Saturday 20 December 2008

Technique for Emphasis (GAFCON)

Sometimes it is worth reading an article the wrong way around. Rather like a journalist starts with the summary punchline, many an essay can be read with its main points in reverse for added understanding. In art the equivalent is to look at a portrait upside down to see if it looks like the person.

I thought of this when reading online a piece written by Rev George Curry to be in Evangelicals Now in January 2009. He is vicar of Elswick Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne. By doing this in reverse, you can see in some relief where any lack of certainty exists and where there is no lack of certainty. I think these are the essential points, starting (ending) with GAFCON:

Will [GAFCON] foster spiritual renewal and reformation within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion? Surely our prayer must be that it does.

Then looking at it this way picks up those of this sympathy they may want to separate from but are not sure:

Sadly most heresies begin as modest distortions of some aspect of truth.

But nor should we imagine that all differences encountered are insignificant.

Just because someone does not yet see things the way we do does not necessarily mean that they must be a false teacher with whom we should not be in fellowship.

free church evangelicals are right to challenge Anglican evangelicals not to compromise or confuse others about how Scripture defines a Christian.

Jim Packer wisely reminds us that some people’s heads (their understanding) are fully aligned with the experience of their hearts. He also counsels that the principle of charitable assumption is of value unless we have hard evidence to the contrary.

we must be careful not to unchurch those who really do believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.

What the above shows is that it is easy for this group to cut themselves off from those who are close to them, that small differences lead to big differences, but then they cannot be certain. The next part is the problem GAFCON sees within the Anglican fold (the second two paragraphs appear in actual order):

Some believe that those who wear robes when they lead worship or use set forms of worship may have a defective understanding of Christian life and practice.

a definition of a credible profession of faith may prove more problematic than we at first thought if the examples of Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5) and Simon (Acts 8) are anything to go by.

Some non-Anglicans have been wrongly informed or mistakenly assume that, as an Episcopal church (a church with bishops), authority within the Church of England is centred upon and derived from bishops. This view has been fostered by those of a Roman or Anglo-Catholic inclination, But it is decidedly at odds with the teaching of Articles 19-21 of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.

...[These] teach that Christians are not to act contrary to nor do anything repugnant to God’s Word. They inform us of the necessity to be led by the Holy Spirit and governed by the written Word of God. This, of course, presents a challenge to evangelicals within the Church of England. What do they do, and what will they do, to ensure that the FCA proves true to the Biblical Christianity of the Thirty Nine Articles and Canon A5 of the Church of England.

The fact that Anglicans include the above Catholics, who have to be 'corrected' is why the Free Church Evangelicals have difficulties with GAFCON as largely Anglican:

Non-Anglican evangelicals find themselves confronted by serious questions when they see who is involved with GAFCON, Anglo-Catholics as well as evangelicals. Nor are they convinced about the strategy adopted. Of course, they are not alone in asking such questions.

Now we get to leaders and leaders who are reliable. The next two paragraphs of the four are in actual order, and so are the last two, as each pairing cannot be uncoupled:

the ascended Christ provides the church with pastors and teachers. These men are charged to equip his people for service. In so far as their leadership is godly and biblical we do not reject their lead. Rather, we respect it and learn from it.

...they agonise before God in prayer as to what he would have them do to protect their colleagues from the ravages of the revisionist liberal cancer.

Jim Packer, Roger Beckwith (one-time Warden of Latimer House), Wallace Benn (Bishop of Lewes) and Mike Ovey (Principal of Oak Hill College) provide advice and guidance to the growing movement. On the other side of the world, Peter Jensen (Archbishop of Sydney) provides theological and administrative support to the Primates who were charged, by those who gathered at Jerusalem, to provide appropriate support for those beleaguered brethren persecuted by the juggernaut of liberal revisionism

....should Reformed evangelicals within the Church of England ignore the leadership provided by these men known for their faith and courage? And two, should Reformed evangelicals be part of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

Now with these Reformed Evangelicals we get to other Evangelicals again (first), this time about the ones causing some difficulty for the hard right, and this questioning is done by looking at non-Anglicans looking in:

Many independent and free church evangelicals probably hold this view [with] Some Anglican evangelicals [of being] fearful that the GAFCON will not generate the much-needed reform of Anglicanism. Whether or not a new reformation comes is in the hand of our gracious and sovereign God. His people pray earnestly for a season of refreshing. As they do they seek to avoid the extremes of passivism (doing nothing except pray) and activism (doing what we think is right, in our own strength and in our own way.)

They acknowledge some have stepped out of line with what was agreed about same sex sexual relationships at Lambeth in 1998. However, they also believe, following the publication of the Windsor Report in 2004, a new way to define the limits of what is acceptable for Anglicans in the 21st century is being drafted. This is usually called the Covenant Process.

They are suspicious. They are fearful as to where GAFCON and the FCA will lead. Will it produce rival structures? Will it precipitate a formal split? There are professing evangelicals within this group, most obviously those associated with Fulcrum. This last group emerged at time of the last National Evangelical Anglican Assembly in 2003. Although its stated aim has been to renew the evangelical centre, it has been described as a group of Open Evangelicals who provide a rival to Church Society and Reform.

Then we get to the actual opposition (note how they get associated with supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury):

there are those within wider Anglicanism who see GAFCON and its growing baby, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) as traitors. Traitors because they created something new; a fraternal outside existing structures. A fellowship which is seen to challenge the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This group is mainly composed of liberal revisionists.

The final part is what was introductory, but it serves as a kind of conclusion, in that the actual conclusion here shown as an opening shows the actual sympathy of the piece.

There are some – dare we say many – Anglicans who have questions about the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which met in Jerusalem in June 2008. The doubters are not all evangelicals, but you will find conservative evangelicals among them.

This technique of exposure does not always work, but often brings out in some relief actual intentions and sympathies. The craft of writing is often to smooth over and cover up by narrative, or build from small assumptions to bigger intended arguments. The reversal tends to disturb the writer's method. The reader separates the paragraphs up when viewed in reverse order for meaning as they stand.

Having done the reversal, the question is about what is better exposed about GAFCON: its carving up of those in and those out, its passing judgment, the matter of approved leaders, its concern about a Free Church Evangelical perspective versus the Anglican Catholic.

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