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Kigali' trumpet's uncertain sound

Kigali trumpet's uncertain sound

May 22, 2023

Following the April 2023 GAFCON Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, this paper seeks to explain why the current Micro cultural issues facing the Church of England in relation to Same Sex Blessings cannot be solved in isolation to the Macro issues of Anglican Identity & Ecclesiology. We pose some key questions, and suggest the solution starts with the calling of a 'Global Anglican Council' of the Church's Mothers and Fathers, by the Chairmen of GAFCON/GSFA, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Why did the 'trumpet' from Kigali issue such an uncertain sound?

While a judgment was made not to recognize the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, no clear alternative way forward was suggested.

One grouping, the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) [1] is calling for a new communion. If so, who will do it and how will it be done? Another group, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GFSA) is saying they will remain as a 'holy remnant' to reform it.

And, far more importantly, what is the theological basis of this action and, if a new communion is to be formed, of a new communion?

Without such clarity you cannot rally people to move in these uncharted waters. The Lambeth resolution of 1998 was expanded to a confessional statement at GAFCON Jerusalem 2008 and identified the stand that orthodox Anglicans should take on the problems created by the actions of revisionist dioceses and provinces. But it did not present a plan for the future, knowing full well the different trajectories of the parts of the Communion.

The GFSA also produced its own confessional statements. 25 years after Lambeth 1.10 we are yet to have a strategy and plan that the orthodox can buy into and unite over. Why is this? It is, we believe, because we have not done theological work on ecclesiology that will help us to make judgments, unite and act together. No strategy appears to have emerged in spite of so many meetings and so much change.

The focus of the strategy should be the kind of global Communion we need that will be Anglican, a universal denomination with a family of national self-governing churches, with its inheritance of, and commitment to, a conciliar form of Anglican ecclesiology.

In this essay we provide some analysis and some suggestions for a way forward.

The Anglican Communion

The magisterial rebuke to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England in the Kigali Commitment [3] was made on the basis of a confessional statement. But an instrument of judgement, to give effect to it, requires a universally normative ecclesiology. But none is forthcoming nor indeed appropriate. For we are not dealing with the nature of a 'true' Church, but with a global family of national churches, each with their own identity.

For a Communion which has no magisterium by design, and is a Communion that is, by nature, one of autonomous national churches, to make such judgements is out of kilter with the Communion concept. As the whole idea of autocephalous churches developed in the Orthodox churches with five patriarchates, including the Roman patriarchate, there was also a recognition that while they accepted the authority of the councils, as patriarchates, they were independent ones. When Rome started claiming primacy in authority as well as in honour, the split began between the Western and the Eastern churches.

When it was set up, the Church of England saw itself as a national church, and a reformed part of the Catholic Church. The Anglican Communion is a communion of self- governing national churches after the model of the Church of England itself. Through a failure to understand this nature of the Anglican Communion, GAFCON is acting as though the Anglican Communion is a universal church.

The conciliar nature of the Communion of Churches

The key issue is whether the Anglican Communion is conciliar or confessional.

In dealing with challenging issues, the Early Church, following the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, defined the issues affecting the universal church and the decisions were made by Councils of the Church. These Councils allowed for national developments to take place as long as they did not undermine the faith and unity of the Church. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 21 councils, Anglicans recognize five.

Protestant Christians ascribe more importance to Confessional statements such as the Westminster Confession of 1646. Anglicans however are more Conciliar. The 39 Articles of Religion are not only a confession of faith, but also set out the practice of the church in accordance with its confession, for example in the celebration of the Lord's Supper and the marriage of priests.

What the Church of England cannot do is, unilaterally, to set out prayers that are at odds with central matters of faith. Participants at GAFCON Kigali have been rightly most critical that the Church of England General Synod has sanctioned the development of prayers that contradict the biblical teaching on marriage [4].

The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15

As evangelical Anglicans, we turn to the Bible for guidance [authority in matters of faith & conduct? sounds weak?]. Is there a biblical justification for the development of these cultural churches? The seeds of it are in the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15.

The Council addressed the challenge faced by the early church as the gospel reached the Gentiles and churches were planted in a variety of Gentile cultures. The apostles, who were all Jews, had to address how Gentile churches could develop as Christian churches without becoming Jewish Christians. How could Gentile churches be recognisably Christian and have all the essential things in common with Jewish churches? The Jerusalem Council had to decide what constituted an 'identity of the Church' that was universal, catholic and which needed to be protected and passed on through generations, and across cultures.

The Jewish Christians themselves had to define their identity in relation to the Judaism of the time. They were both Israel and yet a new Israel. Peter noted his calling to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles and said: "that God 'gave them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? No! But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." Acts 15: 8-10.

Peter says that in the apostles' own relation to Judaism they had had to make discerning judgements, referring to a yoke that they as Jews were unable to bear. Peter talks of people who experienced salvation in Christ, just as the first Jewish Christians had: that is what binds them together. He appreciates that Gentile Christians cannot and should not be the same culturally as Jewish Christians or be shaped by the Jewish culture as they had been. But they are to be shaped by their identity as those saved by Christ who follow the ethical teaching of Jesus.

Then James said: "14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree...... 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood." Acts 15:14-20.

We note a number of points from this account.

First, the Council affirmed that the Gentiles were like the Jewish Christians because they had received the Holy Spirit as the Jews had, their hearts had also been cleansed by faith, and they also had been saved by grace. Peter and James gave evidence of what the Gentiles had received and how they had responded and experienced salvation. They did not set out a statement about belief. The Gentiles were culturally different and could still be Christians; they were only required not to do things that would undermine that identity: association with idol worship, sexual immorality, and eating anything with blood which was forbidden by Jewish law.

Secondly we see the centrality of salvation. One of the key assumptions of orthodox ecclesiology is the centrality of salvation in any understanding of the Church. The church is a body of people saved from sin. Our worship, our liturgy, our discipleship and our mission are all centred on salvation. We recognize the weight of sin on individuals, community and society and the price God paid for our salvation. We are now dealing with some churches for whom such an understanding of ecclesiology has been replaced by seeing the church as a community of radical inclusion and welcome . No wonder we do not understand each other. The orthodox cannot redefine salvation to refer merely to the welcome and safety of broken people.

The issue for the Jerusalem Council was that people should not lose their salvation by engaging in anything incompatible with that identity. The early Church was clear that they were called to be godly people among ungodly people and cultures. The holiness of the church was critically important for them: as those who had the experience of salvation from sin and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, they were to live holy lives among the people.

In Christian mission work throughout history people have been encouraged to give up certain cultural practices. There was discontinuity with some cultural markers of identity, but continuity in their Christian identity with all other Christians. Ecclesiology is about people's Christian identity.

Therefore we see these markers of the one holy catholic church:-

There is a universal identity of Christians who recognise one another across cultures as brothers and sisters in one family.

The Church is to be holy. It can never compromise with an ungodly culture but must live as a godly community.

The Christian community is bound to each other: they bear each other's burdens as part of one body.

Thirdly, one of the agreements of the Jerusalem Council was to note the danger of imposing burdens which the churches could not bear. The apostles themselves referred to the burdens placed on them by Judaism. This Council meeting in Acts 15 reflected the teaching of Jesus who taught that ethical behaviour did not arise from the law, as the law, especially as implemented by religious traditions, imposed burdens and misplaced priorities that were expressed as straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Paul developed the stance of the Jerusalem Council in the Galatian church issue (ie. whether Gentile Christians needed to become Jews) and in his engagement with Peter in Galatians 2:11. As Paul developed it he saw conformity to God's law was out of grace in the Lord Jesus Christ rather than conforming to a law.

So, the Council recognised that while the Council held them together, the churches developed their own national identities and could differ from one another in certain aspects. The Early Church recognized this.

We see the sensitivity of the apostles at the Council of Jerusalem in recognising the dangers of laying especially on Christians in other cultures formed in other contexts burdens which break them. This sensitivity should be part of any criticism of national churches.

Developing a strategy

In the 25 years since the Lambeth Conference 'Lambeth 1.10', the 15 years since GAFCON 2008, and the many meetings since then, the question "What is the global home for the orthodox?" remains.

Revd Paul Eddy asks whether GAFCON is, in fact, interested in the existing Anglican Communion? The big provinces such as Nigeria and Uganda have already left and see no point in continuing in it. Many Anglican commentators had expected the Kigali Commitment to declare a formal separation of GAFCON from the Anglican Communion, and the new GAFCON Endowment Fund the start of 'seed money' to fund a new, replacement Anglican global body. However, in a meeting of the clergy and laity at Kigali to discuss the final public Commitment, delegates gave a 'standing ovation' to a proposal that post-Kigali, all future strategies and statements from orthodox global Anglicans be 'joint statements' between GAFCON/GSFA. This tied the hands of GAFCON leaders to the broader 'holy remnant' GSFA position, and GAFCON for the first time, used the GSFA language of 'resetting' the Anglian Communion.

He notes that whilst publicly, both the GSFA and GAFCON have now theologically distanced themselves from the Canterbury leadership, since the 2022 Lambeth Conference, no serious work has been undertaken on new documents about the Anglican Communion, neither organization has yet to establish the structures and systems to do so and, the relationships between GAFCON and the GSFA, whilst sharing some primates, is still in its infancy stage.

That lack of momentum is very concerning, especially to orthodox clergy and parishes in the Church of England post February's General Synod on Prayers of Love and Faith. Clergy who think the solution is to seek episcopal oversight transferred to GAFCON/GSFA primates have no idea how difficult even basic communication is at times between clergy and their bishops and archbishops in Global provinces -- let alone across international boundaries. Many primates and bishops in the Global South are ministering and leading amid severe poverty, persecution and civil unrest. The position of orthodox clergy and parishes in the Church of England is, understandably, not a priority for them. Archbishop Foley Beach, in media interviews at Kigali has made it very clear there will be no extra provision made to CofE parishes for oversight from GAFCON bishops. He has said that they should approach the Anglican Mission in England -- which for many, is not an option. However, since it would be inconsistent for most orthodox clergy and parishes to seek alternative oversight from 'orthodox' English Bishops who voted for prayers for same-sex blessings, that leaves those who are called to remain in the Church of England, to minister in the hundreds of parishes who would not leave the Church of England, with very few options -- at least in the immediate term -- and without any structural visible differential that might be negotiated via the General Synod.

This micro-problem of Church of England clergy is in fact part of a macro-problem the whole Anglican Communion, which has failed to deal theologically, ecclesiologically and pastorally with the presenting issue of those who are same-sex attracted.

The Church of England must be asked why it is acting in the way it is, which is undermining others' faith. Why did the Church of England House of Bishops not say "We must first ask our brother and sister churches before we speak or act on this matter?"

Just as the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and subsequent councils such as that at Nicaea settled currents issues of contention, GAFCON, in partnership with the GSFA should have called for a Council of the global Anglican Church. The four Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion are not such a council. Whilst we acknowledge the Archbishop of Canterbury has this week announced an Anglican Primates Meeting to take place in Rome in 2024 to consider issues related to the structure of the Communion, this is not the wide-ranging Council that is needed. Further, it is now clear that the vast majority of the primates of the current Anglican Communion no longer recognise the authority of the current Archbishop of Canterbury and as such, very few will attend the Rome summit. What is needed now is a global Anglican Council, called by three leaders: the elected Chairmen of the GSFA and GAFCON, who between them, represent 85% of Anglicans worldwide, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, for those left, who remain under his global leadership.

The Council needs to consider not only the ecclesiological and theological issues previously mentioned, but also how do we address challenges posed to us as churches by our restless and fast changing cultures? When Archbishop Foley Beach was asked for his opinion on the Anglican Church of Uganda's support for criminalising homosexual behaviour and even inclination, he affirmed that cultural difference makes his North American church come to a different conclusion. He was not willing to make an ethical judgment on his Ugandan Anglican family. What is the theology behind such a decision? Can Christians make cross cultural ethical judgments or is that a no go area?

A 'Theology of Culture and Cultures' needs to shape our global family accountability.

We need a strategy that enables global multicultural communions to develop theologies and strategies drawing on the Bible and cross cultural mission experiences.


It is important to ask how central to God's salvific plan is the Church? Is it the case that an individual can come to Christ apart from the Church and that soteriology is never central to ecclesiology? Can someone be a Christian without the Church? This does not seem possible. How are Christians to remember Jesus? As they break bread and drink wine together they continuously re-enact the central components of their salvation -- the broken body and shed blood of Christ.

To declare a church apostate requires a decent ecclesiological statement. Protestants have tended to ecclesiastical indifferentism and so can tend to make sweeping judgements on other Christian communities without carefully considering their standing as a Christian body with reference to the universal Church of Christ to which all true believers belong.

Paul wrote some fairly critical letters to some Christian groups identifying people who denied aspects of the faith in belief or practice. It is possible to apostasize individuals. But Paul never said that these Christian communities were not a church. Jesus himself set the pattern in Matthew 18.17: "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

In 1 Corinthians 15:13, Paul asks: "How can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?" At the end of the chapter he calls on the Corinthian Christians to stand firm. He does not apostasize the Church!

Anglican ecclesiology has always recognized different traditions in the church, for example the Anglo-Catholic, Liberal Catholic and Evangelical traditions. Evangelical Anglicans have lived with and accepted this for many years.

However, in light of the presenting sexuality issues facing the Anglican church, the following questions need to be addressed, among others:-

When does a tradition go beyond acceptable limits?
When does it become illegitimate?
If acceptance of same-sex behavior (rather than orientation) is beyond the limits of the tradition, why is not the acceptance of the death penalty for homosexual behavior, or even orientation, not also ultra vires?
How are the limits of an acceptable tradition to be determined and who determines them?

Walking together expressing the Unity of the Church

The Anglican Communion today faces a similar issue to that addressed at the first Jerusalem Council. What are the limits of diversity? Who can 'walk together' and on what basis? If revisionists want to revise salvation, then 'walking together' with them is not possible. What are the boundaries of a national church and its episcopacy? Are they totally impermeable or may some extended episcopacy be granted in exceptional cases to allow orthodox Anglicans to remain in their national churches?

The purpose of 'walking together' is not just to show unity as some very dysfunctional families attempt to do, but to demonstrate the unity the Lord gifts to his global body. This means not just mutual burden-bearing but mutual accountability and correction. We need strategies that enable this to be not just an ideal but practice on the ground.

Hard work still needs to be done in the following areas:

What is GAFCON's ecclesiology and understanding of the Anglican Communion in assessing its own standing and that of those Anglicans it disagrees with?
Are GAFCON and GFSA really interested in helping their orthodox colleagues in the Church of England to have episcopal ministry? If so, what are they planning to do about it?
What is GAFCON's consistent biblical analysis of cultures and of how to engage with them?
What is GAFCON's own understanding of how to engage theologically and pastorally with the experience of those with same-sex attraction?
What is GAFCON's understanding of where the authority lies to discern and decide the meaning of the Bible?
Will the Church of England seek the help of the other churches in the Communion to address the issue of theological and pastoral engagement with those with same-sex attraction?
Will GAFCON and GFSA call on the Archbishop of Canterbury to join with them in calling for a Global Anglican Council of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church?

Canon Dr Vinay Samuel, former General Secretary of EFAC, co-founder of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS), Presbyter of the Church of South India and Member of the Founding Leadership Team GAFCON 2008

Canon Dr Chris Sugden, former trustee of EFAC, co-founder of OCMS, Canon of Jos Diocese, Church of Nigeria and of Sunyani Diocese, Church of West Africa, and Member of the Founding Leadership Team GAFCON 2008

Rev Paul Eddy, Convenor of Anglican Orthodox and former Public Relations Consultant to the Primates of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches.

Ascension Day 2023


[1] GAFCON (www.gafcon.org)

[2] The GSFA (www.thegsfa.org)

[3] Kigali Commitment (www.gafcon.org/news/gafcon-iv-the-kigali-commitment)

[4] CofE Prayers of Love & Faith (Prayers for God's blessing for same-sex couples take step forward after Synod debate | The Church of England)

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