GAFCON 2018: A Turning Point in the History of Anglicanism
By Ed Loane
Almost 1700 years ago, on 20 June 325AD, 318 bishops concluded a very significant meeting. They had gathered in Nicaea because errors had arisen in the church which were so profound that they undermined the very foundation of the Christian message. Those bishops renounced the heresies and upheld orthodox Christian doctrine which had been revealed by God through the Scriptures.
On 22 June 2018, 316 bishops (along with 669 other clergy and 965 laity) concluded another very significant meeting. They gathered in Jerusalem because errors have arisen in the church which were so profound that they undermined the very foundation of the Christian message. These delegates also renounced the heresies and upheld orthodox Christian doctrine which had been revealed by God through the Scriptures. They gathered in Jerusalem from around the Anglican communion and represented the majority of that fellowship. But as this was the third GAFCON that has been held, a justifiable question is whether this conference will make any lasting difference in the way the conference at Nicaea did?
ANGLICAN COMMUNION – THE BACKSTORY
In order to answer that question, it is worth understanding the context in which this movement has arisen. The Anglican communion is a global fellowship of churches that share a common heritage with the Church of England. Ministers and missionaries went out from England to proclaim the gospel and they established churches around the world according to the biblical doctrine and liturgy which was the bedrock of the English church.
As the number of churches that shared this heritage increased, means were sought to demonstrate the fellowship of shared history, doctrine and mission.
Four Instruments of Communion were established to facilitate fellowship:
- The Archbishop of Canterbury, by leading the most ancient diocese in England (est. 597AD), was privileged to be charged with facilitating fellowship.
- In 1867 Archbishop Longley held the first Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops because many had raised concerns about false teaching in some churches. Although probably never originally intended to be a regular meeting, the Lambeth Conference began to be held every decade and became a source of fostering fellowship. 100 years later, two further instruments were established so there could be more regular consultation.
- In 1968, the Anglican Consultative Councilwas created to share wisdom and encourage members in mission.
- In 1979 the first Anglican Communion Primates’ Meetingwas held for leaders of large groups of dioceses (provinces) to meet and prayerfully discuss issues facing the churches.
These four instruments of communion were not established to be the basis of unity among Anglicans, rather, they were developed to foster the international fellowship which arose from the existing unity of history, doctrine and mission. Three of the four instruments are fairly novel in the history of Anglicanism, indeed, two have begun in living memory of most of the current bishops. They have no intrinsic value in and of themselves but are only valuable so long as they foster the fellowship in Christ which is the basis of the Anglican communion.
Ed Loane is an Anglican minister who lectures in Theology and Church History at Moore Theological College, Sydney.