by the Reverend Andrew Sempell, President, Anglicans Together
One of the important issues lying behind the creation of GAFCON is the matter of what brings salvation and how this is manifested in the life of the church. There are three perspectives:
- Confessional: based on statements of faith concerned with the need to believe and do the 'right things'. It is a matter of having correct theology and correct practice. This perspective breaks into two distinctions:
- Catholic: which says that 'salvation is only to be found through the church and submission to its magisterium (through the apostolic succession) its tradition (as God's ongoing revelation to humanity), and the sacraments as signs of God's ongoing presence (incarnation), and
- Evangelical: which says that 'salvation is only found through submission to Christ as articulated in the Bible (when correctly understood). The application of a specific hermeneutic is therefore vital to ensure control over the purity of doctrine.
- Relational: which argues that salvation comes through a relationship with God through Christ that extends to the relationships with each other. In this respect, the church and the Bible are means to right relationships not ends in themselves. This too breaks into two distinctions:
- Liberal: which says that Christ died for all people and all are welcomed into his kingdom (universal). This is an act of God's grace; it is therefore not up to us to make distinctions about who is in and who is out—'Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged' (Matthew 7:1)
- Conservative: which says that Christ died for those whom God has chosen and who manifest this through the spiritual quality of their lives (exclusive). The church therefore needs to discern who are the godly and who are not to ensure purity of the communion—'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord", will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7: 21)
- Charismatic: which argues that salvation comes through baptism by the Holy Spirit. This is made manifest by the exercise of the spiritual charisms, especially speaking/singing in tongues.
GAFCON is giving expression to the conservative-evangelical perspective, even though the details remain vague. What is important to this approach is:
- a correct understanding of the Bible that is more conservative (and literal) than a liberal perspective,
- correct behaviour (through a moralistic and conservative social policy), and
- exclusion of those who don't conform to their view (lest one be influenced by heretics and apostates).
Unlike the Presbyterian and Baptist churches, the Anglican Church has usually eschewed being a confessional church. Instead it has tended to be localised, inclusive and diverse; defining itself as a 'communion' or 'koinonia' based on a 'covenant' rather than as an exclusive group of God's elect that one can join by way of submission to a set of beliefs and practices.
GAFCON is trying to turn the Anglican Communion into a confessional church by abandoning the relational aspects of the communion for a strict order of membership based on believing and doing the 'right things'.