Myths, misinformation or parallel realities? the thinking behind the Primates’ Communiqué

Oct 10, 2017 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that you can travel anywhere in the world, find that differences in language, culture and worldview make mutual understanding and communication very difficult, and yet make an instant connection with other Christians. They are of their world in terms of history and customs, speech and thought patterns, as I am of mine, but “in Christ there is no East or West”; our shared primary allegiance to him spiritually connects us, supra-culturally.

But many people reading the recent Communiqué from the Primates’ Meeting, and setting it together with what was said at the two Canterbury press conferences of 3rd and 6th October, will feel something like the opposite of this. Instead of common faith transcending culture and language, here we have familiar English language and the topic of church life, but a disconnect and a divide in terms of meaning. We understand the words, but they refer to a different understanding of reality, a parallel universe. With my brothers and sisters in Africa or Asia, we come from very different places but end up together. Reading the Communiqué, we seem so close on the surface but its like we’re thinking different thoughts behind a glass wall.

Here are some examples.


“Walking together” and “consequences”. In one version of reality, the Primates meeting in January 2016 expressed a desire to walk together if agreement could be reached on key issues, but in another version this was amended to “we made a decision to walk together”. It is this version: “We are walking together!” which is carried through to the 2017 statement.

The new document states “We listened carefully to the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) and with sadness accepted that the consequences for our relationships agreed in January 2016 would also apply to SEC after its decision on same sex marriage.” Again, from the perspective of historic Christian faith, the “sadness” would refer to our attitude to SEC’s decision. But here, there is sadness at the minor rap on the knuckles which SEC has to face. We are expected to take at face value the assertion that by asking SEC not to put their people forward for committees for three years – something that cannot be enforced anyway as was shown by TEC’s participation in Lusaka – the problem of division in the Communion has been dealt with, all will be well, liberals and conservatives will be reconciled, and there are no further grounds for complaining.

There is no attempt anywhere in the document to explain what the church believes about marriage (as the 2016 Communique did), or why the decision of SEC (and TEC in 2015) should cause a ‘distance’ in the relationships between revisionist and orthodox branches of the Anglican Communion. It’s clear that a robust defence of the orthodox biblical position was put forward during the meeting by a number of Primates, who do not believe that solemnizing same sex marriage comes within acceptable bounds of diversity of Christian opinion. This is not reflected at all in the official statement – instead, the focus is on the way those present respectfully listened to the self-justification by the SEC Primus for his church’s heretical actions.


“Cross border intervention”. In the parallel universe of the Anglican Communion leadership, then, the issues of same sex marriage, sexual ethics, and wider questions about basic attitudes to interpretation and authority of Scripture, must be seen as minor theological disputes on which we can agree to disagree. We’ll come back to that later. But “cross-border intervention”, not defined but presumably referring to one Anglican body operating in a geographical area under the jurisdiction of another Anglican body, is a “breach of courtesy” which “weakens our communion” and requires “repentance and renewal”. When has this happened? The document doesn’t say, but surely alludes to the actions of Gafcon and ACNA in consecrating a ‘missionary Bishop’ to Scotland, to provide oversight for faithful Anglicans unable to accept the revisionist direction of their church.

There is an inherent contradiction in accusing ACNA of cross border intervention when it has been declared “not a Province of the Anglican Communion”. If ACNA is not a real Anglican church, why is Canterbury worried about what it does? Should we expect further warnings in future against Nigerian Pentecostal churches setting up in the Diocese of London, or Vineyard speakers at New Wine conferences in the Diocese of Bath and Wells? Of course not. In the real world, ACNA exists because many orthodox Anglicans in north America, supported by millions around the world, refused to buy into the ‘walking together’ narrative; that they should be reconciled and enjoy full Christian fellowship with church leaders who are taking them to court for their properties, having abandoned historic Christian faith for a syncretistic hybrid that appears more acceptable to secular culture. But in planet Anglican Communion Office, the WalkingTogetherWorld, ACNA cannot exist at all, because it is a witness to a different reality.


Mission. Usually when Christians from around the world get together to discuss mission, they can do so on the basis of recognising differences in culture and language, while being united on the basis of common understanding of the Gospel. Contexts are different, but human material need is the same, human nature and sin is the same, and the solution in terms of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, working through a servant church by his Holy Spirit, is the same. But in the alternative reality of the Anglican Communion leadership, evangelism, telling people about Jesus can go ahead without establishing how we know he is the Saviour, ie an apostolic and Reformation understanding of Scripture. We are told we can unite in evangelism despite coming to opposite conclusions on for example the truth about God’s design for human flourishing in area of identity, sex and marriage. So the Communique states “the world has never felt the need of a Saviour more keenly”, yet has left unresolved key questions about what the Saviour has come to save us from.

There is a convergence between the two realities, a portal through the glass wall perhaps, in shared commitment to addressing some of the scourges of natural disasters, conflict, poverty and injustice, found in a list under the heading in the Communiqué of ‘external issues’. This describes some contexts of the world in which the Church is set, but there is no mention for example of the serious spiritual and social problems affecting the West despite material prosperity: aggressive secularism, calamitous decline in religious belief and church affiliation; deeply unhappy young people, and a crisis in marriage breakdown to name just three.

In WalkingTogetherWorld, human sexual self-understanding as male and female, the need to promote and defend faithful male-female marriage and the benefits of stable relationships as the best context for bringing up children, the need to protect children from sexualisation, to teach abstinence and holiness – these are seen as one valid opinion among many at best, old fashioned and oppressive at worst. But in the real world, marriage between a man and a woman is a wonderful icon of the story of salvation, whereby God seeks to be united to his people. Sexual immorality in its many forms is a constant sign of rebellion, idolatry and dysfunction, from which we need rescue and forgiveness, and empowerment to live holy lives.

In the revisionist worldview, arguments about doctrine, for example the debate on sexual ethics, or even whether salvation can be found in other faiths, should be put aside so churches can concentrate on helping the poor. And the suggestion is that those Christians concerned for correct biblical doctrine are political conservatives, and therefore not concerned about improving the lives of those suffering from poverty and injustice. This lazy insult was articulated again in the final press conference.

But in reality, when sexual morality breaks down in any context, it is the poor who suffer most, especially women and children. And those Christian communities in poorer areas which are most committed to taking seriously theology and personal ethics, prayer, discipleship, holiness of life, are often those whose life in Christ flows out most visibly in sacrificial service to others. For example, one of the biggest and most sacrificial responses to a refugee crisis is taking place now in Uganda, where churches with conservative views (influenced by their own culture and a bible based faith, not by American conservatives as per the narrative of WalkingTogetherWorld!) are in the forefront of caring for millions of displaced people escaping the South Sudan conflict.

We are truly in the days where people “turn their ears away from the truth, and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:4), or exchange a view of the world as it is from God’s perspective, for an alternative reality. When those with power and money do this, it is very difficult to resist. But the Bible and church history tell us that God ensures that a faithful people will always bear witness to what’s really going on, visible and invisible.

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