“So, together with those who painfully and in good conscience decided not to come, we want to register our collective ownership and stewardship of a Communion that in God’s grace has become worldwide.” – Communique of Orthodox Bishops (par 5.10)
The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) steering committee presented their Communique of Orthodox Bishops Present at Lambeth Conference 2022. Considering the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement that he will not under any circumstances discipline or sanction a church that refuses to abide by Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998), it seems he has allowed these orthodox bishops to provide a blueprint for resetting the Anglican Communion. This reset would be based on a shared confession of faith in genuine communion with interdependence and covenants of mutual accountability. Anglican identity is doctrinal, grounded in the Holy Scriptures, the ancient Fathers, the Book of Common Prayer 1662, and its ordinal which is reiterated in the document. It is striking to note that it does not make Anglican identity a product of relationship to the See of Canterbury or any other sociological or historical anchor. Moreover, in contrast to the Abp. of Canterbury’s statement during the session on the Human Dignity Call, the orthodox bishops of the GFSA state unequivocally that if Anglican identity and unity are rooted in common doctrine, then we cannot be a communion with a plurality of beliefs. They state:
“There need to be limits to theological diversity, limits that are set by a plain and canonical reading of Scripture and which is supported by church history. We cannot accept the hermeneutic of revisionist Primates and Provinces that allow a plurality of views on the essential truths contained in ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’” (Jude v3).
Furthermore, they reject arguments of the progressive minority that same-sex unions are secondary, adiaphora, and distracting from more important issues. Through this Communique, they state that to affirm homosexual practice is “to undermine the clarity and authority of Holy Scripture, which is the bedrock of our common life as a Communion” (par 5.8). Regarding the problem of multiple interpretations of the Bible, the very existence of which are cited by Anglican Communion leadership as evidence for a plurality of belief, the orthodox bishops of the Global South stated the following:
“The orthodox bishops of the South stand firmly that the Bible as canonically and historically interpreted speaks with clarity and authority. They reject the hermeneutic of skepticism that enabled interpretations of the Bible that contradict the plain meaning and givenness of the text itself. Furthermore, they reject “endless dialectical conversations about what Scripture requires of us, as if there is not a fundamental ‘givenness’ to God’s call on all of us (Micah 6.8).” (par.6.7.h)
What, then, does this mean for the Global South orthodox bishops beyond Lambeth Conference 2022?
It means a call to repentance, engagement of the Instruments with visible differentiation, “fireproofing,” and intensification of communion around the Cairo Covenant while propagating the faith once delivered to the saints. In paragraph 4.8, the bishops state:
“Even now we call on those who have departed from apostolic and prophetic teaching to repent and return to obedience to the truth so that our souls may be purified, genuine mutual love in the body of Christ flourish from the heart (1 Pet. 1:22), and our witness and mission in the world enhanced.”
Because these bishops believe in the supreme authority and clarity of Holy Scriptures to reveal the will of God, they call all Anglicans, including themselves, to biblical faithfulness (par 5.3). This is the beginning of repentance, and as it is walked out, visible differentiation will occur. While they pledge to continue engaging the Instruments of Communion (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference of Bishops, Primates Meetings, Anglican Consultative Council), they will do so by adopting suitable forms of visible differentiation (par 6.7.j). They will not compromise their convictions about the authority and orthodox reading of Holy Scripture. They pledge to care for biblically faithful Anglicans throughout the Communion and support “those who are oppressed and unjustly treated for holding onto the faith once delivered” (par 6.7.j). Biblical faithfulness and relational integrity require them, as orthodox bishops, to speak of degrees of communion including temporary or permanent impairment of communion with those provinces that fail to repent of practices contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Anglican Communion. This stance reinforces their constant response to the endless Canterbury drumbeat of “good disagreement” that though they were gathered together under the Instruments, they are not walking together.
The orthodox bishops of the Global South declare that they are “‘fireproofing’ their section of ‘the house’ from the false teaching that is spreading in various parts of the Communion.” For this very reason, the Cairo Covenant was enacted by the GSFA and adopted by the Steering Committee in 2019. It provides the basis of a common confession of faith and conciliar structures that allow for a genuine Communion within the Communion to protect the Church from the false teaching that undermines her witness and mission. Fireproofing is nothing less than a commitment to full Communion and the ability to preach the Gospel and fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples out of all nations.
In the press release that accompanied the Communique, it said, “the hard reality is that we cannot be a true communion if some provinces insist on their own autonomy and disregard the necessity of being an interdependent body. What affects all should be decided by all.” But this Lambeth 2022 has repeated that it has no legislative authority to make any decisions binding on any church at any time. This is not communion. The orthodox bishops of the Global South describe this as a dangerous drift away from communion, towards a mere association of churches. As they state in their Communique, “when there is no common foundation of belief that shapes and gives content to our ‘faith and order,’ there will be limitations to koinonia and to joint mission and ministry” (Par 6.7.b). The purpose of the Cairo Covenant and its covenantal structures (also known as “Proposal for Enhanced Ecclesial Responsibility”) is to provide a genuine communion within the communion of Anglican churches that can intensify their relations with each other, make decisions together that bind them in life and ministry, and so bear the marks of a genuine historic communion.
The Communique’s tone and its press release are both humble and repentant. While the orthodox bishops of the Global South express their lament over the state of the Anglican Communion, they also raise a lament for their own sinfulness and the lack of holiness in both their personal lives and the communal lives of the people they serve (par 4.2). The tone is also thankful, expressing their eternal indebtedness to the best of classical Anglicanism for their theological and spiritual formation including the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer 1662, the Sacraments, the offices, and the great hymns of the Church (par 6.7.i). The tone is hopeful and expresses hope that the present stress and strain in the Communion could lead to a grace-filled time of reform, renewal, and revival because of the tender mercy of God (Luke 1:78-79). They are resolved as orthodox bishops to live and minister in faith, hope, and love through the power of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of God (par 7.4), and they will do so because of their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise that “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
The Global South press release, Communique, and press conference that followed leaves some questions unanswered. For instance, if the Archbishop of Canterbury opened the door for the primates to take more action in keeping with enhanced ecclesial responsibility, what will that look like? When will they meet? And will they be choreographed and hedged in the same way Canterbury choreographed and hedged this conference of bishops?
Since many, if not most, of the Global South bishops here are also members of GAFCON, how can these two bodies collaborate more intensively in healing the wounds to the Anglican Communion? As I wrote in my reflections on what the face of this emerging communion may look like, is it possible that GAFCON and the Global South could collaborate as a mission society and a Mother Church in the same way Paul and Peter collaborated in the Book of Acts?
The American Anglican Council fully and unconditionally endorses both the press release and the Communique by the orthodox bishops. Our prayer is that the gracious spirit in which the Global South spoke of their brothers and sisters in Christ in GAFCON, who were unable to be here at Lambeth as a matter of conscience, will result in increasing collaboration in the days ahead for the sake of the Anglican Communion and to the glory of God.