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GAFCON: Why this Anglican Conference matters to all Christians – Part 1

GAFCON: Why this Anglican Conference matters to all Christians – Part 1

By Fiona McLean 

              A vibrant Nigerian choir; stirring Bible teachers; nearly 2000 Anglicans from across the world gathered in Jerusalem, enthusiastically declaring the conference catch-cry, “We will proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations!”; the Lord’s Prayer said aloud in a joyful cacophony of different languages; six days of encouragement, challenge, inspiration, tears, laughter, and joy.  This was GAFCON 2018!  I was one of the 220 or so Australian delegates, privileged to be part of this key milestone in the history of the Anglican church.

This GAFCON (the name derives from the Global Anglican Future CONference) was the third international gathering of Anglicans committed to stand for gospel faithfulness in a context of increasing compromise and false teaching within the traditional Anglican church.  Church leaders and ordinary members – together representing over 70% of the world’s Anglicans – were encouraged by stirring Bible expositions (including one by Mike Raiter from Melbourne); testimonies from those in the US, England, Nigeria and New Zealand facing various challenges and threats; seminars on topics including the prosperity gospel, African Traditional Religions, secularism, abortion and euthanasia, one-to-one discipleship, ministry to the Chinese Diaspora, ministry in a post-Catholic context, and sexuality.  The conference, through a process of consultation, produced a seminal 8-page “Letter to the Churches”, which affirmed the commitment of those involved in GAFCON to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations – and in our churches.

A celebration of good diversity

A highlight of GAFCON was the sense of partnership in the gospel with like-minded Christians from around the world.  We delighted in the God-given diversity of the conference – different nationalities, cultures, clothing (from African bishops and their wives in matching colourful outfits, to moody bearded North American hipsters!), style of worship (do you raise your hands, clap spontaneously in sermons, call out “Alleluia!”, or simply nod in sober agreement?), degree of formality or informality, and so on. There was the encouragement of seeing others stand firm in difficult circumstances, and mutual support as we face similar challenges.  GAFCON was a great reminder that God is the God of the whole world, and that he is working powerfully to build and preserve his church!

Indeed, we are united in Christ with all believers, whether we are the same denomination nor not.  The Body of Christ is bigger than any one denomination, and it pleases God to foster unity and cooperation between different denominations (which is one reason I am involved in The Gospel Coalition!).  Non-Anglicans can celebrate what God is doing through GAFCON.

Limits to diversity

The conference was also a clear statement of the limits of diversity within the church.  To fight the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7) and to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude v.3) there must be no compromise on essential doctrines.  Paul warns that those who disregard God’s commands about sexuality and holiness “disregard the very words of God” (1 Thess. 4:8).  We must take seriously the many warnings in the Bible against false teaching.  Being a Christian means standing for some things, and standing against some things.  Church leaders, in particular, have a responsibility to defend the truth and oppose error:  “He [an overseer] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

Anglicans are not the only Christians facing battles over issues of sexuality and the gospel.  We need the encouragement and example of others.

Fiona McLean and her husband Gus have four children. Gus is a secondary teacher in a state school. Fiona works as the Women’s Discipleship Minister (half-time) at the Unichurch congregation at St Jude’s, Carlton in Melbourne; with her family. She also serves at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Greythorn, and is a committee member of the Victorian Chapter of TGCA