Gafcon Update 4 - Let these bones live!

Wednesday 20th June
Philip writes:

By and large our news media is very parochial and includes a narrow selection of global stories. Yet it could not ignore the story of the kidnap of hundreds of young girls by the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram in Nigeria. Thankfully many have now been released, but some are still held, including a girl called Leah who has refused renounce Jesus for whom we have prayed by name here at Gafcon.

But almost completely unreported is the story of those coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ from a Muslim background, even in Nigeria and even from Boko Haram.

Sitting in front of me at Gafcon are Abraham and Dorcas Yisa. Abraham is a lawyer by training and serves as a judge in Nigeria and is clearly held in high regard by the authorities. He is also the Registrar of the Church of Nigeria. But his service is much more than simply institutional. He and Dorcas have opened their home to a number of young women who have been converted from Islam to Christianity. Abraham told me of two who came from his home community and whose families he knows so he has been able to speak to their parents. They have rejected their daughters but he and Dorcas have given them a new family who are now providing for them, caring for them and protecting them. Because he is a judge Abraham has armed police protection and wonderfully, as well as a home, these girls now also have a place of refuge and safety in the face of death threats because they now claim Jesus as their Lord. But Abraham and Dorcas are not the only ones. There is a whole network of brothers and sisters providing a new home and new family for those who have made the costly decision to follow Jesus. 

This is church in action, quietly, sacrificially demonstrating what it is to be belong and be part of Jesus’ family, our family!

Our focus today has been on God’s world and the immense need for Christ to be faithfully proclaimed to the nations. We had a superb plenary from the new director of Operation World, Jason Mandryk, a Canadian living in the UK. In a TED-talk style presentation he conveyed an immense amount of stats in an engaging and informative way with clear analysis and implications. And there were surprises, for example, not only is the global south (as opposed to the West) the largest proportion of Christians worldwide, it is also sending out more missionaries. The world is now looking to evangelise us in the UK and Europe. But the greatest need remains India and China, which if their states or provinces were considered individually they would be 32 of the top 40 most populous nations. The archbishop of Uganda, Laurent Mbanda reminded us of Romans 10v14, “How ... will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”

I mentioned yesterday that I planned to attend a seminar on the Holy Spirit in the Church led by Dr Ashley Null - and it certainly did not disappoint. 

The gospel of grace is so easily distorted into a gospel of works, making my faith the key to unlocking God’s favour. This is a huge problem amongst many of the African churches. It is pastorally disastrous because if the blessing is not forthcoming, the fault must be mine. Elsewhere many believers are hamstrung by the awareness of their sinfulness and the endless attempt to do better, try harder and summon the will power not to let God down. Still more are locked into doing good to establish the grounds for a relationship with God. These are just a few pastoral scenarios which ministers come across day by day but which Ashley showed us are simply contemporary re-runs of medieval Christianity.

However at the heart of Anglicanism is the glorious rediscovery of the gospel which is truly liberating. Thomas Cranmer’s theology of the Holy Spirit is encapsulated in the Collect for Purity. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to love God more than sin and the fruit of which is seen in lives that give God glory and magnify him. In essence, the solution to sin is the gift of a heart transplant by the Spirit (Eze 34, Jer 31).

Ashley also showed us how the reformers were clear that it is the scriptures through which the Holy Spirit speaks and works as opposed to the institutional operation of so-called ‘apostolic succession’ or the mystical influence of relics: “The words of Holy Scripture be called words of everlasting life: for they be God’s instrument ordained for the same purpose.  They have power to convert through God’s promise, and they be effectual through God’s assistance; and, being received in a faithful heart, they have ever a heavenly spiritual working in them.” (Cranmer’s Homily on Scripture)

“As I speak, with my words, go my breath.” Using this simple illustration, Dr Null was expressing why Gafcon is so unswerving in its commitment to the Bible, for without God’s word, we will not see the Holy Spirit at work in the world in transformed lives. And if the church abandons the Bible, we will simply be left with Ezekiel’s vision of dry, dead and lifeless bones.

In that vein, Dan writes:

The theme of GAFCON III is ‘Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the Nations’. Amidst all the differences between the fifty nations represented at GAFCON there is a universal recognition that in every place there can always be a drift away from faithfulness, departing from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. 

Delegates have been reminded repeatedly that there can be no effectiveness in reaching the nations if it is not the Christ of the Bible who is proclaimed. It is foundational to GAFCON that all:

“…rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.”

“…gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.”

A great gift of God to the present and future generations from GAFCON I in 2008 was the Jerusalem Declaration (https://www.gafcon.org/resources/the-jerusalem-declaration) which the Fowey PCC warmly welcomed that year and which is displayed at the back of church. It is the basis of the unity in diversity which is GAFCON and is also constant reminder of the components of Anglicanism that will keep all faithful.

Alongside rejoicing in and gladly proclaiming the gospel the declaration is clearly: 

➢ biblical - upholding the sufficiency & authority of scripture (para 2).

➢ historical - in upholding the four Ecumenical Councils &three Creeds (para 3).

➢ doctrinal - in upholding the Thirty-nine Articles (para 4).

➢ sacramental & liturgical - upholding the standard of the1662 BCP (para 6).

➢ episcopal - upholding the standards of the Anglican Ordinal(para 7).

➢ moral - upholding the creation order, the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage & caring for the world (para 8 & 10).

➢ missional - upholding the Great Commission (para 9).

➢ ecumenical - upholding the unity of all those who know &love Christ (para 11).

➢ global - upholding objective truth where necessary & respecting diversity where possible (para 12). 

Anglicanism like this (as opposed to dry bones) ought to truly gladden our hearts! 

with love from Jerusalem