by Peter Sanlon
In Kent, England a group of churches have committed to support one another to grow and guard the gospel. Our leadership teams (lay and clergy) voted to pass motions committing to uphold the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. We felt that not only could we accomplish more together – we can accomplish more by gathering around the statement of faith GAFCON has called forth. Crucially for our mission that means that we view faithful Anglicans as potentially being inside or outside the Church of England. As the Statement says, ‘While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.’ This liberates us to plant churches both inside and outside the Church of England. As we do so we are concerned with gospel faithfulness, financial partnership and prayer.
On Wed 17 Oct we hosted a meeting which was opened to people who had not yet joined our ‘Anglican Partnership Synod.’ Archbishop Foley Beach had agreed to visit and address our congregations, and we felt that his message should be heard as widely as possible. 175 people traveled to hear Archbishop Foley share his own personal story. He shared with us about his upbringing, conversion, ministry in TEC – and the way the Spirit convicted him in conscience to step out from that denomination to a future that at that point was unclear. In our Anglican context we have in recent years underplayed the importance of personal testimony. Perhaps we have over-reacted to the potential excesses of focus on individuals and have gravitated to emphasize processes, staff teams and paperwork! Whatever the reason, it is many years since I have heard an Anglican minister give such a detailed, honest account of their struggles, tears, conscience and convictions. Many people spoke with me afterwards and said that the personal account of how God had called and convicted Archbishop Foley, glorified God in an encouraging way.
After the personal narrative, Archbishop Foley spoke from 1 and 2 Timothy on the ‘Spiritual Character Needed for Times Ahead.’ This was a passionate plea for Christians to pursue ‘piety, holiness, obedience and courage’. I was struck in particular by the simple God-honouring call to obedience. ‘Think about the kind of person you would entrust a job to. Would you entrust a job to somebody you knew would disobey your wishes? Of course not. So we should obey God in little things – so that he can entrust greater things to us.’ I am sure I was not the only minister convicted by the awareness of many areas of life I need to be more careful to obey God in. Therein lies the future hope of revival and reformation.
The closing words of the address focused on courage. ‘Us Christians today are so full of fear. God says we have been given a Spirit not of fear, but courage. Too often as soon as anybody calls us a rude word we retreat and hide. It’s as if we are frightened by our own shadows. We need to seek God’s Spirit.’
As we contemplate planting churches inside and outside the Church of England, and as people consider whether God is calling them to stay in a compromised institution and contend resolutely – or to leave and establish new misisional congregations – Archbishop Foley’s address set our focus on the spiritual realities we must embrace.
Susie Leafe explained more to us about the way GAFCON UK can help and support churches that rally round the Jerusalem Statement. We were challenged to support and benefit from the ministry of our GAFCON Missionary Bishop – Andy Lines. The questions asked included ones about how people can discern whether, or when, they should leave a denomination, how funds can be raised for planting, how GAFCON will relate to the C of E. All of these and other questions over the evening underlined how much we need GAFCON in England, and that a long road of mission, sacrifice and spiritual reality lies ahead. We pray on for Archbishop Foley and Bishop Andy’s ministries – that God may use them to bring more of the spiritual realities we heard of.
The Rev’d Dr Peter Sanlon is Convener of the Anglican Partnership Synod.