A group of evangelical Church of England bishops have written a detailed response to the GAFCON “Letter to the Churches” issued at GAFCON2018 in Jerusalem.
Their response, published by the Church of England Evangelical Council (“CEEC”), has much which supporters of GAFCON will find encouraging. There are, however, sections that demonstrate the differing positions both between those bishops and GAFCON and between the bishops themselves.
The most contentious paragraph is the following:
8. Most of us did not attend GAFCON 2018. We were grateful for your invitation to do so, but did indicate to you that for many, though not all, evangelical Bishops in the Church of England, the requirement that we sign the Jerusalem Declaration is a sticking point. Some were happy to sign and were able to be with you in Jerusalem. For those of us who can’t sign it, some have a difficulty with affirming Clause 13, particularly in relation to our role within the Church of England. Others operate on the basis that the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent, the Ordinal, and our adherence to scripture, creeds and formularies are sufficient. The Church of England is a reformed catholic Church, and the reason we can in good conscience minister within it is that it stands in that inheritance of faith. There are parishes who sometimes ask us to sign declarations before we visit them; this we have always resisted, and it would set a very difficult precedent for us to accede to your request. You will, we hope, understand our reasons. Perhaps there is room for some accommodation on this issue for those of us who would like to attend future GAFCON events.
Clause 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration states:
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.
I reached out to some of those responsible for the letter to get some further understanding on the difficulty with this clause. We’ve learned that there is a clear intention to establish better understanding and (as the letter indicates) a desire to see if these differences can’t be overcome to allow better partnership. Nevertheless, clause 13 was described to me as “incoherent” and “undefined” and as perhaps allowing for individual interpretation as to who those denying churches and leaders were.
Reference was also made to Canon A4 of the Church of England as defining who was duly ordained. By implication, the Jerusalem Declaration challenges the position of A4 in that somebody may be “duly ordained” and yet nevertheless be a “leader who has denied the orthodox faith in word or deed”.
It’s hard for davidould.net to see a way forward here. The position of the CEEC bishops appears to fall back to some extent upon the “official” position of the Church of England whereas the GAFCON approach presents itself as dealing deliberately with a failure of that “official” position to stop the spread of heterodoxy.
There is also a clear intent by the CEEC bishops to present a common front, despite acknowledging some differences of approach between themselves. This will be understood as the best way to deal with the current problems within the Church of England. To those in the GAFCON camp this may appear as institutionalised inertia, even a failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation and a willingness to be bound by systems that have failed because they have not been properly implemented and upheld. To the other party, GAFCON’s willingness to act outside these structures could be described as a “simplistic and schismatic approach”. It’s difficult to know where the progress can be made from there.