GAFCON, Women Bishops and the End of the World…
So I’ve been plagued for a few days by emails asking me what I think about GAFCON, the latest nonsense from the Church of England General Synod and other such what not. I’ve been sitting on my hands for a few days on all of this because I wanted to make sure that what I said was not just a knee jerk response. Now the silence is, at it were, broken.
There is a fundamental problem with the Church of England today and it is that we have completely forgotten what it means to be a broad church. There are portions of the church that believe that to be "broad" is to allow a huge variety of theological opinion, and while that may be right, there are certain bounds within which that broadness is intended to operate. It is simply incorrect to argue that when Elizabeth I said that we were not to pry into men’s souls, she was perfectly happy to have clergy who denied the divinity of Jesus, let alone who taught publicy a sexual moral that denies the heart of the transforming Gospel of redemption.
John Richardson, the "Ugley Vicar", hits the nail on the head when he writes:
Occasionally I have a look to see how traffic has come to my blog, and if the source looks interesting I’ll nip over there and see what is going on. Thus earlier today I found myself on Bishop Alan’s Blog, run by Alan Wilson, the Area Bishop of Buckingham.
There I found a thread headed ‘A Church of Navel Gazers?’, which quoted approvingly an article from the Daily Mail which accused the Church of England of neglecting its real mission for all this stuff about women and gays. Why, the writer asked, couldn’t the Church just accept both and get on with the job? And Bishop Alan entirely agreed.
The problem is, though, it surely depends on your understanding of Church, and therefore on your understanding of controversies within the Church. If the Church is a ‘rainbow coalition’ of theologies where we focus on tackling social issues, then I can see the point of the Mail article. But if the Church is ‘the pillar and bulwark of the truth’ (and according to my computer Bible, the word ‘truth’ occurs in 237 verses in the NIV translation, beating the word ‘poor’ by 60), then the issues which divide us are ‘mission issues’ (including on mission to the poor).
Rightly, John raised with Bishop Alan, an Evangelical, the question of whether Bishops and their appointed selectors for ministry make any reasonable attempt at discernment of the creedal faith of a candidate for ordination. Bishop Alan’s reply ducks the issue:
There are clergy, as you know, who are not Conservative Evangelicals, and since the 1860’s Clerical Subscription Acts there has been a formal degree of lattude to allow for honest divergence about epistemology and the meanngs of words. You may say Elizabeth I’s comment about "windowes into men’s soules" has always, to a certain extent, applied. However, all clergy subscribe on every appointment and at ordination. Before ordination they are certified from their course or college in the form given in the ordination service. Before selection in this diocese we enquire as to their willingness to live according to Issues in Human Sexuality, and written assurance is sought and given in every sponsorship for which I am responsible. There is an issue about people’s integrity, of course, and we do not have an efficient thought police. You can challenge their integrity and they can challenge yours.
I am anxious that people who are appointed are people of faith. I don’t care whether they are high or low or Catholic or Evangelical, but I would be looking for people who bring faith to their work. My custom at interview is to give them a bible and five mnutes and tell them to get on with it. Usually appointment boards discover in this way what kind of a gospel people preach, and that is a significant question, surely, for any parsh ministry appointment.
Practce in different diocese may vary greatly, no doubt.
Finally I know what you mean about truth and unity, and on a human pelagian level, of course that will do. I need to say, however, that this is not a gnostic cult founded on propositonal truth. Unity is a gift of Christ arising uniquely from his blood shedding on the cross, not something you or I can create by signing up to checkboxes. I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply otherwise.
Firstly, I believe the Bishop is simply wrong on this matter when he rejects the idea that Anglicanism does not hold to a "propositional truth". Even a cursory glance at the 39 Articles, which all Church of England clergy assent to both at their ordination and then at each subsequent licencing, reveals a series of truth claims which lie at the heart of what it means to be Anglican. For example, article four reads:
Of the Resurrection of Christ. Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day. [wikipedia links maintained]
which is a sequence of clear doctrinal statements. It strikes me, as it does John Richardson, that any Church of England clergyman who denies the physical resurrection of Christ has moved outside the bounds of faith which he himself on his ordination has vowed to uphold. Most of us know priests who have committed such an act of perjury.
And yet, the Church of England does nothing about this, and so it undermines its doctrinal authority everytime a clergyman is permitted to spout heresy from the pulpit. For example, were the Bishop of London to do anything less than to remove the licence of the Rev Martin Dudley for conducting a sham of a marriage service for two men he will de facto accept such a service to be permissable and indeed good. But the lack of discipline isn’t just in matters of doctrine.
This Sunday, Gene Robinson will preach at St Mary’s Putney, the church of Giles Fraser, at Giles’ invitation and against the express admonition of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Will Fraser’s Bishop, Tom Butler of Southwark, discipline him for this? Absolutely not, and this shows how deep the rot is. Bishops are meant to act collegially but in this instance Bishop Butler seems to want to operate outside of the framework of accountability. Or take other diocesan bishops who sign pastoral statements agreeing to inquire of those clergy entering into civil partnerships whether they are sexually active, but then in their diocesan synods declare publicly that they have no intention of inquiring what their priests get up to in their bedrooms.
There is no real discipline at all in some parts of the church in matters holy, lawful and honest and this is the reason why GAFCON happened, why the Jerusalem Statement was issued and why hundreds of orthodox clergy and laity, evangelical and anglo-catholic, met at All Souls Langham Place last week. They met because the moment has now come in England to stand up to liberalism.
Of course, "Liberal Christianity" is anything but. Despite the loud exhortations from its leading proponents that the "broad church" is the key nature of Anglicanism, Christina Rees and others like her worked on Monday night to produce a framework for the legislation for Women Bishops that would cut out from the Church of England those traditionalists who believed that the ordination of women, let alone their consecration as bishops, was a deeply heterodox move. In doing so they demonstrated that they were far less interested in liberality of theological thought and far more concerned with pushing a specific revisionist interpretation of Scripture with the explicit removal of those who believed the traditional orthodox faith.
This is no wonder though when you examine the theology of some of those leading the campaign to make women bishops with a single clause measure. For example, some of the leading candidates to be the first women bishop, like Christine Hardman, Archdeacon of Lewisham (Southwark Diocese again) and June Osbourne, Dean of Salisbury Cathedral (again, not the most conservative of dioceses at all) have some of the most liberal doctrine of their contemporaries. Christina Rees the Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church) is also heavily involved with Giles Fraser’s Inclusive Church which campaigns for the acceptance of gay sexual relationships in the church.
If evangelicals who support women bishops, and there are a fair number who do in good conscience, eventually allow a single clause measure to go through General Synod they will unwittingly be signing their own theological death warrants, for a single clause measure will signal a victory for the revisionist agenda which, despite its pretence otherwise, is not interested in the slightest in a broad church but rather wishes to expunge the Church of England of its up to now orthodox doctrine. It is for the likes of Elaine Storkey, Bishops Tom Wright and Pete Broadbent, Andrew Goddard, Graham Kings and their open evangelical colleagues to consider very carefully whether they can support the adoption of a single clause measure. These are the real decision makers now, and the future of the Church of England is actually in their hands, for they hold the key votes and the key influentual voices in the orthodox constituency. Let us not kid ourselves that Reform or Forward in Faith can by themselves save the day – it is Fulcrum who now have the hands to play. Yet, they run the danger of not seeing the problems that are destroying the Church of England, not stepping up to the job of both standing very clearly for creedal and moral orthodoxy and working actively against heresy and ethical unholiness.
Is it the end of the Church of England as we know it? Do we feel fine? The answer to that is now firmly in the hands of those who can choose either to accept the reality of the drift to apostasy that we are slowly facing, or to keep their heads in the sand and deny the current inability of the Instruments of Unity of the Communion to discipline those who would rewrite the very nature of Anglicanism.