Nov 4, 2013

Behind the Scenes at GAFCON 2

Various commentators and participants in the latest GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Confernce) that met in Nairobi have posted their thoughts.  Some positive and encouraging for evangelicals and some less so. 

The text of the Nairobi Communique and Commitment can be found here.

George Congor in The Church Times
GAFCON to be 'an Anglican Province' in all but name

Adopted on the closing day of the conference with little public dissent, the conference statement received strong support from participants. The Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic diocese of ACNA, the Rt Revd Neil Lebhar, welcomed the statement, calling it a "unity" document that would gather other Anglicans into the GAFCON fold...

Not all the delegates were pleased with it. The Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt Revd Jack Iker, said that it showed the strength of the "Sydney contingent" at the meeting. He was "concerned" about the deletion of points that were important to Anglo-Catholics, and noted that GAFCON treated Anglo-Catholics as poor relations to the conservative Evangelical majority...

A behind-the-scenes fight over language describing the ministry of women also shaped the final document. It said: "We affirm the ministries of women and their vital contribution to the life of the Church: their call to the task of evangelism, discipling, and building strong marriages, families, churches, and communities. GAFCON 2013 upholds the Bible's teaching that men and women are equally made in the image of God . . . excercising different gifts. We recognise that we have differing views over the roles of men and women in church leadership."...
Andrew Atherstone in Fulcrum
Reflections on GAFCON 2

The need for true repentance was also the thrust of the keynote address by Mike Ovey (principal of Oak Hill College), a tour de force. He showed how the early Christians, following the model of their Saviour, consistently preached ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins’ in the name of Jesus (Luke 24.47), an emphasis also evident in the Anglican spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer and the Homilies. But many contemporary Anglican preachers, in Ovey’s analysis, proclaim ‘cheap grace’, shorn of repentance, which thereby distorts the gospel. He acknowledged that the church in the West does repent over racism, colonial legacy and social injustice, but these are all recognised by the world as sin, so ‘is it really turning to God, or acknowledging the world?’ What about the sins which the world enjoys and applauds? In a rousing peroration he urged the Anglican Communion to preach not cheap grace but ‘costly grace’.  [Mike Ovey's talk can be found here.]...Theological tensions were further exposed in a seminar on the complementary charisms of catholicism and evangelicalism by Gavin Ashenden (former chaplain of Sussex University, trained at both Oak Hill and Heythrop), an entertaining but provocative speaker whose comments demonstrated the chasm between the two movements. This is one of the biggest dilemmas for GAFCON – although overwhelming evangelical, how serious is it about bringing Catholic Anglicans on board? The North American contingent, in particular, is largely catholic, since so many evangelicals left the Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century. The Nairobi communiqué welcomes ‘all our different traditions’ (misleadingly caricatured as Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, and Charismatics) as all committed to ‘a renewed Anglican orthodoxy’. But what does this mean in practice? Is it just a temporary alliance, co-belligerence against the common enemy of radical liberalism, or something more? The Jerusalem Declaration of 2008 famously affirms ‘justification by faith’ (as did the Council of Trent) but not ‘justification by faith alone’. Some Anglo-Catholics at Nairobi were unhappy that the public worship was not more catholic in flavour; but they admitted there are only two viable options as they face an insecure future, GAFCON or the Ordinariate. Evangelicals are traditionally much happier relating to non-Anglican evangelicals than to non-evangelical Anglicans [note: I agree!]. Another theological legacy from Kenya to the Anglican Communion is the Kikuyu Missionary Conference of 1913, where Bishop Willis of Uganda and Bishop Peel of Mombasa (both evangelicals) enjoyed fellowship with Nonconformist friends. Willis and Peel were determined to put evangelical faith before catholic order, for the sake of united evangelism, for which they were denounced as heretics by Bishop Weston of Zanzibar (an Anglo-Catholic). Their ecclesiologies were incompatible. Although the Kikuyu conference is now in its centenary year, an ideal moment to celebrate its impact, it was passed over in silence by GAFCON 2. There was no obvious rapprochement at Nairobi. The convergence between these rival Anglican traditions was merely sartorial: bishops at GAFCON dispensed with their mitres for the sake of evangelical sensibilities, while some conservative evangelical clergy from England and Sydney were spotted in dog-collars, which they would be embarrassed to be caught wearing at home.
Another obvious area of theological diversity is GAFCON’s attitude to the ordination and consecration of women. Contradictory viewpoints are encompassed by the movement. There was a good supply of women in dog-collars, some white, most black, but few stood on the platform. Clergywomen from North American and Uganda led intercessions and read the Bible, but none preached or lectured. The Nairobi communiqué now for the first time acknowledges these differences of opinion. Nevertheless, GAFCON will need to work harder to recruit and retain egalitarians if it is to enhance its appeal as a broad coalition.
Time will tell how the unity that GAFCON is shaping will be realized while there are still serious differences in theological commitments between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.  If member provinces, like the ACNA, are committed to the Jerusalem Declaration and part of the GFCA, will such evangelical commitments influence the ACNA? 

Andrew concludes with a shrewd observation:

Second, in what sense do the GAFCON bishops represent their congregations? What voice will GAFCON give to the millions of lay people under its umbrella? The East African revival was predominantly a lay movement, and stress was laid on this in the conference presentations, calling the laity to take a lead in evangelism and discipleship. But the very next morning a behemothian procession entered the cathedral, ranks of bishops and archbishops in their flowing convocation robes – they sat separate from the clergy and laity, were the first to receive communion and then gathered for their own photograph on the lawn (in imitation of the classic Lambeth Conference photographs). Throughout the week, purple shirts and right reverends were everywhere to be seen. The irony could not be missed. Of the 1358 delegates, 331 were bishops (including 30 archbishops), 482 clergy and 545 laity – but the number of bishops was a key GAFCON headline. While emphasising lay leadership, and trying to break free from old hierarchical models, GAFCON remains bishop heavy. It is a political game, in recognition that these numbers count at Lambeth and in the councils of the church. When in England or Australia, many evangelicals have scant regard for bishops, as if Anglicanism could manage perfectly well without them: but their attitude mysteriously changes when they reach East Africa, where they enthusiastically embrace the episcopate as of key significance for the mission and purity of the church. How will lay voices be heard?
And I would add, how will evangelical voices be heard in the ACNA?

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