A schism or not a schism?

Ruth Gledhill writes:

When is a schism not a schism? When it is done by Anglicans.

This is the introduction to her post of the final statement from the GAFCON conference of conservative Anglicans, which has been held in Jerusalem this week. The 1148 participants, including 291 bishops, write the following, extracted from the statement:

We cherish our Anglican heritage and the Anglican Communion and have no intention of departing from it.

GAFCON is not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit, and we hereby:
• launch the GAFCON movement as a fellowship of confessing Anglicans
• publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of the fellowship
• Encourage GAFCON Primates’ Council.

While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This leads into what they publish as “The Jerusalem Declaration”, which is “the basis of our fellowship”. Most of this is an unremarkable statement of orthodox Anglicanism. It does contain an explicit reference to “the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman”. There is no mention of issues controversial among orthodox Anglicans such as the ordination of women. But the Declaration does include the following:

We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. … We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.

So there is to be a continuing GAFCON movement, with no other name given to it. The leaders are encouraging other orthodox Anglicans to join them, and to reject the authority of unorthodox leaders. If this is not schism, what is it?

The next step is to be a Primates’ Council of the leaders of the GAFCON movement, which is expected to recognise as a province the Common Cause Partnership in North America. This of course implies rejection of the authority of the existing Anglican churches in the USA and Canada, whose leaders are largely unorthodox by these GAFCON standards. But it leaves entirely open the question of what might happen in provinces, such as those of the Church of England, whose leadership is much more miixed.

The statement finishes with the following:

The meeting in Jerusalem this week was called in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed. The chief threat of this dispute involves the compromising of the integrity of the church’s worldwide mission. The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ. It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.

Do I receive this with comfort and joy? Do I expect my fellow evangelical Anglicans here in England to do so? I’m not sure yet, because there is so far no way of knowing what the consequences of this may be for the Church of England. Perhaps things will become more clear at this meeting in London next Tuesday, which I am sadly not eligible to attend – I could attend the evening meeting and just might do so.

As for the final sentence of the statement, “We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed …”, I can certainly agree with “should”. But we will need to wait and see about the “will”. After all, what is in all but name a declaration of schism is hardly the best way to promote reform. It may well be that the Anglican Communion can be “reformed” only in the etymological sense “re-formed”, as a new parallel Communion of orthodox Anglicans.

0 thoughts on “A schism or not a schism?

  1. It won’t matter what any conservativee tells a liberal freedom hater, the freedom hater doesn’t beleive in god, so this way he/she can feel good about there guilt and share it with others, ask any lesbian or homo.

  2. My response to the Jerusalem declaration:
    1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things. (I rejoice, too)

    2. 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. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.(Plain and canonical sense? By whose authority? There’s no such thing as ‘plain’ sense. We all filter God’s Word through a human brain, bringing our own presuppositions and prejudices to bear. I don’t think I can accept a ‘plain’ reading if that means ‘a traditionalist, conservative reading because that reading damns all homosexuals to Hell more quickly it would seem than any other sinners; it also prohibits women in ministry, so yiex – I feel suspicious on these grounds, my pen would be shaking considerably if I were being asked to sign on the bottom line)

    3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.(Pretty happy with this, would need to check out the small print first!)

    4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today. (Again, I want to go through the 39 articles with a fine-tooth comb, after-all I know what Forward in Faith do with Canons such as A4 see below)

    5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith. (I gladly proclaim this too).

    6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture. (Does that mean Common Worship 2000 is out the window?)

    7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders. (I need to look into the small print of the classic Anglican Ordinal, by reverting to the classic, if this is what is being proposed, is GAFCON seeking to undo the ordination of women in the Church which began in 1994?)

    8. 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 repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married. (A Godly ideal, yes in which I will bring up my own children, but at the same time I feel nervous that this will be used to set a ‘minimum entry requirement’ for Christianity, sinners are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, this is credited to them as righteousness, if it is promoted that only true Christians are those who conform to this ideal, then we are elevating some Christians above others, promoting a skewing of the gospel in which we can sometimes earn our salvation by leading the right sort of lives and reducing the powers of the Lord’s amazing grace, that we sinners, can be saved by what he did once and for all upon the cross, we would also be implying that some sins are worse than others and that somehow God has a scale by which he rates us- as you can see I have problems with this one then.)

    9. 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. (I gladly accept this too.)

    10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy. (I am mindful of my responsibility too.)

    11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. (These two sentences seem to contradict each other, so I’m a little confused here.)

    12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us. (I’m not quite convinced that this diversity is actually celebrated.)

    13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.(This seems rather theologically arrogant in its tone.)

    14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives. (I rejoice too).

    How do you feel about it, Peter?

  3. is GAFCON seeking to undo the ordination of women in the Church which began in 1994?

    I know sometimes the Church of England thinks that nothing Anglican happens anywhere else, but the C of E was actually very slow on the ordination of women business. Here in Canada the ordination of women began in 1976, not 1994!

  4. Rachel (HRHT), thanks for your comments on the Declaration. But I think you are reading too much into it in places. If I understand things correctly, the 1662 Prayer Book, the 39 Articles and the original Ordinal are the official doctrinal standards of all Anglicans. So in affirming these the GAFCON people are affirming that they are the real good Anglicans. But there is a difference between official doctrinal standards and what can be and is used as regular liturgy etc. No one is calling for a general return to 1662 liturgy. I don’t think the Ordinal makes it explicit that ordination is for men only, so this statement has nothing to say on women’s ordination, which is probably very deliberate as it would be divisive among the group.

  5. So another sub denomination is born? I cannot believe that God has favorite denominations, as He looks at our hearts and not what ‘church’ we frequent Sunday by Sunday. The sooner we can live without all the politics of religion and get back to simply following Jesus, the more will shall learn about God’s LOVE for all, including homosexuals. May God forgive us all for wasting time, efforts and resources on silly in house arguments.

  6. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Rowan Williams and NT Wright respond to GAFCON

  7. Steve, I must say I find it very hard to disagree with the implication of your comment, that we should forget about denominations and their structures and just get on with following Jesus. Jesus did tell us to follow him in community, and in a real fallen world that community needs some kinds of structures. But I’m sure the structures can and should be a lot simpler than those of the Anglican Communion or any mainline denomination.

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » The Donatists, GAFCON, and the Todd Bentley critics

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