GAFCON Chairman’s October 2017 letter

GafconPRIMATETo the Faithful of the Gafcon movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

On the 31st October, it will be 500 years since Martin Luther’s 95 Theses triggered the Reformation. He was fired by holy indignation because of the way ordinary Christians were being abused by a church which was turning the need for divine forgiveness into a money making machine through the sale of indulgences, but that led him on to see the root of the problem.

The message of God’s free grace in the gospel had been buried under layers of superstition and human tradition, which Luther and the Reformers then exposed to the light of God’s Word. The recovery of the Bible as the first and foremost source of authority in the Church was the basic principle of the Reformation. Everything else depended on this and still does.

Anglicanism claims to be an expression of Reformed Catholic Christianity, but the Canterbury Primates Meeting held earlier this month shows once again that the Anglican Communion is in urgent need of a new reformation. I and a number of brother Primates (representing between us over half of practising Anglicans worldwide) did not attend as a matter of conscience. We cannot ‘walk together’ with those who have abandoned the teaching of the Bible, but that is what the Communiqué issued from the meeting encourages us to do. The painful truth is that the authority of Scripture is being replaced by the authority of Canterbury.

There is no mention in the Communiqué of Lambeth Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference where the vast majority of the Communion’s bishops reaffirmed the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, including the clear statement that homosexual practice is contrary to Scripture.

Same-sex ‘marriage’ is referred to merely as a difference of understanding while the only call to repentance is to those who have crossed provincial boundaries to support orthodox brothers and sisters unchurched by leaders who have rejected God’s Word.

The Conference also affirmed the LGBTI community and their lifestyle, while unequivocally disowning the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), an orthodox Anglican Province.

If we may be reminded, it was the unwillingness of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to provide oversight to dissenting orthodox Anglicans in the USA as advised by the Primates Meeting that led to the formation of ACNA, to keep it in the Anglican Communion fold. ACNA is therefore authentically orthodox, Anglican and Gafcon altogether.

Let me humbly advise Canterbury here to take urgent steps to recognise ACNA as an authentic Province of the Anglican Communion before new realignments make that need unnecessary.

It appears that the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and other revisionists have now got what they failed to get at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It seems it is now ‘officially’ possible to teach the opposite of what the Bible teaches and still be fully part of the Communion, with the only penalty being a few procedural handicaps which in practice amount to very little.

Is this now how the Primates of the Anglican Communion understand ‘Walking Together’? It has become clear that the Communiqué does not represent the reality of the meeting.

Some Gafcon Primates did attend the meeting in the hope that they could make a difference, including Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Church of South America who was one of the original members of the Gafcon Primates Council in 2008. Commenting on the Communiqué, he has said ‘It does not reflect what I experienced and heard in the meeting.  That’s fine, it might be somebody’s perception, but it wasn’t my perception and that leads me to ask more serious questions.’

Our Gafcon Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 got to the heart of a painful truth when it concluded that ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’ and the appearance of a few African faces in those structures does not mean that anything has changed. The Primates Meeting Communiqué does not embarrass the Archbishop of Canterbury who, as widely reported just before the meeting began, refused to answer a journalist’s direct question about whether or not homosexual practice was sinful, but it should embarrass all Anglicans who seek to live under the authority of the Word of God.

Also, the outcome of the meeting helps the Archbishop of Canterbury to continue tolerating almost routine breaches of Lambeth Resolution I.10 in the Church of England, but it does not help the global majority of ordinary Anglicans who wish to see their families and societies enjoy the great blessing of godly living.

So how should we move forward? The process of reformation is never smooth sailing, but we can be sure that as we remain faithful to our vision of restoring the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion, we shall have success in God’s good time. Already, Gafcon is enabling training, building global mission relationships, gathering the marginalised and resourcing Anglicans worldwide. Our next conference in Jerusalem in June 2018 will mark a further step in the great project of reformation begun ten years previously and by the grace of God will enable Anglicans around the world to walk together in the true communion of gospel partnership.

The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

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GAFCON Chairman’s Letter: September 2017

To the Faithful of the GAFCON movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

GafconPRIMATEGafcon is not just an organisation, but a movement that God has raised up and by his grace continues to work through. I have just returned from a visit to the Anglican Church in North America and rejoice in its continued growth and vitality. This is yet another reminder of the wonderful partnership we enjoy as confessing Anglicans and which we will celebrate with great joy as we gather in Jerusalem next year for our third Global Anglican Future Conference.

Gafcon is about hope and the future. It is about godly unity and faithful witness for generations to come, and I want to state these positive things very clearly as I share my reasons for not attending the Primates Meeting in Canterbury next month.

I attended the Canterbury Primates Meeting held in January 2016 because I believed it might be possible to make a new start and change the pattern of repeated failure to preserve the integrity of Anglican faith and order. I was disappointed. The Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka the following April neutered the Primates’ action to distance The Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) from Communion decision making. TEC has not repented, and continues to take aggressive legal action against orthodox dioceses. For example, the congregations of the Diocese of San Joaquin are currently having to turn over their places of worship to TEC, which has no realistic plan for filling them with worshippers.  At the same time, the Diocese of South Carolina is now facing the potential loss of many of its historic buildings.

My disappointment was shared by the other Global South Primates who gathered in Cairo last October and we concluded in our communiqué that the ‘Instruments of Communion’ (which include the Primates Meeting of course) are “unable to sustain the common life and unity of the Anglican Churches worldwide” and do actually help to undermine global mission.

The only difference between the present and 2008, when Gafcon was formed, is that we have a different Archbishop of Canterbury. Everything else is the same or worse. There is endless debate, the will of the orthodox Primates is frustrated and misrepresented, false teaching is not being corrected, and nothing is being done to halt orthodox Anglicans in North America (and maybe soon elsewhere) being stripped of the churches that have helped form their spiritual lives.

In these circumstances, I have concluded that attendance at Canterbury would be to give credibility to a pattern of behaviour which is allowing great damage to be done to global Anglican witness and unity. Our energies in the Church of Nigeria will be devoted to what is full of hope and promise for the future, not to the repetition of failure.

However, some may object that we should not break fellowship over matters which do not directly go against the ancient creeds of the Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself has recently said that the church should not be split by issues that are not, as he puts it, “creedal”, but it is important to remember that the authority of the Creeds is derived from the Bible, and it is the Bible which is the Church’s supreme teaching authority.

This truth is recognized in the Gafcon Jerusalem Statement. It says this:
“The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.”
Creeds have authority, but only because they are “agreeable” to Scripture, so false teaching is not just what is opposed to the creeds, but what is opposed to Scripture.

This is basic to our Anglican origins and how Anglicans should understand the Church. If Christians are never to break fellowship unless the disagreement is about the teaching of the creeds, the sixteenth century Reformation five hundred years ago, when the great doctrines of grace were at stake, must be seen as an error.

Now we are living in the midst of the next great Reformation.  In our day also there is broken fellowship, over homosexual practice, same sex marriage and the blurring of gender identity, none of which are mentioned in the Creeds, but all of which contradict fundamental biblical understandings of marriage and human identity.

The question that Gafcon presents is therefore not a choice between unity or disunity, but what sort of unity? A unity that includes those who persist in rebelling against God’s Word is a false unity. So is a unity that undermines collective decision making as a communion. This makes our mission difficult and the purpose of our calling as a global communion becomes questionable. The creeds developed as a way of preserving the true unity of the Church in faithfulness to the Scriptures and that is what Gafcon also seeks to do as we face the challenges of the twenty-first century.

The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

GAFCON chairman’s letter, July 2017

GafconPRIMATETo the Faithful of the GAFCON movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

“Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not.” (Isaiah 40:9).

Last week I was in Chicago where it was my joy and privilege to be part of the Anglican Church of North America’s General Assembly. This great gathering of over 1,400 bishops, clergy and laity was a truly historic event. Through the initiative of Gafcon, in less than ten years, a new strong, united and spiritually vigorous Anglican Province has come into being. Now in turn it has become the launch pad for a new work with the consecration of Bishop Andy Lines as a missionary bishop for Europe.

We were joined by many people from around the world, including eleven Anglican Primates. So in my sermon at Andy Lines’ consecration I was able to say, “Remember you are not alone. You have not sent yourself. All these people here have come to say, ‘Amen’ to the mission that has been entrusted to you.” We had a wonderful sense of what the Anglican Communion can become, a truly global partnership in the gospel which is able to ‘lift up its voice’ without confusion and compromise.

Chicago was therefore a foretaste of what we can expect in Jerusalem as we gather in June 2018 on the tenth anniversary of the founding of this great movement and the publication of the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. Our theme is ‘Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations’ and invitations will be going out this month. We look forward with great eagerness to another wonderful gathering as we come together in true communion under the Word of God and in the power of the Spirit of God.

As a global family we do not want any to be excluded through lack of resources. We are looking to fund some bursaries for those in real need and I urge those of us who are materially blessed, whether as provinces, dioceses, parishes or individuals, to be generous so that our fellowship will not be hindered.

Gafcon began in 2008 as what my predeccesor, Archbishop Peter Akinola, described as a ‘rescue mission’ for the Anglican Communion. That rescue was not limited to North America. There is still much to do because history is repeating itself in other parts of the world, as the recent capitulation of the Scottish Episcopal Church to secular ideas about marriage has demonstrated.

False teaching is restless and relentless, and the Church of England itself is in grave spiritual danger. It is much to be regretted that there has been far more concern about alleged ‘boundary crossing’ than about the contempt of God’s Word that made a missionary bishop necessary. In fact, the Bishop of Edinburgh, who has strongly supported the Scottish Episcopal Church’s adoption of same sex ‘marriage’ was invited as a guest of honour to the Church of England’s July General Synod meeting.

Although the Church of England’s legal position on marriage has not changed, its understanding of sexual morality has. Same sex relationships, which were described by Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998 as ‘incompatible with Scripture’ now receive approval at the highest level. For example, Vicky Beeching, a singer, songwriter and activist who advocates homosexual marriage was honoured with the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer award for Worship in a ceremony at Lambeth Palace.

The need for Gafcon to safeguard the integrity and clarity of global Anglican mission is as urgent as it has ever been. Our calling is not to be conformed, but to be transformed. A watching world needs to know that Anglicans are defined first and foremost by faithfulness to the Word of God. By God’s grace, we will demonstrate that resolve as we gather in Jerusalem to be heralds of the good news of Jesus, God’s Son and our Saviour.

The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

GAFCON chairman’s letter, June 2017

GafconPRIMATETo the Faithful of the GAFCON movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18)

As I write, we are preparing for Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is vital. Without it, we cannot speak truly of God in a way that is faithful to the bible. However, in the fourth century the Church was nearly overwhelmed by the Arians. They were the followers of Arius, who claimed that the Son was a created being, not really God.

If the Church had continued to follow Arius, the Christian faith would have been lost. To deny the full divinity of Jesus strikes at the heart of the Christian message that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. St Athanasius is still remembered as the man who was willing to make a costly stand against this heresy.

I am reminded of Athanasius because we are facing a similar struggle for the integrity of the gospel in our time. On Thursday 8th June, the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) changed its teaching to allow men to be married to men and women to women. It followed the path already taken by the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada.

This attempt to redefine marriage is not a secondary issue about which we can agree to disagree and continue to walk together. It means that Jesus was mistaken when he taught that marriage was between a man and a woman and that sex outside of such a marriage is a sin. It is a radical rejection of the authority of Scripture. The Church claims that it can consecrate behaviour that God’s Word clearly teaches to be sinful. According to the Bible, this behaviour, without repentance, separates those who practice it from his kingdom.

Athanasius consecrated orthodox bishops in dioceses led by Arians because he knew that the apostolic faith itself was at stake. This was the principle guiding the interventions which led to the formation of the Anglican Church in North America in 2009 and it was affirmed by over three hundred bishops in assembly at Gafcon 2013 in Nairobi. It was therefore very appropriate that on the same day that the Scottish Episcopal Church formally turned aside from the historic Christian faith, Gafcon announced that Canon Andy Lines, already an internationally recognised missionary statesman, will be consecrated later this month as a Gafcon missionary bishop for Europe.

This is not a step we have taken lightly, but from the beginning Gafcon has been committed to standing with the marginalised. Requests for help from Scottish orthodox leaders to the Archbishop of Canterbury were turned down. Indeed, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church told his General Synod last year that the Archbishop of Canterbury, had assured him that he would welcome the Scottish Church to the 2020 Lambeth Conference even if it chose to change its marriage canon to include same sex unions.

So now Gafcon stands ready to recognise and support orthodox Anglicans in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe as the drift away from apostolic faith and order continues. For reasons of mission and conscience, we can expect to find a growing number of orthodox Anglican congregations needing oversight outside traditional structures, as is already the case with the Anglican Mission in England.

The creation of a missionary bishop for Europe is an historic moment. It is a recognition that the era of European Christendom has passed and that in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, a new start is being made by building global partnerships for mission.

So let us be strong. Let us stand with the marginalised and work tirelessly for the continuing reformation of our beloved Communion. I thank God for our fellowship and pray that he will uphold us by his unfailing presence.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council