Tuesday, 27 July 2004

Reform paper in full

The full text of the paper published by Reform today and referenced in the adjacent news item can be found below the fold.

The same paper can now also be found here and now even here on the Reform website!

Ways Forward in the Present Crisis for the Church of England

“ … we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion.” (Statement from Anglican Primates, 16th October 2003)

The crisis that is upon us has been precipitated by some Episcopal churches in the USA and Canada approving certain same-sex relationships. However, that crisis is not simply about the consequences for the wider Anglican Communion. It has also brought to a head a crisis within our own Church of England. Although the Church of England has not itself yet taken any formal steps towards the approval of relationships involving same-sex intercourse, and while a number of bishops have courageously spoken out against such developments, it is clear that a significant number of our church leaders – both bishops and clergy – promote an outlook which is not substantially different from the one held by those who have provoked the present crisis in the USA and Canada. We believe this has happened because there has been a move away from trusting the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, and towards accommodating secular ideas of credal diversity; and also because both bishops and clergy have failed to “drive away” false doctrine. This diversity is demonstrated by a recent survey finding (Christian Research 1998) that 49% of clergy do not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can be saved.

How should Church of England evangelicals respond to this crisis? Some believe we should wait for the Eames Commission to report, since this might make disciplinary action within the wider Anglican Communion possible and have helpful spin-off effects for the Church of England. While we acknowledge that the Primates have recognised the seriousness of the present position, most notably in their statement of October 2003, we are not confident that the present approach matches the urgency of problem we face. We believe it would be wrong to countenance delay and possible inaction in the face of such clear defiance of God’s Word by some of our leaders. This paper therefore outlines the case for action and has been prepared as a basis for consultation with members.

1. A fundamental issue

Sexual intercourse within same-sex relationships is not a matter for debate. Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 list this amongst various forms of sexual activity that, if they are lifestyle choices and not lapses subsequently confessed as wrong, will preclude people from entering the Kingdom of God. Clarity about this is therefore a salvation issue. What is at stake here is the very gospel of Christ, since if we will not accept the Bible’s definition of sin, it is difficult to explain which of God’s standards we intend to take seriously and on what basis; why salvation is needed; or what were the reasons for Christ’s propitiating sacrifice on the cross. We need to recognise this as a fundamental issue if we are ever to resolve the disunity that its emergence has caused. Jude 4 speaks of “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality”. Issues of immorality were fundamental then as they are for us now.

Some Christians believe that the issue of same-sex intercourse has become too charged. They are prepared to concede that the Bible could be interpreted as affirming the commitment of a faithful and exclusive same-sex relationship rather than condemning the sinfulness of any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. However, this is not compatible with serious biblical exegesis as Robert Gagnon has shown in his exhaustive study: ‘The Bible and Homosexuality (The Texts and the Hermeneutics)’. The recent discussion document from the House of Bishops Group on Issues in Human Sexuality itself reaches a not dissimilar conclusion: “ … the hermeneutical principles … and the consensus of biblical scholarship, still point us in the direction of the Church’s traditional reading of the biblical material.”

2. Discipline is needed

Canon A5 makes it clear that the whole church is under the authority of Scripture. Clergy are specifically charged by the Ordinal to “provide for the Lord’s family, to search for His children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations and to guide them through its confusions so that they may be saved through Christ for ever.” Under Canon C18, bishops have the duty of “driving away strange and erroneous opinions”. All of this implies discipline about what is taught in the church. We fully accept that this will mean engaging in a careful and gentle process pastorally with individuals as well as firmness where needed. However, there is no room for compromise in our teaching and necessary action. Our unity in the church is primarily confessional – ie we are united by what we believe, not by how much we are prepared to compromise.

The Bible says that special care should be taken to ensure that those with teaching roles in the church should avoid error and that believers should be on their guard against those who are ‘false’ teachers (eg 2 Peter 3:17). We are warned against tolerating teachers whose teaching leads to sexual immorality (Revelation 2:20) and urged to keep away from those who cause divisions by teaching contrary to apostolic teaching (Romans 16:17). Wherever we find such false teaching, whether among bishops, theologians, or even synods, we have no option but clearly to distance ourselves from it both by our teaching and by our practice.

3. We will not willingly secede

The authority of God’s Word lies at the heart of the Church of England’s confession. The Church of England is therefore a natural home for evangelicals and we will not willingly surrender it to a revisionist minority. It is this same commitment to God’s Word that aligns us with the mainstream majority in the worldwide Anglican Communion. We recognise that the Bible emphasizes the primacy of the local congregation, as does the Church of England, but this does not mean we are Congregationalist. We rejoice in the fact that we are a connectional church and thus look forward to the possibility of deepening our links with faithful brothers and sisters throughout the Communion and beyond.

We, therefore, see no reason why we should leave our church. However, we do believe it is incumbent on each congregation to stand firm in this current crisis and to safeguard their Anglican heritage. Our primary interest is not so much in the formal structures, as in our commitment to the Church of England ‘by law established’ and what that means doctrinally. Even so, we realise that maintaining that commitment may well involve action that others find uncongenial.

4. Continued gospel work is vital

The gospel remains the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Millions in this country are without Christ and perishing. The task of preaching the gospel is as urgent and, under God, as effective as ever. In the New Testament, Paul’s letters (eg 1 Thessalonians 2) show that in the face of much opposition, he persevered in preaching the gospel and training teachers. We must do the same even if their training and subsequent placement in full-time ministry prove controversial.

5. Principled action is required

The crisis facing us is not just that of doctrinal confusion over human sexuality, but a surrender of significant parts of the Church of England to a liberal unscriptural agenda, thus creating a huge gulf between those parts and what is at the heart of the Church of England’s confession. This has led to a serious decline: between 1989 and 1998, church attendance fell by nearly a quarter. “Slow death” is a situation not unknown in large secular corporations and industries. Management consultants identify three possible responses for those involved:

a) Peace and pay. This is where people maintain the status while hoping that the organisation will survive until their retirement when others can deal with the problem.

b) Active exit. In the church, this would mean leaving the ordained ministry or changing denomination.

c) Deep change. This is the only solution to “slow death”. It means caring enough to exercise the courage to confront issues. It can involve a) ‘breaking the rules’ (some of which may be strangling the organisation to death) – in the church this means not any, but principled irregularity; b) risking jobs; and c) driving forward into an uncertain and unplanned future.

6. Alternatives

Some evangelicals believe this is too gloomy an assessment and that other options are available. In practice these are:

a) Believing the issue will be resolved. In many cases, while people in this category may be avoiding wider engagement with the current controversy, their energies may be concentrated on actively furthering the gospel by outreach, church planting and internal growth. The drawback to this position is that it can be congregationalist in outlook. If we believe in a connectional church, we should act in the interests of others. Furthermore, as things currently stand, confidence in the ability of the church to resolve matters satisfactorily may be misplaced. As the February 2004 meeting of the General Synod demonstrated, many are now moved more by sentiment than consideration of the Biblical position.

b) Believing the issue is ‘important’ rather than ‘fundamental’. Many who believe this join with us by engaging in debate and working within the structures of the church in the hope of winning hearts and minds to the Biblical position. Many such would also support the 1998 Lambeth statement on Biblical authority and human sexuality. However, it is difficult to see how this approach can stop the general drift towards liberalism that is taking place in the churches of the Northern hemisphere. Support for Lambeth ’98 did not stop the consecration of Gene Robinson, or prevent the Bishop of Oxford proposing that Jeffrey John become a bishop.

By contrast, Reform regards the issue of homosexual relationships as fundamental. We do not believe that the scale of the present crisis can be adequately addressed through the processes of synodical government, although we still intend to participate. We believe the time has now come for churches and individuals to take a stand on this issue and to work for ‘deep change’ within the Church of England.

7. Initiatives For ‘Deep Change’

On 9th February 2004, 13 Primates from the global south issued a statement saying that by its actions ECUSA had separated itself from the rest of the Anglican Communion. The statement continued:

‘We ask you to join in our repentance for failing to be sufficiently forthright in adequately addressing this issue in the past, and we invite you to stand with us in a renewed struggle to uphold the received truth found in Jesus and His word.’

If we believe a fundamental crisis is upon us, we must act in a way that adequately addresses the issue. The time has now come to join our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the Anglican Communion who are having to decide where their communion lies, or what happens when there is ‘Impaired Communion’.

8. Impaired Communion

Impairment of communion is already a reality in the Church of England and within other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. ‘Impaired Communion’ is a term coined by the Lambeth Conference. It is a form of principled estrangement,where a church is no longer able to accept the ‘spiritual’ oversight of its bishop on principled biblical grounds. Impaired communion means a refusal to accept the bishop’s ministry in ‘sacred things’ (as distinct from ‘non-sacred things’ – the ‘temporal’ oversight, for example, in faculty matters). Nor is this an innovation. Under the liberal Bishop Barnes of Birmingham (1924-53) there was a serious impairment of communion in the Birmingham Diocese. Both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical churches refused his spiritual ministry. When the Bishop then would not institute a man to St Mark’s, Washwood Heath, the Archbishop of Canterbury instituted him in Lambeth Palace Chapel on 7 July 1931. (A.Vidler, Scenes from a clerical life. ) More recently Anglo-Catholics have had serious ‘impairments’ over the ordination of women. For evangelicals the positive toleration of, or the teaching of, the rightness of sexual relationships outside marriage, including homosexual relationships however “stable”, is an ‘error too far’ (1 Cor 6.9-11; Rev 2.20-25). Nor is this a fixation with sexual sins. Were Bishops to teach (or tolerate the teaching) that theft, greed, alcohol abuse, slander or fraud (cf 1 Cor 6.10) were compatible with Christian discipleship (and on occasion to be celebrated), there would be a similar outcry and calls for alternative oversight.

9. Practical implications

The practical evidence of impaired communion may include the refusal to accept the bishop’s ministry in preaching, confirmation or ordination; non-attendance at certain diocesan meetings and services; or the re-routing of financial giving away from diocesan funds towards more orthodox uses.

Impaired communion is a reality in varying degrees in those dioceses whose bishops publicly supported the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading (Hereford, Leicester, Newcastle, Ripon and Leeds, St Edmunsbury and Ipswich, Salisbury, Truro and Worcester); in Oxford and St Albans, whose diocesans have sought to promote Canon John to senior office; and in some other dioceses where bishops have publicly supported the “gay-agenda”. Sadly, there are also problems in Canterbury, where the Archbishop holds that homosexual relationships can be compatible with Christian discipleship.

10. A simple way

Members of Reform, if they have not done so already, should seek to establish where their diocesan bishop stands on the issue of human sexuality. Where they are unable to hold to orthodox biblical teaching, churches should declare that they are in ‘impaired communion’ - such is the crisis in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

The simplest way to discover where our bishops stand is to ask them whether the propositions that Reform agreed at its National Conference in October 2002 command their assent. The propositions were:

1) The received teaching of the church is that all its members are to abstain from sexual relations outside holy (heterosexual) matrimony;

2) There is a need for appropriate discipline* within the church where there are sexual relations outside holy (heterosexual) matrimony;
3) Only those should be ordained who themselves will teach, and seek to model in their own lives, the received teaching of the church that all its members are to abstain from sexual relations outside holy (heterosexual) matrimony.

*“appropriate discipline” can be exercised by private discussion with the person concerned, by public denunciation of such behaviours when there is no repentance, and, extremely, by church legal action if judged “appropriate”.

11. Adequate Episcopal Oversight
As impaired communion can only be temporary, what is now being called in the Anglican Communion ‘Adequate Episcopal Oversight’ will, therefore, be sought during the absence of spiritual oversight. There will be appeals to bishops elsewhere in the Communion who, like the 13 Primates from the Global South, are willing to take a stand.

‘Impaired communion’ presents particular challenges for churches when it comes to proposing candidates for training to the ordained ministry and then subsequently placing them in title posts. This brings us to an important proposal: the establishment of a panel of reference.

12. Establishing a Panel of Reference for recognition of ministry within the wider church

Where a parish is in impaired communion with a Diocesan bishop, many of the normal diocesan legal and administrative arrangements will temporarily have to continue. However, when a parish in impaired communion wishes to put forward a candidate for training for the ordained ministry or to have a curate, new arrangements will be required. There will be difficulties in not being able to turn to the Diocesan bishop. We therefore propose the establishment of a panel of reference. Potential candidates could then be referred to this panel to evaluate their suitability for training. At the end of the training, the panel can advise those bishops willing to provide alternative oversight, on a candidate’s suitability for ordination.

We see a panel of reference as providing an essential form of accountability within the wider orthodox church in relation to the discernment of ministry, albeit on a temporary basis until the present doctrinal confusion is resolved. It will provide a degree of confidence that parishes and individuals are not taking advantage of the unusual situation of impaired communion to promote the personal interests of individuals who may be unsuitable for ordination while at the same time encouraging necessary action.

13. Implications for Reform

After a period of reflection and consultation which we believe demonstrates both a steadiness of purpose and a commitment to address the present crisis ,we now intend to present these matters to the National Conference where they can be discussed. Issues relating to impairment of communion and the establishing of a panel of reference can be considered as we seek to discern God’s will for the future.

July 2004

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 27 July 2004 at 8:59 PM GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England