GAFCON latest: The dual challenges of an aggressive secular world and increasingly worldly established church
There is nothing in Anglicanism like GAFCON. The Lambeth Conferences have all the bishops and their wives; the Anglican Consultative Council has a few representatives from each province. The Third Divine Commonwealth Conference in Nigeria from November 18-22 with 5000 people is largely composed of members of the Church of Nigeria.
GAFCON2013 is made up of bishops, clergy and lay people drawn from 38 countries numbering over 1300 people.
The Archdeacon of Cardigan, the Venerable Will Strange, describes the worship, led by a choir and a drummer as fantastic. The morning bible expositions of the Book of Ephesians have been spectacular and models of their kind.
Mini-conferences which include topics such as Gospel and Culture, Being Women of God and Episcopal Ministry have continued. There is an extraordinary energy in the Cathedral precincts where coffee, tea and meals are served as people are eagerly engaged in conversation. A lot of the energy according to a member of the Conference Secretariat has been generated by the 43 exhibitors – including the Anglican Relief and Development Fund from North America, SOMA, Five Talents Micro-Enterprise, Christian Concern and Barnabas Fund.
Michael Abel from Pakistan told how following the recent martyrdom of over 100 Anglicans at All Saints Peshawar, Pakistani civil society has for the first time responded in defence of Christians who are seen as a despised minority. In Lahore Muslims formed a ring around a church and said we are a human shield against the Taliban.
Archbishop Okoh, the primate of Nigeria introduced Archbishop Ignatius Katei and his wife Beatrice who had recently been kidnapped. He reminded the conference that in Acts 12, the whole church had prayed for the release of Peter from prison.
Thursday's programme included a visit in a fleet of coaches around the Nairobi Safari Park. There were close up views of giraffe, zebra, buffalo and various forms of antelope and gazelle. One coach load watched two lionesses cross the park track right in front of the coach as if they were on a zebra crossing. Spontaneous renditions of "All things bright and beautiful" broke out in one coach and "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder" in another.
The GAFCON website has published presentations by contributors from the Church of England.
Rev Paul Perkin, the chairman of FCA (UK and Ireland) portrayed a picture of hope and despair in the Church of England worth summarising below.
"This vision of the great Commission, the church going to the nations, equipped with the authority of Christ and the teaching of Christ, is still wonderfully being worked out in Britain today! There are many flourishing local churches, people coming to faith in Jesus Christ, young leaders being raised up, and new members being added to the church. A few days ago I heard of one average-sized church, which five or ten new members were joining each week. In another brand new Anglican church planted four years ago in one of our large cities, where there was previously almost no bible-teaching ministry, 860 worshippers are now meeting every weekend.
"A number of individual churches in Britain each have 20 to 30 apprentices, ministers-in-training for full-time ministry. One growth-oriented inner city diocese has grown by 70% in the last 20 years.
"The largest Anglican church in England has 23 ordained ministers and is producing over 30 ordinands every year. Some of the networks draw tens of thousands of people to holiday conferences."
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He continues: "However, there is also the nightmare of a secular nation invading the church.
"According to a survey by Forward in Faith UK, which is available on their website, approximately one out of every four male clergy in the CofE does not believe in the Trinity, or in God the Father who made the world, or in the Holy Spirit, or that Jesus died to take away the sins of the world. Almost half do not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, or in his bodily resurrection, or that he is the only way of salvation. Of female clergy those shocking statistics of unbelief are even much worse. Many of the least believing, male and female, are in central leadership positions in the church.
"A worldly church will always oppose a church that accepts and obeys God's Word."
The five pressure points Perkins identifies are:
Mission - The restriction of opportunities for flourishing growth and planting of new churches
Money - The centralisation of finance that mis-directs gospel resources
Ministers - The reluctance, obstacles and delays in selecting, training, ordaining, and appointing gospel ministers who believe and live the bible's teaching
Association - The pressure to conform to a superficial unity masking heterodox beliefs, rather than real fellowship in the truth
Oversight - In some dioceses the leadership has departed from authentic Anglicanism - How can faithful ministers submit to unfaithful leaders?
"For example, when a motion defending Christian marriage was recently put to General Synod, a number of synod members openly spoke of their co-habitation or gay partnerships. No bishop stood to clarify that this was not the teaching of the Church. Orthodox clergy and congregations who do not want to appear divisive are now often very reticent to teach biblical, Anglican truth on marriage.
"For example, churches that long to give life to plant new congregations on redundant church sites are often systematically blocked.
"The good news is that overall nearly half of all clergy and their churches at local level do believe Jesus is THE way of salvation!
"Gospel churches are trying as faithfully as they can to bring God's Word to God's world, under the authority of the Lord Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. But they are facing not only an increasingly aggressive secular world, but also an increasingly worldly established church.
"That is why we need to be inspired by the world-wide Communion. And it is why we also cherish the encouragement and the support of faithful churches globally to urge us to remain authentic Anglicans together."
On Friday afternoon the conference will be presented with a first draft of the Conference Statement and Commitment.