Every 500 Years or So . . .

Posted by Bishop Bill Atwood on 12/30/2015

Every 500 Years or So . . .

About 500 years later, in 1054 AD, the Church experienced the final separation between Eastern and Western Christians.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses (Die 95 Thesen) to the chapel door of Wittenberg Castle, which was one of the key factors provoking the Reformation.

Now, approximately 500 years later, the world and the Church have undergone a huge assault from Postmodernism, Paganism, and Materialism to the point that much of the Church demonstrates merely "the form of godliness without the power but denying its power" (2 Tim 3:5).

As a result of those factors, many leaders in the Church have begun pursuing a different agenda that is a radical departure from Gospel history. In addition to the lightning rod of removing boundaries of sexual behavior, there has been a departure from the settled historic understanding of the Atonement, the Divinity of Christ, and the purpose of the Church, as well as even a dismantling of the understanding of sin as a departure from God's design.

In the midst of that chaos, Churches struggled with how to deal with the changes that society was thrusting upon them. In many places, parts of the Church simply caved in and adopted the same worldview as that of the fallen world. While there were countless actions of departure from settled Christian teaching and revelation, one of the most dramatic was the U.S. Episcopal Church's election, confirmation by General Convention, and then the consecration as a Bishop of a man in an active same-sex relationship. Rather than the Bishop being an example and defender of Biblical authority, a Bishop became an icon of rebellion against God's Word and order.

Unwilling to participate in the 2008 Lambeth Bishops' Conference because of that consecration by the Episcopal Church, sixteen Archbishops, Bishops, and a few other leaders gathered on the twelfth floor of the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi to pray about what to do. As the group prayed, a series of themes were articulated that all seemed to come from the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). Those Psalms were ones that were read aloud by pilgrims as they made their way up from the banks of the River Jordan to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Because the route held various dangers from robbers and thieves, pilgrims would read the Psalms for encouragement and to help them keep pace on their journey so they would not be caught in the dangerous Judean hills after dark.

As they prayed, the Nairobi group realized that all the prayers were from the Psalms of Ascent. Someone said, "I think the Lord is calling us to 'go up to Zion.' Maybe He is literally calling us to go to Jerusalem."  At that point, the room became electric with excitement and agreement to gather in Jerusalem as quickly as possible. That response turned out to be a Global Anglican Future Conference, coined by Archbishop Nicholas Okoh as GAFCON.

When the conference opened on June 22, 2008, Archbishop Peter Akinola (Nigeria) insisted that we begin with a blank sheet of paper. After every speaker, devotion, presentation, and small group, feedback cards were made available so people could write down what they were hearing, thinking, praying, and what - if anything - was missing. Those cards from the 1100 participants went to a group that organized the information into themes. A drafting group then wrote down what was emerging. By the end of the Conference, The Jerusalem Declaration (http://gafcon.org/resources/jerusalem-declaration/ )was read to the assembled body. At first there was just a hush over the room, but then the room erupted in cheers and a standing ovation that lasted for several minutes. I remember thinking at the time, "Dear Lord, this is what happened in Nicaea!"

I had always wondered how people could gather from all over the world and produce the Nicaean Creed. This was how! Praying, listening, agreeing, and writing. The Jerusalem Declaration is one of those every-500-years-or-so events. It is the tonic at this season for what ails the straying church and empty world. It makes clear that the only way to build a future that will be lasting and faithful is to build it on the foundation of revealed Christian truth to which Anglicans (up until recently) were committed.

Now, however, there is a great battle going on for the soul of Anglicanism. The Western industrial nations have pretty well caved to the voice of the times, and it is one of those every-500-year struggles. It is all quickly coming to a head. In January, the Anglican Primates will gather in Canterbury. There have been many conversations leading up to it. Leaders from GAFCON and the Global South are clear that they know what is at stake: There needs to be clear consensus and commitment to "the faith once delivered" (Jude 1:3) in order for the Communion to survive.

Some liberal Primates such as Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada have projected great confidence that no decision of substance can or will happen, but privately, word is that many liberal Primates are very concerned about the gathering.

This gathering is a very difficult one because there are two positions that cannot be reconciled. That is not the assessment of a hardliner (well, maybe...), it is the stark reality that either the historic Anglican formularies are authoritative or they are not. Jesus cannot at the same time be Lord and not Lord. What is at stake is not "bragging rights." Orthodox leaders are well aware that what is at stake is eternal life and redemption. Those who diverge from revealed Christian truth are not merely wrong, they are heading toward and leading others to Hell. There is literally no other issue that is as important. No temporal issue can hold a candle to the import of whether or not people are saved.

For more than twenty years, a huge war has been occurring. It has come to a head. The decisive battle will take place in Canterbury from January 11th to 15th. It will determine the future of the Anglican Communion. Please pray! This is not simply an institutional kerfuffle. It is a spiritual war of epic proportions. Any energy devoted to praying and fasting for this meeting will be well invested.

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