Anglicans don’t all hold the same view of missions and evangelism. Those differences could lead to a change in the worldwide Anglican Communion’s leadership structure.
The Church of England exemplifies one view of missions and evangelism. A compromise at February 2023’s Church of England General Synod maintains that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman, but it permits clergy to offer prayers and liturgies at civil marriages, including same-sex marriages. The synod also said it repents of its failure “to welcome LGBTQI+ people and for the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced—and continue to experience—in churches.” The Church of England’s actions were an attempt to “make [Christ’s] love known to this generation,” according to the synod.
Participants in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) have a different view of missions.
The Church of England “interprets what they’ve done as an act of mission to reach out to people who are in same-sex relationships so that they might be brought into the church,” said Foley Beach, chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council and Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America. “Biblical Christianity says that when you help people to recognize and own their sin, it’s only then that they can repent, ask for God’s forgiveness, and receive eternal salvation.”
“Biblical Christianity says that when you help people to recognize and own their sin, it’s only then that they can repent, ask for God’s forgiveness, and receive eternal salvation.”
When GAFCON convenes April 17-21 in Kigali, Rwanda, the conference will have to decide whether the divide over how to do missions is too wide to move forward as a single worldwide Anglican Communion. The meeting’s theme is “To Whom Shall We Go?” and BibleMesh is among the sponsors.
“We’re still in the Anglican Communion,” Beach said. “Part of GAFCON’s original purpose was to call for repentance, reform, and renewal of the Anglican Communion. Now that the Anglican establishment has done what it’s done, it’s no longer going to be recognized by so many global Anglicans. I don’t know how [the Anglican family] is going to be restructured.”
Whatever the outcome of the Kigali meeting, GAFCON is committed to finding a way forward in missions and evangelism for orthodox Anglicans.
A Voice for Reform
Competing visions are not new among Anglicans. Since the 1970s, progressive and orthodox wings of the Anglican Communion have clashed over theology and ethics. The conflict came to a head in the early twenty-first century when the Episcopal Church in the United States of America consecrated Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop and a diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada approved the blessing of same-sex unions. Some orthodox Anglicans claimed the Church of England and its ruling bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were complicit with the erring churches.
Those challenges to biblical sexual ethics helped prompt the first GAFCON meeting of theologically orthodox Anglicans in Jerusalem in 2008. Nearly 1,200 Anglicans from 19 provinces attended and issued The Jerusalem Declaration, a statement of “a way forward together that promotes and protects the biblical gospel and mission to the world.”
Among The Jerusalem Declaration’s assertions:
“We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation.”
“We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family.”
“We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.”
GAFCON convened again in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013 and in Jerusalem in 2018. Church planting, missions, and theological education have been topics of discussion at each GAFCON meeting.
Until now, GAFCON has been an orthodox voice within the worldwide Anglican Communion. At the April meeting in Rwanda, however, conference participants will ask whether that can continue or whether a new worldwide structure of orthodox Anglicans is needed.
GAFCON’s mission has not been “to contest for leadership or positions,” said Peter Akinola, retired Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria and one of GAFCON’s founders. “From the very beginning, we have said this very clearly: we are the Anglicans. Those who have abandoned the Anglican tradition, those who have deserted God’s truth in His Word written, they are the ones who have walked away from the communion.”
Change on the Horizon?
Already, a group of bishops representing a majority of the world’s Anglicans have suggested change is afoot.
“The Church of England has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles” and “has disqualified herself from leading the Communion as the historic ‘Mother’ Church,” according to a February 20 statement endorsed by twelve archbishops aligned with the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA).
“As much as the GSFA Primates also want to keep the unity of the visible Church and the fabric of the Anglican Communion, our calling to be ‘a holy remnant’ does not allow us be ‘in communion’ with those provinces that have departed from the historic faith and taken the path of false teaching,” the GSFA bishops stated, adding they are “no longer able to recognise the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Hon & Most Revd Justin Welby, as the ‘first among equals’ Leader of the global Communion.”
The Anglican Communion includes more than forty self-governing Provinces across the globe, each with its own ruling bishop. Being “in communion” with one another includes agreement on key doctrines and welcoming Anglicans from other churches to participate in the sacraments. The Archbishop of Canterbury is considered the “first among equals” among Anglican primates.
In addition to the GSFA participants, other orthodox Anglican leaders also have suggested they may be moving toward a new worldwide structure of leadership and fellowship. The Church of Nigeria, the world’s largest Anglican Church, says it welcomes change. By some estimates, the Church of Nigeria has 25 million people in its congregations each Sunday, more than the 20 million Anglicans who attend church in all western nations combined.
“The Protestant Movement arose out of the Reformation, which was a response to heresies and ecclesiastical abuses by the recognized Church then,” current Nigerian Archbishop Henry Ndukuba said in a statement. “History is about repeating itself. The Anglican Church is at the threshold of yet another reformation, which must sweep out the ungodly leadership currently endorsing sin, misleading the lives of faithful Anglicans worldwide and endangering their prospects for eternity.”
GAFCON is emphatic about one point: It is charting the future for missions and evangelism, not refighting old battles.
Other orthodox Anglican churches appear wary of a break with the worldwide Anglican ‘Communion for now—though they oppose accommodating the culture as a missions strategy.
In a February 18 Pastoral Letter, leaders of the Anglican Church in South East Asia said, “We are deeply disappointed by the Church of England’s decision and unequivocally state that the blessing of same-sex unions has no biblical ground whatsoever, since Scripture teaches unambiguously that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Yet they added, “Despite our grave reservations regarding the Church of England’s decision, we believe that the unity of the Anglican communion should not be lightly abandoned. Hence, we will remain in communion with the Church of England while praying fervently for her and speaking boldly for God’s truth.”
Whether the time has come for a new Anglican leadership structure remains to be seen. The possibility will be discussed at GAFCON’s Rwanda meeting. Regardless of that meeting’s outcome, GAFCON is emphatic about one point: It is charting the future for missions and evangelism, not refighting old battles.
“Keep us in your prayers as we gather,” Beach said. “The Holy Spirit is trying to purify His bride. We will see how it all turns out.”
David Roach is pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Alabama. He is a church historian and journalist, and teaches across the theological disciplines at several Christians colleges and seminaries. His writing has appeared in Christianity Today and Baptist Press among other outlets.