Evangelicals, ‘differentiation’ and the global Church

Feb 8, 2018 by

by Andrew Symes, Church of England Newspaper:

A document entitled ‘Gospel, Church and Marriage: Preserving Apostolic Faith and Life’ (or ‘AFL’) has recently been published and circulated within evangelical networks. Although the authorship of AFL is anonymous, it has been endorsed by the Church of England Evangelical Council which met in early January. It is significant because CEEC isn’t a homogenous body – it’s a loose coalition of evangelical groups who have different views on issues such as women’s ordination, charismatic gifts and mission strategy. But there is agreement on the essentials of the Gospel, and the authority, trustworthiness and clarity of Scripture as it speaks to the contemporary debate.

AFL is eirenic in tone; it sets out clearly the historic approach of the Christian Church to issues of sexuality and marriage, and concludes that were the Church of England to adopt different teaching and practice, this would be regarded as “a departure from the apostolic faith”. Such a departure would inevitably lead to “acts of differentiation” by those concerned to preserve biblical faithfulness.

While the reaction of some will be to accuse those endorsing the document as threatening disunity and schism, AFL’s conclusion points out that divisions and differences already exist. There are those in the Church of England who agree with the biblical vision for humanity living under God’s rule, as expressed in AFL; they want to preserve this apostolic faith as currently expressed in the Church’s formularies, prayers and policies. But there are others who are not prepared to promote and defend the Church’s teaching, and an increasing number who are determined to change the external liturgical and canonical expressions in line with a different vision, which they already believe and practice.

The CEEC document does not express an opinion on how far the C of E has already gone informally in bringing about this change, in terms of the statements of its leaders and in accepted practice on the ground. Nor does it spell out what forms ‘visible differentiation’ might take. But a previous document, called ‘Guarding the Deposit’ (GTD) and released in October 2016, did give some pointers in terms of options for faithful Anglicans who feel increasingly alienated by a Church which appears to be embracing ideologies at odds with the historic deposit of apostolic faith, and who need something more robust than the familiar “live and let live” approach of Anglican evangelicals in their networks in recent decades.

So for those who believe that ‘visible differentiation’ may be necessary to preserve authentic Gospel witness in the Church of England, what are the options? Models outlined in GTD include the negotiation of various forms of delegated Episcopal oversight on a non-geographical basis, or even a Third Province. These would be formal structures to give a safe space to parishes wishing to remain biblically orthodox on issues of sexuality and perhaps other matters, within a Church increasingly aligned with the views of secular society. But another model mentioned in GTD, though not developed, involves realignment with Anglicans outside the Church of England who publicly and unambiguously stand for the apostolic vision.

Various levels of informal differentiation already exist in the Church of England between individuals and churches who do not share the same vision of Christian faith, and yet also remarkable unity between those from different networks and emphases who agree on the fundamentals. The same is true on the global level. As the fabric of the Anglican Communion has been torn by constituent Provinces in the West adopting doctrinal and ethical innovations, making claims of ‘walking together’ sound increasingly hollow, so the emergence of Gafcon and its alliance with the Global South movement has provided a focus for unity around shared understanding and confession of faith.

As was stated in a presentation at the recent CEEC meeting, Gafcon offers a vision of global orthodox Anglicanism where participants from around the world can meet in fellowship; mutual learning and support, and mission, without being hampered by serious disagreement on primary issues of doctrine. The movement provides an authoritative prophetic voice: Primatially-led, warning about destructive powers and ideologies in culture; and calling the Church back to God and his word.

Many now see Gafcon as a means of support for the ‘concerned and increasingly differentiated’ Church of England clergy and parishes. Membership of Gafcon, and attendance at the major gathering in Jerusalem in June, does not mean commitment to a particular model of differentiation. Meanwhile the new Gafcon missionary Bishop now offers Episcopal oversight for new expressions of orthodox Anglicans outside official structures, such as Anglican Mission in England; this comes under the remit of Gafcon UK’s wider work. Those who agree with CEEC’s recent document will find this work increasingly attractive in preserving and promoting the Anglican version of apostolic faith and life in our nation.

See also:

Three cheers for the CEEC statement on marriage and sex, by David Baker, Christian Today

Evangelical Anglicans warn they might walk away if C of E departs from ‘apostolic truth’, by Mark Woods, Christian Today

Gafcon Chairman’s February 2018 letter


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