NAIROBI: GAFCON Report Wednesday 23 October
By Andrew Symes
October 23rd, 2013
Morning worship and Bible message
Today this was led by the Anglican Church in North America, and the preacher on Ephesians 2 was Rev Kanishka Raffel, a Western Australian from Sri Lankan heritage.
Our plight. The chapter begins with a devastating picture of the human condition that is the opposite of the view that leads to narcissism. People are seen in Ephesians 2:1-4 as slaves of desires, under an evil power, focused only on the world. Corrupt, captive, condemned, with spiritual incapacity. So every religion or philosophy which says "do better, try harder" will fail. Any understanding of human condition which ignores this diagnosis is inadequate. If we are dead, we do not need a doctor or self help manual - we need resurrection.
God's power. He saves us and seats us with Christ, not because of us but God's character. His justice and holiness alone would destroy us but because of his mercy and grace he saved us. Its not about God rewarding the faith he sees in us. Faith responds to what God has done and what he offers. If we get this wrong our spirituality and evangelism and discipleship will be wrong. Works of service will have wrong motivation, relationships will be wrong, full of competition, disdain and envy. The work of the new humanity is to BE in Christ and DISPLAY the riches of God's grace.
God's purpose is to reconcile Jew and Gentile through the death of Christ. The Law which marked out Jews as privileged and sought to protect their "cleanness" and condemn Gentiles had become judgement on Israel, and a wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The cross deals with sin apart from the law. We are experiencing the reality of reconciliation to each other, for example here at GAFCON, and on a personal note, between Tamil and Sinhalese Christians in Australia. In Paul's day the world had never seen this kind of thing, replacing enmity with peace and making a new people. The church must continue to reflect this today.
After the conclusion of the worship we heard the message of greeting from Justin Welby which can be seen elsewhere on this site.
The nine seminars or "mini conferences" are as follows: The Challenge of Islam, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Marriage and Family, Children and Youth, The Gospel and the Culture of the West, Being Women of God, Aid and Development, Theological Education, Episcopal Ministry.
I'm attending the Marriage group led by John and Ruth Senyonyi from Uganda. More than 150 were packed into a small room, 95% of whom were African men and women. The participants' list of expectations showed the vast majority dealing with marriage issues: only two mentioned same sex issues. This seminar was not a theoretical or theological lecture, pointing out the faults in the theories of other cultures about marriage, or attacking homosexuality. Rather it was aimed at helping the participants to gain a clear understanding - primarily the same basic teaching from the Bible on marriage that John and Ruth would use with ordinary young single people and married couples in Uganda. It was helpful to me in terms of reminders for my own marriage and to help me teach it to others. The atmosphere was wonderful. People were fully engaged in the teaching. No-one was sitting with arms folded, critically evaluating the presentation, or catching up with their emails. There was laughter, exclamations like "yoh.", amen's and "mmm" or "no.", applause, banter, supporting speakers from the floor by calling out agreement.
The main part of the seminar before and after lunch was an exposition of Genesis 2:24: the creation order intended by God of leaving other family and emotional attachments and authorities, cleaving to the one of the other gender provided by God, becoming one flesh, and living in that exclusive monogamous relationship for life. It was fascinating for a Mzungu (white person) to hear the issues raised from the floor: marital rape, and pressure from family about childlessness alongside more recent problems of cohabitation and pornography addiction. Many Bishops and their wives were present, and were encouraged to ensure in their Dioceses appropriate teaching, encouragement and counselling at all age levels on marriage and sex. We came back again to the principles of the East African Revival as they apply to marriage: "walk in the light" - in other words transparency, confession, forgiveness, accountability.
Global South ministry of the day
At GAFCON there are representatives from two different churches in one country: the Church of England in South Africa (CESA) and the much larger Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA). Many Anglican evangelicals in the UK are familiar with CESA but it is not widely known that while ACSA is predominantly Anglo Catholic in practice and liberal in theology, there is a significant minority of charismatics and evangelicals, some of whom have made costly stands for the Gospel in their churches and Synods.
Part of the problem goes back to the apartheid era, when some evangelicals were accused of escaping from their responsibility to work for justice in society, and liberals were accused of reinterpreting the Gospel as political liberation. Many clergy in the Anglican and other mainline churches, trained in liberal theology, focussed on politics and formal expressions of church, neglected personal ethics, and essentially redefined the Gospel and the mission of the church.
Bethlehem Nopece was destined to be different: converted in 1970 in the Transkei, Eastern Cape and has served as Bishop of Port Elizabeth since 2001. He has stressed the importance of preaching Christ and teaching the Word of God in the Diocese, and has defended the biblical understanding of marriage in the Synod of Bishops. This has not been popular in some quarters but the result has been increasing evidence of spiritual renewal among clergy and congregations in the area. Pumla Mtila, also at GAFCON with Bethlehem, spoke today of how his own ministry has been transformed, and that people in his congregation have been drawn to Christ, and now come to church with bibles, eagerly awaiting the preaching not just the Eucharist. Local Pentecostal ministers area amazed that an Anglican Priest has been born again, and tell him that they assume he will be joining them - but he says his calling is to work for the conversion and renewal of the many who only know formal churchgoing. In fact a few Pentecostals are coming back to his church, having left years ago. Under Bishop Bethlehem's direction, Pumla and other clergy are seeking to counteract the rapid secularisation of schools and poor standards in township education by working closely with local head teachers.
On best behaviour
All the UK and Ireland delegation were taken after the close of Conference proceedings to a drinks reception at the home of the British Deputy High Commissioner, who is an evangelical Christian and a close friend of some of the delegates. More opportunity to chat informally.
It is a truism in psychology that groups go through the phases of forming, storming, norming, performing. There have been one or two instances of the second of these, with differences emerging. It would be boring and unproductive otherwise, but if care is not taken, then the progress towards performing together may be impaired. There is strong evidence that God is powerfully at work in this conference but of course the evil one is seeking opportunities as well. Please continue to hold us up.
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