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A Global communion for the twenty-first Century

A Global communion for the twenty-first Century

Leadership Conference, London 2012 of GAFCON/FCA

Archbishop Eliud Wabukala Chairman’s keynote address
Monday 23rd at St Marks Battersea Rise

(download PDF of this speech)

A Global communion for the twenty-first Century:

Praise the Lord!

It is a great joy to greet all of you in my capacity as the Chairman of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the precious name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, through whom we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. I believe that our time together here is a key moment in the unfolding purpose of God for our beloved Anglican Communion and its great encouragement to have leaders drawn from some thirty [30] different nations as we gather here this evening. We are indeed a global communion for the twenty-first century. We have come together because of the Lord’s leading as we follow His guidance towards overcoming challenges of our times and the continuing crisis which afflicts our Communion. I want to frame my address with some words of scripture in Micah which I believe are a particular word from the Lord for us right now.

Micah was a prophet during a particular time of crisis in the history of God’s people, the later half of the eighth century BC, during which the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, lost their identity and the people of the South: Judah nearly suffered the same fate.
In Micah 6:8 we read:
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.

What does the Lord require of you?

This is the greatest question facing us this week.  It demands that we have a clear headed understanding of the situation we face and are willing to let go of comfortable illusions. It also, and most crucially, calls us back to what God has said. Micah affirms that “he has showed you, O man, what is good”. Discovering the will of God, what God requires, is not dependent upon our ingenuity or imagination. He does not play games with us. He speaks through the scriptures. The question is whether or not we will allow the Holy Spirit to apply that word to our hearts and then obey it.

What does the Lord require? First we need to bring a biblical mind to the situation we face. None of us looked for this crisis and we may be tempted to think we can get back to a time when the life of our communion ran along more predictable and familiar lines. But that is an illusion. Faith is not escapism, but facing things as they are in the confidence that God will act. The crisis we face is also an opportunity. Its origin can be traced back many years. The unprecedented challenges to Anglican identity forced upon us by the revisionist scriptural interpretation have in the mercy of God, given us an historic opportunity to rediscover the distinctive reformed catholicity of our Communion as shaped so profoundly by the witness of the sixteenth century Anglican Reformers.

Trusting God’s providence, we can be confident that in God’s own time He is putting right what has been going wrong, but He takes us up into His purposes and if we are to understand the implications of this crisis for the recovery and renewal of Anglican identity, we must first be clear on what sort of crisis it is.

We cannot treat this as simply an institutional crisis. The breakdown of the existing governance structures of the Anglican Communion is a symptom of a deeper problem. It is now generally recognized that the instruments of Unity eg. The Primates Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Lambeth conference… no longer command general confidence.

Subsequently, when the Global South Movement Primates gathered in China last September felt compelled to state in a communiqué that;

‘the Anglican Communion’s instruments of Unity have become dysfunctional and no longer have the ecclesial and moral authority to hold the communion together’.

If we were facing a merely institutional problem, then we would have expected that the heavy investment made in Anglican Covenant would have brought a resolution. But now with the rejection of the Covenant, even in the Church of England itself, it is obvious that institutional remedies for the crisis have failed and that the problems we face are far too deep seated to be dealt with by merely managerial and organizational strategies. As Primates of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, we recognized in our communiqué of November 2010 that the Anglican Covenant was I quote: “Fatally flawed!” It had become clear that it was little more than a form of words to disguise conflict rather than resolve it. The heart of the crisis we face is not institutional, but spiritual.

Micah can ask ‘what does the Lord require?’

In the confidence of that what the Lord requires has already been revealed. But the Lambeth Conference of 1998 showed that a determined minority were willing to bend the word of God to fit the fashionable ideas of their cultural context and that they were not willing to stand in solidarity with the clear mind of the communion’s bishops when opinion was tested.

The subsequent history of our communion unfolds from this point. Some sections of the Anglican Communion have been echoing the words of the serpent; ‘has God really said…?’ And their strategy has been to continue this dialogue endlessly in order to wear down resistance while all the time pursuing their self determined mandate of radical inclusion. In this they have been greatly helped by those Anglican theologians who claim that our identity is found in what they call ‘the grammar of obedience.’ They want us to step back from the plain sense of scripture and excavate ‘deeper truths’ of God’s revelation concealed below the words themselves. It is little surprise then that we find scripture can be bent into all sorts of convenient shapes and that so called ‘gospel’ truths can contradict the plain meaning of scriptures.

While we should never shirk the hard work of biblical exposition, we can never disregard the plain teaching of the inspired text. It is that text, that Archbishop Cranmer was so keen to have available in the English languages in every parish church and translation of the scriptures into ethnic languages has been fundamental to the cultural transformation that the gospel brought in Africa and the rest of the world. The ‘grammar of obedience’ is a theological Trojan horse for profound disobedience. This accommodation to false teaching by Anglican Communion institutions has had a grievous effect.

Let me illustrate by contrasting between our conference in Jerusalem in 2008 which launched the GAFCON movement and the Lambeth conference which took place shortly afterwards.

In the space of a week we, though from many and varied cultural contexts, were able to agree and receive with great joy and celebration a clear statement of Anglican Identity in the form of the Jerusalem Declaration. We rejoiced that through the Holy Spirit the Lord had given us such unity in the truth and we knew that God was setting us free or a clear and confident witness to Jesus Christ in a way that was simply not imaginable through the traditional channels.

At Lambeth Conference, which many felt unable in conscience to attend, it was a different story. Much talking and conversation, but no shared mind and no attempt to resolve the substance of the fundamental doctrinal and ethical differences which have been so destructive to our unity. At Lambeth there was a loss of nerve and nothing more than conversation, at Jerusalem we boldly reaffirmed our confidence in the faith we confess. There we recovered our genuinely Anglican identity and in the Jerusalem Declaration set out a coherent framework for global witness in the twenty-first century. The Jerusalem Statement, the preamble to the Declaration, clearly sets out Anglican identity. Let me remind you;

We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient fathers and Councils of the church as are agreeable to the said scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayers and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard and we call on others in the communion to reaffirm and return to it.

Our conference in Jerusalem was truly a mountain top experience, a rich time of fellowship in the Holy Spirit, of inspired teaching and prophetic insights. But we have to come down from the mountain top and not simply rest on the experience or think that by articulating a vision we have somehow done our work. What does the Lord require? He requires, says Micah: that we act, that we act justly and with mercy, not just write and think about things. We must act out of our God given identity, we must be true to ourselves as we are in Christ crucified, redeemed through the cross where God’s Justice and Mercy meet. This is what it means to act with authenticity. It is not a matter of following our subjective dreams and feelings, but being true to the one who has risen from the dead, so that we might live not for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again for us.

Living in this way is beyond our human capacities. In the words of the collect for the Nineteenth Sunday of Trinity in the Book of Common Prayer we pray:

“ … forasmuch as without thee, we are not able to please thee; mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”

This for me is a personal truth. On being elected as Chairman of GAFCON/FCA’s Primates council in April last year, I said this:

I recognize that we have set ourselves a truly monumental task, but we serve God for whom nothing, not even overcoming death itself is impossible.’

So we must act in obedience to what the Lord requires and, knowing our weakness, in continual dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a truth which is precious to some of us through our roots in the East African Revival when the spirit of God renewed the church brining a humble walk with God- conviction of sins, a thirst for God’s word, a simple lifestyle and an unquenchable desire for evangelism. It is these qualities that we need to animate our Global fellowship as we move forward together. As a powerful movement of renewal and transformation for that is what we are.

Since 2008, we have acted, perhaps not always as quickly or as clearly as we should, but there has been action. In accordance with the Jerusalem Declaration, the GAFCON primates sponsored the Anglican Church in North America as a new province and ceased to be in communion with The Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada. It is a cause of great joy to see that despite aggressive use of the courts and the loss of property which previous generations intended for the work of the gospel, the ACNA is far from being just a place of shelter for the wounded. It is dynamic missionary body which is growing remarkably through visionary church planting.

Last year, it became clear that provision need to be made for England too. The Anglican Mission in England was formed last June after four years of discussion with senior Anglican leaders in England had failed to find a way in which those genuinely in need of effective orthodox oversight in the Church of England could receive it.

This week we will apply ourselves to discerning the next stage in what it is the Lord requires. I hope that our taking counsel together will lead to action that will shape the future of the Communion in profound ways but as we pay attention to the great questions of theology and strategy, we need to be careful not to neglect the way we act towards each other so that there is a consistency and integrity to the identity we claim.

To act justly and to love Mercy includes behaving towards one another with honesty and fairness, as ends and not means, not being infected by cynicism and pragmatism that can creep in when issues of power and influence are at stake. It is true that the FCA is a prophetic movement and God has given us some stern things to say, but the sternness should be all the more striking because of the kindness and generosity for which we are known.

And all this we do with humility and prayer, not setting ourselves up above the word, but recognizing that it is the Word of God which judges and searches us. We shall also be alert to the fact that the word, which is God’s truth for all cultures and all times is not the privilege possession of any one culture and global gathering such as this has a potential to open new perspectives on the unsearchable riches of Christ.

To do what the Lord requires will also take courage. These are things we need to attend to if the Anglican Communion is to recover its biblical identity. The challenges are indeed monumental and I think they can be summarized as follows:

1. We must keep the glory of God and the fulfillment of the great commission at the heart of the movement. We defend the gospel because we want to promote the gospel. GAFCON was launched as a rescue mission for the Anglican Communion, but that is because the communion itself should be a rescue mission. In particular we should be building global partnership to encourage evangelism and church planting.  We need each other, for instance the south can benefit from the experience of those in the North who have resisted and understand the dynamics of a western secularizing culture which is rapidly spreading around the globe. The North also can benefit from the Missionary enthusiasm and vigor which is characterizing the growing Churches of the global South. As a global communion we should be at the forefront of the work. We cannot be content for Anglicanism to be as a kind of chaplaincy to dwindling enclaves of those who have been left behind by the tide of history.

2. We should look to the pioneer the new wineskin of the global governance structures which will help and not hinder the task of evangelism. Four years ago the Jerusalem Statement spoke of the ‘manifest failure’ of the instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion, and since then it has become entirely clear that these instruments have failed us. Orthodox leaders must now do more than simply stay away. We have to go back to the basic principles and develop new structures while remaining firmly within the Anglican Communion. We need to consider how we can build on the model of councilor leadership initiated in Jerusalem in 2008 with the setting up of the GAFCON primate’s council. Our communion has come of age and it is now time that its leadership should be focused not on one person or one church, however hallowed its history, but on the one historic faith we confess. There is added urgency to these concerns and need for creative thinking so that a pattern of global governance that is no longer fit for this context is not perpetuated by default.

3. We must resist the temptation to be theologically lazy. Our aim of a renewed, reformed Anglican Communion will not be sustained if we are unwilling to support and encourage those who are gifted to do the training and the theological heavy lifting so essential to give depth and penetration to our vision both within the Church and beyond it. We need to recover the vision of the Anglican Reformers, of ordinary believers knowing scriptures and being nourished by biblical teaching. Equally we need leaders, lay and ordained, able to give a robust defense of apostolic faith in the global public square. If we do not, secular ideologies which have so powerfully shaped liberal and revisionist Christianity in the Communion will tighten the grip. The Lord our God cannot allow it. He calls us to move on.

So what does the Lord require? He has called us to a great prophetic purpose at this critical point in the life of our communion. After some 450 years it is becoming clear that what some have called the ‘Anglican experiment’ is not ending in failure, but is on the verge of a new and truly global future in which the original vision of the reformers can be realized as never before. We do not need to repudiate or belittle our history, but learn from it and set ourselves now to walk humbly with our God into the future and that hope that he has planned for us.

May I take this opportunity as I end my remarks and invite you and your churches to GAFCON II in May of 2013.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN!

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