Authentic Anglicanism and False Fears
Nearly four years ago, Chancellor George Osborne claimed that the UK’s exit from the European Union would be ‘a shock to the world economy’. Thus began what became known as ‘Project Fear’, but with Brexit imminent there is no sign of financial panic nor of the other dire consequences foretold. Charles Raven discusses authentic Anglicansim and the false fears for the Evangelicals Now newspaper.
This is not to say that Remain had a monopoly of misleading claims, but it is a reminder of how politically-driven communication can stretch facts and evidence. Sadly, the Anglican Communion is not exempt. It has its own ‘Project Fear’.
A few weeks ago I received a widely circulated email from the Secretary of the Synod of the Church of Pakistan which was sharply critical of GAFCON following the visit of Archbishop Foley Beach last November at the invitation of the Bishop Azad Marshall, Bishop of Raiwind, and President of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan.
The writer claims ‘we fear that it could lead to splintering of the Church of Pakistan’ and that ‘Gafcon is a breakaway group and does not recognise the parent body but encourages to cut [sic] relations with the Anglican Communion’. This means ‘it is important to either be in Gafcon or the Anglican Communion’.
In a similar vein, the Ven. David McClay, a leading member of GAFCON Ireland, was criticised following his recent election as Bishop of Down and Dromore. Thirty-six clergy wrote a letter of protest to The Irish Times and one of the questions posed was ‘Who will decide the agenda of his episcopacy, Gafcon or the General Synod the Church of Ireland? One cannot serve two masters.’
But the charge that GAFCON is a breakaway or separatist group is not supported by the evidence. It is a movement of reform and revitalisation which has enabled faithful Anglicans to remain within the Communion, especially in North America and Brazil. While being clear that participation in its common life is based upon fidelity to the biblical gospel, not merely upon historic ties, the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 says quite unequivocally that ‘Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion’.
And in the case of the Church of Pakistan, far from fragmentation, Archbishop Beach’s visit was an act of solidarity with brothers and sisters who know what it is to suffer for Christ by someone who, as Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council, represents the majority of the world’s practising Anglicans.
However, attempts to create fear about GAFCON should not be surprising, because this is encouraged at the highest levels. For example, following GAFCON’s announcement of the launch of its networks, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, rather ambitiously known as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, wrote on 13 June 2018 to the Anglican Primates urging them to have nothing to do with this ‘further dangerous step’ with its ‘potential for schism within our Anglican Communion’.
So, such is the topsy-turvy world of Canterbury institutionalism that networks committed to aims such as church planting, global mission, prayer, sustainable development and theological training are to be feared as divisive and dangerous, yet it can hardly be imagined that the Secretary General should write in the same terms about Archbishop Justin Welby’s decision to invite bishops in same-sex marriages to this year’s Lambeth Conference.
Fear as a weapon against God’s work of restoration is nothing new. Nehemiah’s enemies threatened to charge him with rebellion in an attempt to frustrate the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, but he turns the threat to prayer and so should we: ‘For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands (Neh. 6:9)’.
Evangelicals Now newspaper.