I wrote the article below almost two years ago hoping to dissuade orthodox Anglican primates from attending a Primates Meeting that had been called by the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am re-publishing it here because the principles underlying the article apply also to the upcoming Lambeth Conference to which all Anglican Communion bishops have been invited. My aim was and is to show that much damage to the orthodox cause is done by meeting with those who claim the name of Christ while leading people into death and darkness as if they are legitimate Christian leaders. And not only to the orthodox cause, but even worse, much greater damage is done to those who are confused about their sexuality and who look to leaders of the church for guidance.
Since the 2003 election of Gene Robinson to the office of Bishop by the Diocese of New Hampshire and the subsequent affirmation of that election by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Communion has been rent by conflict. In the thirteen years that followed Gene Robinson’s election, The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) took actions and made decisions formalizing and solidifying their affirmation of homosexual relationships and their departure from biblical Christianity. In response, a number of Global South primates offered shelter to dissenting orthodox TEC and ACC congregations and dioceses, participated in the creation of GAFCON, and supported the formation the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
In the middle, stood (and stands) the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC). Justin Welby, the current ABC, has invited the primates of the Communion, including the primates of TEC and the ACC, to attend a special Primates Meeting from January 11-16, 2016. And, in an unprecedented move, he also invited Archbishop Foley Beach, the Archbishop of the ACNA, to be present in or around the Primates Meeting in a publicly unspecified capacity.
The question of attendance is an important one. The ABC does not possess anything approximating the ecclesial power of the Roman Catholic pontiff. He cannot, for example, “excommunicate” a fellow primate. But because membership in the Anglican Communion has, at least in the past, been defined by the relationship between a province and Canterbury, the ABC’s authority to “invite” primates to the Primates Meeting has become pivotal.
Since 2003 orthodox leaders have urged the ABC to make good use of this albeit limited authority by not inviting the primates of TEC and the ACC to attend Primates Meetings nor their bishops to the once decennial Lambeth Conference, until their provinces comply with the biblical and the Communion standard (see Lambeth 1998, Resolution 1.10). Likewise, because leaders of the ACNA have not, up to this point, been included in any formal Communion meeting, leaders in TEC and the ACC have portrayed the ACNA as an illegitimate collection of schismatics.
The Communion significance of Canterbury’s power of invitation is what makes Archbishop Welby’s invitation to Archbishop Beach, though not an invitation to the actual meeting itself, a potential game changer.
The GAFCON primates had previously determined not to attend any Communion meeting that included representatives of TEC and/or the ACC and that did not formally include leaders of the ACNA. But Archbishop Welby’s personal appeal to attend the January Primates Meeting and his willingness to invite Archbishop Beach prompted them to reconsider and, subsequently, agree to attend.
It may be that Archbishop Welby hopes to weaken the resolve of the GAFCON primates by acceding to one of their demands. Inviting the primate of the ACNA to attend a sub-meeting while also inviting TEC and the ACC primates to the full meeting may serve, he perhaps hopes, to ameliorate both parties. And should all parties remain throughout the meeting, even if there is no breakthrough, it will reinforce his much touted but false philosophy of “reconciliation” and “peace making”, his belief that parties holding two mutually exclusive versions of the Christian faith might recognize one another’s “Christian integrity” and remain institutionally bound together in one Communion.
But if this is his hope, the GAFCON primates seem to have a different perception. They believe this meeting must be definitive and decisive. As Archbishop Wabukala, the primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya and chairman of GAFCON, recently wrote:
At this gathering a basic church-defining principle will be at stake: Will Christ rule our life and witness through His word, or will our life and witness be conformed to the global ambitions of a secular culture? Together, by the grace of God, we are praying that the Communion will emerge from its current crisis repentant, renewed and restored for its global mission of proclaiming the gospel which is good news for all people, in all places and at all times. This is the hope and testimony of the GAFCON Primates as they approach this gathering.
There is an important “either/or” note contained in those words. On the one hand the Archbishop rightly sets Christ’s rule and on the other he sets “secular culture”. There is no middle way. According to Archbishop Wabukala, the GAFCON primates are praying for and presumably attending the meeting in order to seek not only TEC and the ACC’s repentance and/or discipline but also the entire Communion’s repentance, renewal and restoration.
And it is here that the purposes for which the ABC called the meeting and the purposes for which the GAFCON primates have agreed to attend come into conflict.
Biblically speaking, short of the two erring North American primates repenting and recanting, the only way for the Communion as a whole to emerge “repentant” would be the dismissal of the TEC and ACC primates. Any half measures would be disastrous for the orthodox cause.
Should all parties attend the meeting and all parties stay for the entirety of the meeting without any sort of disciplinary action being taken against TEC and the ACC, the perception that within the Anglican Communion human sexuality belongs to the category of adiaphora (a matter over which Christians may legitimately disagree while not dividing) would be affirmed. And worse, the continued participation of the GAFCON and other orthodox primates would only serve to reinforce that perception and legitimize the status of those leaders who promote sexual sin.
This would be true even if the orthodox primates were to succeed in producing a “strongly worded Primates’ Communique”. There have been many strongly worded Primates’ Communiques since 2003. Too many. But should the meeting conclude inconclusively, the facts on the ground would remain as they have been for thirteen years: TEC and the ACC are members of the Anglican Communion in good standing. The orthodox primates are members of the Anglican Communion in good standing. The disagreement over the nature and character of homosexual relationships would remain just that, a disagreement. Both sides will have, by their mutual participation, implicitly recognized one another’s legitimacy and status. This would play right into the hands of those (among whom stands Archbishop Welby) who want to relegate sexual sin to the level of adiaphora.
In this scenario, even the full Communion inclusion of Archbishop Beach and the ACNA would be and should be counted as a loss for the orthodox. Though such a move by the Archbishop of Canterbury would enrage the leaders of TEC and the ACC and revisionist minded leaders in the Church of England, it would also place the ACNA in the compromised position described in the paragraph above. The ACNA would, in fact, become an icon for Archbishop Welby’s counterfeit version of “reconciliation”, exhibit A for the case that human sexuality is not, to borrow Archbishop Wabukala’s words, a “church defining principle”.
This outcome is precisely what the Apostle John warns against in his second letter:
“Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 1:9-11)
Being yoked together through Canterbury with purported Christian leaders who explicitly reject Christ’s teaching about marriage, participating in meetings with them, dealing with them as if they are ministers of the true gospel, would be to participate in their wicked works. It would, moreover, communicate to the world and, most destructively, to those enslaved by sexual sin that it is possible for Christians to embrace homosexuality and remain faithful to Jesus Christ.
So, for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of those who struggle with same sex attraction, short of the kind of Communion repentance described above, I pray that the GAFCON primates and the other orthodox primates decisively differentiate themselves from both the North American revisionist leaders and those promoting peaceful coexistence with them, making it strikingly and unmistakably clear to the church and the world that there can be no peace nor partnership between righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
The orthodox primates have demonstrated their godly wisdom and faithfulness to the Gospel on innumerable occasions. There is every reason to look forward to this meeting in hope. And yet, they will need our serious, concerted prayers. The danger and deception at these meetings is great. As a writer for Stand Firm, I have covered every Primates Meeting since 2006 and my research includes the Primates Meetings since 2003. A clear pattern emerged under Archbishop Welby’s predecessor Archbishop Rowan Williams. 1. In the months leading up to each Primates Meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury will acknowledge the deep crisis in the Communion with regard to the question of human sexuality. 2. The Archbishop of Canterbury will publicly affirm the decisions of the Lambeth meeting in 1998, citing in particular Lambeth 1.10. and other past agreements 3. The Archbishop of Canterbury will acknowledge that the crisis has been caused by the actions of TEC and the ACC. 4. The Archbishop will urge all Primates to attend the meeting so that something might be done to avert the crisis. 5. When the meeting takes place, the agenda will be carefully crafted to provide time both for discussion and for common worship. 6. Photographs will be taken showing all the primates together at worship or in conversation or posing together for a group portrait. 7. Proposals will be drafted by a working group of primates for a final Primates’ Communique. The working group will include at least some primates friendly toward TEC and the ACC. 7. A Communique will be issued calling for some specific action on the part of TEC and the ACC and continued conversation on the part of all the participants. 8. TEC and the ACC will not accede to the stipulations of the Communique. 9. When asked to take action the Archbishop of Canterbury will explain that he cannot do anything since he has no coercive power to discipline. 10. Meanwhile TEC and the ACC will be invited to the next Primates’ Meeting, to the Lambeth Council (when held), and to the Anglican Communion Council meetings as will the orthodox primates.
From Dromantine to Dar Es Salaam to, most recently, meetings surrounding the creation of a Communion Covenant, this pattern has held steady. The pattern indicates that the real purpose of past Primates’ Meetings has not been to truly resolve the crisis but to continue meeting. Each meeting provided an opportunity for Archbishop Williams to present himself as struggling to keep the Communion together amidst the demands of “extremists” on both sides. Archbishop Welby, despite the promotion of his evangelical credentials, has with his push for “reconciliation” publicly promoted a spiritualized version of a similar agenda. And we should keep in mind that Lambeth Palace officials are the inheritors of centuries of experience at political maneuver and manipulating meetings toward a preferred end.
The orthodox primates are walking into danger, both political and spiritual. The stakes for them, for us, and for the Communion could not be higher. But we need not fear. We serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sees through every human design and deception, who raises the dead, and who turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He has promised to preserve and rescue his Church. Let us pray that he might have mercy on the Anglican Communion, bringing her to repentance and guarding her in the Faith. Pray also for Archbishop Okoh, Archbishop Foley, and all the GAFCON and orthodox primates, that by their words and actions they might exalt Jesus Christ, defend the Apostolic Faith, proclaim the true Gospel, and refuse to be moved from the one sure Foundation.