More rubicons crossed, more anxiety about the future

Dec 18, 2018 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

At a time when clergy and lay leaders are in the middle of the busiest time of the year, organizing and leading carol services and other evangelistic and social action projects, and are preparing many more sermons than usual, their spare capacity is taken up not with joyful and prayerful Advent devotion, but with a growing sense of anxiety and social media communication about the state of the Church of England. Biblically faithful clergy are often mild-mannered, averse to conflict, focused on the pastoral work in their local area, not wanting to get involved in church politics. But the cumulative effect of recent news has not been conducive to the season of peace and goodwill, and has caused talk of differentiation and even schism to be heard again.

At the end of October, the four Bishops of Oxford Diocese wrote to clergy and lay leaders under their jurisdiction, a letter in which they insisted on the “full inclusion of LGBTI people” in the life of the church; its leadership and giving and receiving of sacraments, with no attempt to deal with the theological issues involved, or to distinguish between sexual orientation, behaviour, and ideology. I said at the time that this was nothing less than “the privileging of LGBT advocacy rather than gospel perspectives at the heart of Diocesan ministry”, and in a second post, that while the Bishops claim they have not changed church doctrine, their letter “effectively warns clergy against ways of teaching and offering welcome, pastoral care and the opportunity of discipleship guided by the church’s official doctrinal position”.

I’ve been told that the Bishop of Oxford was confident that he would only receive opposition from a small handful of conservative evangelical churches in the Diocese. While discussions among clergy with orthodox Christian beliefs are ongoing regarding what action to take (more news in the New Year), I’m led to believe that the number of those willing to align with a public protest will be considerable.

Then, at the beginning of December, the secular press alerted us to progress in the government’s plans to legally prohibit all forms of ‘gay conversion therapy’, ranging from obviously abusive and illegal practices to professional psychotherapy or even private prayer in response to requests from individuals unhappy with sexual orientation, identity and/or behaviour. This profoundly illiberal ban would of course interfere with pastoral practice and even freedom of speech and belief in churches, but the government are being aided in their plans by senior Church of England figures including the Bishops of Manchester and Liverpool, and Jayne Ozanne. This is an example of LGBT advocacy which is powerful and oppressive, based on fake science and emotion-inducing story rather than evidence-based reason and revelation, which I have written about here.

Bible-believing Christians have in recent years been largely reluctant to get involved in this issue, but encouragingly, some interdenominational networks are showing signs of realising the dangers and possibly giving some leadership in the near future.

The biggest response of all by the faithful to the ongoing capitulation of the Church of England’s leadership to LGBT lobbying, has been the outpouring of opposition to the House of Bishops’ guidance on liturgies to celebrate gender transition. The press release from the Church of England is here. The actual liturgy itself has not changed, and is found in the service of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith within a celebration of Holy Communion here, about half way down.

The Bishops promised in February’s Synod to give guidance as to how this service might be adapted to mark the new identity of a transgender person. I wrote about this at the time. The guidance itself has now been published. It contains a number of theologically contentious statements about baptism and re-naming, and instructions about how to minister pastorally to trans people. It directs clergy to affirm and celebrate gender transition and taking on of new identities, without any discussion having taken place within the C of E on the matter. The process has apparently been directed by two ‘trans women’ clergy, who are known for their campaigning for the full acceptance of transgender ideology. This in itself would be cause for serious concern. But evangelicals were appalled to see that the Chair of the Committee which has overseen this process is Julian Henderson of Blackburn. Confusingly. Henderson is President of the Church of England Evangelical Council and has put his name to documents robustly defending orthodox Christian sexual ethics, and yet he claimed that the guidance for transgender renaming litugies was “rooted in Scripture”.

Within a few days, though, it appeared that Henderson had backtracked. He was one of the signatories on a paper strongly criticising the Bishops’ Guidance which had been issued under his name. This document from CEEC concludes that the transgender liturgies “establish a position which is incompatible with biblical teaching”. Bishop Henderson has come under fire for the incoherence of his position, with many people speculating on whether this is a result of him being culpably ignorant of the issues around the transgender debate, or just weak in submitting to strong pressure. The response from CEEC itself has also been criticised for having such a feeble conclusion to its otherwise strong statement, where it calls for “reassuring clarifications and, where necessary, modifications” to the Bishops’ Guidance, rather than rejection of it altogether.

Not surprisingly there have been numerous calls for Bishop Julian to resign from his leadership position within the evangelical grouping, which is due to hold its annual residential conference in January, and also questions about the usefulness of an organisation which appears wedded to a policy of keeping a respectful evangelical voice within the increasingly revisionist establishment rather than taking more robust action against it.

A number of articles commenting on this latest fiasco from the Church of England can be found in this collection here.

This week I have been in touch with some young clergy who are seriously thinking about leaving the Church of England, and others who have informed their PCC’s that they will not implement the latest guidance from Bishops. Are we at last heading for schism? Would no schism (meaning compromise and accommodation with heresy and diktats from government and lobby groups) actually be a worse outcome than a disorderly breakup of the Church of England? I recently came across a letter which I think I submitted to Church of England Newspaper in 2009, although it wasn’t published. Here it is (The only slightly out-of date idea here is the presence of four bank branches on the same street!):


Jonathan Petre in his piece of a couple of weeks ago (5 October) refers to Archbishop Rowan Williams’ “nightmare” of “rival Anglican churches competing with each other on the same street”. Rev David Keen in his letter a week later (12 October) continues the theme, and is concerned that this scenario of different factions of the church insisting on their own interpretation of the Christian faith is damaging to mission.

In my street there are three banks, two newsagents, three fast food outlets, three hairdressers. They each offer a slightly different service, and all survive healthily enough. Is that also a “nightmare”? If a fourth bank opens a branch, will people turn away in disgust at the disunity shown in the financial services industry, and decide they don’t need money at all?

There is also an Anglican church, an independent evangelical church and an African pentecostal church. Is that also a “nightmare” and if so, why? Are the vast majority of non-Christians really less likely to seek God and go to church if there is more than one church in their area?

I can envisage a situation where there might be a fourth church in the street or nearby, with proud Anglican ancestry, (maybe with a different name?), loyal to the doctrines contained in the BCP and the 39 Articles, strongly linked to thousands of churches across the world who believe similar things. So there would be two “Anglican” churches, one offering welcome and inclusion to all (though I suspect not many would turn up), and the other humbly attempting to explain and live what the Christian faith actually is. They would not be competing with each other, as they are offering different products and services. Why would this be a nightmare?

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