Disagreement is never enjoyable.
Yet, I’m struck that it should not come as a surprise. It seems that disagreement between those who call themselves Christians has been ‘normal’ from the beginning. After all, Jesus challenged the disciples when they argued over who would sit at his right hand, and He prayed that all those who followed them would know the oneness that he experienced with the Father. Paul challenged the Corinthians (and many others), and James, Peter and John all felt it necessary to warn their readers about the dangers of pride, slander, meaningless arguments and a lack of love for one another. I’m sure all of us have, at one point or another, experienced the pain these fallen attitudes cause in our local church families and, if you are anything like me, you will have also had to seek the forgiveness of God and of others for failing in these areas.
But, there is another threat to unity – and that is false teaching, which has, again, been present from the beginning. False teaching that distorts the nature of God, distorts the nature of the gospel and either encourages legalism or licentiousness. I am reminded of Mike Ovey’s extraordinary talk at GAFCON in 2013 – The Grace of God OR the World of the West.
At the moment, the unity of the Anglican Communion is threatened by both types of division. Sadly, many believe the problem is only one of pride, a lack of love and grandstanding over meaningless arguments.
On Monday, at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting (ACC-17) in Hong Kong, their Secretary-General, talked about some bishops in the Anglican Communion being ‘deliberately ignorant’ and claimed that this ignorance is, “chewing us up and creating further divisions within the Communion.” As you can see from the link above, the Church Times reporter suggests that these comments were addressed to Gafcon, though I cannot hear that on the recording. He did, however, comment on Gafcon later in his address, when he accused Gafcon of not adhering to the agreement of the Primates Meeting in 2016, to “walk together at a distance.” In saying this he appears to ignore the original wording of the resolution, which spoke of their “desire to walk together,” but noted that the decision of TEC to introduce same-sex marriage was, “a fundamental departure from the faith,” and one which was too serious to overlook.
In a pre-ACC-17 press conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the question of whether we should celebrate same-sex marriage cannot be resolved – and later in his Presidential Address, he assumes that these differences do not prevent gospel unity – if only we would better love and serve one another.
This may sound wise and holy, to the modern ear, but I fear it ignores the warnings of the Word of God.
So, I am grateful that the Gafcon Primates are also meeting together, in Sydney. They are joined by the Gafcon Guarantors, Branch Leaders and other advisors. It is the first Primates’ Meeting chaired by Archbishop Foley Beach, and with Archbishop Ben Kwashi as General Secretary.
Back in June, the bishops, clergy and laity who gathered in Jerusalem at GAFCON 2018, called on the Archbishop of Canterbury to recognise the warnings of the Word of God when considering who he invited to the Lambeth Conference. They respectfully urged him:
- “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.”
We have known for months that the Archbishop of Canterbury invited all of the bishops from those provinces which have changed their marriage canons – thus ignoring the second part of GAFCON’s request.
Last week, a limited number of bishops from the Province of the Anglican Church in North America and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil, as well as REACH-SA, were invited to the Lambeth Conference as ecumenical observers, thus ignoring the first request.
I’m sure that the Primates will have much to discuss, as they consider how best to develop the Gafcon movement at a grass roots level to promote the renewal of the Anglican Communion and how best to relate to those who are unwilling to recognise the seriousness of the false teaching that divides the Communion.
It would be good to pray for both these meetings.
- One theme at ACC-17 is ” Intentional Discipleship.” Please pray for a miracle – that the faithful Anglicans will, by their prayers, their commitment to Scripture and their words of persuasion, be successful in calling others back to the faith once revealed to the Saints.
- For the Gafcon Primates: there is a real sense of the responsibility that comes with leading the majority of the world’s Anglicans. Please pray that there will be no divisions and that under God they will be able to consult and collaborate in such a way as to renew the Anglican Communion and enable us all to better preach the gospel in the power of God alone.
Pray too for all those caught up in the fallout of disunity caused by false teaching.
In the past week, I have heard from several lay people, for whom the need to sign up once again to the electoral roll has caused them to realise that they can no longer associate with their local diocese. They long to remain Anglican, but for the time being will worship with non-conformist brothers and sisters. Similarly, I am aware of a number of clergy who have spoken to their bishops about the impossibility of their situation and are considering their future. Whatever, you think about their decision, please pray for them and their families; the sense of grief and abandonment can be quite overwhelming at times and many are unsure how they will house their families or replace their stipend should they leave.
And please pray for one another that by God’s grace:
- We would all have the courage to remain faithful to the gospel of grace and the power of the cross – putting aside any ungodly division caused by pride, slander, meaningless arguments or a lack of love for one another.
- We would all be willing to put aside popularity, financial stability and a settled life, if we cannot continue to walk together with those who promote false teaching in word or deed.
Susie Leafe is the Director of Operations – Gafcon UK