St Stephen Lewisham
3rd November 2013
‘Called to be Saints’: GAFCON and Our Future
As many of you know, last week found me in Nairobi, the Capital City of Kenya in Africa for what is called the Global Anglican Fellowship Conference (or GAFCON for short).
So what is GAFCON? Well, in 2009 a large number members of the Anglican Communion, particularly from Africa and the Southern hemisphere, together with others from all over the world assembled in Jerusalem for GAFCON One. Their reason for so doing was because the Anglican Communion has strayed so far from the Truth which God has commissioned us to preach and practice that they were no longer able to consider themselves in communion with those who have substituted a ‘new’ Gospel to replace the one revealed to us in Scripture and in particular by the Incarnation of God on earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. So GAFCON Two, like GAFCON One saw itself last week as the guardian of that Truth for the sake of your children and mine.
Now it’s not my idea this morning to go through the decisions which the Conference made: they can be found on the Internet. More important is to describe to you the amazing experience of taking part in such a meeting.
There were nearly 1,400 people attending the Conference from every part of the world.. This included over three hundred Anglican Bishops as well over a thousand priests and laypeople. The overall appearance resembled that of St Stephen’s on a good Sunday. Since many of the people came from Africa and included a large number of women you can imagine how colourful the clothes were; and many of the African bishops there had no inhibitions whatever about ‘dressing-up’. So the first impression of someone coming into it from the outside would have been one of diversity: not only in the colour of people’s skins but their clothes as well.
But the second, more subtle impression would have been one of total unity. Unity of purpose in the sense that everyone knew the purpose for which we had come together (often at considerable personal cost); but, and more importantly, a unity of commitment to being personally involved in the achieving of that purpose of bringing the Anglican Communion back to the truth from which it, and not least the Church of England has strayed so badly, into the ‘Way that God has prepared for us to walk in’.
Now these two unities, of purpose and commitment are those which, when combined, turn ‘ordinary’ Christians into the Saints which God, by His Grace, intends you and me to become. And the fact that so many churches today consist of people who are lacking one or both of these vital ingredients goes a long way towards explaining why things have reached the stage of critical disintegration of the Anglican Church, at least in this country and in the United States. So let us look at them separately with a view to discovering how best, under the guidance of Almighty God, we should begin to put things together again.
First, Purpose: If we don’t have a common purpose but everyone thinks that his, or her, personal interest is the only thing that matters, is it surprising that we find ourselves going round in circles? If some people see the Church as a club which meets on Sunday mornings (which they go to as a change from the golf-club), whilst others see it as an extension of the Welfare State; and yet others regard it as a forum in which they can propagate their own ideas, is it any wonder that we find it difficult to find any common purpose? The Church building starts to look more and more like a local Community centre or Women’s Institute – which has no common purpose beyond enabling people to gather together, often in relative discomfort.
Secondly, Commitment: If some people come to church just when it’s convenient, and others just when the happen to ‘feel like it’; and if some volunteer their services, whilst others take great care not to become involved in anything beyond the Sunday Liturgy – is it surprising that it should be difficult to get anything moving. Just imagine trying to run an office, or a business or a factory or a hospital where people did just that. It would go out of business in a fortnight!
But Nairobi GAFCON consisted of very different people from this. They were people who had not only come a long way to be there but were determined to go a long way back home and transform their own local church into a battalion of people who like themselves were determined to make God’s business their business.
It’s what might be called the ‘Holistic’ approach to Faith. And the word Holistic is from the same stem as ’Wholeness’ and ‘Holiness’ the very things without which nobody can ever get very far in becoming a saint.
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