The visit of Archbishop Foley Beach: ACNA, Gafcon, and lessons for the UK church

Oct 23, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

As part of Gafcon UK’s team organizing the visit of Foley Beach to Britain, last week I had the privilege of  travelling with him and hearing him speak several times. Archbishop Beach was consecrated Primate of the Anglican Church in North America in 2014, and then at Gafcon in Jerusalem earlier this year it was announced that in 2019 he will take over from Nicholas Okoh as the Chairman of the Gafcon Primates Council, effectively leading this significant global renewal movement in Anglicanism. So his visit to these shores was very significant.

For eight days, concluding on Sunday 21st October, Archbishop Foley undertook a varied programme of events in England, Wales and Scotland, speaking to congregations in the Church of England and Scottish Episcopal Church, as well as AMiE and Scottish Anglican Network groups. During his visit he had private meetings with Anglican bishops ministering outside and inside the Church of England, including a trip to Coventry where he met Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, to discuss the work of the ‘Living in Love & Faith’ project.

This latter meeting was unscheduled and hastily arranged in the wake of a letter, signed by a small group of evangelical Bishops and published just after Archbishop Beach arrived, urging the authors of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ document to ensure that the historic, bible-based teaching of the church on issues of sex and marriage should be included and adequately explained. The Bishops also insist that the LLF report, due to be published around the time of the Lambeth Conference in 2020, should not result in any change to the church’s current teaching.

Foley Beach of course leads a church which is not constrained by the need to find diplomatic ways of including and balancing mutually exclusive views on basic Christian doctrine in official church documents, or giving leadership positions to advocates of different sides of the debate on the nature of the gospel as well as fence-sitters. The ACNA is unashamedly conservative in its theology and evangelical in its mission practice (and recognised as part of the Anglican Communion by the Primates of Gafcon and the Global South movement). Who is its leader? And why are there two (main) Anglican Church groupings in North America? In a number of his talks and interviews on his trip, Archbishop Beach explained his own background and that of ACNA and Gafcon to us.

Why a Christian?

His conversion story is one of redemption. As a young boy in Atlanta he experienced a broken and traumatic home life until his father and stepmother were able to get custody of Foley and his siblings. Through a church summer camp he heard the gospel of God’s love, Jesus’ death for our salvation, and the hope of heaven. Later as an older teenager he was challenged about the Lordship of Christ and offered his life wholeheartedly to the Saviour’s service. After a season of youth ministry in church and in schools, he began training for ordination in the Episcopal Church.

Why leave the Episcopal Church USA?

It was there that he encountered for the first time the radical disconnect between the bible-based faith of his local church and interdenominational evangelical ministry, and the revisionist theology of the seminary and the denomination’s leadership, seeking to deconstruct the Scriptures and provide religious support for a secular progressive vision. After ordination and curacy, Foley began ministry in a small suburban congregation and experienced God’s hand of blessing as the church grew from 30 to 300 in 11 years. But during that time the theological crisis in the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada became more acute. Bishops and Archbishops openly declared that the Bible only contains the word of God – much of it can be discarded as not constituting ‘the Word of the Lord’. Jesus is a way to God, the way for Christians perhaps but not others. God loves us as we are, and so the church can become a vehicle for blessing the sexual revolution rather than calling sinners to repentance, forgiveness and holiness.

As Archbishop Beach relates the story, the Gene Robinson consecration in 2003 was the final straw for him and many other Episcopalians. Taking time out to mourn and pray, he saw that to remain in the denomination would be spiritually dangerous for him. In tears he announced his decision to leave ECUSA to the congregation; more than half came with him, and within a short time the new independent Anglican church, now under the oversight of the Bishop of Bolivia, had grown back to its former size.

Why remain Anglican?

The experience of pastoral concern, practical rescue and warm fellowship in this relationship with Anglicans in the global South was being replicated in biblically orthodox churches all over USA and Canada, as Primates from South America, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and South East Asia courageously authorised the interventions. When the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was unable to address the profound tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion and in fact made it worse by inviting the revisionist Episcopalians to Lambeth in 2008 as if nothing was wrong, the global orthodox fellowship formed around rescue for faithful churches and Dioceses in the US was already in place. That was the basis for Gafcon: a global Anglican movement for orthodox faith and mission. It’s difficult to think of any other denomination which has this same genius.

Participating in the global nature of orthodox Anglicanism, culturally diverse but centred around shared understandings of faith, is a key reason for remaining in this family of churches even when local expressions of it, especially in the West, are in theological crisis. In response to the question “why remain Anglican”, Archbishop Foley also mentioned the rich heritage of history, liturgy and practical mission which is shared throughout the Communion.

Why hope for the future?

Faced with rapidly declining numbers and increasing pressure from secularism, the future of faithful Anglicanism in the West might look bleak. The development and growth of ACNA offers hope, as does the maturing of the Gafcon movement. Archbishop Foley did not come to tell his audiences what to do, but to find out more first hand about the complex situation of Anglicanism in Britain, to tell us what he did and remind us what Gafcon have done. It was significant also that in the two midweek open meetings, in Kent and Sheffield, he focused on another reason for hope: God’s clear guidance on how to live.

For his topic ‘The character of a Christian leader’ he drew on verses from 1 and 2 Timothy. He issued a challenge to his hearers: to be continually dependent on the Lord through a developing relationship based on prayer and bible study, and to pursue holiness of lifestyle with regular confession of sin. Just as a soldier should look to please his commanding officer (2 Tim 2:4), so obedience to God’s call is crucial.

This touches perhaps on differences in analysis and strategy: orthodox Anglicans can agree on what the bible teaches, but how do I know what God is saying I should do in a particular context; for example, whether to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church over the redefinition of marriage? This will often be down to individual conscience. But whatever decisions we come to, they should not be based on compromise with what is wrong, as a result of fear (2 Tim 1:7). Rather, the Archbishop’s reminded us of the need for personal courage, to say and do what is right, and so inspire others to similar faithfulness.

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