The World Cup, Wimbledon and plenty of other things going on in the wider world mean you may not have noticed a significant event which took place a few weeks ago in Jerusalem. GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future Conference) was a gathering of Anglicans from all over the world, the largest for 50 years – there were 1966 delegates to be precise (perhaps that figure bodes well for the World Cup?). I tuned in to some of the presentations which were streamed on-line. Here’s what struck me:
We belong to a GLOBAL family
Someone once said, “The average Anglican is a black woman under the age of 30, who earns two dollars a day, has a family of at least three children, has lost two close relatives to AIDS and who will walk four miles to church for a three hour service on a Sunday.” The vast majority of Anglicans are not English! Anglicanism is a truly global movement of about 85 million people but at the same time there is an evident sense of ‘family’ – when one speaker began with the greeting ‘The Lord be with you’, 2000 voices from 50 different countries all responded together ‘And also with you’. Anglicanism is just one among many expressions of the Christian faith but we really can thank God for what He has done in bringing so many to know Him through Anglican churches world-wide.
We belong to a BIBLICAL family
GAFCON was a deliberate effort to gather Biblically orthodox Anglicans. That means that not everyone wanted to join in. It was particularly disappointing to see the absence of Church of England bishops (except for Rod Thomas and my former Diocesan Bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali). So although the leaders who gathered came from only 50 of the 165 countries where Anglicanism is found, they nevertheless represented the majority of global Anglicans – many of the Western members of the family (like the Church of England herself) are smaller and declining.
The leadership of the Anglican communion has traditionally been centred on The Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury but global, orthodox Anglicanism is increasingly unimpressed with Western leadership. As Archbishop Okoh of Nigeria put it – ‘if the Church marries the spirit of the age in one generation, she will be a widow in the next.’ And that is what our brothers and sisters around the world fear for us – that in the Church of England we are in danger of drifting with the spirit of the age, rather than faithfully proclaiming Christ to our generation.
It all reminded me of the prayer Jesus prayed on the night before he died. In John 17 He pours out His longing for the unity of the Church, for the holiness of the Church and for the mission of the Church:
her unity: ‘that they may be one’ (11,22,23)
her purity: ‘that they may be truly sanctified’ (17,19)
and her mission: ‘that the world may believe’ (20,21)
And the key to each of these is the Word of God in the scriptures:
‘They have obeyed your word (6)… I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (8)…. So that scripture would be fulfilled (12)… I have given them your word (14)… Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth (17).
It is this united, Biblical Church that Christ prays will be ‘sent into the world’ (18). Praise God that this prayer is being answered in the Anglican communion. Please God, may this prayer be answered in the Church of England.
With love in Christ,