Anglican Perspectives

An Historic Moment for the Anglican Communion: Key Takeaways from the GAFCON IV Kigali Commitment

The final version of the Gafcon IV Kigali Commitment (2023) will go down in history as among the historic turning points of the Anglican Communion.  It was virtually everything the delegates had hoped for, and as Rev Canon Alison Barfoot and I observed in our podcast yesterday, it is substantively the same as the first draft even after the Statement Team reviewed 550+ comments submitted!

Here are some of the key takeaways.  I encourage you to read and reflect upon the GAFCON Kigali Commitment (2023) for yourself.  You can find the whole statement here. But let me offer the following eight take-aways and commentary on the GAFCON Kigali Commitment.

1. The call of Jesus and the response of Peter in John 6:66-69 shape the mood and the momentum of this GAFCON moment.

Gafcon leaders deliberately chose the moment in Jesus’ ministry when he had spoken some very hard and difficult words for the crowd to hear and believe.  He spoke hard words about coming down from heaven as the true bread of life (6:35-51). Jesus was teaching about his identity as God’s only son, in the flesh, and that we are to find our identity in him by feeding on him as the bread of life—with the invitation to feed on his flesh as the true bread of life and to drink his blood (6:52-60). This was too much for people, and from this point many turned away from Jesus and no longer followed him (6:66). 

Aware of this Jesus asks his disciples whether they, too, are going to turn away, and Peter replies, “Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68-69). This is a poignant sacrificial moment of sifting for Jesus and his disciples. 

It is no accident Gafcon leaders chose this passage.  It reflects the poignant and sacrificial moment of sifting in which the Anglican Communion finds itself—sifting between those who will remain faithful to Jesus and his teachings and those who have “betrayed their ordination and consecration vows to banish error and to uphold and defend the truth taught in Scripture.” 

In the section on “The Crisis in the Anglican Communion,” the Kigali Statement notes two things.  First, there have been 25 years of some Anglican leaders and churches, principally in the West, blatantly ignoring both the clear teaching of the Bible in the Lambeth Conference of Bishops Resolution 1.10 (1998) as the Anglican Communion teaching on human sexuality, marriage, and leadership in the Church.  Secondly, the Kigali Statement references the decision of the Church of England, with the express leadership and support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to authorize prayers for the blessing of same sex unions as the tipping point in this crisis.  “It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin.”

As a number of GAFCON leaders observed, this statement is not like the joyous and celebratory statements that came out of GAFCON 2008, 2013, and 2018.  It is somber and full of the grief and broken-heartedness that Jesus felt when so many turned away.  But the Kigali Commitment also reflects the resolve of Jesus and his disciples to journey on, no matter how many people turn away.

2. It’s all about the Bible; it’s clarity, authority and sufficiency give us confidence in what we believe as Anglicans.

This is clear from the section on “The Authority of God’s word”:

“The current divisions in the Anglican Communion have been caused by radical departures from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some within the Communion have been taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:8). Such a failure to hear and heed God’s Word undermines the mission of the church as a whole.

The Bible is God’s Word written, breathed out by God as it was written by his faithful messengers (2 Timothy 3:16). It carries God’s own authority, is its own interpreter, and it does not need to be supplemented, nor can it ever be overturned by human wisdom.

God’s good Word is the rule of our lives as disciples of Jesus and is the final authority in the church.” (Emphasis added)

Here we see the Kigali Statement echoing, in different words, the same assertion as the Global South Section 1.6 on the sufficiency of God’s Word written in its plain and canonical sense, and the rejection of any “hermeneutics of skepticism,” which Anglican revisionists have brought to the text of scripture.  The Kigali Statement goes on to say of the Bible:

“It grounds, energises and directs our mission in the world. The fellowship we enjoy with our risen and ascended Lord is nourished as we trust God’s Word, obey it and encourage each other to allow it to shape each area of our lives.”

Gafcon continues to stand for the Bible as the very foundation upon which Anglicans have confidence to believe what we believe, to have fellowship with Jesus himself, and to find “energy and direction” for all we do! Therefore, the crisis in the Anglican Communion is not about “differences of opinion” or “secondary matters” of human sexuality.  The crisis is about the very basis upon which the Church is constituted, especially when the plain reading of the text is ignored:

“This fellowship is broken when we turn aside from God’s Word or attempt to reinterpret it in any way that overturns the plain reading of the text in its canonical context and so deny its truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and thereby its authority (Jerusalem Declaration #2).”

In other words, what is ultimately at stake here is what we have proclaimed for the last 25 years: the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible.  For this reason, it is impossible to embrace “pluriform truth” as the Archbishop of Canterbury did at the recent Lambeth Conference 2022. For this reason, GAFCON rejects the Canterbury led communion narrative of “walking together in good disagreement” as the basis for fellowship, much less Communion:

“We reject the claim that two contradictory positions can both be valid in matters affecting salvation.  We cannot ‘walk together’ in good disagreement with those who have deliberately chosen to walk away from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).  The people of God ‘walk in his ways’, ‘walk in the truth’, and ‘walk in the light’, all of which require that we do not walk in Christian fellowship with those in darkness (Deuteronomy 8:6; 2 John 4; 1 John 1:7).”

3. A call to repentance for more than unbiblical teaching on sex

Gafcon has often being accused of being preoccupied with matters of human sexuality alone.  But the Kigali Commitment (2023) proves this accusation empty because there is much more to the crisis of false teaching in the Anglican Communion: 

“Since those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), we call upon those provinces, dioceses and leaders who have departed from biblical orthodoxy to repent of their failure to uphold the Bible’s teaching. This includes matters such as human sexuality and marriage, the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, his bodily resurrection, his promised return, the summons to faith and repentance and the final judgment.

Moral teaching in the Church is often the doorway to heresy, as others have observed throughout the ages.  The history of the Anglican Communion over the last 25 years is full of examples of how Anglican leaders and churches have denied the essentials of the Christian faith, such as the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus Christ, his bodily resurrection, his summons to faith and repentance, and the final judgement, along with their unbiblical revision of moral teaching on human sexuality and marriage. 

The Kigali Commitment (2023) expresses the hope that such leaders and churches may repent: “We long for this repentance but until they repent, our communion with them remains broken.” As other Anglican leaders in Gafcon and Global South have observed from Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6-9), the owner gave the vinedresser a year for the tree to bear fruit before cutting it down.  Biblically faithful Anglicans have given successive Archbishops of Canterbury, the Instruments of Communion, Provinces and Dioceses over 25 years, and no repentance is in sight.  Therefore, with sadness we come to the next takeaway.

4. Broken Communion with the Canterbury-TEC led Communion and its Instruments and rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership.

And so, we read in the section “The Call for Repentance”:

“We consider that those who refuse to repent have abdicated their right to leadership within the Anglican Communion…”

And in the section, “The Failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Other Instruments of Communion:

“We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The Instruments of Communion have failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ… This failure of church discipline has been compounded by the current Archbishop of Canterbury who has himself welcomed the provision of liturgical resources to bless these practices contrary to Scripture. This renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible” (emphasis added).

The language could not be clearer. No confidence. Failure to maintain true communion.  Leadership entirely indefensible.  The Kigali Commitment (2023) will not permit Anglicans patiently “walking in good disagreement.”  That narrative from the Canterbury-led Communion is DOA.  GAFCON longs for them to repent,“but until they repent, our communion with them remains broken.”  Not impaired.  Broken.  This is an historic moment of the formal fracture between the majority Gafcon and Global South Anglican Communion (85% est.) and the minority Canterbury-led communion.

5. A Reaffirmation of GAFCON’s unique call to support biblically faithful Anglicans across the globe who must separate from the Canterbury-TEC led communion.

In the section on “Support for Faithful Anglicans”:

“Since the inception of Gafcon, it has been necessary for the Gafcon Primates to recognise new orthodox jurisdictions for faithful Anglicans, such as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Anglican Church in Brazil, the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE), the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Diocese of the Southern Cross. We encourage the Gafcon Primates to continue to provide such safe harbour for faithful Anglicans.”

Even before the inception of Gafcon, the Anglican Churches of Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, and Southern Cone extended alternative episcopal oversight to Anglicans in North America and Brazil who were unable to remain in TEC and the Episcopal Church of Brazil.  GAFCON 2008 recognized the unique calling of a Primates Council to help such faithful Anglicans form biblically faithful Churches.  Here they reaffirm their commitment to continue this unique work.  One Anglican leader from Germany expressed how humbled he was that the African churches are reaching back to Europe from where the first missionaries came to them!  Is it possible that among the work in resetting the Anglican Communion, GAFCON will continue to recognize and authenticate biblically faithful Anglicans wherever they may be and then bring them forward for membership in the ecclesial structures of the Global South?

6. The Unity of GAFCON and GSFA in resetting the Anglican Communion on its biblical foundations

One question dominated the conference, leaders and participants alike:  how can GAFCON and Global South work together to address both false teaching and the need for new structures in the Anglican Communion that will deter false teaching, hold members mutually accountable, and promote Biblical mission.  The answer is in the section on “Resetting the Communion”:

“We were delighted to be joined in Kigali by leaders of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) and to host a combined Gafcon-GSFA Primates meeting. Together, these Primates represent the overwhelming majority (estimated at 85%) of Anglicans worldwide.” (Emphasis added)

We knew that Gafcon and GSFA Primates were meeting behind the scenes, and now we rejoice to hear how they have come to recognize and respect their complementary roles—Gafcon as a movement focused on mission and offering “safe harbour” for Anglicans pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces, and Global South establishing doctrinally-based ecclesial structures within the Communion.  This underlines the complementarity AAC has declared since 2018, that Gafcon serves as a Pauline-like missionary society and Global South/GSFA like a Petrine “mother church” as in Acts 15. 

We rejoice in the declaration of their unity in the Kigali Statement (2023):

“We rejoice in the united commitment of both groups on three fundamentals: the lordship of Jesus Christ; the authority and clarity of the Word of God; and the priority of the church’s mission to the world. We acknowledge their agreement that ‘communion’ between churches and Christians must be based on doctrine (Jerusalem Declaration #13; GSFA Covenant 2.1.6). Anglican identity is defined by this and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.”

It’s important to note: Anglican identity is defined by doctrine and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.  This will, in some Provinces, require the same kind of changes in Constitutions and Canons that the Church of Nigeria instituted in 2005, removing the recognition from Canterbury as a condition of membership in the Communion.  It also represents an enormous and explicit recovery of our reformational Anglican formularies, the biblical and doctrinal foundations of Anglicanism rather than mere “bonds of affection.”  These are included in both the Gafcon Jerusalem Declaration (2008) and the Global South Cairo Covenant (2019).

For these reasons we should expect ongoing work between both GAFCON and Global South in this process of resetting:

“Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans. We therefore commit to pray that God will guide this process of resetting, and that Gafcon and GSFA will keep in step with the Spirit.

Please pray that the leadership of GAFCON and Global South will stay in step with the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-26).  Pray for the fruit of the Holy Spirit to come out of their collaboration. And pray that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has threatened to resist any efforts to reset the Anglican Communion apart from the Instruments of Communion, will be prevented from interfering with this biblical reset.

7. Appropriate pastoral care must be shaped by the biblical definition of love and truth.

In keeping fully with Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 (1998), the Kigali Commitment recognizes the call upon the whole church to minister pastorally and sensitively to all, irrespective of sexual orientation, and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage, and any trivialization or commercialization of sex. It does so in the section on “Appropriate Pastoral Care.” It affirms that “every person is loved by God” and “we are determined to love as God loves.” It says,  “As Resolution I.10 affirms, we oppose the vilification or demeaning of any person including those who do not follow God’s ways, since all human beings are created in the image of God.” In the current context of sexual and gender confusion made worse by its export across the world, rooting human identity in God’s good creation, in his image, is essential!

But the Kigali Commitment goes even further by recognizing that true love—God’s love– does not lead people into sin:

“Aware of our own sin and frailty, we commit ourselves to providing appropriate pastoral care to all people in our churches. This is all the more necessary in the current context of sexual and gender confusion, made worse by its deliberate and systematic promotion across the world.

Appropriate pastoral care affirms faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness. It is not appropriate pastoral care to mislead people, by pretending that God blesses sexually active relationships between two people of the same sex. This is unloving as it leads them into error and places a stumbling block in the way of their inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” (Emphasis added)

This is exactly what the Apostle Paul exhorts the church to do in Ephesians 4:15, to speak truth in love.  Appropriate pastoral care includes affirming all those “who seek to live a life of faithfulness to God’s Word in the face of all forms of sexual temptation.”  In other words, appropriate pastoral care is always an expression of authentic biblical discipleship within the fellowship of the local church:

“We pledge ourselves afresh to support and care for one another in a loving and pastorally sensitive way as members of Christ’s body, building one another up in the Word and in the Spirit, and encouraging each other to experience God’s transforming power as we walk by faith in the path of repentance and obedience that leads to fullness of life.”

In our own life in the ACNA, we are seeking to find more faithful ways to provide “appropriate pastoral care” for the victims of misconduct and abuse by church leaders.  How might this definition of “appropriate pastoral care” help us along the way?

8. The future of GAFCON: a global missionary movement.

Archbishop Foley Beach and the Gafcon primates have passed the baton to the next leaders of the movement.  Archbishop Laurent Mbanda (Rwanda) is the new Chair.  Archbishops Kanishka Raffel (Sydney) and Miguel Uchoa (Brazil) are the vice-Chairs.  Archbishop Kwashi (Nigeria) will continue as General Secretary.  In other words, the face of the top leadership of Gafcon is a global Anglican Communion face, representing (with Global South) the 85% majority of Anglicans in Africa, Austral-Asia, and the Americas. It is the same face we find in the top leadership of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans.

Gafcon laid out an ambitious agenda as a missionary movement offering safe harbor to refugee Anglicans.  The agenda includes a “decade of evangelism, discipleship, and mission” (2023-2033), better theological education for leaders at every level of its member churches, and bishops training.  While there were promising reports of some of those initiatives in the evening sessions on “God at Work in the World,” this ambitious agenda begs the question “how can it be fulfilled?” Is there a higher probability of fulfillment in the next 10 years if Gafcon and Global South collaborate together on these initiatives? 

Both Gafcon and Global South will be around for a while.  They will not be merging anytime soon.  But we must pray that they find God’s promise from Ecclesiastes 4:12 in resetting the Anglican Communion on its biblical foundations, as they stay together in step with the Holy Spirit: Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” 

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