TOM WRIGHT ON GAFCON - his gentle and godly response
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WE'RE NOT LOST!
I know that the GAFCON leaders can’t have intended to imply (as a ‘suspicious’ reading of their text might suggest) that they are the only ones who really believe all this, that they and they alone care about such things. The rest of us, no doubt – including several of us who were not invited to GAFCON – are eager to share in any fresh movements of the Spirit that are going ahead.
IT'S ONLY NATURAL THAT WE WANT TO GO THROUGH THE JERUSALEM DECLARATION WITH A FINE-TOOTH COMB
And as we do so I know that the GAFCON leaders would want us to express the various questions that naturally come to mind as we contemplate what they have said to us. Just as they wouldn’t want anyone to swallow uncritically the latest pronouncement from Canterbury or York, so clearly they wouldn’t want us merely to glance at their document, see that it’s ‘all about the gospel’, and then conclude that we must sign up without thinking through what’s being said and why.
LOOK HOW MUCH WE HAVE IN COMMON
It is in that spirit that I raise certain questions which seem to me important precisely because of our shared goals (the advancement of the gospel), our shared context (the enormous challenges of contemporary society and of a church often muddled in theology and ethics and lacking the structures to cope), and our shared heritage (the Anglican tradition with its Articles, Prayer Books and historic roots).
Central to these questions is the puzzle about the new proposed structure. I am sure the GAFCON organisers are as horrified as I am to see today’s headlines about ‘a new church’. That doesn’t seem to be what they intended. But for that reason it is all the more strange to reflect on what the proposed ‘Primates’ Council’ is all about. What authority will it have, and how will that work? Who is to ‘police’ the boundaries of this new body – not least to declare which Anglicans are ‘upholding orthodox faith and practice’ (Article 11 of the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’), and who have denied it (Article 13)? Who will be able to decide (as in Article 12) which matters are ‘secondary’ and which are primary, and by what means? (What, for instance, about Eucharistic vestments and practices? What about women priests and bishops?) Who will elucidate the relationship between the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, on the one hand, and the 14 Articles of GAFCON on the other, and by what means? It is precisely questions like these, within the larger Anglican world, which have proved so problematic in the last five years, and the ‘Declaration’ is actually a strange document which doesn’t help us address them. Many at GAFCON may think the answers will be obvious; in some clear-cut cases they may be. But there will be many other cases where they will not. It is precisely because I share the officially stated aims of GAFCON that I am extremely concerned about these proposals, and urge all those who likewise share that concern to concentrate their prayers and their work on addressing the issues in the way which, remarkably, GAFCON never mentioned, namely, the development of the Anglican Covenant and the fulfilment of the recommendations of the Windsor Report.
LET'S TALK - DON'T BOYCOTT LAMBETH
I am delighted that many of the bishops who were at GAFCON are also coming to Lambeth, where their help in pursuing these goals will be invaluable.
WHY DO ANGLICANS NEED TO BE 'RECOGNISED' OR 'AUTHENTICATED' BY A NEW, NON-REPRESENTATIVE BODY TO WHICH THEY WERE NOT INVITED
In parrticular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case, and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’ by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else. Of course, within the larger global context, not least in North America, I can understand the perceived need for something like this. I know how warmly the proposals have already been welcomed by many in America whose situation has been truly dire. But I also know from my own situation the dangerous ambiguities that will result from the suggestion that there should be a new ‘territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread.’ Sadly, as I suspect many at GAFCON simply didn’t realise, that kind of language has been used, in my personal experience, to attempt to justify various kinds of high-handed activity. It offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox, and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended such a thing. That, of course, is the risk when documents are drafted at speed.
COME EAT TOGETHER AT THE LORD'S TABLE
In short, my hope and prayer is that the spiritual energy, the sense of celebration, the eagerness for living and preaching the gospel, which were so evident at GAFCON, can and will be brought to the forum where we badly need it, namely, the existing central councils of the Anglican Communion. I understand only too well the frustration that many have felt at these bodies. But if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful, joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step, which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.
Ordained Anglican. Thinking out loud about church.