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Nigeria slams stage managed primates meeting

Thursday, October 19th, 2017


Nicholas Okoh

To the Faithful of the Gafcon movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the Gafcon Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

On the 31st October, it will be 500 years since Martin Luther’s 95 Theses triggered the Reformation. He was fired by holy indignation because of the way ordinary Christians were being abused by a church which was turning the need for divine forgiveness into a money making machine through the sale of indulgences, but that led him on to see the root of the problem.

The message of God’s free grace in the gospel had been buried under layers of superstition and human tradition, which Luther and the Reformers then exposed to the light of God’s Word. The recovery of the Bible as the first and foremost source of authority in the Church was the basic principle of the Reformation. Everything else depended on this and still does.

Anglicanism claims to be an expression of Reformed Catholic Christianity, but the Canterbury Primates Meeting held earlier this month shows once again that the Anglican Communion is in urgent need of a new reformation. I and a number of brother Primates (representing between us over half of practising Anglicans worldwide) did not attend as a matter of conscience. We cannot ‘walk together’ with those who have abandoned the teaching of the Bible, but that is what the Communiqué issued from the meeting encourages us to do. The painful truth is that the authority of Scripture is being replaced by the authority of Canterbury.

There is no mention in the Communiqué of Lambeth Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference where the vast majority of the Communion’s bishops reaffirmed the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, including the clear statement that homosexual practice is contrary to Scripture.

Same-sex ‘marriage’ is referred to merely as a difference of understanding while the only call to repentance is to those who have crossed provincial boundaries to support orthodox brothers and sisters unchurched by leaders who have rejected God’s Word.

The Conference also affirmed the LGBTI community and their lifestyle, while unequivocally disowning the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), an orthodox Anglican Province.

If we may be reminded, it was the unwillingness of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to provide oversight to dissenting orthodox Anglicans in the USA as advised by the Primates Meeting that led to the formation of ACNA, to keep it in the Anglican Communion fold. ACNA is therefore authentically orthodox, Anglican and Gafcon altogether.

Let me humbly advise Canterbury here to take urgent steps to recognise ACNA as an authentic Province of the Anglican Communion before new realignments make that need unnecessary.

It appears that the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and other revisionists have now got what they failed to get at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It seems it is now ‘officially’ possible to teach the opposite of what the Bible teaches and still be fully part of the Communion, with the only penalty being a few procedural handicaps which in practice amount to very little.

Is this now how the Primates of the Anglican Communion understand ‘Walking Together’? It has become clear that the Communiqué does not represent the reality of the meeting.

Some Gafcon Primates did attend the meeting in the hope that they could make a difference, including Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Church of South America who was one of the original members of the Gafcon Primates Council in 2008. Commenting on the Communiqué, he has said ‘It does not reflect what I experienced and heard in the meeting.  That’s fine, it might be somebody’s perception, but it wasn’t my perception and that leads me to ask more serious questions.’

Our Gafcon Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 got to the heart of a painful truth when it concluded that ‘we are a global Communion with a colonial structure’ and the appearance of a few African faces in those structures does not mean that anything has changed. The Primates Meeting Communiqué does not embarrass the Archbishop of Canterbury who, as widely reported just before the meeting began, refused to answer a journalist’s direct question about whether or not homosexual practice was sinful, but it should embarrass all Anglicans who seek to live under the authority of the Word of God.

Also, the outcome of the meeting helps the Archbishop of Canterbury to continue tolerating almost routine breaches of Lambeth Resolution I.10 in the Church of England, but it does not help the global majority of ordinary Anglicans who wish to see their families and societies enjoy the great blessing of godly living.

So how should we move forward? The process of reformation is never smooth sailing, but we can be sure that as we remain faithful to our vision of restoring the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion, we shall have success in God’s good time. Already, Gafcon is enabling training, building global mission relationships, gathering the marginalised and resourcing Anglicans worldwide. Our next conference in Jerusalem in June 2018 will mark a further step in the great project of reformation begun ten years previously and by the grace of God will enable Anglicans around the world to walk together in the true communion of gospel partnership.

The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

“Don’t abandon the flock” – command from the Lord, or excuse for inaction?

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Over the past 60 years English Anglican evangelicals, who share the same commitment to the core elements of biblical faith “once delivered to the saints”, have disagreed, sometimes sharply, about very important, but ‘secondary’ issues. These include: should we expect the Holy Spirit to operate in the life of the believer and of churches in the form of (for example) physical healing, tongues, tangible experience of God’s presence? Can women be vicars? To what extent is social action part of mission? Should preaching always mainly consist of biblical exposition? How often should we use liturgy and Holy Communion? Should evangelicals focus on local church ministry, or try to influence the denominational structures at senior level? And then, a question which took shape famously during a debate between John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966: should the bible-believing Christian leave the Church of England if the denomination heads in a direction which threatens faithful witness?

Various factors have led to this latter question re-surfacing recently. The increasing acceptance of “affirming” views on same sex relationships by senior C of E leaders points to the real possibility of the denomination following the path of TEC, Anglican Church of Canada, and Scottish Episcopal Church in formally abandoning Christian orthodoxy in this and other related areas. Then, the emergence of strong united global witness for orthodox Anglicanism through Gafcon and now the partnership of Gafcon and Global South, who have validated an alternative and viable Anglican jurisdiction in North America, and made possible the idea of something similar happening in the UK. Added to this, social media has meant that people ‘think out loud’ about these and other issues much more than we used to!

The last few months have seen the consecration of Andy Lines as Gafcon missionary Bishop, while at the same time Gafcon UK held public meetings seeking to unite those committed to the biblical reform and renewal of Anglicanism both inside and outside the official structures. An open letter calling on the Church to be faithful and counter-cultural, and accusing the House of Bishops of failure to clearly uphold the Bible’s teaching in the July General Synod, received over 1800 signatures, and coincided with a number of parishes expressed ‘no confidence’ in their Bishop or Archbishop. This was interpreted by some as signaling that the time had come for a split in the C of E.

Others have responded to argue strongly against the impulse to leave the Church of England, describing this as “jumping ship” and “abandoning the sheep”. For example, Mark Pickles, writing in Church Society’s Crossway magazine, says that the two temptations in the face of attacks on orthodoxy from the world and some in the Church are either to “abandon the flock when fierce wolves come in”, or “change or compromise their message to make it more culturally acceptable”.

I am currently still in the Church of England, and my understanding is that Gafcon looks to support, and be supported by, biblically faithful Anglicans within the official structures as well as those who have left for various reasons, or are planning to in the face of overt revisionism as in Scotland. So I am not advocating either a “stay in” or “leave the C of E now” position. But having said that, it is worth looking in more detail at this new, stronger line taken by some influential voices suggesting that C of E clergy should never consider being part of an alternative jurisdiction, as if this would somehow constitute abandonment of the pastoral mandate.

Firstly, faithful clergy move from one post to another all the time. It may be that they feel they hear a call to a new challenge; that they need to be closer to ageing parents; that they have an opportunity to look after a larger and more influential congregation. This is generally accepted as part of the life of ministry: clergy who move like this do not have to face the accusation that they have abandoned their flock, as if they are expected to remain with the same group of people until retirement. So it seems inconsistent and unfair to suggest that those clergy who have left to pastor a church outside the C of E, or who are thinking of doing so, for reasons of theology and conscience, are guilty of abandoning their post.

Secondly, the biblical image of the flock and the shepherd is not the only one for the Church that we find in the New Testament. While Peter, and the Ephesian elders, are urged to feed and keep watch over the sheep, the Bible does not portray the Church as made up of helpless, docile lay people who may grow in number but cannot do anything for themselves, passively sitting in rows while a pastor feeds them, and unable to think for themselves in the face of false teaching. The church is a dynamic body, with each one carrying out a different function; the leaders’ role is to prepare the people for their works of ministry. While sound teaching and pastoral care is needed in a community of healing and learning, leadership and defending against ‘wolves’ is never seen as down to one person, but the responsibility of a plural eldership under the one Good Shepherd, part of the priesthood of all believers.

Thirdly, it is surely the context which determines whether the pastor should leave, and/or suggest to his flock that they leave the C of E sheepfold and move elsewhere, to continue the metaphor. Some clergy will feel that their congregation is a mix of mature Christians, new Christians and nominal or seeking folk. They may have decided that it would create controversy and upset to teach a clear biblical line, for example on sexuality, so best to wait until more people have grown spiritually and accept the Bible’s authority. This may be so, but of course it may happen the other way: many in the congregation are heading in the opposite direction, towards contemporary culture, so if you wait for them all to accept the Bible’s authority you never get to tell them the truth on the subject! In the meantime, some of the biblically faithful lay people may be frustrated and embarrassed by the teaching of Bishops, Synods and Diocesan staff, and have already voted with their feet. They are “sheep” with a mind of their own, who want to be in a church with less compromise. Is the pastor’s primary duty to the spiritually growing believers under his care, or those who are rebellious or even wolves in sheep’s clothing?

Then, it is unhelpful to suggest, as some have a tendency of doing, that staying in the C of E means fighting for truth, whereas being part of an alternative, faithful Anglican witness means cowardice and dereliction of duty. There are some good examples of clergy both within the C of E and who have those who have moved out of the structures, who have bravely put their heads above the parapet to oppose revisionism in church and sin in society. On the other hand, while some may have opted for a role as pastor in FIEC or AMiE for a quiet life, there are certainly many in the C of E who though orthodox, are reluctant to publicly oppose error and have even been quick to denounce those who have done so as “shrill” and “lacking winsomeness”. The concept of friendly association with revisionist leaders in order to try to bring change through ‘quiet and gentle influence’ is increasingly difficult to sustain – apart from anything it can be used to argue that conservatives are part of a process of ‘good disagreement’. Those who say publicly that they are staying in the C of E to contend for the truth, need to actually do it!

Lastly, it’s important to be honest about our motives. One vicar said to me “I’m very concerned about the trajectory of the C of E, but I could never think about leaving, because it would mean giving up my family home, my means of earning a living, and my pension”. This seems to me to be completely fair, and those who have left or are making plans to do so, who have the financial arrangements worked out, should be careful not to judge. But at the same time, it is surely wrong for those determined to remain in the C of E to criticize the (currently) relatively small number of ‘leavers’ for abandoning the flock, when they are making a considerable sacrifice by stepping outside what is certainly a secure way of life as stipendiary clergy.

Thoughts on the Primates Meeting from Archbishop Gregory Venables

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017


Gregory Venables
Archbishop Gregory Venables, Primate of South America, was one of the founding Gafcon Primates and attended the Primates Meeting between 2002 and 2011 before stepping down as Primate. He was re-elected as Primate in 2017 for another term, succeeding Archbishop Tito Zavala (Chile). Archbishop Venables shared his experience of the recent Primates Meeting in Canterbury.

He recently spoke about his experience at the Primates Meeting. In the conversation, Archbishop Venables expressed his strong desire for Gafcon to improve the communication amongst the movement’s members, be robust enough to attract new members, and to hold together in the face of powerful challenges to the word of God.

Below are a few more of the topics he covered:

He clarified that there were 3 groups identified during the meeting: those who were walking together, those walking apart, and those walking together at a distance

He questioned the accuracy of the Communique and the process by which it was produced.

He expressed concerned about the danger of the appearance of orthodoxy without its substance

He speaks about the necessity of discipline, and the inability of the Anglican Communion to function coherently a church.
Below are quotes from Archbishop Venables on each theme.

Are The Primates Walking Together?

What was identified clearly in the meeting is that some aren’t walking together, some are walking together but at a distance, and some are walking together. But even those three ways of grouping that situation don’t deal with the issue. The issue is, why aren’t people walking together? And we aren’t walking together because the situation has not been dealt with.

Does it Matter?

People are being led away from the truth. People are being led away from the safe place that God has provided in his Son Jesus Christ who died for our sin. He didn’t just die to affirm us and get on because everything is alright. He died because we were in rebellion and separated eternally from God. So a sort of “sanction” might look fine for those who are looking for some way of saying, ‘well, it’s not right.’

It’s more than ‘not right.’ It’s life and death, and it has to be dealt with. That was expressed clearly in the meeting, but of course isn’t there in the Communique.

Who Wrote the Communique?

Every other Primates Meeting I have been a part of has begun with a moment when we set up a communique commission; a draft commission whose job it was to prepare a draft communique which we checked every morning and every evening of every day to see how we were doing. Admittedly, I left on the lunch on Wednesday, but I heard nothing about a draft communique. So who wrote it? It does not reflect what I experienced and heard in the meeting. That’s fine, it might be somebody’s perception, but it wasn’t my perception and that leads me to ask more serious questions.

The Authority of God’s Word and Sexuality

Why do people not get that the Bible is the Word of God? That God has expressed his opinion on this issue clearly, in the way that nobody can doubt. It’s not down to my opinion. It’s not down to how I see it. The whole question of Christianity isn’t, “What do I think?” but “What does God think?” And God has said, very plainly, he has made us male and female, and that relationships of that nature are between a man and a woman in marriage. Everything else is sin. It doesn’t matter what the elements are, it’s sin. It is forbidden by God, and he has told us so in his Word.”

The Word of God is always going to be questioned, but it’s God’s Word. And I believe that The Anglican Communion has lost touch with the plain truth as revealed in Scripture, and that’s a tragedy, but we’ve gotta keep on being there proclaiming it and speaking it. Not walking away, but not pretending either that we are walking together with people who are ignoring the plain truth of scripture, even though they might appear to be orthodox.”

What worries me far more now is the appearance of orthodoxy. We might be in language, but are we in our attitude to the Word of God. What did the Reformation take as fact? The Word of God.

In all our services we read the Word and say, “This is the Word of the Lord.” If scripture is not our final authority then we have no authority.

Discipline in the Anglican Communion

Every time that [discipline] came up, what was said was, “We don’t have the authority to do this. The question is, ‘Well why give the impression at the beginning that we do?’”

Maybe the Anglican way doesn’t have a way of doing this. Maybe that is what we just have to accept. The problem is part of the role of church leadership is discipline. If we cannot exercise discipline when people wander away from the truth, then the church cannot function as the church, and that’s where the wheels have dropped off. Because when push comes to shove, and we make the decisions as we did in Dar es Salaam, we talked about them in Dromantine, we talked about them again in Alexandria, it was talked about again last year in January, and then someone says, ‘But we don’t have the authority to do it.’ Then it means that we are not able to fulfill our responsibility as church leaders, because there has to be discipline.

If you read the New Testament, Paul does not assume some sort of Papal figure. There is no one overall leader in the New Testament, and I don’t believe there’s meant to be. Maybe there’s meant to be a group of people who come together and come to some decision, but certainly there is a need for leadership to exercise discipline. And we haven’t found it. And I don’t know who now is going to sit down now and say, ‘How do we do that?’ Although we talked about it in the Primates Meeting, we did not get to a place where we were really becoming pragmatic in what we were talking about. And that’s a great pity. I’m looking for cohesion and accountability, and people being able to do what they are called to do as church leaders.

What is the Message Coming Out of the Primates Meeting?

Maybe the message is, you have to either be a relativist, pluralist or there’s no place for you. Maybe that’s the message, but I don’t see that very many people within the Anglican Communion have actually understood that. I don’t see that people have realized that we do not really agree on the essential salvation issues, because if we did we would not be in the situation that we’ve been in for a long time. It was marked in 1998, we discussed it in Lambeth 1998, it was absolutely confirmed in November 2003 when Gene Robinson was consecrated, and it’s gone on being confirmed in the time up until now. In that sense, one of the messages from the Primates Meeting was it’s “business as usual.” Things haven’t changed. This is how it’s going to be, and that saddens me deeply.

ACC Standing Committee member weds same-sex partner

Saturday, September 30th, 2017


29 Sep 2017
George Conger
One of the participant’s in Scotland’s first church gay wedding thas been revealed as Anglican Consultative Standing Committee member Alistair Dinnie. On 29 Sept 2017 Christian Today reported Mr. Dennie had wed Mr. Peter Matthews at St John’s Episcopal Church in the first same-sex wedding conducted in a church. Mr. Dennie was the Scottish Episcopal Church’s delegate to the April 2016 meeting of the ACC in Lusaka and was elected by the delegates to its standing committee.

On 1 Aug 2017 the Rev. Markus Dünzkofer, rector of St. John’s, reported that he had officiated at a wedding at a hotel for an American couple, “Mark and Rick”. “This was not some pretty, fancy occasion,” he said. “They wanted a religious ceremony and they wanted it to be a nuptial Mass,” he wrote on Facebook.

On 16 Sept 2017 Fr. Dünzkofer officiated at the wedding of Peter Matthews and Alistair Dinnie at St. John’s, making it the first same-sex Anglican church wedding in Scotland. Since the Matthews/Dinnie wedding same-sex marriages have also been celebrated in Glasgow and Moray.

Fr. Dünzkofer told BBC Scotland “I’m delighted that the two of them tied the knot and had a marriage in a church service. Their love that they have for each other is quite obvious. It has nurtured not just me but many members of the congregation. They are very active and supportive members of the church and they do so much voluntary work, we wouldn’t be where we are without them.”

At its June General Synod meeting, the Scottish Episcopal Church took the final steps towards authorizing same-sex marriage, removing from their liturgy the phrase marriage was a “union of one man and one woman”.

A closed door press briefing at Lambeth Palace hosted by the press offices of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested the Scottish action would be brought to the attention of the primates at their meeting in Canterbury next month, and that the SEC could be disciplined for its decision.

The new primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Mark Strange, endorsed the change to the marriage canons and has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage.

Some traditionally minded primates are sitting out this meeting, in protest to the ineffectual actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the ACC. At their last meeting, the Episcopal Church was disciplined for authorizing same-sex marriages, but Archbishop Justin Welby and the Anglican Consultative Council declined to follow through with their recommendations.

A spokesman for GAFCON told Anglican.Ink: “Mr Alistair Dinnie made his position on same-sex marriage well known prior to attending ACC-16 in Lusaka, Zambia, and is one of the revisionists whom The Episcopal Church voted onto the Standing Committee. It is tragic that the President of the Anglican Consultative Council, Archbishop Justin Welby, allowed this nomination and election to move forward, but this is symptomatic of the ecclesial deficit in the Anglican Communion, and a situation that the Primates will need to address.’”

UK: GAFCON bishop loses permission to officiate

Monday, July 31st, 2017

UK: GAFCON bishop loses permission to officiate
Bishop of Southwark blocks Bishop Andy Lines from ministry

July 28, 2017

GAFCON’s appointment of a missionary bishop to Europe suffered a setback this week after the man they consecrated last month has his permission to officiate in the Diocese of Southwark withdrawn.

Such permission is necessary for a priest to undertake any duties in a Church of England parish.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Southwark told The Church of England Newspaper this week: “All PTOs in the Diocese of Southwark fall due for renewal on 30 June each year. Andy Lines wrote to explain that he had moved his canonical residence to the Anglican Church in North American and in view of this change in circumstance his PTO has not been renewed.

“This is a Provincial matter and would need to be dealt with at a Provincial level.”

Supporters of GAFCON in the UK expressed their surprise this week at the move, and it likely to inflame still further the discontent conservative evangelicals feel with the leadership of the Church.

Many are unhappy at two recent votes on General Synod — one on so-called conversion therapy for people with “unwanted same-sex attraction” and a second authorizing liturgies to mark a person’s gender transition.

The vote last month by the Scottish Episcopal Church to permit same-sex weddings in churches had been anticipated by the GAFCON group, who moments after the vote announced that Andy Lines would be consecrated as their missionary bishop for Anglicans in Scotland, the UK and Europe.

He was duly consecrated as a bishop by the Anglican Church in North America’s (ACNA) College of Bishops.

This week the director of REFORM, Susie Leafe, commented: “It is extraordinary that the Bishop of Southwark would with to prevent a godly, mission-minded man like Andy Lines from ministering in the diocese.”

Questions are being raised by conservatives because the Church of England recognises the ministry of the Anglican Church in North American as well as The Episcopal Church.

Prior to the news about the removal of Andy Lines’ permission to officiate, a number of conservative evangelicals wrote to The Daily Telegraph to express their unhappiness and to suggest that new arrangements would be considered later in the year.

The developments will prove uncomfortable for Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who as an evangelical will find himself at odds with those in his own constituency in the Church.

This issue of human sexuality had dogged the Church for decades but after a General Synod rebuff to the House of Bishops’ statement in February a new Teaching Document on the subject was promised. Conservatives fear that the Church of England is now on a more liberal trajectory than they will accept.

Comments after the February Synod by Archbishop Justin Welby and John Sentamu signalling a new policy of “radical inclusion” has also angered conservatives who view traditional views on marriage as a defining point of the Christian faith.

Fundamental shifts in the General Synod

Monday, July 24th, 2017

The decisions taken in the February and July 2017 sessions of the General Synod crossed a line never before reached. Its failure to take note of the definition of marriage as that between ‘one man and one woman in lifelong commitment’, and its embrace of key LGBT agenda (banning so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for unwanted same-sex attraction, liturgy to mark a person’s gender transition) has caused serious consternation, anger and anxiety in the Church of England, and beyond. It was the scale of defeat of orthodoxy in the July sessions that is most shocking. The following is my reflection on some of the significant shifts in the character and workings of the General Synod over my last 12 years as a member of General Synod:

From theology to experience

The quality of debate has fallen sharply in recent years. The vogue is to vocalise experience and ‘tell stories’. In particular, the victimisation and injustice narrative holds sway. Any serious theological input is viewed with growing impatience and embarrassment. Theology is seen to get in the way of real life. The little theological context there is focuses on love, acceptance, equality and justice. These issues have trumped any references to the holiness of God and the need for purity and obedience in His church. The two debates on sexuality in the July sessions consisted of stories of ‘victims’ of church teachings and actions. What little there was of serious theology came from the lips of conservative evangelicals.

The LGBT agenda and constituency firmly entrenched

12 years ago when I first joined Synod, the LGBT lobby consisted of a little stand with a few people handing out leaflets. Many Synod members subtly changed the direction of movement away from them and politely avoided any conversation with LGBT activists. 12 years on, they are the all-winning victorious juggernaut, crushing all in its path. Not only is the LGBT constituency well and truly embedded in the organisational structure of the Church of England, its agenda for change dominates proceedings.

Loss of the fear of God and reverence for His word

There is no fear of God or reverence for His word anymore. Scripture has been twisted, misinterpreted, misused, or avoided to support ideologies that are completely at odds with God’s word. Theological illiteracy reigns. A Synod member speaking in support of transgender liturgy quoted a transgender friend who said to her that Genesis says ‘… and He made them man and woman’ and the not ‘man or woman’. The implication is that God did not create man distinct from woman but created ‘man’ in the nebulous ‘man and woman mixed sexuality’. Linguistically, hermeneutically and theologically this was as example of a descent into theological balderdash. Every opportunity to proclaim the uniqueness of Christ and Biblical teachings, by way of amendments, was comprehensively defeated in vote after vote. Oftentimes, what is left unsaid and untaught is that which leads to errors and sin rather than outright heretical statements.

Demise of socially conservative Anglo-Catholics

There was a time when the Anglo-Catholics reigned supreme in the Church of England. Although sacramental in their theological approach, they were at least largely socially conservative. Their sad demise since the ordination of women clergy and bishops, and their apparent loss of cohesion in General Synod, is to be lamented. That constituency’s voice on sexuality is becoming less and less clear.

The loss of any meaningful understanding of evangelicalism

The so-called ‘evangelicals’ form the largest bloc of Synod members. Despite there being more ‘evangelicals’ than ever, its weakness has never been more obvious. The word ‘evangelical’ has lost its distinctive meaning and Synod ‘evangelicals’ range from openly practising homosexuals who take the lead in promoting the LGBT agenda to conservative evangelicals who believe that ‘God’s Word (the Bible) is God’s word in His own words’. Despite the EGGS (Evangelical Group in General Synod) leadership’s valiant effort to steer the evangelical group in Synod towards Biblical orthodoxy, it is clear from the voting records that many members vote for revision.

Presence of women bishops

Whatever position evangelicals take on complementarian theology, the admission of women into the House and College of Bishops have moved the church and Synod towards a more revisionist position. Even a senior evangelical bishop in favour of women bishops privately admitted that to me. With the increasing tendency to appoint women (almost exclusively drawn from the liberal constituency) to episcopal vacancies, the trajectory is ominous for the General Synod and for the Church of England.

Loss of giants in the House of Bishops

I respect the faithful orthodox bishops who are quietly working behind the scene to ensure Biblical teachings are adhered to. Yet I lament the loss of some of the true giants that I had the privilege to know when I first entered Synod. One can immediately think of Bishops Michael Scott-Joynt and Michael Nazir-Ali. A present bold figure and rising star is Julian Henderson of Blackburn but we need more orthodox prophet-bishops to speak to our times.

Not without sympathy, I think there are now many Christians, Synod members included, who have chosen the path of self-censorship. It is increasingly difficult to be counter-cultural and it is telling that our own church leaders are avoiding making any statements that will cause conflict with the LGBT lobby in society, and even within Synod itself. Who are the prophets of our times in the Church of England? Where are the Elijahs? Certainly not our archbishops, one of whom was conspicuous by the absence of any contribution in the two major debates on sexuality and the other notable by his support of the LGBT-inspired motions. This has raised serious concerns about the future of our beloved church.

What of the future?

In the U.S., the secularists are fighting to separate church from state. In the UK, the church (of England) is fighting to be like the state. Recent actions and statements by General Synod, except for the perfunctory use of words like ‘God’, ‘Jesus’ and ‘church’, are indistinguishable from statements made by secular and state organisations.

Within the next 3-7 years I anticipate three tumultuous and tragic events:

  1. There will be a major split in the Church of England over sexuality issues. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury is, apparently, willing and ready to accept that.
  2. There will be deep division between the orthodox who choose to remain in the Church of England and those who choose to leave (whilst remaining Anglican within the Anglican Communion or leaving the denomination entirely)
  3. There will be a more formalised split in the global Anglican Communion, along with the continuing re-alignment between the orthodox across all Christian denominations.

It is time for deep reflection and prayer and we need to prepare for the evil days ahead. But for the faithful, whatever the tribulations, we can confidently trust in the God who is ‘from everlasting to everlasting.’

Chik Kaw Tan (Dr.)
General Synod member

Is general Synod competent?

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

The General Synod of the Church of England (of which I am a member) met last week in York, and there were many good things about it. We spend most of Saturday afternoon exploring some exciting developments from the ‘centre’ offering resources to dioceses and churches in the task of evangelism and the making of disciples. There was a motion allowing the flexible use of vestments, bringing canon law into line with the reality of variety of practice on the ground. A private member’s motion (PMM) (by Tiffer Robinson) proposed making a sensible change to the allocation of school places, so that clergy moving into tied accommodation are not unfairly penalised. I co-presented the report of the Archbishops’ Council (AC), and it was notable that both suspicion of the Council and reluctance to engage with Renewal and Reform had mostly dissipated.But there were two other items of business that consumed disproportionate amounts of emotional energy and which have sparked debate ever since, and they tested the competence of Synod. I am not sure that the test was passed.The first was another PMM, this time from Jayne Ozanne, asking for Synod to agree with psychiatric medical opinion on the harm done by ‘conversion therapy‘ and requesting the AC to take further action. Many viewed this as a ‘Trojan horse’, since the particular resolution we were being asked to endorse also made references to transgender issues, and Synod cannot actually ask AC to do anything, since AC does not report to Synod. The second motion was from Blackburn Diocese proposed by Chris Newlands asking that the Church affirm their welcome of transgender people, and that the House of Bishops ‘consider whether it might prepare liturgy’ for such a welcome.

There are several reasons why these two motions should never have been debated. The first and most obvious is that both issues will certainly be addressed in the teaching document that the Archbishops have commissioned, so the motions are trying to short-circuit a wider discussion. The second is that both take the form of false binaries; essentially they say ‘Do you agree with me—or do you hate gay and transgender people?’ No matter how faulty the wording, failing to pass either motion would not have looked like good PR, and there would have been howls of protest from various quarters. In the voting, it was evident that the bishops were acutely aware of this, and taking both motions by a vote of houses (so that they had to pass separately in each of the bishops, clergy and laity) which would normally make it harder for a motion to pass, in fact made it easier, since the bishops could not afford to be seen to be the ones who were blocking.

The third reason was the poor wording of both motions. The PMM talked of ‘conversion therapy’ but used this as an ill-defined catch-all which made proper debate very difficult. Every single speaker, including those who proposed and supported significant amendments, agreed that any form of forced or coercive treatment of people who are same-sex attracted (whether they are happy with that or not) is abusive and must be rejected. But another part of Jayne Ozanne’s agenda is to have significant movements in the Church, including New Wine, Soul Survivor, HTB and Spring Harvest labelled as ‘spiritual abusive’ and therefore illegal. This is why the motion was seen as a Trojan horse. Her motion was also asking Synod to ‘endorse’ a medical opinion, and a controverted one at that, which is simply not within Synod’s competence to do so. But suggesting that Synod ‘does not have the competence’ to express a view is like holding up a red rag to a bull (or any colour rag—bulls are colour blind). In the end we passed an amended motion that ‘endorsed’ a different medical view—but few had read the details, still less understood the issues within it, and such endorsement is meaningless except as tokenism.

The transgender motion asked for the bishops to ‘consider whether’ they should formulate some new liturgy, and in one sense that is an empty statement; they might well ‘consider’ it for five minutes and decide not. But to even raised the question of liturgy, before we have any consensus of understanding on the issue, is putting the cart so far before the horse that the horse has lost sight of it. And for both motions, the briefing papers we had ahead of the meeting were wholly inadequate, lacking proper detached assessment (Ozanne ended up bombarding us with a series of papers in response to counter-evidence) and without any real theological input at all. The worst things is that, after all the heat and energy that have gone into the debate, and though the votes might ‘signal’ something, neither motion makes any formal difference at all. The Church’s position has not changed one iota on either issue—not least since the motions were carefully worded so as to formally change nothing.

But three issues were highlighted by means of the debate, and they are ones that seriously undermine the standing of Synod.

The first is the almost complete absence of any theological thinking, and the lack of purchase of whatever decent theology was there. David Baker eloquently lamented:

So why, then, do I feel rather bleak? The answer is simple: the apparent absence at synod of real theology – in other words, the ability to reflect on complex issues with calmness, depth and clarity from an explicitly Christian perspective.

The absence of theological reflection is disturbing. The Rev Mark Lucas – a usually mild-mannered and irenic evangelical Synod member – was moved to thunder on his blog: ‘The debating chamber has been, almost solely, a pink fluffy, theology-free, Bible-mocking, sin-affirming, solipsism of multitudinous, anthropocentric anecdote!’

Stephen Lynas from Bath and Wells made a similar observation:

A number of discussions I’ve been in (in the bar and in committees) bewailed the fact that much of the debate  (on both motions) was personalised and story-driven. There was little theological reflection (apart from a few nods to Scripture, Tradition and Reason). While we were intensely pastoral, then, we were not as analytical as befits a major Synod with carefully-designed processes of scrutiny and decision-making.

There were two low points for me which both occurred in the transgender debate. The first was a retelling of the Genesis creation narrative:

Genesis tells us that humanity was made male and female, in a clear binary. But we are also told that there are similar binaries of day and night, and of land and sea. Of course, we know in reality that there is such a thing as twilight, and that there are liminal places between land and sea, such as wetlands and marshes—and God is in them all.

I find it astonishing that anyone could imagine this offers us any insight whatever into a biblical theology of sex difference or sex identity. It is treating the Bible as an adult colouring book, in which we can use the lines to paint whatever picture we want. The serious theological issue here is that, in treating it like this, we are simply silencing God, and remaking the text of Scripture in our own image.

The second low point was Tim Hind’s comment, when he described any pause for theological reflection as ‘dotting i’s and crossing t’s, and we spend far too much time doing that. We just need to act.’ What have we come to when there is so little tolerance for actually thinking? Synod appears to have been completely sucked into the trivialisation of the social media age, the ‘shallows’ of the age of the internet.

The second issue was the widespread use of personal attacks and ad hominem arguments within the debate. Adrian Hilton has also catalogued some of the abusive language surrounding the debate, including that of Andrew Foreshew-Cain who tweeted in the chamber as I was sharing my experience of transgender people in my own family, amongst friends and in church:

Ian Paul now. If you can watch. ‘See how he loves himself’ to paraphrase a famous saying.

This is certainly a breach of draft guidelines on conduct within Synod, if nothing else.

But even more serious was the emphasising of false binaries to dismiss, rather than engage in, debate. Chris Newlands dismissed any debate about his motion with the phrase:

There are two views on gender dysphoria, those who believe it is real and those who believe it is a fiction.

So no-one is allowed to question his own approach? I wonder how that would look in the close parallel of how we deal with those with anorexia—for both conditions are a kind of body dysphoria, where the person’s perception and their bodily biological reality are at odds. Do we welcome anorexics into our churches? If you don’t believe an anorexic’s account of their physical state, does that mean you don’t welcome them? Or that you don’t believe anorexia is a serious and challenging pastoral issue? How should you respond if an anorexic asked for your support for surgical intervention to make their body conform to their anxiety about it? Is refusing to do this a rejection of them or a trivialising of their condition? This just illustrates how damaging the false binary of debate is.

In Jayne Ozanne’s response to Sean Doherty’s (in my view very good amendment), she objected to the idea that we should ‘note’ (rather than endorse) the professional evaluation, and believed that the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Advisory group were already dealing with the question of guidelines for prayer. But she also included these two comments:

The strength of opposition and the views expressed in communications you received in the run up to synod show the mindset of those who want this practice to continue, (and we have heard it also in speeches), and why therefore my PMM is so urgently needed…

Sadly, this is a very sincere, well-meant wrecking motion from those who still don’t seem to understand the deep trauma that Conversion Therapy causes is behind this and I do urge you to resist it please.

Describing Sean’s proposal as a ‘wrecking motion’ is, I think, an unfair impugning of Sean’s motives. And she appears to claim that Sean is a puppet for those who wish ‘conversion therapy’ to continue, when Sean made clear in his speech that he opposes this practice, and has stated his opposition publicly on the Living Out website. This represents a very unfortunate ad hominem criticism, and it felt like a failure of chairing that this, and other comments, were not picked up.

[In the original post, I had made a shorter summary comment about Jayne’s rejection of Sean’s amendment. Jayne wrote to me to complain, believing it was a misrepresentation, and I am very happy to replace my summary with a quotation from her own notes which she supplied.]

This leads to the third issue: the role of the House of Bishops and the Presidents of Synod (the two archbishops) in the framing and content of the debate. On both motions, the Archbishop of York used his privilege to speak last and advocate acceptance, which many thought was a misuse of his position. And generally the bishops did not contribute much to the debate—except those advocating change. So Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, stood to declare that ‘we believe that LGBTI identity is God-given’, contradicting all agreed Church of England statements on the question. Stephen Lynas comments on this:

Where were the Bishops? There are more than 50 of them on Synod, but we heard very little from them on either of these motions. Some will still be nursing bruises from February, but the suspicion is that they are keeping their heads down. Apart from Archbishop Sentamu and the Bishop of Liverpool, they largely remained quiet.

In fact, several bishops did stand to speak but were not called—inexplicably in the case of James Newcombe, Bishop of Carlisle, who is the Church of England spokesman in the area of the debate. David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, made an extraordinary statement following Synod:

What the [House of Bishops’ February] document failed to deliver, the Synod itself immediately began to put in place. Many of the speeches in the debate that rejected the paper exemplified what a new and distinctly more welcoming tone would sound like…

We follow a God whose ultimate revelation of himself was not in words on a page, or in commandments inscribed on stone tablets, but in a fully human person…Our answers to crucial questions of belief and practice, both then and now, must be grounded in scripture and consistent with its overarching messages. But they cannot ultimately be determined purely by the choices we make of how to interpret a small number of specific texts.

What happened to the connection between the person of Jesus and the gospels which testify to him? Are the gospels mere ‘words on a page’? What does Walker then make of the consistent Anglican commitment to the authority of Scripture? And did he not notice that lack of theological engagement, so that this ‘tone’ of emotionalism is what is needed? And does he really think that those who disagree with him are merely following a ‘small number of texts’? Has he not read Hays, Loader, Brooten, Gagnon, Wes Hill, or any of the others who have set out the over-arching message of Scripture? How can such a view do anything to be a centre of unity, let alone sound teaching, when other views are so casually dismissed? And he really thinks that the Shared Conversations process succeeded in enabling us to listen to one another, even whilst it failed to engage properly in the Church’s current teaching position?

For me, all these factors show very clearly why this issue is worth contending. The change that is wanted, and which is welcomed by David Walker, is a change that can only come if the Church of England decisively detaches itself from its historic roots, and from its commitment to Scripture as a reformed part of the church catholic. More than that, it is a change that will only come by means of the oppressive illiberalism of revisionist thinking which silences and dismisses alternative views without any real listening or engagement.

If Synod is not going to be dysfunctional and divisive, we are going to need a better way forward. Action is needed by the Business Committee, by the House of Bishops, and by the Presidents of Synod. The superficial binaries might work fine in the zero-sum debates of Synod. But they won’t wash in the careful process of reflection towards the teaching document. We need to avoid jumping the gun on the teaching document; we need motions that are clear and not enmeshed in false binaries; we need some theology; we need the basics of respect in debate. And, I venture to suggest, we need better episcopal leadership here. I don’t say that as a criticism of the House of Bishops—it is easy for anyone to criticise, and it is easy for them to feel got at. But I say it as a plea: those undermining the teaching of the Church are not shy to speak up. We need to hear some other voices, and we need to hear them very soon.

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