Gafcon and Evangelical Ministry

Jun 27, 2017 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

I’m at the annual Evangelical Ministry Assembly organized by the Proclamation Trust. Around 900 men and women, mostly from Anglican, Baptist and Evangelical Free churches are here at the Barbican Centre in London; the majority are vicars, pastors and church apprentices wanting to be inspired and encouraged in their ministries. The primary conviction of the Proclamation Trust is that when the Bible is faithfully preached, God’s voice is heard, and that intentional training is needed for preaching and evangelism, as well as experiencing the thrill, balm and challenge of hearing God’s voice for our own souls.

On the opening day we have heard the first of three talks on the ministry of Paul in Ephesus – not the traditional exposition of a single passage, but a reflection from Acts 19 and several passages from Ephesians on the nature of the Gospel, the ministry of the apostle, the reality of suffering and conflict in the believer’s life, and the victory of Christ.

Some of these ideas were developed in a second lecture on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross. Luther witnessed an amazing visible work of God in the early years of the Reformation, but also experienced great disappointment, discouragement, conflict and perhaps what we would call ’depression’ today. Luther interpreted the suffering and death of Jesus as God making humanity conformable to Christ’s nature, and the trials of the disciple are part of taking up the cross and ‘dying’ daily in order to live in union with the Saviour. The pastor today then should do the opposite of comforting the comfortable – rather the role is a ‘life coach’ helping people to be shaped by their ‘anfechtung’ (trials) to become more Christ like and hence more human.

An excellent (but too short) seminar after lunch entitled ‘re-imagining mission’ featured a panel of clergy involved in various ways in evangelism to immigrants in Britain. Some were emphasizing the need to re-educate middle class white English congregations about mission, saying it is no longer ‘overseas’ but right here on our doorstep: resources need to be released for this. Others were speaking from experience of mission in practice. Steven Hanna, a vicar from Dagenham, a notoriously rough suburb on the eastern extremities of London, spoke of his patient building of relationships with local Muslim communities including Imams for the purpose of friendship and theological discussion, and his church’s role in welcoming and discipling recent converts from among the Iranian refugee community.

There hasn’t been any reference yet at the conference to increasing sense of isolation felt by those who hold to this historic understanding of the Church’s mission and message within the Church of England – perhaps because it is an interdenominational conference. But Steven Hanna is one of the clergy whose church has recently published a declaration of no confidence in his Diocesan Bishops and the Archbishops, because of the ‘radical inclusion’ commitment, and the statement by the Bishop of Chelmsford that same sex couples could receive a blessing I the context of a Holy Communion service.

As I spoke to Steven after the seminar, I heard his view that the Church of England’s increasing acceptance and even promotion of politically correct understandings of sexuality and family is disastrous in terms of witness to immigrants, most of whom are socially conservative and despite a variety of religious beliefs, share a sense of the spiritual, often want to know what God requires of them. This may mean that they are closed to the Gospel, but not always. Fortunately in Steve’s experience, while many immigrants regard the C of E as a white, secular-Western institution (in terms of culture and worldview), when relationships are built on the ground they appreciate the difference between this and real bible-based Christianity.

Tuesday evening I was at the AGM of Crosslinks, the mission organization, where Andy Lines was warmly supported in his new role as Gafcon missionary Bishop (he is due to be consecrated in Wheaton on Friday). Tomorrow (Wednesday) and then Friday we will be holding two Gafcon meetings, one in London, and another one in Northwich in Cheshire. Archbishop Peter Jensen will be speaking, along with Archbishop Foley Beach via video, and contributions from Gafcon-supporting C of E clergy, representatives from AMiE, Free Church of England, and the Church of Nigeria. As the countdown starts to next year’s Jerusalem Conference, the ministry of Gafcon will become increasingly important for faithful, orthodox believers in Anglican Churches in the British Isles, as a ‘lighthouse’ for genuine global and multicultural fellowship around the Gospel, and then as a ‘lifeboat’ for those who need to find a new Anglican home outside official structures.

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