Stephen Noll on the Gafcon Conference–Sea Change in the Communion?

…the Communique reaffirms the understanding from 2008 that GAFCON is “not a moment in time but a movement of the Spirit.” This phrase is not flight of rhetoric but a claim that GFCA is among other things a God-ordained “ecclesial” entity. Secondly, the Conference identifies itself as an “instrument of Communion” called into being because of the failure of other Instruments of Communion. I suppose some will take this claim as an open rebuke of the existing organs of the Lambeth bureaucracy. It is that, and my essays on Communion governance stand as testimony as to why such a rebuke is justified. But it is more than that: it is a positive declaration that the GFCA plans to be a vehicle of God’s grace to reform and revitalize the Anglican Communion.

Some may ask by what right the GFCA appoints itself an instrument. In an early draft, the Statement Committee proposed saying that “we are conscious that we have become an instrument of Communion.” I think that wording is revealing, even if the final form moves consciousness into conviction. What I mean is that the GAFCON movement did not start out intentionally to overturn existing authorities but rather over a period of fifteen years came to realize that no other option was workable and that God had indeed formed new bonds of affection among its members during the times of trial.

So is the GFCA laying the groundwork for a separate Communion? Absolutely not! At the first GAFCON virtually all the delegates were adamant that they were not leaving the Anglican Communion, because “we are the Anglican Communion!” Some may think this is verbal trickery. It is not. There is nothing sacrosanct about the so-called Instruments of Communion. To be sure, the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference carry the weight of almost 150 years’ continuance. However, for good or ill, Archbishop Longley refused to grant the first Lambeth Conference ecclesial authority as a council and by so doing he built in a weakness that has been a major reason for the recent crisis. During the past decade, whenever the Primates proposed more authoritative action ”“ e.g., “To Mend the Net” proposal or the Dar es Salaam Communique ”“ Canterbury squelched the attempt.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Analysis, --Rowan Williams, Anglican Primates, Archbishop of Canterbury, GAFCON II 2013, Global South Churches & Primates, Instruments of Unity, Primates Mtg Dar es Salaam, Feb 2007, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

6 comments on “Stephen Noll on the Gafcon Conference–Sea Change in the Communion?

  1. MichaelA says:

    This is a pretty good tour-de-force by Dr Noll concerning the history of the Anglican Communion, and why it is where it is today.

  2. New Reformation Advocate says:

    I agree MichaelA. It is vintage Stephen Noll stuff: clear, cogent, and well argued. Moreover, Dr. Noll occupies a leading place in the GFCA as one of its premier theological advisers, which makes this statement all the more significant. IOW, it’s not just his personal opinion, but rather it’s a quite representative statement of what many Anglican leaders involved in GAFCON II think. It’s not idiosyncratic at all, but represents a centrist take on our recent history.

    Now personally, I don’t think it goes nearly far enough. But then, I’m a far more idiosyncratic thinker. In essence, Dr. Noll is out to RENEW the Anglican Communion, whereas I want to see it REFORMED. He isn’t nearly as dissatisfied with our inherited polity structures as I am. And here I think I can point to ++Bob Duncan as being at least somewhat more advanced in his views than Dr. Noll, and at least somewhat closer to my own more radical dreams, for ++Duncan has spoken repeatedly of our age as a Second Reformation of the Church.

    For now, I’ll content myself with making my typical plea that wholly new institutional wineskins will have to be created for worldwide Anglicanism. For I’m absolutely convinced that the change in our international polity arrangements will have to be not merely in degree, but in kind.

    To be more specific, I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Noll that it’s the “conciliar” model that best fits the nature of Anglicanism, as opposed to the other tow models that he rightly dismisses (i.e., a mere loose federation of completely autonomous national/regional provinces similar to the Lutheran or Reformed world alliances on the one hand, or the papal model of a single, unified international church with a central authority with final control on all matters). However, I see the sort of “conciliar” Anglican structures needed in the 21st century as differing RADICALLY from anything we’ve seen before in Anglicanism. I won’t try to argue the case here, but merely to assert a counter proposal to Dr. Noll’s.

    In a nutshell, I would differ from Dr. Noll in at least three major ways, as summarized below.

    1. It is time to clip the wings of Anglican provinces so as to drastically limit their authonomy. I believe that it’s time to morph from a family of Anglican churches (plural) to a single Anglican CHURCH with branch offices around the world, so to speak. To state it starkly: I don’t fear Roman style tyranny half as much as I’m come to fear and dread Protestant anarchy. There is virtually no pracitcal chance that Anglicanism will evolve into a pale imitation of Roman Catholicism, ruled by a weaker sort of Curia (whether located in Abuja, Kampala, Singapore, or wherever). However, there is a very real and present danger that the present state of sheer anarchy (theological, moral, and institutional anarchy) within Anglicanism will continue if we don’t develop some sort of centralized authority with BINDING powers across provincial lines.

    2. That central authority however needs to be genuinely CONCILIAR. Here is one of the fundamental differences. I wish to see Anglicanism morph into becoming truly conciliar. Dr. Noll rightly noted that Lambeth 1930 renewed the emphasis that the worldwide gathering of bishops was merely a CONFERENCE, not a real church council worhty of the name. Like the ACC, it existed merely to foster CONSULTATION, and wasn’t a decision-making body. And that’s precisely the problem. That whole approach has been proven to be totallly inadequate. It represents the Anglican past, not our future.

    We simply MUST create (from scratch) new Instruments of Unity to hold Anglicanism together, and those instruments must have BINDING powers, as all real church councils do. Real councils decide policy, issues canons, and so forth. But whatever new instruments are created, must be geniunely representative of authentic Anglicanism as it currently exists (both demographically and theologically).

    More to come…
    David Handy+

  3. New Reformation Advocate says:

    In particular, I will again tout my proposal that the place to begin is by creating, for the first time ever, a global ecclesial equivalent of the US Suprme Court. For too long we’ve tried to get along with an international judicial branch that could adjudicate all disputes over doctirne and discipline within Anglicanism. We simply MUST have a way to deal with rogue dioceses and provinces by declaring null and void the unbiblical and unAnglican actions of such stubbornly wayward bodies as TEC and the ACoC have become. The decisions of rogue Anglican bodies must be subject to being overturned and reversed by a higher authority, and that authority must be conciliar (rather than vested ultimately in a single person like the pope). Nothing less will suffice!

    3. Last, but not least, even those of us with the GFCA movment must face up with the fact that our movement is actually theologically incoherent. There are incompatible and diverging trajectories represented among us, and MichaelA and I embody them.

    Without picking on him peronally, let me try to clarify the issues at stake by picking on his archdiocese instead. I think that at some point the GFCA as a truly GLOBAL fellowship of CONFESSING Anglicans must strive to be clearer on just what it is that we actually confess, uphold, and teach. And the sad fact is that the hardcore, ultra-Protestant, Neo-Puritan Anglicanism represented in general by Sydney (and not least by the Jensen brothers and Dr. Mark Thompson of Moore Theological College, etc.) is clearly incompatible with the kind of “3-D” or Neo-Patristic Anglo-Catholicism that I espouse so fervently. The Sydney gang thinks Anglicanism isn’t sufficiently Reformed. I think it’s way too Reformed already.

    There really is a Continetal Divide between Anglicans who are “liturgical Protestants” at heart (the vast majority around the world, not least in most of Africa), and that minority of us who could be fairly described as “biblical Catholics” at heart. One way to put is quite simple.

    Imagine a thought experiment. Let’s imagine a worst-case scenario where all of us in the GFCA come to the point of despair over Anglicanism and decide to abandon it in favor of something else. Where would we all go? It’s fair to say that we’d scatter in many directions. There’s a fair number of folks, including some distinguished and honorable leaders, who would doubtless become Presbyterians, or maybe a lesser number might become Pentecostals (not least in Africa again), and some might jump on the so-called “post-denomainational” bandwagon and go the non-denominational route. As for myself, however, for over 20 years I’ve known where I’d inevitably end up if I ever grew weary of our endless squabbles, turmoil, and the sheer incoherence of Anglicanism overall. I would swallow hard, bite the bullet, and swim the Tiber at last. If I ever come to despair about Anglicanism (as opposed to giving up on the present Anglican Communion, which is doomed to split), I will certainly follow my greatest hero John Henry Newman into the papal fold at last. As an ex-Presbyterian, I am emphatically EX-Reformed, and I’m never going back to Calvinism, much less Zwinglianism, or Bucerism, or any other form of Reformed theology. And that INCLUDES never going back to the theology of the English Reformers.

    I can go back earlier than 1833 and the start of the Catholic Revival, but I will go back to the High Church, anti-Reformed Caroline Divines of the 17th century, not the Low Church, Reformed leaders of the 16th century.

    So the crucial question that still hangs over the GFCA movement is what exact status the classic Anglican formularies actually have. I’ve signed the Jerusalem Declaration, and I’m glad to see the GFCA calling the Anglican world to reclaim our heritage and to put the classic Doctrine and Dicsipline back into the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of Christ, as this Church has received them. But we can’t simply go back to the Articles, the 1662 BCP, and the old Cranmerian Ordinal as is, without updating them in major ways to cope with the challenges of our own time, and without recognizing that Anglicanism has evolved enormously since 1571 and 1662, in some ways very much for the better as well as in other ways much for the worse.

    To put it bluntly, no “3-D” Anglican like me who is proudly evangelical, caatholic, and charismatic can be satisfied with the historic formularies without signficant modifications, since they are way too weak on the catholic and charismatic dimensions. I’ll elaborate on that, if pushed by MichaelA or others here. But in essence, the 1571 Articles and the !662 BCP and the Ordinal are period pieces that were the best that Anglicanism could produce back then. But we can, and must, do better now. They are like the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible. A true classic, but badly outdated today. How many of us use the KJV either privately or publicly these days?

    I contend that while we are a global movement of CONFESSING Anglicans, we need to come up with a modern confession that is suitable to our times and that directly confronts the great heresy of our age, i.e. theological and moral relativism. A new equivalent of the old, venerable 39 Articles, just as the ACNA is at work in producing our own new BCP.

    I know I’m baiting MichaelA here, and probably Dr. Noll too, should he read my verbose comments here, but the 39 Articles in particular are manifestly inadequate for underguiding global Anglicanism doctrinally today. They represent where we stood back in 1571, but they certainly don’t represent where Anglicanism is today, on this side of 1833. No Anglo-Catholic, for example, could ever subscribe to Article 29. I know I certainly can’t. Nor could any good Lutheran, nor anyone else who believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    These sorts of theological fault lines run through even the GFCA, much less the wider Anglican world. We can’t ignore such fundamental differences forever. They must be squarely faced, and resolved.

    David Handy+

  4. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Oops, sorry for starting to monopolize this thread, but let me correct one glaring omission above. In the first paragraph, I left out a negative, turning my meaning upside down. What I meant to say was that for too long, we’ve tried to get along in worldwide Anglicanism WITHOUT a judicial branch. We desperately need one. We simply can’t survive and thrive without one anymore.

    I’m well aware that this proposal is irreconcialable with the CoE being an established church. And I’m bold enough to say, so what? Let the CoE be disestablished, in order to save global Anglicanism. Even the Mother Church must have its autonomy strictly limited, for the good of the global church.

    An idealistic fantasy with no possible chance of ever coming to pass, you say? Well, perhaps. Very likely true. But what is necessary and what is feasible are often too very different things.

    David Handy+

  5. tjmcmahon says:

    I would disagree, NRA. I really don’t think we need a judicial branch. However, where the current Anglican ecclesiology fails is that the bishops in council have no authority, whether at national or international level. At the international level, this has been made obvious as decisions of the Primates meetings or Lambeth are ignored without consequence. Going back to the first councils of the early church, the consequence of flouting an ecumenical council was excommunication. This is what Gafcon, and GS bishops in general have returned to, and been criticized for. They broke communion with the heretic bishops in TEC and elsewhere who have voted for gay bishops, promoted gay marriage, and deposed faithful clergy. They have been merciful in that rather than place the entire province of TEC under interdict, they have recognized the order of clergy who remained faithful and ordained additional clergy as necessary to provide for the pastoral needs of those in areas of the world where the “official” Anglican jurisdiction is excommunicate.
    The problem in the Anglican Communion is that everyone has insisted on that sort of British tea time civility, in which you can talk about weird Aunt Katharine, and how “wacky” she is, and what an embarrassment she is to the family, but no one is going to tell her she has to take her medicine, which might help with her loonier moments, and put her on the path back to health.
    At the national level, the revisionists have, since the 1950s, if not before, insisted that neither the HoB or GC had any authority at all. The main defense in the Pike years was that TEC had no discernible or enforceable doctrine or ecclesiology- no bishop or council of bishops or even GC had any authority over any other. NOW, of course, with the revisionists having absolute control of the HoB, GC and the PB’s office, they are insisting that they have ABSOLUTE control, and indeed have branded all who disagree as heretics and deposed them (“heresy” IS “abandoning the doctrine of the church”- the charge laid against +Duncan, +Ackerman, and perhaps 1000 other clergy at this point).
    Now, as it happens, what we are seeing in TEC is that the PB is attempting (and to all appearances succeeding) in abrogating all of this power to her own office. The recent EC meeting made this quite evident, as while there were any number of EC members griping about the overreach of 815 in the UTO mess, not one of them was bold enough to actually challenge her over it, and instead they decided to paper over everything, leave the imposed new UTO “leadership” in place, and pretend they will study the matter. The HoB completely surrendered to her when it allowed several diocesan and retired bishops to be sentenced without trial to “conciliation”- can you imagine the howling had Righter, Spong, etc. been rounded up in 1990 or thereabouts and “conciliated”? Did so much as one single bishop dare to object that this was a violation of tradition, or polity, or even civil rights?
    So, at the Anglican Communion end of things, provinces, the ACO, and indeed the ABoC himself can ignore or violate councils anytime they like. At the TEC end of things, the councils are overturned or their power arrogated to the office of the PB, who can depose or sanction at will, and ignore the canons.
    Gafcon, and in the broader context, the GS, have done what the Anglican Communion has proven incapable of, and that is to form councils that have authority. That authority is evident in two ways, the voluntary submission to it on the part of the provinces and dioceses, and the use of excommunication (ie- broken or impaired communion) to sanction those who openly violate the decisions of the councils.

  6. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Thanks, TJ, for that thoughtful and illuminating response. I’m sure that many leaders in the Anglican world, inside and outside of the GFCA, would agree with you. After all, the GFCA is a conservative movement, and as it tends to be as conservative in polity as it is in theology and morality. And what I’m proposing is truly revolutionary, a complete overhaul of our whole Anglican system of polity at the international and inter-provincial level. I freely concede that, and I lament that it’s necessary. But I stick to my guns and I stand by what I wrote above. It IS truly necessary.

    Let me try restating my claim. The old Instruments of Unity/Communion have failed. Not only does the final communique of GAFCON II insist upon that, but even the ABoC has publicly admitted it. The old institutional wineskins have ruptured, and new wineskins are now required before all the new wine of new life that God is powerfully fermenting among us is spilled and lost forever.

    I contend that we do indeed need a wholly new judicial branch at the global level to deal with the internatioanal anarchy that now prevails in the Global North, where many of the diocesan and provincial structures have been hopelessly compromised. Simply breaking communion with the deluded leaders of those rogue dioceses and provinces isn’t enough. We MUST have a means of OVERRULING and REVERSING the unbiblical and unAnglican actions taken by TEC and the ACoC. It’s not enough to vote them off the Anglican Island. We must have a way of IMPOSING discipline on them, by creating some kind of check on their out-of-control legislative and executive branches (their synods and bishops) that renders their unbiblical and unAnglican actions null and void. Only a judicial branch can do that. I’m well aware of what a radical innovation that is in the ecclesiastical realm, but it’s now imperative and unavoidable.

    For we’re dealing with an unprecedent problem. It’s not just individual clergy or individual bishops or dioceses that are in open and public revolt against the classical Anglican tradition of Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship, it’s whole provinces. We’re not just dealing with heresy or immorality here, but with sheer ANARCHY, a proud refusal to submit to any authority outside themselves.

    In such a situation, to use a secular analogy, when there is anarchy out on the streets, you can’t just arrest a few ringleaders and put them in jail and hope that the masses will calm down and go home. No, you have to call in the troops, and impose martial law. You crack down, as hard as necessary, to restore law and order.

    Or to use a more restrained analogy, in terms of polity arrangements at the international, inter-provincial level, Anglicanism up until now has operated on the same sort of assumptions that underlay the original American experiment in self-rule after we gained freedom from England, the Articles of Confederation, that bound the 13 original colonies in a loose structure that was designed to prevent further tyranny. Originally, the whole emphasis was on the United STATES of America, where the states had almost all the power, were almost autonomous in most areas, and the federal government was extremely weak. So it has been in Anglicanism up until now. Or to use a biblical example, as in the days of Judges, when there was no king, then chaos and anarchy reigned, for “Every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Today, that is how the provinces behave, because there is no higher authority that can compel obedience.

    Well, the days when we could afford such provincial autonomy are over. Kiss them goodbye, probably forever. The difference between the American experiment with the Articles of Confederation and our Anglican experiment with, if anything, an even weaker system of almost unfettered Anglican provincial autonomy, is that in the political realm, we Americans quickly recognized that the Confederation model was totally inadequate and would have to be scrapped and replaced with something else that provided for a much stronger central goverment. And so we got our impressive Constitution in 1789. But with it came not only a system of checks and balances between all three branches of government, but a Bill of Rights as well to assure the prevention of tryanny arising again.

    Essentially, that’s what I’m claiming needs to happen in Anglicanism. We need to become a truly GLOBAL and a truly CONCILIAR church. Not just a multi-national church (similar to the motley collection of 13 highly autonomous colonies) but a unified global church. Not a global family of churches, but a global church (singular), with the power to FORCE wayward provinces to comply with global norms. It’s not enough anymore to rely on excommunication as a discipline of last resort. TEC and the ACoC scoff at that. Who among the apostate leadership of those North American bodies really cares that the Africans refuse to share communion with them?? Such mild discipline is a joke to them. It doesn’t thwart their wills or induce them to repentance.

    No, we simply MUST find some new way to provide real checks and balances on both the execturive branch (bishops) and the legislative branch (synods) of dioceses and provinces, so that their unbiblical and unAnglican actions can be forcibly overturned.

    That’s part of what it will mean for Anglicanism to morph into a truly GLOBAL church (instead of a merely multi-national family of churches) that’s truly and fully CONCILIAR. For as I’ve insisted above, any church council worthy of the name has decision-making powers. Councils issue BINDING decisions, such as canon laws, which are in force throughout that church, whether people like them or not. That’s what church councils do. And that’s what needs to happoen to Anglicanism in the new social context of the 21st century, after the old Elizabethan Settlement and the old colonial system of operating have utterly broken down.

    But as I’ve also admitted above, what is necessary and what is feasible or politically possible are often two entirely different things. I remain utterly convinced that we desperately need a global central authority with binding cross-provincial powers if Anglicanism is to survive and thrive in our time. But will such an unlikely and revolutionary change actually be embraced and accepted by the conservative leaders of global Anglicanism? That is the million dollar question, to my mind. And I’m not at all sure that our leaders will see the light and face that grim necessity in time to save Anglicanism. Maybe not. If not, I’m swimming the Tiber.

    David Handy+