This is the seventh and final post explaining the “Letter to the Churches.” The first six posts can be found: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five and Part Six. In this seventh entry, I shall exposit the final section of the Letter titled: “Reaching Out to God’s World” and its conclusion. Final note: I hope to consolidate the seven parts of this Commentary into a free downloadable ebook.
As indicated in Letter’s opening epigraph from Acts 1:8, Gafcon 2018 met not only as a token of the present witness of the wide global fellowship of the Anglican Communion but also under the ongoing mandate to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
God So Loved the World
Our conference theme has been “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations.” We have received the gospel through the faithful witness of previous generations. Yet there are still billions of people who are without Christ and without hope. Jesus taught his disciples: “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14).
We repent for the times and seasons when we have only preached to ourselves and not embraced the difficult task of reaching beyond our own cultural groups in obedience to God’s call to be a light to the nations (cf. Acts 13:47). In faith and obedience, we joyfully recommit ourselves to the faithful proclamation of the gospel.
The Statement Group decided to bring together under one heading “Reaching Out to God’s World” – the themes of two days of the Conference – “God’s World and “God’s Strategy”; for indeed they belong together. We cannot reach out to the nations unless we are convinced that God created the world and its peoples, that He so loved the world that in Christ He reconciled the world to himself (John 3:16; Colossians 1:20), and that He is judging the rebellious kingdom of this world and transforming it into the kingdom of Christ, the city of God, and the new creation (Revelation 11:14; 21:1ff.).
The Lay of the Lands Today
The world which we Christians face is continuous with previous generations, and it is an eternal Gospel which we proclaim (Revelation 14:6). At the same time, Christians are faced with vast changes in the modern and postmodern period that may seem overwhelming. Jason Mandryk of Operation World laid out for the Conference “the scope of God’s work in the world today, along with the challenges that lie before His Church.”
- Religions, including “non-religion,” are located in large geographic blocks, which means, for instance, that large groups are unevangelized and even resistant to evangelization.
- The world is becoming more religious, not less, with even “non-religious” people seeking some kind of spirituality, which is an opportunity for evangelization such as Paul faced in Athens.
- Fundamentalism in all religions is rising in response to perceived threats from secularism and government oppression, which poses a challenge for reconciliation and the reality of persecution.
Christianity is the largest religion, but Islam is growing faster.
- The 2.3 billion Christians, found in 38,000 denominations and groups, represent a rich diversity but also a sign of strife and animosity within the Body of Christ that weaken our overall witness.
- The greatest growth in numbers is in the Global South, and the vast majority of these are Evangelical, although some fast-growing “health-and-wealth” Pentecostal groups distort the Gospel.
- While the Christian population in parts of Africa and South America is growing, it is aging and declining in the West. Muslim population growth is worldwide, including in nominally Christian areas like Europe.
The Church faces historic technological, socio-economic, and ethical changes.
- Communications and social media are now accessed by 1/3 of the world’s population and rising, which is both an opportunity and a threat.
- Economic progress has reduced poverty worldwide, but 700 million remain in extreme poverty, and inequality is increasing between haves and have-nots.
- Movements of peoples to cities and slums, along with the tide of refugees and immigrants, bring dangers of social instability as well as opportunities for evangelization.
- Scientific research has led to improved health and older populations while raising ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and genetic engineering.
Missions have changed from “the West to the rest” to “from everywhere to everywhere.”
- Most missionaries now come from the Global South and are young, female, and poor. Heads of mission agencies are no longer predominantly Western.
- Mission priorities are various. Global North missions have focused on unreached peoples (the “10-40° window”), whereas Global South missionaries look to other regions, even in the North.
God’s Strategy and Gafcon’s Tactics
While the lay of the land in the 21st century may be discontinuous from the past in some ways, God’s strategy for reaching this world, according to David Short, remains “a strategy of salvation through the proclamation of Jesus Christ and a rightly ordered Church where people are transformed by grace and live new lives.”
The tactics for fulfilling God’s strategy call for boldness and openness to the Spirit. The Conference held major presentations on “African Traditional Religions,” “The Prosperity Gospel,” and “The Gospel of Secularism,” as well as 24 seminars by leaders from the Gafcon movement on topics of “theology,” “engagement,” and “discipleship.” Major mission societies were present as exhibitors and partners. In a real sense, GAFCON 2018 was indeed a mission conference.
In order to expand our ability to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations in both word and deed, we launched nine strategic networks.
Theological Education: To promote effective theological training throughout the Anglican Communion
Church Planting: To expand church planting as a global strategy for evangelisation
Global Mission Partnerships: To promote strategic cross-cultural mission partnerships in a globalized world
Youth and Children’s Ministry: To be a catalyst for mission to young people and children of all nations so that they may become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ
Mothers’ Union: To expand the potential of this global ministry to promote biblical patterns of marriage and family life
Sustainable Development: To establish global partnerships which work with the local church to bring sustainable and transformative development
Bishops Training Institute: To serve the formation of faithful and effective episcopal leadership throughout the Communion
Lawyers Task Force: To address issues of religious freedom and matters of concern to Anglican lawyers and Chancellors and to further the aims of the Jerusalem Declaration
Intercessors Fellowship: To inspire and develop globally connected regional and national intercessory prayer networks
In the world into which we go to proclaim the gospel, we shall encounter much which will need us to walk in paths of righteousness and mercy (Hosea 2:19; Micah 6:8). We commit to encouraging each other to give strength to the persecuted, a voice to the voiceless, advocacy for the oppressed, protection of the vulnerable, especially women and children, generosity to the poor, and continuing the task of providing excellent education and health care. As appropriate, we encourage the formation of other networks to assist in addressing these issues.
The Statement Group in its first draft tried to put together a “covenant” of mission priorities, but in the regional response groups it became clear that such a covenant risked being either overwhelmed with desiderata or deficient in leaving out important issues facing the church. So in the final draft, we decided that it would be better to highlight the nine new networks which were formed at the Conference, followed by a general summary of social, political and ethical concerns, in the spirit of the Prophets: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
This is not the first time Gafcon has called for action in many of the areas which these networks address. In the past aspiration has often exceeded execution. It will be a test of Gafcon’s maturity to see that these networks lead to solid fruit for the Kingdom. Therefore we encourage interested members to contact the network leaders or the Membership Development Secretary to offer your ideas and participation.
OUR GLOBAL ANGLICAN FUTURE
To proclaim the gospel, we must first defend the gospel against threats from without and within. We testify to the extraordinary blessings on this conference, which leads us to call upon God even more, that the Anglican Communion may become a mighty instrument in the hand of God for the salvation of the world. We invite all faithful Anglicans to join us in this great enterprise of proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations.
The conclusion to the Letter to the Churches begins on an apologetic note – defending the gospel. Like St. John the Divine’s Letters to the Churches (Revelation 1-3), the Global Anglican Future Conferences have met during a period of controversy from within and without the Communion. The conclusion continues on a note of thanksgiving, of hope and expectation that God is in our day raising up the Anglican Communion with a renewed vocation to take Christ to the nations.
Sixty years ago, in his book on Anglicanism, Bishop Stephen Neill wrote that as a result of the missionary movements (and in spite of much official opposition), “the Anglican Churches had to be reckoned as one of the great missionary forces in the world.” He went on to warn: “But it is well that those who today take this for granted should not forget the great effort on the part of a minority, and the great afflictions, through which this happy state of affairs has been attained.”
In a similar vein and in light of recent history, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali now writes:
The Anglican Communion has emerged out of faithfulness to God’s Word. It is built on the sacrifices and gifts of countless people. We believe it has a future under God but also that it needs to be reformed, renewed and equipped for its calling in today’s world.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
It was precisely this sense of debt to the past and hope for the future that led us to the concluding doxology from Ephesians, for it is only through God’s grace and power that the Church can fulfill its mission of proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations.
After the Statement Group had chosen the final Scripture, one member pointed out that this was the same doxology used in the Nairobi Communiqué. To which we concluded Amen and Amen.
A Note on the Glossary
I have not included comment on the Glossary at the end of the Letter. The Statement Group decided to attach a glossary of terms so as not to clutter the text itself with definitions and explanations.