I have a couple of observations from the Anglican front lines that I would love to share from the leaders and congregations with whom I have been privileged to visit. These observations come from Anglican churches in both the UK and in the Southwest (Albuquerque, Ft. Worth and Houston).
First, with regards to the Anglican Communion and the news that the Lambeth 2018 Conference of Anglican Bishops has been indefinitely postponed:
Well, it was inevitable. The Archbishop of Canterbury was warned time and again that this would happen. There has been an ever diminishing practice of bishops and other leaders consulting (as Anglicans do, following that ancient catholic and conciliar practice) on matters of faith and doctrine since the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Under the stress of American and Canadian unilateral innovations on sex, marriage, authority in the Church, the interpretation of Scripture and changing the Gospel itself—as well as American (TEC) financial support of Anglican Communion offices and agencies– the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “Instruments of Communion” have been unwilling or unable to apply any discipline to the disorder. The Archbishop of Canterbury did not apply the sanctions recommended by the Primates at their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam. Instead, he proceeded to invite all the TEC bishops (except New Hampshire) to attend Lambeth 2008 as full members – and this in spite of warnings from Global South churches as early as 2006 that they would boycott the meeting if he did so. He also announced in advance that the business of Lambeth 2008 was discussion by “Indaba” only and not action on the crisis and the proposed Anglican Covenant. As Paul Valliere predicted in 2012 in his landmark study Conciliarism: A History of Decision Making in the Church (Cambridge University Press) “Not to decide was a decision that the once-every-ten-year Lambeth Conference would not play a major role in resolving the crisis.”
As a result, almost 300 bishops, mostly from the majority global south, boycotted Lambeth 2008 and went instead to the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem. The Archbishop of Canterbury called a meeting of the Primates in 2011 in Dublin. That meeting’s final documents defined the purpose of the Primates meetings as largely for fellowship, study, prayer and reflection, “acknowledging diversity and giving space for difference [and] being open to the prophetic spirit”– purposes which seemed tailor made for TEC and other Communion innovators rather than conciliar centrists. As a result, only 23 of the 38 Primates showed up to the meeting—with seven boycotting in protest against the presence of the Primates of the innovating North American churches. This performance has caused other global Anglican leaders to question the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion. We have written elsewhere at length about the failure of the Anglican Consultative Councils (ACC-14 in Kingston Jamaica and ACC-15 in Auckland NZ) to take any meaningful action either. But the overall result is that each of the four “Instruments of Communion”—the Archbishop of Canterbury, the meetings of the Primates, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, and the Anglican Consultative Council—has utterly failed.
And that’s exactly why GAFCON 2013 described itself as “an Instrument of Unity” for Anglicans everywhere, in the Nairobi Communique. The question now is whether the GAFCON movement will step up to the plate and begin acting as a reformed and reforming council for the Communion of Anglican churches globally.
I attended the ReNew conference of evangelical Church of England clergy leaders and church planters September 22-23 north of London. The conference center where we met was packed. Like Anglicans in North America in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, these leaders are pursuing both an “inside” and an “outside” strategy. They are seeking to reform the Church of England from within—and facing a massive challenge in the facilitated conversations on sex and marriage recommended by the Pilling Report. Already the purpose of those conversations has shifted from determining any Biblical, moral or theological guidance on human sexuality to having “good disagreement.” While the sands of facilitated conversations continue to shift under their feet, will the bishops of the Church of England apply the Clergy Disciplinary Measure (2003) to clergy who disregard the teaching of the Church and enter same-sex marriages? Or will they choose instead to apply discipline only to those who work “outside” the systems of the Church of England and plant churches to reach people for Christ under the banner of the Anglican Mission in England?
Does any of this sound familiar?
Clearly, the GAFCON Primates are not impressed by “facilitated conversations.” They’ve been down that road before. That is why they absented themselves from the last (2011) Primates meeting in Dublin. That is no doubt why Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Chair of the GAFCON Primates Council, sent greetings to the ReNew leadership, commended their movement in light of the GAFCON 2008 and 2013 commitments to authenticate faithful Anglicans everywhere, and endorsed, where necessary, the church planting efforts in the UK of the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE).
Are these among the first steps of a reformed and reforming pan-Anglican Council?
NEXT WEEK: What does the conflict at General Theological Seminary NYC tell us about the need for Biblical leadership development?
Canon Phil Ashey is Chief Executive Officer of the American Anglican Council.
Stephen Noll, “Sea Change in the Anglican Communion,” (November 11, 2013) Anglican Mainstream <http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2013/11/11/sea-change-in-the-anglican-communion-2/ > Accessed 11 January 2014.
 “We have concluded that we must receive assurances from the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury that this crisis will be resolved before a Lambeth Conference is convened. There is no point, in our view, in meeting and meeting and not resolving the fundamental crisis of Anglican identity. We will definitely not attend any Lambeth Conference to which the violators of the Lambeth Resolution are also invited as participants or observers.” The Road to Lambeth: A Statement from the Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) 23 September 2006, Kigali Rwanda [n 74]
 Valliere [n 1] 206-207.
“Towards an Understanding of the Purpose and Scope of The Primates’ Meeting: A Working Document Approved by The Primates Meeting January 29, 2011” The Anglican Communion website-Instruments of Communion-Primates Meetings <http://www.aco.org/communion/primates/resources/downloads/prim_scpurpose.pdf> Accessed 12 January 2014.
“Anglican Communion Primates Meeting, January 2011” Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_Communion_Primates’_Meeting#January_2011_meeting> Accessed 12 January 2014.
See the Nairobi Communiqué…. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not the only Instrument whose legitimacy has been questioned. At ACC-13 TEC failed in its presentation To Set our Hope in Christ to make a case for changing the standards for human sexuality set forth in Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998)by any appeal to evidence from the conciliar and catholic history of the universal Church . See Valliere [n 1] 208-209. TEC and ACoC were reinstated as full participating members of the ACC when it met three years later (May 1-13, 2009) in Kingston, Jamaica. ACC-14 did not give a ringing endorsement of the proposed Anglican Covenant. Instead, it resolved that the Covenant “may provide an effective means to strengthen and promote our common life together as a Communion,” and in the face of a narrow vote on the section on conflict resolution (section 4 of the Ridley-Cambridge draft) sent the Covenant out for further review and redrafting by yet another committee to be appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Ibid., 203-204. ACC-15 (2012) took no action on the Final Text Covenant (2009), deferring it to ACC-16 in 2015. See n. 10.