Welby Rebukes GAFCON

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned GAFCON against causing “disturbance and discords” by intervening in Britain, adding that “cross-border” intervention would “carry no weight in the Church of England.”

There is no need for a missionary bishop, he said, since there is enough space in the church to accommodate a range of views. The early Church’s First Council of Nicea in 325 condemned interventions and the “great disturbances and discords that occur” resulting from actions of this kind.

Jonathan Petre, religion reporter for The Mail on Sunday, has the knack of acquiring well-timed scoops and finding a fresh angle on well-worn stories. It has long been no secret that GAFCON, the conservative Anglican network, intended to parachute in the Rev. Canon Andy Lines as its bishop in the United Kingdom if Scottish Anglicans approved gay marriage.

Petre is a Roman Catholic who has for many years reported well and accurately on the discomfort Anglican leaders feel about disunity. He managed to obtain a letter by the Archbishop of Canterbury that includes a rebuke of GAFCON and endeavoring to forestall a permanent split in the Anglican Communion over sexuality.

Canon Lines is a genial former British Army tank commander and father of three. He served as a cross-cultural missionary in South America and is director of Crosslinks, an evangelical mission agency with offices in southeast London. In recent years he has also been at the helm of the GAFCON UK movement.

Crosslinks emerged in 1922 after a split within the Church Missionary Society (later Church Mission Society) about theology. Originally named the Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society, it has since become known as Crosslinks. Several of its leaders played a key role in the defeat of the proposed 1928 Prayer Book. It fell in a House of Commons vote thanks largely to strong conservative evangelical opposition to Anglo-Catholic language.

John Martin

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This is the full text of Archbishop Welby’s letter:

June 2017
To: Primates of the Anglican Communion & Moderators of the United Churches

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) I greet you in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

I have just returned from a fruitful visit to the Holy Land where I visited Jordan, Israel and Palestine. During the visit, I was continually reminded of the shout of victory of the Church, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia” and how congregations have responded, in a place of total despair, to the needs of refugees and others less privileged in society, to the threats they face, and to the dangers of the future.

As followers of the risen Christ, Paul’s exhortation to the Church is for it to seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are called upon to walk together in love, to be patient, humble and gentle with each other (v.2), whilst holding clearly to the truth, and to be attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

As leaders, we are called in such a time as this to shepherd God’s flock in our different Provinces and contexts. I am encouraged by what you are all doing in challenging situations. I am mindful of the ongoing crises and trials in the many countries of the Anglican Communion: the conflict and famine in South Sudan, the famine in the North East of Nigeria, pressures in the Middle East, DRC, Burundi and other countries. Let us continue to uphold the Primates, bishops and leaders in these areas as they respond to the needs of their people and continue to bring a prophetic voice of hope in the midst of despair. Let us also pray for a peaceful outcome to elections that are taking place in a number of countries this year.

I would like to welcome Primates who have recently been appointed, and also to offer my prayers, gratitude and best wishes to those who have or will be standing down in the coming months. This year also sees the inauguration of the newest Province of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church of Sudan will be inaugurated in Khartoum on 30 July 2017 as an autonomous province, and I am sure we shall all look forward to welcoming Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo to the Primates’ Meeting in October as the first Primate of the 39th Province of the Anglican Communion.

I wanted also to take this opportunity to formally notify you that I have agreed to the recommendation of the Trustees of the Anglican Centre in Rome, who had appointed Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi as Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome (ACR), and have made him my Representative to the Holy See. He succeeds Archbishop David Moxon, who retires in June, and will take over from September 2017. I believe that the work of the ACR continues to play a vital and important role for us all in the Anglican Communion. Archbishop David has ably filled the role of Director, and we look forward to Archbishop Bernard taking forward this important ministry. Many of you will have known Archbishop Bernard when he was the Primate of the Anglican Church of Burundi from 2005 until 2016.

I wrote to you last year about the call to prayer for evangelism that the Archbishop of York and I made for 2016. We have renewed this call in 2017, and across the Church of England thousands of churches are joining together in the time between Ascension Day and Pentecost with fervent and focused prayer for a fresh empowering of the Holy Spirit in witness and evangelism. This time, which we have called Thy Kingdom Come, has captured the imagination of many Anglicans and brothers and sisters in many other denominations around the world. My team here at Lambeth Palace has worked hard to provide resources in six different languages. The response globally has been overwhelming.

There are a number of Provinces of the Anglican Communion that will be discussing issues concerning human sexuality in meetings later this year, and I would ask that you continue to pray for them as they wrestle with these and other issues. Following the defeat of the take note vote at the General Synod of the Church of England, I want to reiterate that there are no changes in the liturgy, the situation or in the rules regarding human sexuality in the Church of England. Since the Synod in February this year, the Church of England has established a Pastoral Advisory Group to support and advise dioceses on pastoral approaches to human sexuality, and the House of Bishops have agreed proposals for developing a teaching document on marriage, relationships and human sexuality. To be effective, the concerns of all in the Church of England and beyond need to be taken into account by those working on Pastoral support and advice, and those writing the teaching document. We continue to exhort the need to work together without exclusion, in faithfulness to the deposit of faith we have inherited, to the scriptures and the creeds, and paying attention to the Great Commission, our call to evangelism and sharing in the mission of God.

I believe that the example of how we addressed the separate issue of the ordination of women to the episcopacy illustrates this; the Right Reverend Rod Thomas’ consecration as Bishop of Maidstone served to provide episcopal oversight for those who disagreed with the ordination of women to the episcopate. This clearly demonstrates how those with differing views still have their place in the Church of England, and are important in enabling the flourishing of the Church. Because of this commitment to each other I do not consider the appointment of a “missionary bishop” to be necessary. The idea of a “missionary bishop” who was not a Church of England appointment, would be a cross-border intervention and, in the absence of a Royal Mandate, would carry no weight in the Church of England. Historically, there has been resistance to cross-border interventions and ordinations from the earliest years of the universal Church’s existence. Such weighty authority as canons 15 and 16 of the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 are uncompromising in this regard and make reference to the “great disturbance and discords that occur” when bishops and their clergy seek to minister in this way.

I would also like to remind you of the 1988 Lambeth Conference resolution number 72 on episcopal responsibilities and diocesan boundaries. This resolution reaffirms the historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and the authority of bishops within these boundaries. It also affirms that it is deemed inappropriate behaviour for any bishop or priest of this Communion to exercise episcopal or pastoral ministry within another diocese without first obtaining the permission and invitation of the ecclesial authority thereof. The conclusion of this resolution was that in order to maintain our unity, “it seems fair that we should speak of our mutual respect for one another, and the positions we hold, that serves as a sign ofour unity”.

The issue of cross-border interventions has continued to come up in recent conversations within the Anglican Communion, and may well be something that is included in the agenda for the next Primates’ meeting, which takes place from 2 to 7 October 2017, in Canterbury. The Anglican Communion Secretary General, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, has written to you concerning arrangements for the meeting, and his staff will be in touch as further details on the logistical and other practical arrangements emerge.

In the meantime, I would like to hear from you with suggestions on items for the agenda for our meeting. Do please send these to me and copy in Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon. I am hoping to be making calls to each one of you over the next few months, when we might discuss the agenda for the Primates’ Meeting as well as other things, and one of my staff will be in touch with your office with suggested dates and times when we might speak.


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