TEC rejects ACO contention that its members did not participate fully at ACC-16 in Lusaka

Ian Douglas – Gay Jennings – Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine

As the Episcopal Church’s members of the Anglican Consultative Council, we were dismayed to read in today’s Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) an article that claims we did not vote on matters of doctrine or polity at the most recent meeting of the ACC, known as ACC-16, held in Lusaka, Zambia in April 2016. This report is wrong.

Each of us attended the entire ACC-16 meeting and voted on every resolution that came before the body, including a number that concerned the doctrine and polity of the Anglican Communion. As the duly elected ACC members of a province of the Anglican Communion, this was our responsibility and we fulfilled it.

It could be inferred from today’s ACNS story that we did not fulfill our voting responsibilities at ACC-16 to comply with a communique issued by the primates of the Anglican Communion in January 2016.  The communique sought to impose consequences on the Episcopal Church for its adoption of marriage equality at our 2015 General Convention. Such an inference would be incorrect.

At the beginning of ACC-16, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion issued a statement saying that it had “considered the Communiqué from the Primates and affirmed the relational links between the Instruments of Communion in which each Instrument, including the Anglican Consultative Council, forms its own views and has its own responsibilities.” After ACC-16 had concluded, six outgoing members of the Standing Committee released a letter reasserting that “ACC16 neither endorsed nor affirmed the consequences contained in the Primates’ Communiqué.”

As members of the Anglican Consultative Council, we thank God for the time we have spent with sisters and brothers in Christ from across the globe, and for the breadth and diversity of our global Anglican family. We are firmly committed to the Episcopal Church’s full participation in the Anglican Communion, and we hope that, in the future, our participation will be reported accurately by the Anglican Communion News Service.

Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine
Ian T. Douglas
Gay Clark Jennings
Episcopal Church members of the 16th Anglican Consultative Council, Lusaka, Zambia

Archbishop of Canterbury sets out vision for 2017 Primates Meeting

Posted on: February 1, 2017 3:14 PM

Primates meeting, 2016
Related Categories: Europe and Middle East

[ACNS] The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has written to every primate in the Anglican Communion to set out his hopes for the next Primates’ Meeting, which will take place in Canterbury in October.  He also gave details of last week’s report by the Church of England’s House of Bishops on human sexuality. In the letter, Archbishop Justin sets out his vision for the meeting in Canterbury as an opportunity for relaxed fellowship and mutual consultation. He invites the primates to submit items for the agenda and says he’s aware of the pressures under which many of them live.

“I certainly feel the need to be with you, to share our experience and in prayer and fellowship, to support one another and seek how best we can serve the call to preach the gospel, serve the poor and proclaim the Kingdom of God,” he says.

The Archbishop goes on to unpack the declaration on human sexuality which was published last week before a debate at the Church of England’s General Synod later this month.

He describes as a “key outcome” the recommendation that the Church of England’s teaching on marriage should remain unchanged, meaning there can be no same-sex weddings in the Church of England. But he adds that the current advice on pastoral provision for same-sex couples needs clarification and notes the Bishops’ acknowledgment that the Church needs to repent of the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke.

Last week’s report has also been welcomed by the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who said: “The issue of same-sex marriage is highly emotive within the church. I understand the depth of passion on each side of the debate and I understand that any decision will leave some feeling disappointed and wounded by the outcome.

“I support the Bishops’ declaration that doctrine on marriage should not change – that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and woman. The Anglican Communion position is set out in Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. That is our lodestar.

“But it is right that we acknowledge that some of our brothers and sisters do have same-sex attraction and I support the move for a ‘fresh tone’ in the way the issues are debated. Anglicans are called to love all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation. We are committed to welcoming and loving people with same-sex attraction. More than that, we need to fight against homophobia and anything that criminalises LGBTQ people.”

Preparations for the Primates Meeting are well underway. Archbishop Justin’s invitation has been sent to the primates of the other 37 provinces of the Anglican Communion. It will be the first time the group has formally assembled since the gathering and meeting in January 2016, although many were in Rome last October at the invitation of the Anglican Centre there as it celebrated its 50th anniversary.

The 2016 Primates’ gathering drew worldwide attention. It concluded with a communiqué which set out consequences for the US-based Episcopal Church (TEC) following its decision to change its canon on marriage. As a result, members of TEC have stepped down from IASCUFO – the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order – and also from the IRAD ecumenical dialogue. Members of TEC participated in ACC-16 in Lusaka, but none took part in formal votes on issues of doctrine and polity – another stipulation of the Primates’ communiqué. In fact, all matters of doctrine and polity were agreed by consensus so no formal vote was necessary.

The January 2016 meeting also called for the setting up of a Task Group to explore differences and seek ways to restore relationship and rebuild trust. The Task Group, which draws members from across the Anglican Communion, subsequently met in September last year and is due to meet again during 2017.

This article was updated on 2 February to make clear that no formal votes were held on issues of doctrine and polity at ACC-16. None was necessary because all such matters were agreed by consensus.  

Same-sex marriage: what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

Same-sex marriage: what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?

‘Archbishop Cranmer’ has written a balanced and generous analysis of the House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships.

If anyone were to be deemed genealogically competent to look both ways at once in order to hold the balance between views judged to be not contradictory but complementary, it would be a ‘Cranmer’.

He is nothing if not fair and even-handed.

One obvious question that needs to be addressed, is whether or not the Bishops’ report is a situation in which being ‘even-handed’ acts sufficiently forensically as a tool of diagnosis?

To put matters at their simplest; both warring parties claim to, if not have seen the face of God, then at least to have been privy to His mind. Is it a matter of holding the two at equal arms’ length?

The progressives say they have glimpsed God’s Justice, and want to evoke it. ‘Is it just,’ they ask, ‘that someone consigned to a particular biologically or genetically determined same-sex attraction, should suffer enforced celibacy, and be deprived of the ecstasy of sexual intimacies to enhance the affections of their heart?’

And in the context of a highly sexualised society where sexual self-expression has become the bedrock currency of existential authenticity, this plays well with the crowds.

The traditionalists evoke Purity. ‘Is it right,’ they ask, ‘to sacrifice the dominant theme of both Old and New Testaments for an issue of soi-disant ‘natural justice’ relating to amorous exchange and sexual attraction, neither of which figure greatly in the priorities of revelation?’

Should purity trump justice?

It should. The quest for justice found in the Scriptures is not the sanctioning of a human utopia, nor a commitment to egalitarianism. It is more a commitment to end injustice inflicted corruptly by the powerful against the weak. Ensuring equal access to romantically excited sexual intimacy figures nowhere in the mind of God disclosed in either the Law, the Prophets or the Gospels. It is, however, the fixation of a sexually febrile secular culture.

Invoking justice does nothing to place it at the centre of a kingdom theology. Purity, on the other hand, is constantly present, in the Law, the Prophets and intensely and increasingly internalised in the Gospels.

Much is made by progressive voices of the fact that Jesus says nothing obvious about homosexual liaisons. Old Testament scholars explain (without apparently being heard) that this was because the matter was settled permanently as non-negotiable in the purity ethics of Judaism.

Jesus does, however, offer a glance into non-heterosexual identity and sexual self-expression.

‘For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it’ (Mt 19.12).

As He says, not everyone is able to accept this. He seems to be saying, as the best modern science does, that there is a range of non-heterosexual orientation. At one end, biologically determined — at another, variations energised and contoured by encounters with others, and finally, not to be found in science, renunciation for the Kingdom.

The progressive position has been changing over the last few years. In fact, activists have created some confusion in the public mind by firstly claiming en-bloc justification that all homosexual experience was imposed on gay people by genes and biology (“from birth”). This, understandably, gained a great deal of pity from the 98.something % of heterosexuals; a tribute to their compassion if not to their grasp of the complexities of genetics and biology.

This was undermined in the development of progressive politics and culture by the subsequent claim that same-sex attraction was also a matter of experiment, freedom, choice and rights (“made eunuchs by men”).

The Church, as it always has done, does not stand in judgment over other peoples’ proclivities and choices, but instead suggests that outside the Kingdom of Heaven we tend to damage ourselves, and inside, we tend to find salve — salve for our minds, bodies and (since the two are connected) souls.

And that touches on the third category Jesus referred to: “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.” But this, involving renunciation, is particularly hard. Giving up sexual self-expression in order to create some space for something less tactile and tangible is highly counter-cultural today. The suggestion that a Christian might be required to be celibate outside marriage is responded to as if it is a provocative injustice. It is not surprising that a culture tipsy with the priorities of pleasure and self-authentication prefers different criteria to endorse its romantic and existential longings than the Gospels, which is why it appeals to ‘justice’.

The Church has always managed to hold together its dual role of being a hospital for the wounded and a school for would-be saints, so why should it not, as the Bishops’ report does, hold the traditional doctrine but pray for and bless diversity as they claim they have?

For three reasons: purity, prayer and politics.


To some extent Christianity is a mystery religion as much as it is a code of ethics. Despite the versatility of the interpretation of the Song of Songs, the Bible is concerned greatly with procreation and hardly at all with pleasure or personal fulfilment.

Thumb the pages as you will, there is no Karma Sutra within it to deepen the pools of our capacity for human sensuality. Instead, it is a manual for struggling with the threat that our appetites present. Pride, power and sex are especially potent enemies for the soul. But our culture has been travelling away from the New Testament towards a different destination; from Jerusalem towards Athens.

Fulfilment with one’s other half is Plato, not Jesus. It was from Plato that we learnt the distraction that if we are to become whole we need to find our other half in some amorous, erotic, sensual and romantic coupling. In his dialogue the Symposium, Plato has Aristophanes tell a story to help interpret the pain of human yearning. He tells of a humanity that was originally endowed with four arms, four legs, and completely round. The gods were terrified of the power of humans and sliced them in half (explaining the naval) to weaken them. And from that point on, humans have been searching for their lost ‘other half’.

Jesus directs us in a very different direction, telling us not that we have ‘another half’ we need to find to be happy, but that we have another home — the New Jerusalem and the bliss of the presence of God.

So, two kinds of bliss then: one sexual, amorous and complementary, gained by romance and sex — Plato — and one spiritual, compassionate and salvific, gained by renunciation — Jesus.

From Plato comes the justification for coupling; from Jesus comes the invitation to find salvation by renouncing. So where does sex come in for Christians? As the means, steeped in delight, of sharing in the creativity of God, to allow the embodiment of souls intended for the bliss of heaven; a means to a miraculous end, not an end in itself.

The debate about the use and abuse of sex is not about the differing complementary ways of human self-fulfilment; it reflects two very different narrative and diagnoses of the human condition: one from Plato, one from Jerusalem. One from the thinkers, one from the prophets.

There is a theology of celebrating romantic love in the Christian tradition which is at its richest in Dante and Charles Williams (one of the Oxford Inklings). But chastity remains a strong theological component, with sexual expression held as contingent on heterosexual marriage as the whole of the Judaeo-Christian tradition without exception, up until this present day, insists. And within this romantic experience there is a version of the beatific vision. We see the beloved momentarily, as if it were a vision granted to us by God, through the deeply loving eyes of God himself. And having seen who they are in the eyes of God, offer a quality of love that allows them to inhabit more fully this loving and being loved.


This debate has stimulated several images in the imagination. One is a gathering outside the gates of Troy when the famous horse was left there by the Greeks. The consensus is that the danger is over and it should be embraced and welcome into the city. A voice is raised against the project of bringing it through the gates. “What if it is a trap that leads to a different outcome than the one you envisage?”

And so Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali suggested that the Trojan Horse in the Bishops’ report was the promise of liturgical prayers to sanctify the sexual dimension of gay relationships. He warned this ignored the vital principle of ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’.

The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays.

The original Cranmer is one of the greatest exemplars of that. The power of his prayers were the wings that carried what the Church thought she believed.


It should not be news that the Bishops of the Church of England believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The relief is a bit premature. They do not say ‘exclusively’ and without the possibility of change. Indeed, bishops like the Bishop of Manchester give the game away when they admit they accepted the status quo not for theological reasons, but because they couldn’t get the votes in General Synod to change the definition. “We’re not at the point where we can actually change the law,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme (28:25). “And we’re not at the point where we can change the law for one very clear reason: there’s no point in trying to change the law if we don’t think we can achieve it.”

No doubt any new prayers will not go quite as far as Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s, Glasgow, has argued: “..for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, when he grows up, of a fine young gentleman” (and so presumably be pragmatically infertile). But the prayers will both reflect and deepen a climate that urges change, which is what they are intended for.

Perhaps those who welcome the apparent statement of the obvious about marriage from the Bishops did not follow the strategy to change the definition of marriage in the Episcopal Church in America. It began with not changing the definition when the support for change was insufficient, but sanctioning prayers for the blessing of gay ‘unions’ instead. That was followed by… yes, the changing of the definition of marriage.

We know from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s advisor, Canon David Porter, from his reassurances to the pressure group Changing Attitude, that Lambeth Palace envisaged that the progressive and traditional views were irreconcilable and might produce a lamentable split in the Church of England. We know from leading spokesmen like the Bishop of Manchester that those bishops who believe in progressive accommodation will continue to press for a change in Canon Law in order to gain a redefinition of marriage. And we know, too, that if the votes aren’t there in the near future, the legal advice to the House of Bishops attached to the report is to offer prayers after a civil (gay) marriage, thereby getting round the need to change any canon law at all, but just as Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali foresaw — changing theology by changing the prayers (p17, ¶8).

A petition to Parliament to force the Church of England to change its rules on gay clergy has already been launched. Other pressures on and through Parliament to force the CofE to bend to the zeitgeist will follow.

It is staggeringly hubristic for the Bishop of Norwich to claim that it is 30 years since the Bishops last did any ‘theology’ on marriage and they need to think again because there has been so much change. The only change has been the drift of the culture away from Christianity. What sort of faith are the Bishops guarding if they need to tailor their theology to a culture that changes mostly in its repudiation of Christian ethics?

And when the culture changes again, and wants to make a case for mixed or unmixed throuples pledging their troth in ‘marriage’ rather than homosexual couples, will the Bishops reevaluate their theology again? And if not, on what grounds will they defy the epistemology of cultural development that is the driving force in the Bishop of Norwich’s desire to do some new theology?

This is not a story of bishops interpreting their revelation to the culture, but of bishops altering the priorities of their revelation as they follow the meanderings of a secular culture.

Peace in our Time

My other image is of Neville Chamberlain standing at the aircraft door cheerily waving his report from his meeting with the Führer, and declaring “Peace in our Time”.

Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah were critical of those who cried, ‘”Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.‘ Does this report promise peace in the Church?

No. It will offer neither the peace of mind that flows from theological integrity or political peace that flows from consensus. The two models of marriage, love and sex are no nearer being reconciled than they ever were. One is expressed in a formal doctrine that is immune only because its opponents lack the political heft to amend it. And the other is birthed in the praxis of those who promote it blessed with ‘maximum flexibility’.

Nor does this command the peace of a steady state equilibrium. Once the secular culture, and those who want to impose it on the Church, are given leverage in praxis, the momentum will be kept up until formal change of doctrine can be politically achieved to mirror it. That is what happened in TEC in America, and that is clearly the intention of those who favour a mirrored development in the Church of England.

The Church of England has always contained a variety of churchmanships, theologies and spiritualities living together in a kind of genteel if strained intolerance. But the changes sought here produce incompatibilities that are beyond reconciliation without renouncing integrity; and, as in America, are likely to be solved only by some kind of tragic rupture.

There are some issues where Athens and Jerusalem are able to enliven and enrich each other. There are others when they stand for values that are set in opposition to one another and a mutual exclusion that, sadly and tragically, defies even the Anglican spirit of compromise. Despite the best efforts of the Bishops’ report, this is one of them.

The Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden is sometime Chaplain to the Queen

Statement by Michael Nazir-Ali on the Church of England’s Bishops’ Statement on Gay Marriage

Michael Nazir Ali

I welcome the Report of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality upholding of the doctrine set out in Canon B30. It is to be noted that this Canon is not just about marriage being between a man and a woman but also about its lifelong nature, the birth and the nurture of children and the ‘hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affection’. This cannot go hand in hand with wanting to make pastoral provision for public prayer for those in others kinds of relationships.

I miss any treatment of a biblical anthropology in the document and, even more, of the detailed work both of biblical scholars and by the Church of England of the biblical material as set out, for example, in Some Issues with Human Sexuality (Church House Publishing, 2003). Although Scripture, tradition and reason are mentioned as a ‘classic Anglican triad’ the primacy of Scripture is not affirmed. Instead, the report, mistakenly, invokes ‘provisionality’ in theology, although Lambeth Conferences have done this only in relationship to ecclesiology.

We are told repeatedly that pastoral provision for same-sex couples is required, that those in committed relationships should be affirmed and that guidance should be issued for clergy to ‘shape prayers’ for those entering same-sex relationships. How will such prayers be different from public liturgy and how will they relate to the marriage service and the Church’s teaching on marriage? The precedent and parallel of the Service of Prayer and Dedication for the divorced entering a further marriage is tellingly invoked. All of us know how this has led to further marriage in church becoming common-place, whatever the original intention may have been.

The Report, again and again, tells us that clergy will have to uphold the teaching of Canon B30 in their own lives. But the point of this, in the Ordinal and in Canon C26, is so that they may be examples to their people. What value will this have if lay people are permitted to depart from Canon B30’s teaching on marriage and the clergy are given guidance on how to officiate at such departures?

The report tells us in several places that the Church’s teaching has to be related to a fast-changing cultural context but makes no value judgements about the desirability of such change nor to the principles of development which should guide our engagement with culture.

In the useful Annex on legal issues, option 8Cii and 13d need to be watched closely as they could lead to the Church permitting the celebration of any relationship if it is not understood as ‘holy matrimony’ in the sense of Canon B30. The latter would, of course, be limited, to heterosexual couples eligible to marry.

The thrust of the report seems very much to be that there should be no change in doctrine but that there should be a change in pastoral provision and in the public prayer for those entering same-sex unions. The question is, of course, when does ‘usual practice’ become teaching, especially when provision is made for public prayer. As Anglicans and other Christians say, ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’. The biblically orthodox members of General Synod will do well to affirm Lambeth 1:10, both in its declaration of God’s love and the Church’s care for those who experience same-sex attraction and in its refusal to provide for the sanctioning of unions which do not reflect God’s design for human beings as set out in Genesis 1 and 2 and Our Lord’s teaching in Mark 10 and parallels.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes


Yesterday the Church of England’s House of Bishops delivered their report giving recommendations to Synod on a way forward in resolving the present turmoil in the church over human sexuality. As I read through the document I got the distinct feeling that the Church of England leadership is pulling a page out of Pope Francis’ “Art of the Deal” playbook. Both parties are holding two contradictory claims: 1. Church teaching remains the same, and 2. Church practice changes.

The Parallels

If you’ve kept up with Church of Rome news, you know they had Synods on the Family (2014 & 2015) where the issue of communion for the irregularly married was discussed, and which culminated in a new, authoritative teaching document, Amoris Laetitia (the joy of love) last year. In Amoris Laetitia it is claimed that the doctrine on communion for the irregularly married remains the same, while in practice it can be contravened under certain circumstances. This is stunning in its audacity.

Many keen observers of the Church of Rome have commented on the genius of Pope Francis to bring about fundamental change in a church that claims it never changes. Most signs from the Pope and leaders of the synods leading up to the presentation of Amoris Laetitia convinced the traditionalists that orthodoxy would remain protected. “The teaching cannot change,” everyone said, so in good faith the traditionalists were comforted.

Even the initial reactions to Amoris Laetitia were that orthodoxy was up-held, since it did not explicitly change the teaching of the church. In the days and weeks that followed, Amoris Laetitia’s fine print was unpacked, and imagine the surprise when it was discovered that it advocated the violation of orthodoxy (in a footnote, of all places)! The traditionalists now either remain faithful to the Pope and their theology of the papacy (and “walk together” despite their differences, as Archbishop Welby exhorts Anglicans to do) or faithful to God through their theology of communion (and rebel against the Pope). The damage is now done: from Argentina to Malta, Bishops have advised their clergy that the irregularly married may receive communion.

Compare that to Church of England developments in the last three years. A process of discussing the teaching on sexuality occurred from 2014 to 2016, called “shared conversations.” At the conclusion of these discussions, a new teaching document will be created. The recommendation received yesterday from the House of Bishops is stunning in its claim that the teaching document will not change the doctrine or canon on marriage, but in practice clergy are to permit maximum approach to violation (“Interpreting the existing law and guidance to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church”, para. 22).

I have watched with dismay the reaction of the orthodox in the Church of England, celebrating the House of Bishops’ recommendations as a victory. This has echoes of how the orthodox in the Church of Rome reacted to the Synod discussions and initially reacted to Amoris Laetitia.

It is a War

The Scriptures teach us that the church on earth is at war with the devil and his demons. The church is to be militant, committed to the mission Christ gave it, even to the death. We often forget this, lulled into complacency by sweet words of promised bliss from the enemy. It’s the garden all over again. Awake from your sleep, church militant, and do not compromise one inch of God’s truth and practice.

Beware the Greeks bearing gifts.

Caught between the bishops and the deep blue sea

ACSAby Gavin Mitchell, Anglican Mainstream SA

The Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa, now known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA), is one of the provinces of the Anglican Communion that claims to walk the tightrope of the ‘middle path’ in the doctrinal and moral wars of the modern Communion.

ACSA believes that its hero status, from the leading role that it had in the anti-apartheid movement, gives it the new role in championing the indabas (discussions) which some see as essential to the future of Anglicanism. In reality, this means pressure from many bishops and lay leaders for ‘continuous conversations’ until sufficient minds are changed (for a Synod vote) to the new pan-sexual morality. If they can achieve this while convincing people in the pews that nothing is really changing and after all ‘this is what Jesus would want us to do’, all the better.

Evangelicals marginalised

Where does this leave the Bible-believing evangelicals in ACSA? Evangelicals have never really held sway in this province, where history is rooted in the many Anglo Catholic missions of the later 19th century, and which has developed into a very strong hierarchy-centered church. This has suited many in the pews, conferring the status of an Episcopal church over many non-episcopal denominations. Thus there is little demand for sound doctrine as long as the bishop wears a mitre and the liturgy is impressive. All these developments have marginalised the views of evangelicals.

Pockets of churches and clergy around the province identify as evangelical, many with a charismatic strand, with perhaps one or two soundly evangelical bishops. This makes their position precarious. In a number of recent incidents, with or without canonical procedure, evangelical clergy have lost licenses and had to leave the province and, in one case that I am aware of, the country. These have all centred around doctrinal issues and the moral teachings of the church: asking the ‘wrong’ questions can result in severe censure. A few churches like the strong St John’s Wynberg are not really part of the province and can continue in safety. They have not, however, taken the lead which their constitutional independence would make easy.

Upholding the ancient faith

Since the mid-1990s, concerned evangelicals have met hoping to ensure a space in this province, resulting in a small fellowship and support for clergy and churches that come under pressure. While the province has always claimed that the canons remain unchanged and that there are no sanctioned services for blessing same sex relationships, reports have been verified of such blessings and many questions remain about the sexuality of some clergy. The difficulty for evangelicals has been the lack of any declared battleground – such as the Robinson affair in the USA.

Proposed (though never actually accepted) guidelines for pastoral care of people in same sex relationships, were published in 2011. The care suggested was little short of sanctioning sin. This provided the first opportunity for a clear response, which was made by Anglican Mainstream SA. The issue simmered until the Synod of 2016, when a motion was brought by the Diocese of Saldanha Bay for blessing same sex relationships and ordaining men and women in such relationships. This motion was defeated by a very narrow margin in the House of Clergy. For evangelicals this has been cold comfort, since the Archbishop wept publicly when the result was announced and promised that the matter would return in 2019. He was devastated by the hurt which the vote caused to people in same sex relationships, but made no mention that the ancient faith had been upheld, albeit narrowly.

Decisive action?

Is the crisis only delayed or has the time perhaps come for decisive action? This small constituency feels isolated and unable to speak the gospel clearly. Sin cannot be named. Can there be a call to repentance in this atmosphere? Many believe that bold clear alliances should be formed, across diocesan boundaries and with the orthodox bishops that are on the bench. The examples of AMiE and GafconUK have been encouraging as to what could be done, while others hope for some lifeline from ACNA, or from an orthodox Anglican province in Africa.

The situation of evangelicals in this province is precarious. Please pray for guidance. We are open to all help, advice and support from our brothers and sisters in the wider Communion, where perhaps the evangelical wing has a safer and stronger position.

Reof the Reformation: Apologising for all the wrong things!

Printer-friendly version

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a joint statement last week apologising for its “lasting damage”. Wilberforce Director Dr. Joe Boot highlights that their apology is unclear, focuses on the wrong things, and even suggests a “policy of closer union with Rome”. “In this 500th anniversaryof the Reformation, because the love of Christ constrains us, let us pray for the courage and conviction of our forebears to stand for truth so that the gospel may be advanced”, he says.
During the past few days many Christians have been participating in January’s annual season of prayer for Christian unity – an important theme for intercession among all believers. In view of this, last week the two most senior bishops of the Church of England (the Archbishops of Canterbury and York), a Protestant and Reformed denomination, took the opportunity in a joint statement to highlight that 2017 also marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So far, so good!

To refresh your memory, on October 31st 1517, Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses at Wittenberg, protesting many of the practices of the Church of Rome. This brave act precipitated a massive and unforeseen cultural and political upheaval, whilst launching a critical renewal of gospel-centred church life across the continent. The subsequent schism in the church led to the translation of Scripture into the vernacular of the peoples of Europe, massive developments in literacy, education, printing, industry, economic prosperity and political liberty. But above all it heralded the repristination of scriptural faith.

In Britain this spiritual awakening assisted the multifarious emergence of the Church of England and forged the Puritan, evangelical movement through disciples of John Calvin like John Knox, eventually shaping the British Empire and Commonwealth with the liberties familiar to us in the English-speaking world – not to mention the Puritan founding of the United States. Moreover, the Reformation laid the groundwork for the greatest mass-movement of Christian missionary activity across the globe that has ever been seen in history, a movement that continues to this day! It seems clear, then, that there is much here to thank God for and celebrate. It is surely right to mark the historic 500th anniversary of this God-ordained elucidation and expansion of the faith.

The immediate context of the Reformation is obviously important for honest efforts at seeking to understand it. Because the late medieval church had brokered for itself a stronghold over princes and emperors in Europe – employing the implicit dogmas of the universal episcopacy of the Pope, the supremacy of the Church’s spiritual authority over secular authority, and the infusion of grace by the seven sacraments – to challenge it as a corrupted purveyor of a distorted gospel in the manner of the reformers was not merely a ‘theological’ act (in a narrow sense) but an inescapably ‘political’ act. The nature of the relationship that the institutional church sustained to political authority made this unavoidably the case. Rome held to the idea of a universal sovereign church institution, with the right to anoint and depose emperors. As far as Rome was concerned, there was one ‘Corpus Christianum’ with a spiritual and temporal head (Pope and Emperor). The idea of national sovereign states and independent churches had hardly cropped up at all in recent centuries. To reform the church was therefore to reform socio-cultural and political life.

Consequently, as with any great socio-political transition, the period of the Reformation was a ‘mixed bag.’ It presaged a tumultuous period attended by some deeply disturbing persecutions and conflicts between emerging Protestant and Catholic states and peoples. Monasteries and abbeys were seized, and in the conflicts many people lost their lives as states and nations lined up on different sides of the politico-religious divide. Yet we must also be mindful that we do not have a ‘God’s eye view’ on history. Many of the motivations and attitudes that prevailed five hundred years ago are not easily accessible to us, and as a consequence the events of the period following the early moments of Reformation are not easy for us to adequately understand.

Of course this great historical upheaval is long since over. No Christian that I know, Protestant or Roman Catholic, is in any danger of slipping into the violent errors or turpitude of some of those caught up in the cultural turmoil of sixteenth-century Europe. Granted, we Christians still have abiding and significant differences regarding certain aspects of the faith and how it is to be expressed, but today, amidst the modern protracted assault of secularism and paganism against the Christian faith, more unites the orthodox Protestant and Roman Christian than divides us as we face a belligerent, common foe. There are many matters upon which we are able to come together in common cause (i.e. beginning and end of life issues, marriage and human sexuality, religious freedom and liberties etc.), whilst respectfully maintaining important distinctives and engaging in robust debate about them.

So despite the admittedly complex and at times tragic fallout of the Reformation period, one would think that the leaders of the largest Protestant church family in the world, with its wonderful heritage in Reformed faith – global Anglicanism – would be highlighting and celebrating the great blessings of the Reformation at this opportune moment. Indeed the 500th anniversary of this biblical reform movement is surely a golden opportunity to encourage the Protestant church to remain true to the Lord Jesus, to Scripture, to justification by faith in Christ alone, by His grace alone, and to the earnest preaching of a biblical gospel in a time of great ecclesiastical and cultural apostasy. After all, the Reformation sought as its core objective to ground authority in matters of the faith upon the testimony of Holy Scripture exclusively.

Joe quote

But alas, the leading Protestant bishop’s pulpit once again makes an uncertain sound. [1] Whilst rather diffidently acknowledging a few blessings to which the Reformation “contributed” (like the availability of the Bible to people in their own language and the preaching of a gospel of grace), the admonishment proceeding from York and Canterbury is most decidedly at pains to highlight an allegedly “lasting damage” the Reformation has apparently done to the unity of the church; supposedly in “defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love.” And yet no mention is made at all about the evils and corruption against which Luther, Calvin and other reformers vigorously protested for the sake of the gospel and Christ’s church. This purposeful obfuscation leads the bishops to their primary exhortation to Protestant Christians, “repent of our part in perpetuating divisions.”

In addition, the heart of the message of the Reformation is simplistically and radically diluted by the Most Reverend Primates Welby and Sentamu to a call for “simple trust in Jesus Christ” – a phrase that seems to take on a wearisome vapidity when issuing from the evasive and compromised corridors of Canterbury. Such a theological reductionism seems as empty of meaningful content as the endless and pointless apologies we have heard from Archbishop Welby for everything from offending women campaigners in the church because of resistance to women’s ordination, to the church’s alleged persecution of sexual revolutionaries – the LGBTQ community! Now, the message for this season to the church on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is again ‘repent.’ In short, apologise and ask yourself the ‘hard questions’ about how this ‘repentance’ needs to be worked out amidst the church’s present divisions.

Exactly what this call to repent means in this context is not at all clear, and the ambiguity of their statement is surely deliberate. Are we being called upon to ‘repent’ of the actions of our centuries-dead forefathers – as if such a thing were not the height of arrogant presumption, or even possible and permissible from a scriptural standpoint (Ezek. 18:20)? Are we to repent of the existence of the Church of England and other Protestant denominations? This would be odd indeed, since that would mean repenting of the continuing office Archbishop Welby holds for Queen Elizabeth II, the political freedoms the Reformation brought us, and the spread of the gospel throughout the world via numerous Protestant church communities, families and presbyteries?

Are Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others being blamed by the Primates for causing the disunity of the church? It seems to be implied but not quite asserted. Or are the Archbishops declaring the magisterial reformers’ actions sinful, and if so, is continuing to uphold reformational principles actually perpetuating division and thereby something to be repented of? One could easily get that impression.

Nonetheless it seems highly unlikely that these clerical admonitions to ‘repent’ really herald a policy of closer union with Rome. If that were the case then the senior bishops have thoroughly undermined their own cause. By ordaining women priests and bishops, being uncritical of contraception and shamefully hand-waving regarding abortion, not to mention taking an increasingly affirming stance toward homosexual behavior, the Church of England has buried any hope of stronger ties between Canterbury and Rome. In fact, clergy and laity within the Church of England have fled to Roman Catholicism on account of these very issues. Seen from this perspective it is the actions of Welby and his predecessors that have been greatly destructive of Christian unity in the truth.

Rather, in light of the current and highly acrimonious conflict in global Anglicanism regarding human sexuality, it seems far more plausible to read this joint statement as an opportunistic and abstruse lecture. In the course of such a lecture, evangelicals in the communion (the faithful children of the Reformation) might be called upon to repent of the ‘divisions’ they are causing today (like their forefathers) by resisting the corruption of the church and her teaching – in this instance by the powerful LGBTQ lobbyists, both lay and clerical. But, the actual meaning remains shrouded in the obscurity of equivocality and plausible deniability!

In these instances what is not being candidly communicated is often most revealing. What is clear, then, is that the statement offers no ringing endorsement of the Reformation; no affirmation of the great Solas that recovered, enriched and then enlivened the church’s gospel fidelity and missionary zeal in the centuries that followed; no celebration of the freedom of conscience, speech and religion that tracked in its wake. There is no overt celebration of the life of faith that thrives in the children of the Reformation today, and there is no call to cultivate the same reformational spirit of standing on the truth of the Word of God in the face of power and opposition – a message that Christians so desperately need to hear in this generation.

The unity that Christ envisions for his church in his high priestly prayer in John 17 is a unity in the truth, “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Nowhere does Scripture teach that the ideal condition of Christ’s church is an institutional ‘unity’ under one global episcopacy. The calling is for unity in the truth. The whole chapter of John 17 concerns our preservation in the truth of the Word of God as his people.

As children of the Reformation we must never forget that what the reformers were doing was ‘pro-testing.’ That is, they were testifying for something, not simply against something – that is what the word Protestant means. They were testifying for the catholicity of the faith in terms of the gospel of Christ as revealed in his Word. They were not leaving the church; they were standing up for her with courage and conviction. They were obeying the injunction of St. Jude to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

In this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, because the love of Christ constrains us, let us pray for the courage and conviction of our forebears to stand for truth so that the gospel may be advanced and his people may be one in their witness. Let the bishops apologise all they will – here we stand, we can do no other!