The following was written for the American Anglican Council by the Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood, bishop of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America:
Eccl. 4:12 A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
For the last twenty-five years or more, the world-wide Anglican Communion has faced significant problems. In addition to the obvious issue of COVID-19 and its implications, there are three monsters assaulting the Communion that are jaw-dropping, mind-numbing, and despair-producing.
The Gospel Deficit
In his bishop’s charge as he was installed as Bishop of Nassau, Drexel Gomez said, “As much as 90% of what we do as the Church has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. We need to change that.” Of course, there was some element of hyperbole in that statement, but it is certainly true that it is easy to get caught up in the mundane and put less emphasis on the Gospel than we should.
More troubling is the way that institutional momentum in the Anglican Communion sucks up a tremendous amount of energy in maintenance. There are countless meetings and commissions, and a staggering number of councils, synods, and gatherings that are not Gospel-focused.
Sadly, in some places it is even worse. There are a number of Provinces which are pursuing an agenda which is antithetical to the Gospel and to Biblical authority. Naturally, in doing so they are not growing, and in most cases, are rapidly dying. Until they return to Biblical and Gospel fidelity, the fact that they are shrinking is not a bad thing. The fewer people they can lead astray, the better.
Most Churches that believe the Gospel and live under Biblical authority can, as Archbishop Gomez said, use a “shot in the arm” to be more effective in Gospel pursuit.
The Ecclesial Deficit
When the Episcopal Church (TEC) changed course to take their ecclesiastic ship full speed ahead toward the icebergs of heterodoxy, it created an uproar in the Anglican Communion. Over the years, each one of the four “Instruments of Communion” (i.e., Unity) decried their action, but each said in one way or another, “There is nothing we can do. We lack constitutional authority to compel the Episcopal Church to stop.”
The unwillingness, or perhaps inability, to address the crisis of growing heterodoxy is a demonstration of an organizational or Ecclesial Deficit. This means ecclesial structures either lack the means or the will to correct error even when of massive magnitude. This lack of will points to a third crisis.
The Crisis of Courage
Repeatedly over many years, I have heard senior leaders in the Anglican Communion comment, or even lament, “I do not have the constitutional authority to address the crisis in the Anglican Communion.” This perspective overlooks the tremendous weight which leaders have to exercise moral authority. The failure to go on record in the face of false teaching is actually a failure of courage. Too many leaders have not tried and failed in the cause for orthodoxy; they have not tried at all.
God is sovereignly providing a cord of three strands to which we can cling in the midst of the three crises articulated above:
1) For the Gospel Deficit: GAFCON
- GAFCON is a Biblically-based, global Gospel movement. More than a series of meetings, it provides a cooperative fellowship of like-minded Christians to pursue Gospel ministry to win the whole earth to Christ.
- GAFCON provides a fellowship of mission momentum as the Jerusalem Declaration affirms the pursuit of Gospel mission.
- Unlike institutional structures that seem to exist as an end in themselves, GAFCON partnerships are actually pursuing collaborative Gospel initiatives across Provincial boundaries and into parts of the world where the Gospel is largely unknown.
2) For the Ecclesial Deficit: The Cairo Covenant
- The Cairo Covenant provides a binding agreement for ecclesiastical relations (for those Provinces that endorse it) of mutual accountability to Scriptural faith. It explicitly addresses the way we should relate, and the way that those who depart from orthodoxy (in word or deed) should be disciplined.
- “The Global South” is a structure of the Anglican Communion (of which the Anglican Church in North America is a part). The agreement (endorsed by the ACNA Provincial Council in June 2020) provides a structural answer to help maintain Biblical fidelity in our relationships.
- GAFCON Provinces are also members of the Global South. The Cairo Covenant provides an element of additional inter-accountability that will strengthen the bonds of Gospel fellowship among GAFCON member churches that also endorse the Covenant.
3) For the Deficit of Courage: Courage!
- In Archbishop Bob Duncan’s installation service at the launch of the ACNA in June of 2009 he said, “Courage breeds courage!” When we see courageous acts, we can mirror them in our own lives. Recognizing courage and highlighting it multiplies how much courage is active in the church. Each time someone faithful acts courageously, the others who see it are changed. Many of them will become more courageous. We should look for courageous acts and celebrate them. We should laud Archbishop Foley when he speaks truth to power. We should hail Archbishop Ben Kwashi’s fidelity in the face of unspeakable violence in Northern Nigeria. We should remember others who stand faithfully. We should commend the unassuming missionary who pours out his or her life in the service of those who do not yet know the Lord. And we should sing the praises of our neighbors who refuse to bow to demands to live less than godly lives. In so doing, we multiply courage in the world and in our own lives.
- We need to recognize that courage is born out of the human heart and best operates under the guidance, inspiration, and power of the Holy Spirit. It was not constitutional authority that gave rise to the call to end apartheid. Neither was it constitutional authority that caused a lone figure to stand in front of a tank in a government crackdown on dissidents in a city square. Courage is the conviction that causes us to stand, to speak, and to act even in the midst of our own fears. God will not leave us on our own.
These three strands weave together to make a cord more robust than the crises that trouble the Communion. Individually, each strand helps. Together, they form a strong cord that can bind the “strong man” that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.
Bishop Bill Atwood also serves as the GAFCON Ambassador and Deputy General Secretary for the Americas. You can find books he has written at: http://ekk.org/book-store