GAFCON 2018 'To free our churches'
By Charles Raven,
GAFCON has conﬁrmed the dates for its third international conference. Between 17-22 June 2018 it will return to Jerusalem, the venue of the ﬁrst Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 (from which the movement takes its name).
The GAFCON announcement explains that 'The city stands as a constant reminder of the birth of the gospel and the movement's determination to remain true to the teachings of our Lord and his Word' and so, to appreciate the significance of the 2018 conference, it is worth recalling how it all began.
Collapse of discipline
Over 1,100 delegates gathered for that first conference, including over 200 bishops, many of whom came to Jerusalem rather than attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference alongside those bishops of the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) who had set aside the biblical teaching on sexuality affirmed by the1998 Lambeth Conference by assenting to the consecration of a man in an active homosexual relationship as a bishop.
But this collapse of Communion discipline was symptomatic of the growing rejection of biblical authority in the Anglican Churches of the West and GAFCON 2008 addressed this challenge by approving a contemporary statement of confessing Anglicanism, the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration.
I was present when it was first read to the assembled delegates. The effect was electrifying. Spontaneous prayer and praise broke out with the realisation that we were witnessing an historic moment. The faithful majority had now found its voice and the Word of God was to be restored to the heart of the Anglican Communion. As a start, a GAFCON Primates Council was formed to give global leadership and the Anglican Church in North America was recognised as a new orthodox province.
Here to stay
The second international conference in 2013, hosted by All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi, saw delegates rise to over 1,300 and confirmed that GAFCON was here to stay. Highlights included: a commitment to principled intervention to provide oversight for those faced with persistent false teaching; the need for a more developed organisational structure; and formal recognition of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), working both within and outside the formal structures of the Church of England.
What's the agenda?
So what is the significance of the third GAFCON conference in Jerusalem next year?
Firstly, it will fill a vacuum. The old forms of Communion governance -- the Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lambeth Conference of bishops, in all of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is central -- will be increasingly ineffective.
With the benefit of hindsight, Archbishop Justin Welby's success in gathering nearly all the Primates of the Communion in Canterbury a year ago was a 'dead cat bounce'. It failed to modify the behaviour of TEC and other revisionist provinces. Many Primates have now lost confidence in Canterbury and this is the reality reflected in the conclusion drawn by Anglican Global South Primates in their Cairo communique last October, that the old governance structures are: 'unable to sustain the common life and unity of the Anglican Churches worldwide.'
Secondly, GAFCON 2018 will intensify its work of reshaping the Anglican Communion from within. It is expected that attendance will increase again and the conference will give momentum to GAFCON's growing work, including: its online presence and resources; training initiatives; standing with orthodox Anglicans marginalised in their own provinces and dioceses; pioneering mission; and building global networks.
But above all, GAFCON 2018 will be another great assembly where the Anglican Communion will be free to truly experience communion, speaking and acting as a united family of Churches centred on the biblical gospel rather than a theologically diffuse institution which can find little common life beyond the trappings of history. The Jerusalem Statement and Declaration concluded by affirming that: 'The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ.' And that is why GAFCON is returning to Jerusalem.
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