C of E Evangelicals in watershed fight for own bishops, structures and training

Feb 18, 2023 by

from Evangelicals Now:

Evangelicals in the Church of England are facing a battle of historic Reformation-era significance as they fight to secure guarantees that might enable them to continue in the denomination.

After February’s General Synod vote, which approved in principle giving clergy the option of using marriage-style ‘prayers of blessing’ for same-sex couples, with only four bishops opposing the idea, the focus now moves to key Synod decisions this July. Speaking exclusively to en, Ed Shaw, co-chair of the Church of England Council (CEEC), said strong safeguards would be needed.

‘Visible differentiation is going to need to involve pastoral oversight from orthodox bishops. It’s going to need to involve pathways for training that happen in institutions that believe in Biblical teaching. It’s going to need to preserve a degree of unity across the C of E but without theological compromises.’

He continued: ‘One of the big surprises for me at General Synod was to hear the Archbishop of York talk about the need for conversations with conservatives, talk of a settlement, talk of pastoral provision – I hadn’t expected to hear that. I think it’s a significant move forward that the need for differentiation was acknowledged by the Archbishop of York and I think also the Bishop of London. I am looking forward to having the conversations the Archbishop has said now need to take place. In those conversations we’re going to need to talk about something far stronger than the “five guiding principles”…’ (The five guiding principles supposedly established a settlement within the life the C of E that fully supported women as Bishops while providing for the ‘flourishing’ of ‘those opposed on the grounds of theological conviction’). It’s not just a few flying bishops. In the medium term it needs to be new structures that allow people like me to flourish in the C of E. It will need to be a settlement that works for big evangelical cities in churches and evangelical vicars looking after a range of churches in the middle of the countryside.’

Asked whether evangelicals shouldn’t just up and off from the Church of England, Shaw said: ‘I think evangelicals in the C of E need to stay and need to pray. We need to encourage people who have already been involved in the process, for example at General Synod. We need to encourage the evangelical bishops who stick with us. Everything now rests on what the “pastoral guidance” does and doesn’t say and we need to make it very clear to our local bishops we are looking for a negotiated settlement that allows for new structures which don’t compromise our theology.’

Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society told en: ‘Like many others, I am in mourning after their outrageous absence of theological workings led to an egregious exercise of pastoral authoritarianism by our bishops in General Synod. The Thirty-nine Articles says that “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word” – but they have ridden roughshod over this, all the while pretending to be honouring scripture, tradition, and reason. It is a bewildering and an upsetting time for evangelicals in the established church.’ And his Associate Director colleague, Ros Clarke, said: ‘The actual debate took more than eight hours, with over twenty proposed amendments to discuss. It was, frankly, exhausting. All but one amendment failed, but that one held the bishops to working within the unchanged doctrine of marriage in the Church of England.

‘The amended motion passed in all three houses (bishops, clergy and laity) though only by 11 votes in the house of laity. This commits the bishops to revising the draft prayers and producing pastoral guidance for their use, which they have committed to do by the July meeting of Synod. The atmosphere in the room was tense, but this was helped by excellent chairing and a fair representation of views amongst those called to speak.

‘Although the final result of the motion was disappointing, there is much to give thanks for [in that] the gospel was clearly and publicly proclaimed to the synod and the watching nation during the debate; very many people gave personal testimony to goodness of following God’s commands; the evangelicals worked together with great unity, drawing on the many varied gifts amongst our members to mount a wide range of legal challenges and persuasive arguments; the votes were very close and it is clear that nothing requiring a two-thirds majority (i.e. changes of doctrine or liturgy, which would be required for same-sex marriage) will pass.’

The amendment alluded to above by Ros Clarke states that the Synod ‘endorses the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England’. Some have seen this as a victory for evangelicals since, in theory at least, it limits the final version of the prayers. Others argue the bishops are already saying things which are contradictory and inconsistent anyway so the amendment might not change that.

John Stevens National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) said: ‘I am deeply grieved by this decision of the Church of England to celebrate and bless sinful sexual relationships. I am grieved for the detrimental impact this will have on the cause of the gospel in our nation, for how it will increase the cultural pressure on faithful churches, and for the deep pain of so many Anglican friends who have contended courageously for biblical orthodoxy and yet seen their denomination capitulate to the proposals of false teachers. May the Lord have mercy on us.’

Lee McMunn, Assistant Bishop in the Gafcon-affiliated Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), said: ‘We are horrified by the General Synod vote and are praying for the serious consequences for faithful Anglicans in England and around the world. Time will tell if this is a lampstand removing moment.’

Graham Nicholls Director of the evangelical network Affinity said: ‘We want to assure our brothers and sisters in the Church of England who are striving to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching of our prayerful support as you respond to these changes and that we are ready and willing to help in any way we can. In general, most won’t understand the technicality of not changing the doctrine of holy matrimony but will simply see the church saying it is now ok to be sexually immoral as long as there is a component of love and commitment. ‘
He added: ‘This will be used against Christians, churches and organisations like Affinity, who stand firm on the truth of God’s Word about marriage and sexuality, to say that our position is not a Christian position and that we are backward, bigoted Christians.’

Susie Leafe director of Anglican Futures, a charity providing day-to-day practical and pastoral help to church leaders said: ‘While there is much talk of humility, the dismissive way senior bishops spoke of and to those they disagreed with was close to bullying. The decision itself shouts loudly that those leading the Church of England in 2023 know better than all those saints who have gone before, better than the vast majority of Christians alive today, better than Jesus himself. They did not feel the need to offer a theological rationale for their decision. They knew they didn’t need the approval of Synod. The arrogance is seen in the choice that was made. As the Archbishop of Canterbury admitted, “I am genuinely torn. It is not just about listening to the rest of the world, it is caring. Let’s just be clear on that. It’s about people who will die, women who will be raped, children who will be tortured.”

‘And yet,’ she added, ‘in the end he chose to prioritise the pain and hurt felt by the LGBTIQ+ community and has joyfully welcomed these Prayers of Love and Faith. It is insecure; because while the bishops of the Church of England may claim that Jesus’ priority was the unity of his people – the unity they aspire to is relational and institutional – not the joyful unity that comes from submission to God’s word.  They cannot cope with being rejected. Leadership that is arrogant and insecure is not modelled on Christ and cannot be trusted to provide a safe place for anyone.’

Gavin Calver, CEO of the Evangelical Alliance said: ‘It is so very sad to see the Church of England vote for compromise on questions of sex and sexuality. I am devastated to see this departure from orthodox teaching. We at the Evangelical Alliance are here to help serve, support and resource evangelicals within the Church of England in whatever ways we can. In the midst of all the disappointment though, it’s important that we realise that the nation needs the gospel more than ever. Let’s not lose sight of what we are here for. Together we evangelicals can stay true to what we believe theologically, and go for it wholeheartedly in mission.’

Rob Munro, the new conservative evangelical bishop for complementarian parishes, who has just succeeded Rod Thomas, said: ‘The bishops rightly lamented the failure to welcome all people like Christ, especially LGBTQI+ people. They committed themselves to respond to synod’s eight-hour debate, by refining their draft prayers, producing proper pastoral guidance before commending them and exploring a settlement to protect conscience. Personally I wish the theological and pastoral guidance had come first, as to guide God’s people pastorally and theologically is the heart of a bishop’s calling. As the Church’s most recently consecrated bishop, I was asked to commit myself to “teach the doctrine of Christ, … refute error, and … hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you.” Only with that guide will we produce the reassurances for conscience that will be absolutely necessary to maintain the tightrope unity of irreconcilable differences without more people falling off.’

Meanwhile, reaction from the rest of the Anglican Communion has been furious. The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GFSA) said in a statement: ‘The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in leading the House of Bishops to make the recommendations that undergird the Motion, together with his statements, alongside the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of London leading up to the General Synod, cause the GSFA to question his fitness to lead what is still a largely orthodox world-wide Communion.

It added: ‘In view of these developments, the GSFA will be taking decisive steps towards re-setting the Anglican Communion. Orthodox Provinces in GSFA are not leaving the Anglican Communion, but with great sadness must recognise that the Church of England has now joined those Provinces with which communion is impaired. The historical Church which spawned the global Communion, and which for centuries was accorded “first among equals” status, has now triggered a widespread loss of confidence in her leadership of the Communion.’

Archbishop Foley Beach chairman of the Primates’ Council of Gafcon, which includes some churches in the Anglican Communion, and some not formally within it, said: ‘The Church of England has authorized the blessing of sin and declared that sin is no longer sin. The Archbishop of Canterbury has …  violated his consecration vows. In April the Gafcon Primates will be hosting over 1,100 participants in GAFCON IV in Kigali, Rwanda. In collaboration with the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA), we shall have more to say and do about these matters.’

Paul Eddy, Convenor of a new clergy and lay people network called Anglican Orthodox said: ‘The bishops have wiped their hands clean of theological and moral responsibility on this. For six years during the Living in Love & Faith process, when our nation was increasingly feeling cultural confusion over gender and identity, they remained silent. Now, instead of standing up for the orthodox, universal Christian position, they’ve caved into cultural conformity and offered a fudge.

‘But the most worrying thing is that now, whilst liberal vicars will rejoice, and will soon offer such services, the LGBTI+ lobby in the church won’t be satisfied until the whole CofE officially opts-in for gay marriage. So they will target orthodox clergy in their individual parishes, putting local and media pressure on them to bless gay unions against their conscience. And the bishops? They will hang their clergy out to dry.’

The Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu, said: ‘The Church of England has departed from the Anglican faith and are now false teachers. We fear Jesus’ words for them, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev 2.5b) It’s that serious.’

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