JERUSALEM: GAFCON Leaders Take Tentative Steps Forward to a New Future
By David W. Virtue
Leaders at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) are spending their days in private closed sessions, trying to discern the principles by which they can navigate into the future.
Bishop Bill Atwood, a US-based Kenyan bishop, told a press conference that agreed upon principles will lead to a new awareness of voluntary association which will, in turn, lead to a shared purpose and vision, and ultimately to shared structural mechanisms.
He stopped short of declaring a new Anglican entity or that GAFCON would be a rival or alternative Anglican Communion. "Structural life proceeds out of the realities of relationships. There is no constitution in the wings that people can line up...it has to grow out of relationships," he said.
"Our authority is to the Holy Scriptures and the historic way in which the church has received and interpreted scripture."
Asked when there would be a "concrete structure", Atwood said there was no timeline.
"The commitments we have to each other are to a high level of commitment. We need to discern who is collaborating with us, and who is not. A 'high level of commitment' means to have an expressed commitment among provinces and how they pursue mission and honor each other. If someone wants to introduce change, that would be unacceptable, he said.
Questioned on the Anglican Covenant being drawn up by the Anglican Communion that is still being talked about, Atwood said we must discern the principles by which we navigate. "We will not accept the lowest common denominator which everyone can agree upon to sign off on."
"We must navigate by what these things are that gather us together. We do not want to engage with those who can trip us and hurt ourselves."
Atwood said he was concerned about the prosperity gospel being pushed in Africa and said it showed a superficiality of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Asked if GAFCON was the loyal orthodox opposition in the Anglican Communion, Atwood said that GAFCON really was the Anglican majority and not a tiny remnant trying to recover the castle. "It is many faithful people and the reality is that the vast majority Anglicans around the world would agree with that. If they disagreed they would be the loyal opposition.
"When we live out of what is real power, we must speak the truth in love." Atwood said the starkness of disagreement is not narrow. "In the world of ideas, you can find vigorous examples of many Anglican leaders who disagree with various lines in the creeds. There is not one single issue. It is about Anglican identity. There are many core issues."
The Rev. Dr. Cesar Guzman, an Anglican theologian from Chile, said that new emerging theological institutions must have the gospel at the center and be prepared to spread the gospel.
"We do not want theological institutions that are self-serving. We want theological institutions to go out and spread the gospel. Many First World theological institutions have gone out the window. At its heart, theological education is the gospel, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the right order of relationships.
"We must ask what is a truly Christian way for Anglicans and we want theology to explain that it must be truly Christian. It will take the shape of Anglicanism and then it must be according to local culture. But it must be gospel driven with Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture at the center."
The Rev. David Short, rector of the largest Anglican Church in Canada, said the church has moved away from the message of the gospel and as a result its numbers have dramatically decreased and ordinands to the ministry have also decreased. "The Church has lost 18,000 congregants and seen a 28% decrease in ministers. The Anglican Church desperately needs ministers formed by the gospel who can be used by God to bring godly, biblical reformation and renewal to churches. Those churches that are growing in Canada are those which preach the gospel and those that receive gospel innovations are closing and dying."
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