In a couple of weeks, King Charles III will swear in his Coronation Oath to maintain and defend “the true profession of the gospel… the Protestant Reformed religion”. Sadly, the current leadership of the Church of England has chosen not to maintain and defend this faith but to subvert and replace it with something else more amenable to modern culture. It should be a matter for great rejoicing, however, that the GAFCON conference in Kigali, Rwanda has today chosen to reaffirm the commitment of the vast majority of the global Anglicanism to the historic orthodox faith.
The Chairman of GAFCON encouraged us in his opening address to be “a repenting church, a reconciling church, a reproducing church and a relentlessly compassionate church.” This is the church we want to be. We were reminded that the purpose and mission of the church is to make known to a lost world the glorious riches of the gospel by proclaiming Christ crucified and risen, and living faithfully together as his disciples.
The 1302 delegates from all over the world said in their statement released today that “we delighted in our unity in Christ and the love that we share.” They also stated clearly that “The current divisions in the Anglican Communion have been caused by radical departures from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some within the Communion have been taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:8).” They made it clear that “fellowship is broken when we turn aside from God’s Word or attempt to reinterpret it in any way that overturns the plain reading of the text in its canonical context and so deny its truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and thereby its authority.”
Turning to the Church of England in particular, the conference passed a devastating judgment on recent developments. “It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin”, it said. “Since the Lord does not bless same-sex unions, it is pastorally deceptive and blasphemous to craft prayers that invoke blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This is a strong but biblically warranted statement. With clarity and compassion, GAFCON has said that “Any refusal to follow the biblical teaching that the only appropriate context for sexual activity is the exclusive lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage violates the created order (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4–6) and endangers salvation (1 Corinthians 6:9).”
For those in the Church of England who have been made to feel as if they were old fashioned and out of step or even evil for holding onto the biblical faith, GAFCON reassured them that they are not, and that they have in fact been badly let down by their episcopal leaders. “Public statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Church of England in support of same-sex blessings are a betrayal of their ordination and consecration vows to banish error and to uphold and defend the truth taught in Scripture”, says the statement.
The future of the Anglican Communion as a whole will now have to be very different. The conference said, with great sadness and regret which has been expressed here by so many, that “We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The Instruments of Communion have failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ.” The grief felt by many in having to say this has been palpable and deep.
The problems in the Communion have come about because of a failure of church discipline at every level. Justin Welby’s position as leader of the Communion is now “entirely indefensible” says the GAFCON systems. “Successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to guard the faith by inviting bishops to Lambeth who have embraced or promoted practices contrary to Scripture. This failure of church discipline has been compounded by the current Archbishop of Canterbury who has himself welcomed the provision of liturgical resources to bless these practices contrary to Scripture. This renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible.”
The conference as a whole has been marked by humility and repentance. Every day, in response to expositions of the book of Colossians in the Bible, the conference has set aside time for delegates themselves to reflect and repent of their own sins first. Only with that firm basic Christian foundation in place have they felt able to say that “Recognising our own sins, and in humility as forgiven sinners, we pray that those who have denied the orthodox Christian faith in word or deed would repent and return to the Lord… Since those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), we call upon those provinces, dioceses and leaders who have departed from biblical orthodoxy to repent of their failure to uphold the Bible’s teaching. This includes matters such as human sexuality and marriage, the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, his bodily resurrection, his promised return, the summons to faith and repentance and the final judgment.” It is noteworthy here that they do not focus solely on matters of sex, but on all departures for the orthodox biblical faith as it has been revealed to us in scripture and held by the church in all ages and in all places. GAFCON is by no means a single-issue group, but is seeking to uphold “the true profession of the gospel, the Protestant Reformed religion.”
For now then, the Anglican Communion is broken. Only a change of direction by senior leaders in revisionist provinces can alter this. “We long for this repentance,” says GAFCON, “but until they repent, our communion with them remains broken”. This gathering, which represents the vast majority of global Anglicans, makes it crystal clear that “We consider that those who refuse to repent have abdicated their right to leadership within the Anglican Communion, and we commit ourselves to working with orthodox Primates and other leaders to reset the Communion on its biblical foundations.”
GAFCON has rightly supported those who in good conscience feel they cannot remain in the Church of England. They do not however call on everyone in England to do the same and follow that path out of the national church. They reaffirm their active support for those of us who wish to continue fighting valiantly within the Church of England and are compelled to resist the changes proposed by the majority of the House of Bishops. So, the statement says, “We also continue to stand with and pray for those faithful Anglicans who remain within the Church of England. We support their efforts to uphold biblical orthodoxy and to resist breaches of Resolution I.10.”
Turning to pastoral matters, GAFCON restates the classic Christian approach on matters of sexuality. “Appropriate pastoral care affirms faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness. It is not appropriate pastoral care to mislead people, by pretending that God blesses sexually active relationships between two people of the same sex. This is unloving as it leads them into error and places a stumbling block in the way of their inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” This shows that GAFCON is more interested in people’s eternal salvation and true flourishing than those who want to affirm recent revisionist approaches that are more worldly and supposedly “progressive” in nature.
At the same time, it is important to state that this does not entail a rejection of those who struggle in these areas. GAFCON does not endorse the homophobia and harsh secular laws against such people that have been seen in some parts of the world recently. “We affirm that every person is loved by God and we are determined to love as God loves”, they say. Referring back to the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on this matter, GAFCON reiterates that “we oppose the vilification or demeaning of any person including those who do not follow God’s ways, since all human beings are created in God’s image. We are thankful to God for all those who seek to live a life of faithfulness to God’s Word in the face of all forms of sexual temptation. We pledge ourselves afresh to support and care for one another in a loving and pastorally sensitive way as members of Christ’s body”. This of course especially includes those who experience same-sex attraction, but the statement helpfully reminds us that sexual temptation is something that affects every single one of us not just one particular group.
The unity here in Rwanda between GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches was palpable and delightful. They are not two competing organisations but entirely at one in their affirmation that “that ‘communion’ between churches and Christians must be based on doctrine (Jerusalem Declaration #13; GSFA Covenant 2.1.6). Anglican identity is defined by this and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.” The reset and realignment of the Anglican world will therefore progress along these lines, whatever Canterbury may say and whatever happens in the Church of England. It’s not who you are connected to but what you confess, that is the vital thing.
After a horrible few months in the Church of England, in which we feel that we have been punched in the stomach and kicked in the teeth by our own bishops, it’s really great to be here in Rwanda, where we experience the warm embrace of brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world. Many here are persecuted for their faith in Christ and others are standing firm despite tremendous financial and political pressure that is put upon them by a modern western imperialism, a cultural colonialism. Frankly, that’s inspiring. How can we give up on the unerring word of God which so animates these wonderful people, or on the Church of England which first brought the gospel to them? I am inspired to stand firm and fight on — to fight valiantly against the world, the flesh, and the devil, even more. I needed this conference. And the Church of England needs this, and the testimony of these faithful friends to the goodness of the gospel. We need revival, and yet our bishops have jeopardised the very thing which would bring life to our church by refusing to engage in spiritual safeguarding in accordance with their ordination vows.
It has been wonderful to be with so many good friends, brothers and sisters, and partners in the gospel here. As Kanishka Raffel told us, “the GAFCON Primates and GAFCON branches have been attacked and ridiculed and criticized but they have stood up and stood alongside those who were defamed and isolated for the sake of holding to the truth of God’s word.” But it is clear that we stand together in unity here. How good and pleasant that is! (Psalm 133)
So it has been a delight to be part of this historic meeting and to be connected with these brothers and sisters in Christ who share the passion of conservative evangelicals in the Church of England for the Christian faith as it has been revealed to us in the holy scriptures and which is summarised in the classic Anglican formularies of the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Homilies. Let us pray that the Lord will continue to bless all our endeavours for his glory, as we work together with these global Anglicans for the eternal good of all.
The statement was read by the Primate of the Church of Nigeria. And received by the whole conference with sober applause, the singing of the doxology, and prayer, followed by a Communion service.
Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society and author of Fight Valiantly: Contending for the Faith against False Teaching in the Church.