What just happened?
The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) recently met in Kigali, Rwanda, for its fourth meeting. During the event, attendees crafted and released a statement called the “Kigali Commitment 2023.” The statement comments on eight separate topics, including the current crisis within the Anglican Communion, the failure of the current archbishop of Canterbury, and steps necessary for “resetting the Communion.”
“The Kigali Commitment reflects the mind of the 1300 delegates here at this conference. They in turn represent most of the world’s worshiping Anglicans (estimated to be around 85%),” says Michael Stead, bishop of South Sydney and chair of the GAFCON Statement Committee.
“It is clear from this conference that most of the world’s Anglicans have lost confidence in the Archbishop of Canterbury to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture,” says Bishop Stead. “This grieves us, but it is they who have walked away from us.”
What is GAFCON?
GAFCON is a movement of Anglican churches and leaders who hold to a biblically orthodox view of Christianity. It was formed in 2008 in response to what its members see as a drift away from biblical truth within the Anglican Communion. GAFCON seeks to unite and strengthen biblically orthodox Anglicans worldwide and to provide a platform for theological discussion and debate. It has established new Anglican jurisdictions and structures for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces. GAFCON holds a regular conference and has its own primates’ council (a primate is the chief archbishop or bishop of a province).
What was said in the Kigali Commitment?
The fourth GAFCON ended with a reading of the Kigali Commitment, a document outlining the issues orthodox Anglicans have with the Communion and the steps needed to restore unity. Some of the main points of the document are as follows:
- The Anglican Communion has experienced persistent departures from the authority of God’s Word, and warnings from most Anglican primates have been disregarded.
- The latest departure is the General Synod of the Church of England’s majority vote in February 2023 to enable same-sex couples to receive God’s blessing.
- The archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Church of England have betrayed their vows to uphold and defend the truth taught in Scripture by publicly supporting same-sex blessings.
- The Instruments of Communion have failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ, and the call for “good disagreement” is rejected.
- Repentance is necessary for those who have denied the orthodox Christian faith, and until they repent, the Communion remains broken.
- The GAFCON primates have recognized new orthodox jurisdictions for faithful Anglicans and reiterate their support for those who are unable to remain in the Church of England.
- Appropriate pastoral care affirms faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness, and it’s unloving to lead people into error by pretending God blesses sexually active relationships between two people of the same sex.
- Due to departures from orthodoxy, the archbishop of Canterbury can no longer be recognized as the “first among equals” of the primates, and the Communion needs to be reset and reordered.
- The future of the GAFCON movement will prioritize discipleship, evangelism, and mission; raising up the next generation of leaders; youth and children’s ministry; affirming and encouraging women’s ministry; demonstrating the compassion of Christ; supporting bishops’ training; and building the bonds of fellowship and mutual edification.
- The establishment of a foundation endowment is endorsed to pursue these priorities and grow the work of the GAFCON movement.
- The group commits themselves “afresh to the gospel mission of proclaiming the crucified, risen and ascended Christ, calling on all to acknowledge him as Lord in repentance and faith, and living out a joyful, faithful obedience to his Word in all areas of [their] lives.”
What is Anglicanism?
The Church of England and those churches with historical ties to it or who share its beliefs, modes of worship, and organizational structures are collectively referred to as belonging to the Anglican tradition within Christianity. After the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Anglican faith is the third-largest Christian communion in the world, with an estimated 85 million adherents worldwide (counting both those inside the Anglican Communion and Anglicans outside of it).
What is the Anglican Communion?
The Church of England and other national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with that mother church make up the Anglican Communion, a global organization of churches. All communicant Anglicans are eligible for full participation in the sacramental life of each church and are in agreement on all fundamental principles, according to the state of full communion. There are other groups whose affiliation with the global Anglican Communion is still being discussed, such as those connected to the Continuing Anglican movement or the Anglican realignment.
Some member churches ordain LGBT+ clergy or wed same-sex couples. These include the Episcopal Church (which has 100 dioceses in the U.S. and 12 additional dioceses or jurisdictions spread across 15 countries in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe); the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil; the Anglican Church of Canada; the Scottish Episcopal Church; the Church in Wales; and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia.
What is the significance of the archbishop of Canterbury?
The churches of the Anglican Communion are “linked by affection and common loyalty” and in communion with the See of Canterbury. The term “See” refers to the seat of a bishop, thus the “See of Canterbury” refers to the position held by the archbishop of Canterbury—the highest-ranking bishop in Canterbury, one of two ecclesiastical provinces which constitute the Church of England.
Since there’s no binding authority in the Anglican Communion (the archbishop of Canterbury has no authority outside of his own province), the “Instruments of Unity” serve to hold the various churches and provinces together: the Lambeth Conference is a gathering of bishops, meeting every 10 years; the meeting of primates (in which the archbishop is primus inter pares, the first among equals) takes place every two or three years for consultation on theological, social, and international issues; and the Anglican Consultative Council brings together bishops, presbyters, deacons, lay men and women, and youth to work on common concerns.
What is the possible significance of this response for the Anglican Communion?
The Anglicans within GAFCON have boldly placed the blame for disunity within the Communion on those who are choosing to abandon the authority of Scripture.
“The current divisions in the Anglican Communion have been caused by radical departures from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” notes the Kigali Commitment. “Some within the Communion have been taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:8).” The statement adds that “fellowship is broken when we turn aside from God’s Word or attempt to reinterpret it in any way that overturns the plain reading of the text in its canonical context and so deny its truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and thereby its authority.”
While the changes proposed by GAFCON will have significant effects on the structure of the Anglican movement, the most important effect is that it shows church discipline sometimes needs to be implemented on a large scale—and that even the highest leaders in an organization can be called to repent when they abandon God’s Word.
Church discipline should be a deliberate, forbearing, and loving process. Over the past 25 years, orthodox Anglicans have met that standard by patiently calling their fellow believers within the Communion to repent and to once again submit to the authority of Scripture. Regrettably, their calls have been largely unheeded—even by the archbishop of Canterbury—and so the Anglicans in GAFCON must separate themselves from the unrepentant (Matt. 18:17).
The process of separation will be painful for them and will likely take years to complete. But their example is showing Christians around the globe what it looks like to remain faithful to Christ in an age of compromise.
Read delegate and rector Sam Ferguson’s reflections from Kigali: “GAFCON IV: Lessons from a Communion in Birth Pains.”