Standing on the Authority of God's Word
Charles Raven, Gafcon’s Membership Development Secretary, has written a moving and powerful article in the Evangelicals Now newspaper to reinforce the vital work of Gafcon in encouraging us to uphold the Gospel. In last month’s edition, Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel tackle the question ‘Why Gafcon’, and they helped to outline the importance of holding fast to the unchanging Biblical Gospel truths in our changing world. Charles expands on this further and through his own testimony challenges us to stand firm on the promises of the Gospel in whatever valley God leads us to.
In this column last month Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel helpfully answered the question ‘Why Gafcon’. This month, as the full significance of the third Gafcon conference held in June becomes clearer, I want to offer a personal reflection on the question of where Gafcon is going.
The short answer is ‘nowhere’! The appeal in Gafcon’s ‘Letter to the Churches’ to the Archbishop of Canterbury to restore godly has been ignored and there can be no doubt now that it is through Gafcon that the faithful Anglican tradition will be continued. The powers that be seem determined that the Communion should embrace the optional orthodoxy of ‘good disagreement’.
The longer answer follows from the first. Paradoxically, what looks new is actually old and what looks old is actually new. If Gafcon remains faithful, it will eventually just be the Anglican Communion. In fact we should look for the day when the name ‘Gafcon’ becomes effectively synonymous with the Communion and therefore unnecessary.
The reason for this confidence is not just that Gafcon is growing numerically, nor that it is developing Synodical structures, nor even that nine global networks have now been formed to take forward Anglican mission and discipleship around the world. These are manifestations of something deeper. There is an inherent fruitfulness in God’s Word and it will not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11). It is possible to get malleable bishops to conferences with lavish subsidies from the errant American Episcopal Church and leverage the hallowed history of Canterbury, but true spiritual life ebbs away when the authority of the Word of God is set aside.
The absolute necessity of what Gafcon rightly contends for is becoming a very personal experience for me. My wife, Gillian, and I have been married for 37 years and I write (with her agreement) on our last wedding anniversary. She is in the final stages of ovarian cancer with only a matter of weeks to live. It is a heart wrenching experience, and yet underneath the grief and pain is a deep sense of peace.
She is ready to go home and the promises of Scripture become more and more precious. We are both greatly comforted by the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:17,18 ‘For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’
But is it possible to experience the power of these words while at the same time evading what Paul (and the rest of Holy Scripture) says about sexual ethics. If he can be wrong about the one, can’t he also be wrong about the other? There is no ‘good disagreement’ with Paul. As Gillian well knows, what matters now is what God’s Word says, not what she is able to think or feel when pain and loss threaten to overwhelm.
For the suffering and the dying, the pick ’n mix optional orthodoxy of the new Canterbury Anglicanism simply will not do. If my understanding of God’s grace in the gospel and my hope in Christ are just that – my understanding – where is my assurance and confidence in the face of the ‘last enemy’? Is the ‘weight of glory’ really much more than wishful thinking? The dying need to know that the promises of God are absolutely solid realities which God has clearly revealed in his Word, not just one way of reading the Bible amongst many.
In the years ahead there will doubtless be ebbs and flows in the battle for faithful Anglicanism. A great conference does not necessarily settle things immediately as the growth of Arianism after the Council of Nicaea (325) reminds us. But Nicaea did eventually give the Church a creed because it was true to God’s Word. Gafcon likewise has chosen to stand on God’s Word. It will not of course give us new creed, but whatever the vicissitudes of the present, future generations of Anglicans will thank God for its legacy.