Today I write to commend three resources to you in support of the proposition that we will do well as followers of Jesus Christ not to fall into the trap of endless conversations about human sexuality and the Bible which end in accommodating culture over Biblical content.
At the very best, such processes divert the Church from proclaiming with clarity and certainty the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his saving, transforming love for all people, everywhere and at all times. At worst, such processes give access to false teachers to lead God’s people astray. False teachers also lead those who do not yet know Christ to eternal separation from God. Finally, such processes divert the time, talent and treasure of God’s people from the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission. Remember the famous “Decade of Evangelism” of The Episcopal Church USA? Remember how it was utterly eclipsed by “conversational ecclesiology” and “good disagreement” over gay rights, same sex blessings and ordinations/consecrations of leaders (clergy and bishops) in same sex relationships? There is a lesson and a warning here for The Church of England (CofE) and the rest of the Churches in the Anglican Communion.
The first resource which I commend for you to read in its entirety is an essay by Dr. Martin Davie, “Why Disagreement is not good.” Dr. Davie is a lecturer at Oak Hill Theological College, Theological Secretary for the Council of Christian Unity of the Church of England and a Theological Consultant to the CofE House of Bishops.
Davie draws a distinction between the mission of ++Rowan Williams (trying to find core areas of doctrine all Anglicans could agree upon through the ill-fated Covenant) and ++Justin Welby (who has abandoned this mission in favor of getting people to learn to live with theological differences – “good disagreement”). Of course, neither ++Welby nor the Church of England have ever defined what “good disagreement” looks like regarding theological differences!
In the face of this moving target, Davie asserts that disagreement is actually a result of our fallenness – our inability since the Fall to see things as they really are, as God created and intended all things to be. And with respect to disagreements over theological differences, our inability to discern truth is a result of our fallen inclination to listen constantly to the voice of the one who says “did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1) Fortunately God restores our ability to discern the truth through Jesus Christ (truth incarnate), the Holy Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit guiding us to “continue in [His] word” (John 8:31-32). Therefore “good disagreement” can NEVER be the mission of the Church:
“What all this means is that the term ‘good disagreement’ is an oxymoron like ‘virtuous sin’. Disagreement can never in itself be good. We disagree because in our fallen condition we either don’t know the truth, or are unwilling to accept it when it is presented to us. The vocation of the Church is therefore not to practice ‘good disagreement.’ The vocation of the Church is to be a community where as far as possible disagreement does not exist because truth is known, accepted and celebrated.”
For these reasons Davie concludes:
“In the light of all this I suggest that Archbishop Welby and the House of Bishops should expunge the term ‘good disagreement’ from their vocabulary. They should talk instead about the importance of the Church of England being a truthful community, a community which aims at agreement in the truth and in which those with leadership roles take seriously their responsibility to encourage this search for truth and, as far as possible, to protect the faithful from error.”
The second resource I commend to you are the” Lectures in Contemporary Anglicanism” by the Rev. Charles Raven, assistant to The Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya and Chair of the GAFCON Primates Council. In his three lectures at George Whitfield College (May 2014, Cape Town South Africa), Raven sets out his aim as follows:
“taking the Lambeth Conference of 1998 as my starting point, the aim of these three lectures will be to survey the contours of two very different Anglican ecclesiologies as they have emerged out of this recent history. One is what I think we can most accurately describe as conversational ecclesiology; the other is the recovery of a confessional ecclesiology.”
Raven goes on to describe “conversational ecclesiology” as a shorthand for the belief that “truth emerges out of the ‘community’ of faith in a constant process of dialogue with Scripture, the culture and one another.” This is the ecclesiology of ++Rowan Williams and ++Justin Welby, The Anglican Communion Office, ++Katherine Jefforts Schori, and many of those Primates who showed up to the last (and perhaps final) Primates gathering in Dublin in 2011. By contrast, confessional ecclesiology is firmly anchored in biblical revelation, finds its basic expression in Anglicanism within the GAFCON Jerusalem Statement and Jerusalem Declaration of 2008, and has for many “a conscious echo of the Confessing Church of 1930’s Germany” which exalted Christ and Biblical revelation over culture. In his diagnosis of the “pathology” of Anglicanism since Lambeth 1998, Raven observes that conversational ecclesiology by its very nature cripples the commitment to Christ’s Great Commission:
“Inevitably, conversation with itself [the church] means that converting conversation with the world takes second place in the Church’s life and in any case the message inevitably becomes confused because the church is debating its own proclamation. In contrast a Church with a confessing ecclesiology should be by definition a witnessing Church.”
You can find all three lectures here.
How did we get to this sharp division within the Anglican Communion between conversation and confession, process and proclamation? May I commend to you our American Anglican Council presentation at ACNA Provincial Assembly, “The Global Anglican Reformation: What is God doing?” You can find this presentation with video and narrative here.
We know that all of the different acronyms and players can be confusing: ACC, Lambeth, ACO, GAFCON, etc. Our hope is that this presentation will help you and your congregation understand what is at stake in the battle for the soul and future of the Anglican Communion so that we may pray both for those Churches standing firm in the faith once delivered, repentance for those who have succumbed to conversational ecclesiology and “good disagreement,” and renewal for all of us in our commitment to fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
Yours in Christ,