What will be the cost of discipleship for confessing Anglicans in Oxford Diocese

Nov 4, 2018 by

by Julian Mann:

A quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer would seem apt for Confessing Anglicans in Oxford Diocese after their bishops last week published a letter setting out their expectations for ‘radical LGBTI+ inclusion’ in local churches:

‘The church has only one altar, the altar for the Almighty…before which all creatures must kneel. Whoever seeks something else must keep away, he cannot join us in the house of God…The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however well-intentioned’ (quoted in Eric Metaxas Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Thomas Nelson, 2010).

Before looking at the implications of the Oxford bishops’ letter, it is important to define what a Confessing Anglican is. It is an Anglican Christian worshipper who believes ex animo in the historic Reformed Catholic teaching of the Church of England as expressed in its 39 Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal.

On sexual ethics, the historic teaching of the Church of England, which remains unchanged in its Canons (rules), especially Canon B30 , is that the expression of sexual love should be confined to the God-created institution of heterosexual marriage. So, a Confessing Anglican would want to see this ethic upheld in public teaching, in Christian practice and in the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Sacraments in the churches of God.

But in their letter the Oxford bishops seem to be suggesting that individuals professing Christian faith who refuse to follow this ethic and are unrepentant about their choice must go unchallenged in Anglican churches. The letter appears to state that one of the core Christian duties is to refrain from challenging sexual behaviour that goes against the historic teaching of the Church:

‘It is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop’s Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them. Preaching, teaching and pastoral responsibilities need to exercised sensitively, and with this core principle in mind.’

The letter comes across in some ways as rather slippery. It acknowledges that there are as yet no authorised services of same-sex blessing but then appears to give a green light to the affirmation of sexually active relationships outside marriage with ‘a positive encouragement for clergy to respond pastorally and sensitively’.

Where in the Bible do the bishops find a basis for their apparent expectation that unrepentant sinfulness should go unchallenged in God’s household and before the Lord’s Table?

For Bonhoeffer, the false god setting up its altar in the German Church was the ideology of National Socialism and the resultant worship of the Fuhrer. The false god driving the departure from traditional Christianity in the Church of England is taking a different form. It would appear to bear the image of cultural Marxism according to which the historic Christian sexual ethic should be seen as an oppressive force from which individuals need to be liberated.

But biblical Christianity teaches that true human liberty is to be found in following the Word of God rather than the ways of the world. The Apostle Paul expresses this loving principle powerfully in his New Testament letter to the church at Colossae: ‘When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these, the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient’ (Colossians 3v4-6 – NRSV).

What practically will be the cost of obedient discipleship for Confessing Anglicans in Oxford Diocese in their relationships with the local bishops now is not yet apparent.


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