GAFCON UK responds to the Synod vote, and offers a new vision for faithful Anglicanism
The confusion created by the General Synod vote on 15th February makes abundantly clear that a new vision is now needed of what Anglican Christianity in England can and should be.
In GAFCON UK’s initial response to the Bishops’ Report GS2055, we recognised that the House of Bishops’ proposal to retain the current position on sexuality and marriage was unstable and inadequate. Reflecting divisions among the Bishops themselves, the document timidly relied upon legal definitions and “constructive ambiguity.” It missed the opportunity to explain briefly and clearly the historic, biblical understanding of sexuality, singleness and marriage and the benefits for human flourishing and witness to God’s plan of salvation.
Trying to avoid ‘taking sides’ in the debate, the document inevitably failed to reconcile diametrically opposing theological understandings. It even attempted to spiritualise this conflict as if it were a form of creative diversity mysteriously pointing to the Kingdom of God.
This is why we did not share the optimism of some that an orthodox view of marriage would prevail in the proposed ‘teaching document.’ The committee responsible for such a document would have been composed of representatives of both sides in the debate, resulting either in impasse, further theological muddle and confusion or, as occurred with the Pilling Report, majority and minority views.
As the Synod debate was introduced, Bishops made clear that the proposed retention of the historic teaching of marriage, or the ban on liturgical blessings of same sex relationships, was not a ‘stake in the ground’ beyond which the church will not move. To the contrary the Bishops saw it merely as a description of where the church is at the moment from where we would then ‘move forward’. This was a clear encouragement to innovations led by the loudest voices.
Our view was that orthodox believers could have no confidence either in the Report or in the process it was intended to initiate. Whichever way the vote went, there would be no happy outcome. The Church of England now finds itself in disarray.
Despite it being clear that the Canons and official teachings of the Church remain the same and changing them will not receive sufficient Synodical support, the campaigners for the LGBT ideology will no doubt continue and increase their public violations of Christian doctrine and ethics. They know full well that Bishops, with their diminished authority, will often feel unable to apply proper control and discipline. In some dioceses they may even be encouraged to push the limits, taking the ambiguity of the Archbishop of Canterbury's words "radical inclusion" as license to further move from God’s direction, rather than maintain obedience to His Word. Orthodox Anglicans across the country will be increasingly dismayed and confused by this.
After the very expensive ‘holding operation’ of the Shared Conversations and the production of GS2055, the inevitable crisis in the C of E is now upon us; one that cannot be covered up by more platitudes about reconciliation and unity.
There is a better way. We would like to suggest seven principles to guide orthodox Anglicans as they start to envision and plan for a better church future:
- Confessional. A true church cannot include everyone without boundaries. While only God knows the human heart, Christian community must define itself by identifying with and confessing certain key tenets of the faith, and rejecting others as incompatible. This may be costly if it runs counter to expediency in a fractured church and ideological pressures in society, but it is necessary for apostolic authenticity and spiritual health.
- Episcopal. We are Anglican, and so we value and uphold the ideal of a godly, faith-defending episcopacy. We long for Bishops in the Church of England to fulfill this function, and we look with admiration at examples of such leadership in other parts of the Anglican Communion.
- Global. We are not just a network of independent local churches – we are and wish to remain part of a global Communion. The mutual benefits for spiritual growth, learning and mission of such a global fellowship are incalculable, and need to be intentionally enabled and nurtured. Given the failure of the traditional Anglican “Instruments of Communion”, the global Gafcon movement, gathered around the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration, is the best viable means of achieving this.
- Charismatic. We are a community of the Holy Spirit. We believe that God is alive and at work today, calling us to be in relationship with him in worship and prayer, enabling, challenging, giving supernatural gifts for ministry, and discernment and courage where necessary to bear with suffering and to stand for justice and truth.
- Catholic. We appreciate the deep roots of our Anglican tradition dating back not just to the Reformation, but to the godly disciples of the medieval period, the courageous missionaries to pagan Europe in the dark ages, the Fathers of the early church. Our Anglican liturgy and our varieties of practice in worship and the sacraments sustain us spiritually and unite us in faith.
- Evangelical and Reformed. We uphold the biblical principles of justification by faith alone, and the primary authority of Scripture alone in determining doctrine and ethics. While we seek to serve and uplift humanity in a variety of ways, especially where there is deep physical suffering, we see forgiveness of sin and relationship with God through Jesus as the primary need of all people. So evangelism is more than ‘welcome’ and not the same as ‘inclusion’; it involves calling people to repent, turn to Christ, and live the new life he enables.
- Pastoral. As a community of sinners and including those suffering from physical, mental and spiritual damage, we need the regular forgiveness of the Lord, his healing touch, and his gracious word. While some are set apart for special pastoral responsibilities, all believers are called to minister to one another and to those outside the community of faith with love and concern, though sometimes with firmness and correction as we are all liable to stray. Our churches should be fellowships of mutual support and encouragement, and also of transformation, as the Gospel involves the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the lame walking.
As Gafcon UK we are committed to working with our partners in Britain and across the world to help build a movement in which these principles will be acted out, to the glory of God. Why not join us?