Via my Twitter feed I paid some attention to GAFCON 2023 as it met in Rwanda last week.
There was so much to commend - clips of beautiful worship, summaries of agreeable biblical teaching (e.g. on the supremacy of Christ in Colossians), a sense of unified direction for a significant part of the Anglican Communion (noting signs of common accord between GAFCON and Global South).
Thus these paragraphs, from the Kigali Commitment are, hopefully, true of each and every gathering of faithful Anglicans whether globally, provincially, diocesan-wide or in a parish:
"Our conference theme for 2023 ‘To Whom Shall We Go?’ (John 6:68), along with our Bible studies in the Letter to the Colossians, focused our attention on Jesus, the one in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form, the Lord of all creation and the head of his body, the church (Colossians 1:15-19; 2:9).
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"
Focus on the supremacy of Christ was where things got ecclesiologically interesting because that supremacy leads to comments I noticed as the Conference unfolded which are mundane in one perspective and dynamic, Communion changing in another perspective.
Mundane: it is a simple matter of logic that if Christ is supreme, aka head of the church, then no bishop or archbishop or Protestant-pope-in-the-pulpit or Roman Pontiff is head of the church. All leaders in the church, leaders of churches are at best to be respected, never to be venerated, always to be subject to scrutiny through Christo-centric lenses. And so forth. Agreeable. Nothing to controvert on this level.
Communion changing: thus Church Times reports:
"THE fourth gathering of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) is under way in Kigali, Rwanda, uniting breakaway Anglican leaders and some of those still within the Communion in their rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the “spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion”.
In his presidential address on Monday evening, the chairman of Gafcon, Dr Foley Beach, said that “with broken hearts, we must say that until the Archbishop of Canterbury repents we can no longer recognise him as the first among equals. It’s time for the whole Anglican establishment to be reformed anyway.”"
GAFCON disagrees with a recent decision of the CofE, about blessing of couples in same sex marriages or partnerships, over which the ABC presides, and so the ABC is no longer worthy to be the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, no longer primus inter pares (first among equals) for the episcopal leadership of the Communion. He has been judged and found wanting.
By the end of the Conference, as written in the Kigali Commitment, this rejection had stiffened to all the Insturments of Communion:
"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.
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."
But, reading through the whole final communique, one and only one issue sets GAFCON (and, now, likely Global South) against the Instruments of Communion: any approach to permanent same sex partnerships/marriages which softens the strict discipline of celibacy for gay Anglicans. No disagreement on this issue is possible. No deviation from the GAFCON-party line. Thus no respect for the Instruments of Communion which have sought to engage with differences among Anglicans in response to certain realities in both human sexuality and in civic life of different societies.
Particularly disturbing is to read all the antagonism to the Instruments because some gay Anglicans wish to marry but NOT ONE WORD AGAINST THE UGANDAN PRIMATE who as recently as his Easter message, here, publicly supported the proposed legislation in Uganda's parliament which could lead to the execution of gays.
RESETTING THE COMMUNION
Whether we like this hardline against the Instruments or not, it is what it is, and it looks like a significant joining of forces is taking place between GAFCON and Global South so that a key word to consider in the Kigali Commitment is "reset":
"Resetting the Communion
Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans. We therefore commit to pray that God will guide this process of resetting, and that Gafcon and GSFA will keep in step with the Spirit."
Practically, it looks like the following consequences are now facing us:
1. When ++Welby calls a meeting of Primates, there will be fewer Primates than previously turning up.
2. When ACC meets, there will be fewer faces.
3. The next Lambeth Conference, should there be one, could consist of mostly white faces.
Nevertheless there is time and water to flow under the bridge. If, say, the next Lambeth Conference has a Kenyan-type response (the Primate would not attend Lambeth 2022, bishops were free to make their own minds up re attendance; contrast party-whipped boycott by Nigeria), then it could be fascinating to see who does follow the GAFCON line and who does not.
However, the signs are that the Communion is being "reset", that a significant, but yet to be fully measured, part of the Communion will walk away from commitment to meeting together when called to do so by the Archbishop of Canterbury - the communications and invitations of the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet will be ignored and rejected by a now larger number than previously.
We may feel inclined - I do! - to be highly critical of what is going on here - for example, of a cleavage between "doctrine" and "history", of a shift from an Anglicanism focused on "relationships" to an Anglicanism focused on "texts - but I do not think such criticism will amount to more than a whistling in the wind of change. What we can do is pray (for as much Communion-unity as possible) and resolve to take up invitations to meet (busyness at home is no longer an excuse!!)
CONFIRMING ABC-LED COMMUNION
The challenge is to "stand firm" in what we (who are not GAFCON, who do recognise the ABC as "primus inter pares") believe and are committed to.
The sanity of the centre has a lot to commend it!
Focus on global Anglicanism as primarily relational and only secondarily textual is a worthy commitment.
Whether we be few or many, there are moderate Anglicans and not only in North America, Europe and Oceania. God loves moderate Anglicans as much as God loves GAFCONites :).
Although there are (effectively) two Anglican communion/federation/networks in the globe today, they are not the same. A bit more time will be needed to tell which is which. It will be confusing because of a resolute commitment to the naming rights of "Anglican" (at least in countries apart from those such as the USA and Scotland where a happy distinction between "Episcopal" and "Anglican" exists). But the simplest distinction, it now appears is between those who are with the Archbishop of Canterbury and those who are not.
POSTSCRIPT a few thoughts on GAFCON's divorce between theology and history with its cancelling of the ABC:
The Kigali Commitment is an ecclesiological divorce between theology and history (and, yes, I am well aware that the Church of England committed such action in the 16th century - there is no need to do this twice!).
If the ABC is found theologically wanting and thus is replaced, what happens to the replacement? A certain nervousness that she or he (it won’t be a she, will it?!) must toe the theological line because respect is only gained and held if doctrinally orthodox.
When we divorce history (the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the senior bishop of the Church of England and thus the senior bishop of the Anglican Communion) from theology, we change our ecclesiology: Anglicanism becomes solely confessional: whomever confesses the right confession is correct; and leadership is only granted to those who make the right confession.
Either the purist of the confessors (Nigeria? Uganda? Sydney?) will be primus inter pares; or some kind of election among the purer confessors is held. But no sense of history may intrude such proceedings. Anglicanism may not - on this understanding - be nostalgic for the mother church; nor consider any office of the church significant because of the past, that is, because of how that office came into being.
A certain kind of existentialism becomes GAFCON Anglicanism: what counts is the now of doctrinal purity. Ironically, “history” plays a role in doctrinal purity: the Anglican church is considered to have once been doctrinally pure, but now, alas, no longer. The historic doctrine of the church (on GAFCON logic) judges the present incumbency of significant office; but the significant office of the church is permitted no room to develop that historic doctrine through time.
Even though we may and should observe that historically there was no moment in the past when the Anglican church said, “we now have reached doctrinal orthodoxy”, it is reserved to ourselves (our GAFCON selves) to determine that there was such a moment.
But when was it? Was it 1549 or 1552 (when Cranmer presided over two different publications of liturgy en route to a certain “moment” in 1559, no, wait, 1662! Was it when the Geneva Bible or the Bishop’s Bible or the King James Bible was published? If it was, say, the King James Bible (1611) combined with the BCP (1662), what on earth led modern Anglican evangelicals to embrace, say, the NIV through the last quarter of the 20th century or the more recent ESV? Perhaps weight is put on the Forty-Two Articles? Of course not, they were just the forerunner to the Thirty-Nine Articles!
Put another way: the historical continuity of the Anglican church could be a continuity of pure doctrine, though that is a tricky case to argue (because life keeps changing, and churches keep changing, even GAFCON ones: do they all use only the BCP (1662) every service? Of course not!).
The better historical continuity is around offices, acknowledging that there will be bumps along the way because no ABC is a clone of a predecessor, and none of the predecessors was perfect.