GAFCON IV – The Kigali Commitment. Working together for Reformation and Revival.
The promotion of the gospel has been at the heart of what GAFCON is about since its inception and so political comment whether on climate change or colonialism has generally been sidelined. So why then did the outgoing Chair of GAFCON, Archbishop Foley Beach, call out the colonial foundations of the Anglican Communion? Saying “Why does the secular government of only one of the nations represented in the Anglican Communion still get to pick the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion? This makes no sense in today's post-colonial world.” So here’s the rub, the idea that the Prime Minister appoints the Archbishop is a bit wide of the mark. The reality is that the Crown Nominations Commission made up entirely of Anglican bishops, clergy and laity, who represent the Diocese, the National Church, and the Communion recommend a preferred candidate alongside a second appointable candidate, and the Prime Minister then passes on this recommendation to the King, after the King agrees then his government announce the name of the Archbishop designate, and finally the canons of Canterbury Cathedral meet and formally elect the Archbishop. The Prime Minister has influence through their appointment of the lay chair of the commission. Whilst there is influence it is simply not true that a secular government gets to pick the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, so why did the outgoing chair of GAFCON state that this was the case? I don’t believe for a second that he was misinformed, Foley Beach is a highly intelligent man, and so it seems this framing of the situation was deliberate. We must look beyond the specifics, and hear what lies beneath i.e. that the way the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion is chosen “makes no sense in today’s post colonial world”.
By colonialism it seems what was meant is the concept that the government of one nation has control of the governance of another nation, whereas, on a spiritual plain it is the idea that a national Church of one country should have dominion over the Church of another country. It may seem to some that Anglicanism is inherently anti-colonial seeing as the Church of England was born out of a rejection of the rights of the Church of Rome over the Church of England, but appearances can be deceiving. The Pope’s influence was not rejected on the basis of its ‘colonialism’ but on the basis that the pope had usurped the power of the Christian Princes who were the true heirs of the Roman Emperor. The English reformation sought to turn back the clock to a time when Christian rulers, not the pope, called councils, and influenced the appointment of Bishops. In other words the Anglican Church was not anti-colonialist, but rather took aim at the wrong type of colonialism. Henry’s own actions in his insistence of his pick for Bishop of Tournai show he had no issue with colonialism and Article 21 assumes certain rights for Christian Princes “General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes”. It should not be forgotten that it was precisely during the reformation era that these Christian Princes were colonising the world and building their own Empires. Anglicanism has colonial roots, and so moving beyond colonialism will require reform.
During the 19th Century the relationship between Church and State in England was transformed. Previously to be a Member of Parliament or an office holder one had to be a communicant of the Church of England, but no longer. At this point some of those in the Oxford Movement questioned the ordering of things, seeing that the changes opened the door to the influence on the Church of those who were not part of the Church some sought a reformed order. However, no reform was forthcoming as Evangelicals defended the established order which they used to try and quash the spread of Catholic practices in the Church of England. In seeking their own ends they did not stop to properly consider the rights or wrongs of their means. This reached its zenith in the rejection by Parliament of a revised Book of Common Prayer in 1928. In this action Evangelicals rode roughshod over the principal of episcopal government itself in order to achieve their desired ends. The result of this was a workaround in Canon B5 which has opened the door to the liturgical confusion of today and its under this canon that the Bishops will seek to effect liturgical revision. In light of the current revisionism it should hopefully be becoming clear to evangelicals how detrimental to the life of the Church of England were the means by which they sought their ends in late 19th and early 20th century. Now with the Coronation of King Charles III who has spent more time seeking to defend and promote other faiths than to defend the Faith it is questionable whether Britain will have a Christian Monarch any longer. I think it is fair to say that the idea of England as a Christian nation, with a Christian Monarch presiding over a Christianising empire is dead, and with it the original vision of the Church of England. This begs the question for Anglicans in England of whether the continuation of the Church of England as a state Church with the oversight and influence of a secular parliament and government under a pluralistic king is desirable.
The theological ramifications of this change of ages for the Anglican communion are huge. If it is not for Christian Princes to call councils, and govern the churches in their realms then whose responsibility is it? The Roman Catholics argue it is the Pope’s responsibility, whereas the Orthodox would point to various levels of Primatial and Metropolitan authority; the catholic model is strictly monarchical with authority running from the pope down, whereas the orthodox model is conciliar at a broader level with shared authority among bishops and the Primates/Metropolitans holding a primacy of honour, whilst being monarchical at a local level. There are essentially three positions vying for the future of Anglicanism: those who are in favour of a sort of constitutional monarchy with the Archbishop of Canterbury as a figurehead, those who are seeking to develop regional and global conciliar forms of government which is what the GSFA are setting out to do, whereas GAFCON has been accused of dispensing with structures and looking towards charismatic leadership. Looking back at church history the charismatic leadership model was most vulnerable to manipulation by heretics and has repeatedly done huge damage to the church and from this we can learn that it is necessary that charismatic leaders are accountable to the wider body of the Church. For this reason if GSFA is an ecclesial body whereas GAFCON is a missional movement as has been stated then in any future union it is GAFCON who is the junior partner, and the GSFA which should provide oversight so that proper accountability may be ensured.
Both Conciliarists and Monarchists in the Anglican Communion make an argument from Anglican history. There is good reason to say that the theological shift which brought about the Anglican Reformation had its roots in the conciliar movement within the Western Church. As Anglicans have worked for the reunification of the Church their self-understanding has often been that they are a self-governed and biblically reformed branch within the larger Church Catholic. The elevation of the doctrine of Apostolic Succession as of central importance in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral has served to strengthen many Anglicans sense of themselves as being but a part of the Church Catholic. Yet the Anglican Communion has been a sort of de facto constitutional monarchy throughout its history with membership being defined by whether one is in relationship with Canterbury rather than by mutual recognition between primates, as is evident in the central role the Archbishop plays within all the instruments of the Communion. This situation arose out of the colonial roots of the Anglican Communion with churches beyond England for a long time coming under the jurisdiction of the diocese of London. It was only when this system was clearly stretched beyond breaking that new Bishops started to be appointed but as churches abroad were seen as part of the Empire and therefore remaining under the Protection of the Crown there wasn’t seen to be a need for a reordering. As the Empire declined the Archbishops rather than ceding power gathered it to themselves, taking on the role article 21 gave to Christian Princes acting in concert, much like the pope had done in past ages as the Roman Empire crumbled. The combination of a missional church and a retracting empire necessitated a change in Anglican polity as the role of Monarch as governor in both temporal and spiritual realms was lost, and so the concept of Christian Princes ruling over Church and State which is evident in Article 21, and 37 was lost, but reform did not occur. Now a crisis has led to most of the primates openly stating they are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church he leads, whilst continuing to recognise each other. Thus the de facto situation is shifting towards a conciliar structure but the necessary reform to Anglican polity has not yet occurred which makes the situation fragile.
Foley Beach’s statement should be understood in the historical context set out above. Essentially he was arguing two things: one it is dangerous for the Church to be established (a state church) in a non-Christian country as this opens the church up to secular influence, and two that the churches of the Anglican Communion should relate to each other on a conciliar and not a monarchical basis. Foley Beach was begging the question as to how someone should come to hold a position of authority such as first among equal in the communion to which he believes the GSFA is the answer. I believe he framed the question in this way not primarily as a slight against Canterbury but in order to make clear that for the propagation of the gospel to continue there must be a church to proclaim it, and in doing so he has redirected the missional energy of the GAFCON movement to for the moment look at the ecclesial question. If he and others are successful in carrying to completion this move towards a permanent conciliar form of government in the form of the Cairo Covenant thus replacing the current Canterbury aligned structures then the nature of Anglicanism will have been changed for good. As the Kigali commitment put it “Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities of the 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 give stability and direction to Global Anglicans.” Part of this robust foundation should be the reform of Article 21 to make clear that the gathering of the Church is not dependent on the commandment and will of Christian princes, nor of a quasi-papal Archbishop of Canterbury, but rather, that it is due to the Primates acting together in unity.
As a current member of the Church of England one of the things which has kept me where I am for now is a question of legitimate authority. It seems right to me that in any crisis we should use the structures of accountability in place and follow the principle of subsidiarity by moving from the most immediate to the most distant forms of redress. In England this would mean a direct rebuke of the Bishop, failing this it would mean moving forwards with taking the bishops to the ecclesiastical court that they might be disciplined for their heresy, then, if this failed appealing to the King as supreme governor of the Church of England to step in to protect the Church from the damage it is currently undergoing. Beyond writing to the Bishop the laws of England give me no part in this process and so as a lay member I am dependent on the clergy taking action for the accountability structures to function as they should. The sad reality however, is that orthodox clergy whilst criticising bishops who personally hold to orthodox teaching and yet opt not to take a stand, themselves also have chosen not to take a stand as they opt not to bring disciplinary action against heretical bishops. This means there are no functioning accountability structures within the Church of England and with the incoming Monarch showing more interest in other religions than Christianity an appeal to the crown is no longer defensible. So what now?
Many Anglicans have felt the priority of the proclamation of the gospel necessitates action and so have already left the Church of England and come under the oversight of Bishops which are part of the GAFCON network. The only biblical parallel for this situation I can see is with those who became believers in Samaria as the Church was scattered as recorded in Acts 8. There as the Church in Jerusalem was scattered, believers took with them the message of the gospel, and many in Samaria came to faith. When the Church in Jerusalem heard about this Peter and John were sent to them and recognising them as fellow believers prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. It seems here that the proclamation of the gospel led to new Christian communities forming before the Church established itself, but where the Spirit led the Church then followed. There is a type of scattering going on in England. For when the scripture state that when the shepherd is struck the sheep will be scattered, it is unquestionably referring to Christ, but the Bishops as pastors are also shepherds of the sheep, and when they turn from Christ they die spiritually – they are struck as it were, and the flock is scattered. During times of scattering the Spirit intervenes as God himself establishes his people which the Church then comes to recognise as their own. This is the legitimate functioning of Charismatic authority and I believe it is in this sense that GAFCON is a move of the Spirit which exists at the horizon of the Church. The legitimacy of the GAFCON movement has become clearer as the new churches which have been established have formed a lasting relationship with the wider Church through the GSFA and so the reality of GAFCON being a move of God acting at the Church’s horizon has been validated. In the Kigali commitment the GSFA and GAFCON Primates put this dynamic into writing agreeing that part of GAFCON’s charism was to “provide a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist diocese and provinces”, with GSFA providing the wider “doctrinally based structures” which these new churches then become a part of.
Whilst this relationship has existed in what has been a drawn out crisis for the communion, once the Communion is reordered and placed on a new stable conciliar footing it will need to be adapted. It would not be good for church order for a situation to persist in which interventions are made in provinces before the wider Church has passed judgement on the actions that church has taken. It is vital therefore that the GSFA as an ecclesial body take a lead in calling to account ailing provinces. This is precisely what the GSFA Primates have now done in their Ash Wednesday Statement which recorded their judgement that “the Church of England has departed from the historic faith” and consequently they have committed themselves to work “to provide Primatial and episcopal oversight to orthodox dioceses and networks of Anglican churches who indicate their need and who consult with us”. The Kigali statement has for now left open the option for orthodox Anglicans to remain in the Church of England in order to resist the breaches of resolution I.10. Orthodox Anglicans of England should take courage and know they are not alone, and that now is the time for action one way or another so that a biblically reformed province of the Church Catholic may continue in England.
This new situation will be good for GAFCON as well; as it moves away from expending a lot of its energy in providing emergency support to orthodox Anglicans it will be able to refocus its energies towards reaching the unreached with the gospel. I believe it is with this in mind that at this conference a decade of evangelism and mission was launched. Some are questioning why so much platform time was given to people from England, Australia, and New Zealand and might I suggest this is because it is here GAFCON has been at work establishing new churches to reach people with the good news. As more people are reached with the gospel we can hope in the future to see many new faces from all over the world where new churches, or mission to new groups of people is occurring. I for one am excited about GAFCONs future believing that the most significant thing to come out of GAFCON IV is to put reaching the lost at the heart of what it means to be Anglican. As an orthodox Anglican the thing I have taken from GAFCON IV is that even in the most challenging of times we can have confidence as we move towards the future in knowledge that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Roman 8:28).
As a Christian I am left wondering if this is a time not only for a reordering of the Anglian Communion but for the wider Church. It seems to me that with worrying developments in other branches of the Church Catholic, this might become a time when there is a much broader realignment and so let us pray for the Church.
Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it, where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; were it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Saviour. Amen
(Collect For the Universal Church, William Laud, 2019 BCP)