Wednesday, 2 July 2008

GAFCON: for Parish Magazines and Newsletters

The article below may be useful for parish magazines and newsletters.

Is the Church of England ‘splitting’?

For the last week the news media have been full of stories about a ‘split’ in the Anglican Communion. Interest has focussed especially on the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which took place in Jerusalem in the middle of June, and on a follow-up meeting in London on July 1st.

GAFCON was a response to a trend which has been affecting the Anglican Communion for over fifty years, but which came to a head with the consecration of a divorced priest in a homosexual relationship as Bishop of New Hampshire in the USA in 2003.

That trend may broadly be described as ‘theological Liberalism’. Liberal theology has in the past contributed much by way of thoughtful challenges and ideas. Without strong traditionalist foundations, teaching and leadership, however, the Church that builds on Liberalism soon finds it is resting on sand.

Asked in an interview with Time magazine whether belief in Jesus is “the only way to get to heaven,” the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, answered, “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine.” Not only does this duck the question, but it reduces Jesus to some kind of spiritual ‘space shuttle’ to get you into God’s orbit — a far cry from the ‘true God of true God’ found in the Creed.

Another important feature of the new Liberalism is in the area of human sexuality, where there is growing acceptance of same-sex relationships. In North America, this has resulted in the blessing, and even the ordination, of many people in such relationships, quite contrary to the long traditions of the Church and to what the Bible has to say.

In 1998, the Lambeth Conference of bishops issued a statement which established the traditional, biblical, view of human sexuality as the ‘Anglican’ position. Since then, however, Anglicans in the USA and Canada, often supported by people in this country and other ‘Westernised’ parts of the Communion, have advanced an agenda to challenge this. Repeatedly there have been meetings at which bishops and Archbishops have agreed to ‘hold the line’, only for some of them to go home and do the exact opposite.

By late last year, it was obvious that as a result many bishops would be unwilling to come to this year’s Lambeth Conference. At the same time, in North America individuals, churches and even whole dioceses were leaving the denomination. In many cases this resulted in expensive legal action being taken against them.

GAFCON came about partly to resist the spread of this extreme Liberalism and partly to provide a haven for those who were in danger of leaving the denomination. GAFCON is not trying to create a split, but to contain it within the Anglican Communion by re-asserting traditional Anglican teaching and values. The Jerusalem Statement repeats what is found in our own Canon Law: “The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.”

Quite what GAFCON will mean for us here in England remains to be seen. Certainly, however, the Church of England will never quite be the same again.

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