The Path After Pilling
Folks, this is an important blog post. If possible, I would like you to share it as widely as possible.
Pilling – What Will Happen
I have now confirmed from a number of sources what the Pilling Report is going to recommend. The final draft is ready and it will propose that the Church of England introduce some form of liturgy that will bless same-sex relationships. There is absolutely no doubt that this is what the outcome of the committee’s deliberations will be – This is not spin, it is not trying to influence the outcome, it is the real deal. Whilst the committee will not recommend adapting our services of Holy Matrimony to include same-sex marriages, I am led to understand that it will propose a formal rite that will provide an alternative for those in a formal same-sex union (Civil Partnership or Marriage) on the basis that we cannot presume such a relationship is sexual. Once that happens we will have formally declared same-sex unions to be holy. In the Church of England our liturgy is our doctrine and the moment we have a rite that in any way affirms same-sex relationships then we will have fundamentally changed what we believe.
This means that the Church of England is at a cross-roads. For the first time ever we will call that which is sin holy. We will bless sin. There are no two ways about it – we are at a defining moment for the Christian witness in this country. It is not like other key decisions in the past. On divorce there have always been reasons to validate a separation of two people where adultery or abuse has occurred. On women’s ministry we have always recognised God’s call on women and the Bible has clear examples from Deborah to Phoebe and Priscilla (and not forgetting Mary) of those called to serve, to prophecy, to proclaim the truth. The argument has not been about whether God calls women but in what capacity.
But on sexual behaviour the case is clear. The Bible unambiguously and unreservedly reserves sexual expression for within the marriage of a man and a woman, rooting its importance not just in the personal relationship between the two involved and its procreative outcome, but also the way in which it is a real physical icon of the spiritual union between Christ and his Church. There is no ambiguity on this, no reservation, no disagreement amongst all the main Christian denominations, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox. It has been the universal witness of the Church down the years and it remains so today.
So we are faced with the situation of the Church of England House of Bishops choosing to authorise liturgy to bless that which is sinful. It is a defining moment, a point of reckoning. It is the junction at which we contemplate the possibility that the Church that sent missionaries around the world, that evangelised peoples and nations and tongues, that had its leading lights martyred in every century for preaching grace and holiness, that same Church now blaspheming the Holy Spirit, calling that which is sin, holy. It is almost inconceivable,and yet here we are.
What the Bishops Must Do Next
The entire College of Bishops, not just Diocesans but every Suffragan as well, will meet on 27 January 2014 to discuss the report. This is likely to be an emotional event but it will be the first collective opportunity for Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic Bishops to clearly, gently but firmly say that they will have no part in this. It is one thing for Bishops to ignore or turn a blind eye to clergy living in sexual relationships outside of marriage, or choosing not to notice when a priest performs an unauthorised same-sex blessing that goes under the media radar. It is an entirely other thing for the Bishop to himself authorise a rite for such things.
This will be the moment for collegiality to end and for responsibility for discipleship to begin. This will be the moment for Bishops to stand up and be counted. This may yet be the moment for Bishops to choose if the purple shirts, the authority, the status are worth compromising on this issue. For there can be no doubt about it, if the House of Bishops endorses same-sex blessings in any form it will be an ecumenical disaster and every single Bishop, Diocesan, Suffragan or Retired who does not stand rigorously, firmly and most importantly publicly against it will be as culpable for the decision as those who eagerly endorse it. There is no escaping this moment of decision, no pleading pastoral care or sensitivity. If you do not oppose the blessing of sin then you support it.
It may be that the College and House of Bishops will draw back from the brink, but what if they do not? What then? Well for starters, orthodox Bishops can refuse to recognise these rites and prohibit them in their Dioceses. That would be a bold stand, but a correct one. So often Bishops use the fact that they are Princes in their own Dioceses to exercise power for better or for worse – now is the time to use that power to refuse to compromise. And they should go further – our two Archbishops are both Evangelicals. The great episcopal offices, Winchester, Durham, London, are all held by men who are orthodox on this issue. Why is it inconceivable that they should unite to reject this proposal that would be so damaging for our relationships and our gospel witness in this country?
And the question that has to be asked of those in senior (and very senior) positions is this – what is your witness to the truth worth? What are you prepared to lose? What are you prepared to give up in order not to compromise that which you know to be true? Every day around the world Christians are murdered in brutal and horrific ways, persecuted for simply wanting to share the gift of new life in Jesus – the GAFCON gathering in Nairobi last week heard many of their tales.. In the past century across Europe we have seen under fascist and communist dictatorships the most atrocious attempts to wipe out those who love and serve Christ. Do we really think the loss of position, the disdain of some in the public sphere a price that is not worth paying?
If there is a moment for Bishops to take seriously their call to guard the truth that has been entrusted to them, this will be it. It will also be the moment when the private messages of support and concern for those men and women who despite being same-sex attracted have lived lives (sometimes at great struggle and personal cost) of chastity will be tested and found true or wanting. For any Bishop who privately supports LGB clergy like myself living lives of Biblical holiness not to speak out publicly against the Church of England endorsing same-sex blessings is for them to betray us. They will be saying to each and every one of us that our choices, our struggles, were not necessary, that in fact we could have given in a long time ago and sought a same-sex relationship. It will be the moment when they, willingly or unwillingly, abandon us and cast us to the edges.
This is the decision to be made by every Bishop, every one of them. They will need to choose where they stand. Sadly this issue is the defining point of Biblical fidelity in our generation, the outworking of underlying attitudes towards God’s revelation, and our leaders, all the way up the ladder, will need to choose whether to be compromised in their response or whether they will be known for standing firm on this issue whatever the cost. Whatever the Cost. Whoever they are.
What We Must Do Next
The choices as to what to do in response to the House of Bishops endorsing Pilling are not just in the hands of the Bishops. They are the choices to be made by clergy and laity up and down the country, in a myriad of situations. They are the decisions, some of them brave, that need to be taken to make sure that we are seen to be and understood to be faithful to the Biblical witness on marriage, regardless of the cost.
First, where we find ourselves in a Diocese where a Bishop stands firmly opposed to this revisionist disaster, we must give our Ordinary our full public support on this issue. Those Bishops who choose to publicly oppose this blessing of sin must be given our loyalty and our resources. They will face great opposition, will be demonised both within and beyond the Church of England and many may pay a professional price for the stand they take. This should bother us. This should stir us.
It may mean that where some Anglicans have split themselves off from a Diocese they need to return to it. If we deeply care about the evangelisation of our nation and if we believe that Anglican structures are one of the best way to do this, we have to come together. We cannot be divided, we cannot with our lips say we support our local Bishop but with our lines of accountability deny it. This reconciliation will be a powerful witness, but it will also be a humbling moment for some. However, the putting aside of minor differencesÂ to come together in unity on this issue will make a clear statement that this is the defining issue for our generation.
Second, where we find ourselves in a Diocese with a Bishop who goes along with this unGodly innovation, whether willingly or under sufferance, we must make our rejection of that choice known. Many of the orthodox Anglican churches are the financial bedrock of their Dioceses and we should not be afraid to unambiguously withdraw funding for any Diocesan function where a Bishop does not stand up for Biblical truth on this issue. Where necessary we can divert funds to our orthodox brothers and sisters who still need central funding to support their Gospel ministry.
What will the Bishops do when this happens? Some will do nothing, some may choose to do everything and anything. It will be particularly hard for those Bishops who do not support same-sex blessings but feel they cannot speak out when orthodox parishes suddenly withdraw funding. But why can they not speak out? Who do they fear, God or man?
Third, in some circumstances we must consider realignment. Yes, you heard me right, the Evangelical arch-critic of border-crossing, the man who in his time has argued against rogue ordinations and churches splitting off simply because they disagree with the Bishop on a particular issue is advocating realignment. But really this should be no surprise. We have seen in the USA and Canada the necessity for parishes to remove themselves from Dioceses where same-sex blessings have been supported. It is a simple issue of Christian witness – we will do far better disciplining people to live lives of holiness if we are seen to not be connected with local leaders who endorse sin. That is different from being part of a wider institution where the local leadership rejects such unGodly innovation – it is not a compromise to serve under a Bishop who like you will have nothing to do with endorsing sin – such an action is not compromise but rather true canonical loyalty to your Father in God.
Given that such realignment may be necessary, thank God for GAFCON and the FCA. Thank God that there are still orthodox Anglicans across the whole globe who, in their own contexts, know what it is to suffer for standing firm for Christ. Thank God that they are willing to stand with us in our hour of need, in the moment where we stand for Biblical truth. Thank God that we can repent for the times when we have been less than supportive of their struggle to be faithful to God. What happened in Nairobi last week is crucially important for orthodox Anglicans in England – it tells us that we are not alone, not alone if our Bishop decides to endorse the blessing of sin, not alone if our Bishop cannot have the courage of his convictions to join us in condemning what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, on a personal note, we must support those men and women who do the hard work of coming alongside those who are LGB and choose to live a life of Biblical holiness. We must publicly support those who are willing to be public witnesses that God does have something good for same-sex attracted people who surrender their lives to him. It is simply not good enough for our leaders, Bishops and others, to privately offer support but refuse to be clearly identified publicly with those who are doing the hard work on the ground. It is not good enough to say that such ministries are vital but then to refuse to resource them for fear of what others might think. If we believe that God has called us to lives of faithfulness in either marriage or affirmed singleness then how can it ever be wrong to support those who aim to encourage others to do just that? We simply must put our money where our theology is. It is time to be known not just for what we believe but for how we sacrifice to help people live that out.
The Moment of Decision
For the followers of Jesus down the years there have been clear moments of decision time and time again. For Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church it was the choice to reject the theology of compromise and to affirm that the State was not more important than the Ekklesia. For Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer it was the choice to suffer death rather than compromise on the simple truth that God saves utterly through grace. For the early Christian martyrs it was the decision that only Jesus was Lord, not Caesar. For the Hebrew princes it was the choice that they would serve YHWH whatever was thrown at them, or what they were thrown into.
In the midst of the storms (and we’ve seen them physically here in England today) we know that God is faithful to those who choose to follow him, even at the cost of everything. We know that the world measures evidence of favour with the signs of influence and prosperity, but the eternal weighing scales mark out God’s pleasure with us on a completely different basis. It matters not if the world thinks we are loons, if it labels us bigots or philistines, for the world hates all those who would give up everything to follow Jesus. What matters is that when we stand in front of the Throne we will hear the cry “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
This morning’s readings and collect in our cycle of prayer are so pertinent for our situation. Even the reading from the Apocrypha speaks deeply into our situation.
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavensÂ (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made itÂ (he established it;
he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!):
I am the Lord, and there is noÂ other.
I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring ofÂ Jacob, â€˜Seek me in chaos.â€™
I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.
Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledgeâ€”those who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is noÂ other.
By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return:
â€˜To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.â€™
Only in the Lord, it shall be said ofÂ me, are righteousness and strength;
all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed.
In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.
Then the righteous will stand with great confidence
in the presence of those who have oppressed them
and those who make light of their labours.
When the unrighteous see them, they will be shaken with dreadful fear,
and they will be amazed at the unexpected salvation of the righteous.
They will speak to one another in repentance,
and in anguish of spirit they will groan, and say,
â€˜These are persons whom we once held in derision
and made a byword of reproachâ€”fools that we were!
We thought that their lives were madness
and that their end was without honour.
Why have they been numbered among the children of God?
And why is their lot among the saints?
So it was we who strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of righteousness did not shine on us,
and the sun did not rise upon us.
We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction,
and we journeyed through trackless deserts,
but the way of the Lord we have not known.
What has our arrogance profited us?
And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?
â€˜All those things have vanished like a shadow,
and like a rumour that passes by;
like a ship that sails through the billowy water,
and when it has passed no trace can be found,
no track of its keel in the waves;
or as, when a bird flies through the air,
no evidence of its passage is found;
the light air, lashed by the beat of its pinions
and pierced by the force of its rushing flight,
is traversed by the movement of its wings,
and afterwards no sign of its coming is found there;
or as, when an arrow is shot at a target,
the air, thus divided, comes together at once,
so that no one knows its pathway.
So we also, as soon as we were born, ceased to be,
and we had no sign of virtue to show,
but were consumed in our wickedness.â€™
Because the hope of the ungodly is like thistledown carried by the wind,
and like a light frost driven away by a storm;
it is dispersed like smoke before the wind,
and it passes like the remembrance of a guest who stays but a day.
But the righteous live for ever,
and their reward is with the Lord;
the Most High takes care of them.
Therefore they will receive a glorious crown
and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord,
because with his right hand he will cover them,
and with his arm he will shield them.
who built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone:
so join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine,
that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Brothers and sisters, this is our defining moment. It doesn’t matter whether you are the lowliest in the pews or the resident of a Palace on the south bank of the Thames (and both will be reading), now is the time to decide whether you will let the Church of England bless that which is sin and turn its back on thousands of years of holiness amongst the people of God. I fear there is a great danger we are all going to be caught utterly unawares and have foisted on us a liturgy that is an Anglican fudge, permitting, by the back door, gay sexual unions to be recognised by the Church of England. Once the door is opened it will be pushed wide over and the game is over. Any liturgy which does not demand of its participants a vow in front of God to remain celibate for the rest of their lives and has pastoral discipline around that (in the same way that we take adultery seriously) is a capitulation.
The next few months may very well tear us apart as a Church, but they will also define each one of us as Christians and our willingness to put God first. It’s now up to us. May we not be found wanting.