In November last year, the date and location of the next GAFCON conference were announced – 17-22 June 2018, in Jerusalem. It is expected that over 2000 will attend. But how did GAFCON start? What is it and what does it do? And why is it such a big deal? In this series of three articles for ACR Online, we’ll examine exactly that.
GAFCON: The trigger…
Every ten years the Archbishop of Canterbury invites bishops from the Anglican Communion to attend the Lambeth Conference. In 2008 many bishops from the Communion declined the Archbishop’s invitation. Many felt that the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ were being rejected. The presenting issue was the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003 by the Episcopal Church of America (TEC). At the time of his consecration Bishop Robinson was living in a sexual relationship with another man. There were protests against his consecration in North America and around the world as many saw his consecration as endorsing behaviours contrary to Scripture. The consecration of Bishop Robinson was seen as an unrepentant rejection of Scripture. Furthermore, it was a rejection of Scripture by those who had been called upon to guard the good deposit and shepherd the flock.
A brief overview of the Anglican Communion
The consecration of Bishop Robinson marked a significant moment in the life of the Anglican Communion. To understand the implications of this moment it is helpful to know what the Anglican Communion is. The Anglican Communion is best understood as an affiliation of people linked by shared history, relationships and doctrinal and creedal beliefs. Through these shared beliefs fellowship is formed. This means that the Anglican Communion is not an expression of institutional unity but reflects adherence to creedal and doctrinal beliefs. In 2017 the 80 million members of the Anglican Communion reside in 38 provinces. Each province has a Primate and is divided into dioceses. Each diocese has a bishop.
While the Anglican Communion is a fellowship not an institution, it does have various bodies and entities which, among other things, ought to serve to express the fellowship’s underlying doctrinal unity and help Anglicans around the world share the saving gospel. These entities include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. When the 2008 Lambeth Conference was called the bishops who had been involved in the consecration of Gene Robinson were invited to attend. Many other bishops felt they could not attend as they would be having fellowship with those who had rejected the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ.
The beginning of GAFCON
GAFCON was born out the desire of these bishops to have fellowship with other Anglicans who upheld biblical doctrinal and creedal beliefs. Instead of attending the Lambeth Conference these bishops journeyed to Jerusalem instead. In 2008 approximately eleven hundred bishops, clergy and laity gathered in Jerusalem for the first Global Anglicans Future Conference (GAFCON). The outworking of this conference was the creation of the GAFCON movement.
The goals and desires of the GAFCON movement are best expressed in its foundational document the Jerusalem Statement which includes the Jerusalem Declaration. Drafted by the delegates of the first GAFCON conference the Jerusalem Statement states that GAFCON is a global ‘spiritual movement to preserve and promote the truth and power of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ as we Anglicans have received it.’ The beliefs of GAFCON are contained in the Jerusalem Declaration. The Jerusalem Declaration rejoices in the saving gospel, proclaims the Scriptures as the Word of God and sufficient for salvation and upholds historic councils, creeds and the Thirty-Nine Articles. To be a supporter of GAFCON one assents to the Jerusalem Declaration.
Peter Jensen, the General Secretary of GAFCON has often commented that GAFCON began as a moment. This moment was expressed as a conference. However almost a decade later GAFCON well and truly exists as a movement. In our next piece we will explore the importance of GAFCON in 2017.