Anglican Perspectives

Piecing together Anglican Identity: More Questions for Gafcon and the Global South

Almighty God, look mercifully upon your people, that by your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. (Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany)

“Did the Archbishop of Canterbury really say that it doesn’t matter what you believe as an Anglican so long as you are in relationship with the See of Canterbury?”

I received this question in response to the article I wrote on January 28, “How can two walk together” [ ] in our last International Update. And the answer to the question is YES, that is exactly what the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be saying following his meeting with the Primates in Jordan. Let me explain.

When I wrote on January 28, I was citing the Press Conference in Amman immediately following the Primates meeting in Jordan. In addition to Archbishop Welby, two other Primates answered questions from the press: Archbishop Michael Lewis (Jerusalem and the Middle East) and Archbishop Justin Badi (South Sudan). You can find the link to the press conference here:

At 16:19, a reporter from overseas asked the following question of Archbishop Welby: “We’ve seen the formation of new churches such as the Church of Confessing Anglicans in New Zealand. Was this discussed in terms of how the Instruments of Communion should respond?”

At 16:30, Archbishop Welby replied: “We didn’t specifically discuss the formation of churches like that church. No, we didn’t at all. We discussed how in partnership with other Christians we grow the church of Jesus Christ, and that was at the very heart of our discussion. Church planting we discussed. Funny enough there was very little discussion or desire to discuss some of those negative aspects.”

So despite the formation by Gafcon of the new Church of Confessing Anglicans in New Zealand, precisely for doctrinal reasons-including dissent from the approval of same sex marriage by the “recognized” Anglican Church of New Zealand—neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the Gafcon and Global South Primates present discussed this matter, much less even “desired to address such negative aspects.”

But there’s more. At 17:00 Archbishop Lewis added that the primates had engaged in “considerable and deep talk about Anglican identity, spelling out Anglican identity in a way that is clear and honest.” Archbishop Lewis went on to say that Anglican identity is rooted in specifics—including faithfulness to the Scriptures, the “unfolding tradition of the Church,” reason and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (which states that the essentials of the faith include Scripture, the two sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, the historic Episcopate locally adapted, and the Creeds). But at 17:54, Archbishop Lewis hastened to add that “Anglicans are those who are in communion with the See of Canterbury” and complimented Archbishop Welby on his “inspiring efforts” to have the Primates think more deeply on the issue of Anglican identity and “how to be as generously inclusive of all who would claim the name of Anglican within the framework just outlined.”

At this point the Archbishop of Canterbury could have added a note of correction to Archbishop Lewis’s citation of the great Anglican theologian Richard Hooker for the often misstated maxim that Anglicans believe that equal weight should be given to Scripture, reason, and “the unfolding tradition of the Church.” Scholars and readers alike know that Hooker never said anything of the sort, that he always maintained the priority of the Holy Scriptures over reason and tradition, and in fact strongly asserted that “one word from the mouth of God” outweighs 10,000 councils of the Church that say otherwise (Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, vol. 1, book 2, ch. VII.5).

In the correct spirit of Hooker, Archbishop Welby could have noted that the doctrinal foundations of Anglicanism which Archbishop Lewis cited as “clear and specific” essentials of Anglican identity are at least as important, if not more important, than a geographic relationship with the See of Canterbury. Instead he thanked Archbishop Lewis for the compliment. Then he waited for Archbishop Justin Badi (S Sudan) to add his remarks (beginning at 18:38). Here is what Archbishop Badi said in response to the question:

“My understanding for our coming for the meeting was not to discuss the formation of new churches. The main thing was to discuss how we move forward as an Anglican Communion, to prepare ourselves for the Lambeth Conference, and also to have our fellowship together. We strategized how we can plant more churches so that we expand and take the Gospel forward.” To which Archbishop Welby replied at 19:22: “And I should say that the agenda was put together by the consultative process with the Primates. It was not fixed by anyone, it’s just no one brought up those subjects,” with Archbishop Badi nodding in agreement.

So there you have it: a Communique and a press conference which ignored the crisis of false teaching in the Anglican Communion. Taking the words of Archbishops Welby, Lewis, and Badi at face value, it would appear that no one bothered to address the crisis of false teaching because such issues were “negative.” Instead, there was considerable discussion about Anglican identity without any “negative” discussion about differences of doctrine. According to the Primates press conference, “biblical faithfulness” is one factor in Anglican identity—but such faithfulness is only one factor to be balanced against reason and the “unfolding tradition of the Church.” In the end, there is an endorsement of a framework for Anglican identity which is uncompromising only in relationship to the See of Canterbury as being an essential marker.

“Generous inclusivity” within this framework is only for those who are in relationship with the See of Canterbury, which means Canterbury promotes the following notion: so long as you are in relationship with him, you can believe whatever you want, as long as you can make a case that what you believe squares with an interpretation of the Bible equally balanced with reason and “the unfolding tradition of the Church.” We know, in an ever-secularizing Western culture, what the shape of that “reason” and “unfolding tradition” looks like: the blessing of same sex unions and other innovations, which appeal to the “reason” of our times.

By their continuing silence and assent to the Jordan Primates Communique and this press conference, isn’t it fair to ask whether the Archbishops and Primates from Gafcon and the Global South are saying the same thing—that Anglican identity is based ultimately on relationship with Canterbury rather than on what we believe?

As I have written elsewhere [] the requirement of relationship with the See of Canterbury may have been important when the Churches of the Anglican Communion were colonies of the British empire, but we are past that colonial era. Today, what unites Anglicans in the global communion of Churches is the doctrine we share from our Reformational roots. For this reason, the largest Church in the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria, in 2005 changed its Constitutional definition of membership in the Anglican Communion from “relationship with the See of Canterbury” to relationship with those who uphold the historical formularies of the Anglican Communion (The Bible, the 39 Articles, and the BCP 1662 and Ordinal). It was a long overdue signal that Anglican identity and membership is in fact based on a common confession– and not geography or mere “bonds of affection.”

This in turn shaped the definition of membership in the Anglican Communion in the Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (London: Anglican Communion Office, 2008). According to Principle 10.4 of the PCLCCAC, “the relationship of ecclesial communion within the Anglican Communion is based on the communion of a church with one or more of the following (a) the See of Canterbury…; or (e) all churches which profess the apostolic faith as received within the Anglican tradition.” (emphasis added).

Three years later, in June 2008, over 1000 Archbishops, bishops, clergy and lay leaders from Anglican churches all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for Gafcon. These Anglican leaders from the majority of Churches in the Anglican Communion reaffirmed the historic doctrine and “formularies” of Reformational Anglicanism as the basis for true communion. In the Jerusalem Statement (2008) they stated without hesitation, “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.” In the Jerusalem Declaration (2008) they drove the point home even further: “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord (para. 13).”
Ten years later, Gafcon 2018, one of the largest global Anglican gatherings, brought together in Jerusalem 1,950 representatives from 50 countries, including 316 bishops, 669 other clergy and 965 laity. From that gathering of the Church came a direct appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Gafcon 2018 Letter to the Churches:

• to invite as full members to Lambeth 2020 bishops of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil and
• not to invite bishops of those Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has refused both requests. Only those Churches in relationship with the See of Canterbury will send their bishops to the Lambeth 2020 Conference, regardless of what they believe and teach about human sexuality, marriage, and leadership in the Church.

How then can the Gafcon Primates who participated in the Primates meeting in Jordan turn back to a colonial definition of Anglican identity based on relationship with Canterbury? How can they walk away from their own Gafcon Jerusalem Statement and Jerusalem Declaration (2008) and Letter to the Churches (2018)? How can they walk away from the very principles and reasons for which they recognized and authenticated biblically-faithful Anglicans and their Churches in North America, Brazil, and now, New Zealand (NOT in relationship with Canterbury), in favor of walking with false teachers?

Likewise, how can the Global South Primates, led by the new President of the Global South Steering Committee, Archbishop Justin Badi (S Sudan), turn away from the doctrinal foundations of the new Cairo Covenant (October 11, 2019) as the basis for Anglican identity, and turn instead to walking with false teachers?

Last week the Gafcon office created “The Anglican reality-check” website [], which sets out the facts in an easily accessible way to empower faithful Anglicans. It reveals how predominantly Western church leaders have relentlessly sought to undermine the authority of Scripture and its teaching on marriage and sexuality as reaffirmed by the vast majority of the world’s Anglican bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It is a very helpful and up-to-the-minute timeline of why we must urgently address both false teaching (the “gospel deficit”) and the lack of consequences (the “ecclesial deficit”) within the Communion of Anglican Churches.

If only the Gafcon and Global South Primates themselves would use this resource in their meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders. Clearly, the current Gafcon and Global South Primates who met in Jordan did not use these well-documented facts in their conversations. Will there need to be another generation of Gafcon and Global South leaders who will use this resource to reaffirm Anglican identity on the basis of our historic Anglican faith? Will there need to be another generation of Gafcon and Global South leaders needed to use this resource to challenge false teaching and un-biblical practice among the leaders and churches of the Anglican Communion—including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself and the Church of England?

Or will that be too little, too late?

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