The Kigali Commitment: A New Era in Anglican History

By

The Kigali Commitment is the most significant ecclesial intervention since the English Reformation. By rejecting the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of GAFCON and the Global South have launched a new era in Anglican history.

A Statement from Kigali

The Kigali Commitment is the final conference statement of GAFCON IV, a gathering of global Anglicans in Kigali in April 2023. The publication of a named conference statement has been a feature of each GAFCON gathering: the Jerusalem Declaration in 2008, the Nairobi Communique in 2013, the Letter to the Churches in 2018, and now the Kigali Commitment in 2023.

Sponsored

The Primates of GAFCON and the Global South, who represent some 85% of the Anglican Communion, gave the statement its final edit and approval. Moreover, the statement received multiple levels of input, across all 1300 conference delegates. With two rounds of feedback and more than 600 reviewed suggestions, the document reflected the mind of the entire conference.

Receiving the Authority of God’s Word

The Kigali Commitment affirms the authority of Holy Scripture as “the rule of our lives as disciples of Jesus and…the final authority in the church.” We have fellowship with Christ through the Word of God, but this fellowship can be broken when we depart from it:

The fellowship we enjoy with our risen and ascended Lord is nourished as we trust God’s Word, obey it and encourage each other to allow it to shape each area of our lives. This fellowship is broken when we turn aside from God’s Word or attempt to reinterpret it in any way that overturns the plain reading of the text in its canonical context and so deny its truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and thereby its authority.

The Kigali Commitment then explains that the present crisis in the Anglican Communion is caused by a departure from the authority of God’s word. The immediate issue is the scriptural doctrine of sex and marriage, that “the only appropriate context for sexual activity is the exclusive lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage.” This teaching, which was affirmed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in Lambeth 1.10, has been set aside by progressive churches throughout the communion, despite repeated warnings by orthodox Anglican leaders:

Despite 25 years of persistent warnings by most Anglican Primates, repeated departures from the authority of God’s Word have torn the fabric of the Communion. These warnings were blatantly and deliberately disregarded and now without repentance this tear cannot be mended.

While the false teaching and practice began in America and Canada, it spread to Scotland, Wales, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. And now it is spreading even to England:

The latest of these departures is the majority vote by the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2023 to welcome proposals by the bishops to enable same-sex couples to receive God’s blessing. It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin.

Rejecting the Authority of Canterbury

The Kigali Commitment therefore takes the momentous step of rejecting the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Borrowing from the parliamentary language of “no confidence” which is used to remove a Prime Minister, the statement asserts “no confidence” in the Archbishop together with the other instruments of communion:

We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture.

The statement notes that this problem is not isolated to the current Archbishop of Canterbury, but is reflected in the failure to exercise discipline for the past 20 years, including at the last two gatherings of the Lambeth Conference:

Successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to guard the faith by inviting bishops to Lambeth who have embraced or promoted practices contrary to Scripture. This failure of church discipline has been compounded by the current Archbishop of Canterbury who has himself welcomed the provision of liturgical resources to bless these practices contrary to Scripture. This renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible.

The result is that the assembled orthodox leaders of the Anglican Communion, from both the Global South Fellowship (GSFA) and from GAFCON, can no longer recognize the Archbishop as the “first among equals”:

Both GSFA and Gafcon Primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates.

Historical Context

How can we understand the historical significance of the Kigali Commitment? If we look for a parallel in recent history, we will not find one.

The last time the Archbishop of Canterbury was not the recognized spiritual leader of Anglicanism, was during the reign of Queen Mary, from 1553-1558. Ever since the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 and her settlement of the church in 1559, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been the recognized spiritual leader of the Anglican Church.

But even this parallel is inexact, because before the English Reformation the Archbishop of Canterbury was an acknowledged leader, albeit under the higher authority of the Bishop of Rome. In the present moment, by contrast, the Archbishop’s authority is rejected more substantially.

On the other hand, the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s is still recognized within England, so neither would it be right to say the see is vacant, sede vacante, as it was during the English Civil War, 1646-1660. There is an Archbishop of Canterbury, but his authority is no longer accepted in the broader communion worldwide.

Probably the best parallel is not to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but rather the Pope himself, and the rejection of the Pope’s authority in the English Reformation. In other words, we are at the beginning of another reformation, and a new era in Anglican history.

The Shape of A New Era

Though the Kigali Commitment takes a bold step in rejecting the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, it does not define precisely what happens next. Rather, it calls for a urgent “resetting” of the Anglican Communion, and offers a set of three goals to shape this new communion structure:

Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans.

The three goals can be abstracted as follows:

  1. Clear Identity
  2. Global “spiritual home”
  3. Strong leadership structure for stability and direction

Implied in the third goal is the necessity of more effective mechanisms of international discipline. The purpose of such disciplinary structures would not be to eliminate the classic Anglican principle of autonomy, but rather to make real the equally significant Anglican principle of interdependence.

The Anglican Communion Celebrates Communion

The Kigali Commitment was presented in its final form on the last day of GAFCON IV. Immediately following this final reading, the conference worshiped God in a service of Holy Communion, celebrated by Archbishop Foley Beach.

Though the Kigali Commitment was powerful and historically significant, the service of Holy Communion was even more profound. For what the Kigali Commitment sought to express in words, was demonstrated concretely in shared obedience under God’s written word, the Bible, and shared worship of the living Word, Jesus Christ.

And when the assembled Primates stood around the altar, celebrating Holy Communion under the presidency of Archbishop Foley Beach (see photo above), that established, far more than any words can say, the deep unity, faithfulness, and missional purpose of a resetting Anglican Communion.

Published on

April 26, 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

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

6 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments