This article was written for the ACR Journal in the lead-up to the archiepiscopal election of the Diocese of Sydney in 2021. Thus the context is prior to the successful election of Abp Kanishka Raffel and needs to be understood in that chronological context.
The Anglican Church of Australia
The creature we know as the Anglican church has a history replete with knotty problems and gritty solutions. And when it comes to the matter of problems, it is something of an understatement to say that the Anglican Church of Australia has a very serious one on its hands at present: the dioceses of Wangaratta and Newcastle have resolved to pursue the practice of blessing of same-sex marriages. This, of course, has pushed them away from a good swathe of the wider national church and further structural estrangement has the potential to rend the (already weakened) fabric of the national fellowship asunder.
Into the breach the recent Appellate Tribunal has come. Through an unusual definition of “doctrine” and some eccentric exegesis the majority opinions imply that the Australian Anglican family can adopt these changes and keep toiling together in the same constitutional territory. Such opinions have stunned the many onlookers who believe precisely the opposite. Indeed, the vast majority of the submissions to the Appellate Tribunal, the Board of Assessors report, and the guidance of the House of Bishops all said in unison, words to the effect of “no!”
Who can tell how many other Aussie Anglicans felt disbelief and dismay with the opinions majority handed down by the Appellate Tribunal? We could have gauged such shock had the General Synod met together and chanced an opportunity to speak to the matter this year. Alas, due to the conditions of COVID-19 the national church did not meet, and thus had no opportunity to publicly discuss and politely dismiss the majority opinions of the Appellate Tribunal.
What will happen between now and the next General Synod? Will the innovators charge ahead without patience and without respect to the unity of the Anglican Church of Australia? It is not hard to imagine scenarios where churches in affected areas seek alternative oversight, or situations where churches are planted into these discordant dioceses. Let us hope and pray it will not come to that. Alternatively, it would be surprisingly delightful if the innovators hastened slowly and sought the wisdom of the General Synod, thus demonstrating their desire for Christian fellowship and truth.
The GAFCON movement is precisely what is needed for a time such as this. After all, GAFCON exists to promote and defend the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it holds out its hand and offers fellowship and truth to Anglican churches. The first conference in 2008 represented 35 million Anglicans worldwide and responded to similar controversies, publishing the booklet The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future. The second conference in 2013 likewise focused on the future under the theme of “Making Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The most recent conference in 2018 – the largest meeting of worldwide Anglicans for more than half a century – gathered under the theme of “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations.” In each of these significant conferences, Anglican brothers and sisters enjoyed fellowship in the gospel and the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not only an example of unity but provided unity for those suffering under unbiblical innovations and wayward authorities.
In recent times, GAFCON has been instrumental in supporting faithful Anglicans who have been estranged from their churches through the controversial actions of the innovators. One such group who have been assisted by GAFCON are those previously from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia. In October 2019, Jay Behan was consecrated bishop of the Church of Confessing Anglicans in Aotearoa/New Zealand (CCAANZ). His consecration involved various GAFCON bishops, including Foley Beach, Laurence Mbanda, Glenn Davies, and Andy Lines, just to name a few.
In our present time, GAFCON Australia, chaired by Bishop Richard Condie of Tasmania, may prove to be similarly effective in Australia. Dean Kanishka Raffel of Sydney, who chairs the GAFCON Australia conference committee, has helped organise the upcoming Australian conference (“Proclaiming Christ Faithfully”) which will run from July 19-22. With Dr Ashley Null’s keynote addresses on “Unity, Diversity, and Charity” and several seminars of theological and ministerial themes, this conference offers precisely the kind of fellowship and truth required for our present Australian problem. Undoubtedly, there will be much discussion about how to respond to the national church crisis in this upcoming meeting in Sydney. Perhaps GAFCON will offer the support of fellowship and truth to those congregations left estranged by the controversial actions of their diocesan innovations?
Archbishop of Sydney
The Archbishop of Sydney has been instrumental in every stage of the life of GAFCON. Peter Jensen worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring GAFCON into life and the lengthy standing ovation at the conclusion of the Jerusalem conference in 2018 attested to his enormous efforts as GAFCON General Secretary for over a decade. Glenn Davies continued this important involvement as Deputy Chair of GAFCON Australia, and through his support of the consecrations of Andy Lines and Jay Behan, and his assistance in drafting the Jerusalem “Letter to the Churches” communication.
The next Archbishop of Sydney will undoubtedly be required to play an important role in the future of GAFCON. It is difficult to discern what directions global Anglicanism will take in the coming years, though the role of the enormous African churches will surely be significant. It is easier to perceive the immediate needs of the Australian church, and so the work of GAFCON Australia and the incoming Archbishop of Sydney will be important. Central to this work remains the promotion and defence of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and this will mean offering fellowship and truth to Australian Anglican congregations and dioceses in need. Whomever the Lord raises up to lead the archdiocese of Sydney will inevitably have GAFCON related work to undertake. However, the greatest work – indeed the vital work of GAFCON itself – is to proclaim and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. It is upon our unity in this glorious gospel that the unity of the Anglican Church of Australia ultimately depends. May its future be as bright as it holds onto the Light of the World!