The following was written for the American Anglican Council by the Very Rev. Andrew Rowell:
The world of Anglicanism celebrated some tremendously good news this past week, and we could all use some good news! On Wednesday, June 24, 2020, the Provincial Council of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) fully endorsed the Cairo Covenant (for background on the Covenant visit https://americananglican.org/anglican-traditions-video/the-cairo-covenant-introduction/). The ACNA became a full partner member of the newly created Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches through this vote, and though this might be the first you’ve read about the Cairo Covenant, the creation of this new Fellowship constitutes one of the most significant developments within the Anglican Communion in its history.
Anglicanism has had a unique problem ever since the English Reformation spread across the globe during the colonial period, namely the lack of accountability to one another or to orthodoxy at the global level. In many ways, the global Anglican Communion was an accident of history. As colonial churches matured into provinces after British rule, conciliar structures like conventions, synods, and assemblies formed to provide good governance at provincial, diocesan, and parish levels. No such good order was established, however, to create discipline or accountability at the global level. The four “Instruments of Communion,” intended to facilitate cooperation among provinces, did nothing to stem the tide of heterodoxy in the increasingly-secular Western Church. The four Instruments (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conferences, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Councils) have either ignored heresy, actively encouraged it, or proved helpless to stem its development. So when the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and the Church of Canada went off the theological rails over the past fifty years, no one would do or seemingly could do anything to stop it. The orthodox in the West were forced to flee to our African and Latin American brothers and sisters for shelter and help. For this reason, my own parish, Christchurch in Montgomery, Alabama, was founded as a Ugandan parish while I was ordained through the Church of Nigeria. Many of our readers could tell similar stories.
After many years of struggle and through the mercy and providence of God, a new story is forming, a Fellowship rising up to address the lack of discipline and accountability plaguing us since Anglicanism’s inception: the Global South Fellowship (GSF). Said another way, this fellowship constitutes a fresh start for the Anglican Communion, providing a clear alternative to Canterbury as the home of faithful Anglicanism. At the core of this renewed structure sits not just an accident of the colonial era but rather a set of fundamental declarations about the truth of God’s Word, the call to holy living, and the urgency of our duty to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus faithfully to the nations. Thus if a province or diocese desires to join the GSF, any foundational allegiance to the English-identity of the Church must be abandoned, replaced instead by a commitment to sound doctrine and to the faith delivered once for all to the saints.
As members of the Global South Fellowship, Anglicans will benefit from a conciliar structure in which bishops, priests, deacons, and laypersons will have a say in the ordering of our common life together. A synod will regularly gather at the global level, while councils of archbishops and of bishops will guard and protect the faith we share in Jesus through counsel, teaching, and prayer. If a province or diocese joins the GSF and later wanders into heresy or corruption, an ecclesial structure will exist to discipline and correct such errors.
It is hard to overstate the momentous nature of this new moment in Anglican reformation. We have just now sorted out how to relate to one another in council as Anglicans spread across the globe. It marks a new-found maturity in our common life as we finally grow up and move towards a maturity of thought that has marked the historic church for centuries.
Canterbury will, of course, use all of its considerable political and financial power to derail the flourishing of this fellowship. The Anglican Consultative Council uses its vast monetary resources (much of it attributable to a $2 billion endowment from Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street) to influence primates and bishops in both GAFCON and the Global South, in order to keep their attention focused on Canterbury rather than on the orthodox leadership emerging from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The presence of many Global South and GAFCON primates at the latest primates’ gathering in Amman, Jordan, despite the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, declined to invite the new orthodox provinces of Brazil and the ACNA and failed to dis-invite provinces living in direct opposition to historic Christian teaching on a host of issues, was a sad testament to this reality.
In addition, power struggles between the leaders of GAFCON and the Global South have and still could slow down or even derail the continuing maturity of this new fellowship, despite each organization’s unique contribution to a reinvigorated, faithful Anglicanism. On one hand, GAFCON’s charism is to solve the Gospel deficit in the Communion through its robust focus on the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and supporting and overseeing those churches and dioceses fighting for biblical truth. Indeed, this past weekend was GAFCON Sunday, a day set aside to celebrate the immense blessing God brought through this missionary movement. On the other hand, the Global South’s charism is to solve the ecclesial deficit in the communion through efforts like the creation of the Cairo Covenant and the structures of the GSF. We have known since the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 that the Church must meet in prayerful council to proclaim the Gospel faithfully to Jew and Gentile alike.
Orthodox Anglicanism needs both the missionary fervor of GAFCON and the godly structures of the Global South’s new fellowship if we are going to overcome the forces of heterodoxy and secularism that threaten the Church. More than that, we need more faith in what we already have: the power of our God, who tells us to take heart and to not fear, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33)! For now, let us rejoice in that we get to watch a chapter of Church history unfold before our eyes as the faithful take council with one another for the sake of a lost and dying world that needs, now as much as ever, to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.