Where do we go from here?

 

Introduction

In this post I am not going to add to the discussion about what took place at the meeting of the Anglican Primates a fortnight ago. This topic has already been extensively discussed by a large number of other commentators and I am not sure there is much more to say about it.

What I am going to do in this post is instead to outline what I think are the key issues facing orthodox Anglicans as we move on to the next stage of the life of the Anglican Communion.

We need to be clear about our goal

There is no point in the Anglican Communion continuing to do things unless it knows what it is trying to achieve. There needs to be a goal towards which it is working and there needs to be clarity about what that goal is. In the absence of such clarity there is a big danger of the Communion just doing things for the sake of doing them, which would be a major waste of time and resources.

So, what should be the goal of the Anglican Communion? I would argue that the goal of the Anglican Communion should be to be a mutually supportive and mutually accountable fellowship of churches that is committed (a) to upholding, teaching and practicing the faith set forth in the Bible and witnessed to by the Fathers and the classic Anglican formularies (the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty Nine Articles and the 1662 Ordinal)[1] and (b) to working together in the face of the three great challenges facing the churches of the Communion.

These challenges are:

First, to undertake the ‘Five Marks of Mission’:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Secondly, to respond to two growing forms of external opposition:

  1. The opposition to Christianity from increasingly conservative and militant forms of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in the Middle East, North Africa, India, Sri-Lanka and elsewhere.
  2. The opposition to Christianity and to religion in general from a secular ideology in the Western world.

Thirdly, to respond to internal subversion in the form of opposition to the biblical position on sexual ethics in the form of support for same-sex relationships and same-sex ‘marriage.’ This support comes not only from individuals and campaigning groups, but also from a number of Anglican Churches, most notably The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Because people with same-sex attraction need to be accorded the same love and respect as all other human beings responding to this internal subversion must not involve a failure to love them as people. Consequently as the Primates Communique indicated, we have to condemn ‘homophobic prejudice and violence’ and ‘offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation.’ [2]

We need to use our existing structures.

In facing these challenges together Anglicans should use the existing structures of the Anglican Communion.

The current Instruments of Communion (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting), plus the various other links between the churches of the Communion, such as the various networks, the inter-diocesan links and the work of the mission agencies, are perfectly capable of providing for communication across the Communion, decision making, mutual support, forms of joint working and forms of discipline. There is thus no reason why they could not be used to achieve the goals set out in the previous section.

As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Any attempt to re-structure the Communion would consume large amounts of time and resources and would not help the Communion with any of the challenges it currently faces.

This does not mean, of course, that the Instruments have operated effectively in practice. The GAFCON Jerusalem Statement of 2008 talks, for example, about:

‘…the manifest failure of the Communion Instruments to exercise discipline in the face of overt heterodoxy. The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, in proclaiming this false gospel, have consistently defied the 1998 Lambeth statement of biblical moral principle (Resolution 1.10). Despite numerous meetings and reports to and from the ‘Instruments of Unity,’ no effective action has been taken, and the bishops of these unrepentant churches are welcomed to Lambeth 2008. To make matters worse, there has been a failure to honour promises of discipline, the authority of the Primates’ Meeting has been undermined and the Lambeth Conference has been structured so as to avoid any hard decisions.’[3]

This criticism of the failure of the Instruments is entirely justified, but arguably the failure does not lie with the Instruments themselves as ways of structuring the Communion, but rather with a widespread unwillingness to use the Instruments to confront ungodly teaching and practice. It is has been this unwillingness to take necessary action,[4] that has been the problem and not the way the Communion is structured. The Instruments could have been used to take action if there had been sufficiently widespread willingness to do so. The failure has been one of will, in the sense of people not wanting to take action, not one of structure.

What this means is that rather than thinking about how to re-structure the Communion attention needs to be given to the causes of this unwillingness to act and how to change the culture of the Communion so that similar failures do not go on occurring in the future.

We need to make sure that the ‘Good news of the Kingdom’ is truthfully proclaimed.

In undertaking the ‘Five marks of mission’ it is important that we distinguish between acting in a way that responds appropriately to the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom and proclaiming the good news of the coming of God’s kingdom.

The last three of the marks of mission involve acting in ways that respond appropriately to the good news of the kingdom’s coming by showing love to other people and by caring for God’s creation. It is absolutely right to do both, but neither on their own is the same as proclaiming the kingdom’s coming.

This is because according to the Bible while our actions may point to the reality of the coming of the kingdom proclamation of the kingdom has to involve verbal witness. We have to explain the significance of our actions by telling people about what God has done, is doing and will do to bring in his kingdom. This is what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels and the first Christians doing in Acts (see for example Matthew 4:23, Acts 8:12, 28:23) and that is what we need to do today.

Proclaiming the coming of the kingdom in this way means telling people about who God is, the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,[5] and telling about his activity in creation and redemption recorded in Scripture and summarised in the Creeds. It also involves making clear to people that their only true hope either in time or eternity lies in putting their faith in the grace of God given to them through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that such faith needs to find expression in a holy life lived in obedience to God’s commands, even when such commands run contrary to the norms of the prevailing culture.

It is also important to be clear that the message of the kingdom is not simply that God loves and accepts people as they are, a distortion of the biblical message that is frequently put forward by those on the liberal wing of Anglicanism. As St Augustine argues, the truth is rather that God both loves and hates us. In his words:

‘Our being reconciled by the death of Christ must not be understood as if the Son reconciled us, in order that the Father, then hating, might begin to love us, but that we were reconciled to him already, loving, though at enmity with us because of sin. To the truth of both propositions we have the attestation of the Apostle, ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8). Therefore he had this love for us even when, exercising enmity towards him, we were the workers of iniquity. Accordingly, in a manner wondrous and divine, he loved even when he hated us. For he hated us when we were such as he had not made us, and yet because our iniquity had not destroyed his work in every respect, he knew in regard to each one of us, to hate what we had made, and love what he had made.’[6]

What this means in terms of proclaiming the message of the kingdom is that what we have to tell people is that God hates all that is sinful in their lives, that God’s love means that Christ died on the cross to put to death their sinful nature, and that God invites them to share the new life free from sin that Christ made possible through his resurrection (see Romans 6:5-11).

The corollary of this is the point already made that faith involves holiness of life. In St. Paul’s words ‘Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:12-13).

We must not simply be defensive in the face of opposition.

In the face of the two forms of opposition to Christianity that Anglicans now face, Anglicans obviously need protection from those who would seek to question their faith, silence their message, curtail their activities, destroy their buildings, and attack and, in extreme cases, even kill them. This means that Anglicans around the world need to pray for one another, offer each other material support when required, and take up each other’s cause with both governments and non-governmental bodies.

However, it is not enough to simply seek protection. As Anglicans we cannot simply go on to the defensive, hunker down, and seek to survive. We are still called to go on proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to those who are lost in sin and to make the reality of the kingdom visible in the way we behave.

In specific terms this means

  1. We need to realise that this opposition is part of the spiritual warfare to which St. Paul refers in Ephesians 6:10-20 and we must learn to use the spiritual weapons described in that passage.
  2. We need to find new and effective forms of apologetics and evangelism that will address the challenge of newly assertive Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
  3. We need to find new and effective forms of apologetics and evangelism that will address the challenge of an increasingly post-Christian Western culture.
  4. We need to be what Graham Tomlin has called ‘the provocative church,’[7] a body of people that lives in a way that is sufficiently distinctive and sufficiently attractive that it will provoke people to ask what we believe and why.
  5. As part of this calling to live provocatively we must do as Jesus commanded us and love and pray for those who oppose and persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48).

In the face of internal subversion we must be truthful, we must be consistent, we must be missional, we must practice discipline and we must practice love.

In the face of the internal subversion of Anglicanism on matters of sexuality the first thing we need to do is be truthful in four ways:

  1. We need to be clear that the internal subversion of Anglicanism on matters of sexuality is an extension of the opposition to orthodox Christianity in Western culture and as such a part of the spiritual warfare in which the Church is engaged.
  2. We need to be clear that the issue is not simply that some Anglicans have unilaterally acted in ways that most Anglicans do not agree with, but that they have acted in ways that God does not agree with by going against the teaching of the Bible not only by accepting same-sex ‘marriage’, but by accepting same-sex sexual relationships in general and ordaining those involved in them.
  3. We need to be clear that this is not just as issue which concerns a few isolated texts, but an issue which concerns the whole biblical account of what it means to be human beings created in the image and likeness of God.
  4. We need to be clear that this is a first order issue which involves people’s salvation and therefore not one on which compromise is possible.

The second thing we need to do is be consistent. Orthodox Anglicans will (rightly) be accused of hypocrisy if our own sexual conduct is not in line with what we teach and if we major solely on what the Bible says about same-sex relationships and ignore, or fail to apply, what it says in matters to do with heterosexual sex such as the use of pornography, pre-marital sex, adultery and divorce and re-marriage. We need to consistently teach that the biblical and Christian viewpoint is not just that same-sex sexual activity is wrong, but that all forms of sexual activity outside of (heterosexual) marriage are wrong and that marriage is for life and in normal circumstances will involve having children ‘to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.’[8]

The third thing we need to do is to be missional. This means that we need to find new and effective ways of commending the biblical view of sexuality that will enable people to see that what the Bible teaches has been given to us by God for our good and enables human flourishing in this life as well as preparing us for participation in the life that is to come. In particular we need to explain that children do best when brought up in families with a mother and a father who are married to each other (and stay married to each other) and we need to promote a positive view of sexual abstinence and of the value of close and long term, but non-sexual, friendships.

The fourth thing we need is the application of discipline in the life of the Anglican Communion that goes further than the limited discipline of The Episcopal Church agreed by the Primates at Canterbury.

Specifically, because The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church have formally chosen to move away from biblical sexual ethics both in their teaching and their practice

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury should not invite these churches to meetings of the Primates or of the Lambeth Conference;
  • The Anglican Consultative Council should be invited to suspend these churches from the list of member churches of the Anglican Communion and from attendance at its meetings;
  • The churches of the Communion should be asked to consider through their own synodical structures suspending their links with these churches.

Such suspension would be for the purpose of achieving godly repentance and would therefore be lifted if and when the churches concerned return to acceptance of the biblical sexual ethic in their teaching and practice.

As the report Communion and Discipline suggested in 2004, orthodox congregations and clergy from these churches who request it should be afforded temporary episcopal oversight for the period of the suspension from a bishop elsewhere in the Communion to be appointed by the Archbishop and the Primates. [9]

As well as suspending these three churches the Primates should also issue a formal admonition to the other churches of the Communion not to depart from the teaching of Lambeth 1.10. This would be a formal warning to such churches such as the Church of New Zealand, the Church in Wales and the Church of England that they too could face discipline should they depart from a biblical   position. [10]

As already indicated earlier on in this paper, the fifth and final thing we need to do as Anglicans is to practice love. It is not enough to simply maintain the orthodox biblical position on human sexuality. We also have to provide love and effective pastoral support for those for whom living a life of Christian holiness in this area is a particular challenge. Being theologically right is not enough, we also have to welcome, listen, understand, pray with and befriend people who suffer from loneliness, misunderstanding, and strong temptation and who we may be asking to give up very significant personal relationships.

The Anglican Church in North America should be invited to join the Anglican Communion

Alongside the suspension of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada from participation in the life of the Communion the Anglican Church in North America should be invited to join it by applying to have its name added to the schedule of membership of the Anglican Consultative Council.

Since its formation in 2009 ACNA has become a flourishing orthodox Anglican church in its own right and it would meet the normal criteria for membership of the Communion. It should therefore be invited by the Primates to apply to join the Communion.

As a starting point for the formal recognition of ACNA by the Communion, those provinces that have not as yet declared any level of ecclesial communion with ACNA, should be encouraged to use their canonical processes to recognise formally the orders administered within ACNA. This would then provide a basis for exploring movement toward visible communion.

In the long run the hope has to be that there can once again be a united Anglican presence in the United States and Canada, but that will be dependent on a return to orthodoxy by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and a process of reconciliation and reunion between them and ACNA. Inviting ACNA to apply to join the Communion will not make this less likely.

The Lambeth Conference in 2020 should have ability to make clear decisions and should be invited to approve a supplementary Anglican statement on sexuality building on Lambeth 1.10.

The problem with the last Lambeth in 2008 was that its ‘indaba’ structure left no place for agreed decisions by the bishops with the result that the only authoritative statements were the presidential addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury thus encouraging the mistaken idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury can in and of himself articulate the teaching of the Anglican Communion. [11]

The ‘indaba’ approach was itself a reaction to what were perceived as problems with previous Lambeth Conferences where there was seen to have been too much focus on the production of resolutions and too little time for discussion and the building of relationships.

Taking this into account plans for the Lambeth Conference of 2020 should allow time for more extended discussion of fewer topics with a focus on the key challenges facing the Communion outlined above. However, there should be a return to the practice of agreeing resolutions by voting in plenary session. This remains the best way to allow all the bishops to make agreed decisions on behalf of the Communion.

In order to help the Church to re-evangelize Western culture in the area of sexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury should convene a group of orthodox theologians from across the Communion to produce an additional and supplementary statement about sexuality on behalf of the Communion to be submitted for approval by the Lambeth Conference of 2020.

This would build on Lambeth 1.10 and remain in line with it, but would go beyond it in four ways:

  • It would articulate why the biblical sexual ethic leads to the flourishing of individuals and societies;
  • It would explain why a relationship between two people of the same sex cannot constitute a marriage;
  • It would look at the issue of transsexualism which is becoming the new frontier in Western sexual ethics;
  • It would draw on the experience of those who are same-sex attracted, but remain orthodox in their belief and practice (such as the members of the Living Out group in the United Kingdom[12]) in order to help develop effective pastoral strategies to help people with same-sex attraction. This would help fulfil the commitment in Lambeth 1.10 to ‘listen to the experience of homosexual persons.’

Thought should also be given to the possibility of the Lambeth Conference of 2020 formally endorsing the Jerusalem Declaration as an authorized statement of Anglican belief accepted by the Communion as a whole. If this could be achieved it would be another major step in helping to change the culture of the Communion and cementing orthodox belief and practice within it.

We need to work ecumenically

The challenges facing Anglicans identified in this paper are not unique to Anglicans. They are challenges facing orthodox Christians regardless of their particular denominational identity. Anglicans ought therefore to work with other churches and inter-denominational organisations to tackle them together.

By contrast, where there are churches with which Anglicans have ecumenical agreements and where these churches have become unorthodox these agreements ought to be suspended in order to witness to these churches that they should return to an orthodox position and in order to witness to the wider Church and the wider world that they have departed from the orthodox faith. For example, the Lutheran churches in Scandinavia with whom the Anglican churches in the British Isles are linked under the Porvoo agreement have all now made provision for same-sex ‘marriage’ and relations with them should be suspended until they return to an orthodox position on sexuality.

M B Davie 26.1.16

 

[1] The GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration of 2008 is an excellent modern re-statement of the Anglican tradition based on these sources and serious consideration should be given to its adoption by the Anglican Communion as a whole. The declaration can be found at http://fca.net/resources/the-complete-jerusalem-statement.

[2] ‘Walking together in the service of the Lord, ’ Comunique from the Primates Meeting 2016, text at http://www.anglicannews.org/features/2016/01/communique-from-the-primates-meeting-2016.aspx

[3] http://fca.net/resources/the-complete-jerusalem-statement

[4] The opposition to suggestions that have been made to take action has been a result of this basic unwillingness to act. It is not just that people have been unwilling to act themselves, but they have been unwilling that action should be taken.

[5] This is the name by which he has revealed himself to us and it is not legitimate to substitute other names such as ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer’ instead.

[6] Augustine of Hippo, Tract in John, 110.

[7] Graham Tomlin, The Provocative Church, London: SPCK, 2002.

[8] The Book of Common Prayer, The Solemnization of Matrimony.

[9] E Radner and C. Seitz, Communion and Discipline, Colorado Springs: Anglican Communion Institute, 2004,  pp.67-68. The idea has been floated that if these churches were to be disciplined there should be an equal and balancing judgment against the Anglican churches in Uganda and Nigeria because of their support for laws against homosexual activity. However (a) discipline cannot right be enacted on the basis of the need for a politically convenient balance of judgement and (b) while there is place for a discussion about the appropriateness of criminal sanctions against particular forms of sexual conduct this is neither something on which Scripture gives a binding ruling nor something on which Anglicans have yet made a judgement. ‘Criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people’ which the Primates have rightly stated they oppose are not the same as criminal sanctions against particular forms of same-sex activity (which also currently exist, for instance, in the United Kingdom). The actions of the Anglican churches in Uganda and Nigeria would not therefore be an appropriate subject for the exercise of discipline.

[10] It might be argued that it would be impossible to conceive of an Anglican Communion from which the Church of England was suspended. However, it would not be impossible because another Primate could be elected to fill the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury pro tem and otherwise things could still continue much as before. Unlike the Church of Rome within Roman Catholicism the Church of England is not theologically necessary for the Anglican Communion to exist. Clearly its suspension would be highly undesirable, but it is not theoretically inconceivable.

[11]It is perhaps worth noting that even in Roman Catholic theology the Pope can only speak with binding authority when he speaks on behalf of the bishops of the Church in articulating the Church’s common faith.

[12]Their website can be found at http://www.livingout.org/

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2 thoughts on “Where do we go from here?

  1. A brilliant analysis of what should happen. If only our Anglican Leaders could see things so clearly and biblically . . . .

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