In his opening address to the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), Most Rev Foley Beach had stern words for the leader of the Church of England, explaining modern Anglicanism was called to be a repenting Church, reconciled to God and one another, that compassionately reaches out to a lost and hurting world with the hope of Christ. Here’s his speech in full
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the archbishop and primate of the Anglican Church in North America and the current chair of the GAFCON primate’s council, it’s a joy to join in welcoming you here to Kigali. It’s been an honour to have been selected by the primates to serve in this capacity for the past five years. And we’ve seen the Lord do some amazing things throughout the world to advance the gospel. But I have to admit, it’s been quite a challenge.
We’ve had to face together a worldwide epidemic of Covid-19. Not only did we lose many people who were precious to us, but we literally had to shut down our ministries. We weren’t able to have church; we weren’t able to travel. It was very tough. Many of us have faced persecution, with the killing of fellow Christians in our villages. Many of us have faced famine and drought and flooding, which has caused all kinds of hardship, including starvation and sickness. Many of us have faced war and civil unrest, and many of us have had to face economic challenges.
Frankly, I wondered if GAFCON would survive. But when God ordains something, he sees it through. Romans 8:28 tells us that God “works all things out for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose”. So here we are. The largest gathering of Anglican leaders since GAFCON three in Jerusalem in 2018, and maybe one of the most important church gatherings in our time.
Do you think that God will continue to pour out his Spirit, if we’re not obeying his commission?
God has had his hand on GAFCON, not because we have charismatic leaders, not because we have a great organisation and not because we’re Anglicans. God has had his hand on GAFCON because we are honouring him by standing against those who conveniently and culturally disregard the word of God. We have stood firm in our biblical convictions, summed up in the Jerusalem Declaration. He has been honouring our efforts to call the Anglican Communion to repentance, to renewal and to reform. Jesus is our Lord, and we’re seeking to honour him as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
As we gather this week from all over the world, I want to encourage you to keep the following in mind as we travel together this week, and then we return to our own provinces. I would like to share what I call the four marks of continuing Spirit-filled movement. Or rather, we could say, four marks of modern Anglicanism.
You see, we could go on playing Church, being religious, and even making bold statements, and make no spiritual impact on our world. What a tragedy that would be. We want to see true revival breakout and spread to every part of the world.
A repenting Church
So the first mark of modern Anglicanism is what we would call a repenting Church. After all, isn’t that’s the message of the gospel? Remember the message of John the Baptist? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2, NKJV). Remember the message of Jesus. Matthew 4:17 says: “From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” Remember the message of the apostle Peter at the end of his Pentecost sermon. When the people said: “What must we do?” Acts 2:38 says: “Repent, and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (ESV). And remember the words of the apostle Paul, when he was addressing the people of Athens. In Acts 17:30 scripture says “in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
We are called to be a repenting Church. That is, we must call people to repent of their sins, but also be a repenting people ourselves, a group of repenting followers of Jesus. When God shows us our sin, we must turn from it and turn to the Lord. I mean, isn’t this what ‘repent’ means? It means literally to change your mind. We’re going in one direction, living for me, myself and I, and then we repent, we turn around, we ‘do a 180’, and we begin to live for God.
In recent days, we’ve seen the Church of England walk away from the plain teaching of scripture
St John of Damascus said this: “Repentance is returning from the unnatural to the natural state, from the devil to God, through discipline and effort.” I know people will say: “Well, this is how you become a Christian, and it is: we repent of our sins, we believe the gospel and we follow Jesus”, right? Because of God’s love for us, because of Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins, because of his resurrection and the promise of eternal life. We change our minds. We repent about living for me, myself and I, and we begin to live for Jesus. But this repentance doesn’t stop when one is born again, or comes into a relationship with God through Christ. It’s a day by day, moment by moment reality.
When a person comes to faith in Jesus, God does a wonderful and amazing thing. He gives the person the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit begins to teach you and guide you and reveal to you the ways of the Lord. But he also begins to reveal to you your sin. And as the Holy Spirit reveals to you your sin, usually through the Bible, then you have a choice. Continue in that sin, or change your mind. Repent. That is to begin to believe that that behaviour or attitude is a sin, and turn from it. This is repentance.
He’s constantly showing me my sin. And unless I repent, I quench the Holy Spirit in my life, and then my ministry (1 Thessalonians 5). As God shows us our sin, you and I must repent and return to the Lord. St Paul of the Cross wrote this: “Should we fall into a sin? Let us humble ourselves sorrowfully in his presence, and then, with an act of unbounding confidence, let us throw ourselves into the ocean of his goodness, where every failing will be cancelled and anxiety turned into love.” We’re called to be a repenting church.
In recent days, we’ve seen the Church of England, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and their bishops, walk away from the plain teaching of scripture. We call on them to repent, to return to the teaching of the word of God. We call on them to stop blessing sin and returned to the sanctity and holiness of marriage. We call on the Scottish Episcopal Church to repent. We call on the Church of Wales to repent. We call on the Episcopal Church of Brazil to repent. We call on the Anglican Church in New Zealand to repent. We call on the Church of Australia to repent. We call on the Anglican Church of Canada to repent. We call on the Episcopal Church USA to repent. Repent and return to the teaching of holy scripture.
Read more on the Church of England’s recent proposals on same-sex blessings:
Sadly, and with broken hearts, we must say that until the Archbishop of Canterbury repents, we can no longer recognise him as the first among equals, and the spiritual leader of the Anglican community. It’s time for the whole Anglican establishment to be reformed anyway. I mean, why does the secular government of only one of the nations represented in the Anglican Communion still get to pick the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion? This makes no sense in today’s post-colonial world.
But let us not only call on those out there to repent, some of us need to repent of our sins, our provincial sins, our church’s sins, our personal sins. Sexual sins are not the only sins in the Bible. Some of us have practices in our provinces and in our ministries and in our lives which are not of God. We need to repent. We Anglicans pray this prayer each time we confess the general confession: “we are truly sorry, and we humbly repent” - or some version of that in the liturgy. As we confess our sins, we tell God that we’re sorry and we are humbly repent, yet do we?
The question each of us must ask ourselves is: “Is there something in my life which the Lord has shown me of which I need to repent?” If we’re going to be the people of God that the Lord wants us to be, we must be a repenting church. If we want true spiritual awakening, we must be a repenting Church.
A reconciling Church
The second mark of modern Anglicanism is we must be a reconciling Church. When I speak of reconciliation, I’m not talking about being reconciled with the world or with sin, or with sinful behaviour or giving up one’s principles or compromising biblical truth in order to be reconciled. The scriptures tell us that we are all ministers of reconciliation, and that we are be reconciled with one another as well. This reconciliation is based on the cross of Jesus, on the truth of the scriptures, but not compromising the teaching of the scriptures.
To be reconciled means there once was a problem. The Australian Anglican scholar, Leon Morris, wrote: “this reconciliation properly applies not to good relations in general, but to the doing away of an enmity, the bridging over a quarrel, it implies that the parties being reconciled were formally hostile to one another.”
This is true with us individually with the Lord, but it’s true with too many of God’s people with each other. For real reconciliation to take place, you must remove the enmity, the source of the quarrel; we may apologise for our actions, or we may pay back money we owe, or we may return something which we borrowed, or we may make restitution for the damage we’ve done. In every situation, there must be a dealing with the root cause of the enmity.
In other words, there’s no true reconciliation without repentance. Jesus died on the cross to put away our sin. And he removed the enmity between God and humanity. He opened the door for all human beings to come back to God. He made it possible for us to be reconciled to God through faith. However, there’s another aspect of reconciliation which is not often addressed in our lives. It’s when we have problems with each other.
Do you know what most unbelievers out there think we feel toward them? They think we hate them
The apostle John addresses in several ways. 1 John 4:20: “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he does he who does not love his brother whom he has not seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” God has called us to be a reconciling Church; a people who are reconciled with God through Christ and who are reconciled with one another.
Doesn’t Jesus tell us that this is one of the biggest witnessing tools we have for unbelievers, our love for one another? And yet people wound us, people get mad and say bad things. Family members hurt us, friends go back on their word. Godly people get out of the Holy Spirit and, in the flesh, do things that offend us. This happens in congregations, and individuals, too.
The biggest problem we have in being reconciled with others is our unwillingness to forgive. Unforgiveness sets in, resentment begins to grow. Bitterness creeps in, and before long, unforgiveness has so grieved the Holy Spirit in your life that there’s no joy and no peace, and it affects everything you do. Brothers and sisters, this must not be! We’re called to be a reconciling Church.
A reproducing Church
A third mark of modern Anglicanism is we’re called to be a reproducing Church. Just as in the creation story, when God told humanity to be fruitful and multiply, Jesus commissioned his disciples before he ascended to do the same. In Matthew 28:19 he says: “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I’ve commanded you. And behold, I’m with you, to the end of the age.”
You and I are called to be a reproducing Church, a disciple-making Church. The major reason that God gives us the Holy Spirit is to witness; to go make disciples. Remember his words in Acts 1:4? He said: “Wait for the gift my Father promised”. In Acts 1:8, he says: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The power of the Holy Spirit is related to the commission to go and make disciples.
Do you think that God will continue to pour out his Spirit, if we’re not obeying his commission? Jesus says here that we are to go; they will rarely come to us. We must go. We must get out of the four walls of our church and go. We must get out from in front of the television or the computer screen and go.
The theme of this conference is: “To whom shall we go?” And we know we’ll hear a lot about this, but please know that at this moment in time, there are over three billion people in our world who do not know Jesus. You and I need to go. We need to go and be the people that he has called us to be. To go to the people that are in our world, the people that we work with, the people that we have fun with, the people down the street, the people in our villages, the people in the next village or town. We’re called to go and share the good news of Jesus Christ and make disciples of all nations.
A compassionate Church
A fourth mark of modern Anglicanism is that we’re called to be a relentlessly compassionate Church. 2 Corinthians 5:14 says: “For Christ’s love compels us”. 1 Timothy 1:5 says: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (ESV). Galatians 5:22: The fruit of the Spirit is…what’s the first one? Love. Jesus said the second greatest commandment was what? “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
Do you know what most unbelievers out there think we feel toward them? They think we hate them. They think we despise them. They think we judge them. They think we don’t care about them. Now, obviously, they don’t know us very well because that’s not true. But this is our problem, not theirs.
God calls us to be relentlessly compassionate to the people in our world. Let me challenge you to pray a very dangerous prayer: “Lord, open my eyes to see the hurt and pain in the people around me.” Don’t pray this unless you’re ready to be compassionate. Don’t pray this unless you’re ready to care. People all around us are suffering immensely. People have wounded family relationships. People are living in sexual brokenness and misery. People are financially burdened and overwhelmed. People are addicted to alcohol and drugs and sex and money. People are exhausted and can’t get off the merry go round. And the black hole just gets deeper and deeper with no way out. People have medical conditions which sap all their strength and creativity. They’re craving a little compassionate care. They’re craving a better way. And we have the answer to their needs.
We have the answer for the drug addict. We have the answer for the porn addict or the financially broken or the emotionally and physically abused. For those living in poverty, we have the answer. His name is Jesus. He cares for them. He desires to help them. He wants to be in a relationship with them, and to lead a meaningful life.
Frankly, I wondered if GAFCON would survive. But when God ordains something, he sees it through.
However, this Jesus expects his body to be his body, in the towns and villages and cities and neighbourhoods in which we live: his arms, his legs, his voice, his ears, his heart. We must be the living body of Christ engaged with the people around us. We must be the temple of the Holy Spirit, exhibiting the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit in all that we do.
May it not be said that we did not pray and fast for our nations. May it not be said that we did not reach out to the neighbours around us in love. May it not be said that we did not love our enemies into the kingdom of God. May it not be said that we did not do all we could to reach our friends, our family members, our neighbours and coworkers with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. We are called to be a relentlessly compassionate Church.
So as we go throughout this week, with our theme “to whom shall we go?”, and then we eventually return back to our homes, let us remember that God calls us to be a repenting people. God calls us to be a reconciling people. God calls us to be a reproducing people. And God calls us to be a relentlessly compassionate people.
In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.