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Reflections on the future of orthodoxy in the Anglican Communion

Reflections on the future of orthodoxy in the Anglican Communion

by Canon Vinay Samuel
October 24, 2013


The Global Anglican Future Conference meets in Nairobi Kenya this week (October 21-25, 2013) for its second gathering. One of the key motivations of the GAFCON movement is to ensure the integrity and growth of a biblically faithful Anglicanism in the Anglican Communion. Historic Anglicanism faithful to the Anglican Reformation is recognized as having biblical faithfulness at its centre. The creeds and formularies that Anglicans hold dear reflect that faithfulness to the revealed Word of God. The Articles, Canons and Liturgies flow out of biblical truth as recovered by the Reformers and preserved over the centuries.

It was never enough for some provinces and diocese to show a clear biblically faithful orthodox identity. The global communion must have that identity and must guard and promote it. Biblically faithfulness for those in the GAFCON movement was not just a feature of the Anglican Communion but central to its identity.

Theological reflections in the GAFCON movement since 2008 attempted to develop the nature and content of that identity of biblically faithful Anglicanism. It is an agenda that must continue and not become peripheral.

It appears that the default position of the communion in the past decade was to assert that what we hold in common is an adequate basis for unity in the communion. What we hold in common tended to get reduced to our "historic bonds of affection". Everything else was contested.

Such an attitude to unity ignored the centrality of the identity discussion of the communion. When it did deal with the identity issue it drove a wedge between the local and universal and between diversity and unity. It privileged the local and diversity over the universal and unity.


A global/universal communion of churches has two key features: identity and unity. Identity is integrally connected to unity. It is the undermining of the integrity of the identity of the Anglican Communion that produced fragmentation and brokenness we see today in the Communion. The four instruments of unity that were expected to deal with the breakdown of unity in the communion, have failed in the opinion of both Anglican leaders and commentators.

A. The issue of Identity

1. In the New Testament we note two components of the communion of local churches: Universality and Continuity. Universality is expressed in treasuring and preaching the same apostolic teaching, in a ministry that is recognized and accepted across local churches and the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the gifts, worship and work of the church.

2. The local church was the primary expression of the church in New Testament times. Local is principally a geographical concept. Local churches in several geographical locations and contexts also had a visible common identity. They recognized each other as sharing a common identity in spite of their different locations and cultural and ethic contexts. It was natural that such a mutual recognition would lead to the idea of the Universal Church. The universal was not the primary reality that found its expression in the local. In Paul's teaching of the Body of Christ, he is identifying the common ground of the identity of the local churches and not asserting their derivation from a universal church.

However, the teaching of the body of Christ enabled the development of a view of the universal church that did not see it as an aggregate of local churches. The universal church has its own integrity and becomes the basis of both unity and diversity. The new testaments understanding of the church recognizes the tension between the local and the universal and the role of the work of the Holy Spirit in relating the two.

3. New Testament teaching focuses on the visible local church and its identity as faithful to the Gospel given to it and the Teaching of the Apostles. There was no stress on an invisible, universal, pure church. An eschatological thrust looked forward to a perfected church presented to Christ at the end of history.

In New Testament teaching, particularity Paul's work the unity of the local churches was in sharing a common identity. This identity was expressed in maintaining continuity with the Apostles teaching and ministry. The local churches' universal identity was to be visible in that continuity with the faith and ministry given to it.

The New Testament teaching recognizes the tension between the normative and the positive. The positive privileges the particular and the local and makes that normative. The normative privileges a "universal" norm given from outside the local. In addressing the ethical and moral challenges and practices of local churches, Paul, in particular, affirms the universal norm as transcendently given in the Holy Scriptures and the Apostles teaching. In expecting local churches to live by the universal norm, he does not emasculate the local. His understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit affirms that the spirit enables the local to flourish in its particularity and diversity while continuing to live by the universal norm, given once for all and to all local contests.

Continuity with the apostolic teaching and ministry ensures unity and universality without disempowering the local.

The first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) set this pattern.

Any biblically faithful understanding of a universal communion must not negate the distinction between the local and the universal by making one derive from the other. The local and the universal are hold together in the work of the Holy Spirit. The governance systems and institutions of a global communion must ensure that the integrity of the local and universal is maintained while maintaining also the integrity of a common identity. This requires a recovery of the biblical understanding of universality, and continuity and the work of the Holy Spirit in forming and maintaining the identity and unity of the church.

B. The gift of unity:

There is plenty of evidence in the New Testament of disunity in a local Church. There is no evidence of conflict between local churches till post-New Testament times.

The Apostles stressed the continuity of apostolic teaching and ministry and ensured unity between local churches.

Clement of Rome and Ignatius drew on this stress of continuity to develop a view of ministry and episcopacy.

In spite of the obvious diversity in the discipleship pattern of the local churches in New Testament times it is clear that they recognized a family resemblance in each other. They recognized that they inherited a common faith. They rejected those who attempted to tamper with it. They experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. They recognized the work of the Holy Spirit among them in the midst of some uncomfortable diversity. They were tied together by a commonly authorized and anointed ministry.

They recognized unity and did not create it. They needed to be watchful about events, movements, ideas and people that would attack that unity.

Unity was the Spirits gift and the local churches recognized and embraced it.


I suggest we recognize that a global communion has within it not just global networks but global communities. GAFCON I brought together one such global community in June 2008. It was a unique gathering as it revealed that there was a convergence of evangelical, charismatic and Anglo catholic communities to form a global Anglican orthodox community.

The Jerusalem statement provided a basis for mutual recognition in a 21st century context. It reflected a unity that was visible against the backdrop of the many theological and ethical challenges that the global communion struggled with for five decades. And that visible unity was embraced in spite of some uncertainties and reservations.

There is need to sufficiently differentiate communities within the global communion. The Gafcon community places the authority of Holy Scripture at the centre and gives high value to Tradition and Reason. The Liberal/Revisionist community is centered in populist sentiment and reason.

E Laclau in his seminal work "On Populist Reason" describes the features of the populist camp in contemporary culture. The populist thinks he has morality on his side and often disregards institutions and tradition. He sidesteps theological debate and thoughtful doctrinal development.

Populist movements tend to divide society into the good people and the enemy. Once you have identified the enemy you have no truck with it. The trajectory of the populist community in the Anglican Communion breaks with universality and continuity and so spirals out of the key connections of a global communion.

The biblically faithful orthodox must not be satisfied with being a network, even a global network. Networks major on communication, information and sharing of resources. They are useful to express solidarity and reciprocal support but weak in consolidating power to exert change.

We must build a global community of orthodox Anglicans with shared expectations, values, beliefs and meanings.

We cannot just watch in quiet desperation or react with angry denunciation at the populist liberal community that continues its trajectory away from biblical truth and norms.

New Testament Teaching and practice is still the basic resource for our response.

In the midst of similar challenges the New Testament leadership exercised Apostolic Leadership, maintained Apostolic Teaching, ensured the continuity of Apostolic ministry and practiced Apostolic mission to a lost world.

In addition, its stance was not one of defining enemies and attempting to destroy them but to witness to the reconciling power of the gospel. The heart of the church's message about reconciliation was reconciliation with God. Reconciliation with God transforms individuals and communities to be motivated and empowered for reconciliation in all relationships.

The populist communities' visceral hatred of those who disagree with them deeply suggests that they have not experienced reconciliation with God however much they may appear to promote reconciliation with all.

We need to live and preach the biblical message of reconciliation that reflects our identity and ensures our unity.


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