Bishop N.T. Wright On GAFCON

From here:

‘I spent this last week in a great celebration of the love and power of God
in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I confirmed many new believers. I installed a
dynamic new rector in a key parish. I assisted in consecrating a wonderful
man as the new Bishop of Stockport. I spent four days in prayer and pastoral
conversations with twenty-seven ordinands, listening to their breathtaking
stories of God’s power, guidance, and (in some cases) profound healing, and
praying with them for their new ministries. All this climaxed in two
wonderful ordination services, with great crowds, great singing, great
praying, and above all a delight in and celebration of God’s presence, God’s
gospel, and the power of God’s Spirit to love Jesus and make his good news
known in our diocese and parishes.

So it was with great interest that I heard that many Anglicans had spent
that same week in Jerusalem – which has been, over the years, a special
place for me, too – to celebrate the same gospel, the same God, the same
love and power of Jesus, the same dynamic and life-changing message through
the work of the Spirit. As I read the GAFCON communiqué, phrase after phrase
said to me ‘How wonderful that my brothers and sisters gathered there were
joining with me in this great adventure we call God’s kingdom!’

I warmed, too, to GAFCON’s statement of our contemporary context. I have
long believed and taught that our new century presents new problems
(secularism, pluralism, the decline of modernity with nothing to put in its
place, and much else) and that this means a great, fresh opportunity for the
gospel. I have been saying for years that, in this context, we shouldn’t be
surprised that serious challenges arise from within the church itself,
offering the world a pseudo-gospel, a caricature of the world-changing love
of God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, an attempt to hold the
outward form of godliness while denying its real power. I have believed and
taught for years that we will have to work through these challenges if,
instead of merely being distracted and having our gospel energies soaked up,
we are to come through with the fresh message our culture (and individuals
within it!) so badly need. If mission is our priority – as it certainly is
for me and my diocese – then we should expect to face serious theological
and moral challenges, and to have to overcome them in prayer and deeper
study of scripture.

And of course I have found myself involved in the troubled situation of our
Communion following the disastrous events of 2003. I have grieved at the
muddled teaching which has allowed all kinds of confusions about Christian
doctrine, behaviour and even the nature of Anglicanism to abound, with
disastrous consequences. I have shared the frustration of many at the fact
that we don’t possess the kind of structures that would enable us to deal
straightforwardly and clearly with the complex problems that have faced us.
As Archbishop Rowan has said, our present ‘instruments of Communion’ were
not designed to meet this kind of problem, and we badly need to find new
ways forward. I, with others, have given a lot of time and energy to work on
all this, and the Archbishop’s statement that the forthcoming Lambeth
Conference will take Windsor and the Covenant as its basic road-map were
very heartening. So I fully agree with the GAFCON statement – and with
Archbishop Rowan – that the Communion instruments have not been able to deal
with the problems, and that we need to find better ways of going about it.
Part of the genius of Anglicanism has been to be reformed by the gospel but
always ready for fresh reformations by that same gospel: to recognise that
God has more light to break out of his holy word, and that this may lead us
to do things in new ways, sometimes setting us free from tired structures
and sometimes creating new structures for new gospel purposes. That is
precisely what Windsor is proposing, and what Lambeth will be pursuing.

What’s more, it is enormously exciting to live at a time when new leadership
is arising from places completely outside the north Atlantic axis. Africa
was one of the great cradles of early Christianity, producing such towering
minds as Tertullian and Augustine. Most of us have long ago moved away from
any idea that Christianity, or even Anglicanism, somehow ‘belongs’ to
England or northern Europe. In my own diocese we love our link with Lesotho,
and always find that visits from our friends there bring new energy and joy
to our parishes and schools. Just as you don’t have to go to Jerusalem to
meet Jesus – he is alive and present to heal and save in every place! – so
it’s obvious that you don’t have to go to Canterbury to be part of the
Anglican family. However, as I know, going to Jerusalem can help. Pilgrimage
can add a new dimension to our awareness of who Jesus was and is; it has
done that for me, as it clearly has done for those attending GAFCON.
Likewise, the historic link with Canterbury is not to be dismissed. Cutting
your links with the past can be like cutting off the roots of a tree.
Reconnecting with our roots – and, where necessary, refreshing and cleaning
them – is always better than pretending we don’t need them. But what matters
is of course the fruit. Here in my diocese, as in so many in England, we are
refreshing our roots and seeing real fruit; but we don’t imagine we are
self-sufficient. On the contrary, we know we have a great deal to learn from
brothers and sisters in many other parts of the world, Africa included. I
would have hoped, actually, that all this would now go without saying: that
we have long moved beyond the sterile stand-off between ‘colonialism’ and
‘post-colonialism’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what
matters.

I and my colleagues in this diocese, like so many others, share exactly in
the sense that we are a fellowship ‘confessing the faith of Christ
crucified, standing firm for the gospel in the global and Anglican context’,
sharing too the goal ‘to reform, heal and revitalise the Anglican Communion
and expand its mission to the world’ and ‘to give clear and certain witness
to Jesus Christ’. For this reason, I know that the GAFCON leaders can’t have
intended to imply (as a ‘suspicious’ reading of their text might suggest)
that they are the only ones who really believe all this, that they and they
alone care about such things. The rest of us, no doubt – including several
of us who were not invited to GAFCON – are eager to share in any fresh
movements of the Spirit that are going ahead. And as we do so I know that
the GAFCON leaders would want us to express the various questions that
naturally come to mind as we contemplate what they have said to us. Just as
they wouldn’t want anyone to swallow uncritically the latest pronouncement
from Canterbury or New York, so clearly they wouldn’t want us merely to
glance at their document, see that it’s ‘all about the gospel’, and then
conclude that we must sign up without thinking through what’s being said and
why. It is in that spirit that I raise certain questions which seem to me
important precisely because of our shared goals (the advancement of the
gospel), our shared context (the enormous challenges of contemporary society
and of a church often muddled in theology and ethics and lacking the
structures to cope), and our shared heritage (the Anglican tradition with
its Articles, Prayer Books and historic roots).

Central to these questions is the puzzle about the new proposed structure. I
am sure the GAFCON organisers are as horrified as I am to see today’s
headlines about ‘a new church’. That doesn’t seem to be what they intended.
But for that reason it is all the more strange to reflect on what the
proposed ‘Primates’ Council’ is all about. What authority will it have, and
how will that work? Who is to ‘police’ the boundaries of this new body – not
least to declare which Anglicans are ‘upholding orthodox faith and practice’
(Article 11 of the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’), and who have denied it (Article
13)? Who will be able to decide (as in Article 12) which matters are
‘secondary’ and which are primary, and by what means? (What, for instance,
about Eucharistic vestments and practices? What about women priests and
bishops?) Who will elucidate the relationship between the 39 Articles and
the Book of Common Prayer, on the one hand, and the 14 Articles of GAFCON on
the other, and by what means? It is precisely questions like these, within
the larger Anglican world, which have proved so problematic in the last five
years, and the ‘Declaration’ is actually a strange document which doesn’t
help us address them. Many at GAFCON may think the answers will be obvious;
in some clear-cut cases they may be. But there will be many other cases
where they will not. It is precisely because I share the officially stated
aims of GAFCON that I am extremely concerned about these proposals, and urge
all those who likewise share that concern to concentrate their prayers and
their work on addressing the issues in the way which, remarkably, GAFCON
never mentioned, namely, the development of the Anglican Covenant and the
fulfilment of the recommendations of the Windsor Report. I am delighted that
many of the bishops who were at GAFCON are also coming to Lambeth, where
their help in pursuing these goals will be invaluable.

In particular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to
form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise
confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as
an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend
the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case,
and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’
by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not
invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else.
Of course, within the larger global context, not least in North America, I
can understand the perceived need for something like this. I know how warmly
the proposals have already been welcomed by many in America whose situation
has been truly dire. But I also know from my own situation the dangerous
ambiguities that will result from the suggestion that there should be a new
‘territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican
Communion, in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the
orthodox faith or are preventing its spread.’ Sadly, as I suspect many at
GAFCON simply didn’t realise, that kind of language has been used, in my
personal experience, to attempt to justify various kinds of high-handed
activity. It offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for
whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox,
and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This
cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended
such a thing. That, of course, is the risk when documents are drafted at
speed.

In short, my hope and prayer is that the spiritual energy, the sense of
celebration, the eagerness for living and preaching the gospel, which were
so evident at GAFCON, can and will be brought to the forum where we badly
need it, namely, the existing central councils of the Anglican Communion. I
understand only too well the frustration that many have felt at these
bodies. But if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful,
joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their
present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it
mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much
that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy
and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step,
which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself
needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the
larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same
gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.

+THOMAS DUNELM

3 Responses to “Bishop N.T. Wright On GAFCON”


  1. 1 David+ June 30, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    I wonder why he was NOT invited to Gafcon.

  2. 2 Timothy Fountain June 30, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Talking in a constant stream of question marks is one reason that the current structures do not respond to very real problems.

    Like Abp. Williams (and, had I any intellectual credentials, much like me) Bp. Wright is a faithful and sincere Christian who tries too hard to honor all “sides” of a problem and thereby makes things worse.

    I don’t judge him because I identify with some of what he’s doing… and I realize that in my case such thinking and behavior has enabled the apostates and their chaos.

  3. 3 Jon Amos July 1, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I personally think the GAFCON Statement is hugely refreshing and a giant step forward. Not perfect, but I think it will spur all on to love and good works (action). It’s not just more of the same, thank God. It’s clear and concise, took guts, is deeply spiritual and charitable but has teeth, and it got ++Rowan Williams to respond quickly – and that’s a real first! Jesting aside, I think the Archbishop of Canterbury makes some good points, and he seems to have GAFCON’s best interests in mind, as does Bishop Wright. As impatient as I’m tempted to get with them, ++Williams and +Wright
    are looking for a long-term solution (e.g. an Anglican Covenant), and
    that takes time. Great structures don’t get built overnight. But I love the GAFCON Statement all the same, especially the confident hope in the last line: “We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.”

    Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


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