of the visible Church world-wide.”[11]

The continuation of Article XIX confirms the fuller sense when it refers to the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. Such a view of regional churches is particularly relevant today for the Anglican Communion in a way that was not applicable in the 16th century. The original Article envisaged the “congregation” of the parishes of the Established Church in England. Today each autonomous Province of the Anglican Communion is organized with its own constitution and canons. The Gafcon fellowship has adopted this same structure of regional churches in communion with each other.[12] Provisional regional “Branches” have been set up in existing Anglican provinces which the Gafcon Primates have judged as having denied the orthodox faith in word and deed. Ultimately, if there is no repentance, these Branches will become Gafcon provinces, as has been seen in the Anglican Church in Brazil.[13]

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

As with clause 1, clause 5 affirms the Reformation “solas,” in this case solus Christus: on Christ alone our hope is founded. The church’s confession is upheld on two great pillars: Jesus’ atoning death for our sins and His glorious victory over death for our justification (Matthew 16:13-19; Romans 4:25). Justification of the unrighteous, this clause makes clear, is met by the obedience of faith. One might wish for a further statement to the effect that redemption is incorporation into the Body of Christ and fellowship with one another (Romans 12:5).

6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

To be a member of the church is to be joined together with other believers in worship, hearing the Word preached and receiving the sacraments celebrated. The Book of Common Prayer has been widely acknowledged as a classic expression of Christian piety and worship, and Gafcon acknowledges that standard, even as it is locally adapted in contemporary modes of prayer and praise.

7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.

While this clause focuses on holy orders, it makes clear that the purpose of the clergy is to equip the people of God for their royal priestly ministry in the world (Ephesians 4:11-13). At the same time, it recognizes a special calling and gifting for those in ordained ministry. The clause upholds as historic and biblical the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons but it does not make an exclusive or sacramental requirement for this order, thus leaving open the possibility of ecumenical fellowship with non-episcopal churches.

2.    LIVING “NOW” IN LIGHT OF “NOT YET”: Clauses 8-10 and 14

If clauses 1-7 are foundational, clauses 8-14 address contemporary matters facing the church: marriage and family, global mission, stewardship of the earth and social justice, church unity and discipline, and eschatology. Each of these matters derives from fundamental truths of the faith; however, they have a dynamic urgency due to the dawn of the Kingdom of God in the coming of Jesus and His imminent Return to judge the living and the dead. I shall examine clauses 8-10 and 14 from the perspective of the now of God’s good creation and the not yet of His plan to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.

Both of these clauses recall the Old Testament account of creation and covenant. The Bible begins with God’s creation of male and female and the marriage of husband and wife as the foundation of human society. The responsibility to be stewards of the earth is directly linked with responsibility to bear and rear children. The Commandment to honor father and mother upholds a divine social order. The current Sexual Revolution has set its sights on separating marriage from procreation and family life and legitimizing a whole spectrum of practices that go under the mantra “LGBTQIA+”.[14]

Clause 8 gives the basis for the claim of the Jerusalem Statement that churches in the Communion have introduced a false gospel, which “promotes a variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right” and “claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony.” It refers to the 1920 Lambeth Resolution, which speaks of the “unchangeable standard of Christian marriage.” This is the standard which the bishops at Lambeth 1998 upheld when they stated that lifelong marital fidelity and abstinence were the only two ways of Christian obedience, and that homosexual practice was “incompatible with Scripture.”[15]

Living according to God’s ways brings blessing; conversely, neglecting or rejecting them brings judgment, often in this life and certainly in the world to come. It is the prophetic role of the church to warn all people of the consequences of disobedience and to extend to them the love of Christ “so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

The church today is also being called to stand up for the created order in the context of a culture of loneliness and death and confusion about human nature, sexuality and marriage. At the same time, the church itself has failed repeatedly and sometimes outrageously to live according to God’s ways. Hence we can only offer the Good News of forgiveness as penitent and forgiven sinners ourselves.

Clause 10 covers an interconnected range of daily life in which the church is rightly involved, including care for the environment, involvement in politics, and service to the poor. These areas of life are not optional extras but biblical mandates. God’s first command to Adam and Eve is to “steward” the earth and make it fruitful (Genesis 1:28). The Prophets called on God’s people to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Jesus commanded that the church invite to its feast first the “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13).

These mandates call on the church to exercise compassion and prudence, often in collaboration with fellow citizens. What it does not do – and this in contrast with some contemporary trends – is to turn compassion over to a secular bureaucracy or to turn environmentalism into a religion which has “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23).

9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.

14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives.

I am considering these two clauses together because the church’s call to mission is intimately bound up with the expectation of Christ’s coming again in glory. At the final moment of His earthly ministry the Risen Lord commissioned the apostles, saying:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Ten days later, on the Day of Pentecost, they received the promised Holy Spirit and began preaching and witnessing with great effect.

The Jerusalem Declaration explicitly mentions this “Great Commission,” a term from the modern missionary movement that has fueled the amazing spread of Christianity in the Global South. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, stated: “The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.”

The urgency of this command has not always been part of the Anglican DNA. In the 19th century, there was often a tension between the Established Church and the voluntary mission societies, and in turn between the established missionaries and the indigenous converts. It is, however, a great achievement of Anglicanism in the Global South that instead of retreating with the colonial governments, the churches stayed and flourished with national leaders so that today they represent the majority membership of the Communion.

Although it is natural and necessary that missionary outreach should result in new churches, it is not inevitable that these churches will retain the missionary zeal of the first converts. Established churches (“modalities”) need to welcome and support parachurch societies (“sodalities”) that spread the word of Christ to new places and peoples. These societies are often motivated by a passion to reach the least and the lost, including the thousands of unreached people groups.[16]

The Book of Revelation highlights the cosmic struggle between Satan and his worldly allies (the godless political and religious rulers). The church fights through faithful witnesses to the truth, even unto death. Today the church faces persecution throughout the world from militant religious and secular enemies of Christ. I regret that clause 14 did not make clearer that Jesus continues to supply His Spirit not only for personal transformation but also for courage under persecution. In any case, Anglicans, with the church of the martyrs, wait and pray: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

3.    THE STONE OF STUMBLING: Clauses 11-13

Confessing Christ crucified has always come at a price. Walking in unity has always required accepting the scandal of the Gospel, a stone of stumbling even among those who share the name of Christ. In this section, I shall try to show how clauses 11-13,and especially clause 13, set forth Gafcon’s understanding of unity and diversity and doctrine and discipline within Anglicanism.

The Jerusalem Declaration contains fourteen clauses. Thirteen of them are affirmations of basic Christian doctrines and practices. One of them, clause 13, is a downer. It reads:

13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.

I was talking recently with a friend from the Church of England about why more Evangelicals there had not openly supported the Gafcon movement. He began by saying how positive he and his colleagues were about the Assemblies in 2008, 2013 and 2018 and also about the Jerusalem Declaration as a fine confession of biblical faith.

I paused and then asked: “Does that positivity include clause 13?” Well, no, he admitted, clause 13 is something of a stumbling block for many Evangelicals. Indeed it was the main reason several Evangelical bishops decided not to attend GAFCON in Jerusalem last year (attendees were asked to affirm the Jerusalem Declaration).

So this question arose from our discussion: Should Gafcon excise clause 13, or is there a way of interpreting it which is not a stumbling block to conflicted Evangelicals? I promised my English friend that I would think about this question.

I argue in section 4 that in principle the Jerusalem Declaration can be amended by adding a clause, so it necessarily follows that it can be amended by excising a clause. I shall be contending below that clause 13 is not a lapse into negativity but is the salt of discipline that makes the affirmations of doctrine “edible,” i.e., credible and effective in a catholic and apostolic church and the Anglican Communion in particular.

The Ecumenical Framework of Clause 13

Clause 13 concludes a cluster of three clauses on the unity of the church. It is preceded by clauses 11 and 12, which read:

11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.

12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.

Clause 11 reflects Jesus’ “ecumenical” prayer for His flock “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Gafcon is claiming here not to be sectarian; indeed all its statements and actions have been addressed to the wider church and in particular to the Instruments of Unity, represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (This “open statement of the truth” [2 Corinthians 4:2] is, in fact, in stark contrast with Canterbury’s studied refusal to engage with Gafcon’s contentions.)

The reference to recognizing the orders and jurisdiction of orthodox Anglicans is the positive side of the coin of which clause 13 is the flip side. In the Jerusalem Statement, Gafcon is clearly wishing to promote unity among orthodox Anglicans when it says:

We urge the Primates’ Council to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.

There is, however, a tension built into the Statement, as it goes on to state:

We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons.

Gafcon is envisioning a visible church with discrete geographical boundaries. But what about individual clergy or congregations that approve the principles of the Jerusalem Declaration but choose, for whatever reason, to remain in heterodox dioceses or provinces? As I read it, clause 11 is offering moral support to these confessors, but there is an implicit warning that to remain attached to a diseased member of the body, to say “I  or we personally dissent from the false teaching of my diocese or province” is an unstable place to stand. This stance begs the question “What happens after you die or move on?”; or “What happens when the revisionists require you to uphold their doctrine and practice?” The current case of Bishop Love and the “Communion Partners” in the Episcopal Church USA comes to mind.[17] Those in the Church of England who think they have a triple or quadrupal lock on orthodoxy should take note.

Clause 12 focuses on unity and diversity within the Anglican tradition. It begins by recognizing the great variety of church cultures in the far-flung regions of the Communion. The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) placed this variety under the aegis of the historic episcopate, “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”

Diversity is not only a matter of national and tribal custom but also of theological difference. In Africa, for instance, churches founded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) have a very different churchmanship, though both have also been strongly affected by their African national setting; yet Gafcon has included churches from both traditions.

By using the terms “orthodox” and “secondary matters,” clauses 11 and 12 mark out a generous space for Anglicans to agree to disagree. The distinction between biblical essentials and “indifferent matters” (adiaphora) is characteristically Anglican (see Article XX). Gafcon’s Theological Resource Group delineated a three-stream typology of Anglican orthodoxy: Evangelical, Catholic and Charismatic, exercised in a spirit of liberality.[18]

True liberality has its limits, as set down in Scripture and the tradition of the Church. The Lambeth Conferences muddled through differences of churchmanship and reactions to modernity for about a century. The advent of the Sexual Revolution in the West, however, presented a new challenge to the unity of the Communion with the promotion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality, the Lambeth Conference in 1998 and a vast majority of bishops, stated that homosexual practice was “incompatible with Scripture” and could not be advised.

Doctrinal decisions of church councils from the early church to the present have been accompanied by disciplinary measures (canons), ranging from local admonitions to church-wide inhibitions to ultimate excommunication. When the Episcopal Church refused to conform to Lambeth Resolution I.10, the Instruments of Unity faced the challenge of disciplining a member province. In response two Anglican Primates in 2001 offered a proposal of careful but necessary steps of Communion discipline titled To Mend the Net.[19] The failure of Canterbury to act on this proposal led ineluctably to GAFCON 2008.[20]

The 2008 Jerusalem Statement opens with a prophetic indictment, based on three “facts” about the state of the Communion:

  • The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel.
  • The second fact is the declaration by provincial bodies in the Global South that they are out of communion with bishops and churches that promote this false gospel.
  • The third fact is the manifest failure of the Communion Instruments to exercise discipline in the face of overt heterodoxy.

As I see it, clauses 11 and 12 lay out the constructive framework of Anglican Communion polity, while Clause 13 addresses the necessary discipline which that polity needs to be credible. These three clauses, along with the whole Declaration, are a reforming instrument caused by the particular crisis in which the Anglican Communion has found itself over the past twenty years.

The Genesis of Clause 13

I was a member of the Gafcon Statement group in 2008. I honestly do not remember who contributed what to the final Declaration, but I was certainly a supporter, if not the proposer, of clause 13. Twice before I had seen the failure of sound doctrine without the right use of discipline in the Episcopal Church USA.

In 1996, a church court (seven bishops) had tried the case of Bishop Walter Righter, who had knowingly ordained a practicing homosexual in contradiction to the official teaching of the Episcopal Church, teaching which at that time agreed with Scripture and the universal tradition of the church. I had written two briefs for the “Presenters,” arguing that by this act Bishop Righter had violated his vow of “holding and teaching” the church’s faith.[21] The bishop-judges disagreed, 7 to 1, and acquitted Righter, arguing that only a breach of “core doctrine,” which they defined in terms of the historic Creeds, could have disciplinary consequences – and even an open denier of the Creeds like Bishop John Spong could get around that condition by humming the Creed with his fingers crossed. This decision cleared the way for the Episcopal leadership to introduce, risk-free, same-sex blessings and then same-sex marriage, which they have proceeded to do. The refusal to uphold their own disciplinary canons led to a change of doctrine, which in turn has led to new canons. Today all dioceses in the Episcopal Church are required to offer same-sex marriage, and the one bishop who refused to do so was inhibited and threatened with possible deposition.[22]

This was my first encounter with the failure of discipline; the second followed shortly thereafter. Immediately after the Righter verdict was announced, conservatives gathered to form the American Anglican Council (AAC) to teach the faith and to warn against the drift in the Church. At our organizational board meeting, we agreed on a set of doctrinal affirmations called “A Place to Stand, A Call to Mission.”[23] All were agreed until we got to the disciplinary clause. Some of us proposed the following language:

When teachings and practices contrary to Scripture and to this orthodox Anglican perspective are permitted within the Church – or even authorized by conventions or synods – we, in obedience to God, will disassociate ourselves from those specific teachings and practices and from those who advocate them and will resist them in every way possible.

The bishops on the AAC board demurred at this point and insisted on omitting the highlighted phrase. They realized the ecclesiological ramifications of such a statement and the likely disciplinary consequences to themselves that would follow. For the same reason, they were unwilling to come to the aid of clergy and people in “front-line” congregations in hostile dioceses seeking alternative oversight. Their timidity led non-episcopal leaders to conclude that the AAC was toothless in the critical years after Lambeth 1998, and these leaders organized alternative groupings that led ultimately to the birth of the Anglican Church in North America. (The episcopal bench eventually coalesced into the “Communion Partners,” who remain in the Episcopal Church. The AAC itself has taken a different direction since then.)

I am citing this background simply to say that clause 13 did not emerge out of a vacuum but from the costly church battle in North America which was then exported into the entire Communion after Lambeth 1998.

Who Is Clause 13 Addressing?

It is important at this point to identify whom clause 13 is addressing. By using the word “authority” along with “churches” and “leaders,” clause 13 is aimed not at the sheep of Christ’s flock but at the shepherds.

In Matthew chapter 18 we find a model of Jesus’ teaching on pastoral care. The chapter begins with Jesus’ commending child-like faith among His people (verses 1-4). Church leaders must welcome and care for even the weakest believer in the flock as if it were Jesus Himself (verse 5; Matthew 25:40). The gentle nature of the sheep calls for vigilance among the pastors because the church is sent out among wolves, within and without. So Jesus follows this appeal with a stern warning to the same leaders in verse 6: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus targets the same leaders in the Sermon on the Mount when He says:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)

These warnings are addressed to the “key” leaders (verse 18), who will become the overseers and guardians of the apostolic church, a role that is incorporated in Anglican ordination vows.

Jesus goes on to describe a disciplinary process for a straying sheep, which begins privately and proceeds publicly to the “church” only if the sinner refuses to repent (verses 15-18). And even after declaring exclusion, Jesus makes clear, the church should receive back a penitent “seventy times seven times” (verse 22).

Clause 13 is speaking from shepherds to shepherds, which explains why it is so stern and its implications so grave. Yet even here we recognize that churches and their leaders are fallible. Churches and bishops can err and have erred in teaching and practice. The Gafcon movement is calling the Communion leadership to repent and is praying that God will grant it grace to do so for the sake of Christ’s Body the Church. Sadly but not surprisingly, the only response from Canterbury to Gafcon’s call, eleven years on, has been silence.

Word and Deed: True Walking Together

There has been a lot of empty talk about “walking together” leading up to the 2020 Lambeth Conference. For incarnational Christianity, word and deed walk together (James 1:22). Discipline necessarily accompanies doctrine, whether in governing the family, the state, or the church. “Him we proclaim,” St. Paul says, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Warning and teaching – “sound doctrine” and “the right use of ecclesiastical discipline” are marks of the true church, according to the Anglican Homily for Whitsunday (2nd part).

So the question raised by clause 13 is: are the practices that have arisen in the West of homosexual practice, same-sex partnerships, and same-sex marriage so important that they would cause a division (schism) in the church? Or could this be a secondary matter where the church could look away? Or could it even be that the church has misunderstood the biblical teaching about sexuality for 2000 years and that this teaching itself was culturally conditioned or just plain wrong?

Two decades ago, I set for myself a thought experiment: begin with the Bible’s teaching on marriage, its natural design, and the Prayer Book rite of matrimony, and ask whether marriage can be reconfigured to include faithful, monogamous, life-long same-sex unions. My conclusion was negative, because the “two sexes, one flesh” character of marriage is built in to its physical and spiritual DNA by God Himself.[24] This being the case, the Church cannot bless an unreality. It also means that same-sex civil partners, however much they are affirmed as “living in love and faith” are not married in God’s eyes and fall under the apostolic warnings to those who engage in immoral practices (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:5).

The Church of England leadership seems to want to cut a compromise and say that same-sex marriage is not possible but same-sex partnerships can be blessed and accepted in the church. This half-way house will not stand. We know it cannot stand logically because sex and marriage go together. We also know it cannot stand experientially because secular and church bodies that have begun with that compromise have always ended up with “marriage equality.”

Anglicans like to quote lex orandi lex credendi, “the law of praying becomes the law of believing.” The theological Left has another law: call it lex agendi lex credendi, “the law of practice becomes the new orthodoxy.” Richard John Neuhaus rather famously called this the law of optional orthodoxy: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Church progressives are counting on this law coming to pass in England as well. We have seen this law at work with regard to women’s ordination, which began as a matter of “open reception” in the 1990s and within twenty years has become a canonical requirement.

It is certain folly to compromise where irreconcilable principles are opposed. The compromisers stand, like Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper while the “social justice warriors” complete their takeover of the church. This should not be surprising, for even wrong doctrine requires discipline.

Some Questions for the Dubious

So I come back to the question asked by my English friend about Gafcon and clause 13. I suppose it is clear that I do not think Gafcon should excise clause 13 from the Jerusalem Declaration. Indeed I believe this clause is critical to Gafcon’s prophetic vocation in the Anglican Communion.

That said, I would like to engage those conservatives, especially in the Church of England, who think clause 13 poses an obstacle to their participation in Gafcon. Does the obstacle have to do with the polity of the Established Church or with its power and prestige? Are there theological responses to the arguments I have set forth? Perhaps I have missed them, but I would like to hear a response, since Gafcon’s statements have been routinely ignored rather than answered.

There is a second set of questions I would ask. If one were to accept the premise that conservatives need to “differentiate” themselves from those who are promoting false doctrine and practice, is there a way that clause 13 could be understood in a way that did not require leaving the Church of England? Is there a way conservative leaders can publicly “reject the authority” of false teachers without expelling them or being expelled by them? Is there any reason, for instance, that conservative bishops in the Church of England must attend Lambeth 2020? Could they not make a strong witness by joining with those in the Global South who are staying away out of conscience?

My final set of questions is forward-looking. What does the future hold for orthodox Anglicans in England? Is there some way that Gafcon, with its understanding of doctrine and discipline, could play a part in that future?

Help me out. I would like to know.


In sections 1-3, I argued that the Jerusalem Declaration is establishing an ecclesial identity for the Gafcon movement in the Anglican Communion. The first seven clauses lay the biblical and historical framework of the apostolic faith in the Anglican tradition. The next clauses 8-13 address those issues of particular urgency in our day: marriage and sexuality; the mission imperative; stewardship of the earth and commitment to justice; and church unity and diversity and its limits (ecumenism and discipline). In 2008 when our Statement group was considering these issues, we neglected to address one topic: life and death, which is equally rooted in Scripture and under attack in contemporary culture. I do not remember the topic coming up one way or the other. It should have. We just missed it.

I think we should remedy this omission.

Here is my proposed wording for an additional clause:

We acknowledge God as the Lord of life and death: ultimately he gives and he takes away. We support and hail the efforts of physicians and medical researchers when their work promotes the natural processes of life and death. But abortion, intentional or assisted suicide, transgender modification, and reproductive and genetic engineering are affronts to God’s sovereignty and to human dignity in God’s image.

But Can the Jerusalem Declaration Be Amended?

The Jerusalem Statement with its Declaration was acclaimed unanimously by the 1,000+ members of the Assembly in Jerusalem in June 2008. It has been maintained as the official confession of the Gafcon movement.  Affirmation of the Jerusalem Declaration has been required for participation in subsequent conferences and for membership in the Primates Council. It has been widely praised by orthodox Anglicans and has been included in the ACNA Book of Common Prayer.

Is the Jerusalem Declaration therefore etched in stone alongside the Tables of the Law? I do not think so.

The Jerusalem Declaration itself appeals to seemingly timeless creedal, confessional, and liturgical standards that have been revised. Clause 3 refers to the four Ecumenical Councils and three Creeds of the patristic church, and Clauses 4,6, and 7 refer to the Anglican Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book and Ordinal. Yet the Creed of Nicaea (325 AD) was revised at the Council of Constantinople (381); Cranmer’s 42 Articles (1553) were revised to 39 Articles under Elizabeth I (1571); the Prayer Books and Ordinals were revised several times from 1549, 1552, and 1559 before reaching the standard version of 1662.

In the political sphere, the United States Constitution (ratified 1789) has often been held up as a classic document, but it was amended immediately ten times (the so-called Bill of Rights in 1791) and a total of 27 times, with one amendment having been repealed.

Governing statements, to be sure, should not be casually amended and only with the fullest authority of its polity, but just as councils can err and have erred, so statements of faith and order may need to be corrected or supplemented from time to time. What I am proposing as an amendment to the Jerusalem Declaration is a new clause, consistent with the other clauses but filling in an accidental omission in the original. I hope it will be evaluated by Gafcon leaders, perhaps itself be amended, and be presented to a future Assembly for ratification.

Why It is Important

It is generally agreed that the culture wars in the West gravitate around matters of “anthropology,” what it means to be human, created in God’s image. According to the first chapters in Genesis, self-consciousness before God (the soul), sexuality and marriage (two sexes-one flesh), life and death are all fundamental to being human:

Genesis 1:27-28 (ESV) So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 2:7 (KJV) And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Genesis 2:24 (NIV) That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 3:19 (ESV) By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

These texts are interlocking. God’s unique image is formed in persons of body and soul and in a marital union of male and female which will lead to the procreation of children and a wider society (Jesus also blesses faithful singleness). Even disobedience and death cannot undo God’s work: sinful creatures will return to dust with the hope of future mercy and redemption (Genesis 3:15; Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

The sanctity of male and female, of conception and birth, of marriage, of death and burial all fit together in the biblical economy of creation and salvation. Hence willful murder of another and self-murder (suicide) are outside the pale of biblical ethics and bear the ultimate penalty: exclusion from God’s presence (Revelation 22:15). For a mother and father to sacrifice their own offspring or for children to authorize “mercy killing” of a parent are truly unnatural acts caused by demonic delusion.

As with all God’s laws, the absolute language of condemning these acts as sinful does not condemn irrevocably those who commit them. Indeed Jesus has opened the way to all who turn to Him, as St. John says: “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Suicide, which in our day has increased dramatically along with unbelief, loneliness, and despair, is particularly grievous but often a sign of mental and emotional disorder; God alone knows and judges the heart.

The rejection of God’s Lordship over life and death is not only personal but political. Ours is a society that chooses to play God with human life and human identity. Healing and the medical arts are both gifts of God and to be practiced, as noted in the Hippocratic Oath, in the fear of God.[25] This ethic is utterly contrary to the current enlisting, even compelling, of doctors to administer poison to their patients, and to carve up, hormonize, and neuter the bodies of confused and delusional children and adults in the bogus name of “transgender identity.” One can only respond to this “ethic” in the words of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “the horror, the horror!”

Uninhibited scientific research will certainly yield “miraculous” cures – indeed that is its allure. To the extent, however, that it oversteps the boundary of God’s creative principles, it is a work of Faustian hubris. In ages past, tampering with the basics of human life and death was merely a fantasy; today it is a fearful reality. Leon Kass, chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, issued this prophetic warning:

Contemplating present and projected advances in genetic and reproductive technologies, in neuroscience and psychopharmacology, in the development of artificial organs and computer-chip implants for human brains, and in research to retard aging, we now clearly recognize new uses for biotechnical power that soar beyond the traditional medical goals of healing disease and relieving suffering. Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and neuropsychic “enhancement,” for wholesale redesign.[26]

Secular prophets like Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984) have described dystopias where human beings are hatched, programmed, and dispatched by an all-controlling Big Brother, who is a stand-in for God. C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of Huxley and Orwell, described the danger to human nature and freedom in his little book The Abolition of Man and his science fiction trilogy has become fact in too many waysThe worst fears of these 20th century prophets are being fulfilled in the 21st.

Some in the Global South may dismiss these matters as a peculiarly Western problem. Think again: it is coming your way. A recent UNESCO policy paper is proposing to pressure governments to impose “comprehensive sexuality education,” which includes promotion of “contraception, safe abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity.”[27] UNESCO claims that its policy has been successful in Ghana, Kenya, India, Thailand, and Zimbabwe, but notes that progress has been obstructed by religious opposition from local politicians, teachers and parents, e.g., in Uganda. There is great need for improved maternal and child health in many nations, but beware of language about women’s “reproductive health care,” which is code for abortion.

Following Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was tempted by Satan, who offered Him the whole world in return for His soul, and He replied: “Begone, Satan!” In turn He challenged His disciples:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up His cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

The desire to become god-like and live forever is age-old (Genesis 3:4-5). It is a satanic delusion, whether it comes via a supernatural dream or a miracle cure. Christians have never been promised a paradise in this life but rather a heavenly city, where God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we must stand firm against the godless fantasies that science can offer because they come at a fearful price. Adding a clause to the Jerusalem Declaration will signal our witness to take up our cross and follow Him in the way that leads to the only true life.


To the question “Is Gafcon a Church?” I answer, Yes, it is a communion in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of Jesus Christ. “Is it distinctively Anglican?” Yes, it is, looking back in history, looking forward in mission, and worshiping God in the present. “Does it merit the term global, with many races, cultures and nations?” Yes, come to the Conferences in person or by video and see.[28] “Is God blessing it?” That is a matter of God’s judgment in history, but I think it has a chance to take up the inheritance of those who planted the Gospel in England and those who carried the seed of Anglican Christianity to the uttermost bounds of the earth. “What are its fruits?” Faith and hope and joy in God’s Church, we pray, as the Jerusalem Declaration concludes:

It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.


[1] I shall be using “GAFCON” (all caps) to refer to the three Global Anglican Future Conferences in 2008 (Jerusalem), 2013 (Nairobi) and Jerusalem (2018) and “Gafcon” to refer to the ongoing movement that has emerged from the conferences.

[2] For a parallel commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration, see my book The Global Anglican Communion: Contending for Anglicanism 1993-2018 (Newport Beach, CA: Anglican House, 2018), pages 183-223.

[3] For Parliamentary questions for Archbishop Welby, see; for Archbishop Williams’s response to GAFCON 2008, see

[4] Bishop Josiah Idowu Fearon wrote privately to the Anglican Primates just before the 2018 Conference, warning that Gafcon is schismatic: See my comments on his message at

[5] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), page 29.

[6] Church of England, Canon A5, at

[7] “Rediscovering the Tapestry of Scripture: Understanding Its Plain and Canonical Sense” at

[8] Similarly, the Lambeth Quadrilateral approves the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as “the sufficient statement of the Christian faith,” omitting the Athanasian Creed as less central for ecumenical agreement.

[9] Podcast on “The Bible, Sexuality and the Church of England” (17 July 2019) at

[10] Private correspondence (25 July 2019).

[11] John H. Rodgers, Jr., Essential Truths for Christians: A Commentary on the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles and an Introduction to Systematic Theology (Blue Bell, PA: Classical Anglican Press, 2011), page 372.

[12] See

[13] See the formation of “Igreja Anglicana no Brasil” at

[14] The standard term LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) has been supplemented by QIA+ (queer, intersex, asexual) plus a number of other sexualities yet to be named.

[15] For exposition of Lambeth Resolution I.10, see “Lambeth Speaks Plainly” in Global Anglican Communion, pages 173-183.

[16] The recent New Wineskins for Global Missionary Network conference ( brought together an excellent blend of Anglican speakers and non-Anglican speakers and organizations, all committed to taking the Gospel to the nations.

[17] For my analysis, see “Impaired Communion: A Flawed Compromise in the Episcopal Church” at

[18] The Way, the Truth and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future (London: Latimer Trust, 2008), pages 34-40.

[19] Drexel W. Gomez and Maurice W. Sinclair, To Mend the Net: Anglican Faith and Order for Renewed Mission (Carrollton, TX: Ekklesia Society 2001), see esp. pages 9-23.

[20] For analysis, see Global Anglican Communion, pages 127-161.

[21] See Stephen F. Noll, “The Righter Trial and Christian Doctrine” and “The Righter Trial and Church Discipline,” Churchman 110 (1996), pages 198-216, and 295-324.

[22] The case of Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany (NY) is currently under adjudication. See

[23] See

[24] See Global Anglican Communion, pages 47-95.

[25] The Oath begins: “I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfil according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant.” See

[26] Leon R. Kass, Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge of Bioethics (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000), page 3.

[27] Cf. report by Stefano Gennarini, “UN Agency Tries to Impose Abortion and LGBT Rights in Sex Education Everywhere” at

[28] For a snapshot of the Conference, see All the presentations and many interviews are also available online.