The Crisis of Contemporary Anglicanism
The world of the 21st century is dominated by principalities and powers opposed to God and the biblical faith. In much of the non-Western world, enmity and persecution have come from militant religions and totalitarian regimes. In the West, postmodern ideologues have sought to overturn the biblical worldview of God as the Creator and Lord of life and death and of sexuality and marriage. In this quest, they have enjoyed apparent success (but cf. Psalm 2). Many Anglican churches and their leaders in North America and the UK have succumbed to this false ideology and are promoting its godless agenda.
While the Anglican Communion inherited much of its theological DNA from the classic Reformation formularies, its governing structure was determined by the colonial requirements of the Established Church of England, where ultimate authority is vested in the state. Hence from its inception, the Communion came to be defined as a loose association of autonomous “provinces,” with the Lambeth “Conference” of bishops having no real authority over member churches in matters of doctrine and discipline.
Over the past century, the Anglican Communion has grown exponentially in numbers in the Global South while declining in the West. Although the “Instruments of Unity” appear on paper to give representation to the newer churches, in practice the Communion bureaucracy in England – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Communion Office, and financial backers in New York and London – run the show.
The 1998 Lambeth Conference provided the first real test of the capability of Communion structures to deal with heretical teaching and practice. In Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality, an overwhelming majority of bishops stated that homosexual practices were contrary to Scripture and “could not be advised.” After twenty-five years of controversy and many Communion meetings, Western churches continue to spurn this Resolution and have now formalized ordination and marriage of self-styled LGBT persons. These churches and bishops remain prominent members in the Communion in good standing.
The Communion bureaucracy has been complicit in this failure of discipline. In fact, these same practices are being condoned in the Church of England, where the Government has legalized same-sex marriage and enforced LGBT rights and promoted them across the Communion. Within a few years, the CofE will formalize these practices, and the Communion bureaucracy will insist that other Anglicans accept these practices in terms of “good disagreement,” along lines of the “Living in Love and Faith” exercise.
The Gafcon Response
The convening of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in 2008 was the most significant event in recent Anglican history. The bold leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola and six other Global South Primates upset the assumed dominance by the Communion establishment and set a precedent for the future of the Communion.
The 2008 Jerusalem Statement on the Global Anglican Future provides an authoritative basis for a new Communion of orthodox Anglicans. The Statement contains three elements: a prophetic indictment of the existing Communion, a confession of Anglican faith (the Jerusalem Declaration), and a new governing structure (a Primates Council).
The prophetic indictment identifies the ideology of the Western churches as “a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel.” Such rank heresy, it continues, has obliged orthodox churches to break communion with these churches. Finally, it faults the Communion “Instruments” for failing to take action and discipline those churches ten years after Lambeth 1998.
The Statement included the Jerusalem Declaration, which has been widely hailed as an excellent confession of Anglican faith and has been used as the basis for subsequent Conferences. Its first seven clauses recall historic Anglican essentials: the Gospel and Lordship of Christ, the inspiration and authority of the Bible, and in accordance with Scripture, the Creeds, the Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal. The second seven clauses address contemporary issues: sexuality and marriage; the Great Commission mandate; stewardship and social justice; and unity in diversity of the flock, while rejecting false shepherds.
The Jerusalem Conference established a Primates Council independent of the Lambeth “Instruments” and authorized it to recognize new confessing Anglican jurisdictions. Subsequently, the Gafcon Primates Council has recognized the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Church in Brazil, and a number of “Branches” inside existing unfaithful Anglican provinces.
The Next Step: Formation of a Separate Communion of Anglican Churches
In its “Letter to the Churches” from Jerusalem in 2018, the Gafcon Assembly urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite bishops from the Gafcon churches in North America and Brazil and to disinvite those bishops who had rejected and violated the teaching of Lambeth Resolution I.10, with a warning that otherwise Gafcon bishops would once again not attend the next Lambeth Conference.
Archbishop Welby dismissed Gafcon as a mere pressure group, ignored its plea, and has sought to divide and conquer its members. Three Provinces and their Primates (Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda), representing over 30 million Anglicans, chose not to attend the Lambeth Conference in 2020 and explained their determination not to associate with heretics. Another group of Primates and bishops, representing nearly 10 million Anglicans of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, attended Lambeth, appealed to the Conference to uphold Lambeth I.10 and refused Communion with those who violated it. As ever, Canterbury and the Conference ignored their appeal.
Plans should be laid at the 2023 Assembly in Kigali – in conjunction with the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches – authorizing a working group to develop and present a final proposal for a revived, reformed, and reordered Communion to the Jerusalem 2028 Assembly. This proposed “Jerusalem Communion of Global Anglicans” will fulfil Gafcon’s original vision to be an instrument of revival of historic Anglican faith and mission based on the confession of the Jerusalem Declaration. The final proposal will develop further structures of governance and mutual accountability appropriate to a communion of churches.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). The first Global Anglican Future Conference proclaimed that it was “not just a moment in time but a movement in the Spirit.” Twenty years later the Gafcon movement, along with the GSFA, is being called to assume leadership of a revived, reformed, and reordered communion of Anglicans worldwide.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12)
The Fourteen Theses above represent an attempt to sketch a providential history of global Anglicanism over the past thirty years. There is biblical precedent for this attempt in the prophetic history that runs from Deuteronomy through Kings, which details God’s judgement on the persistent idolatry of Israel that led to the overthrow of David’s kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the exile of the people, to be followed by the dawn of a new age and a new covenant.
These Theses describe an “Ebenezer moment” for the Anglican Communion and propose a critical next step: a costly but necessary separation from the Church of England as the mother church and from the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as a focus of Anglican unity. In truth, this separation has been happening since 1998, as Global Anglicans have begun charting their own way forward.
Any genuine reform of the Church involves a threefold cord: renewal of faith and mission; reform of doctrine, discipline, and worship; and reordering of church polity at the local, regional and international levels. This pattern was true in ancient Israel, in the early church, and at the Protestant Reformation in Europe and England. The challenge for contemporary Anglicanism is to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches in the context of Global Anglicanism.
This proposal is offered to and for Gafcon members as they assemble in Kigali in April 2023 and reflects my own focus on the “movement in the Spirit” that took place in Jerusalem in 2008. It is offered as well to the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), which will meet in 2024. The GSFA is a sister movement with Gafcon, with overlapping memberships and visions. Gafcon has contributed the movement’s best formulary in the Jerusalem Declaration; the Global South Fellowship has approved a Covenant, which can serve as a first step in constituting a new Communion.
A revived, reformed, and reordered Anglican Communion will have no historic see. The choice of Jerusalem for the first Global Anglican Future Conference and subsequent decennial meetings there is a powerful reminder that Jerusalem marks the spot where the Gospel begins – on Calvary – and from where its mission spread from the Day of Pentecost to the ends of the earth. It also reminds us of our eternal destiny, the Jerusalem that is above. The suggestion of a Jerusalem Communion of Global Anglicans is just that, a suggestion (others might suggest Alexandria), but it is a reminder that Anglicanism today is not an English export but a global mission proclaiming an eternal Gospel and an eternal destiny with God.
Note: On each subsequent week in 2023, I shall comment on one of the Fourteen Theses.
Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry, former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University, and author of two books and numerous articles on global Anglicanism.