Friday, October 25, 2013

Why GAFCON deserves our attention even if we cannot give it our uncritical support

A commenter posted re my previous post this comment:

"My question to you here, Peter, is: does your obvious regard for this new emanation of separately-contrived 'Anglicanism' exceed your loyalty to the Provincial Church of which you are a part, and which is not connected to GAFCON - except through the tenuous links of one bishop and 13 other New Zealanders?

Do you think that the Gafcon church is the 'new face' of world-wide Anglicanism? And is it superior in some way to the Anglicanism of which you presently are a part? I am a little disturbed that you are promoting this revisionist view of how Anglicanism should present its mission to the world - obviously in competition with the Instruments of Unity in world-wide Anglicanism.

I understand that you are the education officer for our diocese of Christchurch in ACANZP. Is your promotion of the Gafcon crowd part of your educational remit? Or is it just your personal opinion. There is a difference"

Let me reply first with a general comment that GAFCON is a large global event involving Anglicans from many churches around the world, including many primates and bishops, of such significance that the ABC himself chose to rearrange his schedule in order to address the Primates beforehand. At the very least GAFCON is worthy of the attention of any and every Anglican whether or not those paying attention wish to promote or oppose the event or just watch idly from a neutral position.

Secondly, any such event as this has positive and negative aspects, that is points worth praising and commending and points worth examining and critiquing. Before GAFCON I criticised the Jerusalem Declaration which is the heart of the common theological accord binding participants together. During GAFCON I am drawing attention to things people are saying. Some of those things are more agreeable than others. For instance (but not to make it a subject of reflection here) I would like to raise the question whether Mike Ovey (in an address linked to in the post below) is too hard on the Western church as it engages in the many difficulties of the Western situation. Is the Western church worse or better or just the same at being faithful in its context as the church in (say) Uganda or Syria?

GAFCON is too big an event, and too wide an event in the life of the Anglican church to speak as the comment does above about 'separately contrived' or of our NZ connection as 'tenuous.' I take seriously our fellowship as Global Anglicans. If most African Anglican churches (and a number of others) are meeting in the GAFCON way with the GAFCON concerns then I am connected to this event: my brother and sister Anglicans are making claims and staking territory in the development of global Anglicanism. There is no 'tenuous' connection here - unless, of course, I wish to contrive a separatist Kiwi Anglicanism in which I pay no attention to what Anglicans elsewhere in the world are saying and doing.

'Loyalty': the charge brought here is fascinating. On the one hand I had not realised that our church had a view on GAFCON to which one must subscribe in order to demonstrate loyalty. On the other hand I am pretty loyal. Why I would even go so far as to say that I am at least as loyal as those Anglicans busily criticising various recent appointments made in our church. Or is it just people who draw attention to GAFCON and refuse to speak badly of it that are going to be accused of disloyalty at this time? (Actually I believe in free speech in our church and if people want to criticise that is fine, so long as people are also permitted to discuss GAFCON!) Anyway: to give a blunt answer specific to the question, as a member of God's universal church I am equally loyal to global and to local expressions of the church. Theologically I can do no other. And I am as committed to GAFCON as the Archbishop of Canterbury!

Is GAFCON the new face of global Anglicanism? I have no idea. But if it turns out that it is, it has gone about things in a Christ affirming, Scripture based, Anglicanophile manner. Where is the official Anglican Communion organised event of similar breadth in its vision?

Is GAFCON superior in some way to the Anglicanism of which I am presently a part? Of course not. GAFCON is part of the Anglicanism of which I am presently a part. It is colleagues who have gone to GAFCON, not enemies or opponents. Do I agree with everything my colleagues at GAFCON think and say? No. Which makes them rather like the colleagues who have stayed at home!

I do not see that GAFCON is promoting a mission at odds with other Anglican approaches to mission. There are many Anglican approaches to mission and this is one of them. It is certainly no more revisionist than, say, the approach that says it is better to distribute food to the hungry than to proclaim the gospel, or the approach which says if we put on great liturgy then people will be attracted into the life of the church.

Competition with the Instruments of Unity? There is no competition. The instruments are broken. A much better question (and one which needs to be asked) is whether GAFCON will turn out to be a contribution to Anglican unity or not.

My educational remit: I think it is to make people think. It seems that that happens here. Nevertheless the blog expresses my views and I am clear about that on the sidebar. I am not setting out to promote GAFCON as such but to promote discussion about what it means to be Anglican. That, I think, happens to be also part of my educational remit, as well as a personal hobby horse.

GAFCON is making a claim about what it means to be Anglican. It is grounded in the historic prayer book, articles of religion, and scriptural tradition of the Anglican Communion. It would be a pretty mean achievement to persuade people that GAFCON was not a reasonable, traditional experience within the diversity of being Anglican in the 21st century.

A final point. I take very seriously the international inclusion of all nations by God in God's church. A grave danger which I ask Kiwi Anglicans concerned about global Anglicanism's future to think very carefully about is that a Communion-minus-GAFCON will be a Caucasian-centric communion, at odds with the international inclusiveness of the true church of God.


Bryden Black said...

There have been occasions on ADU when I have likened our present AC dilemmas to those of the 4th C Arian struggle, since there are quite a few good parallels to be drawn. Re GAFCON more specifically, I think the better parallel is the 18th C Wesleyan revival: will the established Church heed these reviving movements or will they strenuously try to sideline them? And this is of course to claim there are both good and less than good elements about both the Wesleys and GAFCON: recall Whitefield!

Bryden Black said...

If this article has any cogency at all, and I think it is pretty robust myself, then its theo-logic has enormous implications for GAFCON - and ACANZ&P at this time:

Father Ron Smith said...

re Bryden's remark comparing the present Gafcon movement with the departure of the Wesleyans; he may indeed be right about the rank and file movement away from traditional Anglicanism. The Methodist ethos, though is slightly different from what is happening in Nigeria - even though the current thrust affects to be the result of a 'holiness' movement.

The Wesleys were not intentional separatists. And they were never focussed on splitting off from the Church of England. That happened because the C.of E. no longer accepted their seemingly anti-liturgical emphasis on preaching.
(A bit like the current Sydney diocese. really)

Dr. Radner's article on the ACI blog that Bryden points to, shows his empathy with the sort of ethos that has been exemplified recently in the North American situation of the ACNA; where individual dioceses (led by their disaffected local bishops) have considered themselves free to act on their own - without recourse to the national discipline of the provincial Church (in this case TEC and the A.C. of Canada).

In situations of what could be termed isolated dioceses, anywwhere in the Communion (say, Recife), there is always the possibility of schismatic departure. This is why I, personally, worry about certain bishops in dioceses of local churches, who publicly dis-associate themselves from the polity of their local provincial Church. This leads to division and is not a movement towards the unity that Christ has decreed for His Church: "That they may be one, Father, as you and I are One".

This seemingly schismatic movement - aided and abetted by GAFCON churches - has led to the current situation of dis-unity and dis-order within the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Such a matter requires very careful reflection before one could congratulate the separatists (for whatever reason) for their calculated opting-out of their parent Churches. They were not kicked out - like the Methodists - they have opted out of their own volition.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
There are things to ponder in what you say, notably, re our own situation in these islands, the difficulties which may flow consequentially from talk of dissociation. (I respectfully suggest, however, that there is more to Radner's paper than your brief summary. He is also critical of independence.)

Nevertheless I suggest that concerns about dissociation work in two ways, not just in one way. Is our church fully associated with the gospel mission of Christ? What is an Anglican to do if one finds such dissociation? (You are right, it is a different question for a layperson than for a cleric bound to the authority of bishop and General Synod.)

In my own experience moving and mingling around the national life of our church over some twenty years, there have been many occasions of disappointment for me as I have looked for clear proclamation of the gospel and keen commitment to theological rigour in the thought processes of our leaders. There have been many good moments too, but I am asking what one does during the disappointing moments. Grin and bear it? Or, might one encourage oneself by joining in fellowship with Anglicans keen on gospel proclamation and theological rigour?

I do sometimes feel, Ron, that your comments reflect a romantic view of our church in which the official church is inerrant and the evangelicals in our midst are always in error or about to fall into error. That is not the church I live in.

MichaelA said...

Wesleyans being "anti-liturgical" - where did you get that idea from, Fr Ron? The methodists were noted for their great reverence for Holy Communion, in contrast with the hierarchy of the Church of England, many of whom had little regard for the Eucharist.

MichaelA said...

"This seemingly schismatic movement - aided and abetted by GAFCON churches - has led to the current situation of dis-unity and dis-order within the world-wide Anglican Communion"

The reverse is true: TEC and ACoC - aided and abetted by liberals in other countries who value liberalism more than the Church - has led to the current situation of dis-unity and dis-order within the world-wide Anglican Communion.

I thank God I am in communion with Gafcon, and not with schismatics like TEC.

Zane Elliott said...

I'm really please with you being clear in your headline that GAFCON ought not be accepted without critical examination. As we work through the Nairobi Comminique this morning we will see critical assessment of what it says, a number of us who are delgats from ACANZP have put forward some critique.

Ron, you've said "This seemingly schismatic movement - aided and abetted by GAFCON churches - has led to the current situation of dis-unity and dis-order within the world-wide Anglican Communion." This is a spurious claim! Have you ever spoken with people who are now members of ACNA? The men and women I've met he I. Nairobi from ACNA have not moved as you suggest, in fact some in the Diocese of South Carolina were dismembered from TEC because they refused to move from traditional Anglican teaching in the BCP, ordinal and thirty nine articles on the supremacy of Scripture.

Can you pleased help me understand how you see them as having moved from traditional Anglicanism?

I think we are seeing one of the key issues played out here.... Different understandings on what constitutes an Anglican, and a lack of tolerance by the liberal leadership. Surely if the movement within TEC, ACANZP was about justice and tolerance then tolerance would be extended to those of us who have a differencing opinion. I haven't experienced much grace at the hands of those who revise our doctrine.

Chris Spark said...

Peter, thanks for this reasonable and sensitive post - a good bit of clarity here.