Monday, 29 December 2014

GAFCON Jerusalem 2008


WAS THE 2008 GLOBAL ANGLICAN FUTURE CONFERENCE a landmark in the story of the church world-wide? If you can measure an event by its ‘buzz,’ by its unity and harmony, by its ability to draw together world leaders representing over 35 million anglican worshippers, then you could perhaps argue that GAFCON in Jerusalem

The Holy City; centre of the universe (Picture: Richard Bewes)

2008 might in some modest way take its place alongside the epoch-making Council of Jerusalem, recorded in Acts chapter 15.  For in both events there were issues being dealt with, that were to influence the direction of the church – and affect the spiritual destinies of vast numbers of people.

What caused leading archbishops to call for such a conference was the perception that great swathes of the anglican church – not least in the West – were in a condition of drift. GAFCON gave a trumpet call, not to leave anglicanism, but to summon it back to its biblical, creedal, Prayer Book and Reformation roots.  Whether the rest of the church takes any significant notice of ‘The Jerusalem Declaration’ that all 1,200 of us were up on our feet to acclaim and subsequently sign, remains to be seen. Who were we? Present were close on 300 archbishops and bishops, and a host of pastors, theological educators and lay leaders. We had plenary worship and Bible exposition, major addresses on such topics as the Gospel and Secularism, the Nature and Future of the Anglican Communion, and Enterprise approaches

At morning worship (Picture: Richard Bewes)

to Poverty – these going hand in hand with workshop sessions and group Bible studies. It was an intensive programme; yet the whole event was termed a ‘Pilgrimage.’ Many of those attending had never been to Jerusalem, and the take-up on Pilgrimage excursions was considerable, these providing fresh opportunities for open-air worship and fellowship, in blazing sunshine.

On the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem (Picture: Richard Bewes)

But as worthwhile as anything else was the opportunity to meet with fellow-leaders, many of whom were in situations of extreme testing.

Almost on arrival I met with a bishop in The Episcopal Church of America, grappling with the theological and ethical conflicts that have been tearing whole dioceses apart. He told me, “I say to our clergy and other leaders, ‘Right now we are in a storm – but Christ is with us in the boat.  The one thing we must do in our diocese is to keep our eyes on Jesus, and believe that He will guide and protect us. But if we focus on the storm itself, it will destroy us.’”  I said to this godly bishop, “My prayers are completely feeble, but I do want to put you on my prayer list.”

In our small group Bible study we would do some follow up on the passage that had just been expounded in the main session. We would also encourage

Here I am between two bishops’ wives, Ugandan on my right, Sudanese on my left

And here is the Bible of the Sudanese bishop’s wife – in Arabic script

each other in prayer. News would be shared and Email addresses exchanged. The stories! I felt myself at times to be surrounded by Christlike people and suffering people. There ought to have been more of us present from the UK; we could only boast four bishops, whereas the Nigerians produced 150! The Nigerians’ aim? It is to double the numbers of their worshippers by the year 2010. Their wonderful wives struck me as being truly indomitable women of God. But all this vibrancy was also characteristic of the delegates from central and East Africa too, not to mention those from Asia, the East and the guitar-playing bishops of South America! What was this whole exercise 

The Nigerian Mothers’ Union Choir took all by storm (Picture: Richard Bewes)

about? It was an international holding of hands by an army of determined Christian leaders in the face of a group of western anglicans who are challenging ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3)….and so are haemorrhaging precious members and local churches week by week.

If you want to read the final statement of THE JERUSALEM DECLARATION – which started with a blank sheet of paper, was discussed at every level and finally received by unanimous acclamation amid cries and tears of joy – click  and read it for yourself. I believe that Archbishop Cranmer himself would have endorsed it. It is not just a question of words – for there are numbers of church leaders who will cheerfully sign up to the Creeds and 39 Articles of Religion at the back of the old Prayer Book, but who – by a process of hermeneutical gymnastics - will make the plainest statement of Scripture mean something different. It is an insult to the original writers of sacred documents.

At the lowest level, if I write to a friend that I will meet him “at the courts tomorrow,” he would – if he knows me well enough and has done proper research on me – turn up at the tennis courts, not the law courts! The words that I write have only one meaning, and I am insulted if someone makes them mean something else. So, with the mighty stated truths that undergird the Christian faith.  On signing The Jerusalem Declaration, we were saying of those words and of the given formularies that lay behind them, ‘WE MEAN THEM, in the unambiguous intention that lies behind them. And we call on you and the whole church to do the same, and to abide by them.’

Would you think of adding your own name to the signatories of The Jerusalem Declaration? Click to the Anglican Mainstream site, and you will find a facility by which YOU can sign – and join an army of joyful pilgrims!