The chair of the GAFCON conservative Anglican grouping has urged evangelicals in the Church of England to act on a warning that they may withdraw from the Church if it liberalises its doctrine of marriage and sexuality.
The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) issued the document Gospel, Church & Marriage: Preserving Apostolic Faith and Life at the end of January. It said the doctrine that sexual relations were only for heterosexual marriage was not an ‘optional extra’ on which Christians could disagree and that a departure from apostolic teaching ‘regrettably requires in response some degree of visible differentiation’.
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of All Nigeria and chairman of the Gafcon Primates Council, said in his monthly letter to supporters: ‘At a time when the Church of England’s senior leadership seems unable to resist the pressure to compromise with a highly secular culture, it is a sign of hope that evangelical leaders are able to come together in this way.’
He quotes the statement about ‘visible differentiation’ and appears to encourage conservatives to distance themselves from the Church of England, saying: ‘However, the question I humbly wish to ask my brothers and sisters in England is this: will you take courage and act on these words? As members of the Mother Church of our beloved Communion you have a great responsibility. We will pray for you and stand with you, but we cannot stand for you.
‘If you do not act, sexual practices and gender identities which represent a radical rejection of God’s will and purpose will become entrenched and lead to a tragic separation from the great majority of the Communion.’
Okoh says: ‘There is much in our shared history that we can thank God for, but that alone will not hold us together in the present.’
GAFCON is a global movement of Anglicans resolutely opposed to what it perceives as a liberal drift within the Church of England and specifically to any compromise over same-sex relationships.
Contrary to the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 4: “There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called”, the Chair of GAFCON, Nicholas Okoh, primate of All Nigeria, now urges conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England to make good on their promise to leave if the General Synod fails to live up to their own expectation of the rejection of same-sex relationships.
Okoh’s advice on schismatic severance in the C. of E. runs counter to the biblical counsel of Unity in the Body of Christ – a matter which should be of concern, not only to the evangelicals involved but also to the Primates of the Church of England and of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
This tendency towards schism – on a matter considered by many Anglicans to be of major importance to those people in the Church concerned for the inclusion of ALL into the Church – regardless of race, status, gender or sexual-orientation – without the sexist and homophobic prejudice that has prevented LGBT people from being made welcome by the Church in past times.
More moderate voices in the Church are wanting to get on with the inclusive Mission of Christ to ALL people – including those same-sex partnered persons who want to live out their lives in faithfulness to one another and as useful members of a society which now accepts Gay Marriage as part of the basic building blocks of human thriving. In a society threatened by the problems of promiscuity in sexual relationships, the desire of same-sex couples to commit themselves to the bonds of a relationship akin to heterosexual marriage ought, perhaps, to be welcomed.
Sadly for the Anglican Communion, GAFCON now has its disciples of separatism in the daughter churches it has fostered within the domain of the more progressive liberal Anglican Churches that have already come to terms with matters of social justice on gender and sexuality issues.
FOCA (The “Fellowship of Confessional Anglicans”) has its adherents even here in Aotearoa/New Zealand; whose leaders are threatening schism if ACANZP, at its next General Synod, allows the Church to conduct Same-Sex Blessings. However, the likelihood is that our ‘Motion 29’ will be passed by the majority in General Synod, and it remains to be seen whether this threat will be taken up.
Here, in reflection, is a commentary from today’s ‘3 -Minute Retreat’ from a Jesuit website on Ephesians 4:4
“This phrase from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in addition to the several verses that follow it, eventually came to signify the unity of the Church with the Holy Spirit. The Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and Eucharist usher us into that same unity. We are called to live in that bond, in right relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only in that unity that we, as a Church, can proclaim the Good News and give witness to the Kingdom of God with credibility and integrity.
What GAFCON and its Chair need to consider, is whether their invitation to schism is consonant with the gospel imperative implied in this Letter of the Apostle, Paul.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand