GAFCON: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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GAFCON is back in the news, with 1300 Anglican leaders gathering in Kigali in April 2023. But what is GAFCON, and why does it matter?

What Does GAFCON Stand For?

GAFCON stands for

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  • Global
  • Anglican
  • Future
  • CONference

GAFCON is Global: It brings together Bishops and other church leaders from all over the world, with especially strong representation from Africa, Asia, and South America.

GAFCON is Anglican: It is committed to the historic doctrine and practice of Anglicanism, including the authority of the Holy Scriptures, the 39 Articles of Religion, and the Book of Common Prayer.

GAFCON is the Future: It is the future of the church, not only because it is missional and forward looking, but also because Anglicanism only has a future if it remains committed to the scriptures.

GAFCON is a CONference: It is a conference of leaders who gather every five years to guard the truth in Christ, to grow in discipleship to Christ, and to go proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

More Than A Conference

Though the most public feature of GAFCON is the Conference held every five years, it also functions as a conciliar body, as a guardian of the faith, and as a missionary movement. In these roles it pursues what priest and theologian Stephen Noll has described as the “original vision” of GAFCON: to be “an instrument of revival of historic Anglican faith and mission.”

GAFCON is a conciliar body, led by a council of national archbishops. This group currently includes the Archbishops of Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, Myanmar, Egypt, Brazil, Chile, and North America (ACNA). This council then elects to rotating office a Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Secretary, who provide operational leadership both for the conference and in between conferences. The primates council also meets occasionally and issues statements concerning GAFCON, the broader church, and the world.

GAFCON serves as a guardian of the faith, “contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). To this end, GAFCON advocates the Jerusalem Declaration, a statement of belief which both reasserts classic principles of the faith, and also applies them to contemporary controversies, including upholding the Biblical definition of marriage. Adopted in 2008 at the first GAFCON Conference, the Jerusalem Declaration has become a modern emblem for authentic Anglicanism all over the world.

GAFCON is a missionary movement, following Jesus’ teaching that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). This is not to say that GAFCON functions as a missions agency itself, but rather that it catalyzes the formation of churches on mission, especially where progressives have given up on the authority of the Bible. For example, the first GAFCON, in 2008, called for the formation of a new Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA was subsequently formed in 2009, with the GAFCON Archbishops investing Bob Duncan as the first ACNA Archbishop (see highlight video reel here).

The Origins of GAFCON

GAFCON was founded in 2008 as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference. But this requires a bit of explanation.

In 1998, global Anglican bishops gathered in England for the thirteenth Lambeth Conference. Most notably, in Resolution I.10, they reaffirmed the scriptural and historic definition of marriage, as a union between a man and a woman. The vote was 526-70 (with 45 abstentions). But the apparent strength of the vote masked a growing movement for gay marriage in America and Canada.

In 2003, the Episcopal Church USA consecrated a partnered gay man to be Bishop. They did so over the repeated warnings of global Anglican leaders, especially Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria. Over the next five years, these same global leaders called for discipline of the American church, but the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to apply it. And the American church never repented. In his 2020 biography of Peter Akinola, Nigerian journalist Gbenga Gbesan captures the spirit of the American Episcopal church:

An African proverb maintains that a leopard does not change its skin, and the American church fit this observation perfectly (Gbesan, 423).

And so in 2008, with the Archbishop of Canterbury inviting the American Bishops to that year’s Lambeth Conference, some 214 Bishops boycotted the event, including sizable absences from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Australia.  Instead, they convened for the first GAFCON in Jerusalem.

GAFCON I (Jerusalem 2008)

The first GAFCON, held in Jerusalem in 2008, was a watershed moment. It was the most attended global gathering outside of Lambeth in Anglican history, and marked the beginning of a powerful renewal movement. Its Final Statement included the Jerusalem Declaration, which has become a defining document of orthodox Anglican faith and missional identity for the 21st century, especially because of its clear witness on marriage, acknowledging “God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman.”

GAFCON II (Nairobi 2013)

The second GAFCON, held in Nairobi in 2013, called for a renewal of missionary focus. It’s concluding Nairobi Communique and Commitment drew deeply on the witness of the East African Revival, with a call to real repentance and confidence in the gospel to save. It further emphasized the church’s missionary identity, with specific appeal to the “preparation of convincing theological rebuttals of any false gospel” and building a “network of theological colleges” that are committed to the “faithful reading of scripture.”

GAFCON III (Jerusalem 2018)

The third GAFCON, held in Jerusalem in 2018, continued to call the Anglican Communion to repentance and fidelity to the scriptures. In its concluding “Letter to the Churches,” GAFCON III also commissioned a set of nine international networks, advancing international fellowship and mission cooperation on an ongoing basis. The nine GAFCON networks are as follows: theological education, church planting, global mission partnerships, youth and children’s ministry, mother’s union, sustainable development, bishops training institute, lawyers task force, and intercessor’s fellowship.

GAFCON IV (Kigali 2023)

The fourth GAFCON is being held in Kigali in April 2023. Essential context to this gathering are two recent events in England, Lambeth Conference XIV in 2022 and Church of England Synod 2023. Both events revealed that the Church of England is turning away from the authority of the scriptures, and now proposing services of blessing for same-sex unions. GAFCON IV will undoubtedly call, once again, for repentance and return to the scriptures. It is also possible, given the theological drift of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that GAFCON IV will begin the process of reshaping the authority structures in the Anglican Communion.

Published on

April 17, 2023

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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