Guarding the Deposit: Apostolic Truth for an Apostolic Church
[Editor’s note: This is a discussion paper commissioned by the Officers of the Church of England Evangelical Council, distributed initially to all members of the College of Bishops and Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships, and now published on the CEEC website. The paper argues:
* Blessing of same sex relationships cannot be justified biblically or theologically.
* If the C of E permits such ‘blessings’, it will no longer be ‘apostolically faithful’.
* If this were to happen, there must be a division, managed peacefully and with fairness to both ‘sides’ in the debate if possible, according to various options.]
Guarding the Deposit [From the Introduction]
To bless or not to bless? That is the question. Can a church pray for and invoke the blessing of God on those wanting to be in a committed relationship which will involve same-sex sexual practice?
The traditional Christian view is that all sexual practice outside (heterosexual) marriage, including such homosexual practice, is sinful and contrary to God’s will revealed in Scripture. Yet this view has been continuously challenged ever since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. There is now a widespread belief in contemporary Western culture that sexual intercourse should not necessarily be linked to either marriage or procreation, nor be restricted to people of the opposite sex.
- How should the Christian Church respond?
- Should the Church accept same-sex relationships, including same-sex marriages, as legitimate forms of Christian discipleship?
- In July the Church of England finished three rounds of ‘Shared Conversations’ on this issue: what should it do next?
- In particular—given that the Church of England is an ‘episcopally-led’ church, how should the House of Bishops lead us on this issue?
The purpose of this paper is to seek to answer these questions by reminding ourselves that the Church of England claims to be an ‘apostolic’ church—guided and constrained by the teaching and example of the first apostles whom Jesus commissioned as leaders of his church…
[The paper recognizes the irreconcileable divisions which already exist and puts forward, in some detail, various options for orderly separation of those who wish to pursue change, and those wanting to remain faithful to apostolic teaching.]
…Summary and Conclusion
What can you do if you agree with this paper? The main argument has been:
- that all sexual practice outside heterosexual marriage was reckoned as sinful in the eyes of Jesus and his apostles;
- that homosexual practice was a part of this and that same-sex marriage, far from providing a legitimate context for this practice, would have been seen as a parody of God’s intention for marriage;
- that such issues of sexual immorality were not a second-order issue for the apostles, but were consistently denounced by them, and certainly would never have been embraced by them in their quest for Christian unity;
- that the role of a bishop was developed in the early Church precisely to safe-guard these apostolic norms pertaining to both doctrine and ethics and that bishops are therefore to be seen as ‘apostolic guardians’;
- that there is a significant risk that these apostolic boundaries relating to sexual ethics may be transgressed by the bishops of the Church of England, thereby causing the official teaching and doctrine of the church—for the first time in its history—to be ‘contrary to Scripture’ and ‘non-apostolic’;
- and that, if this happens, there will need to be some visible ‘differentiation’ and division within the Church of England between those following this new teaching and those wishing to be in an ‘apostolic community’.
Do you agree? If so, the concluding section of the paper hopefully gave you a helpful overview of possible proposals about how a division of the Church of England might take place in a way that would give due attention to your concerns as an ‘apostolic’ Anglican who in all good conscience cannot accept that the affirmation of same-sex relationships is in line with apostolic teaching and practice.
The next few months will be a strategic season in the life of the Church. To use two New Testament words, this is a time both of krisis (a ‘crisis’ requiring critical judgement) and of kairos (a new ‘time’ requiring creative new thinking).
The time has therefore come when all those clergy and parishes who wish to dissent need to make that fact known. Now is the time for those clergy, laity, and parishes who want to be part of such an ‘apostolic community’ to stand up and be counted, to register their essential agreement with the theology set out in this paper, and to ensure that the bishops of the Church of England gain a true measure of their concerns.
Read in full here [19 pages, PDF]guarding-the-deposit-apostolic-truth-for-an-apostolic-church