A model of humble repentance was demonstrated, together with a firm trust in the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of the Scriptures, says Reverend John Lovell, who has worked with Anglican Churches in Australia and Europe.
Having grown up in two different Anglican Churches in Sydney, Australia, and then served on staff in three more, including 10 years in Valencia, Spain, with the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church (an extra-provincial diocese of the Anglican Communion), I had followed the GAFCON movement with interest since the first conference held in Jerusalem in 2008.
Our family’s move from Sydney to Spain to serve as missionaries with the Church Missionary Society of Australia quickly exposed us to the diversity within the global Anglican Communion. In additional to serving with the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church I had the privilege of visiting a number of Anglican churches in England as well as Latin America.
Much of the diversity within the Anglican communion could be celebrated, and wonderfully reflected what had been anticipated in article 34 of the 39 articles.
“It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, ...”
However, the final sentence above ends with: “so that nothing be ordained against God's Word.”
What was clear at GAFCON IV in Kigali was that leaders across the Anglican Communion, most recently in the Church of England, had departed from the clear, authoritative teaching of Scripture. This was not something to be celebrated, but rather, something to be repented of. Repentance is an expected characteristic of all followers of Jesus Christ and of His church. This reality was evident throughout the conference, with all delegates being led in a time of repentance and reflection after each of the morning Bible teaching sessions through the book of Colossians.
There was a genuine sense of grief at the departure from God’s word from leaders within the communion and the call to repentance was not delighted in, as if from a position of triumph. A model of humble repentance was demonstrated, together with a firm trust in the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of the Scriptures.
The firm commitment to the authority of Scripture and the call to repentance for those who had rejected this key doctrine from the Protestant Reformation and historical foundation of the Anglican Church was not just declared from the platform at GAFCON IV. The 1,302 delegates attending from 52 countries, including 315 bishops, 456 other clergy and 531 laity contributed to the Kigali Commitment that was prepared through a collaborative process that included feedback from all delegates. The full statement can be read online here.
As a delegate at the conference, what was particularly encouraging were the many informal conversations during the morning or afternoon tea breaks or over lunch or dinner. These conversations of course were not captured on the live stream or in any formal documents recording the events of the conference – nor should they be! However, what they did confirm to me at least, was the great blessing of genuine unity with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world that is based on the truth of the gospel. With an estimated 85% of the global Anglican communion represented at the conference, there was tremendous joy in our unity and commitment to the truth of the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures.
What may be reported in the news, or even what Anglican leaders in some places may be endorsing, is not representative of the majority of the world’s Anglicans – praise God! The Lord is at work in the Anglican Church throughout the world and what a joy it was to see a glimpse of this reality at GAFCON IV in Kigali.
Another lesson which I’m thankful to God for comes from the majority of those present at GAFCON who live and serve in places where living for Christ is costly and for many, dangerous. For those of us attending from western countries, it was humbling to hear their testimonies and learn from their experiences and example of faithful perseverance and trust in God despite strong opposition.
A final great encouragement from GAFCON was the constant teaching throughout the week of the urgency of the task of global mission. There were regular reminders of the importance of not losing focus on the important work of making Christ known among the nations.
It is of course essential to have clarity on the truth of the gospel in order to proclaim it faithfully throughout the world, but as we contend for the truth of the gospel, the faith once for all delivered, we must not be distracted from the work of calling the lost to repentance and faith through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise and thanks be to God who in his great mercy, continues to work through many faithful brothers and sisters in Christ across the Anglican Communion, to bring many more people into his eternal kingdom.
Reverend Canon John Lovell, Executive Director for the Church Missionary Society, NSW & ACT in Sydney, Australia.