To Whom Shall We Go?
GAFCON IV brought 1302 delegates representing over 50 nations to Kigali, Rwanda to better understand the current landscape of the global Anglican Communion and to chart a way forward as the rifts between orthodox and wayward provinces widen. Evidence of that widening gap was the inclusion this year of Primates from the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) in the conference.
Highlighted by a deep sense of unity founded on fidelity to the Scriptures, GAFCON IV asked, “To Whom Shall We Go?”
As portions of the Anglican Communion continue to forsake the Scriptures as the bedrock of Christian (and therefore Anglican) identity, delegates and guests answered the only way they could, in the spirit of St. Peter: “We go to Christ through his unchanging word, then with Christ to the whole world.”
Christ indeed has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). As his followers, if we are not rooted in the unchanging truth of his word, then we have nothing to offer a changing world in dire need of hope. In this spirit, GAFCON IV commenced. Outgoing chairman of GAFCON, Archbishop Foley Beach, reminded attendees that, “God calls us to be a reconciling people, God calls us to be a reproducing people, God calls us to be a relentlessly compassionate people.” Before all of those, however, Archbishop Beach asserted that, “God calls us to be a repenting people.” Thus, each morning began with a period of repentance, that we might remain humble and utterly dependent on Christ Jesus in our work.
From there, bishops from around GAFCON expounded on the Letter to the Colossians, followed by plenary sessions charting the history of the GAFCON movement, reinforcing the truth and sufficiency of God’s word, and reminding those gathered of the pertinence of their Anglican heritage.
Each afternoon saw various meetings, followed by evening sessions focused on God’s work in the world. Here, attendees from every corner of GAFCON shared powerful stories of how God continues to work through his church in mighty ways. Bp. Steve was struck by the Anglican Church in North America's place within GAFCON, as direct spiritual descendants of the East African church, but part of a much larger community: "GAFCON deepened my conviction that though our province was birthed and continues to be nurtured by the courageous faithfulness of our East African brothers and sisters, our tribe is immensely larger. World wide in fact. My zeal to serve Christ and his church was energized by the faithfulness of Anglicans from around the globe We are not alone! We serve and worship and pray alongside God’s people who choose to follow him in challenging and different circumstances."
The central focus of GAFCON remains the conference statement. This year’s Kigali Commitment follows 2018’s Letter to the Churches, 2013’s Nairobi Communique, and 2008’s seminal Jerusalem Declaration which has become foundational to life and practice within GAFCON and the Anglican Church in North America.
The conference statement is intended to capture the heart and mind of the conference and the GAFCON Primates by listening and responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as the conference progresses. This year, the draft statement was read on Wednesday afternoon, then any and all delegates from each GAFCON Province were given time to submit their own edits and input for the drafting team to consider as they developed the final product.
The 1302 delegates in attendance submitted over 600 edits. Though tedious at times, this process ensured that the statement truly reflected the heart and mind of the conference.
The statement itself laid the groundwork for a potentially seismic shift in the global Anglican communion.
The Kigali Commitment first affirmed the authority of God’s word for all Christian life, faith, and practice. This forms the crux of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion, the next section of the Kigali Commitment. “Despite 25 years of warnings by most Anglican primates,” the statement reads, “repeated departures from the authority of God’s Word have torn the fabric of the Communion. These warnings were blatantly and deliberately disregarded and now without repentance, this tear cannot be mended.”
From there, the Kigali Commitment makes two bold assertions. First, it states unequivocally that GAFCON has no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury can, “provide a Godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.”
Then, the Kigali Commitment declares that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s failure to submit to the Scriptures and uphold Church discipline, “renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible.”
This renders [the Archbishop of Canterbury's] leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible.
Thus, GAFCON and its primates and the GSFA primates, representing some 85% of the global Anglican Communion, have rejected the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual leader and figurehead of the Anglican Communion. Anglican identity, they argue, is not derived from, “recognition from the See of Canterbury,” but by doctrine: “the lordship of Jesus Christ; the authority and clarity of the word of God; and the priority of the church’s mission to the world.” Rev. Nick Lannon, rector of Grace Anglican Church in Louisville, KY, was struck by this point, as well: "My biggest takeaway is that that biblically faithful worldwide Anglicanism finally acknowledged, in an official way, that the hub that holds us together must be the Word of God, and nothing else. Historical structures, common prayers, and aesthetic similarities just aren't enough."
This is certainly momentous, but it begs the very important question of what comes next?
The Kigali Commitment reiterates GAFCON's long-held view that GAFCON is not some splinter group sowing discord, but actually represents the majority of the Anglican Communion. The Church of England and other wayward provinces, it argues, have, “chosen to impair [their] relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion," not the other way around.
To that end, GAFCON and GFSA end the Kigali Commitment by calling for a “resetting and reordering” of the Anglican Communion. It remains to be seen what exactly “resetting and reordering” might entail, but the Kigali Commitment does provide some hints, arguing for “an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities of its various Provinces,” and offering orthodox Anglicans, “a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans.” Reflecting on the conference and statement, Bp. Quigg Lawrence said, "I pray going forward that every Anglican Primate from GAFCON and the Global South will realize this is the moment - it demands cooperation, resources, and courage to do more than write a statement."
The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global 'spiritual home' of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans.
The ground is shifting. Pray for continued fidelity to the Scriptures and unity among GAFCON, GFSA, and the millions of orthodox, faithful Anglicans they represent.