GAFCON JERUSALEM DAY 1 – “Laying the foundations”

“Jesus Christ, tried and rejected, is the one and only Jesus for ALL nations.” --The Right Rev. Dr. Alfred Olwa, Lango, Uganda
 
Today was the first full day of the third GAFCON Conference, this year in Jerusalem. The theme of the conference is “faithfully proclaiming Christ to all nations.” Over the next five days I’m going to try and convey to you what I hear the LORD saying through the speakers and gatherings that I am witnessing in person here in Jerusalem.
 
It’s always dangerous to boil down a whole series of speakers and themes into one single message—like trying to take all three lessons on Sunday and the psalm and to find one single theme that unites them all. But as I listened today among all the worship, Biblical teaching, conversations and keynote presentations, it seems to me that a theme running through all is that this is a day to lay our foundations for differentiating ourselves once and for all from any Anglican leaders and structures that are turning people away from the gospel of Jesus Christ to “a different Gospel, which is really no gospel at all.” (Galatians 1:6-7). And the reason it is time for us to differentiate ourselves now is that those Anglican leaders and structures that are proclaiming a different gospel are leading people away from Christ and into hell.
 
In the Bible study on “Jesus Christ: tried and crucified,” my dear friend Bishop Alfred Olwa observed that Jesus Christ was tried five times and found not guilty four times in Luke chapters 22-23. In Jesus we see one wholly innocent tried by a guilty crowd, and in his innocence put to death as a matter of political and cultural expediency for our sins. As trying as our circumstances may have been in our journey into becoming a new Anglican Church, the heart of the gospel Jesus is suffering for our sins—all our sins—and all our guilt along the way.
 
At the same time, we find unbelieving leaders in the Anglican Communion who, like the crowd, have been so blinded by the God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) that they will neither receive nor proclaim Jesus Christ as the LORD and Savior of all nations. Others, like Pilate, are trying not to make a decision about false teaching in the Anglican Communion that would differentiate themselves from the “crowd” (and perhaps for the same expediencies that Pilate faced). Still others will find that standing firm for Jesus Christ and his gospel is very, very costly. Bishop Alfred reminded us of the life of St. Athanasius, a bishop present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD which affirmed the very Creed we recite every Sunday that Jesus the Son of God is of the very same substance as the Father—and so of equal honor. Deserted by many of the bishops at Nicaea in this stand, and by countless others, he died before the vindication of his stand against the false teaching of the Arians in the Council of Constantinople (AD 381).
 
And so he posed the question to us: How many leaders are like the bishops who walked away from the faith of the Council of Nicaea and Athanasius? How many leaders have refused to take a firm stand for Jesus because of the fear of those in power in the Church, or in the culture?
 
In our small group prayer time immediately following, we heard the testimony of a Nigerian Bishop and his wife in the north where Christians are dying every day in the face of radical Islamic persecution. He told us how Christianity has grown from 40% to 50% of the population. They shared how the Christians are continuing to love the Muslims that are continuing to persecute them. In turn, the Muslims and other persecutors are beginning to turn to Christ because of the costly sacrificial love of the Christians who will not resort to violence. Is this the nature of the sacrifice we Christians in the West will need to offer, to stand firm and overcome in Christ?
 
The Bishop of Jerusalem (who is not s supporter of Gafcon), graciously came to the convention center to bring greetings in the spirit of reconciliation and hospitality that Christians in the Holy City have been called to offer. In that spirit of bridge-building, he urged us not to exclude anyone. He told us that in Jerusalem not far from where we met the Holy Spirit came down upon all nations—not excluding anyone—and that the Church was born out of that gracious irrepressible hospitality of the Spirit of God. It is this unity, he said, which we must strive to keep and not to exclude anyone with whom we may differ.
 
The only problem with the bishop’s message is that it was not the Gospel. It was very close. In fact it looked and seemed as identical as the two tablets that Archbishop Venables later shared about—two tablets shown him by a doctor which were absolutely identical in size, shape and color. But as the good doctor pointed out to ++Venables, one tablet would save your life, and the other would kill you.
 
Back to the bishop of Jerusalem. He omitted an important fact in his account of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit radically embracing all nations, and radical hospitality. He omitted to mention that there was a certain sermon that Peter preached that day which resulted in people from all nations being cut to the heart and asking, “Brothers, what must we do to be saved?”
 
And Peter said, “Repent…” (Acts 2:38).
 
The bishop of Jerusalem’s well-meaning greeting reminded me of the gospel which Paul talks about in Galatians 1:6-7, a gospel which is really no Gospel at all. H. Richard Niebuhr described it years ago as “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
 
Or, as Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Chairman of Gafcon, reminded us in his keynote address which followed, “It is either God’s Gospel, or it is no Gospel at all”… And in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s gospel of “walking together in good disagreement,” “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3 KJV)… And in response to those who would go to Gafcon and Anglican Communion meetings hosted by Canterbury and the existing status quo, “Good disagreement is like a solvent that dissolves orthodox convictions?”… And finally, he concluded with this warning: that if we walk together with those who deny the orthodox faith in word or deed, we have agreed that orthodoxy is optional.
 
What actions will GAFCON build upon these foundations? Stay tuned…
 

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