Should the church ‘let the world set the agenda’ on ethics and doctrine?

Jun 28, 2021 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

Paul Bayes, currently the Church of England’s bishop in Liverpool, has made his clearest call yet for the Church to change its understanding of marriage and sexuality, in his address to the MoSAIC group (I assume in his diocese). He does not disguise the reasons for his views, where he thinks the Church should go, and what that would mean. Along the way, he makes some extraordinary comments for any Christian, let alone for someone appointed as a bishop.

The primary driver for his agenda is ‘the world’.

I believe that your agenda will align the Church more closely with the life and values of Jesus. It speaks of love and of the God of love, and it is also the world’s agenda… In the mid to late 1960s the World Council of Churches developed an understanding of mission. The soundbite that summed up their understanding was this: “Let the world set the agenda”.

He immediately notes an objection, that ‘God should come first’, but doesn’t attempt to engage with this. He simply lists the ways in which the morality of ‘the world’ is evidently superior to the morality of ‘the Church’ in the areas of racial justice, disability, and sexuality. ‘The world beyond the church has set the moral agenda.’

This is odd language to use for anyone familiar with the biblical narrative. This narrative begins with something going badly wrong with ‘the world’, and it is righting this wrong which leads to the expression of God’s love for ‘the world’, in calling it back to its creator. This was why God called Abraham into a distinct relationship with God, foreshadowing the distinctive relationship the people of Israel would also have, which would lead to a distinctive way of life which set them apart from ‘the world’ around them. The same then became true of the new Israel in Jesus, including both Jew and now gentiles incorporated into this Jesus-centred Jewish renewal movement.

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